Illiterati Lumen Fidei May 14, 2012Posted by Matt in music, spirituality.
Tags: god, I Can't Stand It, illiterati lumen fidei, Jesus Etc, Misunderstood, Open Mind, theism, Theologians, theology, Wilco
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Or, how Jeff Tweedy helped write my personal theology
This weekend I will be afforded to opportunity to again see one of my favorite bands, Wilco, live and in concert. So, to ready myself for the upcoming show, I’ve been inundating myself with music from across their career, from old and new favorites to rediscovering those songs that have slipped through the cracks in my mind over the years. As I did this, I began to realize the profound beauty of the words and music, and just how much of an influence a well-written song can have on an obsessive music fan like me. In many ways, the poetry of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco mirror my own belief system and the spiritual progression I have undergone for the past several years.
“No love’s as random as God’s love / I can’t stand it / I can’t stand it.” (“I Can’t Stand It,” Summerteeth)
One of the first casualties in my move away from a belief system centered in classic theism was the idea of Divine Providence. I simply could no longer believe in a God who arbitrarily inserted itself into the world at seemingly random points in history to do things as innocuous as winning football games and as violent and awful as winning wars. Accordingly, God is always on the side of the victors. After hearing the name of God invoked in so many circumstances, you either become numb to it or you reject it as being logically incoherent. The realization that life is more a series of random variables than a carefully cultivated divine plan is quite liberating.
“You know you’ve got a God-shaped hole / You’re bleeding out your heart full of soul / You’re so misunderstood.” (“Misunderstood,” Being There)
The move away from a belief in theism is a difficult one, one that is fraught with anger and rejection, and that is something I discovered a few years ago as I began to speak these ideas aloud (or online), facing the inevitable backlash from many who have been important in my life. It’s a disheartening experience to face exclusion and dismissal from others, to realize that entire relationships are contingent upon the acceptance of a few axioms of faith.
“Our love is all of God’s money. / Everyone is a burning sun.” (“Jesus, Etc.” Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
So, what do we do with God if the Divine can no longer be looked upon to provide divine intervention? It seems as though we must look within, to search for those characteristics marking our own inherent divinity. There is perhaps nothing more God-like than the concept of love, that cosmic force that envelopes our being, that drives us beyond the realm of critical thinking and logic and into a radical concern for others that could ultimately cost us our own lives.
“Illiterati Lumen Fidei / God is with us every day / That illiterate light / Is with us every night” (“Theologians,” A Ghost is Born)
With God no longer being the classic, thunderbolt-hurling deity in the clouds, what is left?
Perhaps God is something bigger than that, something that we can’t know intellectually, something meant to be felt, to explored through different paths. Maybe God is ultimately indescribable and unknowable, but something to which we all have thoughts and inclinations. I like to think of God as the indwelling spirit of the universe, swirling about in the cosmos, bestowing life and love upon all its denizens. Is that the correct way to describe the Divine? Probably not, but it’s the explanation that works best for me at this time of my life, and that’s really the best we can do.
“Oh, I can only dream of the dreams we’d share / If you weren’t so defined. / I would love to be the one to open up your mind.” (“Open Mind,” The Whole Love)
Thanks for the great music, Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, and thanks for helping to open my mind. I’ll see you on Saturday.
Reflections on Bishop Spong and Nontheism, Part 3 October 1, 2010Posted by Matt in books, Christianity.
Tags: A New Christianity for a New World, Bishop Spong, gospel as Jewish liturgy, Jesus, Mark, mythology, Nontheism, Q, theism
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So, the question must now be asked: Can we tell the Christ story apart from the concept of a theistic God? According to Bishop Spong, “We can and we must.”
But, in this new paradigm of thought the role of Jesus has surely changed. If the idea of a supernatural being that lives beyond the sky and invades life periodically to accomplish a divine purpose is no longer a possibility for modern people, then, in Spong’s words, we must “acknowledge that Jesus understood as the incarnation of the theistic deity is equally without a future.” Thus, the Jesus stories of a virgin birth and supernatural miracles become an earthly portrait of a theistic God in human form and these theistic claims can be seen as ones that grew over time.
To delve further into this idea, Spong looks into the Christian scriptures in the order in which they were written. Thus, he begins with the writings dated to the mid-1st century, just two decades or so after the time of Jesus, the much theorized about Q document (Spong shares a method for distilling the contents of Q that I’m not going to go into except to say that it comes from the shared sayings found in Matthew and Luke), the embattled Gospel of Thomas, and the letters of Paul.
Upon examining Q and Thomas, neither of which contain the divine birth, death, or miracle narratives, one will find that Jesus was a wise man and great teacher, but not divine. Paul likewise does not make mention of the birth narrative or miracle stories, but he does have references to the resurrection story. (*Note: In my opinion, Spong’s logic in explaining these away is tenuous at best and to my mind amounts to little more than quibbling over details, but this is his book.) Thus, in Paul, we find little of the theistic framework and the imposed supernaturalism present in later writings, yet it is apparent that God was “powerfully present in Christ.” Spong suggests that Paul, who was not familiar with the later developing incarnational and trinitarian language of theism, claimed that Jesus acted as more of a conduit for a God-experience to the people.
The first of the Gospels to be written was Mark (65-75 CE) and by that time the theistic interpretation of God was becoming more widespread. Due to its omission, the miraculous birth story may not have been concocted at this time, but Mark clearly perceived a God-presence, poured on him at his baptism, in the person of Jesus.
His resurrection story is also one that can be confusing when looked at in this light, for, to many scholars, the book’s original ending takes place with the women finding the empty tomb, then fleeing and saying “nothing to anyone.” Spong and other referenced scholars believe that this ending to the book was found to be untenable in a time of supernatural and theistic imagery, so an additional ending was added later to incorporate these ideas.
One of the most interesting ideas to me was Spong’s declaration that “we can detect in Mark the influence of Jewish synagogue worship,” that the events recorded in the book directly correlate with the Jewish liturgical calendar. If we begin with the crucifixion at the end of the book (14:1-15:42), which took place at Passover, and work backwards, we can see how the book seems to conform with the Jewish holidays. For instance, the Transfiguration is placed by Mark in the point of the calendar known as the Festival of Dedication, in which the light of God was restored to the temple – this is especially interesting if one dates Mark after the AD70 destruction of the Temple. Next on the liturgical calendar is the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jewish harvest festival, which coincides with Jesus telling harvest parables and demonstrating power over nature (4:1-42). Following that in our move back is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at which point in the gospel Jesus is healing the sick, forgiving sins, calling Matthew to discipleship, and talking of fasting. The last stop on the calendar for this purpose is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in which people are called to an expectation that the kingdom of God is at hand and they are urged to repentance, which directly correlates to the message of John the Baptist, who could even be seen as a human shofar, announcing the coming kingdom of God. Thus, Spong makes the case that Mark is a Jewish liturgical text, not a history book or biography.
To sum up, Spong says,
The earliest witnesses to Jesus – Paul, perhaps Q and Thomas, and Mark – portray a Jesus whose life has not yet been squeezed into the theistic mold. Yet it is a Jesus who is seen as a God-presence, a life through whom God is seen. That is the experience we need to embrace. Jesus was a human life through which people experienced the presence of God, and this experience is documentable prior to the time when the later theistic explanations were laid upon him. The theistic explananations can be set aside, as indeed they have been in our generation, but the experience can remain intact.