I Am Done With Great Things and Big Things

"I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man's pride.”

― William James

The Pope and the Devil

As I continue to talk a lot with people about the devil in light of my new book Reviving Old Scratch, one of my allies in this fight has been Pope Francis.

Liberal and progressive Christians love Pope Francis, but in one of those ironies I explore in Reviving Old Scratch they find themselves divorced from how Francis understands spiritual struggle. Here's how a Washington Post article described the disjoint:
A darling of liberal Catholics and an advocate of inclusion and forgiveness, Pope Francis is hardly known for fire and brimstone.

Yet, in his words and deeds, the new pope is locked in an epic battle with the oldest enemy of God and creation:

The Devil. 
To get a feel for how often the pope speaks about the devil check out this CNN article "Why is Pope Francis so obsessed with the devil?"

(I wrote this post before my interview with David Crumm for Read the Spirit in which David also discusses Pope Francis' affinity for talking about the Devil.)

Wash This Way!

In 2015 I wrote a post suggesting that faith communities start laundromats.

Instead of a Coffee Shop How About a Laundromat? became one of the most viral posts I'd ever written.

And if you read the comments to that post you'll find validation for the idea due to all the inspiring stories of different faith communities who started a laundromat.

So what about my church, the Highland Church of Christ?

Well, that post last year caught the attention of Jonathan and Jackie. Jonathan is a business owner and he worked up a business plan for a laundromat. Jonathan eventually handed those plans over to our friends Mike and Kathy.

And a few weeks ago Mike and Kathy broke ground for Wash This Way, a laundromat that will partner with our church to build neighborhood relationships and give dignity to the people in our town who use laundromats.

Wash This Way should be opening in the fall. I'll keep you posted!

A Progressive Vision of The Benedict Option

Last January I wrote six posts dedicated to articulating a progressive vision of the Benedict Option. I want to pull those posts into a single summary post for easy consumption and sharing.

What is the Benedict Option?

The "Benedict Option" is the brainchild of conservative author and journalist Rod Dreher. To catch yourself up, read Rod's Benedict Option Frequently Asked Questions post summarizing his thoughts over the years and his responses to various questions and criticisms of the Ben Op.

Succinctly, the Ben Op argues that Western liberalism--especially, I would argue, its neo-liberal economic manifestations--has been corrosive to the Christian faith. To survive in cultures shaped by modernity, neo-liberalism, and capitalism proponents of the Ben Op argue that Christians will need to invest in creating rich, thick and distinctive cultures that cultivate the counter-cultural virtues necessary to sustain the church and Christian spiritual formation.

In his FAQ post here is how Rod describes the Ben Op:
The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents. Put less grandly, the Benedict Option — or “Ben Op” — is an umbrella term for Christians who accept [Alasdair] MacIntyre’s critique of modernity in [his book After Virtue], and who also recognize that forming Christians who live out Christianity according to Great Tradition requires embedding within communities and institutions dedicated to that formation.
As you can see from Rod's description--the Ben Op as resistance to empire--there's much in his description that resonates with progressive Christians. Resistance to empire is very close to the heart of the progressive Christian vision.

Conservative Christians have been talking about the Benedict Option, why should progressive Christians be talking about it?

Progressive Christians have their own unique struggles with the corrosive effects of modernity, capitalism and liberalism. Here are four particular struggles at work in progressive Christianity:
1. Statism
The belief that the state is the sole and final arbiter of social and moral affairs, thus reducing Christian social action to taking control of the state. Rather than practicing the works of mercy--personally visiting the sick and incarcerated, personally feeding the hungry and clothing the naked--progressive Christianity has become almost wholly politicized, a fight to control the state, a fight to rule the empire.

This is not to dismiss the vital and important role of political activism, but progressive Christian social action must been rooted in Jesus' vision of social action in Matthew 25: the very personal, local, face-to-face practices of the works of mercy.

2. Individualism
As Westerners progressive Christians privilege individualism over collectivism. This fierce commitment to radical autonomy and independence makes it difficult for progressive Christians to form communities that participate God's ongoing story of covenantal promise and fidelity.

This is a major reason why progressive Christians desperately need the Ben Op. Progressive Christians need to recover what it means to be the church, not abstractly, situationally and universally but intimately, intentionally, and locally.

3. Functional atheism
There is often little that is distinctive about progressive Christians when compared to secular humanists or liberal Democrats. Progressive Christians are also often embarrassed or defensive about their faith. That, or increasingly filled with doubt about their beliefs. The ranks of progressive Christians are filled with agnostics and atheists.

Pervasive doubt and agnosticism, along with an inability to articulate anything particularly or distinctively Christian in prophetic contrast to the prevailing liberal and humanistic consensus, suggests that progressive Christians need the Ben Op to recover confidence in the distinctive particularities of the Christian faith--morally, spiritually, culturally, politically, socially, and religiously.

4. Shame, Neurotic Status Anxiety and Exhaustion
The competitive meritocracy of capitalism fills our lives with neurotic status anxiety--what Brené Brown calls "the shame-based fear of being ordinary"--which drives us to emotional and physical exhaustion as we work and perform for self-esteem, success, relevance and significance.

Social media exacerbates the problem as we compare our lives to the happiness and successes we see on Facebook. In addition, the capitalist marketing, advertisement, media and entertainment environments saturates you with images of bright, shiny people who are successful, fit, happy and attractive.

And so we push ourselves to be successful, noticed or relevant. But the pricetag of all this pushing and striving is often emotional and physical exhaustion. That, or a keen sense of shame if you "fall behind" in the metrics of success. 

All this anxious pushing and striving so fills up our lives that we have no margin, time, or energy left to invest deeply in local community, especially if that investment in local community doesn't have a significant impact on the metrics we use to label ourselves as "successful." In the end, are too busy, distracted and tired to invest in church in any meaningful way.
In summary, as Westerners progressive Christians have been spiritually formed by modernity in ways that make it difficult for us to live in distinctively Christian ways.

So what would a progressive expression of the Benedict Option look like?

As I envision it, a progressive expression of the Benedict option will embody three main components.

A progressive Benedict Option will be a Franciscan rather than a Pharisaical community
 
A debate about the Ben Op is at the heart of the gospels. In the gospels we observe a conservative religious group who, reacting to the corruption of the political and religious establishment under empire, decide to turn inward to reclaim their distinctive culture and traditions in order to cultivate the virtues that would sustain them. We know this Ben Op group as the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were the conservative advocates of the Ben Op of their day. Observing how the political and the religious institutions had been co-opted by empire, the Pharisees called for a Ben Op, a call for communities to invest in local synagogues where teaching, liturgy and the daily practices of Torah observance would sustain the Jewish people in the dark age they were living in.

According to modern Ben Op proponents, that first-century situation is not unlike our own, which means that today's calls for a Ben Op are going to be haunted by the shadow of Phariseeism.

A progressive vision of the Ben Op will resist this Pharisaical tendency. So according to Jesus, how does the Ben Op get off track and become Pharisaical? Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:
Luke 18.9-12
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’"
According to Jesus, a Pharisaical Ben Op involves the contemptuous moral sorting of the world into the saints and sinners, the good guys and the bad guys, Us and Them.

A Pharisaical Ben Op turns inward and polices boundaries of moral purity. The Ben Op of Jesus, by contrast, turns outward and violates those boundaries:
Matthew 9.10-13
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’"
A progressive expression of the Ben Op will exhibit the radical hospitality of Jesus. Examples of progressive Ben Op communities practicing community and radical hospitality are Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's Rutba House, the Catholic Worker movement, and Jean Vanier's L'Arche communities.

In sum, Progressive expressions of the Bne Op will be Franciscan communities. St. Francis and the early Franciscans were known for their care of lepers, living among and caring for that ostracized, unclean and marginalized community. This Franciscan impulse to embrace leper colonies keeps the Ben Op looking like Jesus--outward-looking, oriented toward hospitality and embracing of the unclean in table fellowship.

Progressive expressions of the Ben Op will share life with a leper colony, places in the local community that have been abandoned by the American Dream. Jails and prisons, underfunded schools, housing developments, city missions, hospitals, a neighborhood or zip code, assisted living facilities, senior-citizen homes, non-profits serving a marginalized group (e.g., refugees, domestic abuse victims, the homeless), and so on.

The goal in these location isn't to create a program or ministry to "save" or "rescue" or even "help." The goal, to take a cue from Samuel Wells (PDF), is simply "being with," to accompany and share life in an abandoned nook of empire.

It's this Franciscan impulse that will break the hold of statism upon the progressive liberal imagination and ground their social action in Matthew 25 with the practice of the works of mercy.

A progressive Ben Op will practice Sabbath as resistance

Beyond Western individualism, the other reason it is difficult for progressive (and conservative) Christians to invest in deep, committed and faithful Christian community is "the scarcity trap," our neurotic pursuit of self-esteem, success and significance in our Western meritocracies that emotionally and physically depletes and exhausts us. The felt scarcity of not "being enough" causes the scarcity of not "having enough," like enough time or energy.

Due to the "scarcity trap" Western Christians are increasingly unable to find any margin in their lives for authentic Christian community. Western Christians are too busy or exhausted to "do church." We don't have the time or energy for Christian community and spiritual formation.

Consequently, progressive Ben Op communities will practice what Walter Brueggemann has called "sabbath as resistance." As Walter writes:
In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.
The Ben Op is often described as a withdrawal from the world. For progressive Christians this withdrawal isn't geographical, but psychological. A physical or geographical withdrawal would be antithetical to the Franciscan impulse to practice the works of mercy in an abandoned outpost of empire. But progressive Christians will have to psychologically withdraw from and opt out of the competitive, anxious meritocracy that drives the pursuit of the American Dream. We opt out of the rat race. We renounce the American Dream. Sabbath as resistance.

For progressive Christianity to become a locus of resistance to empire we have to be doxologically and liturgically formed into people who renounce--opt out, psychologically withdraw from--the way empire defines success and significance. But this renunciation will require--and this is key to why the Ben Op is so necessary--an enormous amount of shame-resiliency to remind ourselves that we aren't losers in the face of the shaming we will experience from the world when we stop chasing the American Dream.

The Ben Op community is where we will cultivate through doxology and spiritual formation the social and psychological antibodies necessary to live counter-culturally in a capitalistic meritocracy that will shame us for "falling behind." Consider an example I shared in my book Reviving Old Scratch, the story of a young man who left a prestigious educational institution to teach history at a poor, inner-city high school. That's opting out of the American Dream, the Franciscan call to share life in an abandoned outpost of empire to pursue a cruciform vision of success and significance.

But to sustain these sorts of choices, to forgo "success" to serve in ignoble ways in an abandoned outpost of empire, we need a community that will support and honor these choices. To opt out of empire is to experience shame. Which means that we have to become shame-resilient if we want to resist empire, individually and collectively.

And that's why we need the Ben Op, an intentional community practicing Sabbath as resistance so that we can develop the shame-resiliency necessary to live ignoble, foolish and cruciform lives in the midst of empire.

A progressive Ben Op will be egalitarian in gender roles

Beyond the temptation to become inward-looking and Pharisaically self-righteousness, Ben Op communities will also struggle if they are patriarchal.

Insular patriarchal communities are not safe for women and children. To be clear, this is not to say that insular and patriarchal communities are inevitably and always unsafe to women and children, just that insular and patriarchal communities are more prone to harm women and children than are more open and egalitarian communities. Women and children are always safer in communities where women share leadership with men. Especially in communities which are insular and cut-off from the world. And given that Ben Op communities will gravitate toward the insular it's safer if Ben Op communities are egalitarian rather than patriarchal.

Women and men have to share leadership responsibilities in Ben Op communities if they want to protect their women and children. Thus the final feature of a progressive expression of the Ben Op: A progressive Ben Op will be egalitarian in regards to gender roles and leadership.

Personal Days: Prayers for French Robertston Unit

Regular readers know I spend Monday nights out at the French Robertson Unit, a maximum security prison north of Abilene, leading a Bible study.

There has been some tragic news from the unit. Last Friday Mari Johnson, a correctional officer out at the unit, was killed by an inmate. 

There was no Bible class this Monday. The unit is on lock down. We have no idea how long the lock down will last and how the murder of an officer will affect the unit--programmatically but also spiritually.

Right now, French Robertson is in a very dark place and we aren't inside to help.

So, please lift up in prayers today the Johnson family and the French Robertson community.

Pokémon Go and Kingdom Eyes

I recently wrapped up a series of posts entitled "Edging Toward Enchantment." I want to circle back to that theme in light of the Pokémon Go phenomenon.

First, you know you're a devoted father when you find yourself driving and walking your sons around a cemetery helping them catch ghost Pokémon. That's what I did yesterday.

If you don't know, Pokémon Go is a new app that is part massively multiplayer video game and part geocashing. Using your smartphone GPS, Pokémon Go lays on top of your world, wherever you are, another sort of world, a world where you are a Pokémon trainer who captures Pokémon, little fantasy creatures from the Pokémon world, in the wild.

What's fascinating about the Pokémon Go app is that it superimposes a world on top of the "real world." As you play Pokémon Go you are walking through two worlds. In one world you see a church, a Taco Bell or a cemetery. But in the Pokémon Go world, viewed on the app, you see a Pokémon Stop or Pokémon Gym.

Two worlds, one on top of the other. You live in both, simultaneously.

The theological resonances here are huge.

For example, going back to my edging toward enchantment posts, Pokémon Go enchants the world. When my boys and I were walking through that cemetery that cemetery was haunted and alive.

That's what enchantment is, at root. Moving through the world on two different planes, seeing things, yes, but also seeing things.

In short, I wonder if living a Christian life--seeing the world with kingdom eyes full of kingdom enchantments--isn't a whole lot like playing Pokémon Go.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Hallowing Life

This will be the last post in this loosely connected series of posts devoted to edging us back toward enchantment.

An idea that we've been playing with in the last few posts is that of existential jujitsu, using our disenchantment with disenchantment to edge us back toward enchantment. We've also talked about the practice of hallowing--rituals, words, liturgies and actions that give sacred weight and texture to life.

Both of those ideas bring me to a final reflection.

Life demands hallowing. And the necessity of this hallowing edges back toward enchantment.

What do I mean when I say that "life demands hallowing"?

This. There are moments of life, moments of import, that we feel must be "set apart"--made holy and sacred--from the mundane, routine and workaday.

Think about a funeral. Or a birth. Or a wedding. Or a memorial commemorating sacrifice, heroism, suffering or tragedy.

I don't show up in flip flops at funerals. I don't look at my iPhone when my child is being born. I don't talk loudly to my neighbor when the couple is exchange their vows. I don't laugh or joke around when visiting Auschwitz. I don't litter in national parks.

Some events and places are set apart as holy ground. And as we enter these times and places we become hushed, solemn, still, reflective, attentive and reverent. 

Life demands this sort of hallowing, a hallowing that pulls us out of the entertainments and consumptions of capitalistic culture. We want more from life than fun. We want life to be holy. We want life to be sacred.

And it is this demand for holiness that makes us human. This religious instinct--the human and humanizing need to live in a holy, sacred and enchanted world--is universal, shared with the religious and the irreligious.   

We are disenchanted with living in a disenchanted world. As human beings we have a need to hallow life.

Everyone of us wants and needs to live in an enchanted world.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Enchanted Evil

My recent posts about demons--Lilith and Lucifer--bring up a different reflection on how we might edge back toward enchantment.

Recall from a recent post how we might use existential jujitsu with our disenchantment, using the dissatisfactions of disenchantment to edge us back toward enchantment.

Regarding this existential jujitsu, we've talked about our need for hallowing, our need to give sacred "weight" to life.

We've also talked about our dissatisfaction with seeing creation as mere mechanism. Our revolt in the face of things like cancer suggests that there is more to creation than mere mechanism, and this revolt is our implicit longing for a "new heaven and a new earth." Our lamentation edges us toward enchantment.

In this post I want to point out how we are dissatisfied with disenchantment when it comes to evil.

"Evil" is an enchanted word. Evil conjures the devil. Evil is alien and Other, a darkness that invades and violates our world.

Consequently, we reach for the word evil when the language of everyday morality fails us. Hitler was evil. ISIS beheading people is evil. A serial killer is evil.

We reach for the word evil when the wickedness we are describing boggles the mind. Evil can't be explained. Evil means we've reached the edge of our epistemological horizon.

Now, as rational, scientific people we know that there are explanations for people like Hitler, ISIS and serial killers. Historical explanations. Sociological explanations. Familial explanations. Psychological explanations. Environmental explanations. Genetic explanations. Neurological explanations. We know, because we live in a disenchanted world ruled by cause and effect, that there are reasons for these atrocities. Causes. And if we took the time to investigate these causes we would find reasons and explanations. There is nothing evil or diabolical at work. Just the forces of history, sociology, psychology and neurology.

And yet, there is something in us that resists wanting to understand Hitler. We fear that, if we understood Hitler, that we might empathize with Hitler. And if we empathized with Hitler, if we empathized with evil, then what sort of persons have we become?

Now, let me be very, very clear. This refusal to understand and perhaps empathize with those we call "evil" is a huge problem. We drop the "evil" label on our enemies and that justifies the evil we can do to them. So let me be very clear that the adjective "evil" creates huge moral problems and obstacles.

So my point here isn't that the use of word "evil" is good or justifiable, just that we're draw to it in an enchanted way. Something deep within us rejects a disenchanted account of evil. We are drawn to the word evil when we face horror that boggles the mind, along with an associated fear that if we understood the horror that we'd be contaminated by that understanding.

Basically, although it creates huge moral temptations, we experience evil as enchanted, as alien and Other.

So how do we reconcile these tensions?

One the one hand, we experience evil as enchanted, as alien and Other.

On the other hand, we are prone to evil when we label others as alien and Other.

There are a host of options here. And many of these options suggest, for a variety of very good reasons, that we should do away with the word "evil" altogether.

Still, I'd argue that there would remain a deep, visceral dissatisfaction with getting rid of the word "evil." When it comes to horror we instinctively reach for enchanted language. Psychologically speaking, I don't think we'll ever be able to stop using the word evil. We might should get rid of the word, but we will never be able to. Like it or not, humans are Homo religiosus.

So the Christian solution is to shift the word evil away from human beings toward the Devil. We battle not with flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of wickedness. The Devil is the ultimate source of evil.  Humans are evil only insofar as they serve the Devil. Which opens up the possibility for mercy and salvation. Humans who perpetrate wickedness are under slavery and bondage. And they can be set free from this bondage. We seek the conversion of the enemy, not his death. And love is the means of this conversion. "Father forgive them," Jesus said, "for they do not know what they are doing."

In short, the experience of evil edges us back toward enchantment. Problematically so, it is true.

But the trick is to push deeper into the enchantment, to not let the word evil fall, in a disenchanted way, upon human beings.

We push further into the enchantment to see evil as truly, alien and Other, as non-human. As thoroughly enchanted.

As the Devil himself.

Personal Days: iPhone Homescreen

You know how you can select a personal picture to be your iPhone homescreen? Well, this picture here is my iPhone homescreen.

We were driving home toward Abilene one evening and the sun was setting. And through the dusk I saw this big neon sign on a church. Jesus Saves.

I think many would find a big neon size blazing "Jesus Saves" on a church pretty tacky and garish.

But for some reason I just loved it. I loved it because it was tacky and garish. It looked like a sign that would show up on a church in a Flannery O'Connor story.

So I pulled the car over and got out. I took a couple of pictures. And one of them, this one, is my iPhone homescreen.

Jesus saves!

The Prince of Demons

I mentioned last week that a few months ago, before the release of Reviving Old Scratch, I gave guest lecture about the Devil to my son's English class.

As I mentioned last week, at the start of the lecture I took the class on a tour through some of the names we use for the Devil.

Satan. The Devil. Lucifer.

And Beelzebub.

In the Synoptic Gospels Beelzebub is often described as the "Prince of Demons," and this prince is associated with Satan. For example:
Mark 3.22-23
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan?"
Beelzebul is described here as "the prince of demons" and Jesus seems to assume that Satan is this prince. So Beelzebul (or Beelzebub in some translations) becomes another name for the Devil.

The origins of the name Beelzebub, we think, are comical.

In 2 Kings Ahaziah, king of Israel, is injured in a fall. Rather than turning to YHWH, Ahaziah sends his messengers to secure the favor of a different god:
2 Kings 1.2b
So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.” 
2 Kings (1.2-3,6,16) is the only time the Philistine deity of Baal-Zebub is mentioned in the Old Testament and the character of this god is a source of speculation. On the surface, the name Baal-Zebub means "Baal of the flies" or "Lord of the flies."

Obviously, "Lord of the Flies" is a strange name for a god, and there are two bits of speculation about the origins of the name Baal-Zebub.

One theory is that if flies are associated with plagues and sickness it seems reasonable for the ailing Ahaziah to call upon the god who "masters" or "lords over" the flies and plagues. 

The other take is that the name Baal-Zebub is a comical insult inserted into the text. Some have argued that the real name of the pagan god in question was Baal-Zebul, "Baal the prince." By switching from Zebul ("prince") to Zebub ("flies")--calling the god by the wrong but similar sounding name--the writer of 2 Kings may have been intentionally making fun of the god of Ekron.

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament often used by the New Testament writers, renders Baal-Zebub as Baalzebub. Some have argued that this--Baalzebub, the Lord of the Flies--is the source for the New Testament Beelzebub--the Lord of the Flies becoming associated with the Prince of Demons.

Edging Toward Enchantment: More Than a Watch

In the last few posts I've been talking about existential jujitsu, using the dissatisfactions of disenchantment as material to edge us back toward enchantment.

In my experience the issue that causes the most doubt among Christians is the problem of suffering. The massive amounts of suffering in the world, currently and historically, cause us to doubt the goodness, power and/or existence of God.

If faith has a Number One Problem it's the problem of suffering.

But even here, when faith is facing its most severe trial and test, I think we can find resources for enchantment. More existential jujitsu.

Last spring I was doing a chapel talk for biology majors at ACU. I started off talking about how we tend to integrate faith and science in the field of biology (along with the other sciences). We tend to do this by speaking about our wonder and awe at the intricate design and beauty of biological organisms, structures and processes. The Christian biologist finds resources for faith in the wonder and awe of creation.

In the language of apologetics, creation is an intricate Watch, and as we study the design of the Watch we behold the mind and work of the Watchmaker.

The Watch and Watchmaker argument is familiar to most of us. It's an argument that still has a lot of traction in Christian apologetics. But what I pointed out that day to the biology students was that the Watchmaker argument unwittingly exacerbates our disenchantment, undermining our faith in subtle ways we don't appreciate until its too late.

Let me say that again, appeals to wonder and awe at the design of creation can undermine your faith in the Watchmaker.

How so?

First, and most obviously, Darwin discovered other mechanisms that can create design. That's what I pointed out to the biology majors. Most Christians don't understand the issue with Darwin. Most Christians reject Darwin because they reject the notion of common decent, that our ancestor were "monkeys" or "apes." Darwin, in the hands of these Christians, offends our dignity, vanity and narcissism.

But that's not the real challenge of Darwin, an assault on human uniqueness within the animal kingdom. The deeper challenge of Darwin is his assault on the argument from design. What Darwin showed with natural selection was that you can get biological design--a Watch--without a Watchmaker. 

So we can debate the origins of design. Still, most Christians will posit a Watchmaker. But even if you posit a Watchmaker there's still a problem, a subtle problem but an insidious one few Christians notice or pay attention to.

As I shared with the biology majors, the deeper source of disenchantment from the Watchmaker argument is that it turns nature into a mechanism. And it's this mechanistic view of creation that deepens our disenchantment as it radically breaks from the sacramental ontology where the world is alive and charged with the grandeur of God.

True, the mechanism might be intricate, giving evidence of a creative Mind and Intellect. But the mechanism, once designed, no longer needs the Watchmaker. The Watchmaker just winds up the Watch and then steps away. The mechanism runs all on its own, driven by the deterministic laws of cause and effect.

Basically, the Watchmaker argument tricks you into adopting deism, the belief that God wound up the universe at the start and then walked away. The Watchmaker argument might be good in the short run, helping you score a point or two in a debate about the existence of God, but the long run consequences can be disastrous to faith. True, the design of the universe might give evidence for an originating Creator, but the universe as a mechanism, as a Watch, is thoroughly disenchanted. You might score a point with apologetics, but you've stepped into a worldview that is going to radically alter your experience of God in day to day life, an experience that will slowly dry up your faith.

This is why I said that wonder and awe at the Watch--the argument from design--can actually undermine you faith in the long run. The Watchmaker argument, by reducing Creation to a mechanism, tricks you into adopting a deistic view of the cosmos. And once you've adopted deism--a distant God who stepped away from creation and doesn't intervene--your disenchantment radically deepens.

So that's the point I made to the biology majors. When we teachers point out the intricacy and design of biology I think we're actually hurting your faith in the long run. We're turning you into deists because we are implicitly asking you to look at Creation as a cold, dead mechanism--a beautifully designed mechanism, yes, but still a mechanism--rather than as something alive, sacred and crackling with the Presence of God.

So where do we find room for existential jujitsu with the Watchmaker argument?

Here's the question I asked the biology majors:

Is cancer beautiful?

It's a hard question. Maybe at the level of pure mechanism you can find beauty in how cancer cells replicate. At the cellular and molecular level the intricacy of the design is beautiful.

Cancer is the Watch.

But at an existential level we recoil at the notion that cancer is beautiful. We've seen cancer eat away at and take the lives of our loved ones. We stand at the graveside of a child who has died of leukemia and say, "Maybe the Watch is beautiful. But I hate the Watch."

The problem with the Watchmaker argument, I told the biology majors, is that it doesn't account for our deep, deep dissatisfaction with the Watch. The Watch may be intricately designed, and when we look at the Grand Canyon or at the stars we might call these parts of the Watch beautiful. But there also parts of the Watch that we experience as ugly, horrible and tragic. Design doesn't always produce wonder. Cancer isn't beautiful.

It might seem, though, that I've argued myself into a corner, right back to the problem of suffering. Why, we ask, did the Watchmaker make a Watch with cancer in it?

I don't have an answer to that question. But I do find resources for enchantment here. How? Because I don't like Darwin's view of the Watch either.

When I stand by the graveside of a child who has died of leukemia everything in me tells me that this is wrong, that the world shouldn't be this way. And that feeling of wrongness edges me back toward enchantment. For some deep reason, a reason rooted in the foundations of what it means to be human being, I think about cancer moralistically. Cancer, I'm convinced, is wrong.

Now, biologically speaking, scientifically speaking, I know that this is a ridiculous feeling. Cancer can't be wrong. Cancer is just a mechanism--a dumb, beautiful mechanism.

A Watch can't be wrong. A Watch just is. And yet I hate the Watch.

If all is mechanism and deterministic clockwork, it's irrational to hate cancer. It's like hating a bicycle or a tree or the sunset.

But I'll never, ever, let go of my feeling that cancer is wrong and ugly. To let go of that feeling is to become untethered from my humanity. Which means that I'll always be tethered to faith. 

Yes, my lamentation at the graveside fuels my doubt about God. But the hot sting of lamentation also edges me back toward enchantment, back to faith, back to God. Because if I'm lamenting, if I'm objecting, if I'm screaming at the universe, I'm viewing the Watch as broken, as wrong. As more than mechanism. Which means that I think things should be--notice that moralizing should--otherwise. And that's a ridiculous, sentimental notion if there is no Watchmaker. I should just stoically resign myself to the facts--that cancer isn't right or wrong, that cancer is beautifully designed.

Yes, my tears around the graveside erode my faith. But those tears, and the revolt they express, are at the very same time the tears the edge me back toward enchantment

Edging Toward Enchantment: Anointing with Oil

In the last post I talked about prayer as a ritual of hallowing that we use to give life sacred texture. Before moving on from the subject of prayer as a ritual of hallowing, I also wanted to mention a closely associated practice, anointing with oil. A discussion about anointing with oil also connects us back to earlier posts in this series about the use of sacramentals within the Catholic tradition.

As I've written about before, my faith tradition the Churches of Christ has been pretty skeptical and wary of charismatic and pentecostal impulses.

Consequently, as I describe in my recent book Reviving Old Scratch, I was caught off guard when I first started attending Freedom Fellowship. Though a church plant sponsored by the Highland Church of Christ, Freedom Fellowship is a lot more charismatic and pentecostal.

Freedom has an indigenous spirituality unlike anything I've experienced in the Churches of Christ. I think this is due to the fact that a lot of the people Freedom attracts--the poor and homeless--have been shaped by charismatic and pentecostal traditions, and they have imported that spirituality into the congregation.

Relevant to our discussion about rituals of hallowing, one of the distinctive aspects of the spirituality that has emerged at Freedom is anointing with oil.

At Freedom we anoint with oil very regularly. If someone prays over you, and this happens a lot, very often they will anoint your head with oil before they pray. Brothers and sisters at Freedom carry oil around with them so that, if anyone needs prayer, oil is always on hand for that purpose. When I go to Freedom I grab two things, my Bible and a small bottle of anointing oil. You never know when you or someone else might need it.

The first time I was ever anointed with oil was then I was at church early having driven the van bringing people to the dinner we have before every service. I was coming down with a fever and I was shaking pretty badly. Mary came up to me to see if I was okay and I told her I was coming down with a fever. Mary prayed over me and before she did, as we do a lot at Freedom, she anointed my head with oil, making the sign of the cross, "In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

I was pretty well hooked at that moment. Maybe it was the fever, but I became all in with the oil thing. And reading authors like Sara Miles, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, has helped deepen my appreciation of the practice.

To be clear, I understand reservations about this practice. It can look a little weird and strange. Especially if you're a doubting and disenchanted Christian. But that's exactly why I'm so taken with the practice.

Like I mentioned in the last post, in this secular age I think we need rituals to signify holy ground.

I think we need sacramental practices of consecration and hallowing.

I think we need to feel a loving touch on our face.

I think we need to pray with our hands.

I think we need to be marked to remember who we are.

I think we need to experience grace in the tingle on the skin and the smell of incense on our foreheads.

I think we need liturgies where we stand before each other, eye to eye, because very rarely at church do we stand so close. Rarely have I anointed anyone without crying. And I think we need to look at each other and cry a little bit more at the beauty of it all.

You might not anoint with oil where you worship. And introducing the practice into your world might be a little too weird. But there is a sacramental wisdom here. A way of seeing each other. A way of praying. A way of loving.

A way of edging us--with sacramental touch--back toward enchantment.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Prayer as Hallowing

As I mentioned in the last post, due to disenchantment meaning and significance are harder in this secular age. This creates, in the words of Charles Taylor, a "terrible flatness in the everyday."

Earlier in this series I described how we can edge back toward enchantment by giving life a sacred texture. We do this by hallowing, giving the flatness of daily life some sacred "weight."

Practices like prayer help us here. Prayer gives life sacred weight and texture.

As I've written about before, one of my favorite parts of Sara Miles' memoir Take This Bread is how, after she starts a food pantry at her church St. Gregory, she gets pulled into a ministry of prayer, this despite all her doubts and skepticism about prayer:
The atmosphere of St. Gregory's drew people in: They came looking for something to eat, but often, like the woman seeking peace, or like me, they really wanted far more. I'd be lifting a box, in the noise and bustle, and someone would come up to me--a grieving mom, a lonely immigrant, a sick man, or any of the many varieties of crazy people who hovered around the pantry. "Will you pray for me?" they'd ask.

So I took a deep breath and began praying with anyone who asked...I'd get people such as Ed, a filthy white guy with long hair who'd frequently flop down on the curb, begging for help. One of our most insane and drug-addicted visitors, he'd sob and rant, in no particular sequence...I'd sit down on the sidewalk with him and wipe his nose. "Oh God," he'd say, "I can't go on like this. Help me, help me." I was sort of fond of Ed, despite his hysteria, so I'd pat his stringy arm and murmur until he calmed down a bit, then fetch him a snack, make the sign of the cross on his dirty forehead, and send him on his way with a few bags of food...

"It seems really hokey sometimes," I said to Lynn.

"I know," said Lynn. "But big deal. You just have to be there."

So I'd sit down next to people and let them talk or cry; I'd listen and put my hands on them; at some point, I'd pray aloud, without really knowing where the words were coming from. It felt homey, not mysterious. But it usually made me cry, too.
I like these passages in the book because they mirror my own experience. As a doubting and disenchanted Christian I struggle a lot with prayer. But when you start to engage with people on the margins you are inexorably drawn into the experience of prayer. And what you begin to appreciate is how prayer is a practice of hallowing.

Imagine someone comes to you and shares a great burden. They share loss, failure, despair, fear, brokenness, or sickness. Their own or that of someone they love. What do you say upon listening? Thanks for sharing? Good luck with all that? I'm so sorry?

Something has happened, something was shared, that needs to be set apart from every other mundane and silly thing that has happened during the day. The moment needs to be hallowed--set apart, consecrated, made holy.

And so you pray. Prayer is a hallowing. Prayer infuses life with sacred texture. Prayer re-enchants life.

I think about the prayer time before our Sunday School class, a prayer that I often lead. We go around sharing a variety of requests. People are sick. People are traveling. People are struggling. People are broken. People are afraid. And after gathering all these requests, having opened ourselves up to each other, what are we to say in response? "Thanks for sharing everyone," doesn't quite cut it. The moment--where we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those rejoice--needs hallowing. And so we pray. Our sharing wasn't just "catching up" around the water cooler. Something sacred was going on. And so we pray. We hallow.

We are back to existential jujitsu.

True, our doubts and disenchantment cause us to doubt the nature and power of prayer.

But life without prayer? That's hard to imagine. Sometimes prayer is the only appropriate thing to do.

Our disenchantment with a world devoid of prayer edges us back toward enchantment.

Personal Days: Sacred Hearts

When it comes to Christian aesthetics my tastes lean toward the Catholic. Much of what you find in Christian bookstores leaves me cold, but I love vintage Catholic things.

So when I accompany Jana to antique and thrift stores I'm always on the lookout for Catholic pieces. I'm a collector when it comes to vintage rosaries, crucifixes and statues.

Pictured here is my latest find.

We have an antique statue of the the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but I'd never seen a piece that had the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary side by side. This piece was made in 1928 and I got it for a great price.

Can't wait to find it a spot in my office.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Existential Jujitsu

One of the key practices that help us edge back toward enchantment is existential jujitsu.

Yes, belief is hard in an an age of doubt and disenchantment, in this our "secular age," to use the phrase of Charles Taylor. And yet, we're dissatisfied and disillusioned with doubt and disenchantment in various ways. And that dissatisfaction and disillusionment can be used and leveraged back upon doubt and disenchantment. As in the martial art jujitsu, you use the momentum and energy of the attacker against himself. Doubt and disenchantment erodes belief, but doubt and disenchantment create all sorts of dissatisfactions that can be leveraged right back upon doubt and disenchantment, causing us to doubt our doubts and edge back toward enchantment.

So in the next few posts I want to walk through a couple of locations where I think this existential jujitsu is effective.

In this post I'd like to consider meaning, significance and purpose in life.

Specifically, we'd like for our lives to have meaning and significance. We want our lives to matter. We want our lives to have purpose.

But in our disenchanted and secular age the transcendent and metaphysical structures that gave the lives of our ancestors value, direction, purpose, significance and meaning have all been dismantled. All that we are left with, in a thoroughly disenchanted world, is the preferences and choices of the lone individual. But when I'm confronted with the fact that the great, grand goal and purpose of my life is the product of my own momentary choice and preference the fabric that makes up the meaning of life seems thin and insubstantial. I'm a fickle human being. Who says the "meaning" of my life, the meaning I chose for myself today, isn't going to be different tomorrow when I decide to change my mind?

Fickleness isn't the only problem. As I reflect upon my life I see how my visions of success, significance and meaning in life are often driven by vanity and selfishness. Or fear. In Christian language, my vision of success and significance is always being contaminated by my own sin, brokenness and fallenness.

And it's not just fickleness and sin. Sometimes it's just simple inattentiveness. I don't, by and large, wake up each day pondering the deep existential significance of my life. I'm too busy, distracted and superficial. I mainly spend my days moving back and forth from To Do Lists to entertainments. Now I'm working on something that has to get done, then surfing the Internet, then excited to get back to show I'm following on Netflix. Then back to work. So pass my days, life as an producer and consumer in late modern capitalism. My life is rendered superficial by mindlessness. I'm being "productive" and having "fun" but I'm not living deeply.

Such is meaning, purpose and significance when life is left up to me. When it's left up to me the deepest things in life suddenly seem fragile and insubstantial. So we are chronically confronted with crises of meaning. We never escape the haunting question, "What's the point?" Life feels random, arbitrary, and rootless.

All this is to simply say that meaning, purpose and significance is harder in a disenchanted age. And we feel a deep dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Here's how Charles Taylor describe this fragility of meaning in our secular age:
Almost every action of ours has a point; we're trying to get to work, or to find a place to buy a bottle of milk after hours. But we can stop and ask why we're doing these things, and that points us beyond to the significance of these significances. The issue may arise for us in a crisis, where we feel that what has been orienting our life up to now lacks real value, weight...A crucial feature of the malaise of [modernity] is the sense that all these answers are fragile, or uncertain; that a moment may come, where we no longer feel that our chosen path is compelling, or cannot justify it to ourselves or others. There is a fragility of meaning...
And because of this void of meaning, continues Taylor, "the quotidian [day to day life] is emptied of deeper resonance, is dry, flat; the things which surround us are dead, ugly, empty; and the way we organize them, shape them, in order to live has not meaning, beauty, depth, sense." In our disenchanted world we experience "a terrible flatness in the everyday."

I think we've all experienced this, especially if you struggle with doubt and disenchantment.

So here's the existential jujitsu.

Yes, doubt and disenchantment make it hard to believe in metaphysics and transcendence.

But doubt and disenchantment also make it hard for meaning, purpose and significance in life.

And the dissatisfactions we experience in this regard--"the terrible flatness in the everyday"--can help us edge back toward enchantment. 

Edging Toward Enchantment: Practice Resurrection

We've been talking about edging back toward enchantment by recovering the sacred and holy aspects of creation. In the last post I mentioned the enchantments of the hobbits, much of which is rooted in a love and care for a particular place, the Shire.

We can't really move on from that point without bringing in another resource. Wendell Berry.

It's perhaps Berry's most well known poem, but it's always worth revisiting:
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

--from the collection The Mad Farmer Poems
A couple of observations about the poem for our reflections about edging back toward enchantment.

First, you see in the poem a recovery of the enchanted, sacramental ontology:

Love the Lord. Love the world. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. Listen to carrion. Go with your love to the fields. Lie down in the shade. Be like the fox.

In addition, similar to Gerard Manley Hopkins' "God's Grandeur" poem, this embrace of nature and place is contrasted with disenchanted consumption and production:

If you love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay, and want more of everything ready-made, your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer. When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know. So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.

Our hearts thrill to these lines. But what else is there in a flat, hollowed out, disenchanted world? Just working and buying things. Week after week. Year after year. We feel the lie in this, the cheapening, numbing and deadening of life. We know there are holy, sacred and enchanted things. True, as skeptical, doubting and modern Christians we struggle with doubts and disenchantment. But we know that we must learn to give our approval to all we cannot understand. As smart, educated and sophisticated Christians we must learn to praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed. There is sacred mystery. We must ask and embrace the questions that have no answers.

We must practice resurrection.

That is how we edge back toward enchantment.

The Origins of Lucifer

A few months ago, before the release of my latest book Reviving Old Scratch, I was asked to give a guest lecture about the Devil to my son's English class. They were about to start an assignment on C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.

At the start of the lecture I took the class on a tour through some of the names we use for the Devil.

One of those names is Lucifer.

Interestingly, I pointed out, Satan is never actually named Lucifer in the Bible.

The name "Lucifer" comes from the King James Version translation of Isaiah 14.12:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
Most modern translations translate the Hebrew word helel here as "day star" or "morning star." The meaning can also be "bringer of light" as the "morning star" (Venus) was considered to be a bringer or herald of the dawn.

The Latin for "bringer of light" is "lucifer," so that's what we find in Isaiah 14.12 in the Latin Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible from the late 4th century:
quomodo cecidisti de caelo lucifer [bringer of light, morning star] qui mane oriebaris corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes. 
For some reason, the KJV translators didn't translate "lucifer" as "morning star." Rather, they transliterated the word, keeping it "Lucifer" in the English.

So who was the original Lucifer in Isaiah 14.12?

The original Lucifer in Isaiah 14 was the Babylonian king being decried by the prophet of God, perhaps king Nebuchadnezzar but the text isn't specific.

However, and perhaps due to the diabolical connection with Babylon, the New Testament writers appear to use the image from Isaiah 14.12--a wicked star falling from heaven--for the Devil. At multiple locations in the NT Satan is described as a star or light, and as one falling from heaven:
Luke 10.18
Jesus replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."

2 Corinthians 11.14
And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

Revelation 12.3-4a, 7-9
Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth...Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
The imagery here is so close to that of Isaiah 14.12--"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer!"--that the proper name Lucifer became associated with the Devil.

Lilith Revisited

The men out at the prison always ask me crazy questions. The prison is a cauldron for very sort of weird idea, crack pot theory or heresy when it comes to the bible.

The other day one of the men asked me if I'd ever heard of Lilith. Apparently a controversy was raging about her among the prisoners, some arguing for her existence and some disputing her existence.

I've written about Lilith before. The source of the legend, I shared with the inmate asking me the question, are the inconsistencies in what appear to be two different creation stories in the opening chapters of Genesis.

The first chapters of Genesis appear to be written by two different authors, called the Elohist and the Yahwist.

The Elohist uses the word Elohim to refer to God. Elohim is typically translated "God" in English bibles. So when we read "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" the Elohist is writing.

The Yahwist, by contrast, uses the name YHWH to refer to the Deity. In many English translations YHWH is translated LORD, all caps.

The Elohist story of creation ends in Genesis 2.2. The Yahwist story of creation starts at Genesis 2.3. You can see both the beginning and the ending of the two accounts as well as the switch from "God" to "LORD" in referring to the Creator:

Genesis 2.1-4
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
--End of Elohist Creation Story--

--Start of Yahwist Creation Story--
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens...
It is believed that the two stories were edited together by a third author (a "redactor") working with both manuscripts.

In some ways the two stories complement and supplement each other. But there are differences that have preoccupied scholars. These were the differences the men were debating out at the prison. Specifically, the Elohist and the Yahwist tell different creation stories concerning Adam and Eve:
Elohist Version of Adam & Eve (Genesis 1.26-27):
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Yahwist Version of Adam & Eve (Genesis 2.7-8, 15-23):
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed...

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
Most readers of the bible read the first account from the Elohist--"in the image of God he created them / male and female he created them"--as an abbreviated summary of the longer, and admittedly much weirder, account of the Yahwist, where God parades all the animals before Adam suggesting he pick a mate from them. But most scholars take these to be two different stories.

Incidentally, egalitarians like the Elohist version best where man and woman are created at the same time as equals. By contrast, hierarchical complementarians like the Yahwist version better with the ordered creation of man before woman and woman made from man's rib. We'll revisit this contrast in a second. 

Again, while many Christians read these texts as being the same story (one compressed, the other more detailed) there is a Jewish tradition where these are read as two stories about two different events--the story of Adam's first wife and the story of Adam's second wife.

The two stories run like this. The first, Elohist account is the story of the creation of Adam and his first wife. This wife then goes missing from the story and Adam finds himself alone. Finding this unacceptable, God makes a second wife for Adam. This is the Yahwist story, the story of making Eve from Adam's rib so she will stick with Adam (unlike the missing first wife).

So who was Adam's first wife? And where did she go?

That's the legend of Lilith.

According to Jewish legend, Lilith was the first wife of Adam. Her name comes from one of the Akkadian words (which is uncertain) lilatu ("night") or lilu ("demon" or "phantom"). As the story goes, Lilith felt herself to be Adam's equal (as the Elohist seems to suggest). Eventually, however, Lilith refused to submit to Adam, wanting to be the dominant one. Adam, with the help of God, resists this usurpation. In response Lilith either leaves or is cast out of Eden leaving Adam alone and in need of a second, more submissive wife. Enter Eve.

Lilith isn't mentioned in Genesis, but you can find her name in the bible. In the middle of a discussion about the destruction of Edom we read in Isaiah 34.14 (NRSV):
Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.
Anyway, out at the prison I was asked to weigh in on the Lilith controversy. They wanted a yes or no answer from me. Instead I started talking about the the Elohist and the Yahwist accounts and how the Lilith legend was likely invented to reconcile the inconsistencies of the two creation stories.

I don't want to weigh in on Lilith's existence, I said, but I do think her legend illustrates something about how we read and interpret the bible. Specifically, sometimes the bible is just inconsistent. But that inconsistency is scary to us. So we create some interpretation--like the Lilith legend--to make the inconsistency go away.

Problem solved it seems. But in our fear we ended up creating something far more unbelievable and implausible.

Sometimes, I said, it's just best to let the bible be weird.

Personal Days: Roller Derby Fans

Since 2014, when I first wrote about Jana and I taking in our first roller derby match, we've continued to go to roller derby matches.

We're officially fans.

And it's been fun introducing friends to the sport.

Last October we took our small group at church to the Abilene roller derby. Yes, a few of them were skeptical, but by the time the match was over they were on board. We had a great time.

And this week we took Jana's friend Cindy to the Eerie Roller derby. Brenden and Aidan came along.

The Eerie Roller Girls got out to an early lead, the Penn Jersey She Devils fought back, but Eerie pulled away late.

By the end of the night Cindy was cheering right along with us when that lead jammer would break through the pack...

Eerie Roller Girls

Edging Toward Enchantment: The Enchantments of the Shire

In the last few posts we've been talking about how a sacred experience of nature can edge us, particularly liberal and progressive Christians, back toward enchantment.

As I noted in my last post, given that liberals seem to experience nature as sacred and holy, liberals, at least on an emotional level, embrace a sacramental ontology, an enchanted world "charged with the grandeur of God."

And while we're on this subject, we really should visit with the elves and hobbits before moving on.

Last summer I blogged through J.R.R. Tolkien's famous essay "On Fairy Stories." Of particular relevance for these reflections are the first three posts from my "The Theology of Faërie" series: "The Enchantment of the Inklings," "The Elvish Art and Desiring Dragons,"  and "The Wonder of Things."

Read those posts to see how Tolkien, and the other Inklings, used fairy stories to help us edge back toward enchantment.

But if you don't have the time to read those posts, just note how the sacramental ontology of Catholicism (Tolkien was a devout Catholic) is observed in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, in the enchantments we experience among the elves and hobbits.

And these are different sorts of enchantments. The elves are magical. The hobbits are not magical, but they are enchanted.

The enchantment of the hobbits are the enchantments of home and simple joys.

Love for the Shire. Friendship. Food, drink, and song. And a good pipe.

Common things, but enchanted things.

The hobbits are less magical than the elves but more enchanted than Men. This makes the hobbits perfect metaphors for how we edge back toward enchantment. We don't reach for the magic of the elves but for the enchantments of the Shire.

And the the enchantments of the Shire are harmony with nature, domestic life and the daily magic of friendship and good food.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Liberals Condemn Sacrilege Too

I ended my last post with a provocation.

I said, let us become disgusted with a disenchanted view of creation.

I chose my words carefully. I specifically wanted to use the word disgusted.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt, as many of you know, has posited that human societies tend to work with five "moral foundations" to decide if something is right versus wrong. The the moral foundations are: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity.

One of the early findings of this research was that liberals and conservatives appear to use these foundations differently. Specifically, it was argued that liberals tend to restrict their moral judgments to the foundations of Care and Fairness. This gives liberals that "social justice" impulse, a sensitivity to injustice (violations of the Fairness foundation) and oppression (violations of the Care foundation).

By contrast, it was argued that conservatives appeal to all five foundations. Beyond issues of harm and injustice conservatives also care about in-group loyalty/solidarity, obeying authority and honoring the holy/sacred.

But is that true?

For example, do liberals and progressives really eschew the Sanctity foundation?

This is important in that the Sanctity foundation is the fount of enchantment, as it is the experience of what we've called a "sacramental ontology," a world experienced, here and there, as holy and sacred.

By and large, liberals tend to be a pretty disenchanted group, more modern and secularized than their conservative counterparts. And the same holds true among liberal and progressive Christians. Liberal and progressive Christians tend to be the Christians who most struggle with doubt and disenchantment.

But if progressives and liberals also makes appeals to the Sanctity foundation, as conservatives do, then we've found here some other resources that might help doubting and disenchanted Christians edge back toward enchantment.

So, the question: Do liberals make appeals to the Sanctity foundation?

Contrary to what was first thought, it appears that they do. Liberals just use the Sanctity foundation for different sorts of things. What we are now realizing is that it's not that conservatives appeal to Sanctity and liberals do not, but that each group considers different things to be sacred and holy.

For example, in a 2015 study entitled "Liberals Condemn Sacrilege Too: The Harmless Desecration of Cerro Torre" psychologists Jeremy Frimer and Caitlin Tell, along with Jonathan Haidt, observed that liberals condemned the alteration of the mountain Cerro Torre by mountain climbers. (The mountain climbers had placed permanent bolts in the mountain and left them there.)

But here's the key point. The researchers observed that liberals condemned the alteration of the mountain by making an appeal to the Sanctity foundation.

That is, the bolts were condemned as a desecration of the mountain.

In short, liberals also make appeals to the Sanctity foundation.

And that is why I chose the word "disgusted" in my last post. Disgust, as I describe in my book Unclean, is the emotion that regulates the Sanctity foundation. Disgust is the emotion of defilement and desecration.

Liberals, it seems, experience nature as sacred and holy. Liberals appeal to the Sanctity foundation to condemn the desecration of nature. Which connects back to my last post, the sacred experience of creation becomes a resource for liberal and progressive Christians to edge back toward enchantment. 

In short, while they might not theologically believe it, liberals emotionally experience the world as being "charged with the grandeur of God."

That's why in the last post I called this a "romantic Christianity." Intellectually, liberal Christians struggle with disenchantment.

For liberal Christians enchantment is emotional, less theological and more romantic.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Romantic Christianity

In my last post I suggested that we find material for enchantment when we ponder how and why we become disenchanted with disenchantment. 

So when, where and why do we become disenchanted with disenchantment?

In the next few posts I want to explore specific locations where a lot of us become disenchanted with disenchantment.

In this post I want to talk about creation.

To start, let's return to Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
       It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
       It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
       And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
       And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
       There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
       Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
       World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
I've been using the phrase "the world is charged with the grandeur of God" throughout these posts to describe the experience of enchantment. But in this post I want to ponder the contrast being worked out in Hopkins' poem.

The contrast is a contrast between an enchanted view of creation and a disenchanted view of creation.

On the one hand is an enchanted view of creation, creation "charged with the grandeur of God," creation over which the Holy Ghost "broods with warm breast" and "bright wings."

Opposed to that enchanted view of creation is a disenchanted view of the material universe. And I use the word "material" very deliberately. When creation is stripped of its holy, sacred and enchanted character that's what it becomes--material. Raw, disenchanted material. Inert stuff. Piles of particles.

And raw, disenchanted material is perfect for commercial exploitation. And that's the image Hopkins gives us in his poem. Instead of a sacred and holy world--where the earth, air and water are all enchanted--we have a material world that can be used and exploited. A raw material world becomes a means to our ends rather than something to be cherished and cared for as an end in itself. No longer sacred the world becomes depleted, exhausted, used and spent:
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
       And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
       And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
How might we cultivate disenchantment with disenchantment?

Thanks to Hopkins, here's a suggestion: Take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass.

This, then, is a good location, good source material, for enchantment: We're disenchanted with a disenchanted view of creation. We experience an ugliness here. An ugliness that creates more ugliness. "All is seared with trade."

We revolt at the notion that creation is just raw material, raw disenchanted "stuff." Our hearts long for a more romantic, enchanted view of the world, a world where the air, earth and water are holy and sacred. Even the most skeptical and doubting of Christians experiences this disaffection with disenchantment. It's this disaffection that makes these Christians so attracted to spiritual traditions, like Native American or Celtic spiritualities, that experience the world as holy and sacred.

This is why I'm so attracted to Henry David Thoreau and other romantics. And also with St. Francis. From Francis' Canticle of Brother Sun:
Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
and bears a likeness of you, Most High One.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear, and precious and wonderful.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom you give sustenance to all your creatures.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful, and humble, and precious, and chaste.

Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night.
And he is beautiful, and playful, and robust and strong.

Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks
and serve him with great humility.
I have some more to say about all this, but for today this is enough: If you want to edge back toward enchantment cultivate a romantic Christianity.

Become disgusted with the ugliness of a disenchanted view of the world.

The Devil, Not So Black and White

I want to introduce you to a new podcast hosted by Missio Alliance. My good friend Sean Palmer with John Alan Turner are co-hosting a new podcast called Not So Black and White.

The premise of Not So Black and White is to discuss issues in the church and world that tend to get unhelpfully reduced to "black or white" positions. Those issues, Sean and John argue in the podcast, are actually more complicated, not so black and white.

For example, I think Sean and John's podcast on 5 Views of Christianity and Politics is a really helpful overview that I think pastors and church leaders should have everyone in their church listen to during this anxious election year. Using that podcast as small group discussion material would, I think, really help people talk about the church and politics in a much more non-anxious, theologically informed and charitable fashion.

For my part, I was honored to be interviewed by Sean and John Alan about my new book Reviving Old Scratch. In the spirit of the podcast I try to talk about the devil in my book in a way that is not so black and white, finding space between progressive silence about the devil and charismatic excesses on the other.

Give that episode a listen.

But more importantly, put Not So Black and White on your podcast feed.

Personal Days: Praying With Hank Williams

I first bought a guitar and started to learn some chords because I wanted to strum along to accompany myself as I sang old gospel hymns.

Most gospel hymns are simple three chord progressions. "Amazing Grace" is G, C, D7 (or D, G, A7). Those same chords are also used for "I'll Fly Away." And many, many other songs.

Learn three simple chords and the whole hymnal opens up.

I'm not the best guitar player. I mainly play because I like to sing.

Lately I've been working through and teaching myself gospel songs written or covered by Hank Williams. Outside of "I Saw the Light," Hank Williams isn't really known for his gospel music, but I've found his religious music to be remarkable.

So prior to our summer vacation I printed off the lyrics and chords for a bunch of these songs and have been practicing and singing them. Some of my favorite songs are "The Tramp on the Street," "Thank God," "The Devil's Train," "The Angel of Death," "A House of Gold," "I'll Have a New Body," "Jesus is Calling," "When the Book of Life is Read," "I'm Gonna Sing," "Wait for the Light to Shine," "How Can You Refuse Him Now," and "The Battle of Armageddon."

You can find most if not all of theses songs on YouTube if you'd like to give any of them a listen.

Anyhow, our dear friend Hannah was visiting us from England this last week. One of the mornings during Hannah's visit I was working through these Hank Williams' songs. Strumming and singing along like I do on many mornings.

"It's one of the ways," I told Hannah, "that I like to pray."