20 June, 2010

Hope: Where We All Fail

(Link to first post in this series)

I keep struggling to understand the mystery of Postmodernism. My kids see the world in a radically different way than do I. Radically. Where I keep trying to perceive a coherent tapestry in the confusing threads of pain and joy entangling me, my kids observe, "We're screwed." They think in biological, gritty terms of despair like that, when I never could. I keep seeing hope and they keep seeing reality. It's disconcerting.

I think I've found a clue, though, where we're both wrong.

I saw it first in my younger friends. Paul said God left us with Faith, Hope, and Love. My friends are capable of believing unbelievable things and you can count on them for love. They just can't hope. They can hope for little things; jobs, friends, families. Ask them, though, whether God's goodness can redeem and they'll kind of freeze. Whether they parrot or reject the party line, it seems the comfort of real hope will elude them.

Postmodernism is cobbled together from a thousand little bricks of despair.

Modernists, aka the good guys, look nothing like that. Modernists rest unfailingly in richest hope. Modernists know God is going to make sure everthing works out for the good. Modernists know we're learning more about everything every day, and we're growing stronger, smarter, spirity-er.

Modernists, I'm coming to see, fail by resting on unfounded hope.

We really looked at the Western World's steady progress from benighted medievalism to rationalism to the capstones of democracy and freedom, and ascribe that progress to divine intervention. God was on our side. We're rich and brilliant, aren't we? God must be blessing us. We hooked our faith to the wagon of progress and urged the horses to give it all they had.

When the West ascended to lofty heights we saw the hand of God. We even called it "Manifest Destiny." It was obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that God was going to get us to wherever we needed to be.

Us Modernists have kids, though, who don't think so much of the emperor's new clothes. All that hope in which us Modernists invested smells to them like so many fish tales. We all know what happened to our economy when the Housing Bubble burst, but Modernism inflated a Hope Bubble that couldn't last. Our hope was leveraged out of proportion both to the reality of God's promises and to the realities we live with on the ground.

The answer to both Modernism's hyper-inflation of hope and Postmodernism's recessionary deflation of hope is a correct valuation of what God has promised and what He's delivered. The false overpromises of Modernism won't work any more, but the hopeless fears of Postmodernism won't work either. There's a valid comfort in God's promises rightly valued, and we need that comfort to survive. Even after the bubble a house is really worth the land its on, the materials of which it's constructed, and the neighborhood into which it's joined. The only value the housing collapse stole is the speculative worth it might have had upon resale.

Even so, the Christian life has measurable worth. The relationship it gives to God and people, the growth we experience in the Spirit, and the strength the unified love of His people embodies are true and lasting riches. The false promises of a recipe to make America great, end divorce, and free the subjected people of the world are gone, but the value of knowing God hasn't shaken at all.

Jesus eased the lives of many for the three years of His ministry, but not of all. Health and wealth did not radiate from Jesus in 30 AD into all the corners of Africa, South America, and Asia. He touched the Jewish lives He touched and was content to be limited in that way.

The church today has the same powers and limitations. We can make a difference in our community, and if we do we'll have done what our King could do.

I'll be back to look at this from another perspective.

12 June, 2010

All Odd Postmodernists are Primed

(First post in series)

It's an old joke, really, but I'm going to make a point from it anyway. Sorry.

How a mathematician, physicist and an engineer prove that all odd numbers, (greater than 2), are prime.

  • Mathematician: "Well, 3 is prime, 5 is prime and 7 is prime so, by induction all odds are prime."

  • Physicist: "3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 isn't prime, (bad data point), 11 is prime, and so is 13, so all odds are prime."

  • Engineer: "3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is prime, 11 is prime 13 is prime, so all odds are prime."

I think maybe it's a good thing aspiring theologians aren't told by their professors that God said all odd numbers are prime and then asked to prove it. I suspect their proofs might look a little bit like this:

  • Calvinist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is ... Who art thou that repliest against God!

  • Arminian: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, Christ's atonement sufficed for 9, but 9 didn't heed the call of prevenient math.

  • Pentacostal: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, Oh! Hallelujah oh Lord! We praise you for the mystery of 9. Your ways are glorious and the sight of your glory ... la! la! holelulalalaleboo!

  • Fundamentalist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 was good enough for Paul, and it's good enough for you! Repent sinner, or face the judgment with factors for 9 that the Bible, the HOLY Bible, testifies against!

  • Ecumenicist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, 9 is not a doctrine over which to divide. Sure, some say it has factors, but division over oddness brings tears to the heart of God. Where some would divide we must add, and even multiply! Instead of factoring 9, let it be a factor. ... Ummm. We don't know what to do with 81, but 81's clearly a non-essential.

  • Postmodernist: 3 is prime, 5 is prime, 7 is prime, ... Ummm. 9's not prime. Ummm. Neither are 15, 21, 25, 27 .... Hey! Who made up all this garbage!?!

  • Calvinist, Arminian, Pentacostal, Fundamentalist, and Ecumenicist in concert: Off with their heads!!!

I'm beginning to really feel the plight of the Postmodernist. When the Modernists (and all denominations and non-denominations over 40 years old are modernist) answered the questions of the atheists, higher critics, and apostates of 50 years ago, their answers were merely human. They had the divine revelation in front of them, but they were humans working to parse it out. Their answers had gaps.

Then came the information explosion.

My children heard about God's sovereignty from me. Then they heard about the burning of Falun Gong members in China, the genocide in Rwanda (perpetrated by Christians on Christians), the plight of Muslims in Palestine, the deaths of aborted babies by the millions, the fall of Christian leaders, the weirdness of the bible and how no one can agree on what it should say much less what any of it means, the fact that history is written by the winners, and that everyone who holds power is corrupt.

They are bombarded with information every day that says a sovereign God is either a figment of some oldster's imagination or He's pathetic.

To which Modernists reply, "God has a wonderful plan for your life. You are separated from Him by your sin...."

God has been mocked before. He's been rejected before. He's been forgotten, disproven, and declared dead. Today, He's being called out on His record. The Internet has catapulted "The Problem of Evil" (Theodicy) straight at the heavens and not bothered to wait for an answer. Every evil in the world, and every failing of Christianity in the face of those evils, is published to anyone who cares to subscribe.

Faith seems almost impossible with a high pressure pipeline spewing (honest) bad news into each of our minds, but the church's answers seem stuck in the 1950's. So many churches just keep asserting 9 is prime. God is sovereign. This world is the best of all possible worlds under the loving care of a loving God. God has a wonderful plan for your life.

I can hardly blame my children for rejecting my apparent naivette.

Time has expired for the evening, but the skepticism of Postmodernism seems very honest to me. I don't blame them for digging their heels in and wondering where the real answers are hiding.

05 June, 2010

Accepting The Challenge of Jesus

NT Wright, in The Challenge of Jesus, continues to turn my thinking about real life inside out. And he does it in the best way, by splattering my thinking about Jesus.

The first six chapters of the book are a studied attempt to show wrest Jesus from the shaky throne He holds in our minds. Wright doesn't capitalize "He" when using pronouns to reference our Lord, and that's true of the whole book. Wright de-capitalizes Jesus, and unearths an uncomfortably alien Man in the process. Jesus is not a Western man, and we all know that. Many authors fill in Jewish details about Jesus. Wright goes further. Jesus is also not a universal man . Jesus is wholly Jewish. He wouldn't have connected with Postmodern American folk any better than Peter or Paul.

Six chapters of unwrapping what it means to this American to follow a Man (for the record, it will be a while before I quit capitalizing pronouns referencing the divine Man) with limitations more than covers the price of admission for this book. Wright tied my mind in knots as I slowly unwrapped the implications of the kingdom of heaven being Jewish, the sacraments of Christianity being substantive, the crucifixion in light of zealot history, and so much more. Each layer Wright peeled away cleared my mind, and somehow buried all my mental housekeeping. The book left me with years of rebuilding to do.

I don't want to talk about those six chapters. I need to talk about them, but time doesn't permit me to do everything I need to do. I want to think out loud about the last two chapters.

Wright closes this book with a good old-fashioned challenge.

Wright takes a long, hard look at today's mental landscape and acknowledges the valuable contribution of Postmodernism to humanity. The words "valuable" and "postmodern" have never cohabitated in a single sentence of mine before. I'm so Modernist I still believe stories should have happy endings and villians should be punished. Wright looks at Postmodernism and finds the value in their rejection of all things certain. He finds accuracy in their depiction of the fall, in their assessment of its reach, in their ultimate hopelessness facing the world that really is.

Frankly, I'm as unhinged by the frank revelation of the foundational hopelessness of my children and their peers as I am by Wright's reconstruction of Jesus. To say I'm Modernist is to say I still hope "it can all be fixed." I foundationally assume anything wrong can be put to rights and we're all together in trying to find the best way to do it. My children know better. They know we're all screwed, and no one else really even gets anyone else's pain, much less is working together to fix everything. (I wanted to use another word than "screwed" back there, but there's no synonym. It means bad things were done to us that left us crippled, but it doesn't quite mean we're doomed. And crippled is an antiseptic word, where my children mean a very, very septic act has been done to everyone.)

Wright says Postmodernists have forsaken all metanarrative, and after I unwrap for myself what that means, I see he's right. My children don't believe there's a big puppetmaster in the sky making sure it all turns out for the best, but I do. My parents did and all my peers still do. Christian or not, us Modernists believe there's a happy ending out there waiting for us to get to it. My children don't believe. They know. They know divorce happens to everyone and "winning" the Cold War births a War on Terror, and if we win that war we'll need to kill someone else until someone finally kills us. My children know that if there's a puppetmaster out there, he's a .... Well, I won't use the words they'd use, but they don't like him very much.

Wright doesn't challenge these Postmodernists. He challenges me. He tells me to embrace their accurate understanding of the fall. I weep as I type this, because I don't want to live in their world. I don't wish them to have to live in their world, but I certainly don't want to join them there. I don't want to release the metanarratives that've comforted me through these two generations, and certainly not so I can wrap their cold, accurate, crushing view of reality around my terrified heart each night as I go to sleep.

Wright's right. I must.

Before I'm done thinking out loud, I hope to have thought through one of his challenges. Wright applies his sweaty Jesus to the Postmodern mindframe, and it works. The Modernist Jesus Who's simultaneously puppet, master, and bliss-filled guru spoke to us who never really grappled with the horrors of real life. It takes the real Jesus to wrestle real life to the ground and take victory over it (a Modernist reinterpretation of Postmodernism if ever there were one.) The money paragraph for me is where Wright directly applies his sweaty Jesus to guys like me who program computers for a living.

I intend, over the next few posts, to work my way through to a real way of programming within the context of the real kingdom of the real God. I have no idea where this is going, but it sounds like a helpful metanarrative. :-)

04 June, 2010

The Rooster Crowed

At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter.

Up until that moment, Peter was riding high. He was tracking with his Lord. He was an undercover agent gathering critical intelligence about the events of his Master's arrest and torment. He was lying low and staying close.

He was a hero.

And then the rooster crowed and the bloodied Man Whom Peter loved turned and looked at him.

He'd denied being with the Lord to a servant girl, a servant of the high priest, and some bystanders. Nobodies. Peter didn't look the high priest in the eye and deny Jesus was the Christ. He cunningly kept his cover to servants and bystanders.

Jesus said we'd be judged by every little word said in passing, and here we see it. Jesus valued Peter's response to that servant girl. Denying Jesus to a servant girl was one with denying Him before Caesar. And He didn't brook spying as an excuse. Astounding.

Lord have mercy.