Karl Barth and Conversion

A few weeks ago I blogged on the idea of conversion. Recently, I came across a quote from Karl Barth that is typical Karl brilliant:
When we convert and are renewed in the totality of our being, we cross the threshold of our private existence and move out into the open. The inner problems may be most urgent and burning and exciting, but we are not engaged in conversion if we confine ourselves to them.... When we convert and are renewed in the totality of our being, in and with our private responsibility we also accept a public responsibility. For it is the great God of heaven and earth who is for us, and we are for this God. [Church Dogmatics IV: 2, 565]

Barth reminds us that conversion is not primarily about the individual/personal but social/public. Obviously this includes the individual/personal but the end is always the community, the world, the kingdom.

By the way, does anyone know of a free place online where I can read Barth?


Everything Is Spiritual

Tonight, I watched Rob Bell's presentation called Everything Is Spiritual. Bell is such a great presenter. His ability to take highly complex theological topics and communicate them in everyday language is astounding. Not only is it good, but it is also highly practical without adding some "application" section to the end of some trite three point sermon. Bell's preaching is always an integrative whole-- no sections, points, illustrations, etc.-- it all criss-crosses and loops and connects. I have moments where I'm able to speak with such clarity and intersection-- but not everytime I get up to speak.

Nevertheless, I found myself earlier today feeling a little "Rob Bell-ish" as I discussed religion and theology with students in my youth group. I was writing on napkins, explaining gnosticism and dualism, eschatology and its relation to how people see planet Earth, feeding the poor, and sexuality, and how all of life is spiritual. I live for these moments. I wish I could do that everyday.


Just War? Just Peace?

Can war ever be just? This is a question that often is asked in the circles of people I'm around these days. I've struggled with this question for many years. Some days I am a pacifist and other days I'm nuclear annihilation; however, on most days, I find myself in the tension of both. One of the reasons for this is the state of "peace" that so many refer to. "We seek to resolve this dispute peacefully." Really? Oh, you mean you want to solve this dispute with non-violent means. So... weapons are off the table, but other methods that still create emotional and mental violence based on the use of social power are still on the table. Is such a thing peace?

Peace, in our current world, must be defined by the cross. What I mean by this is that peace requires the laying down of one's life to the hands of violence. Thus, a peaceful person is one who takes the violence of others into him-/her-self. It is not the absence of violent methods nor the use of a socially coercive method over a physically coercive method; rather, it is you and me saying, "Kill me instead." "Inflict the pain on me instead." "I will take the punishment. I will be the victim."


Branded 0.2

I have labeled this post 0.2 because I'm still in the Introduction section of the book and this is my second post on it. Turpin makes the following observations on pages 2-3:
Our desires, our self-image, our taste, our leisure activities, our surroundings, our values, our sense of efficacy, and so much more are fundamentally formed by our participation in the system of acquiring and consuming goods.... There is no way to live in the United States and avoid the powerful and relentless formation that the system offers.... Consumption is at the heart of the way that we shape our lives, ever present and ever powerful in both our conceptualization of the world and the institutions we navigate on a daily basis.

Also, about 10 years ago she began working as a youth minister with parents who held significant commitments to urban ministry and a counter-consumerist lifestyle. However, she found that their kids were very committed to pursuing wealth and acquiring "status-granting goods." Here is her response:
I had already come to recognize the strength of consumer formation in my own life, but I had been raised in suburban contexts without the influence of parents or church with strong counter-consumptive commitments. If these young people who did have strong models of counter-consumer commitment all around them still fell under the sway of consumer formation, I wondered if any young people could resist the strong formation of consumer culture.

I find her remarks to be very informative and interesting. I, too, find that teenagers easily fall into the rat race of consumerism. However, I am going to make a move that I often shy away from because it seems to be unhelpful most of the time. Obviously I think it is helpful to do it here in this case. If you take the words consumer (and its related terms from her quotes) and replace them with sin... suddenly it makes a lot of sense theologically. By the way, I often shy away from doing this because people use it as a scape goat, as a way of avoiding the specific issue (in this case our consumerist lifestyles), and as a way of beating people up. But in this case, I think it will help us understand why consumerism is so powerful.
Our desires, our self-image, ... are fundamentally formed by our participation in the system of sin....
There is no way to live... and avoid the powerful and relentless formation that the system [of sin] offers....
Sin is at the heart of the way that we shape our lives, ever present and ever powerful in both our conceptualization of the world and the institutions we navigate on a daily basis.
If these young people who did have strong models of counter-sin commitment all around them still fell under the sway of sin, I wondered if any young people could resist the strong formation of sin culture.

Theologically, this is a given. Humans are under the sway of sin. Even in communities of faith who strive to be models of a way of life that opposes sin, people are still under the sway of sinful formation. This is why conversion is so necessary. This is why every person needs a conversion experience. We can raise our children in a culture of faith-- this is good. But we must alway recognize that even with our best efforts, our children are still formed by a system of sin that infects every institution, every process, every structure, and seemingly our very DNA. In order to resist, individuals must become aware of this captivity and choose to live in opposition to it. We are able to have hope that such freedom is possible because of Jesus Christ. We follow after him, seeking to imitate him, in the hope that such a way, such a life, such a light in the midst of so much darkness, will lead us to a new me, a new us, a new world


Worship Made To Order OR An Ordered Worship

"I don't like the worship at that church."
"My husband and I are shopping for a church. What style of worship does your church have? "We are looking for a place with a great band and worship leader."
"When my friends and I were in college, we would often leave [the service] after the worship was over."
"I'm looking for a place where I can feel connected with God and worship in my own way."
"I'm just not getting anything from the worship here anymore."

These are all fairly typical statements made in Christian circles today regarding the church and its "worship." I often hear my friends saying similar things, and even I-- who am grounded in a deep theological understanding of worship-- find myself wondering about such things. However, all of these statements reflect the fact that something has gone terribly wrong in our churches. Worship has become the production of a few performers on stage providing a concert for a crowd of people who are seeking to transcend their mundance lives, a cathartic experience that makes the self feel better because the emotional stress (and perhaps guilt) of the prior week has been purged. Such an experience allows us to re-enter the fray and frenzy of our madly paced lives where we serve the empire and its gods. Let me put it even more bluntly-- what often passes for worship today is nothing more than an idolatrous celebration/ceremony that continues to hold up the general attitudes, values, and actions of a way of life that is anti-Christian. We have become a generation of spiritual consumers, shopping for the best product that makes us feel good and different. When the ancients danced, sang, and sacrificed bulls to Baal, they felt exactly the same way.

We live in an age where worship is made to order-- like my burger at Red Robin. It is very tasty. Of course, some people prefer a different burger place or they don't even like Red Robin or burgers. These people seek a different product elsewhere. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to food (although I have a hunch that even our eating/food experiences have somehow changed from the idea of the land, meal, community, hospitilatiy and conversation that are suppose to be eating); however, worship is not something that should be custom-made for the individual. First and foremost, Christian worship is not suppose to be an individualistic experience-- it is primarily corporate and the worship I do in solitary is to flow out of and connect to the worship of the whole body of Christ.

Although worship should not be customized to the individual, it should be an ordered experience. The word that describes this best is "ordo." It is a latin word used to describe the how-to of worship-- the experience of the church gathered together and the daily life of the Body of Christ in the world. What does ordered worship look like? First, it is scripted by the Christian year. The Christian year represents an alternative shaping of time. The new year begins approximately 35 days prior to the secular calendar that is used in the western world. It celebrates a period of time known as Advent (which culminates in Epiphany not Christmas), then proceeds to a time called Lent, then Easter, then Pentecost. The time in between these periods is called Ordinary Time-- and even in this ordinary time there are special celebrations and rhythms. Second, this alternative time has specific rituals and liturgical practices that are supposed to accompany it. Third, the whole of Christian time is scripted by the daily office of prayer (prayers, meditations, and scriptures) and the lectionary. Fourth, simple everday tasks such as eating together is scripted by this "ordo." Finally, our weekly gatherings are to have a certain structure and process. Our life together is supposed to be ordered-- it orders me, it orders us. Rather than me customizing it, it seeks to customize me. Rather than me demanding something from it, it demands something from me. Rather than me trying to create this experience, this experience seeks to create me.

Finally, I do want to add that this "ordo" is not just some old, rigid thing. It is constantly being improvised on. It is very much like playing a piano. You can't play it anyway that you want. There is a simple order to it. Each key has its own notes and in order to play it rightly you must learn the scales. Once these have been mastered, you can play the grandest music that you wish within the confines of the piano itself. The same is true with the ordo. It must first be learned, made to be a part of your fingers. Once your fingers have been ordered by it, you will be able to improvise and make a wonderful sound with your life. However, most of what passes for "worship" today is like the child who doesn't know how to play bangin on the piano-- it's cute but it's not music. The kid enjoys doing it, but its doesn't qualify as playing the piano.

The Problem of Attempted Shelter

Being raised in a very conservative church, I grew up around families and church leaders who advocated for the sheltering of children from the "evils of the world." Many of these families prohibited their children from watching many movies and television shows and home schooled their children in an attempt to minimize the influence of "the world" on their kids (although these same families would often send their kids into the work place no questions asked, which often corrupted their children within several months if not weeks).

Before I go on, let me first say that I'm not trying to denounce these practices. Parents do need to watch out for their kids and protect them. However, I think these practices can be quite naive. What these families often misunderstand is that the influence of the world has already reached their kids. As they drive in their car, kids see a plethra of advertisements and logos. They watch commercials on television. Parents buy Happy Meals. Kids walk down the aisles of Target. And let's not forget their friends-- their peer educators and influencers. And finally, the parents. The parents are the chief infected influences in the kids' lives. Everything about our world-- our house, car, job, stress in paying the bills, dressing up or down for certain occasions, looking in the mirror, shopping at the supermarket, watching the news, discussing political concerns, etc.-- brings "the world" into their lives.

A great example of this is the series Veggie-Tales. Many Christians buy their kids these movies to help the kids learn biblical lessons/values and stories. However, the very idea of Veggie-Tales plays right into the consumerist value system-- one of brand marketing, consumption of a product, filling the need of constant entertainment, etc. At the end of the day, it represents captive Christianity-- the gospel being placed in servitude to a different story/message/value-system. One must learn how to discern the medium and what it promotes before before even looking at the message.

My point is that we cannot escape the infiltration of the consumerist world into our minds and lives. We cannot hide the children from it. However, what we can do is to create a new imagination that will create a counter, alternative form of divine-human agency in the world-- a gospel-storied people formed by an immersion in the tradition and liturgical practices of the faith and transforming the world through the simple means of life-- conversations, eating together with our neighbors, our enemies, and the disenfranchised/marginalized/ignored, etc. The true task that is given to parents is not one of sheltering but one of discernment and critical thinking. Children learn first-hand from adults how to see the world and how to respond in it. Children need to learn first-hand from a Christian community how to see the world (and its various component parts) differently and how to respond to it in transformative ways.

I am starting the book Branded-- Adolescents Converting From Consumer Faith by Katherine Turpin. Her introduction got me thinking about my own up bringing. Turpin described how her daughter knew everything about The Incredibles and was completely enamored with it even though she and her husband had decided not to allow their daughter to watch the movie because of the level of violence in it. On later reflection, she and her husband realized that their tactic did not work and that their daughter mimicked the violent actions of the characters with her friends on a daily basis. She uses this as the opening story in her book. Here is a quote:

... the average American child recognizes over 500 brand names before they reach the age of five.... After just a few days, I realized that she [the daughter] is well past the five hundred mark already. She knows names of restaurants, department, and grocery stores and recognizes their signs even though she does not yet read. She knows characters from Disney and Nickelodian and the Sesame Street Workshop.... She knows a few brand names of food items, particulary breakfast cereals. All of this is particularly remarkable because she has never watched "commercial" television. (page 2)

I am very intersted to see where this goes!

(Disclaimer: I know that even blogging this makes me a part of the consumer culture. I'm not advocating that we no longer participate in the consumer world, rather that we make ourselves aware of its influence and find ways to foster an alternative formation of our imaginations and actions. Thus, how does the medium of the internet, the computer, and the blogging world impact me?)


Salvation in the Present

In seminary classes and church teaching, you often will hear a phrase used in regards to the kingdom of God/eternal life/salvation. It is "already, but not yet." This phrase is used to convey that God's present in-breaking into our world has already occurred, but the restoration of all things has not yet occurred. It is in process. Salvation has come, but it is still coming and awaits a future event of Christ's triumph over the empires of the world.

This is all fairly correct. However, I think Pope Benedict XVI in his new encyclical letter on hope states it much better:

Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

What I find so fascinating with his description is that the reason why salvation is present now is because the future touches our current reality. The Pontiff is wise in that he is able to describe how the quantum and the faith are related to one another.

Although Pope Benedict doesn't say the following, I think it fits in the same vein. The past is constantly breaking into the future as well. Humanity has a very scarred past-- sin! We find ourselves as individuals and as a whole destroying the world. The Pontiff describes this point in his judgments of Marx:

His error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.

What I really love about the Pope's message is that it breaks free from the typical chains of individualist conservatism and communitarian liberalism. In his letter, the Pope clearly states that salvation is a social reality; nevertheless, our inward state will constantly destroy us. Both the self and the society needs the in-breaking of salvation. The future will ultimately prevail over our past. Indeed, the past of God and the future of God collided in a single moment in the person of Jesus Christ, and we are now seeing the affects of this collision.