People may want or need more information later. But presenting one page lets them soak it in in 15-20 seconds, and read it all in about a minute. The typical human attention span these days can’t handle much more than that anyway.
Besides. If he can do it, we can do it.
Why do I get out of bed in the morning?
To get the kids to school on time. To get to work on time. To use the bathroom.
Without sufficient theological reflection, that’s about it.
With a little reflection, I remember the real reason: I do what I do because the kingdom of heaven is at hand–love, joy, peace, healing, reconciliation, miracles, answered prayer, all of it–is fully available for me, you, and everyone. We want it, we need it, and I’m one of the people who reminds us of these paradigm-shattering possibilities–to help humanity rise from the division, fear, and condemnation that we are used to, and to live in the aforementioned heaven on earth.
There is no single definition of theology, but it essentially involves studying God so that something useful, enlightening, or liberating can be revealed.
There is much more to theology than reading and writing. In fact, language is limited, so it can never fully describe the Unlimited, Eternal One. And yet you keep reading, so I keep writing….
The great, scholarly theologians teach that in any society, the dominant group controls the dominant theology. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish religious establishment led the study of God in Nazareth, and the Roman Empire determined what was useful and liberating for the people. So even though Jesus’ message made A LOT more sense than the Jews’, Greeks’, or Romans’, the Gospel rubbed some powerful people the wrong way, and was largely rejected.
In our times, who is the dominant group? Look no further than the other Golden Rule: “The one who has the gold rules.”
Last time I checked, our current rulers include the banks, Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook, the military industrial complex, the news and entertainment industry, big oil, big pharma, big agro, illicit drug kingpins, Madison Avenue, people with inherited wealth, and anyone else who is paying millions of dollars for art.
Those earthly controllers aren’t all bad all the time. But, good or bad, they are only able to thrive because they perpetuate certain assumptions, that the rest of us accept. And you know what happens when you assume, right? You make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” There.
Here they are, folks, in no particular order…..the (my) top 10 dominant assumptions of our age.
- Debt is a way of life; we are too far gone to go back.
- Elected political leaders run the government and control our destiny.
- I live check to check, but I’m not “poor.”
- White supremacy is a problem.
- The USA has the best health care system in the world.
- If enough people lower their carbon footprint, we can save the environment/planet.
- Our military is good because it protects us and keeps us strong.
- Celebrities have more important voices and platforms than the rest of us.
- Rational people don’t believe in UFOs and other conspiracy theories.
- Faster wi-fi download speeds will make life better.
You won’t always find theology in church, in school, or even in talking about social justice with other smart people. Contemporary theology–information to enlighten and free today’s people–is found in recognizing these and many other assumptions, exposing the facts behind them, and living the Truth despite them.
In Memorium: Dr. James Hal Cone
“He’ll probably love me.” That was my entire opinion of him as I moved into the dorm and got ready for life at Union. “He will absolutely adore me.”
That was before classes started.
I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming about 4 days before classes started, when I intentionally brushed past him in a hallway.
“Uh, Dr. Cone? Is there anything I need to know to get, you know, a jump on ST 103?” (ST 103 is the popular systematic theology introductory course that he oversaw.) I thought he was going to say something deep like, “Come not only with an open mind, but an open heart as well.” Or that he would give me a dense riddle to chew on. Something deep.
It was 2003. I didn’t know Cone, and I didn’t know deep.
He put his hand on the side of his face and rubbed it up and down. “Read A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology by William Hordern.”
“Um, ok. Thanks a lot, sir.”
Another book to buy– not to mention read. That was his answer? Blah. And who ever heard of William Hordern?
About 70 pages into the book, I began to see how vast theology is across the centuries, and also why it’s important. I remember being particularly impressed by Friedrich Schleiermacher. His theology sounded like something I might have said. I thought my ideas were novel, but he had articulated them better, and 200 years earlier. Like Schleiermacher used to say: “Sin occurs when man tries to live by himself, isolated from the universe.”
So I spent an entire day with Hordern, Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Fosdick, and all the other “dead white guys”–(I never heard Cone use that term, but everyone else did.) Class hadn’t even started yet, and Professor Cone had showed me how to “love God with my mind.” Had Cone saved my soul? I wondered half-jokingly. I wanted to shut the world out and read all night. Only problem was, I was completely exhausted from the neck up, I was less than halfway through the book, and I had 4 other classes to deal with. #UnionSeminary.
One of the best parts of my academic journey (kindergarten through doctor) was listening to Dr. Cone’s lectures at Union. He would speak from handwritten notes on pages from a yellow legal pad. The papers looked like they were at least 10 years old. But the information was gold, and I took furious notes trying to capture it all.
“A pious feeling in the heart will crumble under rational theological questioning. That questioning is necessary for maturity of faith.”
“If you’re not smart enough to articulate it, you can’t defend it. If you aren’t strong enough to keep it, it doesn’t really belong to you.”
“The dominant group controls the dominant theology. You must understand the dominant assumptions of a particular age in order to understand its theology.”
“We are best known by the questions we don’t ask.”
“What you learn and what you believe is your decision.”
“People in power have trouble listening.”
“Every good teacher is a good writer, and every good writer is a good teacher.”
“Anyone and everyone has something to teach us about ourselves and God if we have the humility to listen.”
“Oppression is having other people’s answers to questions about God imposed upon you.”
“Nothing is more important than having a personal theology that is critical and stands the test of time.”
Not bad for notes taken 15 years ago from 10 year old legal pads….
I nearly drowned in ST 103 my first semester at Union. In any class, you could essentially earn an A, a B, or an F.
I accepted my B.
My very last semester, I only had to take 3 classes–anything I wanted. Dr. Cone was offering ST 393: Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. I felt a strong pull toward the subject matter, and I also wanted to sit under the almighty JHC one last time before graduation. At the time, Isis and I were courting, I was working at a funeral home, volunteering at a church, leading the student senate, and trying my hand at stand up comedy. With graduation securely in sight, I was admittedly on cruise control at school.
“James Cone” and “intellectual cruise control” go together about as well as Augustine and Pelagius.
So how did James Cone vs. Young Distracted Slacker end? His evaluation says it best:
I got my share of As in seminary, and many students earned them from Cone. Just not me. The truth hurts sometimes. He taught me though. Reading his evaluation in retrospect has opened a floodgate of self-reflection and new hope even today. He had no empty compliments, and very little diplomacy. But he did love me, and all of us.
About 2 years ago, I visited Union and heard him give a lecture on The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Same voice, same fire, same standing ovation, same yellow papers.
“Hi, Seth, how are you?” He met my son. He seemed pleased that I was happily leading a family and a congregation, and that I was still climbing. He indulged us with a selfie…
When a person is that fulfilled, that loving, that conscious, who needs diplomacy and empty compliments?
If Since I can inspire people like he inspired me, I will do my part to continue the journey for true liberation. Also, from this day forward, I resolve and intend to go down in history as the most outstanding B student he ever had.
What is Lent?
The word “Lent” comes from the Latin word for “Spring,” and it is all about new beginnings. Lent is a 40 day season between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week on the Christian calendar. Though Lent is not directly mentioned in the Bible, this period is related to Jesus’ 40 day fast in the wilderness. It is considered a time of solidarity with Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection. For some it’s a time of rebirth, for others a test of willpower, or simply a reason to diet.
When is Lent?
Easter Sunday always falls on the 1st Sunday after the first full moon of Spring (April 1 in 2018). Ash Wednesday falls 6 weeks and 4 days prior to Easter. In reality, there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not 40. There are different theories around the discrepancy in days. The older theory is that the 40 days are counted from Ash Wednesday, and end on Palm Sunday, when Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That 40-day fast was followed up by another week of more intense fasting during Holy Week leading up to the Resurrection celebration.
Others observe Lent by fasting on Mondays through Saturdays, and taking Sundays off. There are 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter when you don’t count the Sundays.
Others still choose to fast for the full 46 days. There are sincere Christians doing it all three ways and more, so I don’t think those historical details are as important as your heart’s intentions as you create and implement your fast.
What am I supposed to give up?
There are many ways Lent can be a powerful time of simplicity, discipline, and spiritual unity. Like most things, the more you put in, the more you will get out. It may sound noble to tell people you are giving up soda for Lent. But if you don’t really crave soda, or don’t enjoy it often or look forward to it to begin with, giving it up is not going to bring you much spiritual awareness and growth. However, if you drink it for breakfast and get headaches without it, attempting to abstain for 40-days will teach you a whole lot!
So when people ask me what they can give up for Lent, I turn it back on them: what do you want to give up the least? Social media? Meat? Coffee? Gambling? Credit Cards? Profanity? Deep down, you probably know what you need to do, maybe you just don’t want to admit it.
Personally, I feel like having an intense Lent this year. I want to pour a lot in, because I want to get a lot out—So (I think I’m going to) trade in some things that don’t particularly serve me, and exchange them for new heights of love, wisdom, courage, healings, miracles, signs, wonders, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Instead of giving up one thing, I’m setting up a personal regiment for these weeks. I like to write out my fast in advance, sort of like a prayer….
Thank you for this season of fasting and clarity. For Lent this year, I prayerfully seek your strength and guidance as I commit to the following:
- Diet and Intake-I will drink 1 gallon of water every day during Lent. I will abstain from beef, pork, drinking, smoking, and caffeine. I will limit processed sugar/sweetener intake to approximately 100 calories/day or less. I will consume all food and drink (except water) only between 11am-8pm.
- Smart Phone Fast-I will spend much less time on my phone by using it only for phone calls and texts. If there’s any task that can be accomplished on a computer (email, directions, banking, etc) I will use it instead of the phone. I will also wear a wristwatch to keep from checking the time on the phe several times a day.
- Exercise-I will complete “Dad Bod Challenge” everyday during Lent. That is, 80 pushups and 120 ab exercises every day. (I completed this successfully in November 2017, so I know it is within my reach.)
To help keep myself accountable, I create and follow a simple spreadsheet that I can check off at the end of each day. Here is a sample:
|My Lenten Fast||Feb. 14 (1)||Feb. 15 (2)||Feb. 16 (3)||Feb. 17 (4)||Feb. 18 (5)…..|
|1 Gallon Water||X||X||X||X||X|
|No meat, drink, etc.||X||X||X||X|
|Intermittent fasting (11a-8p)||X||X||X||X|
|Smart phone fast||X||X||X||X|
|Dad Bod Challenge||X||X||X||X|
No matter how basic or involved your fast is, it is extremely difficult for most of us to execute it perfectly across 40+ days. Having a list to check off daily helps to keep you accountable.
Sacrificing lotto, carbs, or anything for a while is great; but remember the words in Isaiah 58 on true fasting. We don’t grow closer to God just by giving up food, but by letting go of injustice, unforgiveness, and malice towards ourselves and one another, “then you will find your joy in the Lord!”
Happy Lent 🙂
Human growth can be described as occuring in a cephalocaudal pattern. That means that it starts in the head, and then spreads to lower extremeties.
The head is the starting place, and then the rest of the growth goes from there. The same thing is true for children. Physical growth is consistently measured as occurring from the head down. Makes sense that this top-down patter applies to the types of growth opportunities us adults face.
It’s always cephalocaudal.
If you think you want to preach, feel free to work with any or all of these concepts at any time:
1. “How can we sing at a time like this?” Psalm 137:1-4. 1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
2. “How can you eat at a time like this?” Ezekiel 2:7-8. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
3. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” Matthew 8:23-27. Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
4. Why aren’t you worried?” Acts 28:1-6. Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
Whoa, wait a minute there, black man, surely you can’t be talking about #Trayvon, can you? How can you call an unarmed minor getting gunned down and the perp going free “justice”?
Yes, #Trayvon. My heart goes out in anguish. I get it. I live it in the most existential way.
Then I remember what my best lawyer friend told me: “the court system has nothing to do with justice.”
Zimmerman had top criminal defense minds working for him–he didn’t hire them to seek a blind, impartial ideal called Justice–he hired them to find a legal way to get him off. And they did. When I take the generations of abuses against black people off the table for just a second, I realize something: If Zimmerman was my son or my brother, I’d admittedly be dancing in the streets tonight. Not for Justice, but just because my loved one was not just taken away for 30 to life.
So whether or not Zimmerman does any time has nothing to do with the Universal arc of Justice, it’s still as real as it’s always been. Frankly, lusting to see Zimmerman rot in prison is so Old Testament. My integrity wouldn’t let me fight for reforms to a broken prison system with one hand and shout for Zimmerman to be destroyed at SuperMax with the other. Is there any quarter to forgive George Zimmerman, tough though it may be? Aren’t he and I distant cousins under the same sun?
The question is, what can I do about it anyway? The gavel has banged. I can cry #nojusticefortrayvon, make my status all black everything– I could even attend a community forum where we all talk about this very real national outrage and say things like “we need a game plan, we need to come together! Yeah!”
I think about today, 7/13/13…Zimmerman was acquitted, William Gray was funeralized in Philly– students of black history find a notable historical coincidence there. It’s fascinating as we keep striving….
But in that Malachi 6 sense of doing justice, what am I going to do?
Closer to home, a 17 year old black kid stole something from the church this morning, we caught up to him this afternoon. My gut reaction is not to punish, but to pull him in even closer in a spirit of mentoring. Good kid, smart, handsome, shy-but-not-too-shy, in a stable two-parent home, part of the church community–and he’s simultaneously doing dumb ish. He is in fact doing the kinds of things that can get a young black man shot in the wrong subdivision of this great nation.
I know that from wisdom and experience, and I have to help him learn it before he learns the hard way, because one way or another, we all learn. In just the couple hours since this verdict, I literally see my community differently and my responsibility differently. If I (we) can take this feeling and really give all I have to heal the community, I guarantee justice has been done.