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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Delight as a Spiritual Discipline

Everyone raised his hand to pick the fruit he best liked the look of, and then everyone paused for a second. This fruit was so beautiful that each felt "It can't be meant for me . . . surely we're not allowed to pluck it."
It's all right," said Peter. "I know what we're all thinking. But I'm sure, quite sure, we needn't. I've a feeling we've got to the country where everything is allowed."
"Here goes, then!" said Eustace. And they all began to eat.
What was the fruit like? Unfortunately no one can describe a taste. All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you've ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour. And there were no seeds or stones, and no wasps." 
-C.S. Lewis The Last Battle

I turned thirty five the other day and my family bought me a pair of Enchroma glasses for my birthday. In case you haven't watched one of their videos online yet, Enchroma glasses correct a degree of red-green colorblindness for those who have the condition. I had watched the videos and was really excited when I opened the box. The idea that I would be suddenly gaining access to a world that everyone else experiences all the time was somewhere between exhilarating and terrifying. Now my color blindness is pretty mild. I don't have any trouble with stoplights and I am rarely wrong about any given color (purple is my undoing—I just can't see the red in it so I almost always think it is dark blue). But for my entire life, people have been going on about sunsets and autumn leaves in a way that has convinced me that there really must be something to them even though they generally leave me flat (I experience most sunsets as a fairly drab wash of bleached pastels). Now it was suddenly possible that I would be swept into new beauty—beauty which I could literally not imagine. At the same time, I was aware of the fact that the classes don't work for everyone ("individual results will vary") and the fear of disappointment was almost as keen as the hope for I-knew-not-what-exactly.

Without leaving you in suspense: they worked. At least they make a significant difference in the way I see the world around me. I can't say that with them I see the world as though I weren't colorblind since I don't know what the world looks like through your eyes. But when I wear these glasses purple becomes a whole thing. Also nobody ever told me that green has this much variety to it. I spent the first hours after I got the glasses just wandering around with a stupid grin on my face being distracted by the grass, the spring leaves, and the sky. There is one particular tree just across the street, which I am now particularly taken by. I think the underside of each leaf is a different shade of green from the topside (I hadn't realized it before) so when I look at that tree from all the way across the street, I can still make out each individual leaf, even thought they are all just green. My distance vision is perfectly fine, but I had never seen more than an indistinct blob-with-lines above the trunk before.

I think it must be like hearing harmony for the first time after a life of knowing only the melody. The world is simply more vibrant, more deep, more subtle, more complex, more real than I ever imagined it was.

This experience has left me thinking more and more about the overlapping concepts of delight, longing, and joy. Historically, Christianity has tended to be associated with the idea of asceticism and discipline. The ten commandments are generally thought of as negatives sorts of commands (don't do this, that, and the other), the whole concept of holiness in Christian teaching is popularly understood to be a list of things people are supposed to not do in order to avoid contaminating their moral purity, as well as a few things we are to do (but which are generally viewed as onerous). We are told that we should be able to find delight in this (the psalms seem to get really excited about obeying "the law") but that doesn't actually tend to jibe with our experience of life all that often. Christian-ing just doesn't come across as that much fun.

And while I know that I have just constructed a straw man, that the "fruit of the Spirit" are all actually beautiful and exciting ways of being, there is a genuine sense that "serious" Christians are those who really embrace a dour sense of suffering and sacrifice.

But. But. But.

That actually doesn't describe the people we read about in the bible. It actually doesn't describe the great saints, it actually doesn't describe the very life of Jesus. Those lives are rich and messy. Those lives are balls-to-the-wall vibrant. We find Jesus laughing and yelling and weeping and partying. In order to be considered for canonization, a saint's life has to show evidence of all of the fruits of the Spirit—joy no less than patience; after all Jesus' great prayer for us was that we would have lives lived to the full—abundant lives.

I think Charles Williams, the Anglican mystic poet-scholar can be of great help here. He (following an older tradition) describes two "ways" of Christianity: the way of negation, and the way of affirmation of images (I have written a bit more about them HERE). The first is the way of the ascetic. In the way of negation, the whole deal is to stop being distracted by all the things which are not God and which cause us to think of God in terms of what we see rather than as the transcendent unknowable. The way of negation tends to focus on knowing God directly; the mystical experience, meditation, and spiritual disciplines like fasting and accountability are hallmarks of the way of negation. The latter, the way of the affirmation of images, attempts to see God "though" the images of god's self in the good world that God has made, and it is worth nothing that the mystics have as much of a propensity to wind up here as as they do in the way of negation; think of St. Francis preaching to the animals, or St. Thomas Aquinas' appreciation for the table and attendant unwillingness to impose his weight on a donkey, these are marks of the way of affirmation. Williams is at pains to remind us that each can become disastrous without the other, that people following the one way need to be reminded not to judge those who follow the other—that, in fact, we need the wisdom and input of those following the other—and that each offers insights the other is likely blind to.

That is all well and good, and I am very much persuaded by Williams' account. But I think it can, and should, be taken a bit farther. I want to suggest that the temperament which is drawn to the way of negation also tends towards a dismissal of the physical as such. In the desire to be united to the Spirit of God there seems to be a strong temptation to deny the goodness of the body, a desire to become mere spirit. This is a dangerous thing. We are spirits but we are not mere spirits, we are body-spirits. We are (to borrow once more from C.S. Lewis) amphibious beings of both body and spirit. The impetus to deny the body can easily become a state of discontent, a state of explaining to God that we were not made as the right sort of being.

And lest you think this understanding of the way of affirmation is unique to the high church and somehow excludes the reformation, let me share an utterly "way of affirmation" poem by the 18th century reformed preacher Ralph Erskine:

This Indian weed now wither'd quite,
'Tho' green at noon, cut down at night, 
            Shows thy decay; 
            All flesh is hay. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe so lily-like and weak, 

Does thus thy mortal state bespeak. 
            Thou art ev'n such, 
            Gone with a touch. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high, 
Then thou behold'st the vanity 
            Of worldly stuff, 
            Gone with a puff. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within, 
Think on thy soul defil'd with sin; 
            For then the fire, 
            It does require. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And seest the ashes cast away; 
Then to thyself thou mayest say 
            That to the dust 
            Return thou must. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Was this small plant for thee cut down? 
So was the plant of great renown; 
            Which mercy sends 
            For nobler ends. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed 
From such a naughty foreign weed? 
            Then what's the pow'r 
            Of Jesse's flow'r? 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays, 
And by the mouth of faith conveys 
            What virtue flows 
            From Sharon's rose. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow; 
Your pains in inward means are so, 
            'Till heav'nly fire 
            Thy heart inspire. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense tow'rs 
So should a praying heart of yours, 
            With ardent cries, 
            Surmount the skies. 
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

For all my love of C.S. Lewis, I believe that one critical mistake he made throughout his eschatology is an over acceptance of neo-Platonism. In neo-Platonic thinking, the only utterly "real" absolute is God (or "The Good") and everything else is an "emanation" from God, with all things becoming less real the further they have "emanated" from the center. This view has a lot to recommend it (you will see echoes of it in the writings of Augustine as well). It has given rise to the whole understanding of heaven as another land, better (more real) than the state of being we currently inhabit and to which we will one day go. The problem is that, at the end of the day, it is not a fundamentally Christian view. The promise Jesus made to us is not that there is a Kingdom of God which we will one day get to go to, it is that there is a Kingdom of God which is, even now, breaking into our own existence. As such, following the way of Jesus does not mean distancing oneself from the world, but growing into people who can first imagine, then partner with God in bringing a greater real-ness, a fuller goodness, to this world. That the old world is passing away and that a new world is being formed, does not mean that we will be transplanted. That new kingdom is being formed under our feet. It is breaking through now. It has been breaking through for two thousand years and will continue to break through until it is fully here and nothing of the old, drab, evil, sinful, broken world is left (I am going to refrain from commenting on the the question of whether there will be one final great push before the Kingdom of God fully comes or whether the entire process will sneak in gradually).

And this is why I believe that delight is a spiritual discipline, one which is far too much ignored and even despised by the western church. The innocent enjoyment of the good world God has made—we cannot forget that even the drab "old world" is shot through with resonant images of the vibrant Kingdom—is a training course in seeing the Kingdom God has made us partners in effecting. To feast, to love, to celebrate, to gaze at the sky in wonder, are all acts of spiritual insight. They are all disciplines. Good sex is as holy—and for many as necessary—as a rigorous fast and laughter is no less godly than lament. In the latter we are reminded that we live in a broken world; in the former, that the broken world is being healed.

It has been observed recently that we need a theology of lament, of loss, that too often our theology is entirely about propositions or about ethical duties—a theology for computers and enlightenment philosophes—too rarely is it about being. I agree with this critique, we do need a theology of lament and loss. We need a theology rooted in Ecclesiastes, Job and the Good Friday. That would give us one critical part of a theology of they way of affirmation. A theology of lament is critical to our capacity to honestly, richly, greet the very real world of which we are a part. But we also need a theology of delight. We need a theology of dancing till we collapse on a hot summer night; a theology of the third beer; of laughing under a string of lights because tomorrow has no hold on us tonight. We need a theology of thick time in thin spaces, a theology of the presence of divine joy in every street lamp and blade of grass. We need a theology of the tinny speaker and the spontaneous sing-along to an 80's anthem, a theology of bluegrass and crickets, a theology of lighting bugs. As much as we need a theology of lament, we need a theology of the eternal moment and the laughing earth, for human flourishing is thing of both laughter and tears.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Blue Ocean Reflections Part 4: Religious Squabbles and the Third Way

This is the fourth post in a six part series. You can find Part 1, Solus Jesus is HERE, Part 2, Centered Set HERE, and Part 3, Childlike Faith HERE.

The Blue Ocean Reflections series consists of my personal interaction and history with the six "distinctives" of the Blue Ocean Faith movement as laid out in the book of the same name (you can find my review of the book HERE). Throughout the series I intend to talk about my own history and journey of faith and to offer some thoughts on how what I have come to believe impacts my understanding of the world. As such this series is likely to have a heavy focus on theology, philosophy, and politics. But since my formal education has been as broad as I could make it, my reflections are apt to be fairly wide-ranging as well.

"There are people who take the bible seriously, who also believe that it is OK to be gay."
I realize that it probably sounds hopelessly naif, but I honestly did not realize this was true until I heard Dave Schmelzer explain it at a Blue Ocean conference (I had downloaded the talks) in 2010. Writing six years later, I find this almost embarrassing but the fact remains. Now to be clear, Schmelzer did not enunciate the whole Third Way concept at that meeting; the idea as it is now applied to LGBTQ+ folks was developed a little later on by Ken Wilson and popularized when he turned into the book A Letter to my Congregation. But in 2009-2010, if my memories are correct, Schmelzer and the other Blue Ocean folks were in the process of trying to work out what their approach was going to be when it came to the hot button issues of the church. But for me, the real power of taking a Third Way perspective on church controversies became real, the afternoon I listened to that talk for the first time—if was the day I began to understand that being correct is not actually the final goal of faith in Jesus.

This section of Blue Ocean Faith actually contains two of the concepts which I have come to associate with Blue Ocean thinking. Chapter 5, Religious Squabbles Are the Worst (But There's an Antidote!) works out both with the Third Way approach to controversial issues, and also Schmelzer's application of M. Scott Peck's stage theory of spiritual growth (which, I understand, Peck developed in Further Along The Road Less Traveled). This works out pretty well as the stages theory does a good job of explaining why many (particularly religious) people have a hard time with anything like practically applied Third Way thinking, but it also means that I have a lot to reflect on in this post. So please please bear with me.

Stage Theory

Schmelzer's understanding and use of Peck's stage theory works best as a descriptive approach to understanding how a person's approach to and understanding of the project of religion or spirituality develops over time, with the additional observation that many people get "stuck" at one stage or another. It has some resonances with spiral dynamics theory as well. Rather than trying to summarize a summary, let me just quote the descriptive paragraphs from BOF:
Stage 1 you might call "criminal." 
It corresponds with being a toddler. Toddlers don't entirely know where the end and you begin, and so they're prone to being grabby and self-focused...Peck suggests two institutions that interact with this stage: jain and the boardroom (or any other position of power. Jail serves Stage 1 people, because it provides clear boundaries—the bars of the cell if nothing else. High-functioning Stage 1 people can also become the kind of effective narcissists that get power because you and I don't realize that they're criminals doing everything for their own gain. Think Bernie Madoff. Or Stalin.
Stage 2 you might call "rules-based."  
Now we're six or seven and we want to obey Mommy and Daddy's rules. Peck suggests two institutions which serve and promote Stage 2. First is the military, which is famously excellent at transitioning young people out of Stage 1 and into Stage 2, at teaching them discipline and honor and making the productive citizens. Second—of greater interest for our purposes—are churches. Peck argues that churches (and mosques, synagogues and other places of worship) famously teach people right from wrong, good from bad. He's at pains not to judge this, pointing out that Stage 2 creates the backbone of most societies. It creates the good people who volunteer, pay taxes, obey the law and raise great kids. 
Stage 3 you might call "rebellions." This corresponds with being a teenager. Suddenly the Stage 3 person is asking, "Who died and made all those Stage 2 rules the rules?" They become skeptics. If the Stage 3 young person is surrounded by a Stage 2 community, they might feel suffocated. Where's the open questioning? Are all these Stage 2 "truths" just shallow grabs for power? Peck says the institution that best promotes Stage 3 is the university. For one thing, universities are filled with kids in this age range, and often their stated mission is quite Stage 3—to get students to question everything they've been taught.... 
What Stage 3 doesn't realize is that its skepticism might not be the final word, that there might actually be answers to its questions, but answers that look quite different than the answers proposed by Stage 2.   
Stage 4 you might call "mystical." 
Stage 4, in Peck's view, isn't the end of the process. At the earliest, we hit this stage in our early 20s, and then we spend the rest of our lives walking out the implications of this. In Stage 4 we realize that many of the things that we were taught in Stage 2 do, in fact, seem true, but in a more expansive perspective than we'd previously understood... 
One way to think about this is that Stage 2 is dominated by answers. If the key is to be a good person and to get things right, we need to know what is and isn't right. In a Christian world, it might take some work to know what you need ot know about the Bible. You might need to read not just the Bible, but the current favorite Christian thinker of your friends. But, after you've done this, you're good. Maybe you won't know everything, but you'll have the answers you need. 
Stage 4, though, is dominated by questions. You've realized that reality is way bigger than you are, and that the way to navigate its vastness is relational. You are the sheep listening to and following the good shepherd. This will make Stage 4 Christians seem slippery to Stage 2 Christians. They seem to use the same language, but they mean different things with it.
It can be a long road but every step is good.

I have found this tremendously helpful (and, for the record, I tend to see myself as probably somewhere in Stage 3 with Stage 4 aspirations) when it comes to thinking about my own spiritual journey. Stage 3 began to break into my Stage 2 thinking around the time I graduated from Bible College, but the process was fairly gradual for me and I don't think I really gave up on Stage 2—that is, on the bedrock belief that there were answers out there for all of my questions and that all I had to do was learn and understand them—until my mid-late 20s. Fortunately for me (and I credit a lot of center-set dynamics, the Truth seeking/always questioning culture of my grad school, and some wonderful spiritual mentors who were not afraid of my questions) the transition from Stage 2 to Stage 3 did not entail any particular need to walk away from Jesus. I certainly despaired of the institutional church for a while, but Jesus was always "there with me" and was entirely happy to hear my questions, absorb my frustrations, and sit with me in my fears and doubts.

But stage theory helped me to make sense of what was going on with myself and with the Christian world around me. It gave me a grid with which to process things, and it has proved to be pretty robust at that job since I first started using it. The shift, from baseline selfishness to a reliance on rules and answers to structure life and existence to an awareness of the damage caused by those rules and answers and an attendant rejection of rules an answers as such and then beyond into a slowly-unveiling appreciation of the Truth in which at least some of those old rules were grounded but which is bigger than they seem to envision, resonates really well with what I have observed in the world of Christianity.

One of Schmelzer's most on-point observations in this chapter is that much of the contemporary "culture war" in the US, and particularly the conversation and tension between American White Evangelicalism and the Progressive Christian conversation seems to represent a Stage 2 vs Stage 3 conflict which periodically seems to shunt various folks into Stage 4.

As my relationship with Jesus has grown,a sn I have gotten to know him better and better, and as that has led me farther and farther outside the generally accepted bounded set of American Evangelicalism, I have experienced so much of what Schmelzer talks about here. I remember when I was in Bible college, I generally understood the "business of Christian" to be to learn the answers about Jesus, a task well suited to Peck's "Stage 2" and I genuinely believed that there were straightforward answers out there for me to find. To borrow another metaphor Schmelzer uses in the book. I thought that Truth was something I would eventually be able to comprehend, to fit in my own head. As time went on and my Bible College professors, then the books they recommended, the the books the authors of those books recommended, failed to answer my questions—or more accurately, as the answers they provided failed to satisfy my growing questions—I began to worry that the answers just weren't out there.

One wry observation that Schmelzer makes in the book is that, when introduced to the concept, Stage 3 Christians have a bit of a tendency to identify as Stage 4. He is probably right about that but it makes it hard for anyone to say that they actually are in Stage 4. That may be fairly accurate though, one of the hallmarks of the mystical approach to truth and God is an awareness of ones own limitations which would tend to prevent folks in that stage from having any particular sense of having "arrived", I suspect that a lot of mystical stage 4 people think of themselves as somewhere on the border between the rebellious stage 3 and the mystical stage 4. I certainly do and I am happy to leave it up to those who know me to decide whether that is accurate or indicates that I am actually fairly far gone in mysticism (my penchant for getting into internet debates likely counts against me here).

The Stage theory approach works really well for understanding a lot of the Blue Ocean project itself as well. If you think back to the previous sections (Solus Jesus, Centered Set, and Childlike Faith), all of them smack of this mystical/relational approach to God. They rely on the premises that reality is bigger than we can ever really comprehend and that there is a loving relationship available to guide us through it. Reality is both fundamentally wondrous, dangerous, and good. It reminds me a good bit of the classic line about Aslan from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe:

Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.

This fundamental assumption that we cannot and need not "know all the things", that reality and Truth are just too great for us, and that Jesus is there to walk with us, is what—in my mind—grounds Blue Ocean thinking, it is the thread that holds all six distinctives together. It is also what I think drives a lot of Evangelical Christians (who represent the "rules and truth" stage 2 group with which I most identify) so crazy. Blue Ocean thinking delights in questions and the exploration of God without feeling the burden of needing answers, which can be pleasant and delightful enough when the come around, while a lot of Evangelicalism experiences an almost chronic anxiety in the presence of unanswered questions about reality, and religious cynicism experiences a mirror anxiety in the presence of confident answers. My experience from within both of these latter groups has been almost a deep frustration with the very idea that one could be at peace with questions or with answers. Maybe that is why Blue Ocean Faith feels so much like being able to breath again.

The Third Way (Handling those "Squabbles")

OK, so the Third Way is my jam. The essence of what Blue Oceaners call the "Third Way Approach
to Debatable Matters" is that Paul's advice to the Roman Church about how they ought to navigate their theological disputes over the observance of special "holy" days and the eating of meat which had been sacrificed to idols, can and should be applied to debatable matters in the church (universal and local) today. As I mentioned above, the Third Way was first enunciated and fully developed by the Blue Ocean Ann Arbor pastor Ken Wilson back when he (together with quite a few of the Blue Ocean group's other pastors) was a member of the Vineyard movement. Wilson first presented the idea in paper for at a Society of Vineyard Scholars conference as an approach to arguments over the level of participation the Vineyard ought to allow to LGB individuals. He later developed his ideas into a book A Letter to My Congregation  and it is his more fully developed version which Schmelzer cites as a Blue Ocean Distinctive in his book.

The Third Way approach begins by identifying its own scope. Riffing on the work of Roger E.Olson, the Third Way breaks religious claims into three potential categories: dogma, doctrine, and opinion. Dogma is defined as the basic beliefs of Christian faith, essentially those propositions without which we are talking about something which probably isn't Christianity. Schmelzer identifies the Apostle's and Nicene creeds as good candidate for this category. Doctrine would be those propositions which would seem to necessarily derive from dogma, usually by only one or two steps, most of the theology that people get really heated about online falls into this category. Then opinion is everything left over; it is the category for those propositions which we might hold but don't feel to be at all critical to our overall understanding of the nature of reality. Within this taxonomy, Third Way is an approach to differences over doctrine

The Third Way approach is an approach to what Ken Wilson has called disputable matters. He, and Schmelzer in Blue Ocean Faith define disputable matters as 1) doctrine; 2) bringing two biblical truths into tension; 3) disagreed upon by otherwise faithfully Jesus-following people. 

Once we have decided that we are involved in a debate over doctrine (and keep in mind that debates over the theology of LGB sex have been the experimentum crucis for the theory) the Third Way approach is to look at which "side" in the debate is arguing for greater liberty of conscience and behavior and which is arguing for a greater degree of holiness or constraint. In Romans, Paul identified one "side"—the one which holds to more laws and have a more tender conscience—as the weak and the other—those with more liberty of conscience—as the strong, and within that framework, each group has a responsibility to the other. In Dave's words:
  • By all means hold the belief that you hold and never violate your conscience
  • Shun contempt and judgement and trust God to judge wisely
  • Make clear to yourself and others that you understand that your belief is not dogma and that reasonable, faithful people disagree with you.
  • So not exclude anyone from full participation in the community over disputable matters—so long as they also abide by these four principles.
This has meant that Blue Ocean churches are functionally "open and affirming" in that they will not prevent and LGBTQ+ person from participation in the full life of the church, they perform same-sex weddings and have ordained LGBTQ+ clergy. However, they aren't technically "open and affirming" since, to quote Schmelzer (working from Ken Wilson) again:
...the "affirming" part of "open and affirming" seems to go against Paul's command here not to juege. To "affirm" someone, in this context, often means something like to "grant them moral approval." I have to meet them and ask myself, "As best as I can figure out, do I morally approve or disapprove of this person?" Then I decide, "I approve!" Along with Paul here, Jesus profoundly commands us not to judge anyone. The issue in Third Way is not passing judgment positively or negatively on anyone, it's to include all people who hope to follow Jesus as the disputable matter works itself out.
The upshot of all of this for me has been a long term commitment to, on the one hand, hold and advocate for my beliefs on this and other subjects as strongly as I know how (feel free to check out my defense of LGB relationships HERE and my defense of the gender identities of transgender persons HERE if you are curious) while remaining in relationship and spiritual community with people who disagree with me.

So far as I can tell the Third Way is really the only viable way forward for the Church as a whole, but I want to acknowledge that it isn't easy at all and, frankly, still needs a lot of working out. I still have questions about what it looks like to take a Third Way approach when there are people who have suffered spiritual and emotional abuse at the hands of those who are the weak (it is interesting to note how often the weak have power over the strong).

Some Resources

  • For those who are interested, Ken Wilson and Emily Swan maintain a blog series dedicated to thinking about the Third Way over at The Third Way Newsletter, they have even allowed me to contribute periodically.
  • Anyone with questions about Transgender folk and theology would be really well served to check out Austen Lionheart's YouTube channel Transgender and Christian
Click HERE to check out A Letter to My Congregation on Amazon

Product Details
Click HERE to get Blue Ocean Faith on Amazon

Monday, April 24, 2017

Finding God in the Body: A Review

Finding God in the Body by Benjamin Riggs is the book about almost everything my conservative Christians friends worry I might believe. That doesn't automatically make it a bad book (neither does it automatically make it a good one) but it certainly made for an interesting read. On one level, Finding God in the Body is a well written, frequently insightful book containing some really useful spiritual practices and perspectives; on another, reading it felt a little like reading a caricature of myself, drawn by one of those more conservative friends. Whatever else it was, this book certainly was a good reminder to me that Christian theology is not the binary we like to make it into, but large room with a lot of shared furniture.

Because my overall reaction to the book was fairly complicated, I want to address a few aspects of it independently and will try to finish with a broad gestalt impression.

The writing

Riggs is a talented author and Finding God in the Body clearly benefits. His thoughts are well organized, he takes a warm, usually non-challenging, tone, and skillfully weaves narrative moments into his broad argument. While the ideas are deep and certainly challenging the read in itself is easy and quite compelling. While I did get a little bogged down in two of the thirteen chapters, the book as a whole is fundamentally read-able.

What I agreed with

There are several great insights in Finding God in the Body (not the least of which is that God is to be found within the Body). Riggs' overall project seems to be to represent some of the best of western and Tibetan Buddhist wisdom, insight and practice, in the idiom of Christian mystical and monastic/contemplative tradition. As such, the book participates robustly in the conversations around the relationship between eastern wisdom philosophy and Christian theology (I caught particular resonances with Thomas Merton, Joseph A Loya, and Heiromonk Damascene). Without launching into a defense of God's working in all peoples throughout history, I want to affirm Riggs' basic project here; we should all welcome attempts to bring the best of eastern and western thinking  into conversation with one another.

Not only does Riggs participate in the conversation, he adds to it significantly. The overall premise of the book is that we can benefit from paying attention to the the body as such beyond our thought-life (what Riggs refers to as the "false-self") and Riggs helpfully expounds quite a few techniques drawn from both eastern (primarily Buddhist) and western mystic traditions. He combines the practical directions well with the "why" of these practices, Chapter 11 How to Meditate with the Body is particularly good in this regard. Before laying out a helpful contemplative practice, Riggs explains the need as follows:
Busyness is the false-self's response to shame and insecurity. If our spiritual practice is to be transformative, then it cannot be characterized by this busyness. We cannot think our way out of  disembodiment. This is where many of us throw our hands up in frustration. We get mad because thinking about things is all we know. We feel stuck. 
The false-self system is a closed circuit system. It ignores any information that does not originate within itself. It disregards emotion, intuition, inconvenient truths, and challenging points of view. A closed mind cannot feel, listen trust, be still, or be silent. It is so closed off that it only sees itself. This breeds corruption. The mind keeps turning to itself to solve problems that it created. In a disembodied mind, the criminal is in charge of the crime scene. If we hope to escape this cycle, we must find another vantage point.
This overall project, insofar as it comes down to encouraging spiritual pilgrims to listen to, value, and honor the body—to find that the body is an image of God—is one I heartily approve of. It strikes me as a vital corrective both for contemporary western Christianity and for western culture as a whole, which has tended towards the modernist error of isolating the intellect as "true person" and the only final subject of improvement. Further, I cannot get over how happy I am that he offers practical advice for the reader wanting to develop a habit of body-mindfulness.


At the end of the day though, I part ways with Riggs on a basic level. He seems (ironically to my mind) to have accepted far more of the modern, western understanding of the world than I do, or could think wise. In focusing on the body Riggs somehow has managed to ring himself in as a deconstructed materialist. I am confident that he would dislike and want to challenge this characterization but I am tempted to say that Riggs ultimately rejects the transcendent (I suspect that he believes he has found it and that the natural is, in and of itself, the transcendent).

Benjamin Riggs
Riggs seems like a
neat guy...
Our disagreement comes down to this: I am a supernaturalist and, so far as I can tell, Riggs is not. Where I want to argue that the body (and the mind) are images which have value in themselves, to which even more is added by the fact that they also point beyond themselves to God, Riggs seems content (and insistent) to say that the body points to itself alone. He he has found God in the body but seems to have concluded that God cannot therefore exist outside the body. As a result, his treatments of Jesus (chapter 8) and myth (chapter 7) suffer significantly. Where I believe that myth is an image of transcendent Truth clothed in particularities of history, culture, and story, Riggs claims "The primary function of myth is to move beyond the surface and penetrate our inmost core, laying bare our human nature" and so, his reading of myth focuses on the wrapping and mistakes it for the substance within. 

So too, when Riggs turns to talk about Jesus, he dismisses all accounts of the supernatural as literary and poetic licence (oversimplifying the text and thereby making the equal-and-opposite mistake of the fundamentalist who insists on an entirely literal reading of the bible). The result is a Jesus of Nazareth who is no more or less divine than any human person and who works well as a model, and maybe even savior-by-example, for us but not at all as a friend, or Lord. At the risk of sounding too damning, Riggs knows a good deal about Jesus but doesn't even claim to know Jesus. In fact he worries that those of us who do make such a claim, are committing the idolatry of worshiping that which is outside of ourselves (Jesus) in place of the divine within ourselves. My only real response to him there is a total acceptance of the accusation. I have given my allegiance to Jesus as external to my own being.

Bringing it all together

My final characterization of Finding God in the Body is that, while it contains a useful, and even necessary corrective to the culture and Christianity of our day, the book ultimately suffers from a pendulum like over-correction based in Riggs' rejection of the transcendent. He has read his Joseph Campbell but not his C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien; he has recognized myth but not realized that it might be fact at the same time. Ultimately I would argue that Finding God in the Body represents an important voice in the conversation about spirituality, philosophy, and being, and we are the richer for having Riggs as a part of it, but he has missed the main thing and his work suffers for it.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Having the Gall to Hope: An Easter Reflection

So, broadly speaking, 2016 really sucked and 2017 has felt like a struggle. Tragedy seems (accurately or inaccurately) to be on the increase and the world's politics are (with a few exceptions) trending authoritarian in remarkably troubling ways. Add to that the ongoing social and religious tensions in my own, western, corner of the globe and everything stacked up for a remarkably powerful lent.

Since lent is the season where Christians engage in reflection, and repentance, the fact that my attention was already on the many broken parts of the world, made it far easier than normal for me to reflect on my own role in the world and to take a serious look at how I could be living a life which contributed more to the good goal I believe Jesus has for this world, and less to the ultimately destructive destination we seem so hell bent on dashing towards as a species. That isn't to suggest that people haven't been suffering or that there haven't been tragedies and injustices for millennia—I know that there have been—it is just that they were far harder to ignore this year.

So, yeah, lent worked for me this year.

And that meant that Easter—the resurrection—caught me almost entirely off guard in the best possible way.

Today we celebrate the utter victory of God over death, over injustice, over the broken and destructive systems of the world. For Christians, this weekend marks the celebration of the time God, having entered into the full experience of Humanity, allowed all the the power systems of the world to fall squarely on himself and then he defeated them without using a single one of those tools. Jesus has already rejected the opportunity to use religious or political power to fix things. He rejected violence, he rejected nationalism. And then he allowed all of those powers to sentence him to death. He let them bring the full weight of their force and scorn (what Greg Boyd refers to as power over) and they killed him.

They achieved their ultimate end.

What more is there to do to your enemy once you have alienated him from his friends, tortured and broken his body, and killed him. Jesus didn't just die, he died and outcast, abandoned by his closest friends, deemed a heretic and blasphemer by the religious leaders, designated treasonous by both the political empire and the rebellion against the empire. He was the scapegoat that both factions used to ease the tension between themselves for a time. In dying, Jesus exposed all of these systems for what they were. He unmasked them as the price for his death. They could not bring their full force to bear on the god-man without showing themselves in their full brokenness. So they were exposed, and he died.

Which is why there is a good bit of despair built into Good Friday. The forces, powers, and systems of the world had killed the man who identified as Love and as Truth, and in doing so they had shown themselves to be evil. And that seemed to leave us without Love, without Truth, and without the ability to pretend that the powers which took them from us are anything but perverse. God and Humanity died that day. Our powers, the systems we built, killed the best of us. So if our best could lead to nothing but death for the best among us, what could there be for us but death?

And then, on Easter morning, dawn broke, and Love, Hope, and Faith—the Truth, the very Logic of being inextricably, uncomprehensibly bound up with humanity, Life himself—came storming out of grave. And death, empire, nationalism, religion, oppression, injustice was defeated. What is there but defeat when your enemy can unmake your very best without recourse to anything of yours?

And it is too good to believe. In fact it is galling.

This cornerstone of Christian faith is that Jesus defeated the greatest power structures of the world without using a single one of them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said that there was a better way to be human, and on this weekend, he proved that this new way—this way of Love, of Peace, of Meekness, of Humility, of Suffering, and of Joy—is ultimately triumphant.

So today we were in church singing Up from the Grave He Arose
Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord! 
Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o'er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose! 
Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior, vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord! 
Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior; he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!  
a pretty darned traditional Easter hymn, and I was struck by the nerve. Here Turkey is in the middle of a referendum to turn itself into a dictatorship, the country which bills itself as the defender of freedom and human rights just dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in human history, petty tyrants and dictators are killing their own people in horrific ways and testing nuclear technology; Chechnya has started up concentration camps for gay men, more than 3/4 of a billion people don't have access to clean water, and the list goes on and on... death is still throwing its weight around, power, destruction, tribalism, and hate are still running strong. And Christians around the world today are declaring our belief that these forces cannot win in the end, that resurrection—not death—marks the next chapter in the human story. That takes some serious nerve.

At the risk of stealing a book title from our recent president, we have audacious hope. Not just hope that the story of humanity will somehow end well, but that it can end well at all. Easter is our feast day for celebrating the victory of God's way of being over our own violent, tribal, hierarchical solutions. Today we have the unmitigated gall to declare the suffering, love, peacemaking, faithfulness, and seemingly irrational hope, are not in vain but must ultimately win.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sex, God & the Conservative Church: A Review

Tina Schirmer Sellers is a fascinating person within the context of American Christianity, and if her book is any indication, she probably wishes that she weren't. I just finished Sex, God & the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy and I have to say that I am really excited that this book is going out into the world—it is very much needed. We certainly need more people joining her efforts and this book intends to help with that project.

Sellers is a Christian therapist and researcher who holds a PhD in Clinical Sexology, teaches at a Christian University (Seattle Pacific University), and has been looking into the impact that the "Purity Movement" had on conservative Christians since somewhere around 2000 (she gives a good account of what that process has looked like HERE). And that isn't the sort of thing we generally expect to find among Christian (and particularly Evangelical Christian) counselors these days. In an environment where sexuality is sill perceived as threatening and awkward, Tina Schirmer Sellers is a sunlight and a stiff breeze. I want all of the Christian counselors out there to read her book. And I want her to turn this book into at least three other books.

The book itself has two distinct audiences. First, she is writing to therapists and counselors (Christian or otherwise) who will be, and already are, working with people who were raised in conservative Christianity. Second, she is writing to Christians who want to get a better understanding of "how we got here" and how to think positively about sexuality from a Christian perspective. Because I am the latter, I will not be reviewing the book for it's quality as a manual for therapists beyond recognizing that from my layman's perspective it seems to be very well researched. 

As a Christian who grew up in the thick of the "Purity Movement" within Evangelical Christianity, the real meat of the book for me was in the first five (out of eight) chapters. Sellers starts with an overview of the last 30-ish years of conservative Christian thinking and teaching on the subject of sex and sexuality, then provides an solid survey of the Western Church's teaching and evolution on the subject. That is followed by an exploration of the current Western (American) environment and messaging on sexuality, before two chapters exploring her own research and thoughts into a healthy, joyful, and sex-positive understanding of sexuality, based in Hebrew tradition together with New-Testament Christian theology. The book ends with her advice to therapists and counselors about how they can best help their clients heal from the damage which the purity movement and western culture have brought about. In other words, she describes the problem, identifies its causes, offers corrective thinking, and ends with specific solutions—the book is excellently organized, and (as a bonus) winsomely written with helpful anecdotes, case studies, and illustrations throughout.

My only complaint about the book is that it is too short. I regularly found myself at the end of a given chapter wishing that she had written a full book on that particular subject (and I am still eager to dive into the many books, blogs, journal articles, and researchers she cites throughout the book). After a little reflection, I can only hope that Sellers will follow this book up with first, a more exhaustive book (maybe as a collaboration with some theologians and Christian Historians) on the history of Jewish and Christian teaching on sexuality generally, and the shape of the last 40 years or so particularly; second, a rigorous theological exploration of God and eros (though she does reference some books which I have not yet read and which may do this quite well); and third, a more comprehensive survey of the messages which Christians have grown up with over the last 30-40 years in Western and Christian culture—I would love to read her thoughts on the impact that the LGBT "debate" has had on the sexual health of LGBTQ+ and cis, straight Christians. But I do not mean that to be a real critique, I suspect that Sex, God & the Conservative Church already does as much as can be done in a single volume and Sellers certainly avoids any sense of leaving an argument or explanation incomplete. As most good books do, it left me eager to learn and understand more.

I have already recommended this book to my pastor and am planning to recommend it to my Christian counselor and therapist friends, as well as to anyone who is working to understand the sexual shame and dysfunction plaguing Christian Gen-Xers and Millennials. This book is sorely needed and I really hope that it will become an active part of the conversation going forward.

Sex, God & the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy is available for pre-order now on Amazon and will be released on April 27, 2017

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Blue Ocean Reflections Part 3: Childlike Faith

This is the third post in a six part series. You can find Part 1, Solus Jesus is HERE, and Part 2, Centered Set HERE

The Blue Ocean Reflections series consists of my personal interaction and history with the six "distinctives" of the Blue Ocean Faith movement as laid out in the book of the same name (you can find my review of the book HERE). Throughout the series I intend to talk about my own history and journey of faith and to offer some thoughts on how what I have come to believe impacts my understanding of the world. As such this series is likely to have a heavy focus on theology, philosophy, and politics. But since my formal education has been as broad as I could make it, my reflections are apt to be fairly wide-ranging as well.

The third "Blue Ocean Distinctive" is a belief that "childlike faith" is the best (only?) path to spiritual growth. Of all of the six distinctives, this one has probably been both the most important and the most counter-intuitive for me. It is also thoroughly intertwined with several of the other distinctives.

Kids are generally black-and-white, concrete thinkers, and I was no exception to this. For all of my childhood and adolescence and on into my early twenties, I was eager to find out "how the world works" and believed that my answers were out there. In terms of my relationship with God, this had the effect of driving me into the arms of theology and apologetics (for those of you who do not share my conservative Christian background, apologetics is the discipline of offering evidence, arguments, and proofs in defense of Christian tennets of faith). It was never enough for me to know that someone had apparently solved a particular problem, I had to know how they had solved it and evaluate the quality of their argument.

And I really enjoyed it.

To this day, there is little which I enjoy more that the rigorous back-and-forth of well crafted argument and response. I experience clarity of thought and elegance of expression as a particular beauty; I find it energizing and life giving. And I don't think that there is anything wrong with that at all, in fact I think that appreciating, critiquing, and crafting arguments is part of my vocation in this world.

But that is what makes childlike faith counter-intuitive for me.

Schmelzer opens this chapter of the book with the story of a conversation he had with a woman who approached him with questions about opportunities for academically rigorous classes as a means for spiritual growth. In the account, the lady is eager to get training in theology or apologetics based on her belief that these disciplines will effect spiritual growth. Essentially, she believes that spiritual growth consists in knowing more truths. In contrast, Schmelzer suggests that spiritual growth consists in knowing Jesus more fully. 

I have found that a linguistic distinction has been really helpful in getting my head around this—unfortunately it is not a distinction which exists in English. In many other languages though there is a distinction between the kind of knowing that has to do with fact and the kind of knowing that has to do with relationships or acquaintance. "I know that 2+2=4" would be an example of the first, "fact" type of knowing. The Turkish word for this sort of knowing is bilmek, (in German it is wissen, in French savoir) while the Turkish for relational knowing is tanımak (German kennen, French connaître). On one level, we could say that the woman in the story believed that spiritual growth is achieved—at least past a certain rudimentary point—by an increase in bilmek, while Schmelzer maintains that spiritual growth is all about tanımak.

In my own experience, the distinction between bilmek knowing God and tanımak knowing God, started to really stand out while I was in Bible college. Certainly before that I would have spoken sincerely about having a "personal relationship with Jesus" and I still believe that that relationship was a real one. But if I were being honest, even then, I would have had to say that the adjective "personal" in that particular trope really meant something like "strong" or "powerful". I had a relationship with Jesus but it didn't much occur to me that the relationship itself was the point. I sort of thought that being right about everything was the point (notice how intertwined this "distinctive" is with the first two?)  Facts-about Jesus rather than Jesus himself were what I thought really drove my spiritual life. And that led me to prioritize using bilmek knowledge to draw as accurate a boundary as I could around my bounded (rather than centered) set faith. 

This led, frankly, to me being a jerk on an unfortunately frequent basis. In my defense, it is really hard not to be a jerk when concerns of ultimate importance are all about which propositions someone does or doesn't accept as true. The sheer pressure to get people to agree with you has a tendency to turn differences of opinion into condescension, disagreements into quarrels, and debates into fights. When saving someone is the same thing as convincing them, friendships become incredibly difficult. I did manage it occasionally, but some  of my least favorite memories with my non-Christian friends in highschool have to do with our conversations about religion. Most of the time I just talked to them about other things altogether—and then felt incredibly guilty.

And it really wasn't much better with my Christian friends. Particularly once I started at Bible college, each discussion about God (a subject I genuinely love to discuss) was too frequently haunted by possibility that one or both of us might be falling into heresy. There were places our discussions simply mustn't be allowed to go, ideas which were simply too dangerous to explore.

And I think that is what saved me.

I still don't get it—there should be a black dot in the center right!?!
I have never been very good at just letting a question go. I remember getting in trouble once in middle school because I wouldn't be satisfied with any explanation of why I didn't see a black dot in
the middle of my field of vision when I looked through a Newtonian telescope. When the teacher gave up and told me to just drop it so that he could continue the lesson I must have said something rude about his knowledge base. It didn't end well.

The thing is, that impulse to keep pushing until I get an answer which actually satisfies me, ultimately led me to some pretty scary conclusions about the availability of bilmek knowledge out there. This whole process will likely get its own blog post one day, so for the time being let's just say that the biggest lesson I took away from Bible college is not only that we don't know nearly as much as we pretend to, but that we can't know nearly as much as we think we have to. I had gone to the very place where I was supposed to get answers (bilmek knowledge) only to discover that those answers which I had been assured I would understand with enough education, didn't seem to actually exist. At least they didn't exist in any form that satisfied me.

Three years later I went to a secular grad school where we played with ideas, asked questions, and did our best to discover what truth we could find. It was freeing, beautiful, and life giving. It turns out that the pursuit of truth is way more fun once you give up on needing to find all of it and instead "settle" for insights into Truth.

The upshot was that, as much as I love it, I discovered that bilmek knowledge wasn't especially helpful for my own spiritual growth. The most I can say for it is that it taught me its own limitations.

But what does all of this have to do with childlike faith? Schmelzer describes "childlike faith" using the analogy of a three year old child in downtown Manhattan. From the book:

Imagine that you're a three-year-old child in downtown Manhattan who says to your parent, "Hey, thanks so much for all your help to this point. I totally appreciate it! But, you know, I'm good at this point and I don't think I'll need you anymore. I can take things from here. I'll get a job, get a lease on a nice apartment, and set myself up just great. But thanks again for everything!
What I think is utterly critical here is the relational aspect of the faith in question. I am convinced that the God who wants to be tanımak known, is far less interested in us having high degrees of certainty when it comes to facts-about-the-nature-of-reality than in being trusted in relationship. It has become my nearly automatic habit to mentally replace the word "faith" whenever it appears as a command, with the word "trust". You see the difference? "Faith" has all to do with bilemk knowldege, where trust rests on tanımak knowledge.
Paul Ricoeur

Schmelzer works this through riffing of the the spiritual development model of Paul Ricoeur (he also builds out a terrifically compelling model based on Joseph Campbell's Monomyth using Tolkien's work as the primary example—you can find some of his best explanation of that HERE):
Now how Ricoeur uses this and how I'm using it are not one-to-one, but here's the central idea. When we first experience Jesus, were plunged into the first naïveté . Whatever anyone says about the Bible is awesome. Whatever insights we get in our own scripture readings or prayers are fantastic. Jesus begins to talk to us, and it's astounding. We're confident there are only good things in store for us in this amazing journey of faith we've just been invited onto!
But then, Ricoeur says, we enter "critical distance." We realize that things we'd innocently assumed to be true just don't hold up,either because we get a little learning about the Bile and churches, because we get pushback from smart people, or because life itself doesn't work out the way we thought it would. Our expectations have bee messed with.
At this point we have options. One powerful urge would tell us to stuff critical distance at all costs! Go back to the first naïveté! Ignore all that stuff you've been hearing or the experiences you've been having! All those insights about life aren't really worth having if they cost you the first naïveté! Do what you can to crawl back into the womb! In hopes of regaining the safety and security that we've lost, the price we pay when we make this choice is a sort of permanent opposition to everything that called us into critical distance. WE become combative, religious people, "standing firm" against challenges from ... well, from those lousy people who are experiencing critical distance.
Or, we could camp out in critical distance and become profoundly reactive to combative, religious people. That's another option.
But our goal is the second naïveté, which is this resurrection...The second naïveté is the "childlike maturity" that Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13, or the author of Hebrews is talking about in chapter 5. ... Almost none of us gets this. The road is narrow that leads to life 
The second naïveté is, I would argue, the complex, relationally difficult (because it is relationship after all) discovery of tanımak based trust in a living, interactive Jesus who is far more profound, and far more fundamentally True, than any of the truths we sought through bilmek knowledge. The second naïveté is coming home, only to discover that "home" is a more terrifying, painful, beautiful, awful, awesome, glorious adventure than we could ever have imagined before.  

The surprising result of giving up my attachment to the pursuit of bilmek knowledge of God as an ultimate end and replacing it with a committed and (at least aspirationally) trusting relationship with the person who is Jesus has been that my intellectual life, my study of philosophy and theology, my enjoyment of debate and conversation has actually gotten richer. The quote (I heard it first from David Foster Wallace, but I don't think it is original to him) that "the mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master" turns out to be true. Once we come to understand spiritual growth to be a process of learning to trust a loving God more and more—always deepening our relationship, our tanımak knowledge—we become free to explore our questions and posit answers with far more joy and freedom. It is one more iteration of C.S. Lewis' Law of First and Second Things:
Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.

Product Details
Click HERE to get Blue Ocean Faith on Amazon

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why We Need Artists or Why Modernists are Letting their Guard Down

Eve L. Ewing has written an Op-Ed over at the New York Times reflecting on the penchant of authoritarian regimes for censoring and controlling the arts. While I think the article wrings its hands a little too much over the Trump administration's move to cut the National Endowment for the Arts (there is a significant difference between cutting government funding and outright censorship and control) the piece is well worth reading for its straightforward and elegant apologetic for the arts in a democratic society. She argues that artists, and particularly avant-garde artists, play a crucial role in critiquing the norms and institutions of a given society. Given the value authoritarian regimes place on defending established norms and institutions, it is unsurprising that authoritarians generally react against our more prophetic artists.

The piece has me thinking about the overall role that artists play in human society. Well beyond offering important critiques of existing power structures and institutions, I want to suggest that artists are able to communicate a consciousness of the world which is not fundamentally reducible to propositional language. My favorite example of this is the story that, when asked to explain the meaning of The Wasteland, T.S. Elliot replied by reciting the poem itself—art can be discussed and explored, maybe even understood, but it cannot be fundamentally deconstructed. Along these lines, I have become more and more convinced of late that we have both direct and modeled experiences of reality—let's call the modeled experiences physical and the direct experiences metaphysical as they do not require a sensory model. I suspect that we experience the world more fully than our five senses can adequately process or than our mental models can represent. And art, of nearly any type, communicates on both the physical and metaphysical level. Either that, or by being an unfamiliar representation of the familiar, art confronts us with the artificiality of our own model of reality, thereby shocking us into some sort of greater contact with reality as such. 

Or I could be entirely wrong about that. 

Either way, the fact remains that art is able to make an impression on us which prose and reason find far more difficult. The philosopher Peter Kreeft compares art, poetry, humor, and music to the burglar who sneaks past our critical thinking to take up unexamined (or at least, far less-examined) habitation in our minds. From the perspective of most philosophers. mentors, parents, and teachers this makes art exceptionally dangerous and exceptionally powerful. Art bypasses all of the carefully trained resistances we have against bad thinking and fallacious logic. And, of course, so it is. We cannot combat the negative influence of bad or evil art by critical thinking; it is, to quote Dr. Kreeft again, dark magic. And the only solution to dark magic is good magic—good art (total side note but is it any surprise that Evangelicals who, with a few notable exceptions have proved unable to produce much beyond the most anemic art, feel that they are losing a great culture war?). This has resulted in a considerable amount of hand-wringing on the part of those who hope to keep bad beliefs out of the heads of good people. And for good reason.

But I think there is a serious mistake we frequently commit when we start to worry about the powerful impact of art on our own minds; and I think that it is a modernist mistake. We tend to believe that truth comes from logic or reason and that any other communication represents, at best, a short-cut or an attempt to make the experience more palatable. Put another way, we believe that reason=truth and art=emotions.This is, as I have said, a mistake—for a number of reasons. First, it is a mistake because it fails to recognize that there is truth which cannot be reduced to rational propositions (if there weren't then the cosmos would be fundamentally reduce-able to a perfect mathematical model and I don't accept that it is), it amounts to a claim that our constructed models of reality can be tested for "truth" but gives up on the possibility of a more basic, more absolute Truth against which those models might be judged. Second, it is a mistake because it overvalues our capacity to recognize bad reasoning. If the recent elections and the ensuing brouhaha over legitimate and illegitimate news sources, or the crisis of internet polarization and sloppy reasoning have taught us anything, it is that the Dunning-Kruger effect and confirmation bias are far more powerful that any 18th century rationalist or empiricist would ever want to accept; a guard who can fulfill her duties is a great thing, but putting our trust in a guard whom we know to be only semi-competent at best is simple foolishness. And the fact of the matter is that with all of our careful reasoning and critical thinking, the rational guards on our minds are semi-competent at best. Wisdom demands that we recognize our own rational limitations and work within them rather than pretending that our critical faculties are able to perfectly sort good reasoning from bad.

And yet we can't and won't simply throw in the towel and accept an existence wherein we stop evaluating all experience for Truth. 

This, too, is a book of Truth
I want to suggest that we are left with only one option. We need to allow it all. We need the artists, the poets, the painters, the singers, and the story tellers with all their silver lies and golden Truths. And we need the Mathematicians and the physicists with their known unknowns and their limited models of reality. The quest for Truth cannot be avoided—to avoid it is to surrender—and the fight for Truth cannot be restricted to a single arena—that would be to invite summary defeat from another arena. Our approach must be mixed, it must be complex, and it must be alive. We need to ask about the aesthetics of our proofs and much as we ask about the logic of our dance. We are whole persons living in a real world. No partial measures will do.