With Imagination, Anything is Possible: Process Theology, MacGyver and Non-Violence

MacDoes God ever call us to injure other people? Again, I think the answer is affirmative. If killing Hitler could have stopped the Holocaust and shortened the war, Bonhoeffer was right to support that project. On a much lesser scale, Jesus used violence to cleanse the temple.

Whitehead pointed out that “life is robbery.” For one creature to live, other lives are sacrificed. Certainly human life involves enormous killing of other creatures. That is the kind of world we live in.

The above passage comes from an essay by written by John Cobb. John Cobb is perhaps my favorite theologian and philosopher of all time. In fact, there is a good chance that he may even be my favorite writer of all time. I agree with so much of what he says and writes about in fact (concerning God, ecology, interpreting Whitehead etc…), that I have often wondered if there was anything I might disagree with him on. Well, as it turns out, I disagree with him on killing hypothetical people.

Full disclosure, at this point in time I resonate (and have for a while now) with radical streams of Christianity that subscribe to non-violent, semi-violent, non-lethal, and/or anti-violent resistance; i.e. peace theologies such as those found in Mennonite, Quaker and some liberal/mystic Catholic traditons, for instance. I think one of the things that has captured my imagination so much about these types of radical ideologies is their emphasis on undying, unconditional love, and forgiveness, which of course, according to proponents of these types of radical peace theologies, is found to be exhibited and modeled in Jesus.

So, suffice it to say that I was really disheartened to learn, while watching a lecture by Bob Mesle which he gave at Claremont recently, that John Cobb would be willing to kill 15 people if it meant saving the whole planet. Now, to be fair, Cobb was responding to a hypothetical either/or scenario and he did clarify by saying that he couldn’t imagine a case in which this would ever be true.

The hypothetical situation Cobb was responding to sounded like, to me, a process version of the trolly problem found in ethics text books. According to the process view, relational power opens up possibility while coercive power closes down possibility, but it may indeed be so, according to John Cobb, that the best possibilities we are left with in a given situation may be the least of some perceived “evils.” For example, in the case of the trolly, choosing a track that will kill one person in order to save five.

So, here is where I start to wonder.

One of the reasons I have come to appreciate process thought so much is because of it’s unique emphasis on openness, creativity and novelty. So, it was absolutely baffling to me when I heard a room full of Claremont academics seemingly fall into the binary trap of the trolly problem. It seems to me that hypothetical either/or situations, like the one found in the trolly problem, are problematic if only because they don’t leave room for a few things that are so absolutely critical in process-relational thinking, namely: improvisation, openness, and creativity; or what I like to call “the MacGeyver Possibility.”

In the trolley scenario, we’re faced with the impossible choice of having to decide on killing 1 person to save 5 people by pulling a lever which alters the runaway trolley’s course.

Anyway, my theory (and I’m sure it’s not original) is that by adding MacGeyver to the trolley problem/equation, the outcome could indeed change because there is a significant chance that the 1980’s fictional TV hero could figure out a way to stop the trolley completely, using only a tooth pick and a swiss army knife.

Leaving room for the MacGeyver Possibility makes sense, I would think, if one was coming from a process-relational perspective, especially since, according to folks like Cobb, God lures us to act in a certain way that would be thought best in any given circumstance. Cobb writes:

“By introducing possibilities of such action that go beyond what the situation would otherwise allow, God expands our freedom. Violence as we ordinarily understand it restricts the freedom of its object.”

The words Cobb writes above seem to me to speak very much to what is going on in the MacGeyver stories. One of the reasons MacGeyver consistently seems to get out of perilous situations is because he’s able to overcome what gestalt psychologists call “functional fixedness.” So, essentially, MacGeyver is able to look at objects (or situations) and not get hung up on their typical functional purpose. Rather, he is able to see an objects potential role in solving a problem. MacGyver demonstrates a remarkable lack of fixation. The objects in MacGyver’s environment can have many different purposes other than their typical purpose; in Cobb’s terms, MacGeyver ‘expands the freedom of objects around him.’

In this sense, then, MacGyver could be classified as a strong divergent thinker. Objects then, for MacGyver, are essentially pieces of a larger puzzle that fit together to form larger tools. Objects don’t just have one purpose for MacGyver. This type of thinking, or restructuring, is what makes it possible for MacGyver to use nonviolent (or at the very least, semi-violent) methods to move from initial states to goal states.

To bring this all back to theology then, I imagine the God of process-relational theology to function very similarly. I mean, If MacGyver can assemble a slingshot out of a mattress to get himself out of a tricky situation, I’d say it’s indeed possible for God and/or humans not to have to kill hypothetical people (or real ones for that matter) when faced with tough dilemmas that life will inevitably throw our way.

Cross-posted on turri.me

Art Credit: Unknown Artist

Jesus Isn’t Superman

As you may be aware, with the release of the Man of Steel movie earlier this year there was a major push by evangelical marketing types to get preachers to focus on the messianic imagery that had been intentionally spliced into the movie. Comic-Con- Superman A_Cala

This is not my concern (although insights about that whole phenomenon would not be discouraged).

My concern is with the real and inherited christologies that show up around both Christmas and Easter. I am content most of the year to naively pretend that we all are basically talking about the same thing when we use the name of Jesus. That fiction is often shattered in Advent and Lent as we build up to the high holidays holy days.

I have often been given opportunities in recent years to introduce lay people to the concepts of ‘christology from below’ (instead of the dreaded  ‘low christology’)  and to illuminate the dangers of starting – not with a cosmic christ – but with a pre-incarnate Jesus. [selah]

Most people have never thought about the difference and the importance that it might make in how they both believe and worship … let alone live their christianity.

What I am hoping to do here is to offer you a gift exchange:  you get something from Homebrewed and in exchange you help me out with something!

The offering: The current ‘Barrel Aged’ Homebrewed Podcast is a chat with John Cobb about Advent and Incarnation.  It is in my top 10 favorite episodes that we have ever done and I got Tripp to post it specifically for this conversation. It is a delicious audiological delight. 

The request: What I am asking in exchange is for ya’all to help me come up with and clarify a list I am working on for the conversation this week at my church.  We are starting a new series called ‘Jesus Isn’t Superman’ and I am coming up with tweets to get people thinking.

Here is what I have so far:

Jesus didn’t crash on earth sent from a distant planet – Jesus was born of a women. #JesusIsntSuperman

Jesus doesn’t get powers from the yellow sun – Jesus’ power is in his relatedness & availability to God’s spirit. #JesusIsntSuperman

Jesus isn’t Christ’s Clark Kent secret identity that can be taken off when its time to walk on water. #JesusIsntSuperman

Jesus wasn’t an alien pretending to be human & secretly had a fortress of solitude to retreat to. Jesus was fully human #JesusIsntSuperman

 

So you can either post your thoughts or tweets here – or if you tweet them I will try to move them over here later.

Thanks in advance, I look forward to hearing your contributions! 

Have Yourself a John Cobb Advent! #FANiac

Cobb LogoJohn Cobb is the world’s foremost Process theologian & Tripp’s personal hero.  He has been on the podcast a number of times but this time we are going to talk about Jesus, the season of Advent, & a Process understanding of the Incarnation.  We hope you enjoy it & go subscribe to the new Barrel Aged podcast stream so you get the next Advent podcast.  Here’s the feedburner feed.

Want to read some of Cobb’s Christology? Then go check out Christ in a Pluralistic Age.

With over 5 years of interviews under out belt – having gone from just friends listening to 50k – realizing that there are a ton of people who can’t get the best interviews from the past – let us introduce you to Homebrewed Christianity Barrel Aged podcast. I will be re-releasing the best interviews from the early days, super-short new intros, and hopefully doctored audio. In order to keep getting these podcasts you will need to go subscribe to the Barrel Aged podcast stream HERE. While you are there review us and share the word.

Barrel Aged Graphic_crop2_rev1

Go Subscribe & Review the Stream

 

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference, Live Podcast and Craft Brewery Fun.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference and Craft Brewery Fun.

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


Subscribe on iTunes Here!

Subscribe on iTunes!

Subscribe on iTunes Here!

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe on iTunes

Process Is Poised For A Comeback

Three things have been rattling around in by cranium while I was away this Spring.

1. The cicada’s came back. Every 17 years the Periodical Cicada Brood II emerges to rollick in the Eastern half of the U.S. for a brief but frenzied round of sex and gluttony. We will not see them again for 17 years. It is a phenomenon that always garners it’s fair share of bewilderment and awe.

cicadas

It is appropriate that this baffles most of us. We are set to think in perennial terms and oddities like this don’t fit that narrative. Underneath the soil right now is a massive swarm that we will not hear a peep from until 2030.

2. I was listening to an episode of Smiley and West’s weekly radio show while I was fixing up my parent’s house. The guests were Maceo Parker and Bill Ayers (interesting mix eh?). It was pointed out that sometimes, things just take time. Ayers’ example: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955. It was not until 1963 that the march in Birmingham took place.

Ayers points out that not everything happens in quick succession. He said this in reference to the Occupy flare-up last year and why it appears that not much has come out of them.

3. Tony Jones had the response to Jack Caputo’s address at the Subverting the Norm conference. Point 2 of Tony’s 13 points was :

Process theology had its chance. If process theology couldn’t get traction in the American church under the auspices of John Cobb in the 1970s, I doubt that it will gain traction with his acolytes. Outside of Claremont (and Homebrewed Christianity), I hear little about process theology. I am not saying that popular theology = good theology; that would make Joel Osteen a theological genius. What I’m saying is that process theology did not capture the imagination of a critical mass of clergy and laypeople in its heyday, so I doubt that it will today. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cobb was ahead of his time, and the church is only now ready for process.

 

I know that Process thought will always be on the periphery. It will never be mainstream… and I am o.k. with that. Some things just work better as ‘catchers’ on the outside of the whirlwind.

Here is the thing: many Mainline, progressive or emergent church expressions don’t make that many converts. Some may even think that evangelism is wrong/trite/passé/ or coercive.

You know who does make a lot of converts? The evangelical-charismatic branch of the family. They do.

But not all of their kids or converts find the theological answer persuasive or satisfying after a while. So there is always a large supply of folks cycling out of the evangelical spin-cycle looking for better frameworks and answers … and it just so happens that Process thought can provide that.

 

Process thought interacts with both Biblical Scholarship and Science with flying colors.

Process even has a built-in interface for engaging other religions. It’s perfect for the pluralism that our world and time are calling for.

Yes – you have to learn some new words and it is admittedly clumsy to transition into from a classical approach. We all acknowledge that. But … and I can not overstate this … if your unhappy with the frameworks that you inherited, what have you got to lose?   Your faith?

If the alternatives are to either:

A) close your eyes and choke-down the medicine

or

B) walk away from the faith altogether

Then what is the harm is picking up some new vocabulary and concepts that allows you to navigate the tricky waters of the 21st century?

I mean, what else are you going to do for the next 17 years while we wait for the cicada’s return?

 

___

I have been enjoying 2 big books while I was away:

Modern Christian Thought (the twentieth century) and Essentials of Christian Theology – both have significant sections of Process influence.

 

Cicada Picture: H. Scott Hoffman/News & Record, via Associated Press

7 Reasons to Subvert the Norm in April

I can’t wait for THE most epic nerdy event of the year – Subverting the Norm!  This April 5 & 6 an amazing collection of thinkers and practitioners will be gathering at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri for a conversation every Homebrewed Christianity Deacon dreams about.  The speaker line up is packed full of Podcast favorites, at least 7 Deacons are presenting papers, Bo and I will both be there & one of the 3 JC’s will be in the house… Jack Caputo!  Plus in just two days you will know the answer to the conference’s centering question, Can Postmodern Theology Live in the Churches?

Since the early bird registration (89) ends February 28th I thought I would give you 7 reasons to go ahead and get your ticket NOW!

  1. Caputo
  2. I will be attempting to save Peter Rollins soul. The rumor I heard is that Pete, Barry, & Kester are going to attempt the same to me on behalf of Radical Theology.
  3. I will facilitate a round-table conversation where we finally figure out exactly what the “Death of God” means & how it impacts the church today.
  4. Barry Taylor (& other peeps at the conference) will be joining us for a live Theology of Rock podcast titled “God in Spandex, Midgets dancing around Stonehenge, and our foil wrapped cucumber cocks.”
  5. You can stay an extra day and hear me introduce Process Theology & preach at National Ave. Christian Church (DOC).
  6. Subverting the Norm & Phillips Theological Seminary sponsored the podcast so you get it for free. Share some love and come to the conference!

Most importantly…since this is the 7th reason... the Mad Farmer & Brewer extraordinaire Deacon Charlie Sheldon will be sending kegs of the John Cobb #FANiac Double IPA & the  Jack Caputo Deacon-structor French Ale to the event.  During the live Podcast on Friday night all the HBC Deacons will be able to decide with their taste buds which ‘JC’ they want to tap as they take their PoMo theology into the church.  Personally I think they should both go to church.

Beer_Labels-Caputo-phone_rev03Cobb Logo

 

The Elder of Graphical Sweetness Jesse Turri designed these most awesome labels for my favorite Home Brew recipes.

Is David Fitch right about the Church’s task?

This morning David Fitch tweeted this:

“The biggest task of today’s church is to undermine in its members the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions for everyday life.”

I have been thinking about it all day. I’m not sure he is right on this one.

Now just to let you know where I am coming from:

When you put that all together, I am just not convinced of Fitch’s assertion. Here is why:

I am increasingly suspicious that secularism is both a consequence and a side effect of Christendom. It is the West’s Frankenstein if you will. We made it. Then it took on a life of its own – a life we don’t like very much and which damages our efforts and injures our cause.  I think we have to start there.

I agree with Fitch that there is a ‘unexamined acceptance” and would go even further and say that it results in an assumption that what we see is the way it is. That our current mechanisms of organization are final forms and that the ‘as-is’ structures come with a large measure of ‘giveness’.  Tripp often applies this capitalism, nation-states and democracy. I would tack on both denominations for the church and militarism for US America.

I am just not so sure that our main task is to undermine. Maybe that is where my hangup comes. I am leery of this approach because it seems like we are defaulting the ground rules in the initial move and framing the task in a conceding first move.

I might be naive here but I am just not sure that the church needs to
A) give that much ground initially
B) frame her task in the negative.
I know it’s just so much one can do with a tweet but … there is something there that gives me caution.

So what is my constructive proposal?  I’m working on it.

I would want to frame it more like Stuart Murray does in the book Post-Christendom  and acknowledge that initial concession was early on with Constantinian Christianity. Then Christendom. Then Modernity.  With those three concessions we admit that the as-is nature of existing frameworks for both church and culture are thoroughly compromised and corrupted.

BECAUSE of that. We abandon the recuperation, rehabilitation, reclamation , and renovation projects (and mentality) all together! (all 4 faces of it).

It’s over man.  Let it go.

THEN we start new and in the positive. The 21st century provides fresh possibilities and opportunities IF ONLY we will let go the idea of getting back to something or getting something back. I know we never start from scratch – we never get back to square one. But …

I don’t want to be the undermining parasite ON the big organism. That is too small a task.  I want to partner with God in the healing of world (Tikkun Olum in Hebrew).  I want to participate in the development cosmic good – until then at least the common good. 

 Help me think this through! 

PostScript: now that I started down this “re” line I can’t stop coming up with words I want to flesh out further!
Restore: no
Re-imagine: yes
Represent: yes
Re-member: sure
Resurrect: ummmm not really
Reflect: probably