Monday, March 31, 2008

Getting Funky with Jesus

Word are always limiting to an extent. They are all we have been given. The reason I like the word perichoresis (over personal) is because it is language rooted in the character of God, not the character of the self. It is a word designated for the Trinity so it draws from the Trinitarian life.*

Perichoresis describes the mutual dwelling and shared relationships of the members of the Trinity. The word can be broken down to mean around + dance.

I love the image of the persons of the Trinity dancing together in harmony and inviting humanity to join in. Our relationship with God invites active participation with the movements of the Spirit.

Imagine someone dancing by themsevlves. It's hilarious. The music is playing and they go out on the dance floor and move without a partner. That is how most of our spiritual lives are. I choose the music, I push play, I lead the dance, I choose the steps, etc.

But a "personal" relationship with God is different. It's God's playlist, God's pushing, God's pulse, God's performance. A simple challenge for me is to daily find myself entering that cosmic activity. So today I hope you can dance and get funky with God!

*Ironic that the word personal, rooted in the word person, created some controversies in early Trinitarian theology! The Eastern church Fathers, first ones to write about the Trinity, described it as one ousia and three hypostasis. Tertullian, the first Western theologian, (he wrote in Latin, not Greek) described God as being one substance and three persons. This seems innocent enough if ousia=substance and hyspostasis=persons. But in the West, Tertullian, translated both ousia and hyspostasis=substance. So Tertuallian asserted that God is one ousia/hypostasis and introduced the word three persons.! Semantics, semantics!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Word for the Day

When I was in high school my English teacher got a gift for his birthday. It was a free subscription to the now defunct website once listed at The process involved filling in your e-mail address and automatically geting a new word sent to you everyday.

First, that is an awful birthday gift. Look I am all about being cheap and creative and sentimentel but come on. Seriously. Is that the best you can do? The idea sounded great to me and I actually subscribed for about one year even though I quit opening the e-mails after about a week. I like to learn new words and what they mean but am pure rubbish at putting them into practice.

Every once in ahwhile a new word will absolutely capture what was void in my vernacular.
When describing my relationship with God the word I frequently think of is personal. Many cry against this word because it alludes to a "me and only me" spirituality. Sure, I agree, a personal relationship with God is not a simple two way conversation. It does include the social aspect of caring for our neighbor.

I'll unpack this more later, but the word I am choosing is perichoretic

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's the word?

But are we? Are we made to be happy? [...]why are we so perpetually in search of it [...] what are we missing that will consummate it?
-Adam Graber

I wish Adam would get with the program and post again. I'm half joking and three-fifths serious because his previous post really intrigued me. So I am going to gank his stream of ideas.

My thoughts center on the word happy in the Bible. In the Greek the word is makarios. Depending on the translation the word is used differently

Blessed (makarios) are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt. 5:9 TNIV)

But the word makarios also means happy

Happy (makarios) are the peacemakers -- because they shall be called Sons of God. (Matt 5:9 YLT)

Even in the Hebrew, (like Psalm 1:1 and 119:1) the word esher often translated as blessed also means happy

I do not interpret happy and blessed to be the same thing. In my modern translation (even though I'm so post-modern...haha) this is the definition

happy=state of mind, like being in a good mood.
blessed=state of being, like having money.

If happy=blessed how does that change our pursuit of happiness?

(By the way the end of the movie Pursuit of Happyness.... terrible ending)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Tyranny of Happiness

I’ve recently seen a spate of articles on happiness. It seems that a few new books on the subject have been on the radars at Newsweek, New York Times Review of Books, and the Washington Post. Most specifically, a new book titled Against Happiness is getting noticed. The cover is perfectly designed: a yellow cover whose title is in the shape of a frowning mouth. It reinforces the book’s ideas—perfect.

From what I’ve read, psychologists are retrieving meaning and purpose in melancholy. I don’t need to prove to you that we are a people bound and determined to be happy, with our self-help books, our bigger and better whatevers, and the advertising that keeps telling us bliss exists. In a country where the pursuit of happiness is as basic a right as living, the concept that being thoughtfully sad is necessary seems quite foreign. Melancholy? Leave that to Russia.

Even while the contrarian in me revels in the idea that maybe constant happiness isn’t so great, something more fundamental to the argument is being made here: Sadness is beneficial, and whatever’s beneficial will make you happy. Whether or not sadness will in fact make you happier, the belief is that embracing sadness can lead us back around to happiness. The story is the same tired refrain. Our pursuit of happiness simply becomes more nuanced, more subtle. We don’t come at happiness head on, but flank it by embracing its opposite. We humans are so clever.

Upon reflection, this approach really isn’t new though. We’ve always sought to flank happiness by pursuing something else. Our real aim is happiness, but we know we can’t just take it by the horns (or its soft, huggable middle). So we flank happiness by getting lost in good books, faraway places, success, lovers, dreams, or ___________. And if we’re not careful, those things, those people become weapons we use in our back-end assault on happiness.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the desire to be happy. There are needs embedded in us that drive us to search for it. Nearly every desire in man is a good one that has only been perverted and recalibrated on the wrong objects. It’s as though we set out exploring the seas using the stars as our guide, but we’ve fixed on the wrong star. We’re doomed to wander instead of discover. In this country where life, happiness, and freedom are rights fundamental to existence, we come to believe, as we live, that we are made to be happy.

But are we? Are we made to be happy? I don’t have the answer, only the question. If we are, then why are we so perpetually in search of it. If we are, then what are we missing that will consummate it. Perhaps believing that we are is like believing the world is flat (the Christopher Columbus version, not the Thomas Friedman version). This belief that happiness is our ultimate goal could be holding us back from a fuller understanding of who we are and of what the world is like. The world could be much bigger and grander than flat happiness could let us imagine. O, the glorious possibilities as we spin the globe and consider them.

4.12.8 Update: "Married, religious people are more likely than secular singles to be happy"? "It helps to be religious, sexually active and a college graduate with a short commute to work."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The In-Between

I remember pondering this last year and my Dad sparked it again with this observation:

We celebrate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  But what about today?  What about the Saturday when Jesus was in the grave?

Sure it doesn't make sense to celebrate.  Especially if you were one of the disciples.  You have just followed a teacher to Jerusalem with the expectation that he was going to establish a worldly kingdom.  One moment he comes into the city with "Hossana in the Highest," and days later he is surrounded by the words "crucify him!" 

Today Jesus is dead.  Today Jesus is in the grave.  Today is often ignored. 

As of today there is no resurrection, no life, no fulfillment, no hope.  Of course we have the advantage of foresight.  In our eagerness to celebrate tomorrow morning I think it appropriate to simply think about what it means that today Jesus is dead.  I am not trying to be fatalistic or wallow in grief but how can salvation make sense about from despair? 

Rather, how can we understand the power resurrection without understanding the gravity of death?

Thursday, March 20, 2008


My professor Gary Sattler cited this quote in class.  It is from the 1983 movie Big Chill

Michael: I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex.
Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing's more important than sex.
Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

Sam (Tom Berenger) typifies our obsession with sex.  I'm more interested with Michael (Jeff Goldblum) insight into rationalization.  I couldn't go a day, let alone a week, without a "juicy rationalization."  Every day I justify my choices, actions, decisions, etc.

Think about it.  Why do you do what you? 
-Why did you put on that shirt today?
-Why didn't you call your Mom last night?
-Why do you want to go out to eat for Chinese and not Mexican?
-Why are you speeding on your way to work?
-Why do you like that song so much?

O.k. there is obviously a point to where this just gets neurotic and unhelpful.  If you question every decision you'll dissect your soul until there is nothing left but little fragments of a self.  However there is a healthy awareness, a generous vigiliance, needed in our lives.  There is no place this is needed more than in areas of sin.  Whereas the above questions are mostly pointless and have little redemptive value, we need to question sin.

In sin we rationalize and justify our actions.  

For instance:  I stole the money because I needed it.  I punched him because I was mad.  I cheated on my wife because I don't feel attracted to her anymore. 

I think the best way to reconcile sin is to question it. 

For instance.  Why do you need the money?  Why were you mad?  Why don't you feel attracted to her anymore? 

This is the point where most people just give up and walk away.  We think these questions are just a Freudian attempt to get to our "real self" and undo all that society, parents, and pop culture has plagued us with.  Like if we are able to remove all the layers of the onion than the "core" our "real identity" will emerge and thus we will be a better person.  (Jungian psychology) 

I would give up and walk away too.  There is only so much I can unwind and dissect myself.  Eventually I feel so undressed and exposed in my weakness.

But there is no power in sin when it is undone before God.  When I question my sin I don't try to get to a more "ideal self" but I open myself up to being forgiven and reconciled to something far larger than a "real self."  (I am not trying to live my story better, but I am being swallowed up by God's story.  So in light of the Easter season I am reminded to take my sin and crucify it.   But like Christ, the crucifixion is not something I can do on my own.  It is a part of being obedient to where God is calling me to go. 

So my challenge isn't necessarily to "unrationalize" your sin, but to rather crucify your sin and find redemption in the resurrection.  So when you feel undressed, exposed, and weak you are clothed with the mercy of power of Christ. 

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature
Romans 13:14

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tis the Season

In news this week:

This past weekend we celebrated St. Patrick's day.
These couple of days America is gearing up for the Men's College Basketball Tournament. 
This month is known of "March Madness." 

In other news:

This past Sunday was also Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem with praise and glory. 
These couple of days Jesus prepares for the crucifixion in Jerusalem
This month marks the remembrance of the passion of Christ leading to Jesus' crucifixion and the beginning of the church.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Meditation on a Plastic Bag

I’ve been thinking again about spiritual disciplines and their purpose and effect. The last metaphor that helped me to understand it was a paper clip, bent so as to be useful, much like the posture—physically and spiritually—of humility and availability that is adopted by the one who prays.

A new metaphor that has helped me to understand spiritual disciplines more broadly is that of a plastic bag. I’m thinking of those typical bags I get when I shop at Target or at the grocery. A plastic bag is easily compact but useful when opened up. It can serve to carry more than I could pile into my arms.

But have you ever had trouble getting a bag open or trying to finagle some object into it when the opening is clinging shut? That’s so frustrating. I worked at a grocery store for two years, first bagging groceries. I showed those bags who was in charge.

I think of the soul as being like that bag. It is often shut up on itself, flat and useless, and even getting it open can be a chore. The spiritual disciplines I think of as that practice of opening up and creating space for what will be put in. Yet, practicing these disciplines does not mean that anything is put in, only that we are, like a bag, prepared to receive. Spiritual disciplines are not the contents for the bag, they are the space created for God.

Leaving ourselves open like that can be scary. When we create space, we create our own emptiness and acknowledge our need. It’s vulnerable. It is tempting to be filled with many things that God is not putting in. I think I allow music to shape my thoughts and emotions into a attitude or mood I want to experience instead of waiting for God to act.

But part of the discipline is to bear the need, to endure the emptiness. “More often than not we are left with the painful sense of emptiness and can only experience God as the absent God.” That’s why it’s really scary. To experience the absent God is to know that there is a space that only he can fill. But in its own way, that vacancy is way of knowing God. Experiencing the perpetual absence of God does not necessarily mean that God is absent but we have found new spaces where we need him.

Sometimes, to get a sandwich bag open, I blow into it. Or with a grocery bag, sometimes I whip it up then down to get the air inside to open it up. It makes me think of the Spirit of God (spirit and breath are a single term in Greek), as he might blow through our souls to open us up. And in fact, we talk about practicing the spiritual disciplines as if they are completely our doing, but it is the grace of God that empowers us in the first place to act. It is the hand of God that pulls at the handles and the breath of God that creates space in our souls for himself.

And then there are moments when God fills our bags with himself. Our silence with his sound. Our blank pages with his words. Our weeping with his laughter. And when he puts his Spirit within us, our souls, like those plastic bags, begin to take the form of that which fills it.

Two Ways to Look at Someone

One Way: The Jesus Glasses
I remembered in college being challenged to see people as Christ sees them.  This summer I gave a "message" (sermon, homily, whatever you prefer) that pretty much said our identity is found in God because we were created in God's image.  

At one point I said the following:

When Jesus sat across from the woman (at the well) he didn't see a whore, but he saw a woman in need of healing.  When God looked down at Saul on the road to Damascus he didn't see a villain but he saw a future disciple. 

The idea behind this thought is that God/Jesus, (our model, perfecter of faith) sees people with a different lens, not as broken but as beautiful.  In retrospect I struggle with this concept.  It isn't that I disagree with it but I find it so daunting.  I admit that I cannot look at people like Jesus does.  It is a great challenge but it leaves me frustrated and discouraged. 

Second Way: The Jesus Gene

Recently I was challenged to see people in another way.  Not as Jesus sees them, but rather to see Jesus in them.  For me this just works a lot better.  I don't think one is "better" than another but when I look at someone as carrying the DNA of Christ, because they are a splendid part of creation, it is more encouraging.

The challenge still remains: how will you look at people today?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What do I look like to you?

My posts have been absent the last two weeks.  I have been writing papers and I thought about posting those but I don't think 15-20 pages of research is blogger material. 

I wonder how I come across to people.  Especially with people telling me the following this week

1) At Starbucks a lady says to me, "You look like you come here all the time, where is the clock?"

My response, "Actually this is my first time here, I don't know."

2) While subbing a kid says to me, "Mr. Moore I bet you play a lot of paintball.  You look like a paintball player."

My response, "I've played twice before, sorry."  (What does a paintball player look like?)

3) While subbing another kid said to me, "Mr. Moore you look like Jesus."

My response, "Except I have about 5 inches in height, paler skin, lighter hair, and I'm guessing Jesus was good looking." 

4) This is the best one, it happened last week while subbing:

A girl says, "Oh I thought you were our teacher, you look like her."

My response, "You know I'm not offended but if your teacher has a beard she is in the wrong profession (alluding to the circus)

My point?  These assumptions, presumptions, expectations, interpretations, were wrong.  I don't go to that Starbucks all the time, I don't play paintball, I do not look like the historical Jesus, and I can say with confidence I do not look like a 40 year old woman English teacher." 

When we look at people we don't always see accurately.  How than should we see?

Coming apart at the ends

This week I was talking with my colleagues, Jon and Matt, about the recent memoir scandals. If you don’t pay attention to that sort of news, two recently published memoirs have been outed for being wholly fabricated. In one, the story of a daughter of Holocaust victims was shown to not even be Jewish. In another, a middle-class white girl told her story as a mixed-race drug runner among the gangs of L.A. Literature has, of course, a genre for these types of stories called fiction, but instead these authors chose to, like many others, position their story as true accounts.

Also this week I was talking with my friend Sarah about photography and art. She’s a photographer herself, so I e-mailed her an article entitled, “Is Photography Dead?” The article traced for a novice like myself the history of controversy surrounding photography as an art form and its trustworthiness for depicting truth or reality in the Photoshop age. Sarah made the good point that photography has always chosen to show some things and not others. Even if it’s not photoshopped, it’s composed with light or angle to highlight certain things and cropped to leave out other things. Every photo leaves out more than it includes, I guess you could say.

I discussed these memoirs with my colleagues and the nature of photography with Sarah when I realized that, in many ways they have similar symptoms. Memoir and photography both purport to show reality as it is and to give the facts. This may not be the intent of the writer or the photographer, but that is the understanding of the general reader or viewer (and everyone knows it). “As any publisher will tell you, memoir sells better than fiction.” It’s a “question of sincerity and authenticity. Memoirs are seen as more authentic than novels.” The same is true of photography. The viewer believes that what they are seeing is not derived from the photographer’s imagination.

At the same time, both attempt to show that reality through a finite lens and not without bias. Both have a vested interest in putting forward a picture of reality that grabs the attention of the reader/viewer. That way it reaches a broader audience. This inclination, however, leads away from “sincerity and authenticity” and toward sensationalism.

It is a strange paradox that readers’/viewers’ values of authenticity are threatened by their desires for the sensational. What’s more is that, when forced to choose, some publishers and photographers will essential manufacture both. They will photoshop a memoir beyond anything genuine in order to make for a sensational story. But the sensational isn’t sensational by the mere fact that it’s not true. It’s only truly sensational if it actually happened. In the same way, some photographers will fictionalize their art for the same ends. And in the end, both the sensational and authentic are ruined by man’s manipulation of them for his own ends.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"What are you thinking?"

What am I thinking?

Feelings are so hard to capture in words. When someone asks me, “What are you thinking?” it’s not quite what they’re asking, or at least, I can’t quite answer that question in isolation. I have to answer it not only by talking about my specific thoughts but also what impact they are having. And to do that I have to track back to the source for my thoughts and often to how I’m feeling as, something that is much harder than putting just my thoughts into words.

Feelings capture an environment we find ourselves in. It might be a string of thoughts that gather momentum to become a feeling. Sometimes the thoughts themselves are driven first by feelings, or sometimes the thoughts come first and evoke the feelings. Sometimes it an experience that produces thoughts or feelings. Being able to capture that is like swatting at a swarm of gnats. You might nail a few thoughts, but a hundred others just blow away with the gust of wind.

Feelings might reflect the mood we are in. But sometimes we can’t simply identify why we’re in that mood. Is it something that happened today? If it were only generally that simple. Maybe I’m getting sick, or maybe I didn’t eat anything substantial today. Maybe I didn’t sleep well last night. Maybe I’m under long-term pressure that I’ve calibrated to and don’t even notice anymore.

When someone asks me, “What are you thinking?” it’s just not that easy. Even if I could clearly analyze the biological and psychological and mental components of my mood, and how it’s impacting my thoughts, I’m not sure I would have the words to articulate all that. Even if I had the words, very few of those who ask could listen long enough to really get a feel for where I’m coming from, to get inside all these things and capture “what I’m thinking.”

Why, what were you thinking?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Cynicism: Measurements

Continuing from "Cynicism: Highs and Lows"

My friend Sarah’s observation about my own cynicism highlighted my own pride and my own brokenness, and now it leads to even deeper matters. The dividing line between the wise and the unwise are those who, like Joseph, are “filled with the spirit of God” and those who aren’t (Rom 1:21-22, 28). My own cynicism and pride would put me in the second category. “Insolent, proud, and boastful . . . they refuse to understand . . . are heartless, and have no mercy,” seems to describe a cynic more than one who is “filled with the spirit of God.”

These are spiritual matters that I’m not sure I can navigate. Does my nature as a fallen man reduce my wisdom to nil? Does God’s redemptive work in my life raise me up to “understand the truths of God’s Spirit” and “evaluate all things”? Amid all this, I find only one constant: I am not the measure by which I evaluate all things. Whether my wisdom is broken or I “have the mind of Christ” makes no difference: I cannot measure anything against myself (or my ideal self). The standard by which I evaluate all things is God alone. Indeed, that was the purpose of the Law: to reveal God’s character. And the purpose of knowing God is that we might be like him.

It is a quick resolution to quote Proverbs and say, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I believe it is true but that proverb captures a deep and complex idea. In part, it means that we recognize God above all things, as the measure of all things, and the standard by which we compare all things, even ourselves. Indeed, that we do not measure up to God’s own good character is what Christians call sin.

I fall desperately again on the promise that God gives wisdom to those who ask, without considering all their (my) failures to measure up (James 1:5). Desperate because I can only ask, but I cannot take. I can only receive, I cannot find. In the end I echo the sentiments of a friend who writes, “I believe the promises of God. May he count me as righteous,” for righteous is what God is. It is part of his character to which I do not measure up. It humbles this cynical spirit, but it does not remove it. That is where I will turn next.