Saturday, August 30, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Want God, Not Religion?

Yesterday was the activities fair on UND’s campus where student groups of all sorts set up in front of the union to recruit new members by giving away swag. I stopped in at the campus ministries table, Archives coffee house (free samples), the cycling club, and was handed a bottle of water from a Christian group related to one of the churches in town. Their signs and bottles read, “Experience God, Not Religion.”

Now I know this is a common sentiment among people and has been for some time. The word “religious” carries a lot of emotional baggage and negative associations in contemporary culture. Dallas Willard told an audience at Sioux Falls Seminary a few years ago that today’s generation has a greater sensitivity for spirituality but also a strong skepticism of the institutional church. So “religion” has been replaced by the word “spiritual.” People would now say that they are “spiritual” rather than “religious.” Dan Kimball, one of the emergent leaders, recently published, “They Like Jesus, But Not the Church” as a response to this very issue.

My niece, who is a wonderful girl…freshman in college this year, has on her Facebook page under the heading of “Dislikes: Organized Religion”

This sentiment is just so utterly frustrating to me.

The H20 folk say this on their website, “h2o is a revolution - a revolution of people who want God, not religion. We are trying to follow Christ - the greatest and most humble revolutionary of all time. We are a community of young adults who won't be satisfied with knowing about Jesus, we want to know Him experientially, personally, relationally - the same way you know a good friend.”

All fine, I suppose. But ironically follow that statement with, “h2o is a ministry of Cottonwood Community Church. Cottonwood is a member of a group of churches called Great Commission Churches. (If you are interested in h2o's statement of beliefs, simply check out the one listed on Cottonwood's website here.) In addition, h2o is connected with other campus ministries and churches across the nation and around the world through GCM (Great Commission Ministries). Whether you are thirsty to join our humble revolution or you are searching for answers to spiritual questions, we invite you to check out h2o - you might just find what you're thirsty for.”

So, this group claims to be providing an experience for those who don’t want to be bogged down with the messiness of doctrinal disputes and “dead” rituals that constrict their idea and experience of God. And then in the next breath or paragraph go on to provide links to their denominational affiliation and statement of beliefs.

Umm…what happened to the “no religion” bit? Now don’t get me wrong, I get what they are trying to say. I just think they are wrong to suggest it.

From my perspective a religion-less experience of God is chaos. As soon as we begin, even casually, to frame in who and what God is, what we believe about God and ourselves, and perhaps even the use of the word God itself, we have already trespassed deeply into the nature of religion.

I would prefer to rehabilitate the term “religion” rather than to further its demise.

One of the shocking things is how well this church’s statements fulfill Robert Bellah’s critiques of American religion.

Bellah suggests, “many Americans...[feel] that [their] personal relationship to God transcends her involvement in any particular church” (228). I would suggest that in our contemporary pluralistic state that this extends beyond denominational affiliation even unto traditional religious boundaries.

Bellah also comments on the American phenomenon of revivalism saying, “the emphasis on personal experience would eventually override all efforts at church discipline. Already in the eighteenth century, it was possible for individuals to find the form of religion that best suited their inclination. By the nineteenth century, religious bodies had to compete in a consumers’ market and grew or declined in terms of changing patterns of individual religious tastes” (233). With the demise of discipline, so goes the praxis side of doctrine.

Without the religious structure that H20 and many others oppose (or at least suggest they oppose), what results is what Bellah has termed “Sheilaism.” He says, “Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and who describes her faith as “Sheilaism.” ‘I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.’ Sheila’s faith has some tenets beyond belief in God, though not many, In defining ‘my own Sheilaism,” she said, ‘It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think He would want us to take care of each other.” I suspect pushing the issue to the logical absurdity as Sheila has, the H2O folk would temper their statement.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Spatial Character of Liturgy II

Continuing on with Marianne H. Micks appraisal of the role of space in liturgy she suggests that while theologians have suppressed or ignored the spatial character of liturgy it is prevalent in contemporary imagination (particularly the sciences and arts). Contemporary humanity, according to her, has not lost its awe or appreciation of place noting, “The question would appear to be not whether we are going to think about ultimate questions in terms of space, but how?”

How indeed?

Micks chooses to look at three phenomena related to liturgical expressions and space: church buildings, orientation and matters of catholicity or universality in liturgical practices. My hope is to explore each of her three realms in a more detailed analysis.

First though, I want to deal with a couple of quite profound statements she makes as means of introduction to her three phenomena and how the liturgy comes to relevancy in the discussion.

Micks claims, “For man’s Weltanschauugen…are indeed rooted in his Lebenswelt.” For those of you who are not German scholars (which I am not either) a rough translation would be, “Our worldviews are rooted in our environments.” In essence, our surroundings shape our understandings. Most human anthropologists and even theologians of place would recognize the reciprocity of influence between humanity and place. But for Mick’s central concern it is how the liturgy (environment) shapes our outlook or worldview. She sums this up by saying, “the Christian landscape and the Christian mindscape appear as Siamese twins.” Or at least that is the hope of liturgical formation.

Don Saliers has suggested that, “Patterns of prayer, reading, proclamation, and sacramental action are precisely the practices of communal rehearsal of the affections and virtues befitting ‘life in Christ’: the baptized life of faith in the world. This is no mere ‘imitation of Jesus.’ Rather, communal worship is a participation in the mystery of God’s life poured into the human condition. The symbolic forms and action of liturgy are the school for conceiving and receiving such a patter of life.” (Worship as Theology)

The ecclesial community that is immersed and attending to their liturgical Lebenswelt are being formed in the appropriate Weltanschauugen of actions, virtues, hopes, etc. Micks is suggesting that our physical reality or environment contributes to our understanding of the world around us. Maybe my mother was right…if you hang out with the bad kids you will probably become a bad kid yourself.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another New Header

So I have had a little free time lately and I've been too anxious to do any real research. Little art projects like blog headers nicely fill my time without any serious commitment or concentration. This is a line art reduction of a photo of the WTC that I took way back in 1996 during my first visit to NYC.

The towers represent something different today than they did then. For me, there were simply an impressive pair of structures on the NYC skyline. Today their shape is etched in our memory of that fateful day. They fulfill the Eliadian ideas of an axis mundi where a vertical element connects the heavens and the earth (in a physically historic reality, but also in a quasi spiritual manner as the site of horrific death). They also elicit pilgrimages from around the world. Certain images thrive in our collective and individual memories of Sept. 11th and the days and now years following.
Anyway, these are some of my thoughts behind choosing this particular header.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Spatial Character of Liturgy

So much for a vacation.

Time to get back to work I suppose.

Over the next while I want to take a look at chapter seven (In All Places) in a Marianne H. Micks book, The Future Present: The Phenomenon of Christian Worship.

Micks, who I presume is Episcopalian, takes a phenomenological vantage point of our eschatological hope made present in the liturgy. The first part of her text wrestles with the hearkening of that future reality embodied in ritual. The second half suggests what that reality is like in the present. It is in this section that she deals with concepts of place/space.

Micks points out the spatial character of the Eucharistic prayers.

Eucharistic Prayers A – D share these responses.

Celebrant The Lord be with you.
People And also with you.
Celebrant Lift up your hearts.
People We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Eucharistic Prayer A & B share this wording.
“It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every‑
where to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of
heaven and earth.”

Eucharistic Prayer C
“At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.”

While all prayers contain some form of tangible reality in terms of creation and place, C is my favorite.

Micks suggests, “Such activity in such a place cannot be understood only in the language of time.” I agree. We must try to re-imagine the Christian faith in terms of place/space in tandem with time. Edward Casey, among many others, has pointed out how place was replaced by a preference for space which ultimately gave way to Modernity’s complete reliance upon time. Noting that both place and space have been variously ignored, and even suppressed, we must ask what have we lost? What are the dangers in a time based Eucharist? And in Micks’ purview eschatology? And not to mention all other doctrine.

Micks asks what are we to do with our ancient (and for modernity, bankrupt) metaphors that plead us to “lift up our hearts” when we know that God is not “up” there? The modern emphasis demanded that we reclaim concepts of transcendence from notions of space/place thus freeing both God and humanity from the bondage of topography. Micks is right to point out modernity’s distrustful impetus here, but I feel she even underestimates the differences that this makes for cosmology. She accurately notes the loss of transcendence, but as of yet, has not marked the thrust of immanence championed by modernity which, I believe has introduced some dire difficulties into our concepts of ecclesiology. Similarly, I wonder if through the loss of transcendence, does this also open the door for both panentheism or a little further down the road in pantheism?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Can These Bones Live?: A Catholic Baptist Engagement with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory by Barry Harvey

I am so excited to get a look at Barry Harvey's recent text. I have had the privilege of meeting Barry at the joint national meetings of the College Theology Society and National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (see links below). Harvey’s previous work, Another City explores the nature of the church as an altera civitas in a post-Christian environment. My hunch is that his new text will offer a more in depth, and decidedly more catholic perspective.

Product Description (from
In this book, Barry Harvey offers a doctrine of the church that combines Baptist distinctives and origins with an unbending commitment to the visible church as the social body of Christ. Writing from a postliberal, post-Constantinian perspective, Harvey outlines how the church, in its current Western setting, needs to recover and reinvigorate core ecclesial practices in order to "remember the scattered followers of Jesus into the earthy-historical form of the crucified and risen Christ." These core practices include the theological interpretation of Scripture, the development of sound doctrine, the centrality of baptism and the Eucharist, the exercises of spiritual discipline, and the cultivation of the church as a distinctive social body. This book will serve as a useful text for students of ecclesiology, systematic theology, missiology, and ethics.

From the Back Cover
"Barry Harvey has written a small Summa for our time, a fine compendium of ecclesial wisdom for making Christian witness to the principalities and powers of our age. With massive learning, both theological and biblical, he offers us a real masterwork, a splendid demonstration of theological thinking at its best, fully mature and fully engaged with church and world alike."--Ralph C. Wood, Baylor University

"Barry Harvey contends that Free churches in North America, and throughout the world, do not merely exist in a state of division. Like the dry bones of Ezekiel's vision, they lie scattered and lifeless. But this book is not merely an exercise in social criticism. It constructively shows how to understand what it might mean for Christ's dismembered body to be re-membered. Harvey's aim is to enable readers to imagine such a future so that they may desire it. If he is successful, there is yet hope for renewal."--Curtis W. Freeman, Duke University Divinity School

"In this masterful account of the contemporary church, Barry Harvey demonstrates the frightening relevance of God's question of Ezekiel to our day. His scholarship is profound, although he displays it gracefully, and his insights penetrating. While accurately describing the political, social, and economic forces that have severed the sinews of Christ's body, this marvelous work also represents a fresh breath of the Spirit, offering a rich account of the ecclesial practices that may yet clothe us with new life."--Elizabeth Newman, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

"This book serves up impressive scholarly breadth, grounded in many streams of the Christian tradition and argued in ways that remind all branches of the church of their best insights, instincts, and practices. Engaging social theory and politics, economic analysis and the humanities, Harvey offers an exciting and pastorally relevant ecclesiology grounded in scripture, tradition, and critical thinking. This book is valuable for students, scholars, clergy, and lay people interested in how we ended up in our current situation in matters of church, politics, and culture."--Michael L. Budde, DePaul University

About the Author
Barry Harvey (PhD, Duke University) is professor of theology in the Honors College at Baylor University, author of Another City: An Ecclesiological Primer for a Post-Christian World, and coauthor of StormFront: The Good News of God. He lives in Hewitt, Texas.

Crosby Stills and Nash @ Woodstock

One of my favorites...Suite Judy Blue Eyes

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jefferson Airplane @ Woodstock

Eisenstein's Montage and Photography

I’ve been thinking about Sergei Eisenstein, the famous Russian filmmaker. Eisenstein suggested that two film pieces spliced together inevitably form a new concept, or quality arising from the juxtaposition. Europeans call this a montage whereas stateside we call this process simply editing or putting together a sequence. Robert Johnston said that in film, we add or subtract images to construct the narrative structure of a film.

This idea has intrigued me for some time…the juxtaposition of images. What happens when we view a succession of images? Does one color our interpretation of the next? How does the context of surrounding images shape our interpretation of another?

In film making we are seeing a images follow images in time where the succession of images accumulate to convey the narrative structure. But what happens in photography if images are placed next to each other purposefully?

While a single photograph may be visually arresting in its own right, I noticed that pairing two or more photographs creates something more than the literal aesthetic of the singular image. Such pairing of photographic images seems to create a new indeterminate or non-visible space which fosters a symbolic conversation among or between the images while retaining the beauty of each. As an artist in this method, I tend to appropriate images of a common or shared vernacular but rework them into a unique juxtaposition.

Does this artist then becomes a curator and storyteller by re-shaping the literalness of the individual images where viewer is invited to contend with the peculiar pairing and relationship between the images to approximate and appreciate the symbolism.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Authority, Sola Scriptura, and Individualism

I have been having this inner argument lately about the nature of authority. Those of you who return to my site on a regular basis know of my frustration with individualism and its effects upon our doctrine and practices…particularly upon ecclesiology. Recently I had a conversation about such matters with a good friend from seminary though we failed to come to a true consensus on the nature of the problem or movements toward a solution. I think the conversation itself marks our very different theological trajectories.

I’ve come to have a burning issue with what may be the quintessential tenet of Protestantism…sola scriptura. Authority is found in the scriptures alone. At first blush this seems fairly straight forward and a good thing for a Christian to believe. It holds the bible as the divinely inspired (whatever that might mean…another conversation for another time) word of God. Now I can get on board with this (depending on how we define our terms). As Christians we claim that the scriptures are good for teaching and guiding our lives…and they are. But the short sighted nature of sola scriptura that gets overlooked is the authority of the interpreter. Who gets to interpret?

Our culture of individualism suggests that we are all interpreters. We take the passage of Acts 17. 11 “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” and apply it individually.

Who has final authority in such matters? Who can we trust? If we are to each weigh the words of the pastor, evangelists, theologians, or whomever, are we not essentially taking the power into our own hands to determine orthodoxy? American culture is so bound into this individualizing tendency that all forms of authority are meant to be questioned as abusive and oppressive to true freedom.

But without some central form of authority are we not doomed to death by individuation? When interpretive authority is centered in the individual, what happens to the church? Does it just become a means of organization? Another form of business structure? And I think we need to look beyond the temporal or visible church for authority as well into the riches of tradition lest our interpretations become too temporally oriented. The loss of tradition and how our spiritual ancestors have struggled to understand the scriptures in their times must color our interpretations. Its seems a terribly prideful thing to suggest that my interpretations are right without consulting the riches of wisdom from our church fathers and mothers.

How do we balance the fact that we are created as unique individuals with unique experiences with the communal reality of the Christian faith in regards to discernment? I don’t want to run off into radical individualism where my fallen rationality is the arbiter of biblical faithfulness nor am I comfortable with mindless acceptance of church dogma. Though I lean towards the latter in my reaction against individualism and much of evangelicalism's capitulation towards it. So in an individualist culture, whose rationality becomes the authoritative voice for biblical faithfulness? Is it really just up to the individual to decide? I don’t know...I go back and forth. I cannot help but wonder if the fact that I have been born and raised in a culture of extreme individualism keeps me from assenting to the authority of the church doctrine or another. In a sense I wonder if we use the "test all things" as a means to keep our precious identity as an individual... just like everyone else (pun intended). Any thoughts?

Richie Havens @ Woodstock

Richie Havens starting off Woodstock right.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Woodstock: the 39th Anniversary

To mark the 39th anniversary of the historic Woodstock Festival held this week in August 1969 I thought I would post videos of my favorite parts of the documentary made by Michael Wadleigh.

If you are unfamiliar with history of Woodstock, read this article.

If you have not seen the documentary, take the time and enjoy a significant piece of American history and culture…oh…and of course the music.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Celebrating One Year of Axis Of Access

Yesterday marked one year since my first blog entry on AOA. It has been a good exercise in writing and exploring. I have to admit that it can be tiresome to put something new up every couple of days. But this favorite song/video thing has given me a nice little vacation during the move to North Dakota.

I this upcoming year my hope is to continue exploring ideas of sacred space and how these concepts are working into or out of my art.

A warm thank you is extended to all of my regular visitors. Thank you for your encouragement and great conversations.

Deep Dish

Say Hello


Thursday, August 7, 2008


I am sorry about the break in real postings. I have been in Grand Forks for a week and finally have internet access (partial). I expect to have some real thoughts coming shortly. Come back soon.

Saturday, August 2, 2008