The Labyrinth of the Forgotten

I had a thought, well I thought I did. But it’s gone now, if ever it existed. How often does that happen, have a thought, one you think is fairly good, then it disappears, leaving the faint trace of a memory of a memory, the thought that a thought once existed? How many of our memories are but shadows of memories, darkened by time, even when that time is just a moment? How much of what we remember never occurred, imagination colouring in the black holes of our experience? Where do our memories go? Shaped, changed, edited and re-edited by new experience and gained information. I remember reading Les Miserables for the second time, oh 11 years ago. There was a scene that I remembered vividly from my reading 12 years prior, I can’t recall which scene it was. But upon re-reading, after the lapse of time, that scene was nothing like I remembered. The same with one of my then favourite science fiction novels, Count Zero. I had read it in serial form in some sci-fi magazine and loved it. I saw it somewhere and wanted to share it with Shannon, when we were still together, so I bought it and she read it. After her I read it again, it was not the story I had remembered from ten years earlier. How could my memory be so faulty? So faulty with what I remembered so vividly, memory. Yet my certainty failed me, my memory failed me. Not that I forgot, but that what I remembered wasn’t anything like what the facts were. I thought that maybe that Count Zero had changed from the serial in the magazine to the published book and wrote it off as that. But Les Miserables was the same version, the same translation that I had read earlier, well I think it was. How am I to think about the events of my life, do I trust my memories of them? Can I? Should I? What caused me to think of these stories one way and their, actually, being another? How do I account for that? It isn’t all books, The Hobbit remained the same, so did The Lord of the Rings, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and most all other books that I went back to re-read. What was it about these two particular books that had me remembering them so differently? Yet, it wasn’t the whole of Les Miserables, just a particular scene. With Count Zero it was like I was reading a completely different book from the one I had read serialized in the magazine. All this brings me back to my memory of having a thought today, a thought worth writing about, yet it is no longer here, vanished. Did I really have a thought or was it the product of a created memory? What could that thought have been? It was today, not so many hours ago, where could it have gone? Where do memories go when we forget? When they return are they the same ones that had left? Can we know? Thoughts and questions such as these can send me into strange loops, recursive thinking, not unlike the fugues of Bach. Spiraling down, or is it up? Who can tell, spiraling can get one so dizzy that there is no distinction betwixt up and down, in and out. Well until that point when the spiraling tightens, traps and panic sets in. When I wake from these dreams I fear sleep, because my Hell is being trapped. Spiraling thoughts, claustrophobic, leading to Hell. Searching for memories that may have never been there, yet feel so real. Searching through the blackness and emptiness of forgotten thoughts, lapsed memories. Looking, searching for completeness. Completeness that once existed, or never was. Where do out memories go when we forget? We often find something, but is it really what we were searching for? Is it a copy? A replica? A cheap imitation, a knock-off, a forgery? Mining the mind for that which was forgotten because we believe that it must still exist, if only we search long and hard enough. Maddening, lost in the labyrinth turning first this way then that. No matter which way we turn, which path we follow we spiral deeper and deeper, darker and darker. Waking is the only escape, but were we not awake when we began the journey? Are we not awake now? How then do we wake up? Now, was there a thought? Or only a shadow of a memory of a thought?

Exclusion: Who Really Gets Excluded?

“All paradises, all utopias are designed by who is not there, by the people who are not allowed in.” - Toni Morrison

First, I love Toni Morrison, her books, her mind.

I really like this quote from Ms Morrison. As I ponder it, I see the truth to it, universal truth. We might like to turn it around and say that paradises are defined by who is included. But once you set who is included, you’ve by necessity defined the larger group of who is excluded. I think that this is a universal human tendency, to create exclusive clubs we deem Utopian.

In light of this I have been reconsidering the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. Jesus attends a dinner party thrown by one of the leaders of the religious elite. While at this dinner party He tells three parables about dinner parties. Parables about exclusion.

In the first he addressed self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness. People coming in were taking it upon themselves to take the places of honor at the dinner table. Promoting themselves, setting themselves above others. In this they create exclusive space, say others are less worthy than they are, “I belong here, you don’t.”

In the next Jesus tells the host that when he has these parties he should invite the poor, the destitute, the unclean, the sinners. Why? Because there is no real benefit in being exclusive, it is in inclusion that God’s blessings come.

Now that we have the context, on to the parable I really wanted to talk about. The parable of the Great Banquet:

One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’

We need to remember whom Jesus was addressing, the religious elite, those who made rules that kept people out. This is pointed out in the second parable in this narrative, the one where he tells the host he should’ve invited the poor, destitute, etc. This religious club, this exclusive utopia of society’s finest (we see this in the first parable of self-aggrandizement.) These are the people who wouldn’t associate with the other, those who other those different from them. These are the people who would assume themselves invited to the great banquet. It would never occur to this audience that the other would be invited, after all they didn’t fit the qualifications, that they had devised, for invitation.

In the parable all of the “invited” guests have refused the invitation. They have to do things that the exclusive, in-people do. They have their exclusive activities that prevent them from attending this dinner party. The other is then invited, brought in to attend the party.

This is a party for all. No one is excluded, because all are invited, included. However, the religious elite have excluded themselves. In excluding the other they exclude themselves. The very act of excluding, excludes the one who thinks they are included.

In Christianity they contend that it is the religious elite that have rejected the invitation. They even contend that Jesus was talking about the church, the gentiles who are the poor and destitute who actually attend. The church likes to see itself as the sinner invited to the party. They cannot recognize that Jesus is speaking of universal truths, just as Toni Morrison addresses in the quote above. It is our human tendency toward being exclusive that is being addressed, the religious elite and the poor are illustrative, vehicles for the greater message. While Jesus was probably not talking about Christians the application can be made. But not as they would like to think. No one wants to identify with the religious elite of the parable. Christians like to comfortably identify with the poor, outcast sinners. Yet, the more the church tries to make qualifications about who is in and who is not, the further it excludes itself from the great party. The more it insists groups of people cannot be a part of the party, the further they they are from attending themselves. Just as in their judgment they drink judgment upon themselves, in their exclusion the exclude themselves.

And Words Will Never Hurt Me

I was participating in a discussion the other day where it was asked,  How should we Christians Show Christ’s Love to Homosexuals? The person who posed the question for discussion said he felt he wanted to apologize to LGBTQ people for the horrid way that the church catholic has treated them. He was asking the best way to do this. Being a Christian forum, of mainly straight, white men, many were quick to say that such an apology is unwarranted because one cannot apologize for the church. Besides, the church has done nothing wrong.

This is where I tuned out. I become incensed at such notions and they inevitably lead to victim blaming, or are born of it. Either way there is no conversing with people that do this. No matter what is said tempers flare and the ad hominems begin to fly. To be honest I am not above slinging them myself while simultaneously touting the virtues of non-fallacious argument.

Of course the person that asked the question can and should apologize for the church’s despicable treatment of LGBTQ people. If I am a member of a group that has members, even a fringe, minority of the membership, that treats communities of people in such  dehumanizing and hurtful ways as some within the church have treated the LGBTQ community and individuals, it reflects upon every member of the group and the group itself. The group and all its members share in the guilt, so it is appropriate to apologize, to try to make amends to the injured. Just because I have personally done nothing wrong, have not harmed anyone (something I cannot personally claim, I have at one time or another held views, said things, made jokes that were homophobic, racist, sexist, etc. I do try to search myself for vestigial remnants. Being called on my privilege, when it appears, offers me that opportunity.) we still share the group’s guilt by choosing to associate with it. Christians should understand this concept of imputed guilt as it is at the core of many atonement theologies and the whole fallen nature thing, yet we deny it. But this isn’t really the topic of this post. My apologies for the digression.

I didn’t totally tune out, just avoided certain persons’ responses.

Somehow the topic of verbal abuse came up, this is what I actually came here to talk about. Someone came close to denying the existence of verbal abuse when he said that words cannot hurt, unless we choose to be hurt by them. He recited the lil ditty

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

When I look at bullying and how verbal abuse is a part of bullying, and other forms of abuse, I recall being taught this very same ditty as a child. It was our standard response when our children were being taunted, called names, etc. I was taught this by people I trusted as a child. I do not think they meant any harm, just don’t think that they thought it through. I know they had the best of intentions, to give us comfort, to help us stand strong in the face of abuse. But the idiom is false. Words do hurt, they can hurt very much. No, it is not just my choice to be hurt by a verbal assault. Verbal assaults are hurtful, they are meant to inflict pain, why else would we use them? Words become weapons the same way a baseball bat, or a steak knife can become weapons. I know, I’ve used them to this end. Have had them used against me as weapons.

This idiom, seems to me can lead to further abuse in the form invalidating someone’s feelings and victim blaming. “If you were stronger…” “If you weren’t a weakling…” then you wouldn’t choose to be hurt by simple words. This is fucking non-sense. Hurtful, dangerous non-sense. The words were strung together as a weapon, of course they hurt. You are not wrong for feeling hurt, you were. Your feelings are real, no one should deny you your feelings, tell you they are wrong. This idiom lends itself to doing just that. No people should be taught not to be abusers, verbal or otherwise.

This same person who recited the lil ditty said that verbal abuse can cause no real harm, not like physical abuse. I’d like to say that emotional abuse, of which verbal abuse is a part, is very much damaging physically. Negative emotions lead to the release of stress hormones which are rather toxic to the body. Verbal abuse harms people physically.

But, this isn’t the only harm that can come from this saying. Imagine what we would have to do in order to choose to not be affected by verbal assaults. It seems to require a hardening of the heart. I think we have to kill off a part of our humanity, Imago Dei for the Christian audience, to not be affected by verbal, emotional assaults. Actually I know this from experience. I internalized the idiom, tried desperately to live it out and in the process muted that part of me that would be hurt by what people said to or about me. I became less than fully human. I was missing the part of me that could truly love, feel sympathy for the other. Isn’t this what we are asking people to do when we insist that words will never hurt me?

Words can hurt, can be used as weapons. The good taken and used for evil. When we are beaten with words it is not our fault for “choosing” to be hurt, as that is only a choice that can be made from a hardened, less than fully human heart.

For all those who I have beaten with words I am truly sorry for abusing you. You did nothing to deserve that treatment. The pain you felt was not a result of your skin not being thick enough, but of my heart being too hard. I wish I could turn the clock back and undo the harm I caused you. All I can do, and I know it falls very short, is say, I am truly sorry.

Biblical Witness & Christian Life in Relational Perspective

The third part of what is a four part review of Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. Part one is here and part two here.

The section, Biblical Witness in Relational Perspective, is quite short containing four essays, all of which are excellent and well written.

I am going to tell you a little bit about and quote from Dennis Bratcher’s The Revelation and Inspiration of Scripture.  Dr. Bratcher starts the essay off telling us, “Christianity is a response to God’s self-disclosure.” A God the reveals Godself, self-discloses, is a relational God and this is reinforced in the biblical texts.

Scripture is the witness that the community of faith has borne to or about revelation…. God is the content of the revelation. Scripture tells us about and points us toward that revelation.

God revealed Himself in history (events), and the community of faith interpreted those events…. The Scriptures reflect this dynamic of the “story of God woven into the life of the community of faith through the centuries.

In this way the Scriptures, the Bible, becomes relational. Relational in the way in which it was initially received. Relational in the way it is interpreted and applied within faith communities.

The three other essays are also excellent. Of note is Dwight Swanson’s The Authority of the Bible. Swanson packs so much into his short essay that I would have to quote the whole thing, so I’ll just say that it is well worth the read.

Section III, The Christian Life in Relational Perspective, has seven essays in living out the Christian life relationally, the way it is intended.

In Prayer and our Relationship with God Libby Tedder tells us, “Prayer is to relational theology as communication is to relationship. You cannot have one without the other.”  She acknowledges that for some the idea of prayer brings up feelings of guilt, we know we are supposed to pray, but aren’t clear on how, so we neglect it.

Relational theology affirms that prayer affects us. But there is a sense in which it also affects God.

God affected by our prayers. Let that dwell a moment. God affected by our prayers.

Prayer literally changes the world. The way we pray relate to Godin prayer changes the way we live and move and have our being. By transforming us, prayer transforms the way God is present to the world by opening up new ways for love to abound…. Praying is the waking up to the presence of God.

Tedder goes on to talk about different ways to pray, some components of prayer.

Prayer can engage all the senses. Prayer can be turning to the inner world of reflections and the outer wolrd electric with clues that God is on the move.

Prayer is relational, it is interaction with God.

There is one more section, Ethics and Justice in Relational Perspective which I will get in another post very soon.

Again the book is Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction,  (2012), Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, Point Loma Press, San Diego. It is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective

Earlier in the week I posted the first part of a review of Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. In that post I talked about the introduction by editor Tom Oord. I also promised to talk about the four sections of relational perspective that divide the book.

Doctrines of Theology in Relational Perspective is the first and largest section of the book, comprised of 12 essays. As I read through them I found that I like all of them and underlined most of each for quotes to use here. If I were to do that this review would be longer than the book and I would violate some copyright law by quoting almost the entire section. So, what I have decided to do is to select a couple of the fine essays, ones that stand out, to me. I hope that you will find them as interesting as I did.

Relational theologies don’t tell you how to think about God, but open doors of possibility for thinking about God, opening the doors of exploration. Well, at least that’s how I see them.

In his essay Relational Theology and the Holy Spirit, Amos Yong tells us that, “The Holy Spirit lies at the very heart of relational theology.” I think that he has something here, God in Trinity is by nature a relational being, the Holy Spirit brings us into that relationship.

If the Spirit is at the center of the relational life of God, the Spirit is also central to God’s relationship with the world….Ireneus held that the Father created the world with his “two hands”–the Word and the Spirit. If the Word of God structures the world and its creatures, the Spirit of God is the dynamic life force that infuses creativity and novelty into the rhythms of creation.

I love that last line, “the dynamic life force that infuses creativity and novelty into the rhythms of creation.” It is packed full of possibility.

Human beings find meaning, fulfillment, and significance precisely in relationship one to another, bonded together by the common creator Spirit.

In a fallen world, the bonds of human communion have been broken and people alienated from themselves, others, and their natural environments. But God’s redeeming work consists of healing the estrangement of our hearts, reconciling human beings with one another, and restoring harmony between humanity and the cosmos.

This is a brilliant little essay, so full of possibility based in the redemptive power of God.

The Image of God by Samuel M. Powell talks about how our Imago Dei  relational.

Because we are created in the image of God, our existence is marked by relationships. To be the creaturely image of God is to be essentially and unavoidably related to God, to fellow humans, and to the rest of creation.

Because we are created in God’s image we are afforded certain rights and responsibilities of relationship.

Because we are created in God’s image, each of us is due the highest moral consideration in every respect.

To be created in God’s image is to be a member of a human community in which everyone should receive respect, dignity, and consideration.

Everyone, not just a chosen elite, everyone, isn’t that how Jesus treats people?

I am going to quote from one more essay in this section.

Faith in Relations by Wm. Curtis Holtzen.

Relationship, like “faith”, is a multifaceted notion and not easily defined. When we explore relationship through the notions of love and trust, however, we see that faith and relationship become inseparable.

If faith is a relationship or communal bond, shouldn’t we think of God as someone of faith? … “Yes!” Faith is relational and relationships are reciprocal, two-sided. Because God is relational, God has faith. God’s relationship with us is not only loving but also trusting.

There are nine other essays in this section. They talk about love in relational terms, sin, and salvation in relational terms. They all open up the possibility of thinking about God and ourselves, theology in new ways, relational ways.

The  third part in this series, Biblical Witness & Christian Living in Relational Perspective is up.

Again the book is Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction,  (2012), Eds. Brint Montgomery, Thomas Jay Oord, and Karen Winslow, Point Loma Press, San Diego. It is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction

Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is a collection of short essays on relational theologies. There are 31, each about three pages long. Short, concise very good for those of us with short attention spans. Short, concise yet packed full of information.

In the introduction, What is Relational Theology?,  Thomas Jay Oord tells a little about what relational theologies are and the need for them in the Christian theological landscape. Dr. Oord tells us that in the biblical descriptions of God, by His very nature He is relational.

God instructs, expects, and responds to creatures–all of which are relational activities.

Dr. Oord goes on to explain, and even show graphically, how several other theologies fall under the umbrella of relational theology. Theologies such as process, liberation, feminist, and missional all are relational theologies.

The essays are then broken down into four sections of relational perspective: Doctrines of Theology, Biblical Witness, The Christian Life, and Ethics and Justice. In future posts we will explore each of these sections.

If you don’t want to wait Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction is available from Amazon. It is a very good book, well worth the read.

The first section Doctrines of theology in Relational Perspective and the second & third sections, Biblical Witness & Christian Life in Relational Perspective are now up.

Paul DeBaufer:

I wish the sound was better, but even as it is this is a remarkable poem, performed very well.

Originally posted on Dispatches from the Underclass:

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