Theology

Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination

Kicking at the Darkness by Brian Walsh

Kicking at the Darkness by Brian Walsh

When a friend told me about this book late last year, I thought that all my Christmas had come early.

A theological treatise on Bruce Cockburn has been very necessary for years, but surely he was such a cult artist that no publisher would ever see a book on him as profitable. So fair play to Brazos Press for the courage and vision. And the author might have swayed the deal.

Walsh does a good few things in Kicking At The Darkness; Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination. He confirms all your thoughts on your favorite Cockburn lyrics. (They were as theologically potent as you always thought!) He also reminds you how many great lines Cockburn has written, causing you to scuttle back to re-listen to every album right back to the first.

The Gospel According to Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga. Image via http://bit.ly/AjdhWA

Lady Gaga. Image via http://bit.ly/AjdhWA

During all my reading about Robyn and Lady Gaga I came across some stuff about Lady Gaga that I found interesting, theologically speaking. As I told Jana over the summer, "I'm sort of developing a theological curiosity about Lady Gaga." Jana asked, "How so?"

Well, Lady Gaga calls her fans "monsters." Or "little monsters." And by that she means freaks--the odd, the weird, the lonely, the rejects, the nerds, the castoffs. And you can't help but wonder, in light of the gospels, about that demographic. In my book Unclean I have a chapter on monsters. And I've written about the theology of monsters on this blog. Consequently, Lady Gaga's use of the label "monsters" caught my attention.

Because as I've written, the category "monster" is charged with ambivalence. On the surface the monster is a normative threat--a defilement, a degradation, a location of moral and communal harm. Thus, monsters are expelled from community. And yet, most monster stories suggest that the monster is often a scapegoat. That the monster is more victim than victimizer. Underneath, if we could but see it, the monster is one of us.

So it's theologically apt that Lady Gaga uses the category monster for her fans. Because she's targeting a group that has been cast out of society. Again, she's explicitly embracing the freaks, weirdos and social outcasts. But Gaga, like in the monster stories, has flipped this and made the label "monster" a term of affection, welcome, embrace, community, inclusion and hospitality. (The diminutive "little" signals the playful affection.) This parallels my own interests in Unclean--Can we show hospitality toward monsters? So I'm intrigued by Gaga's community of "little monsters."

Susan Isaacs Anwers "What is an Evangelical?"

Susan Isaacs. Image courtesy of the author.

Susan Isaacs. Image courtesy of the author.

I first heard the term "evangelical" in the 1980s, about the time the Swaggarts and Bakkers were imploding. Christianity needed a new name for sane, intellectually sound faith.

"Born-again" had been sullied by the televangelists and worn out by Debbie Boone’s explanation of how she justified singing the lyrics to “You Light Up My Life.”

"Jesus Freak" had died with the Peace movement.

We needed another word to separate true Christians from fake ones; sheep from goats; serious believers from those who merely checked the “Christian” box on their driver’s license application because Jew, Muslim or Ekkankar didn’t apply. 

(Sometimes I wonder if all the denominations in Christendom are merely a list of the nomenclature we’ve used to separate Us from Them.)

You Make Me Almost Want To Be a Christian

A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. P

A demonstrator at Sunday's anti-Keystone XL pipeline rally in Washington, D.C. Photo for Sojourners by Joan Bisset.

I always notice something when speaking to a mostly secular audience. Many people have been so hurt or rejected by the bad religion in which they were raised or have encountered elsewhere over the course of their lives, and, quite understandably, they are skeptical and wary of the faith community. But when someone looks like a faith leader (this is where the ecclesial robe helps ) and says things that are different from what they expect or are used to, their response is one of gratitude and the moment becomes an opportunity for healing.

After I spoke Sunday and joined the circle around the White House, person after person came up to me to express their thanks or simply to talk.

My favorite comment of the day came from a woman who quietly whispered in my ear, "You make me almost want to be a Christian."

Reformation Day and You(2): Reformed and Always Reforming


When I was ordained as a "Minister of Word and Sacrament" in the Reformed Church in America, a denomination that began in 1628, I imagined that I was being ordained to a church that was "reformed and always reforming!" (Emphasis mine).

Reformata et semper reformanda was a theme of the Reformation, which Martin Luther kicked off on Oct. 31, 1517 when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to front door of Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany.

But rather than reviewing history from a half-millennia ago, let me explain what I hoped for 22 years ago, when I was ordained.

Wallis and Mohler Debate Social Justice and the Gospel

What was most telling about the disagreement between the two men was their discussion of Luke 4. Mohler argued the passage should be understood in light of how he interpreted the preaching and teaching of Paul and the other apostles. This means that when Jesus said that he came to bring good news to the poor that good news was personal salvation.

Wallis argued that yes, personal salvation is one part of that good news, but that the other part is the Kingdom of God breaking into the world and transforming societal relationships as well. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it is good news for a poor person's entire being, community and world -- not just his or her soul.

First, it was encouraging to hear Mohler spend a lot of time emphasizing that working for justice is essential to fulfillment of the Great Commission. Throughout the night he repeated his concern that a lot of Churches are REALLY bad at making disciples who actually do the things Jesus told us to do. As the president of one of the largest seminaries in the world, it will be interesting to see if he is able to train a generation of pastors who will do things differently. My concern is that he is missing the connection between his theology and the failure of Christians to actually do justice.

The "Atonement-Only" Gospel

If justice is only an implication, it can easily become optional and, especially in privileged churches, non-existent. In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: Repentance and following. Belief and obedience. Salvation and justice. Faith and discipleship.

Atonement-only theology and its churches are in most serious jeopardy of missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. The atonement-only gospel is simply too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private.

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