Suffering

The Theology of Everything: Jane and Stephen Hawking Head to the Cross

The Theology of Everything: Jane and Stephen Hawking Head to the Cross

The title of the Oscar-nominated movie The Theory of Everything might seem a little ambitious, maybe even ironic in its grandiose magnitude, and, in some ways, it is. The title pokes at real-life physicist Stephen Hawking’s initial desire to find a theory of everything, a single equation to explain the creation of the universe. Having never settled on such an equation, Stephen’s ambition ensures an ironic sort of surrender even in the title, which unexpectedly exudes earnestness, too, given that the film’s themes are endless: Everything’s here. The Theory of Everything investigates the very beginning of the universe as well…

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The Danger of Rolling Suffering Into Evil (According to Gerhard Forde)

A helpful and ever-timely distinction from pages 84-85 of On Being a Theologian of the Cross:

luther-preaching

“Contemporary theologians talk much about the problem of evil. Some think it is the most difficult problem for theology today and one of the most persistent causes of unbelief. … Since suffering is itself classified as evil, it is of course simply lumped together with disaster, crime, misfortune of every sort, abuse, holocaust, and all manner of notorious wrong as one and the same problem. So it is almost universally the case that theologians and philosophers include suffering without further qualification among those things they call evil. … Evil does cause suffering — but not always. Indeed, the usual complaint is that the evil don’t seem to suffer. However, the causes of suffering may not always be evil — perhaps not even most of the time. Love can cause suffering. Beauty can be the occasion for suffering. Children with their demands and impetuous cries can cause suffering. Just the toil and trouble of daily life can cause suffering, and so on. Yet these are surely not to be termed evil. The problem of suffering should not just be rolled up with the problem of evil…”

“Identification of suffering with evil has the further result that God must be absolved from all blame. Thus, the theologian of glory adds to the perfidy of false speech by trying to assure us that God, of course, has nothing to do with suffering and evil. God is “good,” the rewarder of all our “good” works, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of merit. …Meanwhile, suffering goes on unabated. If God has nothing to do with suffering, what is he involved with? Whoever does not know God hidden in suffering, Luther asserts in his proof, does not know God at all.”

And speaking of God hidden in suffering, today’s bonus track would have to be JAZ’s new mix, “For the Heads and the Heart”, which was selected as Dream Chimney’s current mix of the week:

The Gardner of Eden

The Gardner of Eden

They say ev’rything can be replaced . . .

-Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Released”

Twenty-five years ago, Rick Abath, a hippie Berklee College of Music dropout, was working the night shift at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Two men dressed as Boston Police officers asked Abath to let them in. When Abath did, they informed Abath that it was a robbery, covered his eyes and mouth in duct tape, and handcuffed him to an electrical box. During the next seven hours, the thieves stole 13 objects from the Museum worth around $500 million. Abath passed the time by singing…

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Nadia Bolz-Weber Pawns Off Narcissism as a Virtue

2015 NYC Conference speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s book, Pastrix, is a curious beast: self-deprecating memoir, accidental handbook for church planters, compendium of dark comedy, and loads of inspiration, though not (remotely) the Hallmark variety. Among the many excerpt-worthy passages, one about darkness, light, and self-deception stood out to me. As backstory here, Candace was a fellow alcoholic, though less of a recovering one, whom Nadia tried to support for a while, before her sister accused her of  imprudently squandering her emotional energy just to maintain her idea of herself as a loyal friend:

RNS-FALSANI-COLUMN

Years later, after I had started House for All Sinners and Saints, I thought of Candace when I was writing a sermon about when Jesus goes on and on about how we really actually like darkness more than light because, let’s face it, the darkness hides our bullshit. (Revised Nadia Version.) I thought of all the time I spent trying to be good and all the time she spent trying to pretend she wasn’t high and how perfectly matched all our crap was. And all it took was my sister speaking the truth about it for light to come in and scatter the darkness. I thought about how, just like Candace, when I want desperately for something about myself to be hidden, for it to stay in the darkness, I am really good at lying. And if I can go an extra step and make it look like I’m actually being good – if I can pawn off narcissism as a virtue – then I win. Like when I am just sick of giving a shit about other people and want to be selfish so I call my two days of watching Netflix and getting mani-pedis ‘self-care.’ Or when I say I’m on ‘a cleanse’ so no one knows I’m really on a diet.

The list goes on, and the last thing I want is for any light to be cast on the darkness that I’ve spent so much energy curating, protecting, enjoying. But it’s not a cleanse. It’s a diet. It’s not about my health, it’s about my vanity.

There’s a popular misconception that religion, Christianity specifically, is about knowing the difference between good and evil so that we can choose the good. But being good has never set me free the way the truth has…

Very often I will avoid the truth until my face goes red like a toddler avoiding her nap; until limp limbed, she finally stops flailing and falls asleep and receives rest – the very thing she needs and the very thing she fights. When someone like me, who will go to superhero lengths to avoid the truth, runs out of options – when I am found out or too exhausted to pretend anymore or maybe just confronted by my sister – it feels like the truth might crush me. And that is right. The truth does crush us, but the instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into something honest. It’s death and resurrection every time it happens.

God in The Storm

God in The Storm

Like you, I’ve currently been trying to move through season three of House of Cards as slowly as possible, and not watch the whole thing in one sitting. It’s hard to do, even though this season is a lot less binge-friendly than the first two. And it’s hard to do predominantly because the Underwood’s ‘house of cards’ is nearly finished, and also never finished. While manipulative play after manipulative play proves time and again that control is only one move ahead of them, the thrill in watching the show comes from this precise tension–that one slip of the hand, or…

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A Life of Aching Beauty: Vincent van Gogh as Preacher, Failure, and Painter

A Life of Aching Beauty: Vincent van Gogh as Preacher, Failure, and Painter

Originally posted on Tides of God.

PART I: FALL

Undergrowth with Two Figures is the only Van Gogh painting I have seen in real life. Several times my wife and I have sought it out on visits to the Cincinnati Art Museum. It is not one of Van Gogh’s well-known paintings. The work was completed during his almost manic period of productivity from May to July 1890 when Vincent turned out nearly one hundred paintings and drawings in the last seventy days of his life. Undergrowth with Two Figures is an island of peace in sea of turmoil. Van Gogh biographer Philip…

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Francis Spufford on the Cruel Optimism of an Atheist Bus

Francis Spufford on the Cruel Optimism of an Atheist Bus

Another wonderful passage from the introduction of our 2014 NYC Conference speaker’s Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.

Take the well-known slogan on the atheist bus in London. I know, I know, that’s an utterance by the hardcore hobbyists of unbelief, but in this particular case they’re pretty much stating the ordinary wisdom of everyday disbelief. The atheist bus says: “There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life.” All right: which word here is the questionable one, the aggressive one, the one that parts company with recognisable human experience so fast it doesn’t…

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The 21 Beheaded Egyptians Make Me Proud to Be a Christian

The 21 Beheaded Egyptians Make Me Proud to Be a Christian

From Cairo to Rome and beyond, the reaction to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS has been swift and profound: anger and condemnation, sadness and solidarity. Yet, as I have thought over this horrific event, another emotion has swelled within in me: pride. For while the Islamic State considers itself to be following in the footsteps of its religious founder and leader (see here,  here and here), the 21 Egyptians were undoubtedly following in the footsteps of theirs.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent…

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You Gonna Clean that Up?…”I. Just. Can’t.”

You Gonna Clean that Up?…”I. Just. Can’t.”

A friend of mine who is working the 12 Steps recently said, “one of the most important things I do every morning is make the bed after I get up”. He went on to say that this simple discipline sets a tone for the day. This seemingly mundane task says, “I care about my life, I care about the people around me, and what I do matters”.

I thought about my friend’s comment this week when I listened to a podcast conversation between comedian Marc Maron (on a Dec 2014 episode of his WTF weekly podcast, h/t B.I.C.) and his longtime…

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An Exhausted Prayer: Get Me Out of {Into} the Woods

An Exhausted Prayer: Get Me Out of {Into} the Woods

One less-than-magical night, not so long ago, while afflicted by a monstrous spell of boredom cast upon me by the solitary confinement of the common cold, I ventured, alone, Into the Woods. Why not? I had a gift card… Honestly, as much as I jest, I wanted to see the cluster-cuss of historic fairy tales on the big screen, even though it meant sitting through over 2 hours of sing-a-long Disney tunes (…alright, I liked those too). It was electrifying; an out-of-the-blue good time; like seeing the neo-Gothic steeples of Cinderella’s Orlando castle in person for the first time all over again. More outstanding was the…

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A Long-Winded Thursday Devotional: Too Religious Not to Be Ashamed

A Long-Winded Thursday Devotional: Too Religious Not to Be Ashamed

From today’s lectionary reading, Mark 8.27-9.1:

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief…

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Francis Schaeffer on the Problem with Thomas Kinkade’s Optimistic Art

Francis Schaeffer on the Problem with Thomas Kinkade’s Optimistic Art

Several months ago I wrote a post on the well known and now deceased “Painter of Light,” Thomas Kinkade. I addressed Kinkade’s tragic backstory of suffering and how his pain never came through in his I’m-OK-you’re-OK artwork. Most of all I lamented that Christians in particular promote his brand of sentimental artwork because it is safe. What I originally thought would be an obscure post actually got a lot of attention. I was surprised that it struck such a nerve. One redditor called me patronizing: “F*ck Matt Schneider. This piece was condescending and nauseating.”

I don’t usually criticize individual artists and thinkers publically,…

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