We’re told that learning how to handle failure is an important part of growing up. Yet we do everything we can to make sure our kids never experience it. What did Samuel Beckett actually mean when he told us to “fail better”? And what does it have to do–if anything–with the theology of the cross? All this and (not) much more!
The first in a series of excerpts from our recent interview with preacher and author Nadia Bolz Weber. The full interview can be found in the new issue of The Mockingbird. Suffice it to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
MBIRD: It seems like what you’re describing most churches doing is theology of glory, rather than theology of the cross. Can you describe what you feel the difference is, theologically?
NBW: Yeah, the theology of glory is a lot of times the God that we project and expect. Basically, God is just as fear-mongering and spiteful and violent as we are. And theologians of glory stand above the cross looking down on it, sort of condemning the world.
But theologians of the cross, we see God where we don’t expect it. It is not the God we’ve created in our image. It is this completely unexpected, almost disturbingly counter-intuitive, totally offensive inversion to what we call power. Right? So, that is disturbing. Ultimately, the only thing that can save us is a God we couldn’t just concoct ourselves—a bigger version of us. And this God is not standing over the cross in condemnation of the world but actually hanging from the cross.
I feel like the theology of the cross—this idea that God is most present in human suffering, and these places where we wouldn’t expect any self-respecting God to show up—is uniquely poised to speak to this generation right now… I think people are aware of their suffering. They are aware of the suffering of others, the trauma of modern life, knowing about every single natural disaster and school shootings. They are carrying that around, and I feel like theology of the cross has something to say to that in a way that super-duper, cheerful, positive, human-empowerment Christianity never can.
Here is a drastic parting of the ways with a theology of glory. The Christ of the Cross takes away the possibility of doing something. The theologian of glory might be able to follow to the point of accepting the truth that Christ has fulfilled all things, but then that will have to be used as a motivational tool to make sure the law gets its due. The point is precisely that the power to do good comes only out of this wild claim that everything has already been done. The language has to break out into preaching. Never mind that when we look to ourselves we find no sign of good works. Never mind our fears and our anxieties. We are looking in the wrong place. Look to Christ! He has done it all. Nothing will be gained by trying to shore up the Old Adam. Christ leaves nothing for the Old Adam and Eve to do. The old can only be killed by the law, not given artificial respiration by recourse to it… To the theologian of the cross the language of grace and faith must be pushed absolutely to this length – until it kills the old and raises the new.
-Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross
I was a bit surprised, reading Bulfinch’s Mythology yesterday, to discover an interesting ‘allegorizing’ move in the Greek myth of a river-god, Achelous, losing his horn. Hercules and Achelous, the story goes, were wrestling for the right to wed Dejanira, a beautiful woman. Achelous transforms into various creatures, including a snake, in his attempt to best Hercules, and Hercules subdues them all. Finally, Achelous transforms into his last remaining form, a bull, and Hercules rips off one of his horns, which becomes ‘Cornucopia’, the horn of plenty. Then things get interesting – as Bulfinch notes,
The ancients were fond of finding a…
If your Kleenexes are collecting dust, or your heartstrings are–and you happen to have HBO–their latest documentary will take you where you need to go. It’s only 30-minutes long, but One Last Hug has the abreactive torque of an emotional 18-wheeler. It details the stories of a handful of children, and three days of their stay at Grief Camp. Camp Erin is a nationwide network of camps for children who have lost family members. It was founded by former major league baseball player Jamie Moyer, after meeting Erin through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Diagnosed with liver cancer at age 15, Erin…
It’s hard to talk about millennials without feeling the same confusion as Whit Stillman’s post-college prep, Des McGrath, over the term “yuppie”, ht DZ:
Des McGrath: Do yuppies even exist? No one says, “I am a yuppie,” it’s always the other guy who’s a yuppie. I think for a group to exist, somebody has to admit to be part of it.
Dan Powers: Of course yuppies exist. Most people would say you two are prime specimens.
Someone asked me the other day what the term ‘millennials’ means, and though I seem to check most of the boxes (20-something, anxious, on a misguided quest…
In his sermon on Genesis 32, Tim Keller defines “wounds of grace” as “the chronic physical limitations that a person endures after wrestling all night (literally or figuratively) with the living God and living to tell about it”. In this chapter, Jacob wrestles with “an Angel of the Lord” or “a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ” (as some have inferred). As a result, Jacob walks with a limp for the rest of his life.
These wounds come in various forms and levels of severity, and without exception, wrestling (figuratively) with God involves an altercation. In that altercation, we see ourselves for who we…
From Gerhard Forde’s Where God Meets Man, one of the most grace-packed bits of Lutheran theology out there, despite the retro cover design:
“It is in this theology of old versus new that we can see, finally, the reason for Luther’s formulation of the problem of bondage and freedom. The old Adam is totally bound. No compromise is possible with him. To allow him a ‘little bit’ of freedom is to open the doors to the whole sticky attempt to combine grace with his fraudulent spiritual ambitions. It is to bind man to his self-imposed legalisms and reduce God to his helper. It is to reintroduce the insipid piety of the ‘little bit.’ There is absolutely no way to cure this old Adam, no way to allow him into the picture. He is ‘totally depraved.’ He must die. And that is just what the Gospel means. The cross and resurrection sounds his death knell. Almighty God moves onto the scene to reclaim his own.
And so the gospel is the announcement and realization of total freedom. It is not a matter of little bits. God moves in Christ to raise up a new man – a completely free man – not just to do a partial repair job. When the old Adam is put to death one is set free from bondage to spiritual ambition, legalism, and tyranny. And Luther, for one, meant this quite literally. One is absolutely free. It is a total state.”
What a gift! Prada, of all places, released a beautiful (and gently cruciform) new short film from Wes Anderson a few days ago, ht RW:
Can’t resist making three quick observations: 1. Notice who/what Schwartzman crashes into (and the posture of said person/object). 2. As we never tire of saying in reference to this, what looks like a disaster here turns out to be something else. Control lost–literally–serves as prelude to receiving. Along those lines, 3. The moment Schwartzman’s drink gets comped, aka the moment he’s shown a little kindness/grace by the people whose public square he’s just ruined, he decides to stick around. Of course, Wes seems characteristically more interested in the (amazing) scenery than the narrative, but even if these elements are purely, er, accidental, that just makes them all the more meta. Ciao!
This comes from her collection of mind-melding meditations, Gravity and Grace.
The cross as a balance, as a lever. A going down, the condition of a rising up. Heaven coming down to earth raises earth to heaven. A lever. We lower when we want to lift.
…It is human misery and not pleasure which contains the secret of the divine wisdom. All pleasure-seeking is the search for an artificial paradise, an intoxication, an enlargement. But it gives us nothing except the experience that it is vain. Only the contemplation of our limitations and our misery puts us on a higher plane. ‘Whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted.’ The upward movement in us is vain (and less than vain) if it does not come from a downward movement.
…When the whole universe weighs upon us there is no other counterweight possible but God himself–the true God, for in this case false gods cannot do anything, not even under the name of the true one. Evil is infinite in the sense of being indefinite: matter, space, time. Nothing can overcome this kind of infinity except the true infinity. That is why on the balance of the cross a body which was frail and light but which was God, lifted up the whole world. ‘Give me a point of leverage and I will lift up the world.’ This point of leverage is the cross. There can be no other. It has to be at the intersection of the world and that which is not the world. The cross is this intersection.
Perhaps you know the story: Adrian Peterson, who suffered from an injury that was to alter his career (tearing his ACL), returned the next year and had such a good season that he was named the NFL’s most valuable player. Players who tear their ACL usually don’t bounce back very well or very quickly, let alone win MVP awards. But Peterson is now on track to break Emmit Smith’s all-time rushing record. This is remarkable, and Peterson’s recognition is extremely well-deserved.
Anytime a star athlete overcomes adversity and succeeds, the sports world basks in the celebratory glory along with the triumphant…
A few Sundays ago, I preached a sermon on Galatians 1:11-24, and we had a rough landing. It was one of those Sundays where I felt the plane take off perfectly, maintaining altitude for most of the sermon, but somewhere along the descent we hit turbulence.
As I drove home that day I asked myself, “What made the last part of my sermon so rough?” Why did I struggle so much with the last five minutes? Well, I realized I was trying to deliver a truth that I wasn’t actually believing myself. During the final point of my sermon–“Who is the…
Perhaps you were as comforted as I was to come across a rather lengthy quote from Jurgen Moltmann’s opus The Crucified God in the “Varieties of Quiet” chapter of Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss. We may not haven’t referenced it in far too long, but The Crucified God happens to be a Mockingbird stand-by, and that oversight ends this morning. The incredibly stirring passage Wiman chooses comes from pages 37-39 of the book, in which Moltmann deals with “The Resistance of the Cross Against its Interpretations”. A slightly expanded version, too relevant not to reproduce, reads as follows:
The modern criticism…
Jim Valvano (most likely known to non-sports fans as the namesake of the Jimmy V Foundation, a cancer research supporter which has given away hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the disease) was the subject of the latest ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, “Survive and Advance,” which premiered on Sunday night. The doc is about the unlikely path-to-a-championship of the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack, coached by Valvano, which included nine consecutive must-win games, many of which came down to the final seconds. The team’s run (the final basket in the championship game was recognized by Sports…
My four-year-old daughter Hazel is a Sports Illustrated subscriber. It’s a complicated issue of expiring airline miles; don’t ask. This week, the annual swimsuit edition was delivered. I remember, as a younger man, subscribing to SPORT Magazine (it was a cheaper monthly option than the weekly Sports Illustrated) and eagerly awaiting the swimsuit issue. SPORT, it should be noted, performed a service to its libido-crazed readership: it actually produced a normal sports-themed magazine to put around the models in bikinis. In other words, when your mom looked askance at the cover, you could always complain that “it just took pages…