"The canonical literature does not offer a settled, coherent account of reality; rather it provides the materials for ongoing disputatious interpretation." - Walter Brueggemann

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A Hopeful Journey to Truth: My Most Inconclusive Post Ever

It has been a while since I've written something for my blog. The last things I've done have been "best of" lists for movies and music. This is partly because of how busy I have been, with the class I was teaching, conference papers I was writing, books I was reading, songs I was recording, a book review, and a journal article.

The last proper blog post I wrote was in November, and it was on my struggle as a skeptic. I had learned an important lesson that there is a difference between despair and disorientation: disorientation is often a positive, growing experience, whereas despair is debilitating. I concluded that if I put faith in something that turns out to be false, it would still be better than despairing in the face of extreme doubt.

That was over 5 months ago. Things have changed since then, starting in January, when I first decided to let go of the pursuit of faith. This is the other reason I haven't written in a while. I wanted to make sure this decision wasn't going away.

For years, faith had been something the pursuit of which consumed me, and yet the practice of which remained foreign to me. I didn't understand it. I didn't know how to implement it in my life. No matter how hard I tried to believe, I was always struck with a desire for assurance and certainty. I wanted to have a personal guarantee that my faith was not in vain, that what I believed in was actually true. Maybe I wouldn't be able to prove it to people, but I at least wanted to prove it to myself.

I don't remember a time when I didn't have this struggle, and my endurance for pursuing faith was waning. I grew tired of making excuses for God--building a theology around God's silence, trying to explain the dissonance between what I believed about God (that he is actively involved in the world, that he loves me, that he is intimately attentive to me, and that he speaks to me) and what I was experiencing (silence, distance, insecurity, and uncertainty). All the varying perspectives of faith became less and less compelling.

Meanwhile, my fear of uncertainty was diminishing, my fear of a godless universe was diminishing, and it became easier to cope with an uncertain world without God than to explain why God's presence wasn't being realized in my life. You can only go so long thinking you are missing out on something huge, and trying to reach that thing, before you throw up your hands and think, "Maybe I'm not missing out on something; maybe this is all there is."

And so I let go.

I hope I'm wrong. I really do. But I just lost the will and the drive to believe.

I still don't know fully what this will mean for my life. I know it doesn't mean I am no longer religious. I still cherish much of the Christian tradition I grew up with, and I still value much of what goes into Christian practice. I still think theology has a lot to offer, even if only for the ideas and the inspiration.

I am not an atheist. I do not have the conviction or the confidence to say that there is no God. I have hope, and I put a lot of stock in that hope. It's only that I cannot claim that what I hope in is true. My position is captured well by a statement Walter Brueggemann made about the book of Jeremiah: "There is no assurance or announcement of hope; there is only yearning that is admittedly hope-filled, but it stops short of knowing too much or claiming too much."

What is comforting is that I am at peace. I am much more comfortable with uncertainty than I ever was, and I know now more than ever that I am on a safe journey, and that I am where I am supposed to be. I haven't concluded anything concrete; I remain open to change, and I will follow whatever road I think will lead me to truth. My hope is that I will grow closer to it every day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The 20 Best Films of 2014

20. Noah

19. The Lego Movie

18. Interstellar

17. The Rover

16. Boyhood

15. Selma

14. Calvary

13. Jodorowsky's Dune

12. Inherent Vice

11. NYMPH()MANIAC, Vols. I & II

10. Foxcatcher

9. Nightcrawler

8. Enemy

7. Ida

6. The Congress

5. Gone Girl

4. Whiplash

3. Under the Skin

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

1. Birdman

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The 50 Best Films of 2010-2014

50. Calvary

49. Bernie

48. Inequality for All

47. Jodorowsky's Dune

46. The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

45. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

44. Gravity

43. 127 Hours

42. Toy Story 3

41. Inherent Vice


39. Foxcatcher

38. Take Shelter

37. Exit Through the Gift Shop

36. Zero Dark Thirty

35. Nightcrawler

34. Enemy

33. Only God Forgives

32. Melancholia

31. The House I Live In

30. The Artist

29. Ida

28. Inception

27. Drive

26. Moonrise Kingdom

25. The Congress

24. Gone Girl

23. Frances Ha

22. Midnight in Paris

21. Life of Pi

20. The King's Speech

19. Blue Jasmine

18. Silver Linings Playbook

17. Django Unchained

16. 12 Years a Slave

15. Under the Skin

14. The Social Network

13. Wolf of Wall Street

12. A Separation

11. Whiplash

10. Before Midnight

9. Black Swan

8. The Hunt

7. Shame

6. The Master

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

4. Her

3. Birdman

2. The Great Beauty

1. The Tree of Life

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2014

Forewarning: most of these books did not come out in 2014. I listened to hours and hours of new music from this year, watched hours and hours of movies from this year, but I did not read for hours and hours pages from books that came out this year. So instead I am listing the top 10 books that I read this year, regardless of their release dates.

10. Making Globalization Work by Joseph E. Stiglitz

This year, I, for the first time, picked up several economics books. My favorite was Stiglitz' second book on globalization. I am currently working on a paper presenting a Christian approach to globalization, and this book is my main source. Stiglitz knows what he's talking about, and listening to his solutions would do the whole world a lot of good. It's just too bad the right people aren't going to.

9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

I usually dislike reading fiction. I so easily get bored. What's funny is that for most people I talk to it's the other way around: they get bored reading non-fiction and can only read fiction. But I also kept hearing how beneficial reading novels can be for the creative imagination, and so upon a recommendation from a friend, I read Kundera's novel. According to Slavoj Zizek, the only good Kundera novel is The Joke, which I haven't yet read. I'm not sure what his problem with Unbearable Lightness is, though, because it's great. I love Kundera's style, and his character studies are just excellent. I'm glad I read it--and that says a lot for me.

8. The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

One of the most enjoyable things I read this year was The Disaster Artist, Greg Sestero's tell-all about his many years with Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, producer, and main actor in The Room, the most enjoyable bad movie of all time. What we find out is that Wiseau is more fascinating and hysterical than we could have ever imagined. Reading the book is as funny and baffling as watching The Room for the first time.

7. Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem edited by Heath A. Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan

I tackled two huge biblical topics this year: divine violence in the Old Testament and historical Jesus studies. Biblical topics with more literature concerning them probably could not be named. Today, these are leading subjects, with just about every scholar with skin in the game. I read 20 books, and at least that amount of articles. on divine violence in the OT. IVP's edited collection Holy War in the Bible was the most helpful introduction to the topic. He offers several different perspectives, most of which offer important insight. It is not a comprehensive collection, but it had the most to offer.

6. Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination and History by Dale Allison

On the historical Jesus, I read books from 6 different authors. The list of historical Jesus works that I've read now includes John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Raymond Brown, James D.G. Dunn, Simon J. Joseph, E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, Craig Blomberg, and Dale Allison. I am glad I read Allison last. After reading the others, I was not compelled in any one direction. They all had their arguments, but I didn't find any one of the more persuasive than the others. And then I read Constructing Jesus, and my views of Jesus were changed forever. Allison is by far the most well-rounded, nuanced, honest and insightful historical Jesus scholar I have read thus far.

5. Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton Sparks

I used to want to be an apologist. I wanted to be the guy people went to for their tough theological questions. Yet even while I desired to be answer man, I hoped to God that no one would ask me about divine violence in the Bible. I just didn't know what to do with it. I finally dove into the topic late 2013. There has to be some magical explanation that preserves God's nature as love and biblical infallibility simultaneously, right?! After familiarizing myself with all the different views, I have discovered...there just isn't. This is the book that confirmed it for me. We have a choice to make: either the Bible is not infallible and we have to think about biblical authority differently, or God's nature isn't love as revealed through Jesus. Sparks chooses the former, and makes a supreme case for such a choice in this book.

4. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi

After reading this book, I could no longer keep silent about injustice, about the ongoing oppression of disadvantaged people by those in power. There is an inequality not just of wealth in the U.S., but of justice, consisting of a lack of justice for those at the top, and rabid injustice inflicted upon those at the bottom. It was a rude awakening to a world so foreign to me, but so terribly real for millions of people. A must-read.

3. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy by Walter Brueggemann

Since finishing this book early in the year, I rarely discuss the Old Testament without thinking of it. Brueggemann's presentation of OT theology is altogether insightful, original, and even captivating. His description of OT theology as a process of testimony and counter-testimony through various mediators changed the way I thought about Scripture and revelation. OT students cannot afford to overlook this book.

2. God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and Political Economy by M. Douglas Meeks

This year was a milestone for me, as it was the year that I decided against anabaptist Christian social theory and decided in favor of Social Gospel thinking. Extremely helpful after that turn was Meeks' incredible book on a Christian theology of political economy. Meeks effectively shows what God's ideal community consists of, and what its implications are for how Christians should think of the economy.

1. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus by Dale Allison

Why am I including two Jesus books by Dale Allison? Because this is seriously the best book I've read in the past few years. I am not exaggerating when I say it changed my life. It had been a while since a book rocked me like this one did. Here, Allison tackles theological issues that come into play with historical Jesus research. Allison is, after all, a Christian, and much of what he says in his academic work is quite challenging to orthodox Christianity. Indeed, even I, no stranger to the unorthodox, was challenged by it. I remember reading Love Wins and for the first time feeling liberated by words on a page. There have been other books since then that have given me the same experience, and this was one of them. I felt it so much that I threw the book across the room at one point. Allison doesn't answer all the questions I would have liked him to, but he gave me a ton to think about.