Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

The “Metaphysics” of Blogging

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a blog by Franky Schaeffer about the sickness of evangelicals (and evangelicalism).  He took aim specifically at Sarah Palin and Franklin Graham, but got in a few digs at father Billy as well. Purportedly, the blog was about larger, more substantive matters than just the personalities mentioned, but it came across as especially bitter and vituperative.

I commented on my friend’s fb page, as did a few others.  One commenter reminded us that blogs in general represent a particular type of writing.  He’s right: blogs are commonly expected to be edgy, raw, less-filtered, emotive, therefore provocative. Provocative of what?  Granting his point, I still was left pondering both the impact, therefore the nature of, blogging.

So, here I am, blogging about blogging.  Does it mean that I’m doing an exercise in “meta-blogging?”  Have I coined a new term?  (I didn’t think so.)  Perhaps I’m playing with the “metaphysics” of blogging.

For completely separate reasons, I have been re-reading C. John Sommerville’s book, The Decline of the Secular University, (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), a slim, but meaty collection of essays on how the secularist university has become irrelevant to public discourse, and why.  One must read this book carefully.  Sommerville, a first rate historian, has been doing his homework for a long time and knows his stuff.  This is a compelling book.

In the chapter about post-secularism, Sommerville argues that the dailyness of daily newspapers has helped to create “a news consciousness, a fixation on daily trends and fashions instead of more comprehensive treatments of significant subjects,” (p. 138).  “News” content reflects what we want to hear and read about.

Which makes me think about blogging.  “Fashion,” rather than sustained and serious thought, pervades most of our public discourse.  The tone and structure of Franky Schaeffer’s blog about evangelicalism’s sickness demonstrates the “fashion” in blogging.

So, Professor Sommerville has provoked some self-doubt in me about blogging. Somewhat analogous to texting in one’s “vote” on some news item on a cable news network, blogging is ostensibly a form of empowerment, allowing people to opine about all manner of topics.  Since we’re putting our thoughts on the worldwide web, there’s a chance that someone besides our five or six friends might actually wander across our blog and discover our brilliance.

Now, I’ve added another question.  Is blogging merely a form of narcissistic self-expression?  That’s not all it is for people writing books and appearing on talk shows.  Blogging is marketing.  Well, what is blogging for blokes like me?

I enjoy and am edified by some people’s blogs, usually Christian thinker/leaders whose books I also read.  I like to read other blogs because the bloggers are my friends and it’s a way of keeping in touch.

But blogging, like other forms of communication, presents the wonderful possibility of stimulating thought and dialogue.  At their best, blogs accomplish this aim.  Therefore, we blog on.  But at their worst, they contribute to thoughtless, verbal violence.

Dare we check the balance?

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November 30, 2009 Posted by | Pop Culture, Religion | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Discipleship as Therapy

Was it St. John Chrysostom who said that the church is a hospital for souls?  Sanctification – growing to maturity – is a form of healing, is it not?  Therefore, Christian discipleship is really a kind of therapy.

This thought prompts me to consider how most of pop culture (even in the church) runs counter to this notion.  Think about how we use the term “mental health” in a clinical way, shorn of any explicit theological content.  Think of “life coaches;” consultants, industrial and sport psychologists all standing ready to assist people in working through their problems.

Some people readily include “spirituality” in the mental health medicine bag.  Nurses in hospitals can receive training to employ the individual spiritual beliefs of a patient to help in the healing process.  It has become normative in various forms of the healing arts.  It is based on the “scientific” notion of an empirically-based understanding of human nature and what ails us.  In this view, “spirituality” is an empty container into which one pours one’s own particular beliefs and values.

This model of mental health is not so neutral as it seems.  As numerous Christian thinkers have pointed out, it harbors a number of theological assumptions and depends upon biblical concepts to do its work.  Virtually all the empirical literature on spirituality makes references to concepts like love, goodness, hope and compassion.  Healthy spirituality from this view always looks suspiciously like mature Christian discipleship, without the “Christian” part, of course.  But to have hope in a good (or improved) future one really needs to believe in a transcendent source of goodness, probably even a Transcendent Creator who is personal, who loves the creation and works in it to bring about good.  So, even in the allegedly neutral, empirically-driven spirituality literature, there is, upon examination, a fairy identifiable theological framework in play.

Sprinkled all through our society, therefore, is a vast array of options for what turns out to be a much reduced (and tamed) form of discipling.  What is therapy, after all?  A person, with her or his therapist or counselor, develops an honest, transparent relationship (the therapist must be honest and transparent in a professional way, in order to have the trust of the client), into which conversations take place and guidance is offered for strategies to improve a person’s life.  Sounds a lot like Christian discipleship, without the “Christian.”

In our world, therapy has taken the place of discipleship.  Of course, I am not suggesting that we quit doing therapy, for it does provide help to many people.  But this therapy is just a party of the journey.  We should think about what we’re actually envisioning in therapy and we should also notice that there is precious little in the way of real, extensive, long-term growth in Christian discipleship taking place in the church.  Perhaps we have given away too much?

When people commit to following Jesus in all aspects of life; when life in the Kingdom of God is truly paramount; when people pray for and seek and yield to the work of the Holy Spirit within a community of such humble, open disciples, therapy happens!  Healing takes place.

Without shutting down the therapy-as-discipleship paradigm, I do think we should reverse the order: discipleship-as-therapy.  I think we’d have healthier people in the church and, long-term, a healthier world.

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Christian Spirituality, Pop Culture, Religion | , , , , | 4 Comments

How Do We Cultivate Awareness?

I’ve been watching this phenomenon and participating in it myself for years, since I was a college student.  It’s the infamous “quiet time,” our evangelical colloquialism for a much-needed and advocated-for spiritual discipline.  It once was called “personal devotion” or “devotions” – that regular daily time of reading a Bible passage or verse and using some sort of devotional aid, with a little prayer thrown into the mix.

I’m astounded at the some of the crud people can buy at Christian bookstores to help them with their “quiet time.”  A few months ago on one of my browsing trips, I ran across what must be the “Christian” analogy to the “One Minute Manager” for one’s “quiet time.”  Such nonsense.  And we buy this stuff.

It’s Monday and I’m feeling a little curmudgeonly, but my mood notwithstanding, the “quiet time” needs a serious overhaul.  It’s probably some part developmental phase for college students, but the “quiet time” is promoted by pastors and campus ministers and, because we want to be good followers of Jesus, we make a game effort to include “quiet time” in our daily schedules.  My sense is that most of us fail – if not miserably – fairly consistently.  It’s time for a re-think of what “quiet time” actually aims to accomplish.

It is certainly not a mere task that I can check off my list when done for the day.  Confession: I spent many, many years treating the “quiet time” in just this way. We all know this: the point of the “quiet time” is not simply to do what good Christians do, but to spend concentrated time communing with the Triune God.

Because God is merciful and faithful and loves his children, even the truncated “quiet time” can and does have some beneficial impact.  Obviously, I don’t want anyone to quit doing their “quiet time” even if it does mean hurriedly grabbing a few minutes to go along with the cup of coffee (or Coke or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper or lattespressicino – thank you Dave Barry!) they regularly grab.  But, as is the case with much of Christian discipleship, there is much, much more blessing to be had and much more formation to undergo on the way to maturity.

Certainly, one of the major blessings of the “quiet time” is actual awareness of the actual presence of God.  We actually listen to and talk with the living God.  This practice is of the nature of a personal relationship, just like we teach all the time.  A personal relationship requires cultivating.  Our “quiet time” offers us the chance to cultivate our awareness of the actual presence of the living God.  To use Dallas Willard’s term from The Divine Conspiracy, that presence is an “engulfing” presence.  Followers of Jesus are engulfed by the Kingdom Presence.

To cultivate awareness of God’s presence takes a willing heart, time and focused persistence.  There is something mysterious about the human will on this point that calls for reflection.  Wherever that train of thought might lead, friends, we must slow down and listen.  If we want our lives to count for God’s glory; if we want to produce fruit that lasts, we must slow down and cultivate awareness of God’s presence.

If you’re a too-busy college student, but you took time to read this blog and you want to deepen your relationship with Christ, I’m begging you, slow down.  Find the time to listen, to reflect with practiced self-awareness, knowing that you’re doing so in God’s active presence.  That’s part of prayer, too.  May our “quiet time” produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness in us all.

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Christian Spirituality, Ministry, Pop Culture, Religion | , , , , | Leave a comment