When Hope Dwelled Among Us.

So, yesterday, Tony Jones began progGod round two. This time (in the spirit of Advent), it’s on the Incarnation. As a progressive and a theologian-in-training, I’m providing my thoughts. If you fit the same description, you should too.

I have to admit, I’ve never really heard a good theology of the Incarnation. The one that was most familiar to me in my time at my evangelical-Baptist college had something to do with Penal Substitutionary Atonement, but since I (and many progressives) don’t hold to that Atonement theory, that Incarnation theory doesn’t work well. So we need something else.

When I read the Incarnation story, and the story of Jesus in general, I find five main reasons for Jesus’ coming (versus a divine act from on high without physical presence):

  1. Jesus came to restore creation to even more than its former glory, beauty, and fullness. In this, Jesus breathed new life into a creation in turmoil, giving it a new beginning and a new hope. Jesus did not come to “fix a problem,” but to completely undo and renew the whole of creation. This was a cosmological shift in reality. Not backwards to some previous perfection, not forwards to a coming utopia, but an altogether different direction.
  2. Jesus came to bring hope to the broken. By coming and changing the formerly unchangeable, Jesus stands as a beacon of hope for all who are broken and suffering, to say that better things are coming. This is where the “firstfruits” metaphor becomes relevant: Jesus sets in motion the beginning of a new age of hope and blessing.
  3. Jesus came to fight for the oppressed and marginalized. Jesus stood on the side of the outcasts of society, the otherwise unloved, and turned the whole system around to put them on top. We hear this one quite often, so I don’t feel the need to expound on this one much, I will say this: read the Sermon on the Mount if you have any question that this is true.
  4. Jesus came to issue a “revolutionary threat” to systems that produce injustice. Jesus stood up to those in power and called them into a new order; by submitting in a revolutionary way to their injustice, Jesus exposed it for exactly what it was and threatened its livelihood.
  5. Jesus came to teach followers how to reflect the divine to the world, and vice versa. Jesus came as both physical and divine, perfectly mirroring each realm to the other, and called us to do likewise. As the divine in the midst of humans, Jesus made love and all its compatriots abound. As a human uniquely and wholly intertwined in the divine, Jesus brought the world into relationship with the Creator in a way not previously possible.

All of this requires a physical existence:

  1. At the dawn of creation (however you choose to view it), God had to intervene in a physical way by creating existent matter. Jesus, in bringing about not simply repair, but restoration, must likewise intervene physically. A new beginning requires a new creation, and a new creation requires intervention.
  2. Jesus comes and does physical acts–feedings, healings, et cetera–as a promise that a new day is dawning. Without the physical presence of Christ, this promise is empty. Jesus is, as a human, the light in the midst of great darkness. Verbal or, more deeply, spiritual promises from God mean nothing if reality stays the same. Jesus broke through the wall separating God and creation and wove the promises into reality–physical healing and spiritual freedom, et cetera.
  3. Jesus cannot become one with the oppressed and marginalized without becoming oppressed and marginalized. Empathy and solidarity are two very different postures. Without Jesus’ suffering, we would not be able to confidently claim that God is on our side. Instead, it would appear quite the opposite.
  4. Holy texts have been used since their penning to justify horrible things. A physical Jesus cannot, while still present, be twisted in such a way. The “Word incarnate” language is relevant in this, that Jesus is a self-sent decree from on high which cannot be mangled when it can respond, dialogue, and critique.
  5. God cannot adequately teach humanity how to have a relationship simultaneously with the divine and the world if Jesus had not first modeled this. God cannot call us to this level of responsibility without modeling it first. If we are to be doing as Jesus did, Jesus has to have done this at some point.

All of this can be fairly well summed up to say that Jesus, in coming as both human and divine, was hope embodied. Hope for a creation groaning for restoration, hope for the broken waiting for a light to shine in their darkness, hope for the oppressed and marginalized in desperate need of a revolution, hope for leaders who have lost concern for justice, hope for all, that in this moment, the divine is being woven into the earthly. Hope that there is a God who is love and who desires for that very love to abound. When Jesus came, incarnate, hope dwelled among us. And the world was never the same.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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Sustainable Christmas Project 2: Ruffled Flower T-Shirt Pillow

Hello again! It’s time for the second installment in the sustainable Christmas series. In doing this, I am deviating from the standard topics of this blog to give you a few tutorials on Christmas presents and other accouterments you can make yourself (instead of purchasing them at Target). This project is a ruffled flower t-shirt pillow that is stupid easy and very cheap. Originally found here.

I’m giving this to my sister (-in-law), who is 16 and loves bright colors. It’s a great gift for a teenage girl–especially those ones you might not know very well but are obligated to give something to–but could easily be classed up by using lightweight wool felt and more adult colors.

My apologies in advance for the horrible pictures. I actually made this about a month ago, and did not document it, so I had to Paintbrush it up.

MATERIALS:

  • Two t-shirts of matching or coordinating color (protip: Goodwill has a contract with Target, so often you can find multiples of the same article of clothing at one Goodwill store. Not only are the shirts cheaper, but the money you spend on them goes to Goodwill and the good work it does instead of to Target)
  • One sheet crafting felt in an inconspicuous color (you can find these in the kids’ crafting section at most craft stores)
  • Coordinating thread
  • 12-inch Pillow form, or polyester stuffing

TOOLS:

  • Shears
  • Ruler
  • Pen
  • Hot glue gun
  • Sewing machine (or handsewing supplies)
  • Handsewing needle
  • Circular objects (for tracing) of roughly 2 and 3 inches in diameter

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Take one of the two shirts and lay it flat on a table or other hard surface. Cut off the hem on the bottom. Measure 14 inches (for a 12-inch pillow) up from the bottom edge and cut straight across. Don’t worry if the shirt itself is wider than 14 inches–as long as it is at least this wide, it doesn’t matter. Set this aside.

     

  2. Take the other shirt and cut off the bottom hem, same as the previous shirt. Mark out lines in increments of 1.5 inches up from the bottom edge. Cut along these lines to make six strips. Cut each strip along the side seams to make twelve strips.

  3. Round the corners of each strip. Then, baste (like in the last project) down the middle. Tie off one end and gather the strip until it is about half of its original length.Tie off the other end. Fold the strips in half along the stitching. Set these aside.

     

  4. Trace out four 3-inch and three 2-inch diameter circles on your sheet of felt. Cut these out.

     

  5. This is where it gets a little difficult to explain in words. With your strips readily accessible, put a glob of hot glue in the middle of these circles (do one at a time). Roll up half an inch or so of one strip and place this on the glue. Keep adding glue and strip in a spiral out toward the edge of the felt circle.Your 3-inch circles will get two strips, and the 2-inch circles will get one. Trim the felt as close to the glue lines as possible. Set these aside. You will end up using eleven strips to make four 2-strip flowers and three 1-strip flowers. If you want, you could make an additional 1-strip flower.

  6. Go back to the square you cut from the first t-shirt. Because your shirt will likely not have perfectly straight sides, you may have to even these out. Cut (or stitch up the sides) so that it measures 14×14 inches. Stitch along three sides and an inch or so into each end of the fourth side, leaving the rest open for stuffing.Clip the corners down and turn right side out.
  7. Insert your pillow form or stuffing into the pillow. Folding the raw edges under, handstitch up the last side with a simple running stitch. 

     

  8. Take the flowers you made earlier and arrange them on the pillow. Hot glue these in place, making sure to secure them well.

     

  9. Admire your handiwork. You’re awesome. Give yourself a high five just for the hell of it.

Altogether, this cost me less than $3–I found two matching shirts at Goodwill for $.99 each, and the felt was on sale for $.25/sheet but is usually $.35 or so. I think I had the pillow form, but these are not expensive and you can find them in almost any craft store. If you choose to go the stuffing route, a bag of fiberfill will run you $6 or so. Easy, cheap, and sustainable!

If you aren’t super crafty, you can find some great pillows similar to this one here.

Happy crafting!

-Denika

Sustainable Christmas Project One: Tree Skirt

Hey friends!

As you have (hopefully) read, this year, the Andersons are doing a sustainable Christmas. As a part of this, I am deviating from the standard topics of this blog to give you a few tutorials on Christmas presents and other accouterments you can make yourself (instead of purchasing them at Target). The first project on this list is a super-easy tulle tree skirt.

MATERIALS:

  • 2 1/2 yards 54″ tulle, color of your choosing
  • 1 1/3 yards coordinating ribbon, minimum 3/8″ wide
  • Coordinating thread

TOOLS:

  • Shears
  • Ruler
  • Sewing machine (or handsewing needle)
  • Pen

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Find the center of your fabric. Your fabric should come folded in half on the bolt; the fold line from this makes a convenient marker. If not, measure across the shorter side to find the middle, then use a pen/marker to draw a line down the middle from end to end.
  2. Baste along this line. “Basting” means to stitch a simple straight stitch at a high stitch length. If you are handsewing, a simple running stitch will work just fine. Make sure you leave long tails of thread at each end.

  3. Tie a knot at one end of this stitching. This is very important, otherwise you will need to restitch everything you’ve just done. If you’re handsewing, make sure you tie the thread through a stitch (don’t just tie a knot in the thread).

  4. Once you’ve done this, go to the other end of your stitching and find the top thread. Pull gently on this thread and gather the material. It will be quite poofy. Keep doing this until the gathered (stitched) side is approximately 1-2″ longer than the circumference of the trunk of your tree. Tie a knot at this end as well.

  5. Cut six 8″ pieces of ribbon. These will be the ties that keep the skirt together.

  6. Along the two short ends of your fabric, mark a point at each end and halfway up the side. Place the pieces of ribbon between the two layers of fabric and stitch them in place, with approximately 7″ hanging out. Stitch over the ribbon 3-5 times. Clip all your threads short.

  7. Place the skirt around the base of your tree and knot the ties. Make sure to put the ties in the back of the tree. Unless you think they’re pretty, then you can leave them in front. Whatever.

  8. Admire your handiwork.


This whole project cost me $3 (I only had to purchase the tulle; I had ribbon already, but you can buy 10 yard rolls of 3/8″ ribbon for about 50 cents in many craft stores) and took me less than half an hour, including stopping to photograph each step. I put a white pillowcase over the plastic base of the tree, and then tucked our excess lights between the pillowcase and the skirt. Simple and cheap, and keeps your money out of corporate pockets!

If you’re not big on crafting, but you still want to own something like this, you can check out any of the shops here. Also, don’t forget to check locally-owned small businesses in your area–you’d be surprised what you can find!

Happy crafting!

-Denika

A Sustainable Christmas

Dear friends,

That time of year is approaching. Carols (and hams) abound as we rejoice over our Savior’s birth (three months early). The air is thick with peace, love, and joy, as we all remember what’s really important.

Buying shit.

Oh wait.

That doesn’t seem quite right.

I’m sure many of you have heard of plenty of alternatives to this kind of capitalistic, materialistic madness. I particularly like Advent Conspiracy. If you’re not big on gifts, this (and other such organizations) is a great way to turn Christmas around.

But me? I kinda like getting gifts. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I don’t have the right frame of mind. Maybe I just need a little more reverence. But there are so few times during the year (basically two) where I can justify asking for things that aren’t immediate needs. Where I feel okay tearing into brand-new books and CDs and wearing clothing I don’t necessarily need but kinda do and would really like to have.

If you’re like me, things like Advent Conspiracy can make you feel like a jerk for still wanting things, for not being happy having your entire Christmas gift given to people who need it a lot more than you do. But take heart! There is still hope for us yet.

This year, my husband and I are trying something new. We’re doing a sustainable Christmas.

What’s that, you say? It’s this lovely idea we had that, instead of going out on Black Friday and putting our money into the hands to mega-corporations who have little concern for workers’ rights or environmental justice, we’re going to only give sustainable gifts. That means we’re getting our books, DVDs, and CDs from local used bookstores. We’re buying our clothing and home goods from thrift stores that benefit local charities. We’re handcrafting many of our other gifts, from decorative pillows to maple toffee syrup. We’re trying to use our money to benefit our community and to give gifts that can’t be bought at any given Target.

And we’d love it if you would join us.

You can…

  • Check local thrift stores, boutiques, booksellers, and the like for specific items.
  • Visit craft and artisan fairs for unique gifts whose proceeds go directly to the people who made them.
  • Utilize websites like craftgawker for ideas for making your own gifts.
  • Take a look at all the marvelous shops on Etsy, if you’re not of the crafting persuasion.
  • Consider giving baked or canned goods–this one usually saves you a good deal of money, as well as being quite tasty.
  • Participate in Small Business Saturday.

…and do anything else that supports your community, artisans, and small business owners. Make sure your money lands somewhere better than in some mega-corporation’s CEO’s bank account.

To give you a hand in this, I’ll be deviating from the normal topic of this blog for the next six weeks to give you a how-to on many of the gifts I’m making this year. Additionally, I’ll provide links to places where you can buy similar items if you don’t have the time or ability to make them. I’d love your additions, too–if you’re creating anything this holiday season, whether gifts, decor, foodstuffs, or anything else, drop me a line and I’d be happy to feature it in this series.

Merry (sustainable) Christmas!

-Denika

C. S. Lewis, Tony Jones, and Crossing the Line.

Before we begin, I’d like to thank my husband for his seemingly unending patience with me as I paced around our living room ranting about this. And then as I continued to rant about it in the car. And then in Joann’s. And probably after he reads the draft of this and we discuss it again. Thank you, Mundy. I love you.

A few days ago, Tony Jones posted a podcast of him being interviewed by Dwight Friesen at the Seattle School of Theology and Philosophy. They discussed many different things, but one topic stuck out to me. They barely spent any time on it at all and I almost doubt that either one remembers discussing this, but it hit me hard.

They discussed C. S. Lewis. And by discussed, I mean dismissed.

What Tony actually said was,

“[C. S. Lewis] is really horrid theology. C. S. Lewis is a theological hack. He might have been a great literary critic; he was a decent children’s novelist, but as a theologian…have you read Mere Christianity lately? If you think that is persuasive apologetics…He’s a man of his time.”

I’m not sure if anyone reading this blog knows this, but I am a big fan of Mr. Clive. Save his letters and one of his books, I have a copy of everything he wrote (that was published). I did a directed study on his theology of Heaven, Hell, and the Eschaton and how his narratives relate to his informative and practical theology. For a long time, I refused to read the Chronicles of Narnia because I was afraid they would, as children’s books, detract from the prestige of his other works. Then, I read them, and I found that they magnified it tenfold. I continue to devour his works regularly (once making the mistake of reading A Grief Observed in the wee hours of the morning on my husband’s birthday). The only book of his that I don’t like is, incidentally, Mere Christianity.

I am also a big fan of Tony Jones. We go to the same church, I read his blog regularly, and he has impacted my theology in many ways. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to learn from him. But he crossed a line here.*

I have a lot of problems with what he said about Lewis, the first being the attitude he had in saying it. He was actually talking about the book he’s writing on prayer, and (in this thought) how bad the theology of My Utmost for His Highest is. He commented on Lewis as an afterthought–completely unrelated to the topic at hand and thus completely unnecessary of mentioning. He could have held his disdain, kept it to himself, brought it out when necessary, but no. For some reason, it was *absolutely vital* that he also criticize Lewis.

Okay, so, yes, I’m magnifying this issue beyond its right. The first problem I have is not that he brought up Lewis (though I still don’t understand why it was necessary), but that he did it with such disrespect and condescension. He completely disregarded all of Lewis’ work–at best saying he was “a man of his time”–without any acknowledgement of how much Lewis actually did.

Because Lewis wasn’t just a “decent children’s writer”–he was one of the best of his time, and I would suggest, of all time. There’s a reason we’re still making Narnia movies, and still reading these books, today. Bad literature doesn’t last very long, and Narnia isn’t losing its following. If you have a problem with allegory (or supposition, as Lewis would put it), that’s fine. So did Tolkien. But that doesn’t mean his books aren’t good.

Second, Mere Christianity should not be the book we judge Lewis by. It is a starter guide, a field manual, if you will, for Christians. It is 20th century apologetic theology condensed to something the average (non-theologically-educated) person could understand. What he writes in that book is not good theology, it isn’t thorough, it isn’t complete, granted, but–here’s the important part–it wasn’t supposed to be. Judging all of Lewis based on Mere Christianity is like judging the entirety of a book based on its introduction, and making such a judgment of it as a highly educated theologian is like me criticizing the theology in VeggieTales movies. OF COURSE it’s lacking. Mere Christianity was not intended for people with seminary educations.

C. S. Lewis was a man who stood in the gap between highly educated theologians and average people. He wrote brilliant narratives (not just Narnia, take The Great Divorce, for example) that presented difficult information in a vessel every person could understand–story. Even his more instructive works have a certain narrative arc to them. He was a theological storyteller. I understand that this is not the way we do theology these days, but it is incredibly unwise and disrespectful not to acknowledge how brilliant his approach was. We could learn a thing or two from him.

Third, it is wrong to criticize his theology because it doesn’t line up with ours. He was, as we all are, a man of his time, and thus he is theologically located in a time when his thoughts were pertinent and relatively novel. This is, perhaps, the critique I have of progressive theology as a whole (even as a school I often agree with), that it is too quick to dismiss history for not being as progressive as we are today. Of course it isn’t. It’s history. That’s how progression works.

Fourth, it is wrong to write him off for being a man of his time and then call his theology horrid. He was writing to a certain audience that had a curiosity about certain things. Lewis lived through both World Wars, in Britain, no less. His primary audience was trying to make sense of some terrible, terrible injustices, as well as both grieving and trying to recover. When we’re faced with difficult things in our lives, we often (1) retreat to the things we know and can trust, like stories from our childhoods, and (2) start asking questions about these difficult things. Lewis wrote about death, and Heaven and Hell, and pain, unashamedly. He didn’t lie or give pat answers. He didn’t say that pain and suffering were the result of our own mistakes, or that God was just teaching us a lesson. Lewis (similar to an exilic prophet) wrote about a merciful, loving God who is intrinsically concerned with Creation. He was, indeed, a man of his time, responding to the world in an honest and gentle way. This is not grounds for criticism, but for praise.

I will grant that there are places where I disagree with Lewis or find his theology lacking. But it takes very little to see past these things and still respect and honor Lewis for all the things he did do. He was actually quite progressive–think of his depiction of Hell, for example. He was more than willing to move beyond the socio-theological constructs of his time.

C. S. Lewis is still worth reading. His theology is still worth understanding and applying. He should still be a part of our theological education. He was a brilliant man, a profound theologian, and an excellent writer. I am not asking you to agree with him, Mr. Jones, but I am asking that you think about just how great of an impact Lewis has had on Christian theology before you write him off. You might find that he has a lot more to say if you would only be willing to listen.

 

*I should note that he also dismissed process theology and open theism with even less grace, so my disdain here is not solely because of his dismissal of C. S. Lewis. Just mostly.

Theology Paper Writing Drinking Game

So, the husband and I were on our way home from Church, and we decided that there needed to be a theology paper writing drinking game (because those two things go together when you go to the Porch). We’ve come up with the following, ensuring that seminary students everywhere will either fail miserably or pass with flying colors, depending on how you handle your alcohol.

*Wandering the Desert takes no responsibility for poor grades, hospital bills, or otherwise negative consequences incurred as a result of this game.

1. Any time you use the words hermeneutics, context, exegesis, metaphor, rhetoric, allegory, or criticism, take a drink.

2. Any time you start typing in Greek (or Hebrew), finish your drink.

3. Any time you reference Jesus, turn water into wine, then drink it.

4. Any time you reference Luther, drink a beer, then complain about it to the nearest woman.

5. Any time you reference egalitarian (or feminist, et cetera) theology, drink the same thing as the nearest person of the opposite sex is drinking.

6. Any time you reference an Emergent theologian, drink a local microbrew craft beer.

7. Any time you reference a conservative theologian, don’t drink, it’s a sin and you’re going to Hell.

8. Any time you quote the NIV, drink a Coors Light, because that is what you are doing theologically.

9. Any time you reference:

  • an Early Church theologian, drink wine.
  • a Medieval/Renaissance theologian, drink beer.
  • a 19th-20th century theologian, drink a scotch.

10. Any time you reference a non-white theologian, drink something foreign.

11. Any time you reference the Trinity, pour three different drinks, then pour them all in one glass, and drink it.

12. Any time you have a footnote that spills onto a second page, take a drink.

13. Any time you have more footnote on a page than actual content, finish your drink.

14. Any time you reference your prof’s favorite theologian, take a drink.

15. If you finish your paper more than twenty-four hours before you have to turn it in, drink ALL THE ALCOHOL, because this will never happen again and you need to make the most of it.

If you have any additions, please leave them in the comments. I’m looking at you, Rob.