Haunted Houses, Spooky Rituals, and Practicing Perhaps

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This essay was originally printed in the book It Spooks, a volume of essays and other artwork in response to a piece by John Caputo. I definitely recommend purchasing a copy! There’s a lot of great work in there.


 Walking into church is like walking into a haunted house.

It’s a voluntary encounter with an expected unexpected.

You know the house is haunted. Or at least that’s what you’ve heard. Its reputation precedes it. The murmurs and rumors are as unique and numerous as the town’s residents. Each has his or her own testimony.

“I felt a cool breeze.”

“I heard footsteps.”

“It’s all bullshit.”

So you know what you’re getting into when you show up, but also you don’t.

Even the pros, the veterans, the ghost hunters who’ve coordinated stakeouts regularly for years get a bristle of gooseflesh upon entry—what will happen this time?

Joining in the liturgies of the church is a way of entering the house and facing the possibilities there. That is, as we engage in the performance of preaching and hearing the Gospel, of repeating well-worn collects and creeds, of administering and receiving the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, we expose ourselves to the possibilities of the spectral non-presence of a non-existent, insisting God.[1]

Liturgy—particularly that of the Eucharist—is the playing-out of the risk of hoping for Jubilee. The risk of hoping that perhaps now we will see the year of the Lord’s favor, perhaps now we will see God’s kingdom come (while recognizing also that perhaps we will not). Practicing this risk, this hope, in the liturgies teaches us lessons that extend to our politics, our relationships, and beyond. The process of opening ourselves to the unknown, of really facing risk, takes practice. It’s never not hard, but in practicing it we can become brave.

Participating in the liturgy is a way of practicing perhaps. In the liturgy we learn to expect the prospect of the Jubilee. We learn Derrida’s unconditional hospitality, a hospitality open to perhaps—perhaps friend, perhaps foe—which entails a certain surprise, a certain unexpectedness of the guest. But, again, it is an expected unexpected. You are still expecting (hoping, looking for) the arrival of the guest. And to be truly hospitable, you must be prepared to greet the unexpected guest, whoever or whatever they may be. You must set the table for this unexpected one, and be prepared to eat and drink with whomever may appear. By returning and repeating, we make a habit of setting the table, of being ready for an event that may or may not happen, that may be joyful or tragic. The point is that we show up. This hospitality can be an attitude or an outlook, able to be practiced anywhere, but we are bodies, inhabiting space, welcoming a God whose body we constitute, whose insistence we make extant in our bodies, as one body, through the body we receive at the altar. Caputo says that “the disembodied spectrality of the call must be incarnated in the world of flesh and blood,” and the flesh and blood of bread and wine in the Eucharistic liturgy embodies this response. Perhaps the ritual is not a requirement, not the exclusive Way, but it is a way—a unique avenue of meeting (maybe) this insisting God, of looking forward and practicing the perhaps of Jubilee.

Caputo says that “preaching should be a call to make the name of God come true,” and further, “the name (of) ‘God’ is the name of a call to which we are supposed to be the response,” and “the call is heard only in the response.” The response to preaching, in a typical liturgy, is to gather at the table for Eucharist—consuming the body and blood of Christ and becoming the body of Christ as the church. This spooky ritual, where the presence of Christ is substantiated by his absence, where the bodies of the gathered become one body through a shared meal, is a response to that unheard call. The call that says “Taste and see,” “ eat this, all of you,” “do this in remembrance of me.”

God is this call, God is this response—the response is God’s body, broken and poured out, the bread and wine consumed, also by God’s body, God’s people. The call is only embodied in the response—and the response is the flesh and blood. The flesh and blood of people gathering, the flesh and blood of bread and wine. The sacrament is a response to this call—an “I hear you,” a “Here am I.” We simply show up, perhaps cynical, skeptical, perhaps frightened, perplexed. We come to the table, hold out our hands, receive what is given to us. Kierkegaard says that “if you do not hear [Christ’s] voice, then you go in vain to Holy Communion.”[2] He’s very clear that the Eucharistic liturgy is a response to a unique call from God-in-Christ. It’s something that inexplicably draws people to participate But often this call is actually unheard—an insisting intuition, not in the whirlwind, in the earthquake or in the fire. It is the in the response that we ultimately may experience the call. So it is not vanity to respond to the unheard call. It is faith.

This call that haunts is, perhaps, a “desire beyond desire,” which may be “sparked by the eventive energy” of the insisting God.[3] The call does not demand an ethic or an orthodoxy[4], providing schemata. But it insists, commanding the shape, though not the sequence, of our response. Caputo quotes Derrida’s saying that “Emancipation is a promise not a program.”[5] This insistence does not make demands, and yet somehow a response is required, if not by the caller than by something within the hearer. Caputo says that radical theology points out the maybe-about-to-happen event within that which is happening.[6] That which is happening is liturgy, but there is something else haunting every service.

The absence is an integral piece of the haunting. In the scariest horror movies, you never actually see the monster, and it’s the absence of the presence that has the potency. Caputo uses the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 to illustrate this seeing without seeing. Those on the right fed and visited and clothed the Son of Man, and yet they ask “Lord, when did we see you?” They were only able to do these things because they did not see. Caputo says that “everything in the story depends upon the invisibility of God, the inexistence of God, the spectrality of God.” This is also true in considering Eucharist. Take another example: When Jesus meets the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explains the Scriptures to them, it is only possible because they do not recognize him. When he breaks bread with them—shares the sacrament—he vanishes. The moment in which we’ve come to expect the presence of Christ is met with his absence. Like a ghost, he disappears. The real meeting with meaning occurs in its inexistence—the revelation of absence, the negative theophany.

The experience of this specter, the unidentifiable longing for we-know-not-what, may not arise ex nihilo, but may be encountered and developed through a formation of Christian identity via the liturgy—the practicing of perhaps. In the liturgy of Eucharist we cry “Viens!” to the impossible. We welcome the (im)possibility of the absent presence of an insisting God, of a crucified Christ, who has promised—impossibly so!—that the elements we receive are indeed his body, and that he is there with us, in us, as us, as we consume this bread and wine.

Truly, the Eucharist is the spooky ritual of a creepy cult. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” Jesus said. “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55). And even when the horror and awkwardness of cannibalism is explained away by a facile symbolism, the fact remains: Jesus told his disciples: This is my body. This is my blood. And we return to it every week. Martin Luther rejected both the answer of simple signification and the metaphysical confabulation of transubstantiation, opting instead to lean into the spookiness, retain and revel in the mystery. This is the body of Christ. The body of Christ happens here. We know not how, but we know it calls to us from within the ritual. The spectrality of God incarnated in flesh and blood. When we receive the body, when we become the body, we bear witness to that call.

It’s not magic, though. The spirit cannot be contained or predicted.  No priest-medium can summon forth this ghost on command. The ritual itself does not cause the event. And the event—as its capricious nature dictates—may not even happen. May not ever happen. There may just be an open window or a creaky floorboard. You may leave a skeptic. But there will always be the question: What if you try again?

The repetition, the re-entry, re-expresses old ghosts and reveals new ones, who add their infinitely differing facets to the ever-nuancing call, to which we must continue to respond but may never fully answer.

Walter Benjamin says that “every moment is a door through which the Messiah could enter.” This is why we must return, repeat, re-check each door. The spooky things, the real things, become apparent in the repetition. Initially, everything is foreign, everything may be startling. But to return again and again to the liturgy until it becomes familiar reveals the difference in the same. Repetition of the same liturgies brings out the differences in each manifestation. Even seemingly identical services are never truly identical. There is différance in the ritual. 

Repetition of the ritual is what opens you up to the possibility of the impossible. The ritual repeatedly exposes you to what might happen—is it the fiftieth year now? Now? What about now? You never know, and so you must keep trying. And it is a repetition that is fraught with risk, for you may always hope but you may never know. Nothing is certain, even when so much is expected.

The cliché is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And that’s kind of what we do in the liturgy. We might say it belongs in Kierkegaard’s category of “higher madness,” which he calls “the most concrete of all categories, the fullest, since it is closest to life and does not have its truth in a beyond, the supraterrestrial, but in a subterranean below.”[7] This is a concrete madness that manifests in bodies—bodies who return to a building and receive bread and wine and chew it and swallow it and then come back next week, believing this bodily ritual is the response that fleshes out the insistent call.

It’s some crazy combination of despair and hope and insanity and promise that keeps you coming back. And for some people, the despair is too much—they’ve been let down too many times. For some, the insanity is too futile—How long, Lord?  And that’s understandable. The foolishness of the spooky ritual, the silliness of returning to the haunted house after so many fruitless visits is apparent. But still, always that question. What if? A kind of madness, certainly.

This is why we need not demolish the haunted house. The specters may follow you home anyway. They may be encountered in a closet or under a bed, but you can almost always count on their concentrated non-presence in the haunted house. Returning there reaffirms your commitment to hearing the call, to engaging the specters rather than fleeing.

While they may find you and haunt you anywhere, it takes a certain kind of courage to face them on their home turf.

The specter of the insisting God calls silently to us in myriad places and forms. Yet in the haunted houses of churches and cathedrals it hides in plain sight. Church may be exactly where you would expect to find God. But when the veil is torn, you find you are standing in an empty room, and yet you may still hear whispers, still feel a chill. Here in this room, with others who have been drawn to this spooky place, you may come to embody the response to that unheard call in the liturgies and sacraments.

So as you hear the benediction and go in peace—or pieces—you take with you this habit-forming practice of perhaps, which will continue to spook you into looking forward, into preparing a table, into asking What if? Perhaps all is for naught, but perhaps it is not, perhaps we are, as always, just on the cusp of Jubilee.


[1] “In a theology of ‘perhaps,’ God does not exist; God insists, and it is our responsibility to bring about something that exists.” Caputo, John D. The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. P 49

[2] Kierkegaard, Søren. Discourses at the Communion on Fridays. Translated by Sylvia Walsh. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

[3] Caputo, John D. The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. P 84.

[4] Francois Lyotard talks about “the Thing, that which preoccupies art and writing,” and says that it “asks nothing of you. But there is this persistence of dread.” This sounds like the “haunting” call of which Caputo speaks. It’s something that commands, though it does not demand, a response. See Lyotard, Jean-Francois, "Anamnesis: Of the Visible," Theory, Culture & Society 21, no. 1 (2004): 107-119, 108.

[5] Caputo, Insistence.

[6] Caputo, Insistence.

[7] Llewelyn, John. Margins of Religion: Between Kierkegaard and Derrida. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008. P 10.

 

A Lament

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A friend from my time at Point Loma and Mid-City wrote this piece and wanted to share it publicly, but anonymously. I told them I'd be honored to host it on my blog. I'm happy to create a space where we might process and grieve together. If you'd like to share some thoughts alongside others, please send me a message.


“I don’t want your minds,” he began. “I want your bodies.”

It’s a line he often used to open his courses. He intended it, no doubt, to distinguish his pedagogy from the liberal Wissenschaft style of education that grew up around the Enlightenment and lingers in our universities. That last advocates free thought, a determining oneself, as among pedagogy’s highest goods. Cast off tradition and shed your self-incurred bonds. Sapere aude, Kant bade his readers, dare to know! Only he didn’t want us to think for ourselves, he’d say, hardly concealing his debt to Hauerwas. He wanted us to think like him.

That’s a fundamentally anti-liberal claim. Liberalism of the philosophic kind, he would often crow, presumes a fragmented self—a Cartesian ego and the discarnate ghost it conjures. But he, zealous post-liberal that he is, rejected this bifurcation. Thinking happens somewhere, he’d say. In communities whose bodies are formed and written upon by practices. Minds cannot share lives or love or worship, not without embodiment. Deep formation, he taught, claims the whole body.

Much of his teaching sought the formation of Christian bodies. From the lectern, he exhorted students to attend to the body, its depth, and the spaces it inhabits. Once he caught heat from the administration for publicly advocating the destruction of a bear-bull market sculpture in the school of business (which he delicately named “mammon”). Another time he insisted that campus ROTC exercises desist during hours when he held theology courses, lest theology majors subordinate ecclesial formation to “empire’s.” From the pulpit, he denounced our city’s aggressive anti-homeless policies. He often phoned parishioners to deliver a random meal here, diapers there. He once (rightfully) confronted and chastened me for not yet keeping vigil at our church’s inclement weather shelter.

In these ways and more I learned to heed him. It was he who first taught me to love theology. His was the idea to gather a reading group at my apartment. His the hand that guided my senior project. His the lectures whose notes fill four of my notebooks. His on whose advice I chased graduate school and then a PhD. His to whose counsel and care I delivered my then very broken best friend. His whose comfort I coveted the moment I learned of our unplanned pregnancy. His whose tearful approval I sought before my reception into the Catholic Church. And his, above all, was the shoulder I watched bear a hopelessly drunk and indigent parishioner to the altar to receive Eucharist, an act so electric with the Spirit that it single handedly persuaded me to remain Christian. So that’s why he wanted our bodies, I remember thinking. That’s what he wanted us to do with them.

I’m hardly alone. His witness bled into many other bodies. A new generation of Nazarene clergy, academics, activists, and goodly lay people (and not a few Catholics!). He gave his body to very many of us.

We know now what else he did with his body. That he hid it from his wife, stolen and secret. That he lorded it over a damaged young woman whose wounds he rent back open rather than healed. That it glowed, naked, on her computer screen. That it pressed her into the church’s putrid orange shag, the sacred carpet over which he once carried his drunk parishioner.

A question obsesses me. Was this what he meant all along? Is this why he told his students that he wanted their bodies? Was his teaching, already roundly suspect to his liberal protestant colleagues, confected to succor abuse? Was it, too, instrument to his violence?

I doubt it—I must. No, he wanted her body differently than he wanted the drunk parishioner’s. He did not want her to claim her body for its Lord (and so finally for herself); he wanted it as his own. He sought be her possessor, her guarantor, her healer, her dominus—her lord. And wanting that, Augustine confesses, names the principal sign of idolatry. Possessing, sequestering, manipulating, dominating—these are not among Christian love’s features. That’s not how Christian bodies love. Augustine rather thinks those features find their archetype in the demonic; that’s what the demons do. The will to possess is itself, Augustine likes to say, a strong indication of one’s own possession.

I first read those passages in Augustine with him in a course on theology and sexuality. I’ve read them many, many times since. In fact, they sprang immediately to mind when I heard of the allegations against him. I realized he himself had already taught me how to receive the news. He’d have been first to urge his students and parishioners to believe first the victim, to champion the weak and ever to suspect the powerful. And so I do. Complicated as the case is—and it’ll grow more complicated still—I cannot fail to condemn Christ’s ministers when they wield his church like a blade against the throats of the weak. I cannot because he taught me not to. Everyone burned by scandal’s flame has my prayers, of course. But Amy first.

He wanted our bodies to embrace our poor, to become the church’s members, and to return their gifts to their Lord. He was right about that, and at length he’ll remember what he taught. Would that he’d never forgotten.

Some Reflections on Studying Theology in Light of Trauma

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The thing about studying theology is, for many of us, it’s deeply personal. I’m often asked why I study sacrament and ritual, especially since I come from a pretty low-church, evangelical background. My answer is traced back to one Sunday in September 2010, when I was lost and struggling, when I had just had my life turned upside down and my very identity shattered. I had finally made it back to a church, though I wasn’t sure I could do it, though I wasn’t sure I could be a Christian at all. But when I received Eucharist that Sunday, and knelt on the grubby orange carpet at the altar, I knew that I could. I was. Irrevocably, Christ’s own. My body, completely and inexorably, was linked to, gathered up, gathered in, part of, and comprised in the body of Christ and the bodies of all other Christians through time and space. And it is that moment of clarity and assurance of identity and entanglement that grounds the virtual entirety of my work and my life.

Yesterday I found out that the man I received the elements from that day, who created and nurtured the space in which I, skeptical at best and despairing at worst, found the Christian life to indeed be possible, livable, true, had raped a young woman in his congregation. What’s more, he had manipulated, harassed, and abused her under the guise of therapy, of counseling, of healing in the name of Christ. And as of this writing, to my knowledge, he has not expressed any remorse or acknowledged any wrongdoing.

In an important sense, this formative moment and my formative time at this church is not dependent on this man as a figurehead. The church, and the goodness of it, was what it was for me—and is what it is—through the grace of God and by the witness of so many other people who moved through that building. The church is so much more than its pastor. And yet. His presence and influence are as inextricable from my time in this church as my time in this church is from my life and work today.

So what to do? First, weep and grieve. As a survivor of sexual trauma and emotional and spiritual abuse myself, I feel this betrayal personally, as deep in my body as I felt my place at that altar. As a sister survivor with this young woman who likely has knelt in the very same place I did, I am knit together with her in stomach-churning, heart-wrenching solidarity. I am keenly aware that the binding together of persons in the Body of Christ is not simply a romantic fuzzy-warm feeling of friendship, but a real, embodied connection that makes me cry and wail and vomit. And further, it means that I am simultaneously so linked with this man and his wretchedness such that I want to carve out my own heart, throw up my own guts.

I don’t know what’s next. I’m not sure how to continue my work in light of this (re)new(ed) trauma. On the one hand, it really doesn’t change the importance of the moment of its origin. In fact, it may indeed solidify or enhance it. But also it makes it a hell of a lot more complicated and more painful for me to do this work that has been so energizing and life-giving for me.

This post has been my own navel-gazey reflections on how this situation has affected me, though I was not directly involved, which may be unfair when there is a real victim who is well deserving of our energy and attention. But I do think it is worth voicing how such acts affect far more people than the individual victim alone. So many ripples of friends are hurting, angry, and questioning. If we are entangled (as I believe we are), such evil is not contained to two people.

Finally, your theology has consequences. And if those consequences are evil, your theology needs to be burnt to ash.

Nazarene General Assembly Resolution Recap

I watched every second of the business of the Church of the Nazarene 29th General Assembly. This is not something I’m proud of, and it was mostly an accident.

When the resolutions were first published back in May, I found their presentation on the GA website to be a nightmare to navigate. Long lists of links to individual PDFs, only labeled by number. I wanted a better, more descriptive way to present this information.

So I made a spreadsheet.

Before I knew it, a bunch of other people were referencing the spreadsheet (turns out I wasn’t the only one who found the GA website cumbersome), and hoping it would be updated with the voting results for each resolution.

So I watched the livestream.

Here's my commentary on what seemed to be the 10 major-drama resolutions.

CA-701—Human Sexuality

This resolution was a complete rewrite of the CotN’s statement on sexuality. There’s a lot of good stuff here—assertions of the inherent goodness of the human body, condemnation of sexual violence of every kind, affirmation of singleness as a valid and holy mode of being. There’s some not-great stuff as well, primarily regarding homosexual intimacy as an example of sinful “brokenness,” but at least we’re no longer talking about the “depth of perversion” that leads to homosexuality.  The really remarkable thing about the passage of this resolution is that 97% of delegates were in favor of it. That kind of consensus about anything, much less a statement on sexuality, is practically unheard of—in the CotN, or anywhere, really. While not perfect, this statement had something for everybody, such that we could all get on board and say “OK. I can work with this.”

 

CA-704a—Discrimination

This was an extension of the existing statement on discrimination (which the Assembly voted to keep), renouncing “any form of racial and ethnic indifference, exclusion, subjugation, or oppression,” and sought “to repent of every behavior in which we have been overtly or covertly complicit with the sin of racism.” It also called “upon Nazarenes everywhere to identify and seek to remove acts and structures of prejudice, to facilitate occasions for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, and to take action toward empowering those who have been marginalized.” It’s really a beautiful statement, and one that I am so proud to see go in the Manual. However, something I can’t get out of my mind is that during the debate on the floor, someone got up to speak against its adoption, saying that it would be “co-opted in support of tolerating the LGBT community,” which was, of course, unacceptable. And while the intent of his statement was malicious, I think he’s right, and I look forward to doing just that.

 

CA-709—Social Media

This was a weird and completely unnecessary resolution that I was surprised to see pass. While I certainly believe people should be decent to each other on social media, I also think people should be decent to each other in all areas of life, and that should go without saying. To codify proper behavior for this specific mode of communication without mentioning any other seems very strange. Further, I am certain that this statement in the Manual will be weaponized and used to police the speech of pastors and laypeople—evidenced by one church leader who IMMEDIATELY took to Facebook after the resolution’s passage to call for the “accountability” of Nazarenes in certain online spaces. I have a feeling this resolution will cause far more problems than it will solve.

 

CA-710—Use of Intoxicants (JUD-833 Task Force on the Use of Alcohol)

It seemed that the main thrust and intention of this resolution was completely lost on most people. The debate devolved into a discussion of why the CotN would “soften” its position on alcohol, when it did nothing close to that. It still called Nazarenes to abstinence, however it recognized that abstinence is not a Christian imperative and that consumption of alcohol should not be a barrier to fellowship with other Christians. More than anything I think the discussion revealed how deeply ingrained abstinence as a matter of personal, legalistic morality is in the denomination. As one speech against the resolution said, “Good Wesleyans don’t drink.” It ended up being referred for study by the Task Force formed by the passage of JUD-833.

 

CA-723—Membership/Baptism

This resolution was, strangely, killed in committee and didn’t even make it to the floor. It asserts baptism as a prerequisite for membership, and apparently there are a lot of people against this? I personally don’t understand why or how someone would be willing to commit to membership in a church but not willing to be initiated into The Church. But it didn’t even make it to the floor for debate so maybe I’ll never know.

 

CA-724—Gender Identity

This was an absolute shitshow. To begin with, the resolution was not good. In asserting that “a person’s birth gender is primary and formative,” the resolution sought to quash any legitimacy of transgender experience under the guise of “divine sovereignty.” The resolution became even worse after an amendment changing it to “birth sex is primary and formative,” which I interpreted as “birth sex” being formative of gender, which was the subject of the previous clause. And then it got even WORSE with an amendment that changed “the vast majority of people are born male or female” to “all people are born male or female,” which is completely contrary to scientific observation and entirely erased intersex people from existence. Jeremy Scott gave an excellent speech against it, but even a doctor, getting up to state that such an amendment made the statement demonstrably false, could not keep the resolution from being adopted. It was as if we had passed a resolution that said the earth was flat, or the sky was green. After the lunch break, however, the BGS explained that the latter amendment had made the resolution contradictory to itself, for it states that there are people “born with ambiguous genital formation,” but then also states “all people are born male or female.” Therefore given this contradiction, they moved to have the resolution reconsidered. The motion passed, and the resolution was referred for further study after several doctors spoke to the importance of not having a scientifically inaccurate statement in the Manual. I hope the study yields a better, more graceful statement that actually takes into account the experiences of our transgender, genderqueer, and intersex friends.

 

DA-211—Age Limit for DS

There was a lot of debate over this from—shockingly—District Superintendents. The resolution was to remove the DS age limit of 70 years. It was adopted in committee, and initially adopted by the assembly, but then reconsidered and ultimately rejected.

 

LA-411—Electronic and Multi-site meetings

This was a surprisingly contentious resolution. It was ultimately referred to the BGS for further study and a decision. I can’t even pretend to understand why there was so much debate about allowing phone/Skype discussion and voting for local church boards, especially after DA-214, which was basically the same resolution but for District meetings, passed easily. There was even a motion the next day to reconsider the referral, though that motion did not pass.

 

GA-300—Time of General Assembly

This was another hotly debated resolution, seeking to change the time between General Assemblies from 4 years to 5. Most of the arguments for this change were from delegates outside the United States, expressing the challenges of coordinating delegates, preparing for travel, and especially raising money. Most of the arguments against changing were about “this is the way we’ve always done it” with a side of “5 years is too long and things go slow enough as it is.” The encouraging thing was that most of the 4-year-ers seemed committed to answering the 5-year-ers’ concerns about money in order to make 4 years more doable. One possible solution was to have US delegations raise money to send more delegates than they had, thereby paying the way for outside-the-US delegates. I sure hope they will put that money where their votes were, as the resolution did not pass—next GA will be in 2021.

 

JUD-813—Article X: Entire Sanctification

This resolution was referred after a debate that basically came down to “crisis vs. process,” which I guess I should have predicted, but which I did not expect people to get so heated over. It initially was rejected (I’m not exactly sure why), but there was a motion to reconsider it that passed, perhaps because it’s such an important and distinctive doctrine, and subsequently referred to the BGS.

 

Between the outcomes of these resolutions and the election of Filimao Chambo and Carla Sunberg as our new General Superintendents, I was surprisingly quite pleased with the way GA turned out. Along with others, I actually feel optimistic about the future of the Church of the Nazarene, and I feel a deep and abiding love for these people whom I’m glad to call family. We’ve a long way to go, but we’re going. If only a baby step at a time.

Queering Wesley, Queering the Church: Toward an Ecclesial Circumcision of the Heart

This is my paper presentation from the 2017 meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society.

Abstract: Holiness churches find their name and identity in their understanding and practice of holiness, that is, a certain flavor of Christian living in which the ultimate focus and goal is the perfect love of God and neighbor, exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. In so doing, these churches often look to the margins, where Jesus would be most likely to dwell—with the poor, the sick, the outcast. John Wesley himself emphasized the importance of being in community and solidarity with the marginalized, not only to help them in their need, but also to engage with and learn from them as the locus of God’s presence in the world.

This paper will offer a queer feminist reading of John Wesley’s 1733 sermon “The Circumcision of the Heart,” in an effort to show that the perspective of LGBTQ+ people has vital contributions to make within the holiness church that so often marginalizes them. Reading John Wesley queerly offers unique insights for thinking holiness—the core aspect of our faith—as an expansive openness to the grace of God rather than a limiting and restrictive legalism. Indeed such a reading will not be “a setter forth of new doctrines,” but will preach only “Jesus and the resurrection.” That which may sound queer to our ears will reflect only “the most essential duties of Christianity”: to love God with one’s whole heart, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

The paper will consist of three parts: (1) An analysis of the queerness ofthe concept “circumcision of the heart,” aspresented in Wesley’s sermon and in Scripture, (2) An analysis of holiness as queer, and 3) Some consequences and implications for the life and practice of Wesleyan-holiness churches in light of (1) and (2).

Read the full paper HERE.

We Who Are Many Are One Body: Rethinking the Real Presence of Christ in the Loaf and the Church

This was my term paper for Laurel Schneider's "Theologies of Multiplicity" class. I'm fairly pleased with how it turned out, and I thought others might be interested in reading it.

I draw primarily from Schneider's Beyond Monotheism and from Catherine Keller's Cloud of the Impossible to dialogue with my understanding of real presence in hopes of probing and prompting possibility.

A short abstract: This paper will attempt to re-imagine an understanding of real presence in terms of multiplicity. First I will briefly survey some of the common historical understandings of real presence and how the doctrine functions in the observance of the Eucharist, and point out how these understandings favor obedience to the law of identity over what I argue is a more polydoxically Christian understanding, free of this obligation and open to a multiplicity of identities. Then I will join the cacophonous chorus of constructive theology and rethink what real presence might look like, taking seriously relational ontology and dynamic incarnation, and assert that the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist materializes rhizomatically as the Body of Christ, in and as the flesh and bodies of those who participate in the ritual, such as the many are one and the one is many.

We Who Are Many Are One Body: Rethinking the Real Presence of Christ in the Loaf and the Church

 

Theology of Luck: Fate, Chaos, and Faith

Fringer and Lane’s Theology of Luck addresses the complex questions of God’s nature and sovereignty straightforwardly, but without contending to know all the answers.

Somewhere between the “God of control” and the “God of passivity,” with their respective “theology of certainty” and “theology of absence,” Fringer and Lane argue for a “God of relationship”: a God that does not wield power, but yields it; a God that “has demonstrated a willingness to initiate but a hesitance to dominate”; a God that is working “to transform this world through love and not through magic and manipulation.” The arguments are clear, the language is accessible, and the sources are adequately academic and sufficiently biblical, such that truly anyone might take and read—laity, clergy, or academician. For each study, the authors provide further reading—both “beginner to intermediate” and “more advanced”—as well as provocative and productive questions for individual or small group reflection.

Written by Nazarenes and published by Nazarene Publishing House (!), Theology of Luck is a gentle introduction to open theism for a denomination that is in the ideal theological location to consider such an understanding of God: evangelical, Wesleyan, and rooted in holiness traditions. I absolutely recommend this book to Nazarenes, but also to anyone who struggles with questions of God’s will and human freedom in the face of evil, abuse, and sheer bad luck.