The Rebel God

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some people have complained about the term the "rebel God" saying that it plays into the pop cultural cliches. I can understand this critique since being a rebel has often been appropriated by the corporate propaganda machine to sell conformity - everyone being "original" in the exact same way, "alternative" being the new hip way to say "popular". But I still want to hold onto the idea of the rebel God because I think it tells is something profound about what it means to understand Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior. Jesus was condemned as a blasphemer and crucified as an outlaw. He was a threat to the government and subversive to religious authority. He was nothing else if not a rebel, and following him meant rebelling against the "world" system. Why else do you think the early Christians were killed? Faithfulness to Christ meant subversion of Caesar. Sadly, for so many people today God is associated ith that same authoritative system. Throughout history the church has tragically allied itself with a Constantinian understanding of authority and power. But if Jesus is God then God is the rebel, God is the outlaw, God is the one who is planning to subvert the way of this world with his revolutionary kingdom by starting that revolution in our hearts with the new birth.

I was always taught that rebellion was at the root of sin. But the more I have followed Jesus the more I have found rebellion to be a character trait. It is rebellion that taught me to question not only the assumptions of my culture and its screwed up values, but also to question myself and to never assume that I had a hold on truth, but to instead have a life of seeking. Rebellion has protected me from swallowing the toxic faith that has hurt so many people I know. It is a rebellion against authority that is rooted in the New Testaments witness that authority can be just as fallen as we can be. The "God of this world" is not the one we should follow unquestioningly, but the one we are to oppose in Jesus name. That has meant practically needing to stand up to my pastors when they were wrong and abusing their authority (which has meant taking my lumps at times), but the only regrets I have here are when I did not trust in my conscience and did not stand up. I hope that people I lead would do the same with me.

There needs to be a way for us Christians to embrace absolute truth without being seduced into thinking we have a corner on truth, thinking we can systematize and franchise truth authoritatively. Instead we need to understand that truth is a person who we always need to a to cling to in humility with an open and seeking heart. If Jesus is God then that means the ultimate authority is the one who was an outlaw, the one who identified with the sinner and the least. If Jesus is God then that means the picture of morality and holiness is seen in the one who was accused of being a lawbreaker in the very act of loving and caring for those in need, and who went right ahead and did it anyway despite the reputation it gave him. If Jesus is God then that means that God is the rebel God, it means God is a punk.

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Save Friday Night Lights

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Rumor has it that Friday Night Lights is going to be canceled, which if you asked me is a crying shame.

FNL is some of the best writing on television... heck, I'd say it is bar none the best writing I've seen in years. The character development is phenomenal, the depth of issues covered on the show - complex issues like racism, disabilities, the war, faith, are all dealt with depth and sophistication. Instead of the typical stereotypical clichés we have characters with real complexity. And on top if all that it is a show that portrays faith in a fair and honest way showing them as real people with real faith. For example season two opens up by telling the story of how one of the lead characters Lyla Garrity gives her life to Jesus.

And they're gonna cancel this fantastic show?!? One thing you can do to help out is go watch episodes of the show online over at It's free, and you can watch any episode from the whole season in any order, pausing whenever you like with next to no commercials (as opposed to regular TV which has endless commercial blocks where you forget what you were watching, here they are only 20 seconds long). Its all kind of like having Tivo for free really. So go check it out. The more people watch episodes the more NBC will register that maybe they should not cancel this wonderful show.

UPDATE: FNL is being renewed for a 3rd season! In a joint venture between NBC and DirecTV, it will aire first this fall on DirecTV and then be shown on NBC mid-season in the Winter. Better late than never.


Systems Theory #2 - Causality

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I've come to see systems theory as offering a lot of practical insights in how to address human need in a post modern context and therefore having a lot to add to a relational theology. Systems theory is a huge term that spans many branches of science from biophysics to computer science (which is why it grew out of Silicon Valley). But here I am using it as it specifically applies to a social approach to psychology that Wikipedia calls systemic psycholgy (although the focus on homeostasis that Wiki uses to define it represents old school systemic psychology rather than current practice... hmmm, maybe I should update that page).

As opposed to the more bio-chemical approach to psychology common in the States, this social approach to psychology has become prevalent in Europe. rather than focusing on the individual, its sees people as connected to complex systems of relationships - families, societies, etc - and tries to understand their "problems" within that social context rather than inside of an individual one. Because most of the development going on in this field is coming out of Europe now, as a result my source here is from a great book called "Lehrbuch der Systemischen Therapie und Beratung" ("Textbook of Systemic therapy and Counseling") by Arist von Schlippe and Jochen Schweizer, which I don't think has been translated into English.

Systems theory works out of a postmodern context and basically says "OK, if these post modern assumptions are true, now what? How would that change our approach to counseling, and more importantly how would it deepen it?" If you have read any emergent stuff - say for example Stanley Grenz - you will be familiar with the philosophical foundations of this postmodern approach: Witgenstein and his linguistic construction of reality... the idea that absolute truth is unknowable to us and that we as humans can only operate from with our subjective blinders... systems therapy takes this and rather than being hamstrung by relativism into inaction, finds a way to gain deeper insights into the complexities of humans as social beings.

For example, if we are unable after postmodernism to speak objectively of "what is" outside of our own linguistic subjective perspective, what happens to causality? In a traditional model of therapy the therapist will diagnose what is wrong and prescribe a cure. The insight of systems therapy here is that while causal relationships are indispensable with things - I flick the switch and expect the light to go on (and this includes all the complexities of a power grid across a city and a system of commerce that allows me to buy a new light bulb at a store) they are less helpful when applied to people because people are vastly more complex. We as people are not simply labels (criminal, schizophrenic, spouse, etc) in the way that a light bulb is just a light bulb. These labels describe a host of relational interactions. This is not to say that systems theory rejects cause and effect, but that it recognizes a web of complex cause and effect. Because of this it speaks instead of patterns of relationships and interactions.

One of the main consequences here is that it avoids simplistic blame. In a linear causal model one looks for the single reason for a problem, (Ex: The shooter went bizerk because of violent video games, so we need to ban them to make our world safe again). Causality effects both blame and power to change. If we know the cause, we know whose fault it is, who is responsible. Systems therapy rejects this linear causal model because it puts people into a roll of helpless victim. Say for example that you have a bad relationship with your mother who has always hurt you by her coldness. As long as the cause is described in that way, she has the control, and as long as she remains aloof can determine not only your relationship with her, but even how you feel about yourself. But if you can find a way to break out of that - say by forgiving her - then you gain creative possibilities to not only change yourself but to change the very dynamic of the relationship. Because relational problems do not have a singular but multiple causes, this not only means shared responsibility, but also that you are not trapped. You have power to change the interactions and dynamics of your relationships.

What's more, because from this perspective it is not necessary for a therapist to determine and treat the "cause", you don't need to have some deep insight into what is going on so you can prescribe a solution. Instead, systems therapy gives relational systems (say a family) creative nudges that help them to develop new patterns of interaction that foster growth. This is the idea behind Derrida's deconstruction: It's not about tearing things down, but about breaking stagnant patterns of interaction by getting people to see things from another perspective, and thus bringing about the creative possibility for a shift in the power dynamic - empowering people towards creative possibility.

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