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3 Spiritual Principles I Learned From Food Network

I have a confession to make…I love the Food Network and spend far too much of my time watching, what many would consider, pointless cooking competition shows.  From Iron Chef to Chopped to Cupcake Wars (do I lose a manly-man point for that last one?)  I find myself glued to the flashing screen in front of me.

In a never-ending attempt to prove to myself that I am not just “wasting time”, I have been contemplating the spiritual lessons I have gleaned from these shows.  So without further ado:

1. Tension and balance are essential.

Many a chef has been “chopped” when a judge utters the criticism that their dish was “one note”.  If there is a secret to making amazing grub, it might just be providing contrasting yet complementary flavors and textures.

Corn Ice Cream w/Habanero Tequila Caviar

Corn Ice Cream w/Habanero Tequila Caviar

If you are going to make a sweet dish, it is a good idea to add a sour or spicy flavor to create an interesting tension.  Likewise, if you are going to make a soup you had better include a piece of crunchy bread to contrast the textures. A meal without contrast is a recipe for a boring dining experience.

This is also true of our spiritual journeys.  If we think faith is all about believing what we were taught to believe and never about doubting then we can only go so far.  It becomes predictable and repetitive.  However if we truly embrace belief yet are authentic in acknowledging our doubt it usually provides a deeper more robust spiritual experience.  This can also be true with grace vs. justice, metaphysical vs. physical, and truth vs. mystery.  Finding the tension between the two is where the magic happens.

2. Deconstruction of the classics can lead us into a deeper understanding.

Bagel and Lox - Deconstructed

Deconstructed Bagel and Lox

Take for example the dish to the left.  It is a deconstructed version of the classic bagels and lox.  The chef has abstracted each of the components: bagel (in crumb form), cured salmon, cream cheese, onion, cucumber, and capers. In this the diner can experience this meal, with a long history, in a new and fresh way.  In so doing they can more easily understand what each component adds to the dish.  The bagels add the starch and crunch.  The cheese adds the creaminess.  The fish adds the smokey savoriness.  The capers add the tart sourness.  I think you get the point…  In addition the eater can play around by tasting a couple of the components in tandem to see how those flavors play off of one another.  The whole experience leaves the diner with a  far greater understanding of the meal they have eaten.

Similarly deconstructing our doctrines and theologies can lead us into a more robust comprehension.  It is easy to let our spiritual ancestors fight through all the questions and arguments for us, consuming whatever is placed before us.  It is a worthwhile effort to dig into them to find out who they were, why they made the decisions they made, what influenced them, and what impacts it has had.  When we truly understand the components that our dogmas emerged from, perhaps we can imagine them in a new way that will bring life to ourselves and those around us.

3. Exposure to diversity can produce creativity

Sea Urchin Carbonara Noodle Bento Box

Sea Urchin Carbonara Noodle Bento Box

Culinary lines have long been fought over.  The French will claim their cuisine is the best in the world, the Italians theirs, the Japanese theirs, and so on.  Purists from any tradition will often scoff at the rest of the inferior lot.  If you, like me, have watched the original Iron Chef program, Iron Chef America‘s Japanese predecessor from the 90s, you will have noticed that each of the chefs came from a specific cuisine (French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian).  Many times challengers would enter Kitchen Stadium from opposing classical schools.  Most of the time the chefs would stick to their specialized flavor profiles, but occasionally a spark of creativity would come over them as they “stole” an ingredient or flavor from the rival tradition to elevate their dish.  Over the show’s 7 year run this practice increased as it became known as a winning formula.  The Iron Chef who showed this type of creativity more than any of the others was Masaharu Morimoto, who eventually crossed the Pacific to join Iron Chef America.  In the American version of the show almost every Iron Chef and challenger follow this tradition where they “bring together the pungent flavors of east and west”.

I have found spiritual parallel here as well.  There are a great many spiritual traditions in the world.  For the longest time I saw them as rivals, as an inferior lot.  As I have opened myself to hearing what is important and meaningful to them, I have found inspiration for my own faith tradition.  Many times I have felt myself fall into a rut…thinking the same thoughts, doing the same things, falling into the same patterns.  Having a real appreciation for spiritual diversity (including the agnostics and atheists I know) provides me with the spark of creativity it takes to get out of those ruts…and I’m truly thankful for that.

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Masculine Christianity: A Cup Half Empty

Earlier this week popular reformed preacher John Piper addressed a crowd of conventioneers at the annual Desiring G-d 2012 event.  His message was entitled “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle – The Value of Masculine Christianity“.  Read it here.  It is a fairly long address, so allow me to highlight a couple of pieces (with some intermittent responses.

“God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son.” – Piper

First I’d like to point out that Piper knows his Bible inside and out.  He knows full well that the logic of the first couple of sentences is misleading at best.  G-d is “revealed” in the Bible in the feminine as well as the masculine.  In addition the church is referred to in the feminine many times.  For example: G-d is likened to a mother in Numbers 11:12, Isaiah 49:14-15, Deut. 32:18, Hosea 11:1-4, Psalms 131:2, Job 38:8, and 1 Peter 2:2-3.  G-d is likened to other human feminine images in Psalm 22:9-10, Nehemiah 9:21Luke 13:18-21, and Luke 15:8-10.  God is liked to other non-human feminine images in  Psalm 17:8, Psalm 57:1, Deut. 32:11-12Matthew 23:37, John 3:5, John 1:13. The hebrew language has a gender-based linguistic system, much like Spanish.  Certain words are masculine, certain words are feminine.  When the Hebrew scriptures refer to the Spirit of G-d the word used is “ruwach”, which is a feminine noun.

Now the point here isn’t to have a biblical tit for tat with Piper.  It’s simply to point out that when we use terrestrial language to speak of the divine we are always speaking in symbolism.  When we attempt to explain our hopes regarding the nature of G-d we use analogies.  We use something that is familiar to us personally to express something magnificently mysterious.  Asserting that G-d is literally male, a “father”, or a “king” is no more appropriate than using Jesus’ analogy of a mother hen gathering her chicks to assert that G-d is a chicken.

Piper continued: “God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33)…From all of this, I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Many of the prophets consistently uses the feminine Hebrew pronouns (zo’th & shilyah) to refer the nation of Israel.  In the New Testament Jesus and the apostles refer to the church in the feminine metaphor as bride.  There are a lot of powerful women in the Bible.  Most scholars will let you in on the fact that Jesus had female disciples.  Paul, yes that Paul, was discipled in part by a woman named Priscilla.  She and her husband were both pastors of a church in Ephesus.  The women Euodia and Syntyche worked with Paul to teach the gospel.  We could go on and on, but the assertion that only men lead or are called to lead in the Bible is obviously false.

If we move past antiquated chauvinism we will surely enjoy a much more robust and meaningful Christianity. Chauvinism restricts the analogies we can use to express the divine into a subset of what it could be.  If we refuse to see G-d in the feminine then we have lost half of our means to express our hope.  Our symbolic cup does not “runneth over”…it remains half empty.  A Christianity that embraces the feminine metaphors doubles the tools we have to express the divine.

Now what is interesting in this particular speech is that Piper eventually admits that women can do pretty much anything that a man can do (something I doubt to ever hear Piper’s macho-church companion, Mark Driscoll, admit).

The reason we call such courage “manly” is not that a woman can’t show it, but that we feel a sense of fitness and joy when a man steps up to risk his life, or his career, with courage; but we (should) feel awkward if a woman is thrust into that role on behalf of men…

The point is not that women are unable to lift the weight or bear the pain of the reality of hell. The point is not that they are unable to press it into those who don’t want to hear. The point is that one of the marks of mature manhood is the inclination to spare her that load and its costs….

Again the point is not that a woman is not able to speak this way. The point is that godly men know intuitively, by the masculine nature implanted by God, that turning the hearts of men and women to God with that kind of authoritative speaking is the responsibility of men.” – Piper

This is what is truly unfortunate about this theology.  There is no doubt in my mind that Piper believes that women will be happier living in submission to masculine authority.  What he doesn’t realize, blinded by doctrine, is that most women are not happy in that place.  His view does not match reality.  He doesn’t realize that women too sense a fitness and joy when they “step up to the risks of life, or career, with courage”.  He does not realize that they passionately desire to lead others and help them to make the world a better place.  They too have a nature to turn the hearts of others to the divine.

In teaching that leadership, careers, and individual divine calling are strictly for manly men, he robs women of their freedom to be fulfilled.  In this view, the only life they have been “blessed” with is one of perpetual cheerleading and baby-making.  He doesn’t even realize what he is doing…but this is the 21st Century, ignorance is not acceptable.  We have millions of examples of successful and fulfilled female leaders.  You don’t need to look far to find them.  We can easily observe all the diversity in life.  Men don’t always fit the masculine cliches, nor do women fit the female cliches…no matter how much Piper and Driscoll try to tell us everybody should fit into 2 predefined boxes.

 A couple of weeks ago author and blogger, Rachel Held Evans, was in Phoenix speaking at a couple of events.  She reminded us of a biblical story that receives little attention.  The story of Jephthah and his daughter can be found in Judges 11.  To sum up the story in short: Jephthah is called upon by the elders of Gilead to fight their enemies.  If he is successful they agree to make him their permanent chieftain.  During the battle Jephthah cuts a deal with G-d:  If he is given the victory he promises to sacrifice “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return”. He wins the battle, returns home, and his daughter comes out to greet him.  He is distraught, but Jephthah knows what G-d “requires” of him.  His daughter pleads with him to allow here to spend two months mourning in the countryside before her future and her life are sacrificed to meet the expectations of G-d.  He grants this postponement but at the end of two months “did to her according to the vow which he had made”.

The danger of Piper’s theology is that it asserts that G-d wants us to sacrifice the individual initiative, hopes, and dreams of women.  Many women are currently wandering in the wilderness mourning for the lives they wish they had, if it had not been for this “promise” we made to doctrine.  The good news is that they are not yet sacrificed…though “Masculine Christianity” seems anxious to light the pyre.  We can come to our senses and realize that this is a sacrifice that G-d neither requires nor wants.

For continued conversation check out the flood of responses over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

 

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Satan and Christus Victor in the 21st Century

First, I must apologize for the past couple months of absence from blogging.  Life has been busy through the holidays.  I have found a moment to catch my breath and as such now have time to write a bit more.  I currently sit overlooking an ice covered lake with a backdrop of snow blanketed mountains.  Perhaps this post will find a somewhat more positive tone then the previous…although we should start there to address this topic.

If you haven’t had a chance to read my last post please take a second to do so: An Abusive Relationship with G-d.

This last post was a reaction to a particular doctrine that I formerly affirmed, namely Penal Substitutionary Atonement (I’ll refer to it as PSA for convenience throughout the remainder of this piece).  I felt it necessary to express my frustration with this commonly espoused atonement theory to perhaps point out some of its short comings and the damage that it can do to us personally and our relationship with G-d.  However, it certainly isn’t enough to tear something down and walk away with the dust of the rubble falling off my boots.  So then, I offer an alternative for consideration.  Please keep in mind that what I will present is just another theory.  I am not advocating that this is the final and true atonement theory…only that it is perhaps a better alternative to the popular PSA.  I wouldn’t suggest anybody simply take this explanation and build a rigid doctrine around it, but rather use it as inspiration to continue the journey of finding new ways to experience G-d, love, and life with each other.

Let’s start by taking a step back in history, considering where PSA came from and why it emerged.  Throughout most of the first millenium of Christianity the atonement was understood by a vast majority of followers through either of 2 metaphors.  The first would be the Ransom theory. It teaches that the death of Christ was a ransom, paid to Satan, in satisfaction of his just claim on the souls of humanity as a result of sin. The second is closely related and is known as Christus Victor.  This theory sees Jesus not used as a ransom but rather defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved mankind by defeating the captor.  In the 11th Century the established western church officially rejected both of these theories in favor of the Satisfaction theory at the direction of Anselm, then Archbishop of Canterbury.  Satisfaction theory eventually emerged into PSA under the Reformers 500+ years later.  As a reminder, PSA argues that Christ  was punished (penalised) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so G-d can justly forgive the sins.  So here we are in present day…dealing the the Mark Driscolls of the world telling us that G-d hates us and that we need to feel guilty because we aren’t holy enough for him, that G-d demanded a human sacrifice to appease his wrath against us.  If such an assertion came from any other religion we would immediately be able to identify how dangerous such an understanding of G-d would be…but since it comes from our own tradition we seem to be generally quite blind to it.

I’d like to pose this question:  Why did Anselm send us down this path?  Why did he see it necessary to change the path of a millenium of Christians before him.  It is reported that Anselm rejected the ransom theory because he had discerned that Satan, an actual spiritual being, could not have possibly had any just claim to G-d’s creation, thus eliminating the legal requirement for a ransom to be paid.  For Anselm a similar dilema was posed by Christus Victor in that it portrayed Satan as such a powerful being so as to be able to enslave G-d’s creation against His will.  Anselm contended it was much preferable to see us (humanity) as enemies of G-d, through our sin, then to assert godlike power to the spiritual being of Satan.  I wouldn’t argue with Anselm on his identification of a problem, but I would obviously have some contention with his resolution (again, see my previous post).

In the tradition of this blog I would approach the resolution of the criticisms of Christus Victor by exploring the metaphorical interpretation.  We have already established that it is fairly unattractive to view our condition as a subjection of humanity to the literal spiritual power and authority of a being that is not G-d, namely Satan.  If we do this we effectively create another god who is just as powerful as, well maybe just a little less powerful than, the main G-d, in so doing we become polytheists.  So what if Satan is a metaphor for something?  Is there some problem, power, set of issues that humanity faces from which we would need a savior, a hero?  If there were, then perhaps the analogy of the spiritual battle of Christus Victor could still be maintained, albeit slightly modified.

In searching for the villain, our Satan, in the narrative of Christus Victor I would introduce us to, or for some remind us of,  another atonement theory that has seemed to exist in some form or another throughout the history of Christianity.  This atonement theory is known as “moral influence“.  It teaches that the purpose and work of Jesus Christ was to bring positive moral change to humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus, the Christian movement he founded, and the inspiring effect of his martyrdom and resurrection.  If we let moral influence inform our decision on choosing a metaphorical definition of “Satan”, then it would appear that immorality, as defined by Jesus, would be the villain in our narrative.  If we review Jesus’ teachings it appears that our Satan, the one he came to defeat, is/are the systems and individual interactions that are unloving, those that cause alienation and oppression, those that ignore or perpetuate poverty and need, etc.

This way of approaching the question gives us something real and tangible to work with.  We are no longer fearing and struggling against some lower diety who is manipulating our life events (I hate it when Satan hides my keys on Sunday mornings to keep me from getting to church, but Jesus usually overcomes the attempts of the Devil by helping me find them! PTL!).  Rather we move into addressing real world problems by practicing “The Way” (for those who don’t already know, early Christians identified themselves not as “christians” but rather as followers of “The Way”…that way of course being the one Jesus taught and demonstrated).  We are trying to solve issues like poverty (locally and globally) with generosity and compassion, we try to find ways to create and maintain peace by rejecting the cycles of violence and retribution, we seek to have relationships that are healthy, beneficial, and that demonstrate authentic love regardless of race, class, religion, or sexuality, etc.

If we see the reason for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the context of this collision of Christus Victor and Moral Influence then we effectively resolve Anselm’s problem with these traditional atonement theories while simultaneously avoiding the afore mentioned pitfalls and abuse of penal substitutionary atonement.  I see this approach as much more beneficial, hopeful, and as calling Jesus’ followers to a higher responsibility in the narrative of life and existence in the universe.

 

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The Garden Of Eden

The Genesis of a Blog

Nothing is so good as it is in conception.
A baby, a blog, the world.
Creation is the pinnacle of existence.
Purity is easily attained in novelty.

This blog is likely no different, so enjoy the virgin concept while you can.  This blogger will likely partake of some forbidden fruit before long…perhaps within this first post.  However, we are still kicking around this old planet, flaws and all.  So I hope you will overlook the imperfections of this blog and find something you will enjoy here.

Here’s The Concept

Milking The Metaphors is my new literary and theological project.  It is an exploration of faith through association with the world we experience.  My hope is to express my thoughts in a presentation that is both accessible and relevant.  Perhaps through these words readers can find inspiration to express their own faith, in whatever form that may take.

Where I Am Coming From

My thread of faith tends to fall in the lane of emergent Christianity.  In general, emerging faith tends to be more inclusive and less dogmatic than some of its spiritual kin.  To prepare you, my views might be a little different from those of other Christians you see on television, those who evangelize on the street corners, and those who meet in normal churches on a sunday morning…and I like it that way.  Diversity is the spice of life, so I’m trying to do my part in bringing that different voice to my own religion.

Why Symbolism?

I love what symbolism brings to a spiritual conversation.  More than that, what else do we have to discuss spiritual topics?  Faith is hope and belief in the unseen and the intangible, but we still need a way for it to be real in our lives.  Enter symbolism.  It has long been a part of our faith tradition, from earliest manuscripts to modern practices.

From the beginning of the Judeo-Christian tradition, metaphor has been the primary means of communicating faith.  Consider the Garden of Eden in all its natural beauty and harmony.  Consider the different trees, the man, the woman, the snake and of course the fruit.  All of these are amazing representations of spiritual concepts.  Some of these will likely be discussed in a future post on this blog.

Sidetrack –>  I feel like the message of stories like the Garden of Eden may get a bit lost when some more literal readers take ownership of them.  The goal of this story, in my opinion, isn’t to teach us that talking snakes existed.  The goal of the story isn’t to teach us that all our problems and struggles can be traced back to a single couple’s consumption of an apple (alternatively pomegranate, grape, fig, grain of wheat, or whatever).  It isn’t to teach us that Adam, a literal first human, was made out of some soil. It isn’t to teach us that a real woman, Eve, was made from Adam’s rib.  All of those expressions mean something within the context of the allegory, but we miss the point of the allegory if we don’t acknowledge it as such.  

Back on track –> As a person from the Christian tradition, I put significant value on Jesus’ methods of teaching.  Jesus spoke in metaphor consistently when he was speaking of spiritual concepts.  Around 50 parables are recorded in the four gospels.  Each are brilliantly descriptive and have amazing depth. Many, I’m sure more than one, will be discussed here.  As an individual who attempts to follow the ways of Jesus, what better way to pay homage than to have the same kind of conversations…so that’s what I will try to do here.

Hope you enjoy!

 

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