Theological Commitments

This was a questions asked among some friends lately. What are our theological commitments? Mine is easily rooted in the Creed, but that is too easy.

Let me step back. By saying I am rooted in the Creed, I am saying I am tied to the ancient Church and the orthodoxy established by the Canons of the ecumenical creeds. I am then tied to a certain epistemology and a certain ecclesiology.

I am tied to a faith on God that relies more on an expectation that even if I do not understand, I yet believe. I yet believe things will be work out, even if it looks miserable at the moment and I just don’t know what to do. Why? Because the Church has been marked for death before, facing persecution, plague, war, and famine in every sense of the word. Yet, she continues to survive and is doing so in places where there is no hope for her to do so.

I am committed to the poor, to social justice of yesteryear, and to the idea that the Church does have a place to play in the political world, even if the political world only desires us to side with them rather than ensuring they themselves align with the Church.

I am committed to the Scriptures, but as the primary – not only – revelation of God. The Great Tradition and yes, even Science (or as Westminster puts it, Nature) is a revelatory source of God’s creation. They don’t disagree. They have friction from time to time, and in this tension can be beauty or evil. I hope to always remain in the beauty of the tension.

I struggle less with my only commitment to God. He has provided for me and my family in ways I cannot explain. I feel now that I should be willing to give more of myself. I don’t know what this looks like.

Anyway, I felt like it was once again time for a post like this.

Toward a Theology of Mental Health and Wholeness (1)

My project for the new year has been to make an attempt at a theology dealing with mental health. While the church has gotten better at recognizing mental disorders and being a healthy part of their treatment, what has stuck me is how there really is not a whole lot of theological statement or reflections about it. My hope is to perhaps, in some small way, fill that void, in the hopes that those much more wise will improve upon what I will be writing here, and in numerous more postings, over the next bit. When beginning this, I thought that the idea of a theological exploration of mental health and wholeness  would be a fairly simple thing, but as I read, and delved deeper, I realized that not only was it not very simple, there were no new answers (not a surprise to me), but there were a lot of very old ones taking us back to the time of creation itself. This is not a medical offering, though I will, on occasion, use medical findings and treatments as examples, so it should in no way be read as a replacement for professional care. I hope that, if you are willing, you will continue to read this, and following posts, and share them with those you know who might think upon such things sharing with me their thoughts and opinions that I may ponder them.  So, without any further disclaimers, let us begin this journey from the place where all good journeys start: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven’s and the Earth”.

Fundamental to my exploration has been the creation narrative. To follow along here, you are not required to believe in a particular method of creation, be it young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, or what have you, but to simply hold on to and believe the eternal truth, that God is creator. In this simple truth, Saint Irenaeus (you will hear from him a lot in these pieces, so some background on him may help) begins his defense of the Christian faith against the Gnostic beliefs of his day, as well as establishing a beautiful trinitarian theology that has some fairly serious ramifications to us as the pinnacle of creation. Irenaeus describes the very act of creation as being trinitarian in origin. “In this way, then, it is demonstrated [that there is] One God, [the] Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal, therefore, He made created things by the Word; and God is Spirit, so that He adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power by his Spirit”. Thus, since the Word ‘establishes,’ that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called the Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God.” (Irenaeus “The Apostolic Preaching”) In this small paragraph, beautifully worded (I am a little jealous of its simple beauty if I am being honest), the establishment of the trinity as present, and responsible, for creation, in three parts, equal in power, each performing an essential duty. Irenaeus separates these duties into the source of all creation, The Father, that which brings creation into existence, The Son (The Word), and the ordering of creation into a cogent whole possessing meaning, The Spirit. Irenaeus would also describe The Son and The Spirit as the hands of God to illustrate a point, and also to speak to us today. We use the same language and idea when we describe ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ. As an interesting note, this idea is rendered in 2 Enoch from the Pseudepigrapha and the language has similar meaning and structure to Genesis 1:27 as well as to Wisdom of Solomon 6:7.  As the work of 2 Enoch is used by Irenaeus in other areas, it has been a speculation of mine that it influenced him here as well, but that is a different rabbit hole for a different day.

Humans however, after this referred to as “man” as a generic term and not a term to denote gender, have a special place in creation. Man is created possessing the Imago Dei. We all talk a lot about the Image of God, but few of us, it seems to me, have any sort of understanding of what that is and what that means. Part of that is simply that we have lost, or tossed aside, the wisdom of the ancients. A brief exploration at thoughts regarding this becomes necessary. Ancient Jewish scholars such as Saadia Gaon and Philo would argue that being made in the image of God had no physical aspect, instead meaning simply that it meant the God had bestowed special honor upon man as the pinnacle of creation. To them, the image of God was not a tangible idea other than man was different, and above, all of creation. It was more of an idea to be accepted instead of a mystery to be explored and understood.  A Platonic understanding made the body  a transitory vessel of no real importance, the Gnostic understanding was that matter was evil, but that Spirit was good, thus the image of God was spirit and only spirit was good, others would claim the Image of God was the whole person, leading to a type of anthropomorphism of God binding Him to one form of matter alone. Enter Irenaeus, and a very new understanding of the Image of God.

Irenaeus, understanding and knowing the flaws of the various interpretation of the Imago Dei, would speak of the Imago Dei as the image and likeness of God in the same way as Genesis did. Irenaeus speaks of the image and likeness of God in this way: “Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to [EDITED to add a ‘space’] be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God.” (Against Heresies) Saint Paul would support this assertion, though before Irenaeus, when he, in the epistles to the Corinthians and Colossians, would write that Christ is indeed the image of God. (Second Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). We are, in effect, the image of the image. For Irenaeus, this was the physical image. Our bodies and human form as designed after the eternally begotten and eternally incarnate Son of God. This understanding allows us to avoid the trap of binding God to our form, thus avoiding the anthropomorphic tendency.  Adam, being the first crated human, becomes not the archetype of humanity as many of us think him, but rather the first created image of The Image.

The likeness of God then becomes our spiritual self. At the time of creation, this was simply the way it was intended, but today we recognize this as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the faithful, but more on that later. Now the temptation is to divide the body and spirit (image and likeness of God) into two separate things that are independent of each other, but that is not  what Irenaeus does at all as this was central to the heresy of the Gnostic faith. To Irenaeus, Adam, as the first image bearer, has these two parts, body and spirit (image and likeness), of the same whole both contained in harmony. In God’s plan of creation, the two are never intended to be separated. This is key to the nature of man, as God intended, and we must, at all costs, resist the temptation of artificially trying to separate the two as it relates to God’s intent in creation.  The image and likeness of God are reflected in God’s two hands, as Irenaeus described them (The Son, and The Spirit), and tied intimately to our creation as God intended at creation.

There is a third aspect of our creation that should be mentioned, the ability to reason. This too separates us from the rest of creation. We can form complex thoughts and ideas. We can rationalize and use logic to come to greater understanding of the world around us.  I think that you get the point. This third aspect of our creation completes the trinity of human creation, not to be confused with The Trinity. Just as the Creator God is only properly understood and explained through The Trinity, for mankind to be properly understood, as the created being at the time of creation, the trinity of this creation must also be understood. The very idea and structure of the Trinity is found through out all of creation. For Irenaeus this is even reflected in the natural world as there is indeed the realm of the physical, that which we can touch, the realm of the spiritual (God, the Holy Spirit, the adversary, etc.), and finally the very nature of God in the form of the natural law that governs the function of the universe. For us, as humans, the three parts of our created selves, the physical, the spiritual, the rational, must be in harmony for us to be as God intended us from the beginning.

This wraps up the first part of moving toward a proper theology of mental health and wholeness. I realize that it may seem basic as it is a reflection upon creation, before the fall, but to understand the very nature of humanity from that time as God intended, and thus to be able to understand what proper mental health and wholeness is, and how we can work toward it, we must start with the blueprint (Christ) and proceed from the first creation (Adam). We find then that, for us to be able to exist as God intended, and indeed as we will exist upon the return of Christ to usher in the Kingdom in full, there must be a harmony of image and likeness of God as well as our ability to reason.  From a theological stand point then, we must conclude that a theology of mental health and wholeness involves bringing, to the best of our ability, those three parts of our essential nature back into harmony with one another, and with God. Next we will explore the fall from grace, the effect that this has upon us, original sin and what it is and isn’t, and how all of that comes together as it relates to mental health and wholeness.

 

 

Can We Talk Intelligently Please?

I don’t like a double standard. I don’t really think any of us do, unless of course they favor us, and that is human nature. Our best selves however recognize that we all needed to be treated with the same dignity and respect. We all need to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, and we all need to be able to be treated with equal expectations, at the very least at a base line level, in what is and is not appropriate behavior in society at large. Basically what I am trying to get at here is that the expectation of how we act, what is and is not appropriate to say, etc. should be norms, no matter who we are all in all.  Before I get into this, let me say a few things. Bullying is wrong. Harassment is wrong. Sexism, racism, etc. are all wrong. If you read anything in this that you think says otherwise, one of two things is true. It is possible that you misunderstood what I was attempting to say. It happens to all of us, me a lot in truth, so it’s not a condemnation. It is equally possible (I am being generous to myself as it is much more likely) that I did not do a very good job of trying to explain the point I am trying to make. If, after reading this, you would care to comment, please do. Keep it classy though please, because in the last few days I have had enough of what can only be called unproductive conversation based in ignorance.

Let’s get the ball rolling with the elephant in the commercial, Gillette. In a rare twist, most of my issues with it can be summed up by VOX. Believe me, I was as surprised as any of you who know me are. I am in no way justifying any of the poor behavior that is shown in the advert. It’s terrible behavior. I desperately want to be able to seriously talk about the problem of reducing important social issues to an advertising campaign designed to make a large corporation money. Now, I freely admit that this is my, perhaps overly, cynical view, but it is an educated view based upon the shrinking profits of Gillette over the past several years and their inability to regain market share from competitors, combined with the current social awareness of these matters. Really, the VOX piece describes much of my concern better than I can, so please read it and think about it. The one thing not mentioned is the portrayal. In the advert, the majority of men are portrayed as those who encourage poor behaviors, while it is the minority that stands against them.  No, that is not my fragile male ego talking. I promise my ego is neither fragile nor is it small enough to be bothered by a commercial. It is my concern that the wrong message is being portrayed from that standpoint however as I reject the narrative that the majority of men are somehow terrible. That was the impression that I got from the ad personally. Read the VOX piece, consider it, and give it some real thought. After doing that can we have an intelligent conversation? You know, one that involves a little bit more than ugly accusations spewed and devoid of negative assumptions?
Something else that I found interesting about the people who think that Gillette was brilliant and being socially responsible and that more corporations should do this, and to be clear, I have no problem with holding that opinion, though I do disagree with it, when asked about Citizen’s United, the SCOTUS case that allowed large amounts of corporate money into the political process by declaring campaign donations protected speech, the answer was a resounding no. I do not see a logical consistency here. If corporations should be socially responsible and push for positive, or perceived positive, societal change, then should not those same corporations be able to support the candidates and policies that can bring that about? If not then aren’t we saying you should have a voice, but no influence politically? Isn’t that downright unamerican? Can we have a conversation about that? Can we intelligently discuss this? Can we talk about if we really want a bottom line profit driven corporation to control general societal morality and behavior? Please?

The second story is about a Gm plant in Toledo, Ohio and some overtly racist actions that occurred there. I hope that you take the time to read it as it is disturbing to say the least. Let’ take a few minutes to talk about what this is and is not. This is not about free speech. Yes, hate speech is protected as free speech, however the workplace has policies in place against such language and treatment of individuals that they apparently did not follow as they should have. Your employer has the right to limit your speech, during your on the clock hours. Not only that, an employer is ethically obligated to apply company policy equal to all. What happened here (according to civil action) is continued racial harassment. It’s wrong. Period. That, and under no circumstances is a noose hanging from a rafter free speech when used as an obvious threat. Never. That’s a threat, which is illegal, and likely constitutes a call to action, neither of which is protected speech. Can we have an intelligent conversation about this? Can we talk about how amazing it is that the two gentlemen who were treated so horribly did all that they could, every step of the way, to try and resolve the problem rather than immediately jumping of the cliff of civil actions like so many do? Can we talk about how sick it is that they had to? Please? Intelligently and not trying to cloud the issue with free speech arguments that do not apply? Please?

Finally we get to the piece i came across accidentally by virtue about reading a lot of news regarding sports. It is about a German Men’s Soccer Team. The very first line of the article reads: “The first woman to coach a men’s team in one of Germany’s top five leagues is tackling sexism by sarcastically suggesting her selections are based on penis lengths.” Read the whole article please, it is short. I am perfectly willing to accept that this is a sarcastic remark. Let’s change the first line slightly though by reversing the situation. We will, in our thought experiment, change it to a woman’s team and a male coach. The first line of our imaginary story for the purposes of our thought experiment reads “The first man to coach a woman’s team in one of Germany’s top five leagues is tackling sexism by sarcastically suggesting his selections are based upon breast size”.  Again, this is not my fragile male ego, but rather my research and experience, that tells me that, even if it were an obvious joke and sarcasm, that the imaginary comments in the thought experiments would be called out as at least inappropriate, by some sexist, and by some others to rise to the level of sexual harassment. Now, to me personally, I have no issue with the woman making an obvious sarcastic comment like this. I chuckled honestly. Then it dawned on me that while I would chuckle about the same basic comment made by a man about women, I do not think that many, and maybe most would. I further think that there would be very loud calls for him to quit or be fired. If the comments are inappropriate, then they need to be inappropriate for all. Can we have a serious conversation about how being treated equally includes this? Can we thin have a conversation about some of the “male rights” types that I find basically silly, in this have a point? Please?

Three stories, three topics, and three different types of situations, but they all have one thing in common. We can not talk about them like adults. As an example, in a conversation about the Gillette story, after I had affirmed that the behaviors they are presenting as bad are indeed bad, when I mentioned my concern that such serious topics should not be reduced to profit was suddenly a misogynist idiot that hated women and was simply attempting to mansplain myself. If voicing a concern is reduced that that, we can not talk. Similar things happen in various discussions about the other two stories. The question of being able to have an actual conversation goes far beyond these stories, but let’s start small. Can we talk about this please?