Posts Tagged ‘Human’

David Kelsey’s chapter “Sin as Living Death in a Distorted Personal Identity” from his larger work, Eccentric Existence:  A Theological Anthropology provides a helpful anthropological assessment for approaching forgiveness.  As fundamental as forgiveness is for the Christian faith, it can be difficult to orient ourselves to think critically about it.  Too often we feel we “should forgive”.  Therein, we realize that forgiveness is a Christian fundamental that faces profound challenges.  In Kelsey’s larger work, he explicates God’s reconciling energy toward humanity and also formulates an ultimate question for the human community who is challenged to respond appropriately to the reconciling energy.

Appropriate response to reconciling God is a humanity that can engage forgiveness.  But there are things about our anthropology that challenge our ability to be forgiving or to forgive. Thus, we find ourselves living alienated from the only appropriate response to a reconciling God…. forgiveness.  And Kelsey defines forgiveness as “the interhuman reconciliation that is the necessary social context of acts seeking the rectification of unjust patterns of human action.” (878)

I will crudely summarize his three scenarios in which human beings are unable to approach forgiveness:

Humanity so ordered by culture that there is no room for forgiveness.

Personal identities that find their worth in power (the ability to command) or adherence to a moral order leave no real room for forgiveness.  Because one is only worthy insomuch as one is able to continue to exert power or adherence to a moral order, there is a cyclical need to return to power initiatives or rules of the moral order in order to find oneself as an individual of power.  This cyclical need puts us on a treadmill of spiritual righteousness.  We understand ourselves to be superior to those who cannot behave to the moral order or command an influence over their environment.   Kelsey asserts that identity in power and moral order provide no space for forgiveness. We cannot forgive others for not adhering to a moral order, nor can we forgive them for not exercising more power and influence in their own lives.  Because we understand our worth as coming from a perpetual cycle of power and order (inequality), forgiveness becomes a nuance-like interruption or inconvenience.

Waiting for the best time to forgiven.

As limited as power and moral order end up being, they do begin as best intents within the human heart.  In the second option, Kelsey reminds us that sinful behavior also obstructs our approach to the Christian essential of forgiveness.  While this seems obvious, Kelsey describes the dual-blockade of sinful behavior that is at once interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Not only do we find ourselves in relationships where we diminish others and they diminish us, additionally, we find (intrapersonal) a cognitive function  that denies our existence in such diminishing relationships.  Because we are involved in a structural bind, forgiveness is not an option. Kelsey draws upon the scriptural use of the word Hypocrite as one who is self-deceived.  Abiding in insulated armor, we imagine that when the world straightens up, we will then forgive.

Inability to forgive within the self:

Whereas the previous two options are interpersonal, this third option is really an intrapersonal experience.    Whereas the two previous options have human beings primarily concerned with social order or relational complexities, in the third option, human beings want to avoid “discovering themselves inwardly guilty of failure to do their duty and live consistently across time”.   While forgiving others may be an option or an interest they pursue, Kelsey notes that individuals are unable to forgive themselves.  They are unable to forgive themselves because they have a sense that they have fallen short of living consistently and to the standard of what is their duty.  This duty may be social constructed, humanistically defined or divinely ordained.  In any case, it is a standard that is never satisfied and the human being lives a partial life, guilt ridden.

Kelsey goes to great pains to explicate why forgiveness is so difficult. I think brilliantly.  However, in the end, we are in despair.  What Kelsey does not seem to acknowledge are brief moments in which forgiveness is attempted, respected and hoped for as sufficient responses by human beings to a reconciling God.  What if within adherence to power, moral order, complexities of relationships and our own intrapersonal world, our spiritual discipline of forgiveness is a ripple, sparkle or flash that leads or lights the way to our next significant moment wherein we behave with increasing faithfulness?


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The first petal on the T.U.L.I.P of Calvinism is the notion of total depravity.  Total depravity as defined by William Stacy Johnson, in his book John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century, “A belief taught by those who came after Calvin that human beings are so sinful that we are incapable of contributing anything to our own salvation including good works” (140).   While Calvin surely painted a bleak picture of humanity as inherited from Augustine and Luther, the largest part of Calvin’s theology was not sinfulness which takes up but five chapters between book one and book two of his Institutes.  Charles Partee notes, in his book The Theology of John Calvin,  that “For Calvin sin is a terrible reality, but it is not a major division of his theology.  Calvin should be understood as a theologian of God’s grace, not of human sin.  Sin is treated as a strange or foreign object in the body of Calvin’s theology… (130).   Later his followers would characterize sin as total depravity but this is not Calvin.  Calvin understood that sin was total only in so much as it had a total effect on the human being’s body, mind and soul.   This effect he called the stain of sin and the stain of sin gets passed on through the interconnectedness of the human community. (By the way, inter-connectedness is an essential notion of process theology.)  The modern image for stain of sin might be that our children are born into a society where there is air pollution.  They did not cause this problem, but they suffer from it and contribute to it nonetheless.  ” (Johnson 52)

Thus, sin is not the original sin that is imbedded like a seed in the human being.  Rather,  “Remarkably for Calvin sin is defined as an accident.  Sin ‘is an adventitious quality which comes upon man rather than a substantial property which has been implanted from the beginning.’ (II.1.11)” (Partee, 129) and “In connection with the reality of sin, Calvin simply refuses to carry his reflection to its logical conclusion.  Sin is a fact, but it is an accidental fact, which means it has not ultimate meaning.” (Partee, 131)  Thus Calvinism’s notion of total depravity must be contrasted with Calvin’s notion of ultimate possibility. For Calvin the human being is in the process of responding to sin through sanctification (increasing holiness) and that sanctification is a life-long process.

Kristine Culp, in her book, Vulnerability and Glory” rightly highlights Calvin’s “bearing the cross” as a response to the reality of sin.  “In contrast to the Stoic cultivation of apathy, Christians must constantly “train”, “keep” and “pursue” patience in face of real sorrow and pain.  He referred to the exercise of patience, moderation and humility in the face of suffering as “bearing the cross”.    … It matters greatly for Calvin, as for our day, whether theologies support responsive and responsible life and its flourishing before God.” (124)    The responsive and responsible life is not only an essential for Calvin but for process theology as well.

Epperly asserts in his book, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, that “Process theology understands the cross in relational terms as the result of human decision rather than divine necessity.” (73)  While Epperly’s summary of the meaning of the cross for process theologians may be more of a critique of traditional atonement doctrine, one can surely recognize a common thread between process and Calvin on the relationality of sin and the process by which we make our response to sin which is either the result of tragic decisions or Calvin’s accidental sin.

The answer to this blog’s question is that for Calvin the human being is subject to many complex situations in which sin is often an accidental occurrence but may also be intentional.  Because of this, we need God’s grace (which we will focus on more intently in a later blog) and we need to bear our cross.  Bearing our cross allows us to respond to the suffering that our sin causes keeps us mindful of God’s opportunities by which we can live more responsibly into God’s providence.  Those who cherish Calvin the reformer, pastor and theologian need not be dissuaded by the postmortem  development by Calvinism upon Calvin known as total depravity.  Further, those who treasure Calvin need to slough off the systematizing of Calvin by Calvinist.  Once we return to Calvin we find essentials of process thought already at work in Calvin’s Institutes.   Calvin understood imperfect  human beings who had not actualized the potential that God provided for their lives  to be worthy through their partnership with God,  interconnected and involved in a life long adventure of responsibility and response.    Not too bad….not totally depraved at all!

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As we all know, the human brain is the center of the central nervous system and the receiver of information from our senses.  The brain begins the process of perception.  The human brain shares commonality with the brains of other creatures while displaying specific differences regarding language and communication.  Brain research is dynamic area of study as we strive to learn about human development and disease.   While we are learning a great deal about the brain as the premier organ of the human body, it merges with what we call the mind.  The mind is much more of a mystery.

People of faith are challenged to live fully in simultaneous dimensions of the brain and mind.  Our relationships and daily duties invite us to respect our  embodiment.  While our intuition, our limited imagination, our emerging intelligence, and our wonderment about the divine invite us to commit ourselves to a  spiritual dimension as well.  We are essentially stretched.   While the brain and mind are not easily separated and shouldn’t be.  The brain does  represent the embodiment end of the human continuum and the mind might represent the more intuitive/spiritual end of the human continuum.

Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being defines the mind as “a process that regulates the flow of energy and information.  Our human mind is both embodied – it involves a flow of energy and information that occurs within the body, including the brain – and relational, the dimension of the mind that involves the flow of energy and information occurring between people…” (5)

Religion has been disparaged by some as a sort of opiate for masses of people.  But it does not have to be so.  Religion at its best stimulates / agitates the brain circuitry of the human being toward a greater mindfulness.  Religion can contribute to mindfulness that enriches and challenges the human being to radically faithful behavior.  Mindfulness might be particularly stimulated by the larger story that religion offers to the individual life.  For Christians the story of Jesus is the larger narrative.

As Lent approaches, I will be inviting the people of First Presbyterian in Osawatomie to consider the larger story of Jesus and give up the distance between their brain and their mind!  If you are in Kansas….hope you will join us!

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I was talking with someone the other day who declared that they felt caged by their rage and resentment.  They expressed a desire to be able to forgive.

Forgiveness is a difficult subject for any of us.  We are challenged to forgive institutions, individuals, ourselves, maybe even God.  Forgiveness can be confused with forgetting.  Most of us feel like forgiving is not our strongest suit.  The reason maybe that forgiveness has often been characterized as something that we do for other people.  This traditional characterization may be where we are hung up.

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (a bird lover by the way) has a more compelling and even persuasive understanding of forgiveness.  This is fully explained in her book The Fall to Violence:  Original Sin in Relational Theology.      In the work she details three dimensions of forgiveness and two misconceptions:

  • Three dimensions of forgiveness
    • the action of willing well-being
    • the relationship between victim and violator
    • and the courage of knowledge and remembrance
  • Two misconceptions of forgiveness
    • that forgiveness entails feelings of love
    • that forgiveness entails an acceptance of the other person

Suchocki asserts that violence in its lesser and greater forms will demand that the person of faith engage forgiveness.  The lesser forms of violence might be cutting remarks, gossip, or lack of follow through. The greater forms of violence include loss of live or vitality.  Whatever the case, violence, Suchocki says, “…does not end with the completion of its occurrence;  it insinuates itself into the ongoing experience of the victim.  Violation amounts to the robbery of future time by forcing what should be new experiences to conform to the contours of the old.  A person is robbed at gunpoint;  the robbery happens in an instant.  But does it?  Does not the person live and relive the experience of the robbery, repeating the fear and anger in every unguarded moment? ” (147)

Initially the violator is responsible for the violence but who keeps the violence perpetuated?  That is within the mind of the victim.  This does not blame the victim but it does describe the process and trajectory of violence at whatever level. As the victim internalizes the violence, the violator and the victim become one in the same.

Forgiveness invites the victim to come a strength of mind and a freedom to take flight into life.  Forgetting is not an option for those who have experienced violence.  It is, indeed, remembering in a specific way that is an option.  Allowing our experiences of violence to give us a contextualized knowledge is the first step to strength of mind.  For example, someone gossips about us and we find out.  We are hurt. We feel the violent effect and our mind begins to cycle around the infraction against us. In order to stop the cycling we might say something like this….”Ahh.  I have learned something important about my friend.  I will know better how to interact with this person in the future.”  A discovery allows us to have specific knowledge.  This prevents an anxious generalization which might sound like, “You can’t trust anyone anymore!”

The real reason to forgive is so that our mind, heart and self are genuinely open to the new experiences of life which are coming to us all the time.   If our mind is distracted and cycling on previous experiences of violence, we are already missing new life and opportunity.  The real reason to FORGIVE is so that we can really LIVE.

Marjorie also ties forgiveness into sin and transformation in her book’s conclusion…a most interesting read!  A personal note about Suchocki is that I have heard that she allows the birds she cares for to fly free within her home.  A practice that might be symbolic of her argument that we should not cage our life experiences for that is where the greatest violence can happen.

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Texting on a keyboard phone

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Texting is a challenge to the human experience.  It challenges us to be articulate without our full communication arsenal at our disposal.  It challenges us to be brief and agile in our response time.  Texting challenges us to feel connected and yet be balanced in our solitude.  The High School Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church of Osawatomie is studying texting in detail over the next four weeks.  This week, they will consider texting and the body. 

This subject is important because the state of our body influences our ability to communicate and text well and faithfully.  The subject is also important because the mechanics of texting makes great demands on our body.  The interdependence of the body and technology is remarkable.  Texting is just another part of the reality that we human beings are both organic and mechanistic.  Replaced knees, hearing aids, pacemakers, eyeglasses were earlier ways we enhanced our body joining it to technology.  Such a partnership, we found, could greatly enrich life.  When our body was aided, our psyches were released and more open to experiencing life.    

As a person of the Christian faith, scripture and tradition instruct me that my body was the design of the Ultimate Source of Creativity, God.  The hand-held device by which I text is a secondary creation even as it is full of wonder.  So, when I think about this partnership and how to manage it, I want to draw on the wisdom of the primary creation in order to guide my behavior and decisions.  In other words, using these fundamental observations regarding God’s design of the human body, how shall I be a person who texts faithfully?  

What shall we say of the body and the technology of texting?  We might begin by saying that our body is itself, a messaging system.  The body is hardwired, chemically triggered and a cautious receptor of the external environment.

 The body is hardwired in countless ways but perhaps the most fundamental of connections would be the synapse within our nervous system.   The synapses are both chemical and electric and are the means by which neurons (cells with a message) make their way to target cells that need their message.   Our body and brain’s hardwiring needs excellent nutrition in order to stay functional.   

So too, our texting needs to be of a quality that it enriches and nourishes other people’s lives and potential.  Of course there will be lots of pragmatic texts but I have also heard of texting that is sent in order to remind human beings  of their potential and their contributions.  Like food for thought to the brain, texting can empower the living of other human beings.

The body is chemically triggered in countless ways, but  a chemical of particular interest of the human being is the chemical serotonin.  This chemical performs a great many functions within the body which includes the working of all sorts of muscles.  Properly balanced, serotonin  allows for experience of happiness and satisfaction.  Out of balance and the human being can suffer from depression.  It is thought that protein rich diet, B-6 and daily exercise a healthy amount of serotonin in the body.   

Texting can trigger a chemical response within the human being.  Texts can trigger, excite, alarm us.  Because texting increases the amount of information that comes our way and affects the chemical reactions within our body, the wisdom of balance as discovered in research on serotonin becomes an important clue in texting faithfully.   We must balance anxiety with a calm responsiveness.  Not unlike Jesus stilling the storm for worried disciples.  We must balance alarm with a clarity of mind and strategic response.  Not unlike Jesus’ response when he is arrested in Gethsemane.  We must balance our anger or fear with a trust and confidence.  Jesus is remembered as saying,  “Forgive them for they know not what they do” from the cross.  If we do this…communication will less likely go haywire and relationships strengthened and individuals more resilient.

The body is a receptor of external information without being completely vulnerable to the exterior world.  Of course, our skin serves this most basic function.  It is sensitive to the outside world while simultaneously filtering and protecting the body from infectious and hazardous elements.  The skin can receive hydration gratefully one minute and detect an infection that needs to be fought off in the next.  Decisions, decisions.  So that even when our phone receives text messages, it is important to remember that we are not our phone.  We do not have to take in the messages that are received.  We can make decisions  to receive or reject all for the welfare and strength of our human pilgrimage.

So, somewhat playfully, this week we will offer our teens three body basic rules for texting:

1.  HARD WIRED RULE – I will remember my body does get tired and depleted.  When I am depleted and tired, I am not at my best to communicate in a faithful way.  I will let my phone charge while I take in lots of vitamins, minerals and rest.

2.  CHEMICAL RULE – I will remember that balance is the key to feeling good.  I will not overindulge in gossip, negativity or worry when I text.  Occasionally, I will move beyond passive texting and offer “food for thought” to those I love and care about.

3.  SKIN DEEP RULE – I will remember that I can receive information without taking it all to my innermost places of mind and heart.  When I am confused by others communication, I will take time to think before I vent to another person or fire off a quick response.  When I receive hurtful information, I will manage it before it makes its way too far into my heart and mind.   When I receive important information that is painful, I will find a way to take it into my system so that I am stronger and more resilient. 

Perhaps with such rules, we will feel less like triggered cyborgs driven by our devices and more like thoughtful human beings whose faith will be known despite any hex in the text.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the on...

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In chapter 14 of The Spirit Level:  Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger the authors imagine a society that moves beyond any dysfunction set in motion by inequality.  They imagine a more equal society that seems possible because of discoveries in the areas of interpersonal human relationships, bonobos and chimps as well as brain research.  A summary of those discoveries  is provided here:

1.   The Ultimatum Game

“The ultimatum game is an economic experiment in which volunteers are randomly paired and remain anonymous to one another.  A known sum of money is given to the ‘proposer’ who then divides it as he or she pleases with the ‘responder’.  All the responders do is merely accept or reject the offer.  If rejected, neighter partner gets anything, but if it is accepted, they each keep the shares of money offered.  They play the game only once, so there i sno point in rejecting a small offer to try to force the proposer to be more generous next time – they know there isn’t going to be a next time.  in this situation, self-interested responders should accept any offer, however derisory, and self-interested proposers should offer the smallest positive amount, just enought to ensure that a responder accepts it.

Although experiments show that this is exactly how chimpanzees behave, it is not what happens among human beings.  In practice the average offer made by people in developed societies is usually between 43 and 48 per cent, with 50 per cent as the most common offer.  At direct cost to ourselves, we come close to sharing equally even when people we never meet and will never interact with again. 

Responders tend to reject offers below about 20 per cent.  Rejected offers are money which the responder chooses to lose in order to punish the proposer and prevent them from benefiting from making a  mean offer.  The human desire to punish even at some personal cost has been called ‘altruistic punishment’, and it plays an important role in reinforcing co-operative behavior and preventing people from freeloading . …  The egalitarian preferences people reveal in the ultimatum game seem to fly in the face of the actual inequalities in our societies.” (199-200)

2.  Bonobos and Chimpanzees

“Around six or seven million years ago the branch of evolutionary tree from which we have emerged split from that which led to two different species of ape:  chimpanzees and bonobos.  Genetically we are equally closely related to both of them, yet there are striking differences in their social behavior and they illustrate sharply constrasting ways of solving the Hobbesian problem of the potential for conflict over scarce resources” (200-201).  Chimpanzees are known for agression and dominance.  Bonobos are known for love making and equality.  The authors take special care to note that the section of DNA responsible for social, sexual and parenting behavior differs in bonobos and chimps.  Human beings have that section of DNA in common with the bonobo. 

3.  Mirror Neurons

These are another example of the way that human beings are deeply social beings.  “When we watch someone doing something, mirror neurons in our brains fire as if to produce the same actions.” (210)  In other words the individual observing as brain function as if they themselves were doing the action.   The brain is hardwired for empathy. 

If the authors are correct and the US is struggling from dysfunctions brought on by inequality, there is a niche for the church to lead a response.   Since Jesus’ life and ministry the heart of the church is a social experiment for individuals to understand their preciousness and worth in the eyes of God. Imagine the church becoming a Jesus-like investigator into the issues of equality in  local communities….you couldn’t drive redevelopment away! 


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