Sunday, June 26, 2011


This summer, I've decided to regularly attend my family's non-denominational Church so that I can worship with my parents, Grandmother, and nephew every Sunday morning. Given my love for high-liturgical services (despite all my issues with it), I have struggled to find patience with the cliche worship style. The homilies, however well-intentioned, are little more than Oprah's self-help messages baptized in a few Scriptures. I often leave these services feeling rather alienated. Beyond the fact that so many of the lyrics in these modern worship songs are theologically impoverished at best, I find it dishonest to say that I will "give all" to Christ. Isn't that the point, that I can't do such things? Isn't His faithfulness to me, even when I am faithless and seek to escape the friendship He has established with me in Christ, the very essence of the Gospel?

Today, I found it difficult to be silent. So I began to express my disagreements about this particular Church with my Dad. I started out by saying that my intention isn't to seem like an elitist, or that I have it all figured out. I truly am learning just like everyone else - this much is certain.

But as I was talking, I honestly could not believe the words that were coming out of my mouth. There is no potentiality, it is all actualized in Christ. There is no ladder for Christians to climb, it is simply an act of grace that we continually realize who we are in Christ by the power of the Spirit. Sanctification isn't necessarily a matter of "getting more holy" but rather a deeper awareness of one's own inability and helplessness. This is what grace means. To me, this is the Gospel. That before the foundation of the world, the Father chose to reconcile humanity onto Himself in Christ. Even more, we have no where to stand, but continually depend upon the grace of God as we bear witness to this truth not only to each other but to the world. A theologia crucis - a theology that believes God is most revealed in the suffering and humility of the cross - does not mean recovering from and escaping doubt, weakness, and disbelief. Rather, it recognizes that God is still faithful to us in Christ as we encounter all of this suffering.

I began to wonder how all of this is consistent with my other theological sympathies. The radical posture of humility and dependence I just outlined which I articulated to my Dad today doesn't seem to be consistent with other aspects of my theology (ecclesiology for starters). My Dad's questions by way of response made me realize that my position is very unstable. Again, it offers no where to stand. Ironically, this is what makes me so attracted yet so uncomfortable with Barth's methodology (this became all the more clear at the Karl Barth conference last week). His understanding of the object of faith in Jesus Christ determines his radically unstable methodology which continually seeks to "start at the beginning" when bearing witness to the Gospel.

Is this too - the instability - what it means to faithfully witness to a theologia crucis?

While I won't end up long-term at this type of non-denominational Church, the very occasions that give rise to these realizations and questions are uncomfortable. I pray for the courage and willingness to live out whatever conclusions might surface even if that means a radical ecclesial reorientation.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

History and Good [1].

One of the people in my life for whom I have the highest degree of respect and admiration brought Bonhoeffer's life to my attention today. When they mentioned his name, I chuckled at the providential irony that I am supposed to be reading Bonhoeffer's Ethics this week for the current blog reading project going on over at Jeremy's blog. I continued to read in my assigned reading and found the following gem of a quote. As I get older, I am sometimes tempted to believe the mark of sin and death is the reality of situations that do not offer a clear moral absolute. Sometimes there is little confidence that you are doing the right thing in a situation. But I was surprised to learn that Bonhoeffer calls this tension the "freedom" of the Christian - abandoning abstract reasoning in favor of concrete historical situations within a community.
"The moment a person accepts responsibility for other people - and only in so doing does the person live in reality - the genuine ethical situation arises. This is really something different from the abstract way in which people usually seek to come to terms with the ethical problem. The subject of the action is no longer the isolated individual, but the one who is responsible for other people. The action's norm is not a universal principle, but the concrete neighbor, as given to me by God. The choice is made no longer between a clearly recognized good and a clearly recognized evil; instead, it is risked in faith while being aware that good and evil are hidden in the concrete historical situation.

To act out of concrete responsibility means to act in freedom - to decide, to act, and to answer for the consequences of this particular action myself without the support of other people or principles. Responsibility presupposes ultimate freedom in assessing a given situation, in choosing, and in acting. Responsible action is neither determined from the outset nor defined once and for all; instead, it is born in the given situation. The point is not to apply a principle that eventually will be shattered by reality anyway, but to discern what is necessary or 'commanded' in a given situation. One must observe, weigh, and judge the matter, all in the dangerous freedom of one's own self. One must indeed enter the sphere of relativity, in the twilight that the historical situation casts over good and evil. The self-denial often necessary for those who act responsibly is to prefer what is better over what is less good, since 'absolute good' is capable, to an even greater extent, of provoking nothing less than evil. The so-called absolute good would in such a case be bad, and that which is relatively better is 'absolutely' better than the 'absolute good.' This throws the freedom of those who act responsibly into the sharpest relief: it is freedom from servitude even to an 'absolute good'."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "History and Good [1]" in Ethics, 221-222.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Christian as Ethical Agent

"We do not have the option to choose whether to exalt or abase ourselves, whether to save our lives or lose them, whether to take up our cross or to leave it, whether to hate our enemies or to love them, whether to accept suffering in the discipleship of Christ. We are not - to use one of Barth's favorite images - Hercules at the crossroads with a liberum arbitrium. There is no general principle or symbol of the cross about which we can deliberate and choose. Instead, we stand under the sign and direction of the cross because that cross is the cross of Jesus Christ and because God in Jesus Christ stood there first, in obedience and humility. We stand there because Jesus Christ is both the subject and the object of the election of God and because we are elect in him. Moreover, this existence under the cross is, for Barth, not a yoke of servitude that the Christian must bear because God wills it. It represents rather God's call 'into the freedom of the children of God, into a following of the freedom and the work in which God Himself is God.' It is only because Jesus Christ is the electing and elected Son of God who suffers and dies in love and freedom and obedience and humility that we are 'called and empowered in fellowship with Him to choose the humility which is natural to the children of God'."

- Paul Nimmo, "Barth and the Christian as Ethical Agent" in Commanding Grace, 237.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Speech Therapy (Week Two)

As I sat in the airport terminal last Friday to write my first blog post about speech therapy, I was convinced that initial post would be the most arduous to write. Unfortunately, I was very mistaken. This past week has proven to be the most difficult for me in a variety of ways. I guess you could say that real life has finally penetrated its way into my three week therapy bubble. And it has taken its toll.

Over the past two weeks, my life has been consumed by speech therapy and at-home speech practices. Every single day, I get better and better at the many exercises and tools that my speech therapist has given me to improve my fluency. But the end result of fluency doesn't come instantly. There is not a sudden flip of a switch inside your brain or your vocal tract to produce complete fluency. Moreover, it is not simply putting the procedures into place. The path to fluency includes overcoming all of the emotional factors - the fear, anxiety, and shame of stuttering.

I noticed that since Thursday evening, I have not been doing as well in my moments of disfluency like I have been in the past. When we have a moment of stutter, we are supposed to use this practice called freezing. Basically, instead of pushing through the stutter and engaging with it in order to "push out" a word, you are supposed to stop, and ease into the sound. That probably sounds like no big deal, right? Well, it is. You relax your upper body, focus on your breathing, relax your throat muscles, inhale, and ease into the sound. This takes time. And practice. Constant practice of overturning old habits. Instead of pushing through stutters or avoiding something I want to say, every conversation requires me to say exactly what I intend to say and engage in new behaviors. It is something like sanctification for speech. Unlearning bad habits and engaging in new ones. Facing my feared words and not backing down, even when I know I just entered a moment of stutter. Sometimes I fail miserably at freezing and it an unnatural lengthy pause occurs in a conversation so I can get out the sound.

I know overturning these old habits are for my benefit. But they create new fears. Will I ever get better at this? Will the moments of disfluency ever get shorter? Will the seconds for easing into a vowel sound ever decrease? When will they stop feeling like small eternities?

Moreover, the issue of minimizing the emotional factors in a moment of stutter is an even greater battle. Somewhere along the way in the past two weeks, I realized that one of the largest obstacles to fluency is the fear of other's opinion of me. Whenever I get into a moment of stutter, even with my closest friends, I feel extremely guilty. I am making them wait. What do they think of me right now? Do they think I'm not intelligent? Do they think that I am weird? Why does this make me feel so alienated from my audience? Will they feel uncomfortable and try to end this conversation? When will I stop having this inner dialogue and simply not care what other people think of me?

I found myself, starting yesterday, actually apologizing in my moment of stutter. I offer a quick "sorry" in the period of pauses. And then eventually, I get the sound out. But in essence, I realized that I'm apologizing for who I am. I keep apologizing because I'm essentially begging my audience not to judge me, and to believe that I am just like them.

But I'm not like them. And I never will be. Obviously stuttering is an actual disability. However, I never imagined that spiritual transformation would come through an attempt to confront my stuttering. Every conversation presents a new opportunity to forfeit my idolatry and work on improving my fluency. That part is more painful than getting my vocal tract to finally produce a sound.

At the end of this week, I find myself amazed again at the way in which God has used my disability to reveal my continuous theology of glory. But conversation after conversation, I am reminded that the God of the cross dwells with the lowly, the humble, and the least of them.