Jason at blip reads Peter Rollins’ Insurrection, and mostly likes it. His praise is qualified by this criticism, which I find thoughtful and thought-provoking:
As much as I like Rollins’ insistence on loving the other as the way in which we love God, this is also where I disagree as well. For in his insistence on finding God in the other comes a rejection of “thin spaces” (124) where God is also experienced. Yes we see, hear, and love God through others, but I want to leave room to also see, hear, and love God in nature, in prayer and meditation, in music, in solitude. Admittedly, these ways of experiencing God are often considered more “direct” and thus preferred and sought after and that should be avoided. But to say God is only found in loving another leaves out too much and could end up leaving us a God who is solely a social interaction, who is wholly immanent and in no way transcendent.
Jason’s reservation there reminds me of Jesus’ response when asked which commandment was the most important. That was a straightforward question, but as usual with Jesus it didn’t receive a straightforward answer because he seemed to think it was the wrong question asked for the wrong reason. Instead of picking one rule as the most important, he boiled all the rules down to two: Love God and love your neighbor.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Those two things, Jesus said, were alike and inextricably linked, yet still distinct. He prioritizes the two, yet also suggests that it would be impossible to do either one without also doing the other — that each one, in a sense, defines the substance of the other.
So Jason’s review of Rollins’ book had me thinking about these categories of immanent and transcendent, and those ideas were still bouncing around in my head yesterday when I heard Terry Gross interview David Carr on NPR’s Fresh Air. Carr, the media columnist for The New York Times and main subject in the documentary Page One, had some good quips on the newspaper business. (“The future of journalism,” he said, is an endless series of panel discussions on the future of journalism.)
Carr is also the author of The Night of the Gun, a memoir of his years of drug and alcohol addiction. Gross asked him about the process of recovery and, specifically, what he had come to believe about “a higher power.” Carr’s response, I think, suggests again that these categories of immanent and transcendent can never be wholly separated, and that it’s impossible to separate that first commandment from the second that is like unto it:
All along the way, in [substance abuse] recovery, I’ve been helped … by all of these strangers who get in a room and do a form of group-talk therapy and live by certain rules in their life — and one of the rules is that you help everyone who needs help. And I think to myself: Well, that seems remarkable. Not only is that not a general human impulse, but it’s not an impulse of mine. And yet, I found myself doing that over and over again. So am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? …I’m kind of a thug. I’ve done a bunch of terrible things. And yet I’m able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me.
That response is very close to what we evangelical types would call his “personal testimony” — even mirroring the classic template of “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a thug like me.”
This post from Julia Speck is also a kind of personal testimony. She’s responding to the Soularize conference at Fuller Seminary — which featured, among others, Peter Rollins. Her testimony doesn’t describe her journey from blindness to evangelical faith, but rather a journey from that American evangelical faith toward something else — something not yet wholly defined. In this testimony, the conventions, assumptions and presumptions of the evangelical subculture seem to be part of what it means to be blind and lost.
I think many people raised in that subculture can relate to what Speck describes here:
I have struggled with what it means to be “Evangelical” for a while. Not because I don’t want to be Evangelical, but because I don’t think I really know what it means. And I go to conferences like these where Evangelicalism is not something to be praised, it is something we’re striving to move away from and I get even more confused. I resonate with the conversations and the things being said, but I don’t know how to reconcile it with the only way I have been taught to be a follower of Christ. …
As I was growing up the way I was a follower of Christ was by going to church, and praying a lot, and having my daily devotions, and voting Republican, and never sneaking out of the house, and eating my vegetables, and driving the speed limit (most of the time), and leading worship at church, and overcommitting myself to everything spiritual, and being a leader and kissing dating goodbye. But those things don’t work anymore.