The first of a three-part series looking at how literacy influenced Christianity’s past, and will affect the future of science.
The first of a three-part series looking at how literacy influenced Christianity’s past, and will affect the future of science.
In the beginning was the Probability, and the Probability was greater than zero, and the Probability was One. All things were created through Probability, and outside this Probability, Zero has been created. Life was in that Probability, and that life was the light of homo sapiens. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.
Literacy rates during the Medieval Period in Europe are, apparently, hard to gauge. We’re talking about the Middle Ages, roughly AD1000 to 1400 give or take 100 years, so there is a decent amount of change, and large swaths of peoples and cultures to account for, so the numbers are fuzzy at best. Depending on where you look and how you define literacy, the numbers could be lower than 5%, and restricted mainly to nobility and clergy. But with a more liberal definition, say, being able to make out enough Latin, French, or “English” to equate to a contemporary 3rd grader, numbers could look closer to 40%, but maybe up to 90%. (Source). For comparison, literacy in the United States of America today is between 80 to 99%. (Source)
Okay, maybe not the best sources, but the numbers line up with the general consensus of what I’ve been taught all my life. [And, if I think it’s true, and I can find at least one place online that agrees, it must be #FACTS! 👀]
So, what do all these boring, made-up statistics have to do with stained glass or math? Let’s start with the glass.
The technology of stained glass developed into a high art form in the Middle Ages. Artists used a variety of techniques to create the beautiful windows of colored-glass that filled the facades of Gothic cathedrals. These windows were designed to depict symbolism from, and illustrations of, biblical narratives that helped relate the Christian Story to a mostly illiterate parish. Of course, if the pictures were all the parishioners had, the story would have been quite incomplete.
The textual, literary narrative that preceded the images, was needed to guide the subsequent interpretation of the images. More than simple illustrations though, when backlit by the flicker of sunlight, the images brought to life the stories and characters the churchgoers learned and heard about in the lectionary. The iconography not only sparked the imagination, but also helped inform ideology.
What church-goers learned was a story about an (in my understanding, the) ultimate truth. A truth that was reinforced by every authority they knew, reiterated from birth and passed down through the generations. Religion, as such, was the basis for all understanding – everything from man to Heaven, everything in between, and their origins. In the Middle Ages, the ultimate authority on that truth would have been the Papal hierarchy of the Catholic Church. And this hierarchy was intimately tied to a lineage of authority – and more specifically, a lineage of literate authors.
Here, I’ll take a minute to define what I mean by literacy: fluency in reading (and writing) that allows for comprehension. By comprehension, I mean the ability to read information well enough to interpret it. And by interpret, I mean the ability to “put it another way,” to create an analogy between the actual information (words) presented and others ways of understanding the same idea. I’m not necessarily positing a full-on hermeneutics, but something close.
That ‘something close’ is what I’m getting at with the words ‘fluency’ and ‘comprehension.’ Even if one is able to sound out all the words of a text, if it takes him/her so long to do so that by the time they get to the last words of a sentence or paragraph, that they forget the first words, it will be impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the sentence, verse, section, or chapter, much less a whole book. By that definition, my assumption is that the large majority of medieval lay persons were illiterate. But to be generous, we will assume a semi-literate population.
With this in mind, few 3rd graders have the ability to read the Bible with a fluency that allows for full comprehension. (Let’s be honest, few fully literate adults, including myself, actually read or comprehend the Bible on their own.😂😳😒)
Even if comprehension wasn’t an issue, having access to an actual Bible (or any book) to read was uncommon in the Middle Ages. In fact, books were a rare commodity in general, and essentially a luxury item similar to a nice piece of furniture. The sheer lack of books, including Bibles, almost guarantees that few people had enough practice reading to possess such a skill as reading well.
This is where the stained glass comes in. If the gap between the layperson and clergy was as wide as it appears to have been, a visual aid was sure to help with memory and comprehension – that’s why, nowadays, all presentations have PowerPoints, right? … RIGHT?!?!
The above equation models the Big Bang… wait maybe it’s the equation below this paragraph… Maybe both of them – one of them… Oh! I don’t know. They mean something about the expansion of the universe… … … I think… I mean, that’s what Google told me when I searched “mathematical equation for the Big Bang.”
(I know what you are thinking, “Which big bang?” – OUR Big Bang!) Anyways, you get the picture. Unless something has gone terribly right, no one who reads this blog post will have any clue what these cryptic arrangements of letters and symbols actually mean. We might be able to name some of the variables, symbols or letters. Maybe some of the more mathematically/scientifically inclined could parse a little of it. But most of us, not so much. Let’s try this one:
Many more people can understand the simpler math of Isaac Newton’s physics (which is interesting, as his equations describe the world we more readily perceive – large objects in motion.) Still, many fully functioning adults cannot read or understand any of them.
In many ways, Science has become like a new religion. And school, academia, is the place most of us learn to study STEM. The language of science is Math, and while there are millions of people who claim to “f√©<ing love science,” as a society, we are largely illiterate in the kind of mathematics it takes to truly understand science. Ask the average person and they’ll admit that they hated math in high school. Testing confirms Americans are only elementarily fluent in the subject: “In math, Americans with a high school diploma performed about the same as high school dropouts in other countries.” (Source)
Ultimately, very few people in the population at large understand the language of mathematics. To be generous, I’ll say we are, as a society, semi-literate in Math (thus Science).
Essentially everything we, as common folk, know of science, especially physics (even more so theoretical physics) is told to us through analogy and metaphor by an authority. This means we are only getting part of the picture when we watch YouTube videos about block holes, wormholes, string theory, or time travel. Ask anyone who really knows the math and they will tell you that even the best verbal analogies and computer generated visualizations do not accurately mimic the mathematics. It is only with a deep fluency in the language of math that we can accurately understand the descriptions and predictions that science makes about our world.
Math, such as the above examples, is the basis for all of the science that gives us all of our understanding of all existence, from quarks to multiverses, everything in between, and their origins. It is no coincidence that similar math and science make our mobile phones work. (Link1 and Link2 give us a glimpse into how.)
You are probably looking at your phone right this instant. Now, think about what you are actually looking at.
When illuminated, the light emitting diodes composing the images on your screen bring to life the forces and theories screen-watchers learn and hear about in their free time (because they didn’t care at school). The imagery not only sparks the imagination, but also informs ideology.
What screen-watchers learn is a story about an ultimate truth. A truth that has been reinforced by almost every authority they have known, reiterated from birth and passed down through the generations. The ultimate authority on that truth has been the academic hierarchy of the sciences. And this hierarchy is intimately tied to a lineage of authority – and more specifically, a lineage of authors of mathematical models.
Your phone is kind of like a portable stained glass window; instead of colored glass backlit by the sun, it’s clear glass with colored light shining through. But just like a Medieval cathedral window, it is a visual plane where a semi-literate people look to fill the gap in their knowledge.
When we are illiterate, we must rely on authority to enlighten us. At the same time, we must always be weary of authority, because “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Authority misusing it’s power is nothing new, it happens in every religion and in the sciences, too. Therefore, we must become literate so that we may not be reliant on authorities, but authors in our own right.
I will continue to build the case for self-authorship in the next post, as well as continue to compare and contrast our relationship to the authorities in science and religion.
If you were offended by one critique or the other, it is simply illustrating your epistemological bias. Unless you are an authority, or at least literate, you are at risk of being played by an authority.
Finishing up the pilot program.
NOTE: I am not condoning communism. I am not condoning capitalism. I am condoning that we should, “conduct [ourselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Philippians 1:27)
In part 1, I set up a brutal question: is the way that we do Communion in church treacherous?
In terms of how we display our devotion to Christ, we examined being embarrassed versus being exuberant (I think the kids call it “being extra”). We hinted that, while the ritual of Communion, when done in a circle setting, should be orderly, our hearts should be bursting with joy and eager for more.
I think the directive is bigger, not just about Communion, but about the whole Christian experience. In this essay and in the actual, lived Christian experience, Communion is a proxy for the whole lot.
I can’t help but hear Paul say ‘circumcision’ every time I say Communion, and as I flesh out this essay, the anachronistic analogy gets stronger. For the Old Testament Jew, to be circumcised was to be set apart as God’s chosen. For Paul, belonging to God is a matter of the heart, symbolized by Baptism and Communion. The feelings and desires we are examining here start in the heart and work their way to the surface, or as Paul would say it, the flesh. The truth of the matter is that only being circumcised or only being baptized or only taking Communion is not enough. There must be something more going on.
The last blog also left us with a set of rhetorical questions that give shape to this point, and whose answer is in the affirmative.
In speaking of Holy Communion: 1) Are we not, symbolically at the very least, partaking of a meal that gives us Life like no other meal can? 2) Is it not an eternal ration that should be ingested with both reverence and eagerness? 3) And shouldn’t we desire to go back for seconds, thirds, and so on, until we are filled or until we are refused?
If we go back for more, when we go back, we will not be refused; we will be filled to overflowing! Show me a place in the Bible where someone who seeks God (or Jesus) is refused. It doesn’t happen! Ultimately, in fact, through Jesus, God does just the opposite by offering acceptance to ALL people (Galatians 3:26-29).
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
God may say “No” to requests, He may delay our timeline, and He may bring justice (judgement), but God’s people are not refused. Check the full context of any place where this assertion seems false, and you’ll find one truth: God does not refuse his people. They – we – refuse God!
We are the ones who refuse.
If you don’t mind my punk, we are the ‘refused party program’! But unlike the band, Refused, we are not refusing bourgeois ideology and capitalist structures. We are refusing to fully accept, to enjoy, God’s gifts. Or, possibly worse, we take part in the Gifts meagerly, almost as if we’re embarrassed to take them. Why? Some feel as if we don’t deserve them (which is debatable), some feel as if they were not meant for us (which is constitutionally false), and too often, we refuse to accept what God shares with us because we want to get it for ourselves. (Is this not the plot of Genesis 3? Man and woman refuse to obey God’s wisdom, and choose to take the fruit of knowledge for themselves…)
In everyday life, it’s really not so simple, though. I can’t believe anyone would refuse God’s gift without some external coaxing. Back to our topic, I don’t think anyone intentionally chooses to be embarrassed or anxious or ashamed. I don’t think anyone wants to feel those things. I do think that some of those feelings are unavoidable, even natural – hereditary. For example, I am naturally shy. Not too bad, but definitely more so than naturally confident. I would choose the opposite if I could. Similarly, Science shows that anxiety is natural in all of us; a little keeps us from being too cavalier. Unfortunately, for some it is paralyzingly, and nobody would choose to have a panic attack!
But the embarrassment and anxiety that we are looking at is not the natural kind, it is the type that is synonymous with shame. And shame is not a natural state. (Read that again, and believe it!) We aren’t born ashamed. We are born in the same state that Adam and Eve we’re created: we don’t even know we are naked until somebody tells us. We are not created to be ashamed, we are created in God’s image!
Shame, then, must be a product of something else. But if it is antecedent, what precedes it? And why do we refuse?
In the wake of our existence, in our parades and in our dances;
Touch, see and behold the wisdom of the party program
Essential in our lifetime and irresistible in our touch
The great spirits proclaim that
Capitalism is indeed organized crime and we are all the victimsLyrics to Refused Party Program by Refused
As emphasized before, we do not refuse the ways of our world. To the contrary, we actively or tacitly accept them. The ideology of the capitalist meritocratic model demands that we earn what we get. We are
sold told that a gift is nice, but one can only truly be proud of what one earns. [By definition, wages are earned, gifts are not.] As we will see below, to labor is imperative and one does deserve one’s wages, but our society wrongly tells us that we must be able to buy, or at least perpetually rent, our status. In fact, to be reliant on the gifts of others is shameful. And for the proud person, an ‘undeserved’ gift will be refused. According to Tim Keller, “Anxiety is always a refusal to see how much God loves you.”
When pride comes, then comes disgrace [shame], but with humility comes wisdom.Proverbs 11:2
Why do we refuse God’s gift? The easy answer is ‘pride’. Anybody could tell you that. We could find a million examples in the Bible to support such a claim: Adam and Eve’s pride to want to know the things God knows; Cain’s (hurt) pride over God’s reaction to his offering; Jonah’s self-righteousness toward the Ninevites. Peter’s pride – at the Last Supper, saying he’d die with Christ; in the garden, when he physically defends Him; during the trial, when he actually denies Him…
Pride precedes shame in each of these cases. We can easily find infinite analogies to each of these examples in our daily lives, but it is this last example that I find the sneakiest, because it is the hardest to admit relation to. Peter’s denial of Christ came as an act of self-preservation. In his attempt (his working) to avoid the wrath of public opinion – an onslaught of negative Tweets – Peter’s pride manifested three times as denial. Then, exhausted, it’s final exhibition is shown as pride’s inverse – embarrassment, shame.
Remember, Peter accepted the bread and the cup at the Last Supper. He did so only partially though, because he could not accept the gift that came along with it: Christ’s dying on the cross. When he had no choice but to accept it, (because it was about to happen,) he refused a gift Paul would later identify – to suffer with, or as, Christ. And this may be the hardest gift to accept, even for those of us willing to accept His death as a gift.
Our death is a whole-nother situation.
Shame vs. Death
In The Passion of the Christ, the scene in which Peter denies Jesus is depicted as being in the streets of Jerusalem, with a bustling mob following the impending punishment of The Christ. The accusation of Peter’s affiliation with the condemned Jesus piles anxious-bewilderment onto his prematurely saddened state. In his anxiety if being associated with Jesus, Peter panics as if he has been exposed, and this, attempts to hide his identity. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, he tries to save himself. Jesus told him what was going to happen. He laid out the whole thing. Yet, Peter, in a lapse of faith brought on by trial, tried to save himself.
Unfortunately today, we can all relate. Social media and 24-hour ‘news’ cycles bombard us with so many conflicting opinions that every five minutes somebody is telling us that we are, in some new way, naked – exposed. There is something about being on Facebook and Twitter that allows its users to expose the truth about other users. 🙄Hard sarcasm🙄 And that truth is always the same truth: that anyone who disagrees with the post’s author is wearing the emperor’s new clothes (wantonly accepting a lie that ultimately leaves us exposed as a fool.)
This constant deluge of judgment is anxiety producing. It can easily have us feeling like Peter amongst the mob. Fortunately, (for Americans,) we probably won’t face literal death for our (Christian) beliefs, especially ones we *only* post online. We may experience any point on a continuum of figurative deaths, such as the loss of friendship or relationship with family members. Or we may only lose “friends” or “followers,” “likes” and “retweets.” While the former loses affect our IRL lives and the latter interactions may be virtual, all of our resultant feelings are real; I’m talking about stepping on a Lego real. The fact is: it can be very hard to remain steady when our beliefs are constantly challenged, and some aspect of our identity is on the line.
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 NIV
Matthew 20:1-16 gives us the parable of the laborers. I hope to give a good synopsis, but you should read the whole thing to really get the full feel for it. Essentially, day laborers are hired to work a vineyard at different times throughout the day; one group is hired first thing in the morning, then another at 9am, then noon, 3pm, and finally 5pm. At the end of the day, they all get paid the same amount. Jesus states that the moral is that in the Kingdom of Heaven, the “last will be first and the first will be last.” We will tease out some of the nuances, though.
Do you play fantasy football? Me neither. Do you remember picking teams for kickball in elementary school? 👀 A similar dynamic is at play when one selects laborers – simply put, those who are most fit for the job are chosen first. Treating the parable as an accurate reflection of real life, there is likely a reason that the workers picked up later in the day were not selected earlier. Just like in sports, there is a bit of shame in being picked last.
According to Abdu Murray, in the book he co-authored with Ravi Zacharias called Seeing Jesus from the East, in the region where Jesus lived and taught, to not have work would have been shameful for a man. Normally, the men not picked by 9am (and definitely noon,) these men would likely have not gotten any work that day. If they never received work, they may have had to lie about it when they got home in order to save face. It’s easy to imagine the workers in this story refusing to return home early for fear of being shamed.
But we can also imagine a humility, a humbleness, that made them stay. Fitting with the outcome of the parable, I think the workers lingered in the parking lot of Jerusalem’s Home Depot out of sheer Hope. I think that there is some honor in the men who continued to wait. They could have gone out to beg, steal, or maybe just go get drunk – they could have believed pride’s lie and given into temptation of self-preservation. Instead, they showed humility in their perseverance, and when the time came to work, they accepted it like a gift.
At the end of the day, all the workers were rewarded the same, but I imagine that, to the ones whom were picked last, the reward carried also the scent of a gift. Jesus includes in his parable the jealousy of those who felt they had dinner more to earn their wages (and felt like they deserved more.) Recall, in the same way that Mary loved much because she was forgiven much, the late-hired workers probably loved much because they were gifted much.
To our eyes, not everyone is gifted the same way, the same amount, or at the same time. Not everyone is a preacher, or a missionary, or whatever. Not everyone can sing, and not everyone is comfortable raising their hands while they sing. Not everyone responds emotionally. Some respond intellectually. Some physically.
*********But the Bible does tell us that everyone has a gift the gift of God’s love. We also have God given gifts, our talents (if you don’t know what yours is, ask someone you trust, they may see things you don’t).
We should be comfortable with our gifts, and comfortable sharing them. At the same time, embarrassment can cause us to waste our gift. But to waste our gift is a greater shame! That would be the real thing to be embarrassed by! Don’t forget, the Bible teaches us that everyone who can work, should work.
We cannot allow shame, guilt, anxiety, or embarrassment to cause us to refuse to put our gifts into action. Not only will we rewarded for our labor, but we will find out that the ability to labor is the result of a gift! Only by accepting the gift from The True Master, can we put in any worthwhile work. And it is never too late to start laboring!
Perhaps, the laborers who did not go home were only kidding themselves that they would get work… until they received work! Similarly, you may have to “fake it until you make it” to find your gift. If you do, fake the talent, the skill, or the confidence, not the Love for the gift. Paul warns us that doing things that look like Church without Love is being only a clanging cymbal. Our worship should make noise, not be noise.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.Revelation 3:20 NIV
The offer is always already on the table. The bread and the cup sit and wait. We only have to accept it. There is no way to earn it or be good enough for it – in fact that’s what makes something a gift.
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.Romans 4:4-5 NIV
A gift is given, a reward is earned. Either can be refused, but only one, a reward, can be demanded. A gift is always undeserved, but there is always a greater reason that it is given. Perhaps it is this imbalance that imparts a fragment of embarrassment in the reception of a truly great gift. Again, we should look to children for the proper way to accept a good gift. I think it suffices to say that a child never says, “you shouldn’t have,” or “I can’t accept this.”
Never the less, at some point, we learn to refuse gifts, and be embarrassed by accepting them. And the greater the gift, the greater the embarrassment. But, as Christians, this embarrassment is an embarrassment of riches. And as Christians, this is the only embarrassment we are left with!
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.Philippians 1:20 NIV
Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated…Isaiah 54:4 NIV
One Sunday I was watching a church service on TV with my family. We don’t usually do this, but there were a lot of firsts this year, to say the least. Anyways, they were going to do communion after the service, so my seven-year-old daughter, who apparently loves communion, ran into the kitchen, got a slice of white bread and a small cup of apple juice, because “we didn’t have any grape juice.” #okbaptist. She and her brother tore the bread into pieces and began to take Communion by intinction (dipping the bread in the juice). I joined them as reverently as possible, in my pajamas.
Then, my kids kept going. They kept taking of the elements. Tear, dip, eat. Tear, dip, eat. They gushed over how delicious it was, like they were hosts on The Food Network eating tapas at a Michelin Star restaurant. When they finished off the bread, my daughter went back to the kitchen and got more, and they resumed. After two pieces of bread-dipped-in-apple-juice each, I made them stop.
If you’ve ever taken Communion in a church, any church, you know this is NOT how it works! You get a tiny piece of bread (or that weird wafer thing) and a sip of wine – or grape juice.
But just stop and think for one second, consider the meaning behind Holy Communion, and maybe we can learn something from how my kids were being.
The Last Supper was a supper, not a food and wine tasting. It’s highly unlikely that everyone ate one tiny piece of bread dipped in a few milliliters of wine. I’d guess everyone ate a meal’s worth of food. From my readings of the event, reported in each of the Gospels, I imagine that there was only one, maybe two people who didn’t eat a normal portion. Maybe Jesus picked at his food, having a lot of his mind. But Luke reports that Jesus said to the disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15 NIV) In my experience, an eager person eats much.
Conversely, Judas sat there already guilty, having already agreed to betray his Lord. He was probably a little antsy, anxious. Almost surely, Judas mainly pushed his food around his plate. (When the disciples ask Jesus who would betray Him, Jesus answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. (John 13:26 NASB).
Revisit that verse again: Judas ate a ‘morsel’ of bread dipped in wine at the first communion. What did everyone else eat? … …
I think Jesus ate well. I think Judas felt a little embarrassed for Him because, perhaps, no disciple saw more clearly the almost ironic truthfulness of the things Jesus was saying – predicting – that evening at the table.
Let’s look at a different dinner party – the first anointing of Jesus, also found in all four Gospels. ( Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; and John 12: 1-8) Although the details vary from book to book, the point I am going to make fits them all.
In this narrative, there is a gathering of people for dinner. A woman, a known sinner, Mary (possibly, as many traditions believe, Magdalene) breaks open a bottle of very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus’s feet with it. She is rebuked by the Disciples (Judas, of course, is named but others take part as well). Immediately, they get counter-rebuked by Jesus. He points out that she is doing a good thing and declares that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Which turns out to be true, even 2000 years later!)
Many sermons on this event focus on the value of the oil/perfume, thus the value of our sacrifice and service in Christ (for others). Most focus of the idea that “her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Those are great and important lessons. But I want to take a different view in order to develop another point.
Instead, I want you to think about that lady with the tiny nose who sits three pews in front of you at church. (You try to make sure it’s at least three rows.) Or the ‘bro’ who walks past your cubicle 50 times a day. “What do they have in common?” you ask. You can smell her perfume/his cologne from a mile away – and you can’t stand it!!! ‘They must put on a whole bottle!’ you think to yourself. You are literally embarrassed for them.
And you know that your sense of smell is tied to your sense of taste? Yeah, so as the smell of the oil saturated the room, the wine that you “can’t believe is less than $20” and the food that you “have to get the recipe for” ended up tasting just like that perfume!
The whole party was ruined, and Judas wasn’t having any of it! I bet he was embarrassed for her.
When you’re embarrassed by someone, it is a bad thing. You want to be as unlike that person as possible. Teenagers are embarrassed by their parents. When you are embarrassed for someone, there is a sense of empathy in the contrast. You want the other person to be more like you. Parents are often embarrassed for their children. But these are really two sides of the same coin – in neither instance does the embarrassed want to be like the embarrasser. The exception is the ‘half’ in our two-and-a-half types of embarrassment. This is the case of feigned embarrassment, which is brought on by jealousy, and is almost always couched as being embarrassed for the other. The reason being that it is an egotistical replacement of you-wanting-to-be-like-them with you-wanting-them-to-be-like-you.
I think Judas was jealous of Mary.
Let’s take some time develop this:
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! […]
Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord ! Praise the Lord !Psalms 150:1, 5-6 NLT
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching a lot more church on TV and YouTube since this whole covid-19/stay-home thing started. And I have recently come to enjoy Steven Furtick and the messages he delivers from Elevation Church. In some ways, he’s like the pastor at Highland Community Church (in Columbus, Georgia,) where I am a member. They sing with their hands up and their eyes closed They yell out the emphatic parts of their sermons. They (attempt to) look you in the eye when they preach.
They are both like clanging cymbals; they are like a poured out pint of perfume. Their energy invades my personal space and makes me uneasy. Their zeal for the Lord and the gospel threatens my senses. If the ritual of Communion is a stand-in for our- for my – interactions with God through Jesus, their aroma saturates my food and drink.
Honestly, sometimes, I’m embarrassed for them.
My son used to always say he was “embarrassed” at the wrong time; he would literally use the term incorrectly. When we were teaching him to swim, he said he couldn’t do it by himself because he was embarrassed. When he started to learn to ride a bike, he wanted to keep his training wheels because he was embarrassed without them. When he said he felt “embarrassed,” he meant he felt anxiety. When he was”embarrassed,” what he really meant was that he was afraid.
I can relate.
I have felt different types of embarrassment throughout my Christian experience. Upon returning to the faith in my 30s, I felt it for changing who (I thought) I was and what (I though) I believed. Even now, because many of my political convictions don’t quite line up, I am a little embarrassed that, although the church that I attend is non-denominational, it is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. I never saw that coming! And I NEVER thought I would earnestly watch, much less enjoy, a megachurch service on TV. But I thoroughly enjoy Elevation Church as well as Passion Church and others. For one reason or another, these things give me anxiety and/or are difficult for me to admit. There are plenty of other examples I could give, but you get the picture.
These things cause me to feel embarrassed, both privately and publicly. So, what it the source of this embarrassment? I think it’s easy to say that publicly, there’s a fear of being judged and/or stereotyped. But what about privately?
There are parts of me that still live in the past. Or more precisely, parts of me from the past that are still living today. There is the 18 year old too-cool-for-it self; the twenty-four-year-old-who-knows-everything; and the 30-something who is over-it-all. Those versions of me are still watching me and judging me. They are embarrassed by me. But there are also the future versions of myself that judge me. The 50 year old me who can’t believe how complicated I make things, or the 65 year old me who lovingly pities me for ever having felt this way – “bless your heart” comes to mind. They are embarrassed for me.
It’s like there is a society of Me. There seems to be a process involving a group of Me’s from the past conferring with a group of Me’s from the future, voting on how I feel now. As I look to scripture for ways of being, I find Philippians 3:13 – I forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead. And Romans 1:16 [Therefore] I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…
The two types of embarrassment we’re taking about can be seen as part of a subject-object relationship. When a supposed subject realizes his or her objectivity, they become embarrassed by the situation. But when an object is given subjectivity (receives empathy), the giver of subjectivity is embarrassed for the other. The former expresses how we come to understand our sinful nature, the latter illustrates the functioning of salvation. (I’ll need to develop this more, but for now…)
I started with an anecdote about my children gloriously feasting on homemade Communion elements, and contrasted their behavior with the more sparse and somber ritual that happens in most churches; which I compared to speculation about whether Judas could stomach more than a morsel of bread at Christ’s last Passover meal… Then, I laid out how we should not be ashamed of the gospel, but instead be like clanging cymbals or strong perfume, feeling free in sharing it with everyone.
No. Well, not exactly.
On one hand, we would rightfully be embarrassed for someone who ate a lot of bread (not to mention drinking too much wine) at a church Communion. That’s just not how it’s done.
On the other hand, shouldn’t we, as the Church mimicking the Last Supper, be embarrassed by the posture in which we consume it? (Key word: consume.) Wouldn’t our future “New-Heaven-and-Earth”-selves be embarrassed for us, having a gracious pity that wishes we would enjoy the Eucharist as if we were eating at a five-star restaurant? Are we not, symbolically at the very least, eating and drinking of a meal that we believe gives us Life like no other can? Is it not an eternal ration that should be ingested (as opposed to simply consumed) with both reverence and eagerness? And shouldn’t we, like children, desire to go back for seconds, thirds, and so on, until we are filled; or until we are refused?
In one sense, we will never be refused. <–and that’s where week pick up in the next episode, as we dive deeper into navigating embarrassment.
P.S. 16 times in Leviticus, is an aroma is described as being pleasing to the Lord, and various other times in the Old Testament. Likewise, in The New Testament (Ephesians 5:2) it says “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2)…
Hi, thanks for checking out A Critical Image. I find it extremely important, critical if you will, to examine our world and ourselves with a critical, yet open, eye, mind, and heart. As a Christian, I believe we all are all images of God; made in His image to carry out His will here on Earth, as it is in Heaven. I see the Bible as offering a Divine critique of humanity, which gives us an opportunity to be transformed by that criticism and conformed to the perfect image, Jesus.
I am a critical image, and so are you.
I’m not a preacher. I don’t have a PhD. I’m not a philiosopher.
I do have an MFA and BFA in visual art, and a BS in Psychology, and I have taught at the college level. I think I have some interesting things to say, and I hope you’ll agree.
I do feel compelled to do this. As weird as it sounds, even to my own mind, I feel called to do this. It’s embarrassing for me to say that. I can’t say exactly why it’s embarrassing, but it is. Maybe because I don’t feel worthy or capable, maybe because I’m being too open and honest for my own comfort level. (I will spend the first installment working through this.)
But I do feel called, and I want to obey.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.Philippians 2:12
I’ve struggled with this verse ever since I first really noticed it. I struggled because I don’t really understand it, but think I’ve experienced it- as I’m experiencing it now. Although God, through Jesus, has my salvation fully worked out, I am, in a sense, working out my understanding of salvation here in front of you. Further, the “your” in “your salvation” is plural (in the original Greek), so I’m hoping for others to join; with constructive criticism and dialogue in the comments, or maybe others contributing to primary content; working out our salvation together.
As I turn a critical eye to my beliefs, I possess fear – fear of failure (whatever that would mean), fear of misrepresenting the Good News, fear of not knowing enough. When I get the feeling that I have to do this despite the fear, I tremble.
I try to take some comfort knowing that there really is no pressure. I can’t save myself or anyone else, and the Gospel doesn’t necessarily need me in order for it to be true, good, or fruitful.
Recently, I have been coming to the realization that not everyone thinks like I do; not that they don’t agree with me, but that they have different thought patterns, cares, and abilities. I like to think that I am above average, but as a (partially) self-realized-Gen-X-Millenial-cusp (a Xennial, if you will,) I know that we are all above average (Advanced Australopithecus was average.)
[Average, median, mean, mode – something like that! Did I mention I have weird sense of humor? I’ll try to keep it at bay, maybe.] Seriously though, I am doing this because I like it. I love it. I like to think about these things. It fulfills me. Without downplaying the effort I’m putting into this project and the seriousness with which I Believe, ultimately I am having fun. I get joy from seeking Truth, or maybe more accurately, rummaging around in it.
I believe truth is a framework in which one may exist, not just a code to which one must adhere. For example, an infinitude of songs may be played on the framework of a guitar, and each instance (song) edifies the validity of the instrument. For the guitar player of any level, playing is a serious, yet enjoyable display from which the player and listener can learn and gain appreciation. In a similar way, I am playing in, and enjoying, God’s creation. I believe that as a Christian I exist in the framework of Truth.
I know that I won’t always be correct, and sometimes I might be flat out wrong. I would love corrections, feedback, and discussion to help foster personal growth for myself and anyone willing to engage, regardless of their beliefs. In challenging myself, I hope to challenge others, both believers and skeptics.
… Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord, this is your spiritual worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.Romans 12:2 New King James Version
In the end, I am doing this as a form of Worship – glorifying God through the enjoyment of Life. This is an attempt to use what I understand my gifts to be in His service, and I would love for you to join me. I will try to take this advice from the writer of Ecclesiastes:
Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?Ecclesiastes 7:16
I’ll leave you with this, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, to which I relate.
My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, […] Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers [and Sisters], I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. […] In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.Philippians 3:10, 12-14 and 16, Holman Christian Standard Bible