Category: Books

Book Review: We Pray With Her

We Pray with Her is a collection of 100 reflections and almost 50 prayers written by United Methodist clergy women under 40. Each entry is brief, which makes it nice for either daily devotional reading or an occasional dip. Here are some of the things I love most about this book: The writers consistently use…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

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I Don’t Want to Be My Own God

Most Christians I know have a complicated relationship with the doctrine of hell. Many have grown up with a caricature, with gruesome images of an eternal fiery torture chamber with a horns-and-pitchfork devil presiding over the conflagration. This is deemed intolerable by most. Indeed, I am highly suspicious of those who retain this view. They often seem a bit too eager, not to mention selective, in their appreciation of God’s judgment. The rest of us struggle with hell in various ways. Those who accept the possibility of hell wonder how a merciful God can allow it. Those who reject hell outright often still implicitly long for, even demand, some kind of a final justice for those who have done great evil. We hate the idea of hell but we can’t quite let it go. It’s complicated.
My own views of hell have certainly changed over time. I grew up imbibing a pretty severe view of hell—not as terrifying as the caricature described above, perhaps, but still enough to send a shiver down my youthful spine. The older I got, the more I found this view intolerable. I meandered through various approaches to hell before settling, as many do, upon a view most famously articulated by C.S. Lewis in his allegory, The Great Divorce. In it, Lewis portrays hell not as a medieval torture chamber but a grey town where people slowly, but surely are extinguished by losing interest in heaven and isolating themselves from each other and God through their own choices.
Hell, for Lewis, was God’s final ratification of human freedom. I liked this view very much. It made sense of much of the biblical narrative which places great emphasis upon human choice. More importantly, it distanced God from the torture chamber. I had always struggled enormously with how a good God could allow something like hell, whatever it looked like, to exist. How could any eternal punishment be morally commensurate with a finite amount of sin? There’s only so much mischief one can get up to in a handful of decades, right? And how could anyone enjoy the delights of heaven knowing there was a place like hell around to foul up eternity? Conceiving of hell as God’s grudging acquiescence to human obstinance and faithlessness seemed, if not ideal, then certainly a better option than Dante’s Inferno.
But is it really? I’ve been reading Dale Allison’s fine book Night Comes over the past few weeks. In a chapter called “Hell and Sympathy” he’s been poking a few holes in what he calls “the modern view of hell” popularized by Lewis and embraced by so many. Perhaps surprisingly, Allison doesn’t think nearly as highly of human freedom as I have for most of my life:

Yet when human freedom is front and center, God moves to the wings. In the modern myth, our names are on the marquee, and our destiny is up to us. What we make of ourselves here determines what we are to become there.
Should we, however, desire starring roles and such Pelagian freedom? Although not an old-fashioned Calvinist, I think it’s obvious that all of us are broken creatures, that we are selfish and self-deluded, and that we constantly abuse our freedom, which is so often illusory. Because of this, I find little use for a deity who lets me decide my fate. I don’t want to be my own God. Nor do I want the Supreme Being to respect my alleged autonomy no matter what, just as I don’t want the police to respect the autonomy of the despondent guy threatening to jump off the top of the high-rise. I rather desire, for myself and for everyone else, rescue. Our decisions need to be undone, not confirmed. We need to be saved despite ourselves. Even if we’re allowed, in our freedom, to kindle the fires of hell and to forge its chains, isn’t it God’s part to break our chains and put out the fire?

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this, to be honest. I still think that human freedom is a massive part of the biblical narrative. I still think that the things that we choose to do and believe matter immensely. I can’t make sense out of so much of Scripture without a framework in place that asserts a deeply meaningful human freedom. And yet, I find Allison’s reflections here compelling. I don’t want my name on the marquee. I often think that freedom is too great a burden to entrust to creatures as fragile and stupid as us. We abuse and misuse it so terribly. We are, as Allison says, all over the place:

Human beings aren’t unidirectional vectors but bundles of contradictions. Saints are sinners; sinners are saints. Everyone is Jekyll; everyone is Hyde. And everyone is in between. We advance toward God one moment and sound retreat the next, and most of the time we’re stuck in the middle…
The modern hell, however, posits that in the world to come, we keep moving in the direction we’re already headed. Our momentum, so to speak, carries us up to heaven or down to hell. Yet what if, like me, you keep moving in circles?

What if, indeed?
At the end of it all, my misgivings here may simply reflect a pretty typical biographical trajectory. Freedom was attractive to me when I was younger because, well, young people think a great deal of freedom. The world stood before me, a blank slate, ready to be imprinted with all of my blessed uniqueness and autonomy. But then I lived a few years. And I recognized how prone I am to wander, to misuse the freedom I so treasured in my youth. Now I’m not quite so eager for my choices to be ratified by God for all eternity. I need some undoing, some rescue, someone to refuse to respect my miserable autonomy. Someone for whom mercy triumphs over judgement. Someone who said, with his dying breath, “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Someone whose momentum overrides and overrules my own.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Podcast: The Making of Crucifixion of the Warrior God with Tony Jones

Dan and Tony talk about Greg’s books Crucifixion of the Warrior God and Cross Vision. Tony reveals what it was like to work with Greg, what the publishing industry is like right now, and what prospective authors can do to publish their own book.  Tony’s recent book is available here: ...
The post Podcast: The Making of Crucifixion of the Warrior God with Tony Jones appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

On Excessive Enthusiasm

It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is a strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.
— Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light
——
Christian Wiman writes sentences that sound so good that you’re convinced that even if they’re not true, they probably should be. Like that last one: “Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm.” I laughed out loud the first time I read it. It brought to mind the many eager beaver pastor-preneurs I’ve encountered over the years, people who so obviously craved the stage and all that went with it, people so utterly convinced that they could save every lost soul by the sheer force of their own conviction (and often volume). Or the people who are just a bit too desperate to plaster themselves and their causes all over social media, as if almost to overwhelm people with the innumerable exciting things that they are presently catalyzing. I have rarely found such people credible. Who are you trying to convince or impress? I often mutter unholily under my breath. No, I have never much appreciated the fevered sales pitch, religious or otherwise.
I don’t know if Wiman is right in his claim that calling comes along with a strong inner resistance to it. It certainly resonates with my own story (I have rarely been accused of “excessive enthusiasm”), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. It could just mean that birds of a feather flock together. It also jives with a few biblical figures—Moses, David, Jeremiah, Paul, and even Jesus could plausibly be construed as exhibiting a kind of reluctance in the face of what God had set before them. But of course, most of us can think of people who are both enthusiastic and credible—people whose lives and leadership are characterized by a settled, joyful confidence and conviction about what they are to be and do in the world. I admire these people. Truly. There is nothing inherently virtuous about reluctance.
For me, the interesting sentence in the quote above is this one:

Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it?”

Ah, yes. That’s the challenge.
I don’t speak for all pastors, I know, but on my more charitable days I assume that most of us embraced the call, however reluctantly, because we were hungry for God and for the things of God. This isn’t experienced in the same way by every person, of course, but most of us were, once upon a time, taken hold of by Christ and his way in the world, and felt compelled to respond to this, whether in writing or speaking or forming and serving communities of faith or whatever. But then, “the call” came to seem like something less than it once was. The existential longing that once drove us to Christ and his church gave way to budget meetings and “church revisioning” conferences and schedules and planning and administrative details that seem never to end and half-empty worship services and doom-and-gloom sociological prognostications about the future of the church. It can be very easy to lose yourself and what once animated you in the strong current of “business as usual.” Nothing so reliably kills existential urgency as “business as usual.”
Whether we are reluctant or excessively enthusiastic or somewhere in between, I suspect that we all have moments in our lives and callings where we need to be reminded of and reanimated by the urgency, mystery, and excitement of what once drove us. Perhaps it is a conversation or a crisis, an unbidden moment of clarity, an unmerited act of mercy. Perhaps it’s a flash of light along the road, a still small voice in moments when we were quiet enough to actually listen. Who knows, it may even be a budget meeting or a visioning process. The risen Christ has all kinds of creative ways to remind and reroute his wayward children.
Or maybe it’s a few sentences on a page that call you back to what was once true, what you feel ought always to be true. A few sentences that remind you that life is, truly, a beautiful, terrifying, holy mystery. Like these, for example, from Wiman:

And all for what? Those moments of mysterious intrusion, that feeling of collusion with eternity, of life and language riled into one wild charge.

Ah yes, the feeling of “collusion with eternity.” The “one wild charge” that once lit a fire in our souls. A feeling and a charge that could almost drive one to excessive levels of enthusiasm.

Syndicated from Rumblings

The Lord’s Insight

I mentioned Christian Wiman’s latest book in my last post. It’s a marvelous read animated by one central question—the question of all questions: “What is the central hunger and longing that drives our peculiar species?” As always, Wiman expresses our options in such compelling ways:

One obvious answer is God—the end, in both senses of the word, of all human longing. One devious answer is death—“an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things,” as Freud put it. One fashionable answer is that there is no answer at all: it’s all just nature, genes rotely ramming home their mechanical codes one by one. We want because dissatisfaction equals survival: we are designed to improve and impart our hunger, breeding descendants with ever-keener teeth.
If we are conscious and honest, each of these answers will likely seem right at various times of our lives. If we are conscious and honest, each of them, at another time, will seem wrong.

At this point, Wiman shifts gears a bit and muses about the soul and whether or not such it is even possible to imagine an irreducible human identity that survives death and has continuity to our “selves” and the stories they have contributed to. He quotes Anglican priest and theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne who says that it is perfectly coherent belief “that the faithful God will not allow [our souls] to be lost, but will preserve it in the divine memory.”

That we might be remembered: what an almost impossible thought that is. That there is a consciousness capacious enough, merciful enough, to recall each of us in our entireties just as we recall our own fragile but meaningful moments. That our lives might be the Lord’s insight.

I’ll confess that sometimes Christian Wiman writes sentences so arrestingly beautiful that I’m tempted to quote them even though I’m not entirely sure I know what they mean. That last one, for example. I like the idea that my life might be something like “the Lord’s insight.” And that yours might be, too. I can’t say for sure what Wiman means, but it strikes me as an aspirational phrase of the best sort—like the sort of thing that you can’t not want to be true.
It brings to mind another beautiful passage that I barely understand but somehow still love and long to be true:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
— 1 Corinthians 13:12

Syndicated from Rumblings

Three Friends, Three Books

Today I’m excited to introduce three books from three friends that are making an impact on me. Each touches me in a different way: poetry that stirs my heart, mind, and soul; missionary stories that inspire me; and a devotional book that I’m already planning to use next year. The first excerpt is a poem … Continue reading Three Friends, Three Books
Syndicated from April Yamasaki

Resurrecting Blossoms

Christian Wiman is a brilliant writer—one of my favourites as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before here. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of his most recent book, He Held Radical Light and yesterday the blessed brown package showed up in the mail. I spent part of last night reading it. The man has a way of communicating the longing and haunting desire of human existence like few others that I have come across.
In the last chapter I read before trudging out the door to a meeting last night, Wiman was talking about a poem by A.R. Ammons called “Hymn.” Ammons is an atheist, apparently, but the poem is saturated with the divine. Or, at least, a hunger for the divine. You are everywhere partial and entire/You are on the inside of everything and on the outside. Wiman reflects thus on the phenomenon of godless poets inadvertently giving voice to the yearning of faith:

What is a paradox, however, is that “Hymn” is a moving invocation and celebration of God written by a poet who, in his prose, professes not to believe in God. “Hymn” is more explicit about its spiritual lineage than… poems by Oliver and Gilbert, but they all partake of a common tendency among modern artists: the art contains and expresses a faith that the artist, in the rest of his waking life, rejects. And, quite often… the art relies on, even while extending, the religious language for which the artist has no practical use and of which he is perhaps even contemptuous.
Is this a failure of art, then, since presumably a living poem ought not to rely on language that is dead at the root? Or is it a triumph of God, resurrecting blossoms from a branch that seemed irrevocably withered? If the former, how does one change one’s art? If the latter, how does one change one’s life?

I am inclined toward the latter, not least because I am attracted to Wiman’s beautiful imagery of faith and hope stubbornly emerging out of what seems dead, what some may, in fact, wish dead. I love the image of art needing to “fail” in order to give voice to what matters most to human beings. I love that it’s harder to rid ourselves of God than we may have thought, at least if we want to say anything meaningful.
And then of course, there’s that last line. What do we owe this God and his resurrection blossoms? What changes are demanded when we discover that the language we hold in contempt is the very language we desperately need? What truths ought our lives express in response to this God who sneaks in the back door, refusing to be silenced, speaking even when we are determined to shut him up and out?

Syndicated from Rumblings

Interview: Philip Gulley, Unlearning God

Philip Gulley joins the podcast to discuss his latest book, Unlearning God, with Steve Kimes. The book is described this way:
With his trademark humor and gentle wisdom, Philip Gulley is a spiritual director any wayward pilgrim could warm to. In Unlearning God: HOW UNBELIEVING HELPED ME BELIEVE (Convergent; OSD: 9/25/2018), he invites readers into his own sometimes irreverent, sometimes daunting, but always refreshing journey of soul-deep reconstruction. In addition to lovers of Gulley’s works, this is a book for readers whose faith has been challenged by the world around them. Gulley teaches the reader to let go, or unlearn these burdensome obstacles in their faith so that they can forge a more authentic relationship with God.
Raised in small-town Indiana by a Catholic mother and a Baptist father, and proselytized by Jehovah’s Witness neighbors, young Gulley struggles with the absurdity of all three camps being utterly convinced the other two are doomed. To nearly everyone’s consternation, Phillip grows up to become a Quaker pastor. “Someone else’s faith,” he writes, “is a poor substitute for having our own.” Yet even his own tradition, he discovers, serves best as a way point in the serious, lifelong process of letting go of inherited certainties in order to flourish.
Driven by Gulley’s trademark storytelling and chapters bookmarked by small sections titled “Why this Matters,” Gulley identifies a number of tenants, dogma, and conventions in his religious journey that he has chosen to “unlearn” on his quest for an all-encompassing faith…
Writing in the tradition of Barbara Brown Taylor, Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans, Gulley showcases his well-loved gift as a narrator of the American religious experience and his acute sensibilities as public theologian in conversations that will charm, provoke, encourage and inspire.
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and popular author and speaker. He has written 21 books, including the Harmony fiction series, the Porch Talk series of inspirational essays, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (coauthored with James Mulholland), and The Evolution of Faith: How God Is Creating a Better Christianity. Gulley holds a master of divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary. He is co-pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting in Camby, Indiana.
For more information, please visit: https://www.philipgulley.com

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Podcast: The Frank Viola Interview on INSURGENCE

Big Greg struggled to realize what Little Greg knew all along. Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com Twitter: @reKnewOrg http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0398.mp3 Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS
The post Podcast: The Frank Viola Interview on INSURGENCE appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

She Thinks My Toyota’s…. Inadequate?

Having devoted two posts in the past week or so to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon and what might account for it, and having expressed qualified affirmation for some of the concerns that seem to animate him, I want to add one final post about 12 Rules for Life, this one addressing what I take to be among the least admirable of Peterson’s ideas. I am aware that some readers might be weary of the topic. I’m sorry. I have to take the book back to the library today, so this is all the Peterson you’ll have to endure around here for a while.
The impetus for this final post came, naturally, from a glance out of my office window into our church parking lot. Adjacent to our church is a large motorsports dealer. We allow their staff to park in our space during the week. What this means for the view out my window is that it is often populated by big, muscular-looking pickup trucks. Sometimes they’re jacked up with massive knobby tires and blacked out rims. Sometimes they have all kinds of defiant looking decals like plastered on the back windows. Often they are hooked up to trailers for pulling skidoos and quads and side-by-sides out to the mountains for weekends full of conquest and beer.
Sometimes the guys (and they’re almost always guys) that emerge from these trucks look pretty much like what you’d expect. Twenty something years old, massive bushy beards, baseball caps yanked down over furrowed brows, tattoos, ripped jeans and big boots. Occasionally they’re finishing off the last of a 750 ml energy drink with names like “Monster” or “Rockstar.” They look like guys who could probably snap me in two without blinking.
Beside all of these impressive looking trucks sits my recently purchased cherry red 2007 Toyota Camry. It has four measly cylinders and sounds like a lawn mower when I start it on a cold morning. Its cup holders look well-suited for a small latte (I doubt they could even handle a Monster energy drink). My Toyota looks… practical, if in an inadequate sort of way. It was recently described to me as looking like “something a grandma would drive.” Which, as it happens, was precisely what I was going for! Er, well…
According to Jordan Peterson, the scene in my church’s parking lot is rather easily interpreted. It’s all about the dominance hierarchy. Men need to be manly in order to get women to respect and, potentially, mate with them. Women respect strength and power and conquest. No self-respecting woman would date a guy who drives a Camry. You can’t probably can’t even roast the tires or do a donut in a parking lot with four pathetic cylinders! Women want risk-takers. Can you even take a risk in a Camry?! Guys who drive Camrys spend Sunday mornings before church picking up the empty Monster energy drink cans that the manly truck-driving men fling aside in disdain. Hypothetically. I’m told.
This is all a little tongue-in-cheek so far. But only a little. Peterson has some very strong opinions about gender and hierarchy. Frankly, some of them seem not only outdated and wrong but potentially dangerous. Consider this passage:

If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with, someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide.

I might have shuddered audibly when I read that paragraph. Particularly in light of the news about Brett Kavanaugh that has dominated recent weeks. Whoever turns out to have been in fact lying in this whole sordid spectacle, the one thing that was never in doubt for me was that Christine Blasey Ford’s story was plausible in principle. There are very few things that are more believable to me than that a group of tough, smart young men, amped up on entitlement and alcohol and manliness, would force themselves upon a young woman sexually for sport and amusement. I’ve been to those parties, I’ve heard the frat-boy language of conquest and bravado. It’s as despicable as it is ubiquitous. Whatever else our cultural moment needs, it is surely not statements about “healthy” women needing tougher men.
Jordan Peterson is not, of course, advocating sexual assault. This should go without saying, but probably doesn’t. But in a cultural context where we are and will be for some time reckoning with the ubiquity of (primarily male) sexual assault, it hard to imagine a more tone-deaf statement than, “If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter.” Peterson’s trying to argue for a recovery of the idea that there are significant gender differences, and I think most of us would acknowledge this. But this whole “Women need manly men who are smarter and tougher than them” seems to me a truly awful, insulting and potentially dangerous way to go about it.
I say this, of course, as a Christian. If I believed that human beings were just another animal (a lobster, say, to use Peterson’s famous example) thrown up from nature’s purposeless clay, I might have more patience for his dominance hierarchy. Nature could well produce—seems, in fact, to have produced—a great many species where males dominate females (and a few where the reverse is true). As it happens, I am convinced that human beings are more than that. We have, together, male and female, been created in the image of God to reflect this image to the world. We have the capacity to reflect on our experience and how we will arrange things in our relationships and social arrangments, even if this reflection takes place within biological parameters. We, of all creatures, can move beyond primal lust and power and the quest for dominance and actually learn how to love. If we were nothing more than accidental bipeds with an overdeveloped frontal lobe, Peterson’s analysis might make a bit of sense. Thank God we’re more than that.
At any rate, it’st time for my trip to the library. I can almost imagine Jordan Peterson sneering at me in my inadequate Toyota. I’m glad I read his 12 Rules. They were interesting. But I won’t be following all of them, and I hope you won’t either.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Part 20 (of 20) — Peterson’s Appeal

Assessing Peterson’s 12 Rules of Life Four months ago a young woman approached me after a church service, handed me 12 Rules of Life while saying, “You really needed to know what this guy is saying.” I’m so glad she did! To be frank, given the buzz I’d heard about ...
The post Part 20 (of 20) — Peterson’s Appeal appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

On Hanging Out With Losers (And Other Existential Detours)

I have a dirty, shameful secret to confess. It’s a secret that will likely lay waste to my credentials as a pastor of integrity and compassion, a thinker of anything resembling depth and insight, a citizen with more or less centre-left politics, or even a reasonably decent and upstanding human being. It’s a secret that I do not expose to the light of day lightly. Truth be told, it would be far safer to keep it consigned to the murky shadows. No matter. My sins must be expunged.
My secret? Last week, I read a book by Jordan Peterson.
I’ll give you a moment to either, a) click away in horror and disgust and vow never to read a thing I write again; or, b) snap to attention in gleeful anticipation of my finally being set straight by someone who knows the score. I know that in theory these two options should not exhaust the list of potential responses but, well, it’s Jordan Peterson. And I’m writing on the internet. So, probably not.
(If you don’t know who Jordan Peterson is, I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you to the mercy of Google. People tell me—rightly, no doubt—that I am too wordy on this blog, so I can’t afford to spend too many words on setting the stage.)
The book in question was Peterson’s bestseller 12 Rules for Life. It’s sold over a million copies, apparently. The man and his message are in demand. I think I requested the book at my local library back in spring (it was likely after some Peterson conflagration in the news) and, honestly, I had pretty much forgotten about it. When I picked it up the library, the librarian looked at me with a sideways glance and a raised eyebrow. Well, this one is certainly… in demand. I felt guilty as I took the book from her, like I was a twelve-year-old sneaking a dirty magazine or something. I smiled, thanked her, slid the book into my coat and beat a hasty retreat.
All I can say in my meager defense is that I am a curious person. Peterson is a lightning rod for our cultural moment. He says things that enrage or inspire people (there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground). He has little patience for political correctness or identity politics or victimhood culture. He says what he thinks (and, apparently, what many people want to say but are afraid to say). If nothing else, I figured it’s worth trying to understand why someone like this is popular now? I do not, as it happens, find explanations like, “Because _____-phobes and white supremacists and sexists are taking over the world” or “Because all those squishy liberals are finally getting a dose of the truth” terribly persuasive or compelling, so I thought I would try something radical and actually read him for myself.
And what of the book? Well, I suppose I would characterize my reaction to it as “mixed.” Peterson’s writing is, in my view, mediocre. He meanders a lot and makes sweeping generalizations that are relatively easy to poke holes in. He essentializes too much. He has some ideas about gender roles and the “dominance hierarchy” that supposedly constrain and dictate human behaviour that I don’t buy. He seems a little too fond of himself, at times. I guess that’s an occupational hazard when you’re a YouTube sensation and a bestselling author.
But I was surprised by how much of the book I found reasonably insightful. Or, at the very least, interesting. If I had to sum up its central message, it would be, “Grow up, take responsibility for yourself, live a life of meaning and dignity.” He tells his readers to project confidence into the world, to be careful who they associate with, to measure success in personal terms (am I a better person today than I was yesterday?) rather than those dictated by the media we consume (am I as popular or influential as person x that I see on Facebook?). He is convinced that there is meaning to be wrested out of the chaos of suffering and temporality that defines existence. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about any of this—this is practical wisdom, and these are ancient paths. But he says it in ways that clearly resonate with people who have lost the way and can’t see the path any more.
I came to the book with senses heightened, on high alert to find a monster. Instead, I found a man with concerns that often map on to my own. How do we live well? Where is meaning to be found? What is the purpose of a human life? Even if I don’t agree with all of his answers, I cannot but affirm the questions he asks.
As I closed the book, and as I pondered the 12 rules it contained, a number of objections occurred to me. What about those who start the race of life with a deficit? What about those entrenched in systems of injustice and pain? Not everyone can just roll up their sleeves and start making better choices after all! Questions like these piled up, one on top of another. But then another one occurred to me. Would I want my young adult kids to (mostly) follow Peterson’s 12 rules? I ran through a few of them in my head. Stand up straight (be confident that you have something to contribute to the world). Take responsibility for your choices. Hang out with people who want what’s best for you. Measure yourself according to the best version of you, not some ideal life on social media. Tell the truth. Use your speech well. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient. And then I thought, well, yeah, I probably would.
Having expressed a sort of measured appreciation for some aspects of Peterson’s project, I must also confess that I can’t embrace the whole package. This is largely for Christian reasons. Peterson sees Jesus as a kind of heroic archetypal individual who had the courage to wrest order and meaning out of chaos. This may be partly true, but Jesus embodied a far deeper and more profound ethic than that.
Jesus relentlessly drives those who would follow after him precisely into the places that Peterson would have us escape. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls “blessed” those that Peterson would call “losers” or “occupants of the bottom of the dominance hierarchy.” Jesus would have me believe that mourning with those in pain, hungering after a righteousness that transcends classical virtue, embracing meekness and poverty of spirit, and seeking the way of peace (as opposed to the ladder up the dominance ladder) is the way to genuine human flourishing. Where Peterson might see me spinning my wheels with unpromising people and situations that are hampering my progress, Jesus might just see something like faithfulness.
Peterson wants me to stand up tall, face the chaotic existential void, and be a heroic individual. Jesus invites me to discover my humanity in impractical love directed outward (and, inconveniently, downward). Peterson has some decent strategies for making our way in a world dominated by hierarchies. Jesus turns those hierarchies upside down and trains us to value things differently.
I can go with Peterson part of the way, but only because I know that Jesus is there to catch and correct, rehabilitate and redirect me when I and those around me fall.
——
The feature image above is taken from the 2018-19 Christian Seasons Calendar. It was created by Robert Gilroy and is called, “To Serve with Love.” It’s sort of a visual reminder to me that Jesus hung out with a lot of losers and that this sort of hindered his ascent in the dominance hierarchy. 

Syndicated from Rumblings

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