Monday, December 05, 2016

A Sunday of Being Fit for Heaven

In a conversation on Facebook recently, I said the following in passing: “Salvation as the attainment of an eternal, disembodied heaven shapes our lives, bodies, imaginations, and desires for disengagement.” The person I was talking with seemed shocked, so he later followed up with: “[I] would like for you to explain your continuous reference to a disembodied heaven.” I didn’t know it was so continuous, but he apparently caught on to how prevalent I took that pattern of thinking and acting to be within evangelicalism. The following constitutes my response to that shocked person about why I make “continuous reference to a disembodied heaven,” edited for the format of a blog post. He kept wanting to know why I don't seem to put much emphasis on "being fit for heaven."

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Because it's continuously present in front of me as I live in the midst of contemporary evangelical Christian community in America. Let's take yesterday ONLY for now....[Yesterday was a Sunday]

During the sermon, I heard:

"We think we'll be glorified NOW, but when we LEAVE here, that's when we'll be glorified." [emphasis original to how the words were spoken]

"Everything in this life will PASS AWAY, but I'll be with God for ETERNITY, and He GUARANTEES it." (what's notable here is that where the scriptures talk about a "guarantee" of eternal life, it talks about the Christ's resurrection as the "firstfruits." The idea of "fruit," in and of itself, provides one of the ways besides "passing away" that scripture uses to talk about a comparison between what is now to what is to come. The pastor ignored all of those other ways and emphasized (even with the volume of his voice) the primary one that can most easily leave out any idea of continuity between old and new. This is especially troubling if we take this emphasis on "passing away" in the context of the very common sentiment / thought about "leaving here."

The pastor also made reference in his sermon to a previous conversation between himself and one of the elders on the relationship between context and truth. I wasn't privy to that conversation, so I wasn't able to make sense of everything the pastor was trying to convey. What I could ascertain, though, was that the pastor was operating under the assumption that truth and context stand in opposition to each other, which itself means that truth is disembodied. To that point, while talking about truth, the pastor said...

"You have got to know the TRUTH, and the truth comes OUT OF the Word." [emphasis added regarding "out of," original to how the words were spoken regarding "truth"]. What's important to note here is that the pastor talked for a bit about "truth" (this was just a blurb from that), but never once did he indicate or say or seem to remember that when Paul speaks of "the truth," Paul (and Jesus, for that matter) is speaking of a PERSON (that is, Jesus Christ). A person embodied, I should add.

That was just from yesterday morning.

Then, last night, I was asked to help out at a Matthew West concert, which was at a big church that operates on a mega-church model near where I live. Before West came on...

The Construction of the Tower of Babel (Hendrick Van Cleve, 1525 - 1589)

Reno, New Song and Loving the Outcome came on first. Together, those basically constituted a giant light show and loud sound production. I mean, it was literally billed as a "rock concert." Reminiscent of the pastor from yesterday morning who assumes that truth is disembodied and has no context, there were words "sung" ABOUT Jesus, but there wasn't much else that would remind anyone of Jesus if they actually know Jesus. The whole premise of the very possibility of such a show is in utter opposition to Marshall McLuhan's aphorism that "the medium is the message." The concert's message was supposed to be all content, but it forgot form. The form spoke to the opposite of Jesus and was fully invested in the world. As evidenced by the obvious fact that the "artists" (I use the term loosely, though they were clearly strong technicians of instruments and voice) were quite consciously imitating mainstream musicians.

Speaking of which, in the middle of one of the songs, Jared Emerson came on and did one of his "paintings" in front of everyone. Of course, in the end, it was a portrait that looked exactly like every other portrait of white Jesus you've ever seen in every evangelical church in America. Except, Jared painted it while wildly and constantly gyrating his body (even literally jumping wildly a number of times) as if to, true to the form of a rock concert, elicit strong emotion. To my larger point of this whole blog post, that's needed when the message being conveyed is assumed first to be disembodied. When I saw Jared in the lobby after the show, I saw that his clothes were produced in such a way as to portray the image of Jackson Polluck, and suddenly all of his silliness made sense - except for the end product. The end product and the means to the end were utterly divorced from each other. Unlike the relationship between what first appears of a plant in the life of a Christian or of the church and what the fully grown fruit will appear as in the midst of the world.

And that was just during the concert.

At the end of the concert, one of the members of New Song (who apparently holds the office of pastor, I suppose) did a "gospel presentation." It was based on the normal evangelical Billy Grahmian premise of the alter call for forgiveness of sins granted by "faith alone." For how this was "duplicitous," see above about the whole rest of the concert. For how it involves a disembodied view of reality, see the whole rest of my blog post. The "gospel presenter" did indicate that the "decision for Jesus" does change the present life, but how can you give lip service to integrated, whole, incarnational living in the wake of making it so obvious that you are participating in something that shows no understanding whatsoever what that can even possibly begin to mean?

The dude even came out and basically said he was trying to twist peoples' arms to come up and give their life to Jesus, "because it's worth it." I was asked to be "counselor" in a back room for when people did come forward. I wasn't even comfortable with this at this point because, well, see the rest of my blog post. I strongly question what people thought they were coming forward to enter into if that experience was what lead them to come forward. I doubt that very many others in the room had such doubts or questions, precisely because of how predominant their assumptions are about the DISEMBODIED relationship between truth and context, message and medium, mind and body, unseen and seen, ends and beginnings (or means).

And that was just during the "gospel presentation"....

My "counseling session" after the "gospel presentation" was supposed to consist of handing out a "tract", asking for the person's name, phone number, email address, and whether or not they would be interested in a "new Christian bible class." In conjunction with introduction to such a class, I was to hand them a little booklet that constituted a study of the book of John.

A couple things to note here to the point of this blog post.

One, everything about that "counseling session" was geared (geared being the appropriate term) towards discipleship taking the form of a program, where this particular aspect of the discipleship program itself is part of the larger well-oiled machine of the church itself - geared towards large numbers of "decisions for Christ" and butts in seats. The problem with this is twofold: a) that's not really discipleship (and discipleship really doesn't even happen in such contexts), and b) just as that mostly-vapid "concert" was supposed to resemble worship but really was infected with the world, such programmatic structuring of the church is, in reality, actually the appearance in the world of something else other than discipleship (mega-church leaders explicitly based what they do on business models). Again, to the larger point of this blog post, such disjointedness would not be possible if not for a DISEMBODIED view of the relationship between truth and context, message and medium, mind and body, unseen and seen, ends and beginnings (or means) to be so predominant as to go unquestioned.

Two, specifically regarding the study of John that I handed the fit with the typical evangelical emphasis on exposition, on inductive bible studies, and on word studies. Again, it's all about the content, supposedly (forget the form, medium, or context; forget actual immediacy of what appears physically in my midst). The assumption, as Fitch talks about, as well, in The End of Evangelicalism?, is that if we can just give the right information, then people will have what they need to be saved and live the Christian life. Bigger picture, this is based on the Western worldly Cartesian assumption of "ergo cogito sum." "I think therefore I am." I am constituted of the mind and the machine, and if I get the mind right, then I can program the machine of my body correctly. But, and most consummately, I AM my thinking. My very identity is both thought of and trained into acting as though it is DISEMBODIED.

Christ of St. John of the Cross, by Salvador Dali

And all of that was just yesterday. Note that a lot of that may not have sounded like it was talking about a "disembodied heaven," in particular, but note that everything about the sermon at the beginning of this blog post pointed in that direction very strongly (the first quote said it almost explicitly). Then, note how connected the assumptions of the sermon are to the assumptions of the concert and of the "counseling session." It all goes together for a reason.

History tells us that all of that came about together...along with and including the assumption of a disembodied heaven being the destiny of the believer. And, I don't mean that all of that came about together, like, in the same moment, but developmentally.

Well, unless you're Mormon? In which case, we get new spiritual bodies, along with, like, planets or something. But it's still pretty much the same rules or grammar or assumptions of/about reality that structure how we think of the relationships between heaven and earth, time and eternity, death and life.

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Of course, none of this is important unless the “kingdom of God” spoken of in Luke 9: 62 is not roughly equivalent to “eternity in heaven.” This whole blog post is irrelevant if the “kingdom of God” isn’t the reign of God in and over all things, who is reconciling ALL THINGS to Himself, so that He may be “all in all,” in view of a coming marriage of heaven and earth (Rev. 21) rather than the believers’ ultimate destiny being eternity elsewhere other than here. The reason this issue is important, in other words, is because the cross is a much better image of the destiny of the Christian believer, of the ultimate fruition of all of history, than is the Tower of Babel. Besides the content of the words spoken, what of that giant light and sound production we called a Christian concert yesterday would remind anyone of the cross?

Note the tension created in Dali’s rendition of Christ on the cross. That was on purpose, and, as with surrealism in general, it speaks to exactly the historical development of the divorce of heaven and earth discussed here. Dali brings the audience into uncomfortable remembrance of Christ’s suffering in his body precisely by presenting us with the divorce from our bodies to which we are so accustomed. And, relevant to the point of this blog post, Dali does that by placing Christ’s hanging on the cross afloat in heaven, in that place to which our Towers of Babel reach in futility.

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