This is quoted from the Foreword in Makoto Fujimura’s book, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life. Man, is that a word! And I would say that Culture Care is a dose of beautiful disruption. The main audience of the book is artists of all kinds. It’s an awakening to how art, and artists or creators, steward and cultivate community.
He begins the book with a story from when he was a teacher’s assistant and struggling artist and his newly wed wife was a graduate student. They were struggling to make ends meet. As he is stressing over an empty fridge and what food they can afford for the month, his wife comes home with a bouquet of flowers. Upset, he asks her how she could even think of buying flowers if they can’t even eat. And Judy replied, “We need to feed our souls too!” This encounter with generosity was a transformative moment for Fujimura. He saw that he failed to be who he actually was—an artist, someone who should recognize the need for beauty to live. Artists feed souls, in a sense, with beauty. And this is how he proposes that we need to care for the culture we are in (a culture that has even over-commodified art itself)—with “a generative approach to culture that brings bouquets of flowers into a culture bereft of beauty.”
This is my third post on Dr. Curt Thompson’s book, The Soul of Desire. Today I want to introduce his practice of confessional communities. It is a form of group therapy. In reading about this method of interpersonal neurobiological psychotherapy that Dr. Thompson practices, I thought about how our friendships need to be more like this and our discipleship in church. As Dr. Thompson says, “It is in communities like these that we encounter the possibility of being deeply known and where we ‘practice for heaven.’” These small group meetings of between 6-8 people create a space where people are seen, soothed, safe, and secure while they express their grief, trauma, and desires. It’s facilitated and led by the therapists, but the patients play a collaborative part in creating beauty together out of pain and unrequited desires. Both the being seen in a secure setting and the creative collaboration is healing, as this is what we all long for. In this way, the patients get to tell their story and be a part of one another’s’ healing. Dr. Thompson notes,
We need others to bear witness to our deepest longings, our greatest joys, our most painful shame, and all the rest in order to have any sense at all of ourselves.
When one truly feels known, and secure in that knowing, then they are able to take the risk of imagining and creating beauty again. And that’s what happens in these sessions. Because it isn’t just the being heard that heals, but the ability to help others. We aren’t mere projects to be fixed. Hurting people are still people. In his book, we get to read about what this looks like with examples Dr. Thompson gives from his own practice. This is something one-on-one therapy cannot do. While reading, I was thinking about how inline this is with the key principles of trauma-informed care. They have to be practiced in a group setting, so that not only is there peer support, but a format to equip one another to care for each other—giving back what was taken, which is often voice and agency, and combatting the harmful dynamic of merely forming another hierarchal structure over them. Dr. Thompson discusses the value of the other people in the room helping one another, over the individual psychotherapy:
Have you ever thought of beauty this way, as coming home? There’s a nostalgia to it, as if it’s something you recognize with all your senses and long to return to. But it’s not a return as much as a coming. Beauty is where we are headed. It’s what we are being formed into. Beauty, when encountered (and if we open our eyes and look its treasures are everywhere), is a breaking in of the future into the present. Beauty beckons us. It was with us in the beginning. It shows us what is so treacherous about sin and teaches us that things are not as they seem. It helps us face our brokenness and gives us an ache to hand it over, our meager raw supplies, as an offering to create with beauty. Because beauty is creative. The best kind of it. The only kind of it, really.
I think this is an area where the church is missing the juice. We can have all of our doctrinal statements in a row, all the boxes checked. We can have our ecclesial liturgies and processes. And we can miss the beauty. It’s like the disciples on the road to Emmaus—they were talking about the word of God and missed the fact that they were talking with the Word embodied. They missed the juice of hermeneutics. And there he was. He was gracious enough to show them. But it wasn’t his words alone that opened their eyes. He became the host at the table, blessing, breaking, and serving the bread. Fellowship, sacrament, symbol—even the breaking itself. Oh, how their hearts burned inside them! They were known, sought after. He came to show them the most beautiful thing that they were incapable of imagining on their own.
I love this book. The title reeled me in because these are the themes that so intersect with my work in the Song of Songs and how I see fullness of life now. Not only that, the subtitle, Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community is literally MY JAM! Longing, beauty, and community are themes that I have been pursuing, themes I have found not only in the Song, but am seeing it as a microcosm of all of Scripture—the metanarrative. And it is what has been the direction of healing for me from abuse within the church. Not only that, my fascination with learning how our minds work had me even more intrigued with the neuroscience aspect.
I didn’t know what to expect from this author, as I had never heard of him. And there is always that suspicion that there may be too much of a psychologizing of the faith from a psychiatrist, making it more about me than God. But psychology is part of being a human. And if we want to be holistic in our life of faith, it is an important part of being human that the church needs to address. Psychology addresses part of how God made us.
Curt Thompson invites us to pay attention to the world in a different way. He wants us to look at what we stuff down and what impedes a robust, fructifying spiritual life. He wants us to truly see others and connect with them in confessional communities. He wants us to consider our deepest longings, our true place, and find reality in the beauty both God and we create collaboratively. He wants us to enter into the new creations we have become and are becoming. And our triune Creator has made us to be creative. We are “practicing for heaven” even as we are on our way.
The Bible is a revelation of who God is and what he has done and is doing for his people. And so much more. It is important that we read it well. And so Christians are rightly zealous to systematize its truth claims, have an apologetic for why its authoritative, and teach the dogmas of the church. We can become very cerebral, debating what the Bible says and missing what the word of God does. We can approach the text as something that needs interpreted with a fine-tooth comb rather than something that is meant to be enjoyed.
This is what Matthew Mullins wants to help us with in his book, Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures. As an associate professor of English and history of ideas at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mullins noticed an incongruency. Most of his students say they love the Bible, and yet they don’t know what to do with poems. This is a real problem, because how can you read Scripture well if you can’t read poetry well? And what Mullins is getting at here is important—it’s about how we even approach the Bible. It is written to be enjoyed. This is the argument of Mullins’ book. “The implication is that if reading the Bible does not enact pleasure in you, then you may not understand what you have read…it was written not only to convey information about [God] but also to provide a way for us to commune with him, to meet him in his word.”
Mike Bird and I have a new episode of Birds of a Feather, where we discuss The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill Podcast, the OPC GA, and Kevin DeYoung’s review of Beth Allison Barr’s book. I gave it this title because there really is a theme in all of these topics: Where is the critique from within and what happens to those who give it?
I have learned so much through the last couple years of confronting abuse from officers in my denomination. There are some things that most of us just cannot be aware of or see clearly unless we, or someone we love, find ourselves in a more vulnerable position. Since I’m using the word abuse, I want to define what that is. In consulting with an expert on the topic, I learned that spiritual abuse is anything where you use your power to do/take from another what is not rightfully yours. That was a helpful definition. I began listing the things that were taken from me. Protection was a big category that I needed to break down: protection of my reputation, physical protection as jokes were made about a possible meet up where I was speaking, vocational security as calls were made warning people who booked me to speak and my writing is being misrepresented, protection in my denomination, and protection of my dignity and personhood. Another thing taken from me was agency and power: power to be notified, power to defend myself, power to seek justice, and power for restoration. Wade Mullen gives another helpful definition:
When someone treats you as an object they are willing to harm for their own benefit, abuse has occurred, and that person has become an abuser. Some of the worst forms of abuse are psychological.
Abuse is all about gaining and retaining power at the expense of another. And it’s a pattern. I also resonate with what Mullen says one needs in order to begin to free yourself from the power of abuse over you:
Freedom comes first by understanding, and understanding means having the language to identify and talk about your situation.
And so I have documented the more public steps of trying to address the officers in Genevan Commons and the undershepherds and process of doing this over the last year:
Before I was targeted by a number of its leaders, I liked my denomination. I like that it is confessional, and I trusted in the presbyterian government. I have a great community in my local church, and I had confidence in the books of church order. I believed they provided exactly that: an ordered process to protect the vulnerable by using due process of its laws. I never expected to be in the category of the vulnerable.
When I first started experiencing the organized reviling and vicious behavior from officers in my denomination, I trusted that other church officers would confront them and call them to repentance. And if it still continued, I trusted that faithful under-shepherds would use due process to stop the abuse and rectify the damage. But I knew, as I’ve said before, that formal charges should be a last resort because we first want to informally address these heart issues, hoping for change. Hoping for repentance. Hoping for reconciliation. That’s what we really want. Firstly, restoration to Christ. Secondly, to his people.
And in a case when spiritual abuse is involved, the repentant person in spiritual authority should see that they need shepherding at this point and not to have this kind of authority over God’s people. They have so violated trust with God’s people that a sincere apology would include action that is sensitive to this. Voluntarily stepping down would be an action that shows the weight of their responsibility to God as an office bearer as well as putting boundaries in place out of respect for the victims of their abuse. Because they are valued.
That is what we would expect in Christ’s church. And what I’ve learned is that those under spiritual abuse are not protected well by the process, as abusers manipulate it to protect their own power. Even when there are faithful under-shepherds working for righteousness.
Perhaps the Bible should come with a label: Read Responsibly! Michael Bird’s latest book, Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew About the Bible will help you do just that. Bird acknowledges that the Bible can be hard to understand in places. “Not because it is a book of mystery, magic, or mayhem; rather, because it contains a history distant from our own, it was originally written to ancient audiences in particular contexts, and it was written for us but not to us.” So, Bird does the work to help the reader out. And along the way, he confronts some of the challenges to the Bible in our day.
Some read the Bible as if it just dropped out of the sky in the English translation, perfectly leather bound with study notes. While I’ve certainly encountered the King James only crowd, I think the waters many are swimming in today are more what Bird calls “me and my ESV.” Then there are those who want to say that what we call the Holy Scriptures were really just invented by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. We’ve been duped. So in the first chapter, Bird gives the down low on how the Bible was formed into the canon we read today made up of the Old and New Testaments and translated into the English language.
Next, he gets into that whole tricky issue of divine inspiration and human writers—how does that work? Can we trust the Bible? What does it mean that it is God’s word? What about some of the seeming inconsistencies that we see in Scripture? What’s the difference between inerrancy and infallibility? What is this debate around inerrancy in evangelicalism about? What do different denominations have to say about this? How can we wisely navigate through this? How can we know the Bible is true?
What do Rahab, a dog, and the Canaanite woman have in common? Answer: they all foreshadow the great commission. And this will make some people who really want to know about dogs in heaven happy. But I’ll come back to the dog part later. First, let’s look at two women, separated by more than fourteen hundred years.
Rahab is one of the Gentile women Matthew named in the genealogy of Jesus. Looking at the women in Matthew’s genealogy is an interesting study. While we are used to seeing the women in our own ancestral family trees, as I mentioned earlier most genealogies in that time were patrilineal. And yet along with the fathers, Matthew included Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. This is a curious choice of women to include. These women may not sound like what we are used to being taught regarding “biblical womanhood,” which often encourages women to be passive. But here they are in the genealogy of our Savior.
Why did Matthew include Rahab, for instance? Richard Bauckham insists that it is because Rahab represents God’s openness of his covenant community to the Gentiles. She was a Canaanite, a prostitute even, who openly professed her faith in the God of Israel and was then welcomed to become a member of God’s household. But not only was Rahab admitted into the covenant family; she also has a spot in this blessed genealogy. We covered her story in detail in the last chapter, but now I’d like to connect her with another gynocentric interruption.