A Treadmill for the Mind
As a long time user and admirer of Apple’s products, I find myself in a new situation: I am not only unenthusiastic about the anticipated virtual reality headset – I’m against the whole idea. The headset sure seems like a step in the wrong direction for a company that recently has been so focused on health. In what way does a VR headset contribute to health? Mental, physical, social, whatever?
Steve Jobs was famous for using the analogy of the bicycle. Like a bicycle, a computer can enhance the natural power of a human. It’s like a bicycle for the mind. I’ve used my iPhone to help me find my destination. I’ve used my Apple Watch to help me train for athletic competitions. Bicycles.
Maybe I have poor imagination, but I can’t see a VR headset enhancing my natural power. Only tricking it. Sure, I can attend a more visceral virtual meeting. Maybe the attendees will even have legs. But it’s still a virtual meeting. Something that feels more real isn’t actually more real or healthy.
In that way, a VR headset feels more like a treadmill. You can move a lot, but never go anywhere.
It’s a treadmill for the mind.
Ten Minutes of Peace
If you use an iOS device and you’ve upgraded to iOS 12, do yourself a favor and add this Shortcut, “Ten Minutes of Peace”. You’ll need to download Apple’s Shortcuts app if you haven’t already.
All it does is turn on your Do Not Disturb setting for ten minutes and then turn it back off again. But during that time – no buzzing, dinging, vibrating: bliss.
Add it to Siri and get yourself ten minutes of peace just by asking.
Is Facebook evil? Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason — Quartz
Without question, Facebook enables brutal and immoral hatemongers. I can hear Facebook arguing that they cannot possibly take a stand on moral issues without becoming censors and losing objectivity. Facebook cannot make those decisions without messing up a lot of the time. I agree. Its scale is just too massive.
That’s just the thing: Facebook can’t admit it, but it’s possible that the most moral thing is for Facebook not to exist.
Seven Books I Have Loved
I can’t say ‘favorite’ because these are basically the earliest books I loved, or the latest books I have loved.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
- A Field Guide to Ecology of Eastern Forests; North America by John C. Kricher and Gordon Morrison
- How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker
Oscar Romero, May 11, 1973
Even when they call us mad,
when they call us subversives and communists
and all the epithets they put on us,
we know that we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes,
which have turned everything upside down
to proclaim blessed the poor,
blessed the thirsting for justice,
blessed the suffering.
I’m Not Driving
I love my iPhone’s Do Not Disturb feature which mutes the parade of bells and vibrations that come from it. I use it at night so I’m not woken up to the ding of some robot account which liked one of my Instagram photos from four years ago.
I’ve always wanted to use it for temporary moments throughout my day when I don’t want to be disturbed, but after forgetting to turn it off and missing important messages on several occasions, I stopped trusting it for this purpose. It’s just too easy to miss the little moon icon up there reminding me.
But with iOS 11, Apple introduced a related feature: Do Not Disturb While Driving. It holds back on notifications like its older cousin of a feature, but it also won’t let you interact with the phone while it’s on. You have to press an additional button asserting “I’m Not Driving.” My phone automatically turns this on when I’m in the car, which is annoying in the short term, but better for me overall.
But I’ve actually started to manually turn on the feature – you can put it in Control Center – for those temporary moments of peace. And because of the way the feature is designed, it won’t let me use my phone until I turn it off. This way I can’t forget it’s on so long as I try to use my phone.
Which is too often.
Daring Fireball: Facebook Security Chief Said to Leave After Clashes Over Disinformation
That Sandberg and (presumably) Zuckerberg resisted investigating and disclosing everything they could about how the Russians took advantage of them says everything you need to know about them.
The power that Facebook stewards is almost unimaginable, yet goes unchecked by regulation. I realize this is new territory for humanity, but leaving our fastest growing source of power in the hands of just a couple tech moguls is profoundly short sited.
I’m stepping into a great big backyard. It’s familiar, yet new to me. It stretches on farther than I can see. It’s nice. I notice in the middle of the yard, there’s a small trailer. It makes me nervous because it looks…a little damaged. As I approach it, I can hear breathing sounds, quickening. There is a small window. I look in. I connect eyes briefly with a wild stallion and as soon as it sees me it panics. Jumping, kicking in the trailer. I fall backwards and then stumble up and away from the trailer.
Sitting on the porch I stare at the trailer. I can see it moving. The horse is pacing. I’m wondering what to do about it. I ignore it. I walk around it as far as possible, but I can’t stop thinking about it. At night I can hear the sounds.
So I throw a party. Loud music. Lots of people. There’s some caution tape around the trailer so no one gets hurt. And…for a moment…Yes! The sound is drowned. I’m feeling better than I’ve felt in a while. To keep it up, I drink, I laugh, I get a little reckless. Until I pass out.
But then the people are gone. The music has died. The drinks are out. And I can hear the horse and it’s angry. I’m angry. I can’t sleep, I can’t be free.
But I also have kerosene. I don’t know what this horse’s problem is, but it won’t calm down: I don’t really have a choice. Don’t judge me; I’m putting it out of its misery. As I pour the fuel around the trailer, the horse kicks wildly. The trailer may collapse before I’m done.
I watch the flames safely from the porch. I don’t know if I should say some words or something, but I wouldn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know its name. The trailer was moving, but now it isn’t. I feel sad.
The sadness kept me up all night, but the dawn’s light gives me hope. Smoke rises from the burnt out trailer which is still pretty intact. I approach slowly. Why am I so scared? As peer around the corner I’m breathless; I hear nothing inside.
But I see them. Eyes, open and sad but fierce. It kicks and neighs; I scream and recoil. Backwards, I fall.
I must have hit my head. I’m on the ground and I slowly realize I’ve been lying just a few feet from a wild creature trapped in an attempted murder site. As my eyes regain focus they fall upon the horse’s eyes. It’s lying down, but its head is raised. I never noticed how beautiful its eyes are. There’s fire still in them.
I climb to my feet. So does the horse. I slowly approach. It breathes faster. Its knees are quivering and I realize mine are too. I can feel the hair on the back of my neck. It breathes loudly and I want to run. I have to run.
But I don’t. I just stay. As I keep breathing, I notice its scars. They’re from me. It hurts me to look at them. But I keep looking at them. The horse keeps breathing, too.
I stay. It hurts, but I stay. I just…stay.
I’ve lost track of time, but…sometime…later I notice the door on the back of the trailer. I do something risky: I unlock it. The horse watches me. I throw open the door and light streams in. The horse shivers and watches me.
It trusts me, so I climb on and we ride out together into the great country that surrounds us, faster than I could ever go on my own, feeling a dangerous wildness and an exhilarating trust.
Internet Friends: 1: How We Met on the Internet
This podcast about the internet and society really resonated with me, in particular, how each of the hosts described a time of great optimism for what the web could be, and how it’s all become pretty complicated and, um, disappointing in 2018.
So I thought about it and came up with my great (naive?) period of hope for the web. It was about 2006. I had stumbled upon a couple internet communities that were flourishing…
One was the show with zefrank, a quirky video blog that used a bunch of short, creative, and confessional segments by its creator. But notably it also encouraged, facilitated, and shared back contributions from the people who followed it. People were asked to (and did) submit little pieces of songs or sounds or pictures that Ze would put together in creative ways. The people who became the show’s community helped produce these cathartic pieces of group art. In today’s world — where groups of guys who’ve forgotten whether they are ironically or earnestly neo-nazis organize to abuse others on the internet — remembering old episodes of the show feels like remembering the internet’s Garden of Eden.
The other community was Radio Open Source, a public radio show and podcast hosted by Christopher Lydon (a name associated with the very beginnings of podcasting.) The setup of the show and the wide range of topics it covered fostered this incredible conversation on its website. Listeners shared insight from all kinds of perspectives that enhanced the context of each show and steered the direction of the next one.
Open Source has been through several incarnations through the years, and still exists, although I don’t think the community still does in the same way.
Pastor Lura N. Groen: Spiritual Abuse at the Meeting at ULS regarding Dr Latini
I understand Dr. Latini’s desire to control her own story and her own identity. And yet she has applied and accepted a position as a public face of a religious institution before being able to talk about parts of her religious life that were very public. Public theologians, and public representatives of institutions, need to be able to take responsibility for their public record, and to explain previous writings and actions.
I agree with Lura. There is a crucially important distinction between personal repentance and redemption and public accountability.
I expect more from the president and board of my alma mater or any institution.
Sen. Marco Rubio, in 2014, in a bid to raise his NRA rating from a
B+ to an
The safety of our families is not something people should hope government can provide.
Martin Luther and the Reformers, in 1530, in the Augsburg Confession:
[Government defends] not minds, but bodies and bodily things against manifest injuries, and restrain[s] men with the sword and bodily punishments in order to preserve civil justice and peace.
I’d wager more Americans would agree with the 500 year old statement than with Sen. Rubio’s.
If your skin is white, like mine, I urge you to take the online Implicit Bias test conducted by Harvard University. They have several, but I’m specifically talking about the White-Black bias test.
You won’t like the results. Most of us white folk put a lot of energy into appearing to be unbiased based on race. Most of us get very defensive if called a racist. I admit to having a certain amount of ill-founded pride in being ‘very tolerant’ towards race — so I was very disappointed to find the test revealed that I had a certain amount of implicit bias. In other words, I automatically have a stronger positive feeling towards people of lighter skin than darker skin.
My first response (which is typical for people taking the test) was to blame the test. After all, I think racism is evil, and all prejudice based on skin color is wrong, and even dumb. But what the test measures is our ‘gut response,’ formed before the thinking part of the brain kicks in. Just take it and you’ll see what I mean.
Now that I’ve calmed down, I know it’s true. My experiences, conversations, media, and curricula have taught me to see dark skin in a more negative way. Think of a Disney villain…I’ll bet they have darker skin than the Hero. How many Bad Guys can you think of that have dark skin? How many mugshots have you seen on the news of folks with dark skin? I didn’t ask for this. But I am responsible for my response. These experiences form my automatic bias, and if I pass them on uncritically…well, I’m not one of the Good Guys.
I’m not a Bad Guy for having implicit bias, but my responsibility is to stop uncritically accepting the ways that my bias gets passed on or tolerated. I have to start with myself, so I’ve developed a list of ‘explicit biases’ that I want to train myself in. Just as our negative implicit biases take a while to learn, so will my correction to them.
When I encounter a person that is culturally, socially, economically distant from me, I run through a list. I affirm in my head that this person:
- is different from anyone else on the planet
- has a rich inner life that I may or may not see
- has an education that I don’t
- is embedded in family relationships, some of which may be complicated
- is embedded in social relationships, some of which may be complicated
- is a Child of God
It might seem clumsy, but I already make those assumptions about people I find very similar to me. Either way, I am convinced that my moral responsibility to change racism does not stop at passively deciding something is wrong, but includes actively changing the way it works through me. In this case, it starts with rewiring my brain.
Doors and Walls
I’ve been finding myself feeling frazzled pretty regularly which is something that happens when I haven’t taken time to review everything going on in my life from a ‘big picture’ perspective. Tasks are essential, but without a larger sense of goals and priorities they just become turns around the hamster wheel.
The problem for me is that I cannot get the big picture perspective without slowing down, stepping back, and doing honest-to-god thinking. And because I’m an introvert, I cannot do that in the midst of other people. I really have to take some time by myself to do that.
My office has a door and walls. The walls are permanent and meant to keep the environment out, and me in. The door, however, opens and closes – alternatively allowing things going in and out and then stopping things going in and out.
I’ve not been treating the door that way. I see the open door as symbolic of my openness to people. I like people and God knows I want them to like me. So I leave it open almost all the time. As if the door were a wall and of course I don’t want to put up walls between me and people.
But the alternative is not between walls and unrestricted access: I have a door. My door is here to selectively enforce boundaries that I – and I imagine, everyone else – need. There are times when I need to temporarily close off open access to me so that I can do some deep, reflective work. I may only need this a couple hours all week. But I do need it, and the door helps me take that time.
I need to be able to close my door without feeling like I’m putting up a wall. I’m just closing the door now, so I can better welcome others through it later.
How This Site is Built
Here’s how I post blog posts to
www.netfull.org and microblog posts to
www.netfull.org/microblog as well as Micro.blog…
My blog, this blog, which is trying to tie together the various threads I’m interested in, is now hosted on Github Pages. It’s a static site built by Jekyll which means that Github builds it automatically every time I update the files.
The nice thing about building the site this way is it’s always under version control so there’s always a trail of bread crumbs back to any previous version of the site. I can revert back in time to fix the mistakes I regularly make while coding it. Also, the source is public so you can see the mistakes yourself.
I’ve been intrigued by Manton Reese’s Micro.blog project as an independent way to publish little thoughts and to have a little dialogue back and forth. Like the way I once thought Twitter should work, but without all the baggage. Twitter’s annoying attempts at monetization are understandable; Twitter’s enabling of White Supremacy, misogyny, and genocidal nuclear threats are unconscionable.
I really recommend you give it a try. I also recommend you pay a few dollars a month and get Micro.blog’s hosted service unless you really want to sink some hours into a painful, substandard, DIY system like mine.
For now ‘microblog’ posts, which you can think of like Tweets, don’t show up in the main JSON/RSS feed or on the homepage. Instead, they live on the Microblog part of my site. To get that set up, I relied heavily on excellent posts by Tim Smith, Ross Kimes, and Kirby Turner. You make fewer mistakes when you stand on the shoulders of others.
Update: I’m now putting my microblog posts into the same stream as my blog posts. This required some pretty major changes to the structure of the site since my plugin options are limited on Github Pages. You can now subscribe to just the full (titled) posts, just the microblog posts, or both (the default feed.)
I spent way too much of 2017 sick.
My goal for 2018 is to be much healthier. Some causes of illness are out of my control (like having small children in the house) but many are in my control. Here are some things I should do to be healthier:
- sleep at least 7.5 hours a night
- make a smoothie for breakfast daily
- wash hands every scene change
- keep hands off face
- go to the gym weekly
- do yoga a couple times a week
- do meditation daily
Comfort in Beliefs
I think there’s a difference between taking comfort in my beliefs and taking comfort in my own understanding of my beliefs.
For example, if it comforts you that God is in control of the world – that’s fine. If it comforts you that you understand exactly who God is condemning – that’s troubling.
Back in my freshman year of college, my roommate Jon had gotten involved with an on-campus Christian group that was also associated with – I think – Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Jon invited me to an event they organized and I was game. It wasn’t the kind of thing we often did, but I seem to remember a potential romantic relationship for one of us was at play.
The event was an old fashioned BBQ with hay rides and everything on a farm outside of Gainesville. Really outside: I can remember how bright the stars were out there. The most notable part, however, was that this BBQ was hosted at the personal home of Sonny Tillman, the founder of Sonny’s BBQ. He is something of a legend in those parts. Guess he had a soft spot for FCA and provided his farm and all the Sonny’s food we could eat. nAnd I was ready for it. Doing a lot of cycling in those days, I could put away some calories. As I went through the line, I loaded up my plate with everything I could: pulled pork, beans, garlic bread – oh and ribs! I have to have ribs! My plate was full and then some, and I had to walk carefully back to a table.
By chance, I happened to cross paths with Sonny himself as I was delicately navigating the crowded barn. He looked down at my overloaded plate and then at the 150 pound awkward 18-year-old holding it and said, in at least six syllables of deep southern drawl, “Hungry, boy?”
I grinned sheepishly and said, “Yeah.”
He said, “You better finish that plate, you hear?”
And in one of the proud moments of my life up to that point, I did.
When I fall apart under stress it looks like this:
- I become disillusioned with everything: with myself, with others, faith, etc. My cynicism which is often held at bay takes over. It’s hard to remain motivated.
- I get tired.
- I do not look for help; in fact, I probably avoid it. I tell myself it’s not good for me to show signs of weakness due to stress. Because then, I say, others will have to be inconvenienced.
- I do not think clearly or do my best work.
- I do not have courageous compassion for others.
Despite its sexist premise (it’s the other woman’s fault this man can’t honor his commitment?) and its dubious backstory (is he really the ‘only man’ for you if he would dump you for a soft-spoken ginger?), Jolene really is the best song ever written.
It’s a masterclass in leaving you wanting more. The simple and elegant chord progression moves so pleasingly under the clever but natural rhymes of the verses, but just enough to give you a taste for more. I wish there were twelve more verses.
But ultimately, it’s the naked pathos of one woman pleading with another to have pity. She has no other resources left; she’s arrived at her last resort: begging. Her happiness depends on Jolene and what she decides to do…and we never find out.
The Greater Evil
I have a feeling that many Americans will be going to the polls without a lot of passion for their candidate. You know, the whole ‘lesser of two evils’ idea. I have to confess that I am not exactly passionate about the candidate I’ll be voting for.
But let me offer another motivation for voting: survival. No, not mine – as a white man, the American system already has a lot of momentum towards protecting my interests. I’ll be using my vote to help preserve others.
We have a candidate who has consistently – in his life, in his campaign, and in his suggested policies – discriminated against, diminished, and endangered the lives of people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, and those he simply considers ‘losers.’ He has been endorsed by numerous white supremacist, nativist, and anti-Semitic groups that have never before endorsed a major candidate. Behind him are people who believe we would be ‘great again’ by controlling and diminishing the lives of certain classes of humans.
For the sake of those fellow humans, cast your vote accordingly. No, we aren’t there yet, but despite his bleak, autocratic vision of the country, we could actually live up to the unfulfilled promise we started with that we are stronger when we not only tolerate but embrace the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. That we will be a better nation because of the free contributions of those who have been previously enslaved and destroyed because of fear. That real ‘greatness’ will come not from looking back toward a time of greater domination, but forward to a time of greater love.
Even if you aren’t completely smitten with your candidate, be passionate about that when you go to the polls. And vote accordingly.
A Communion Parable
There once was a man who had a neighbor. The neighbor invited him to a great party. Food was shared. Everyone cared for each other and the man went home happy. He was surprised that the next week, his neighbor invited him over for another great party. He attended again and loved it again. The third week in a row, the neighbor invited the man to the party and the man became suspicious. “How can he afford to throw so many parties? Perhaps he is trying to trick us into doing something. I’ll not go. Besides, I’m tired of parties.”
But the man noticed that week after week, the neighbor continued to throw parties for whoever came. Often there were people there he did not recognize. Week after week, the neighbor invited him to parties. The man pitied his neighbor and started calling him names behind his back.
Then one day, the man took sick, lost his job, and could not afford to buy himself food. When his neighbor invited him to the party, he thought to himself, “what choice do I have? Besides, I want to see whether the parties are any good anymore.” When the man joined the party he found food and neighbors caring for each other just as he did at the first party. Tears filled his eyes as he realized he had been wrong about the neighbor.
Without anything to contribute, the man asked his neighbor how he could help. “You can’t,” he said, but instead gave him all the leftovers from the meal. “It’s too much,” said the man. The neighbor simply said, “Then, that’s how you can help.”
When you make music, you call up a lot of ghosts. American music no less than any other.
This country may be new, but its people are ancient.nWhen you play its music, you’re responsible – if not to them, then for them.
If your melody waxes nostalgic for Dixie, then your words better talk the ghosts down.
Phrases that are Always Lies
- “The more, the merrier.”
- “Be my guest.”
- “No offense, but …”
- “It’s not a threat; it’s a promise.”
- “No pun intended.”
- “Nothing to see here, folks.”
- “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
- “People always ask me …”
- “I’m not a racist, but …”
- “Not to brag, but …”
- “Well, I’m sorry that you …”
- “… literally …”
Multitasking Considered Harmful
Clay Shirkey banned laptops in class even though he is a proponent of technology. But distraction is like secondhand smoke: it hurts us and the group. Our basic urges follow distraction down rabbit holes before we even have time to stop it. He now seems himself working together with students against these tendencies by banning devices.
Attention is precious in our faith. The church should also work together, when appropriate, to limit distraction without demonizing technology.
Prayer for Depth
My mom recently told me that when I was born, she sincerely prayed for me to have to particular qualities that would help me in my life.
It’s funny because when my son was born, I also felt a deep desire to pray for something in particular for Henry. It’s hard to want something for someone who will have to eventually become his own person. I agree with Merlin Mann that the absolute best you can do for your child is allow them to be messed up in their own way. So I worry: if I pray for Henry to be calm, is it just because I don’t like noise? If I pray for him to be artistic, am I already trying to live vicariously through him?
So here’s my prayer as I hold him in the hospital. I want him to know depth. I believe the world and every part of it is deep. I want him to just know that whatever he stands on, there are tectonic layers and plates stretching through time and space and all resting on a molten core that infinitely provides energy for everything he does.
As much as I can avoid passing along fears, inadequacies, and all sorts of shortcomings, I want him to know that deep down, underneath his own quirks, that he is not alone. That there is a richness to the soil he is planted in and to never stop drawing from it.
When I was pretty young I read an article in Guitar Player about Richie Havens. Thirty years after the world saw him in the film Woodstock, he was still touring the country and playing threehundredsomething shows a year. You gotta respect the work ethic, but for someone who had been around for a while with many albums under his belt and connections with various organizations…why would he continue to tour almost nonstop?
A couple years later, I was working stage crew in Clearwater and Richie Havens was playing. Before he went on, somehow he found out that my friend Jeff and I were fans. I guess it touched him that he had fans that were only like 15 years old. He closed the door to the greenroom and played a couple songs. For an audience of two. I figured out how he could keep up his touring schedule: he just loved to share the music.
I thought about this story about two days ago. Richie Havens died today. If that sounds like a coincidence, it’s not. I think about this story about once a week anyways. Probably always will.
Four Reasons Why I Procrastinate
The Obvious One
I just don’t want to do it.
Solution: Just do it.
The Pernicious One
I’m feeling guilty about not completing the task yet, but I would rather avoid it then deal with that feeling and the consequences. This one usually makes itself worse.
Solution: Forgive myself for the delay. Then, just do it.
The Narcissistic One
I need the last minute pressure of the approaching deadline to force me give up on my silly perfectionism and accept less-than-perfect work from myself.
Solution: Manage expectations about what kind of time and energy I can put into a project/task, then just do it.
The Cynical One
I’m nursing the task in my own task list because it keeps me in control of the project, instead of putting the ball in someone else’s court where it belongs.
Solution: Sharing is caring, and I’m in the caring business. Let someone else do it.
Baptism and the Cross
This essay was written for a class I took in seminary called
“Interseminary Seminar” in which students from the local Lutheran,
Catholic, and Baptist seminary each presented an essay exploring the
theme of baptism from their own faith tradition.
Baptism and the Cross
One perplexing focus of Lutheran theology is ‘Theology of the Cross.’
This concept has been variously used and confused since Martin Luther
first alluded to it, but if anything, it’s been under-utilized. Though
difficult to describe, it gets at the heart of the paradoxes that
Lutherans are notorious for confessing. It provides a framework for
talking about God’s work, specifically on the cross, but also throughout
Scripture and throughout the life of the believer. By the cross I mean
not just the Roman system for punishment or Christ’s death and
suffering, but the totality of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and
ascension. The connection I will make here is between theology of the
cross and a Lutheran understanding of baptism. Through a series of
opposites – wisdom and foolishness, death and life, law and gospel,
glory and the cross, etc. – baptism and theology of the cross are deeply
related. But more, I hope the connection is useful. In the
daily and continuous nature of baptism as dying and rising, the
seemingly foolish work of God is done in the believer. For Lutherans,
after all, there is no theology for the sake of theology, but always for
the sake of God’s work: to produce faith in the hearts of believers.
Calling a Thing What It Is
Where can we find God? What do we know about God’s actions in the world
with certainty? These questions, which are both ancient and
modern, are taken up decidedly in the Heidelberg Disputation, public
theses written by Martin Luther in A.D. 1518. Through a series of theses
and their proofs, Luther defended his challenged teachings by setting
forth a framework for theological discussion. While his Ninety-five
Theses are more widely remembered historically, the Heidelberg
Disputation is more important theologically.1
It is primarily from this document and Luther’s subsequent writings that
modern theologians (from Lutheran and other traditions) begin their work
describing ‘theology of the cross.’
Broadly, theology of the cross in the Heidelberg Disputation deals with
the issue of revelation. How is God known? Luther’s ‘new theology’ is
partly born out of his response to those church teachings which he saw
as seeking the ‘invisible things of God’ through philosophy. But as
Luther objects, God is never revealed through the works of man, and
because of sin, God cannot be known fully known through creation. The
Mona Lisa is beautiful, and the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring,
but they cannot reveal the true nature of God to humans. Rather, God is
revealed as God chooses: indirectly, though suffering and weakness and
by faith. A theology of the cross assumes Jesus on the cross is the
definitive revelation of God to humanity. Luther’s contribution in the
Heidelberg Disputation is insisting on limiting God’s revelation to
God’s terms. Theology of the cross, then, seeks God where God is to be
found – in Christ, for whoever has seen Christ has seen
It is impossible to systematically define this theology of the cross.
Indeed, Luther spoke initially of what a theologian of the
cross does rather than what a theology of the cross
is. Even more challenging is that Luther describes this ‘new
theology’ in the form of opposites. The most basic definition of this
theology of the cross is that it is the opposite of a theology of
The dichotomy is set between a theologian of the cross, and a theologian
of glory. What, then, does a theologian of glory do?
Thesis 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation states, “A theologian of glory
calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing
what it actually is.”4
A theologian of glory is attracted to those things which appear
good: good works, glory, elegant ideas, strong positions. But this is
contrary to Christ’s revelation on the cross which comes through
victimization, suffering, foolishness, and weakness. Apart from Christ,
one naturally prefers “works to suffering, glow to the cross, strength
to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.”5
The forces of the world run on power, after all; might makes right.
Right? But to not know Christ, who comes in weakness and suffering, is
to not know God. A theologian of the cross affirms that God “can be
found only in suffering and the cross.”6
God can only be found in the last place anyone would look: in
weakness, in a victim. In a crib, on a cross.7
Indeed, theology of the cross operates in opposites. For Luther,
‘calling a thing what it is’ meant facing the question of a terrible,
punishing God and trusting in faith while professing hope. For the
modern theologian, it might mean facing the question of a non-existent
God and professing that same hope.8
It should be made clear that while these two types of theologians are
mutually exclusive, any individual is always both. A roster of pastors
or a faculty of professors cannot be simply labeled either a theologian
of the cross or a theologian of glory. Just as Lutherans affirm
“Simultaneously Saint and Sinner” they would affirm “Simultaneously
Theologian of the Cross and Theologian of Glory.”
A theology of glory arises, says Luther, any time humanity presumes to
know God on human terms. The effect of sin (defined not simply as moral
indiscretions but humanity’s enmity with God) is such that humanity is
unable to grasp that which is God’s. Any attempt, then, to grasp God
through human effort is a theology of glory. Theologies of glory are so
dangerous, and thus so strongly rejected, because they lead to faith in
the theology, rather than faith in God:
What is revealed is precisely that we don’t know God. Our problem is not
that we lay claim to such little knowledge of God but that we think we
know so much. […] God refuses to be known according to the schemes of a
theology of glory.9
It may seem that theology of the cross rules out good works. In fact,
Lutherans would say that good works are done by God through the Spirit
more and more in the life of the baptized. But the work done is always
God’s alone, and not to be confused with its source. The greatest
temptation for the theologian of glory is to do good works or think good
thoughts and put trust in them. Thus the Heidelberg Disputation:
“Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are
nevertheless likely to be
sins,” and “[a]lthough the works of God always seem unattractive and
appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.”11
It is a difficult pill to swallow for theologians (ancient and modern)
to confess that the very best human achievements are ‘filthy rags,’ and
without merit. But those things or works which appear most good are most
likely to produce trust in the thing done, rather than God who
accomplished it. On the contrary, the works of God appear as weakness
and folly. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are
perishing. Because the world did not know God though wisdom, God saves
through the foolishness of those who
Co-buried with Christ
Baptism, rightly, holds multiple meanings for Christians. The range of
themes and meanings in Christian tradition comes from the biblical
witness itself. New Testament baptism can mean repentance, forgiveness
of sins, washing of sins, and ‘putting on Christ.’ This discussion will
focus on one particular set of meanings – being claimed ‘in Christ’ by
participating in his death and resurrection. It is this theme which is
most deeply connected to theology of the cross.
The Lutheran perspective is careful to say first that baptism belongs to
God. Although the rite is performed by a human, baptism ‘is nevertheless
truly God’s own act.’13
Baptism is done by God and to achieve God’s purpose: to save. Through
the lens of ‘assignment,’ baptism has been described as God claiming
heirs: the baptized person does not become Christ’s by “placing himself
under Christ, but rather he becomes Christ’s […]” through
The believer is assigned to Christ.
Becoming Christ’s means not just bearing the name of Christ, but bearing
the cross. Baptism seals us with the cross for our life in Christ.
Through baptism we participate in the cross, that is, in death and
resurrection. The theme of baptism as participation in Christ’s death
and resurrection most directly comes from the sixth chapter of Romans.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by
baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by
the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of
Paul is describing a very real death to be experienced. This particular
death is not an imitation of Christ made possible by baptism, or a
symbolic copy of Christ’s death, but an insertion into the “once-for-all
death of Jesus Christ.”16
It should also not be completely individualized: Paul is talking about
the death of the old “dominion of sin, of which all believers were a
While baptism is indeed a washing and forgiveness of sins as the
Scriptures promise, it is also a real connection to the cross. Baptism
brings death to sin, but this event is not different from the saving
work of Jesus accomplished on the cross.18
Baptism looks back to the death of Jesus on the cross, but also forward
to the resurrection of the body:
Even though in this world the baptized is still moving toward his death,
he may be certain on the basis of his Baptism that he has already
experienced his death, for he has been given into Christ’s death.19
Baptism’s meaning is eschatological in the sense that while the believer
remains bound to death in earthly life, God has won the last word over
death. This becomes a source of constant hope for the believer, even in
the midst of suffering and death.
This connection between baptism, dying, and rising also appears in
Colossians 2:11-12: You are co-buried with Christ! In the synoptic
Gospels, as well, Jesus equates baptism with his journey to the cross in
Mark 10:38-39 and Luke 12:50. It is also important to read Paul’s use of
baptism in Rom. 6 within a larger context of dying and rising found,
most notably, in Galatians and II Corinthians; this context has been
lacking in much interpretation of Rom. 6.20
Accordingly, Paul’s discussion of baptism in Romans cannot be considered
a summation of his doctrine of baptism, but it does make clear the
intimate connection to Christ’s death and resurrection. It bridges the
gap between between the cross and the life of the believer:
[…] not because baptism repeats Christ’s death or enables it to be
present in some unique way, but because in baptism the destruction of
the old world and founding of the new which the cross brings about
reaches its goal in the life of the believer.21
Therefore baptism is the present reality of God’s past work in Christ
and future redemption of the world. The past and future work of God come
together in the believer’s present life. Death and resurrection are a
present reality for the baptized.
A Rhythm of Dying and Rising
From this insight flows the Lutheran concern for understanding baptism
as a continuous and daily treasure. Luther, for example, always works to
expand the notion of baptism from a one-time rite to a life-long gift.
While the initial rite baptism inaugurates the drowning of sin, it is
“not fulfilled completely in this life.”22
In baptism, God begins to bring about death to sin and life to faith,
but not until the end of earthly life is the work of baptism completed
in the believer. The work of baptism is therefore ongoing and
eschatological. In baptism, God continues throughout life to overrule
sin. “[I]t is daily being more and more destroyed in us until our
The ever present reality of sin does not nullify baptism, but rather
shows its purpose. Paradoxically, Luther can say that baptism “makes all
sufferings, and especially death, profitable and helpful.”24
How can baptism use evil for good? Baptism does not glorify suffering,
evil, or violence, but speaks against them with work of the cross.
Baptism does not prove that human suffering is redemptive, but in
suffering, it provides the assurance of Christian hope: that out of
death, God brings life.
According to Robert Kolb, baptism signifies a ‘rhythm of dying and
rising.’ Through baptism the Lutheran lenses of Law (which kills) and
Gospel (which makes alive to God) enter daily life:
According to Luther, God introduced the rhythm of dying under the
accusation of the law and rising under the power of Christ’s
resurrection in baptism. That rhythm of life gives believers a new start
each day, a start from the creative beginning that God gave life in the
very beginning, with the creation of the universe, and in the beginning
of our new life in Christ, whenever his Word in one form or another
brought us into his family.25
The rhythm of dying to sin and rising to God takes place each day in the
life of the believer. God’s word does more than edify, it kills that
which is false and raises that which is true. The connection between
dying and rising with Christ and daily life is apparent in Rom. 6. Paul
moves immediately from theological concept to its implications for
Long after the initial rite of baptism is over, this rhythm of dying and
rising with Christ continues to bring daily life of service to God and
neighbor out of the daily putting to death of sin.
Baptism as Theology of the Cross
For Lutherans, the sacraments of baptism and communion promise to be
visible signs in which one could assuredly find the mercy of God. Unlike
seeking the ‘invisible things of God in works’ of human origin, which
Luther condemns in the Heidelberg Disputation, trust in baptism and
communion ‘comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen
through suffering and the cross.’ And indeed, both baptism and communion
are intimately connected with the cross – participation in the
Therefore, Luther says, in baptism “we surely find and meet with [God’s]
Baptism cannot be grasped by the wisdom of the world. It is not simply a
promise of life; It is also a promise of death. What kind of wisdom is
that? Baptism proclaims this foolishness, that in participating
in Christ’s death, one will participate in his resurrection. To take
this promise seriously means to be at odds with reason and the human
instinct which avoids death at all costs. Put another way, because of
captivity to sin, human nature cannot accept complete dependence on God
and looks for a way around the cross. It looks for a way around death
and therefore rejects Christ.
Paradoxically, death to sin becomes the way in which the power of death
is defeated. Baptism effects continual death to sin in the life of a
Christian, and leading him or her to walk in newness of life. Through
opposites, through weakness, God’s work is done in the baptized. Baptism
marks the radical reversal from trusting in good works to regarding them
as evil. It brings death to all theologies of glory – it brings death to
the theologian of glory. By affirming this death as the key to
new life, it forces the theologian to ‘call the thing what it actually
Practically speaking, it can be difficult to hold to this type of
teaching which proclaims the cross instead of glory. Not only are
baptism and the theology of the cross paradoxes, but they point to
suffering – not a well-received topic in pubic discourse. A modern day
theologian of the cross may well be nicknamed Reverend Killjoy. Luther
anticipates this complaint in the Heidelberg disputation.29
The cross, he says, does not give cause for despair but for “arousing
the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.”30
The cross brings death where there is false hope in life – life apart
from God. The cross corrects bad vision by attacking this false hope
until the believer cries out with the Apostle Paul, “who will rescue me
from this body of
Thanks be to God that Christ Jesus provides the answer: You must be born
In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus of the new birth received
by faith. But because the inner theologian of glory is never far away,
as Forde points out, Nicodemus even tries to take baptism (so to speak)
under his own control: “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s
womb and be born?”33
No. Baptism is of the Spirit, of God, and is not within human power.
Most baptized Christians will quickly recognize that sin is indeed
present after baptism. Sin and baptism are understood together through
the theology of the cross. As Luther argued in the Heidelberg
Disputation, the works of humanity, though seemingly good and
attractive, are likely to be mortal sins. The sin which remains after
baptism ‘makes it impossible for any good works to be pure before
Because sin is ever present, no human work can ever be acceptable to
God. Thesis 24 of the Heidelberg Disputation acknowledges this fact –
that wisdom and the law are not evil in themselves but in
humanity’s misuse of them. Without the theology of the cross, humanity
“misuses the best in the worst manner.”35
Finally, the problem is sin. The brokenness of humanity twists every
good toward evil. Thus Christians misuse scripture, damage creation, and
use God-given gifts to violate others’ human rights. The wisdom of the
world is not the problem; it’s the wise.
The pervasive presence of sin doesn’t invalidate baptism, but rather
draws the sinner closer to it. For Luther, this means one should boldly
‘hold fast’ to our baptism and ‘set it high’ against all sins.36
In baptism, that sinner finds assurance of a loving God in the midst of
sin and suffering. Against all questions and doubt, baptism speaks hope.
Though sinful eyes distort vision until good appears bad and bad appears
good, baptism is a true revelation of who God is for the
believer. Baptism saves. Luther would not say the sacrament in and of
itself saves, but rather God’s work through it. It is strictly the work
of God revealed through the cross that saves, and not –
especially not – any human work, well-intentioned or otherwise.
In this, the sinner finds comfort.
Life from Death
Baptism is a daily sacrament of dying and rising. Baptism provides the
antidote to every theology of glory: death. It is a revelation of the
cross of Christ; life in the cross. In baptism Christians find continual
participation in Christ’s death and resurrection – daily experience of
Law and Gospel – God’s word which drowns sinful nature, and brings to
life trust in a merciful God. God speaks the last word over sin and
death, and gives faith in new life. Through baptism, this new life
continuously springs up each day from death, that is, from the drowning
of the ‘old creature,’ the theologian of glory. And God allows the
theologian of the cross to walk in newness of life. God’s word continues
to work on the baptized, connecting them with the event of the cross,
and preparing them for the future of God’s promise.
Theology of the cross is for every baptized person to do, not simply
professional theologians. My purpose in connecting baptism with theology
of the cross is not to glorify the theology itself. This would
be the greatest of sins; a devious attempt to replace faith in God with
faith in something else. I hope to have shown that through baptism, God
raises up theologians of the cross: those who trust in God who
brings life from death.
Cousar, Charles B. A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in
the Pauline Letters. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.
Dunn, James D. G. “Salvation Proclaimed, 6: Romans 6:1-11: Dead and
Alive.” Expository Times 93, no. 9 (1982): 259–264.
Forde, Gerhard O. On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on
Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B.
Kolb, Robert. “Luther on the Theology of the Cross.” Lutheran
Quarterly 16, no. 1 (2002): 443–466.
Kolb, Robert, and Charles P. Arand. The Genius of Luther’s Theology:
A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church. Grand
Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008.
Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. The Book of
Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Loewenich, Walther von. Luther’s Theology of the Cross.
Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1976.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 35. Edited by Jaroslav
Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. American edition. Saint Louis: Concordia,
———. Luther’s Works, Vol. 51. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and
Helmut T. Lehmann. American edition. Saint Louis: Concordia, 1986.
———. Three Treatises. 2nd edition. Philadelphia: Fortress
Luther, Martin, and Timothy F Lull. Martin Luther’s Basic
Theological Writings. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “A Theology of the Cross.” Word &
World 8 (1988): 162–72.
Root, Andrew. “A Theology of the Cross and Ministry in Our Time: How Do
You Call a Thing What It Is When You Don’t Know What the Thing Is?.”
Dialog: A Journal of Theology 48, no. 2 (2009): 187–193.
Tannehill, Robert C. Dying and Rising with Christ: A Study in
Pauline Theology. Vol. 32. Beiheft zur zeitschrift für die
neutestamentliche wissenschaft und die kunde der Älteren kirche. Berlin:
Wengert, Timothy J. “Peace, Peace … Cross, Cross: Reflections on how
Martin Luther Relates the Theology of the Cross to Suffering.”
Theology Today 59, no. 2 (2002): 190–205.
Wengert, Timothy J. Martin Luther’s Catechisms: Forming the
Faith. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.
- Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on
Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B.
Eerdmans, 1997), 19.↩︎
- See John 14:9.↩︎
- Robert Kolb, “Luther on the Theology of the Cross,” Lutheran
Quarterly 16, no. 1 (2002):
- Martin Luther and Timothy F Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological
Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989),
- Ibid., 58.↩︎
- Ibid., 58.↩︎
- Kolb, “Luther on the Theology of the Cross,”
- Andrew Root, “A Theology of the Cross and Ministry in Our Time: How Do
You Call a Thing What It Is When You Don’t Know What the Thing Is?.”
Dialog: A Journal of Theology 48, no. 2 (2009):
- Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross,
- Luther is not strictly following the traditional teaching on mortal
versus venial sins. Following Forde (1997, p. 33), a ‘mortal sin’ may be
taken as a ‘deadly sin’ in that its ‘apparent goodness is such that it
seduces us into trusting in it and our own doing of it,’ thus denying
- Luther and Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings,
- See I Cor 1:18-21↩︎
- Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of
Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000),
- Edmund Schlink, The Doctrine of Baptism (Saint Louis: Concordia
Pub. House, 1972), 44.↩︎
- Romans 6:3–4 (NRSV)↩︎
- Ibid., 50.↩︎
- Robert C. Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ: A Study in
Pauline Theology, vol. 32, Beiheft zur zeitschrift für die
neutestamentliche wissenschaft und die kunde der Älteren kirche (Berlin:
Töpelmann, 1967), 30.↩︎
- Schlink, The Doctrine of Baptism,
- Ibid., 53.↩︎
- Tannehill, Dying and Rising with Christ,
- Ibid., 32:42.↩︎
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan
and Helmut T. Lehmann, American edition. (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1986),
- Ibid., 35.↩︎
- Ibid., 39.↩︎
- Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A
Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Grand
Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008),
- James D. G. Dunn, “Salvation Proclaimed, 6: Romans 6:1-11: Dead and
Alive.” Expository Times 93, no. 9 (1982):
- See Rom. 6:4 and I Cor. 10:16 for
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan
and Helmut T. Lehmann, American edition. (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1986),
- Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross,
- Luther and Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings,
- Rom. 7:24↩︎
- John 3:7↩︎
- Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross,
- Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35,
- Luther and Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings,
- Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35,
Clint Eastwood and Mass Culture
On the movies of Clint Eastwood, by The New Yorker:
“Mass culture is a machine for showing desire,” Roland Barthesnwrote. It’s also a machine for expressing resentment, a frustrationnof desire. Harry Callahan is lonely, hard, intolerant. Eastwood became npopular, in part, because he allowed people to dream that they couldnbe effective without being nice.
What does our mass culture desire today? Winning arguments and passingnjudgment according to cable news and reality television…
Free Speech, Free Will
Legally we have free speech, but in reality, it’s anything but free. Our
public communication is captive to sin and it cannot free itself, even
on the web—which is touted as the most democratic system of
communication invented. But by human nature, our communication always
bends towards evil.
When anonymous feedback is allowed on heavily visited sites, it doesn’t
take long for the racism, bigotry and
Hitler references to
appear—buried just beneath the main article. More subltly: a church’s
commitment to articulate a particular moral belief might end up
alienating those most in need of its support. In other words, we
invariably fail to communicate perfectly. The multiplication of tools
for communicating online doesn’t reduce the risk, it increases the risk
that we fail to live up to our name—at a larger scale. Let’s be honest
Our gift, then is editing, moderation, and most importantly:
Message and Medium
We can use the growing resources of electronic communication to bring
the gospel message to many who have not heard. But we need to
investigate the message and the medium. Because this isn’t about
producing electronic tracts. That would be called spam. This is about
real connections that draw us to real relationships that, put
together, represent God’s work in this particular place, in this
We can’t pretend the Internet doesn’t exist. It does; at least for those
people living in developing nations. We also can’t assume that
Christians have a monopoly on this new medium, as we did with past
technological advances. We don’t. And thank God that Christendom is
over. But between naiveté and arrogance, Christians are called to engage
these new electronic tools and work that they may be used justly and
We may even have something to say about how our new tools should be used
for the better. But first we need to learn what it all this means for
doing ministry—the same ministry that the church has always done.
Net Full of Fish
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did
not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no
fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the
net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they
cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were
so many fish.
Internet full of fish
It was inevitable that the single most profound technological revolution
of the 20th century would eventually be mentioned in conversation with
the Christian Gospel. It’s a meeting of a Christian’s most urgent
communication—the good news of Jesus Christ—with this century’s most
advanced medium—the Internet.
Like the Gutenberg revolution, though, the advancement of the Internet
is not simply by degree over traditional media, but rather by radical
change to the way Western society works, plays, and even thinks.
Strictly speaking, as a medium, the Internet cannot ensure value. Those
things that are most important to us are still contained in the
message—wherever that message may be found. In the quoted verse, the
disciples have a net. Sure, it’s not an internet, but I trust you’ll
forgive the wordplay. The net alone, though, was not enough to catch
fish. The disciples followed Jesus to fill their net with fish.
Where are the fish?
As our recent generations of disciples have begun using the Internet,
they’ve also discovered disappointment. Despite its increasing ubiquity
in our society, the net does not provide all the fish it promises. Many
churches have invested in the Internet with hopes that it will provide
new relationships and a generation of members that has been missing from
their pews. Instead of nets full of fish, many churches find their
Internet presence dwindling and lifeless. Our web sites may even be
diligently maintained, but what fish are we finding?
What are we called to do with our Internet?
Jesus called the disciples in the boat ‘children.’ After reading any
number of anonymous ‘comments’ on a public site like YouTube, you’ll
probably agree the label still fits. Like any new technology, the
Internet has multiplied the ways in which we communicate, but it has by
no means taught us how to communicate better. As it becomes harder and
harder for us to avoid the Internet, we are more and more called to work
on communicating authentically in this new medium. We have a lot to
learn. Before we cast our new nets to the sea, let’s think about using
them responsibly. Let’s listen for direction.
“You will find some.”
If we put our faith in our new net alone, we will be disappointed.
Without centering our work in the Gospel, the energy we put into making
our place on the Internet will be wasted. The promise of an online
church, free of walls and limitations is empty and dangerous. The last
thing we need is a virtual church. But for those who humbly take up
their nets, listening for the voice of Jesus, the promise is there, “you
will find some.” We will know we’ve learned to use our new technology
appropriately when our nets are full of fish.
And then our real work begins.