To Love Is To Be Vulnerable

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

--C.S. Lewis

Edging Toward Enchantment: From Deconstruction to Reconstruction

When you first start struggling with doubts and disenchantment you enter into a phase of deconstruction. You start sifting through and analyzing everything you believe with the goal of stripping faith down to the stuff you really, truly believe.

Trouble is, you can go so far down this path that by the time you're done there's nothing left. You keep whittling faith down until, eventually, all that is left is scraps on the floor.

But deconstruction is important. Faith must and will go through the fires. In the words of Paul, when our faith was a child it talked like a child, thought like a child and reasoned like a child. Faith has to grow up and put childish things behind it. But that can be painful. There are attractive things about a childish faith. It's simpler. It's consoling. It's certain. To grow up in faith is to step into complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and anxiety. And there are times when we wish we could turn back the clock of faith, to go back to simpler times.

But you can't go back. I often tell my students that there is a threshold of doubt, that once you start asking certain sorts of questions there is no going back. When it comes to faith there is a class of questions that, once you get to them, just don't have any answers. When you reach these questions you'll live with them for the rest of your life.

During a season of deconstruction it makes sense to read a lot of stuff that tests and pushes your faith. Stuff that lightens the load of faith but keeps you hanging on in the face of your doubts and disenchantment. For example, there was a season of deconstruction in my life when I was attracted to death of god theology and its spin on religionless Christianity. Hey, I thought, maybe I can be a Christian without believing God!

Now, if you don't struggle with doubts you likely don't understand the attraction of that idea. A Christianity without faith in God seems ludicrous to Christians who are devout, certain and orthodox. But if you're struggling with faith the notion of a religionless Christianity seems like a gift, a way to lighten the burden of faith while keeping connected to the faith. Often the tether is behavioral, a focus on orthopraxy (the right practice of the faith) than on orthodoxy. Doing things rather than believing in things.

The thing I'm trying to point out here is that people are attracted to these strange notions because they are a form of coping with doubt and disenchantment. For the most part, Christians aren't attracted to things like death of god theology, religionless Christianity or Christian atheism because they are trying to be radical, progressive, cool, relevant or avant-garde. No, they reach these ideas because they are the final stages in the journey of deconstruction, lightening the load of faith to make it easier to carry in the face of doubts and disenchantment. This constellation of ideas--a faith without faith, a religion without God--is just about as light as faith can get before it completely evaporates.

And when you get to this point something has to happen.

In my experience, a radically deconstructed faith just isn't sustainable. It can be for a season, even a long season. This is a place where you end up after you have journeyed through the fires. Faith here is in its lightest, most insubstantial state. But over time the unbearable lightness of faith starts taking a toll.

The first place you'll start noticing the unbearable lightness of faith is in your attitude about going to church. What's the point of rolling out of bed on Sunday morning? You hardly believe in any of this stuff, so the entire experience of church is just one, massive doubt trigger. Church is too faithful--all the songs and sermons so full of conviction--to be tolerable. Our faith has become so wispy and insubstantial that we experience full-bodied expressions of faith jarring and uncomfortable. Even unseemly. A lyric of a song makes us wince. A sermon illustration slaps us in the face.

It's hard to go to church when your faith has become so light. So you stop going. Now you have a faith without God and without a church. It's just you, alone, with all the doubts in your head.

Many of us have been in or are currently in this exact spot. It's a fine, perfectly predictable spot to reach. Having been there myself hear no judgment on my part. I get it. My point is simply that I don't think you can stay in this spot forever. Perhaps some can. I do think a lot of people can be there for a very long time. I was in this spot for many years. But eventually, the unbearable lightness of faith becomes intolerable. This being betwixt and between belief an unbelief is just not sustainable.

Something has to give. If you want to maintain a hold on faith the season of deconstruction has to be followed by a season of reconstruction. But a lot of doubting and disenchanted Christians never make the decision--and it is a decision--to commence with the work of reconstruction.

In the lament psalms the season of deconstruction is followed by a season of reconstruction. A turn is made. A jarring turn, but a turn nonetheless. Lament, doubt and disillusionment is followed by doxology, praise and thanksgiving. Faith has a rhythm. At some point, doubting Christians must force themselves to read the psalms all the way to the end. We need to practice making the turn.

Same goes for the prophets. The prophets rage and despair. But a steady diet of rage and despair is not sustainable. So the prophets are also poets of grace and hope. Like the psalms, the prophets make the turn. Deconstruction is followed by reconstruction. Faith must find this biblical rhythm if it is to be vibrant and sustainable.

Edging back toward enchantment is a part of this journey toward reconstruction. Edging back toward enchantment is the intentional practice of reading the lament psalms and the prophets all the way to the end. It is the intentional commitment to let mystery, and even faith, season our diet of questions. The intentional commitment to not let our doubts and objections be the primary intellectual and emotional filter of Christian community and worship. The intentional commitment to check our doubts and cynicism at the door.

Edging back toward enchantment is practicing faith. Not practicing as faith. But just what I said: practicing faith.

Personal Days: My Suitcase

I love retro things from the 1950s and 1960s.

Two summers ago, when we were visiting Rachel Held Evans and her husband Dan in Dayton, TN, Jana and I were going up and down Market Street shopping in the antique and junk shops. In one of them I found this vintage suitcase, pictured here.

I fell in love with it.

When I travel this is the suitcase I take. As people wheel their handled roller-board suitcases up and down the airport, I carry this.

And you know what? I get tons of compliments.

When the suitcase comes through the security scanners. "I like that suitcase." When I'm standing in line to board the plane. "I love that! I haven't seen a suitcase like that in years." When I'm taking it down from the overhead storage. "That suitcase is awesome."

True, some of my friends make fun of my old-school suitcase. I've enduring some teasing for my retro taste.

But I love this suitcase. When I show up at your church or speaking event, it'll be there in my hand.


Am I now
seeking human approval,
or God’s approval?

Or am I
trying to please people?

If I were still pleasing people,
I would not be
a slave of Christ.

    --Galatians 1.10

In light of the work of Brene Brown I was recently interrupted by this text.

How much am I trying to please people? Addicted to pleasing people? Obsessed with pleasing people? Terrified of not pleasing people?

How much shame-resilience is needed to be a slave of Christ?

Edging Toward Enchantment: Updrafts of Enchantment

Many Christians struggle with disenchantment, but our experience isn't wholly characterized by disenchantment. We're still haunted. Here and there we still bump into the magic. We're interrupted by beauty and ugliness. We're caught up by wonder and awe. We suspect there is more to the universe than the equations of particle physics. We revel in the mystery.

Yes, we have our doubts. But we also, from time to time, doubt our doubts. Belief nags at us, so we crave help with our unbelief.

In his book A Secular Age Charles Taylor argues that modernity isn't a wholly disenchanted space. Modernity is characterized by cross-pressures of belief and unbelief, enchantment and disenchantment, immanence and transcendence. Yes, there are the downward pressures of disenchantment, which collapse the spiritual and transcendent into the physical and the immanent. But here and there in the secular world we also experience updrafts of enchantment, a pull toward the heavens.

As Taylor writes (p. 549), the secular is "that open space where you can feel the winds pulling you, now to belief, now to unbelief."

Of course, each person experiences the cross-pressures of these countervailing winds to different degrees. Some feel the downward pressure of disenchantment more than others. Doubts are heavier, belief is harder. Still, if you're a Christian you're at least haunted by Christianity. And all of us, like I said, bump into the magic from time to time.

So I think the first thing we have to do, if we want to edge toward enchantment, is name and recognize these cross-pressures and then learn to surf the updrafts of enchantment.

Our church retreat is on the Frio River. The Frio has carved out a small canyon in the Texas hills. So when you sit by the river and look to the top of the canyon you can watch the birds circling, riding the rising warm air from the bottom of the canyon to the top. As the air warms in the Texas sun it rises. This rising air is called a thermal, and birds will ride these thermals upward. Like an elevator of air.

These thermals aren't strong winds or updrafts. They are gentle and subtle.

When I think about edging toward enchantment I think about those birds on the Frio river. I think about catching subtle updrafts of transcendence, thermals of enchantment in our day to day lives.

Boiled down to its essence, I think you keep in touch with enchantment by intentionally attending to the thermals of enchantment, subtle as they are, to rest in them and ride them upward. I think a lot of our struggles with disenchantment stem from failing to attend to the updrafts of transcendence in our lives. We binge on disenchantment, ruminating on everything that gives us doubt. But we don't give equal time to the magic and mystery.

For many of us, reconnecting with enchantment will be an intentional, attentional practice.

Enchantment is like a bird spreading its wings to feel and search for that subtle thermal updraft.

Edging Toward Enchantment: The Devil for Doubters

Our struggles with disenchantment is a huge theme in my recent book. It's right there in the subtitle of Reviving Old Scratch:
Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted
Last week we talked about the enchanted versus disenchanted divide that separates the Christian church, generally along educational and socioeconomic lines. Globally, yes, with the West more disenchanted than the South, but also locally.

For example, as I tell the story in Reviving Old Scratch, when I first started going out to the prison and sharing life at Freedom Fellowship (a church plant reaching out to a socioeconomically marginalized part of our town) I was taken aback about how much talk there was about demons and the devil. It was a strange experience because what drew me to the margins of my town was a progressive but disenchanted vision of Christianity that focused on social justice.

Worldviews collided.

There I was, an educated, progressive Christian surrounded by talk of angels and demons.

In my own town I had crashed into the enchanted/disenchanted divide that separates Christians.

In the prison and at Freedom this divide manifests in numerous ways, but I felt it most acutely in all the talk about demons and the devil. My progressive, disenchanted, social-justice oriented view of Christianity drew me to the the margins of my town but left me ill-equipped to handle prayer requests for angelic protection or for deliverance from demons. The language of my disenchanted prayer life was moral and therapeutic in focus--"help us be agents of grace, give us comfort and peace."--rather than supernatural.

My disenchanted prayer life lacked the theology and words to pray, with theological and intellectual integrity and conviction, for my brothers and sisters in enchanted contexts.

My disenchantment had interrupted by ability to be pastorally present, vital and effective in these more enchanted spaces.

From a autobiographical perspective, then, Reviving Old Scratch is a "Devil for Doubters" book chronicling my attempt to overcome the enchanted/disenchanted divide out at the prison and at Freedom when it comes to the subject of "spiritual warfare." In this sense, Reviving Old Scratch is a sort of narrowly focused case study showing how doubting Christians might learn to overcome disenchantment.

And more than that, it's also a story about how much we have to gain when we edge ourselves toward enchantment.

Personal Days: Playing on the Praise Band

A few years ago I bought a cheap guitar so that I could accompany myself when I wanted to sing old hymns. Our church had stopped singing the old gospel standards, so I missed them. Learning a few guitar chords and singing along seemed a great way to keep those songs in my life.

And over the years that's the only guitar playing I did. Playing and singing at home, mostly gospel hymns and Johnny Cash songs. "I'll Fly Away" and "Folsom Prison Blues." That's how I fed my soul.

This last spring Michael, the praise band leader at Freedom Fellowship, called to ask if I'd step in at the last minute to lead worship at Freedom. Michael knew I lead hymns out at the prison on Monday nights, and while Freedom usually worships with a praise band, Michael thought that it would be a nice change of pace for me to lead a old fashioned hymn sing.

I agreed. But since I played all those hymns with my guitar I brought that along. I lead worship that night with my guitar and it went well enough that Michael asked me once more to lead worship when a lot of the praise band members couldn't make it one Wednesday night.

I really enjoyed leading worship those nights. Most old gospel hymns are easy to play. Three simple chords can get you through a ton of songs.

And then this week happened.

All the lead acoustic guitarists who play for Michael couldn't make it this week. So Michael called to see if I wanted to try to join the band. I was hesitant. I'd never played with a band. And my guitar skills are pretty limited. But Michael encouraged me and on Tuesday night I plugged in my guitar to practice with the band for the Wednesday night service.

I learned a ton that night, and Michael, Herb, Val and Lucas were so, so encouraging. That's what I love about Freedom. It's not the quality of the performance that matters, it's the spirit in which it is offered. Truly. I've never experienced anything like worship at Freedom. I've never, in all my years at Freedom, heard anyone, ever, complain or comment on the quality of the praise band. Quality of performance is simply not on anyone's radar screen. "Good" versus "bad" is just not a filter we use.

All that to say, I knew, if I was ever going to be a part of a praise band, Freedom would be, I'm guessing, one of the only churches were that could happen. A church where I could mess up and literally no--absolutely no one---one would notice, care or comment.

And so this last Wednesday I played guitar in the Freedom praise band. And because it was Freedom I wasn't nervous in the least. Yes, I messed up a few times--like starting in on a song forgetting that I needed to put the capo on--but all I got from the band and the congregation was encouragement and gratitude.

I did the best I could, served as best I could. We played our guitars, waved our flags, thumped our tambourines, clapped our hands and sang out loud.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Scooby-Doo and the Journey Toward Disenchantment

You might be unfamiliar with how we'll be using the terms enchantment and disenchantment, as sociological and cultural adjectives.

We're borrowing these terms from Charles Taylor's book A Secular Age.

As Taylor describes early in A Secular Age (p. 29), "the enchanted world [is] the world of spirits, demons [and] moral forces our predecessors acknowledged." Sometimes the enchanted world is called "pre-modern," as in before the Enlightenment and the technological and scientific revolutions that radically remolded the world and our relationship to the cosmos.

The pre-modern, enchanted world was spooky. Filled with occult forces, spirits, spells, superstitions and things that go bump in the night. Ghosts, witches, demons, devils and monsters.

Our "modern" world, by contrast, especially in the West, is experienced as disenchanted. Due to the amazing advances in science and technology over the last 500 years, instead of a spooky, spirit-filled world we've come to view the world mechanistically. The world isn't haunted, it's a machine. In our disenchanted world it's harder to believe in spiritual, supernatural, heavenly or miraculous things. Christians struggling with disenchantment struggle to believe in heaven, hell, the soul, angels, demons, the Devil, miracles, prayer, the supernatural stories in the Bible (like the resurrection of Jesus), and God.

On this blog and in my new book Reviving Old Scratch I like to use Scooby-Doo to describe our 500 year journey in the West from enchantment to disenchantment.

A Scooby-Doo episode starts with enchantment. When Scooby and the gang first come to a town there's a spook or monster plaguing the town. But as the episode progresses the kids get suspicious. They trap the monster to unmask a human criminal. The story that began in enchantment, with a spook, ends in disenchantment, with a human moral agent.

As I described in the last post, this is the same thing that happens when Christianity becomes disenchanted. The frame shifts away from the supernatural toward the moral. Christianity is about being a good person. Conservative Christians have a vision of what this moral personal looks like. Progressive Christians have a different vision of what this moral personal looks like. Regardless, the focus is the same: Christianity is about morality.

As it should and must be. But a thoroughly moralized and disenchanted Christianity raises all sorts of questions. For example: Why do you have to do religious things, like go to church on Sundays, to be a moral person? And if you don't have to believe in God, the Devil, miracles or life after death to practice the Golden Rule then what's the point of believing in any of these things?

Lots of Christians who are struggling with disenchantment don't have any good answers to these questions, and I think that's one of the big reasons so many Christians are drifting toward agnosticism and atheism.

Which makes me think that a thoroughly disenchanted Christianity just isn't sustainable.

At some point, for Christianity to remain vital and energized it has to reconnect with enchantment.

Edging Toward Enchantment: Miracle Stories

During the winter the adult Bible class I help teach on Sunday mornings was doing a study of the Elijah and Elisha narratives in 1 and 2 Kings.

One Sunday my assignment was to teach through 2 Kings 6. The story that opens Chapter Six is another miracle story in a string of miracle stores from the preceding chapters. In 2 Kings 4 we see Elisha doing a series of miracles: Expanding a widow's store of oil (2 Kings 4.1-7), raising the son of the Shunammite woman from the dead (2 Kings 4.8-37), neutralizing some poisoned stew (2 Kings 4.38-41) and multiplying food to feed a hundred prophets (2 Kings 4.42-44). In 2 Kings 5 we have the healing of Naaman the leper. And then in 2 Kings 6 we get to this story:
2 Kings 6.1-7
The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.” And he said, “Go.” Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?” “I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!” The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.
What do you do with a story like this in a Bible class full of educated, modern, Western Christians? Of course, from a narrative and literary perspective we can discuss how the miracle functions within the story. But what is the lesson in this story for us?

Do we think that axeheads can float in our own lives?

Do we expect miracles?

I asked this question of my Bible class because one of the things I've noticed over the years is the difference between my Sunday morning experience and my Monday and Wednesday night experiences.

On Sunday mornings I worship at the Highland Church of Christ. Highland is a mixed bag, demographically, but we are a pretty educated bunch, with lots of college professors in attendance. And by and large, the conversation about God at Highland tends toward the moral and therapeutic rather than the miraculous. God wants us to be good, moral people. Compassionate and concerned about injustice and suffering. And during times of struggle, stress, loss or tragedy we call upon God to give us peace, comfort, wisdom and strength. But we don't, by and large, expect miracles.We're much more likely to pray for comfort over the loss of an axehead than to pray for the axehead to float.

My experience on Monday and Wednesday nights is very different. As regular readers know, I teach a Bible class on Monday nights out at a prison. And on Wednesday nights I worship at Freedom Fellowship, a Highland church plant in a poor part of our town.

Out at the prison and at Freedom we expect miracles. There isn't any intellectual embarrassment about praying for axeheads to float. Shoot, people have experienced axeheads floating. Miracle stories are very common at the prison and at Freedom.

In short, my experience on Sunday mornings tends to be disenchanted while my experience on Monday and Wednesday nights tends to be enchanted.

For example, when I read the story of the axehead in Sunday morning Bible class we're all a bit embarrassed and puzzled by the story, more likely to think about the story in a literary sort of way than expecting anything like that to happen in our own lives. By contrast, if you read the story of the axehead out at the prison or at Freedom people there would say, "Totally have seen something like that happen."

This division between enchantment/disenchantment across socioeconomic and educational lines isn't anything new. Vatican elites are embarrassed by the magical and superstitious beliefs among poor Catholics worldwide. Religion is on the decline in the rich, secular West but charismatic and pentecostal spirituality is exploding in Third World contexts. And in my own town I step across the threshold when I move from worshiping with college-educated people to worshiping at Freedom or at the prison.

All this is to bring us to the point I made to my Bible class about the floating axehead story.

"Basically," I said, "our church tends toward disenchantment. Because of our education and wealth. Beyond a literary analysis, we don't know what to do with a miracle story like this. But my experience out at the prison and with Freedom is very different, much more enchanted. I don't know what to do with that disjoint. I just want to make the observation that the disjoint exists. It's my opinion that this is one of the least discussed fractures in the church, the fracture between the enchanted church and the disenchanted church, which is often correlated with education and socioeconomic status. Is it possible to overcome this divide?"

We didn't get much past me making these observations and putting this question to the class. But afterwards a few in the class encouraged me, at some point, to return to this subject. They expressed struggling with disenchantment. And they had also bumped up against the enchantment/disenchantment divide in their own lives--within a marriage, within a friendship, within the church. One person living with an enchanted Christianity where axeheads float clashing with another person whose disenchanted Christianity is discomfited by stories of floating axeheads. Did I, these class members asked, have any suggestions about how to overcome this divide? Or any thoughts about how disenchanted Christians might recover or edge toward a more enchanted Christianity?

I'd like to devote some posts to pondering these questions. While I'll be gathering these posts under the title "Edging Toward Enchantment" I won't be using "Part 1" or "Part 2" as we go. I'm not going to be building toward anything with these posts. Just collecting thoughts, ideas and impressions I have.

I want to ramble through some ideas and insights in a desultory way. Thinking out loud about enchantment and how we might recover it.

Reviving Old Scratch on Newsworthy With Norsworthy and a 30% Promotional Discount

I'm back over at Luke Norsworthy's podcast, along with Jonathan Storment.

In the podcast we talk about N.T. Wright, Greg Boyd, demon possession, a theology of revolt, the problem of suffering, the privilege of doubt, concerns about talking about the devil, Jesus' political imagination, how drinking bad coffee is saving the world, and how making peanut butter sandwiches is a form of spiritual warfare, all related to my new book Reviving Old Scratch.

Incidentally, our discussion about the problem of suffering is, I think, one of the most potent insights in Reviving Old Scratch. Specifically, I make the point in the book that compassion is often the acid of faith.

How's that?

Well, compassion draws us to Jesus and deeper into the suffering of the world. But the deeper we go into that suffering the greater our doubts and the greater our theodicy concerns: Why is God allowing this?

Compassion draws us to faith in Jesus. And then compassion--or, rather, the doubts generated by our compassion--erodes faith in Jesus.

The cross-pressure between compassion and faith is, I think, the quicksand that has sunk the faith of many a progressive and liberal Christian. And the solution, in my estimation, is adopting Jesus's theology of revolt, reviving Jesus' battle with Old Scratch.

And a last programming note, Fortress Press just let me know about a promotional deal for Reviving Old Scratch.

If you use the promo code BECK30 with Fortress Press you'll get 30% off the book and free shipping. To order you can call 800-328-4648, email (, or place the order online at the Fortress site entering the promo code at checkout. This discount is good through 5/31.

Pleroopneumatic Christians

I was recently digging into the etymology of the word enthusiastic.

The word enthusiastic comes from the Greek root entheos (literally en “in” + theos “God”), meaning to be filled by God (or a god). An enthusiastic Christian is a Christian who has been filled by God.

Obviously, in Christian theology there would a pneumological connection here. Enthusiasm would mean being filled by the Holy Spirit.

But when I looked at the passages in the New Testament about being "filled with the Spirit" the word that is used isn't entheo but πληρόω (pléroó). For example:
Ephesians 5:18
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled [plērousthe] with the Spirit.
The Greek word pléroó means "to fill up."

So, to keep things biblical, instead of talking about enthusiastic Christians I was wondering if we should speak of pleroostic Christians!

But then I thought, talking about pleroostic Christians--"filled Christians"--doesn't specify what, exactly, we are being filled with the way entheo does (i.e., filled by God).

So if we connect pléroó--"filled"--with pneuma--the word for Spirit--then we'd have a word similar to enthusiasm, a biblically-rooted adjective for being "Spirit filled":
 pléroó + pneuma = filled with the Spirit
So what word would that create? Pleroopneumatic? Pronounced "plea-roo-new-matic?"

Instead of enthusiastic Christians, if we have a winner here, Spirit-filled Christians would be called pleroopneumatic Christians!

Yes, this is what I do in my free time.

Personal Days: Jana Among the Theologians

It's been a full week here in California. It's been a blast getting to talk about my book with people like Greg Boyd and Tom Wright. A highlight was Fortress Press taking Tom and I to dinner one night.

At dinner I made sure Jana got to sit beside Tom. Why? Because everyone loves Jana. It's not that I'm socially inept or anything. I'm affable. It's just that Jana is so warm and delightful. A few year's ago when I was at a conference with Walter Brueggemann Jana and Walter completely hit it off. They were thick as thieves by the end of the conference. I knew that would happen again with Tom. Because it always happens.

Jana and Tom talked a lot about his work as a pastor and bishop, especially about walking alongside those going through grief and loss. They also talked a lot about Jana's work as a theater teacher. They compared family photos and talked family.

Once, when I was visiting my friend Kristi at her assisted living facility, Jana was with me. One of the men living there came up and said to her, "I have to say, Miss, that you're a little bit magical."


That's Jana.

Dreamy and Devilish Thoughts: Description vs. Explanation in Theology

I'm a social scientist who writes theology. What that means is that I often import the sensibilities of social science into theological conversations. An example of that can be found in my new book Reviving Old Scratch and how I handle the existence of the devil.

Before turning to Lucifer, let me illustrate something from the field of psychology. Let's start with a question:

Why do people dream?

Every semester I lecture on sleep and dreams, a unit in my Introduction to Psychology class. The lecture is packed full of descriptive details. The cycles of our circadian rhythms. The four stages of sleeps. The contrast between REM and Non-REM sleep. The distinction between nightmares and night terrors. Phenomenon like sleep paralysis.

It's really one of the most interesting lectures of the semester.

And inevitably the question comes. A hand is raised.

"Dr. Beck, why do we dream?"

And the answer is, we really don't know. There are bunch of different theories. And I review each of these, but there is no consensus about which theory is right.

And the point I make to the students is that, when it comes to dreams and a host of other phenomena, there is a difference between description and explanation.

Both description and explanation are solidly scientific. All that we know about Non-REM and REM sleep is from hard-core science. But it’s descriptive science, describing, for example, what the brain waves are doing as you move through Stage 1 sleep to Stage 4 sleep and then into REM.

But that rich, empirical scientific description isn’t explanation. We don’t know why the brain needs to do this, why we dream. We do have some theories about why we dream, but we don’t know which, if any of them, is correct.

So what we have here is a collection of different explanations for the same phenomenon. Everyone agrees with the description, but we disagree on the explanation.

Sleep isn’t the only example here. When it comes to the etiology of mental illness you’ll get competing explanations from your therapist depending upon if he or she is working from a humanistic, psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioral or some other theoretical model. These theoretical models all differ when in comes to the explanation of depression—Why is Susan depressed?—but everyone agrees on the clinical description of depression.

In short, there is a difference between description and explanation. And many times when we disagree with the explanation we can all agree with the description.

Which brings us to the devil.

Last night in my conversation with N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd, I brought up this distinction in how I handle the devil in Reviving Old Scratch. I don’t try to resolve the issue about if the devil actually exists. I leave that as an open question. What I try to do instead in Reviving Old Scratch is good, rich descriptive work.

When it comes to spiritual warfare and the devil, believers and skeptics might disagree about why, for example, we experience temptation. Maybe it's because a literal demon is sitting on your shoulder whispering into your ear. Or maybe it is due to an innate and evolved tendency of human psychology. The explanations might differ. But we all agree on the description. Here, right now, I’m finding it difficult to act the way Jesus would have acted. In a word, love is hard.

Now, why is love hard? Explanations will abound. Regardless, we all agree--descriptively speaking--that love is hard.

Some people might find this approach infuriating or coy. We'd like a straight answer, Does the devil exist? Yes or no? My tendency is to bracket questions like that. And a large part of that is because I’m trained as a social scientist. You can do good empirical descriptive work in situations where there is explanatory disagreement.

And what I find most useful about this is that in many theological discussions, when you shift away from explanation to description, you can get warring and irreconcilable theological positions to find common ground.

Let Me Introduce You to the Devil: Reviving Old Scratch Now For Sale

Although it began shipping early from Amazon, Reviving Old Scratch is now officially out.

Thanks to all of you who have already ordered a copy of the book. If you're waiting and wanting to kick the tires of the book, reviews are starting to appear on Amazon and you can read the Table of Contents, the Prelude and Chapter 1 at Fortress Press.

Over the last two weeks Reviving Old Scratch has been the on-again off-again--the list is updated every hour it seems--#1 New Release and/or the #1 Best Seller in "Christian Angelology and Demonology."

This is--How best to say it?--an interesting genre. Last week when I looked at the list in this category the Amazon bestsellers were Unmasking the Devil: Strategies to Defeat Eternity's Greatest Enemy, Angels by My Side: Stories and Glimpses of These Heavenly Helpers, and My Radical Encounters with Angels (Book Two): Meeting Angels, Witches, Demons, Satan, Jesus and More!

You can check out the current list here.

Hmmm. Which of those books is not like the others?

All that to say, if you'd like to see some good theology a the top of the Amazon bestseller list for "Christian Angelology and Demonology" do the world a favor pick up a copy of Reviving Old Scratch.

Even the Sparrow Has Found a Home

One of my favorite images from the psalms comes from Psalm 84.
Psalm 84.1-4
How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
The image is from verse 3, the image of sparrows and swallows making nests in the temple courts. 

What I like about the image is how, very plausibly, it places the poet in the temple courts at the time of composition. You can imagine the poet sitting in the temple with the intent to compose a song. The poet begins with expected lines, extolling the temple as home, as the resting place our hearts are yearning for. The poet then pauses and begins to think about what should come next in the song.

And then an unexpected image. Birds nesting in the temple. Where did this image come from?

The origin seems obvious enough. As the poet's eyes take in the temple courts, heart searching for the next lines, the poet looks up at the sky and notices the birds overhead, flying to and fro from their nests high up in the nooks and crannies of the temple. The poet watches the birds meditatively. And then the flash of recognition--Look, even the birds long to live here!

Of course, the poem could have been written at some other time and place, with the birds nesting in the temple as a memory of a past visit. But I've always felt that the insertion of the nesting birds in the poem was most likely a spontaneous insight prompted by the poet actually siting in the temple court while composing the song. The poet's vision caught by the sight of the birds.

The Innate Violence of Activism

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

--Thomas Merton

Personal Days: Husband to a Drama Teacher

If you've been following these Friday posts you'll recall that my wife, Jana, is a High School theater teacher. This summer Jana and I will have been married 25 years, and for most of those years I've been helping Jana with her productions.

I've painted sets. Moved sets. Built sets.

I've attended rehearsals and given notes.

I've run sound and lights.

I've designed programs and handed out programs.

I've worked the ticket booth and the concession stand.

And famously one year, when a student got injured the night before a show, I stepped in and performed in a show. I memorized the lines in between the scenes.

This last week, it was hot gluing book pages to drops.

That's life as the husband of a drama teacher.

Tonight is Jana's last show of the year. Little Women opens tonight at Abilene Community Theater. Doors open at 7:30.

Pictured above is Jana and I at ACT, pondering the set of Little Women. This show is also a poignant one for the Becks as it'll be Brenden's last show with his Mom.

There will be lots of happy/sad tears.

Violence is a Profound Forgetting

In a spiritual sense, violence is a profound forgetting. It is a forgetting of the past--that I have been created for a purpose by a God who wholly knows me and at the same time wondrously, wholly loves me. It is a forgetting of the present--that I am a child of God, that these others around me are my brothers and sisters, also created, known and loved by God. And it is a forgetting of the future--that God is drawing all things together into a profound and peaceable unity, where there is a place for everyone in a harmony of God's composing.

--Samuel Wells & Marcia A. Owen, from Living Without Enemies

I Hold Myself in Quiet and Silence

As a critical and rationalistic person I have always been uncomfortable with Psalm 131.

I like to push against the mysteries of faith. Because, truth be told, I don't like mysteries. I want answers to my questions.

Consequently, some might argue that, theologically, I push too hard. So hard that I end up holding to some answers and ideas that are theologically suspect. Perhaps a quicker embrace of mystery would have been able to preserve my orthodoxy.

That seems to be the recommendation of Psalm 131:
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
You can see my problem. I do concern myself with great matters. Perhaps these matters are too wonderful for me, but I do concern myself with them.

But the other day I encountered Psalm 131 in the New Jerusalem translation. Here's how it reads: 
Yahweh, my heart is not haughty,
I do not set my sights too high.
I have taken no part in great affairs,
in wonders beyond my scope.

No, I hold myself in quiet and silence,
like a little child in its mother's arms,
like a little child, so I keep myself.

Let Israel hope in Yahweh
henceforth and for ever.
The phrase the caught me was "I hold myself in quiet and silence." For some reason that phrasing brought to light what I take now to be the contemplative core of the poem.

Becoming like a child is learning how to hold oneself in quiet and silence. More, quiet and silence is like a mother's embrace--a location of nurturing, protection, and love.

Quiet and silence is the embrace of a mother.

In sum, my attitude toward Psalm 131 has changed. I don't read the psalm anymore as a slap down for asking hard and penetrating theological questions. I now read the psalm as a call for contemplation, a call to hold myself in quietness and silence. A quietness and silence that, I believe, sustains faith in the face of one's critical interrogations and investigations.

To goal isn't to stop those questions but, rather, to make space in your life for quiet and silence. To spend time in a mother's embrace.     

He Knew Himself to be Loved by Christ

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.

Thus, amid the traps set for him by his enemies, with exultant heart he turned their every attack into a victory for himself; constantly beaten, abused and cursed, he boasted of it as though he were celebrating a triumphal procession and taking trophies home, and offered thanks to God for it all: Thanks be to God who is always victorious in us! This is why he was far more eager for the shameful abuse that his zeal in preaching brought upon him than we are for the most pleasing honors, more eager for death than we are for life, for poverty than we are for wealth; he yearned for toil far more than others yearn for rest after toil. The one thing he feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; nothing else could sway him. Therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.

To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture.

So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.

Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats.

Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.

--from a homily by Saint John Chrysostom

We Need a Satanic Hermeneutic

My fourth book Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted is out next week. While the book is for everyone, it's especially a book for progressive and liberal Christians who struggle with believing in the devil, demons, angels and spiritual warfare.

One of the arguments of the book is that, despite all our doubts about the existence of the devil, liberal and progressive Christians need to recover a vision of spiritual warfare. Because when you lose track of the Devil you tend to lose track of Jesus.

Recently, another example of this occurred to me, too late to be included among the examples I share in the book, so I'd like to share it here.

The observation is this: You need the Devil if you want to read the Bible well.

When liberal and progressive Christians read the Bible we talk a lot about reading the bible with a Christological hermeneutic. Basically, we read everything in the bible through the lens of Jesus, and if a particular reading of the text doesn't fit with Jesus we reject that reading as false.

This is well worn territory. But the point I'd like to make is that you can't have a Christological hermeneutic if you don't have a Devil. A Christological hermeneutic is necessarily a satanic hermeneutic.

Which puts liberal and progressive Christians in a bind given our doubts and skepticism about the existence of the Devil.

Again, you can't have a Christological hermeneutic if you don't have a Devil.

Let me explain this.

One of the biggest reasons progressive and liberal Christians adopt a Christological reading of the bible is the genocidal violence in the Old Testament. That violence is hugely problematic. Fortunately, that violence doesn't look a whole lot like the Jesus who preached "love your enemies." So it's often assumed--too quickly assumed--that a Christological reading of the Old Testament allows you to get around the violence of the Old Testament.

But the problem with many of these too-quick and too-easy Christological readings of the Old Testament is that they become Marcionite by introducing a huge moral wedge between the Old and New Testaments. The violence of the Old Testament, in light of a Christological reading, is judged as bad--wicked and evil, even. Which is theologically and hermeneutically problematic given how that violence is connected to God in the narratives.

What we need, to avoid Marcion-like readings of Scripture, is a way to see something good and holy in the violence of the Old Testament, something good and holy despite that violence being also wicked and evil.

That's a hard trick to pull off. And that trick is the Devil.

How did Jesus read the violence of the Old Testament? Jesus didn't read that violence as the zealots read it, as a call for holy war against the Romans. Jesus didn't read the violence of the Old Testament literally. Jesus shifted the battle to another plane. Jesus directed violence away from human enemies toward a spiritual antagonist, toward the True Enemy. The battle was against the Satan, not the Romans. That's the reading of the Old Testament--the satanic hermeneutic--that got Jesus to "love your enemies."

It's the same Christological reading of the Old Testament used by the church fathers as well. The moral problems thrown up by the violence in the Old Testament are not new. It perplexed the early Christians as well. See Marcion himself as an example here. So all the modern hand wringing about the violence in the Old Testament among progressive Christians isn't a new thing. The church has been thinking about this for a long time.

But the big difference here is that the church fathers believed in the Devil and modern progressive Christians, by and large, do not. The church fathers were able to stay in moral contact with the Old Testament because they read that violence as mistaken, yes, but also containing a spiritual, allegorical truth, that the Kingdom of God is in a battle with the spiritual forces of darkness.

To be sure, throughout church history those spiritual forces of darkness got tragically re-aligned, over and over again, with actual human beings, drawing the violence away from the spiritual realm back down again into the arena of flesh and blood. But we recognize all this as a failure of the Christological hermeneutic, as a clear violation of Jesus' call to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. The real battle, the Christological hermeneutic tells us, is never against flesh and blood, but against the persistent and insistent satanic temptations to kill each other. The battle against those satanic temptations is the battle Jesus called us to fight. That's what Jesus meant when he said "Get behind me, Satan!" to walk the road to the cross.

In short, a Christological reading of the bible requires the Devil. For both Jesus and the early church, a Christological hermeneutic was necessarily a satanic hermeneutic.

But doubting the devil as we do, this satanic hermeneutic is what a lot of progressive and liberal Christians lack. Which means that progressive and liberal Christians can't read the bible Christologically as they'd like to, as Jesus and the early church did.

It's like I said, lose track of the Devil and you lose track of Jesus.

Personal Days: My Students

This blog and my books, those are what I do for fun. My day job, what I do for a living, is teaching statistics and research methods to ACU students.

But that's a whole lot of fun as well. Every year I mentor 10-12 undergraduate students helping them do original empirical research and then presenting that work at a peer-reviewed psychological conference. They mainly submit for poster sessions at the Southwestern Psychological Association conference.

Last weekend was the SWPA conference and I had another amazing group of undergraduate students. We had a blast and the students did awesome at the conference. So, so proud of them.

So, welcome to my day job! Here they are, my students and the abstracts of their research presentations:

No Indictment?: Ethnicity and Perceptions of Trust in Grand Jury Decisions of Police Shootings
Sierra Villanueva, Elizabeth Banks and Erin Wiggins

Racial unrest and tension has roiled America since the events in Ferguson. Beyond the debates over the shootings themselves, there appears to be significant disagreement among Americans about the degree to which grand jury decisions are fair and unbiased, especially when they have failed to bring indictments against White police officers. Though the “rule of law” was followed grand jury decisions appear to be treated with suspicion, especially among minority populations. The present study sought to examine the effect of grand jury decisions upon perceptions of blame in a scenario describing a lethal use of police force.

Participants were 116 volunteers (40.5% Caucasian, 34.5% Hispanic, 15% African-American) who read a scenario describing a police officer (of unspecified ethnicity) using lethal force against a suspect (of unspecified ethnicity). In the Control condition participants read: "A police officer approaches an individual who is participating in an illegal activity. The officer asks the individual to comply with instructions, however the individual refuses. The officer then uses aggressive force to apprehend the individual. Subsequently, the actions of the police officer resulted in the death of the person.” In the Grand Jury condition this scenario was followed by the sentence: “Afterwards, a grand jury concluded that the actions of the police officer were justified.” After reading the scenario participants were asked to rate on a 1-7 scale the degree to which the actions of the police officer were appropriate vs. inappropriate.

A 2 (Control vs. Grand Jury) x 3 (Participant Ethnicity: Caucasian vs. African-American vs. Hispanic) ANOVA was used. Overall, there was no main effect for the grand jury prime, suggesting that the verdict of the grand jury had no impact upon judgments of the incident. There was, however, a significant main effect for participant ethnicity (F = 12.37, p < .01). Post hoc tests revealed that African-American and Hispanic participants rating the actions of the police officer as significantly less appropriate when compared to the Caucasian participants. No interaction effects were observed.

As expected, minority participants differed significantly in their perceptions of the scenario when compared to Caucasian participants. Interestingly, the grand jury prime did not affect officer ratings, for any of the ethnic groups represented by the participants. This suggests that, despite its “rule of law” imprimatur, grand jury decisions appear to be ineffective in “legitimizing” police actions in the court of public opinion.

Does No Really Mean No?: Perpetrator Characteristics in Attributions of Blame in Scenarios of Sexual Assault
Lulu Alvarado-Vega, Katie Higgins and Paige Womble

Sexual assault continues to plague American campuses. This despite significant attempts to educate college students about the sacrosanct nature of consent in sexual encounters. No means no. Or does it? The purpose of the present study was to assess gender differences in perceptions of blame in a scenario of sexual assault. Specifically, the study examined the impact of situational information upon judgments of blame when consent was not given.

Participants were 180 volunteers, 65% female and 35% male, who were assigned to one of four experimental conditions. In each condition participants were asked to read a scenario describing a incidence of sexual assault: “On Saturday night, two college students Robert and Heather went to a party at a popular Fraternity at their school. While at the party the two found themselves alone in a bedroom where Robert began to kiss Heather. Heather told him no, but Robert continued and they had sexual intercourse. The following day, Heather reported the incident to the campus police.” In the control condition the scenario was not modified. In the three other conditions the scenario was followed by an additional statement. In the Success and Virtue conditions participants read additional details about Robert: “As a part of the police investigation, the police discovered that Robert is involved in a student organization that builds water wells in Africa where there is no access to clean water” or “As a part of the police investigation, the police discovered that Robert is 4.0 student and president of his class.” In the final condition participants read an additional statement regarding the relationship between Robert and Heather: “As a part of the police investigation, the police discovered that Heather and Robert have had an on-again, off-again sexual relationship over the past several years.” After reading the scenario participants across the conditions were asked to assign blame to Robert or Heather on a 1 (“Heather is solely responsible”) to 7 (“Robert is solely responsible”) rating scale.

A 2 x 4 ANOVA was conducted (Participant Gender x Condition). Overall, a main effect for gender was observed (F = 11.95, p < .01). Across the four conditions male participants blamed Heather more than Robert. There was also a main effect for Condition (F = 7.15, p < .01). Overall, the presence of additional information in the scenario (regarding Robert or Robert and Heather’s prior relationship) significantly reduced ratings of blame of Robert. Finally, a significant Participant Gender x Condition interaction was also observed (F = 5.39, p < .01). First, no difference was observed for the blame ratings in the control condition for male and female participants. Next, across all conditions the ratings of female participants did not vary from the control condition. By contrast, however, Robert was blamed significantly less by male participants in the Success (high GPA, class president) and Virtue (social justice work in Africa) conditions. And the lowest ratings of blame for Robert were observed when male participants read about a prior sexual relationship between Robert and Heather.

As we all know, when it comes to consent in sexual encounters “no means no.” Or does it? The results of the present study suggest that in the abstract males and female participants agree that “no means no.” However, in contrast females, male perceptions of blame appear to be significantly affected by situational details (relational and perpetrator information) distinct from the issue of consent.

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder: The Correlates of Makeup Insecurity
Kaila Bellinghausen, Traci Bricka and Laura Hill

A significant amount of research has been devoted to how media portrayals affect the self-perceptions of women in relation to their weight and body shape. However, little to no research has been conducted upon the relationship between makeup usage and self-perception, this despite cosmetics being a multi-billion dollar industry. The goal of the study was to introduce and assess the construct of makeup insecurity, the degree to which social confidence and insecurity are associated with makeup usage, and to examine its relationship to self-esteem, body image satisfaction and social anxiety.

Participants were 138 female volunteers (Mean age = 34.64, 78% Caucasian) who completed measures of self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965), social anxiety (Mattick & Clarke, 1998), body image (Callaghan, Sandoze, Darrow, & Feeney, 2014) and a measure developed for this study, the Makeup Insecurity Scale (MIS). The MIS is a seven-item scale with a 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree) likert scale. Example items for the MIS include “I feel self-conscious when not wearing makeup,” “I feel anxious when not wearing makeup in public,” and “I feel brave and confident when wearing makeup” (R).

Overall, makeup insecurity was negatively correlated with self-esteem indicating that participants with lower self-esteem reported the most insecurity about not wearing makeup (r = -.32, p < .05). Makeup insecurity was also positively associated with social anxiety (r = .33, p < .05). Finally, poor body image was positively associated with makeup insecurity (r = .62, p < .01).

Among the participants involved in this study, mainly Caucasian women, makeup insecurity was associated with low self-esteem, social anxiety and poor body image. These findings suggest a connection between makeup use and negative self-image. This association is consistent with the hypothesis that makeup usage is used as a compensatory strategy to bolster self-confidence in social settings.

Internet Intrusion: Who Is To Blame When Explicit Photos Get Leaked?
Eriksen Ravey and Amy Knowlton

Smartphones have given us the unprecedented ability to record every aspect of our lives in photographs and videos, even our intimate and sexual experiences. While this ability enables romantic partners to flirt with social media, it also raises the risk of explicit photos/videos being shared online without our permission, either by hackers or former romantic partners. How are the victims of these incidents perceived? In very public instances where celebrity photos have been leaked there has been a tendency to blame the victim. Is this evidence of a widespread trend to blame the victims when explicit material is leaked online?

Participants were 232 volunteers (Mean age = 30.85: 55.2% Female) who were assigned to one of four scenarios in a 2 x 2 design. In each condition participants read about an incident where an individual had explicit photos leaked onto the Internet. The first manipulation involved describing the victim of the leak as a celebrity (“a celebrity”) or not (“a person”). The second manipulation involved adding a description of a prior romantic relationship between the victim and the perpetrator of the leak (“a former romantic partner”) versus a control condition where this information was not included. After reading the scenario participants rated a 1-7 likert scale assigning blame to the two persons described in the scenario (e.g., 7 = the person who leaked the photos is solely to blame).

A 2 (participant gender) x 2 (Celebrity vs. Non-Celebrity) x 2 (Control vs. Prior Romantic Relationship) ANOVA was conducted. Overall, there was no main effect observed for the romantic relationship manipulation. A main effect was observed for participant gender (F = 6.72, p < .01). Specifically, across the conditions female participants tended to blame the victim more. A main effect was also observed for the celebrity manipulation (F = 11.41, p < .001). Overall, celebrities were blamed more for the leak across the conditions. No interaction effects were observed.

The results appear to support the conclusion victims are often blamed when it comes to leaked photos. For example, across all conditions women blamed the victim more than men. In addition, celebrity victims were blamed more than non-celebrity victims. The study was unable to determine the attributions behind blame assignment, but it is hypothesized that victims are blamed if they are judged as not having taken sufficient care and precautions to keep explicit photos of themselves under their complete control.

Who's He Tweeting?: Attachment and Jealousy on Social Media
Brandon Clements, Alexandra Gartley, Brie Hawkins and Kylie Richter

Social media is often used for the purposes of relationship enhancement and maintenance for those in romantic relationships. And yet, there are temptations here as well. Specifically, social media has created another space where feelings of romantic jealousy can occur as we observe and monitor, often in unhealthy ways, the online interactions of our romantic partners. To date, however, there has been little empirical work on the phenomenon of social media-related jealousy and its relationship to established measures of romantic trust, jealousy, and adulthood attachment styles.

Participants were 197 undergraduate and community volunteers. The sample was 79.9% female. The mean age was 30.1 (SD = 13.94). Participants completed the Multidimensional Jealousy Scale (Pfeiffer & Wong, 1989), which assesses behavioral (e.g., “I look through X’s drawers, handbag, or pockets.”) and emotional jealousy (e.g., “I get very upset when X hugs and kisses someone of the opposite sex.”), and the Trust Inventory Scale (Adams, Couch, & Jones 1996). Participants also completed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) and the Experiences in Close Relationships Scale-Short Form (Wei, Russell, Mallinckrodt, & Vogel, 2007) which assess avoidant (e.g., “I try to avoid getting to lose to my partner.”), and anxious attachment styles (e.g., “I do not often worry about being abandoned.”). Finally, the participants completed the Social Media Jealousy Scale (SMJS), an eight-item scale developed for this research. Example items of the SMJS included “I get upset when my partner is looking at or interacting on social media with somebody I think he/she might be attracted to” and “I frequently look at my partner’s social media accounts to see who he/she has been talking to”.

Overall, social media jealousy was positively correlated with jealousy ratings (r = .74, p < .001). Social media jealously was also negatively correlated with relational trust (r = -.62, p < .001). Lower self-esteem was associated with increased social media jealousy (r = -.35, p < .001). Regarding romantic attachment, social media jealously was positively correlated with avoidance of intimacy (r = .42, p < .001) and anxiety about abandonment (r = .54, p < .001). Overall, these correlations with both anxiety and avoidance suggest that social media jealousy is associated with what has been labeled a fearful or disorganized attachment style.

Overall, jealousy in relationships was positively associated with jealousy on social media. Lack of trust in a relationship was also associated with increased ratings of social media jealousy. Interestingly, self-esteem was negatively associated with social media jealousy, suggesting that jealousy may be associated with a negative self-concept. Finally, social media jealousy was associated with a “fearful” (high anxiety/high avoidance) romantic attachment style.

Is It Lawful To Do Good On the Sabbath?

When I was growing up I used to think that the fights Jesus had with the Pharisees about Sabbath keeping were fights about grace versus legalism and works-based righteousness.

On the one side you had the Pharisees who observed the Sabbath in a legalistic way in order to create merit and thereby "earn" their righteousness before God.

On the other side you had Jesus preaching a religion of grace. Consequently, we don't need, it was preached to us, to keep the Sabbath because legalistic, works-based righteousness isn't what Christianity is all about. We are saved by grace and not by works (i.e., "Sabbath keeping").

I now realize that this vision of the Sabbath debates is totally wrong-headed. The debates between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath have nothing to do with grace versus works.

So what were the Sabbath debates all about?

The work of scholars such as E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N.T. Wright have helped us see that the debates about the Sabbath weren't about a works-based religion. The heart of the Sabbath debates were about the identity of Jesus.

In his debates about the Sabbath with the Pharisees Jesus wasn't presenting a gospel of grace and justification by faith. The vision Jesus was presenting was this: that he--the Son of Man--was "Lord of the Sabbath." That was the essential conflict. That Jesus was someone positioning himself as greater than the Sabbath.

This is identical to Jesus's conflict with the Temple when he said, "there is one here who is greater than the temple."

No wonder they wanted to kill Jesus. The Pharisees didn't want to kill Jesus because he was a liberal hippie preaching a message of grace. They wanted to kill him because he was placing himself over both the Torah and the Temple. That was blasphemy.

In short, the issue about the Sabbath was an issue about authority--Jesus's authority in particular. The conflict wasn't about grace versus works.

But that's not to say that there wasn't a type of conflict between grace and law in the Sabbath debates. It's just not the grace vs. law conflict we've tended to think about.

The grace at stake in the Sabbath debates wasn't a grace for myself, my personal being "saved by grace." The grace in question was the grace we extend to others, and how religious law was interfering with the extension of that grace to others.

Clearly Jesus was doing things on the Sabbath that rankled. Things he shouldn't have been doing according to a particular reading of the Torah. That was the debate that brought Jesus's authority into focus. Who was authorizing what Jesus was doing?

But what, exactly, was Jesus doing?

For the most part he was healing. In one instance he allowed his hungry followers to gather some food. In short, Jesus was being gracious to others. And the Pharisees, while sympathetic I'm sure, found that problematic given how they viewed Sabbath observance and their attempts to please God.

So there was a grace vs. law debate. But the grace in question was about extending grace toward others, not claiming it for myself. The debate wasn't about works-based righteousness versus being saved by grace.

The central question was the question Jesus asked: Is it lawful to good on the Sabbath?

The debate was about doing good and the religious interference of doing good.

The debate was about empathy and compassion versus placing religious observance and ritual over caring for others. The debate was about putting God before people.

And this is, in fact, the exact same debate we are still having about what it means to be a Christian.

Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath? What comes first, obeying God or caring for people?

Interestingly, Jesus never gives a verbal answer to the question he asked.

Rather, Jesus answers with this actions.

He breaks the Sabbath and does good.

The Medal of St. Benedict: Bracelet Edition

I was recently at a Catholic store and bought for myself and Jana a St. Benedict medal bracelet. It's pictured here on my wrist. You can buy your own here.

I've written about the St. Benedict medal before. I like the medal, and wearing it, as it's a nice visual reminder of Christus Victor theology. As Gustaf Aulen describes the Christus Victor motif:
[Christus Victor's] central theme is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine conflict and victory; Christ--Christus Victor--fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world, the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering...The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.
As I recount in Reviving Old Scratch (now available from Amazon), I first came across the medal of St. Benedict when visiting a Benedictine monastery. In the bookstore at the monastery I was buying a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict and the sister selling it to me threw into the bag a couple of St. Benedict medals. "Please, you can have some of these," she said, "They are medals of St. Benedict. They give protection from evil."

Well, who doesn't want a little protection from evil?

But seriously, the mention of evil caught my attention. "Protection from evil" rings of Christus Victor. So when I got back home I did a little reading about why the medal of St. Benedict is associated with this sort of protection. I shared some of this information in a post from 2012.

The medal, as you can see to the right and above in my picture, has two sides. On the front of the medal is an image of Benedict himself. In his left hand he is holding a copy of The Rule and in his right hand he is holding a cross aloft.

The Christus Victor themes are found on the backside of the medal.

Around the border of the medal are the letters V, R, S, N, S, M, V--S, M, Q, L, I, V, B. These letters stand for the Latin words Vade Retro Satana! Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana! Sunt Mala Quae Libas. Ipse Venena Bibas! Translated this means, "Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! Evil is the cup you offer. Drink the poison yourself!"

These are the inscriptions on the medal that relate to its association with protection against Satan, evil, and temptation.

Because of the explicit command to Satan--"Begone Satan!"--the Medal of St. Benedict has often been used for exorcisms. In fact, as I've shared before, for this purpose the medal is often incorporated into the crucifix to create a St. Benedict's Cross (pictured to the right). Though associated with exorcisms the more normal and workaday use of the St. Benedict Cross is like that of the medal, as a general talisman/prayer against evil.

Anyway, when I saw these St. Benedict medal bracelets at the store I picked two up and gave one to Jana. Lots of prayers and biblical admonitions come to mind when I look at it. For example:
"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." --James 4.7

But my favorite text is from the gospels. Peter upon hearing that Jesus is heading to the cross is rebuked by Jesus: "Get behind me, Satan!"

As I describe in Reviving Old Scratch that's the fork in the road I face everyday. One choice leads to self-giving love. And the other choice is tempting me away from love. That second path, the one leading away from the cross, I identify with Satan. As Jesus did.

And so in choosing the cross I pray with Jesus, with a little visual prompt from my St. Benedict bracelet:

"Get behind me, Satan!

Reviving Old Scratch Book Launch Event With N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd

If you're going to be close to LA and Malibu on May 3rd let me invite you to the Reviving Old Scratch book launch event!

The event is a live double podcast hosted by Luke Norsworthy and Homebrewed Christianity. Special guests are N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd!

I'm excited to have both Tom and Greg at the event as their work, in different ways, inspired the idea behind Reviving Old Scratch: a progressive Christian taking the Devil seriously.

Tom, Greg and I are all in town for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures where we, along with a fantastic lineup, will be speaking May 3-6. Be sure to check out the PBL schedule if you want to hear more from Tom and Greg.

Event and registration details for the Reviving Old Scratch book launch can be found here.

Update: The event has already been sold out. Excited to see ya'll on May 3rd!

Personal Days: Dear Hank Williams, I've Seen the Light

Ya'll know I'm a huge Johnny Cash fan. Recently I've been getting into Hank Williams.

It started with Jana. She bought a record player for our family room and the kind people at Record Guys gave her some store credit for her purchase. Not having a lot of Johnny Cash vinyl on hand Jana brought home a double-LP of classic Hank Williams. I put it on and I was hooked.

Seriously, as soon as I heard the song "I Saw the Light" I pulled up the chords online, grabbed my guitar and started strumming the song. I've been singing that song all week.
I wandered so aimless life filled with sin
I wouldn't let my dear savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Just like a blind man I wandered along
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I was a fool to wander and stray
Straight is the gate and narrow's the way
Now I have traded the wrong for the right
Praise the Lord I saw the light
You can here Hank sing "I Saw the Light" here on Youtube.

And God bless used vinyl!

Theology Is Affectional

1 John 4.7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

• • •

What I find remarkable about this famous text is how knowledge of God is associated with love. The one who loves knows God. And whoever does not love does not know God.

Love is our epistemology.

Phrased another way, theology is affectional rather than intellectual.

Gratitude and Foreboding Joy

I really wish I had read Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly before writing The Slavery of Death. You might be surprised by this, but I think Daring Greatly is the perfect companion book to The Slavery of Death.

Let me give an example. One of the take home points from The Slavery of Death is how the practices of doxological gratitude help us overcome our slavery to the fear of death, our fear of loss. And in Daring Greatly Brené Brown makes similar observations about gratitude and our fear of loss.

Specifically, in her work on vulnerability Brené has discovered, somewhat paradoxically, a connection between joy and our fear of loss. When we experience deep joy we feel extraordinarily vulnerable, we fear that the joy will not last, that something tragic will happen that will rob us of happiness.

Anyone who is a parent understands this. The birth of a child is a deep and profound joy. But the birth of a child also introduces into our lives a chronic fear of loss. Our joy is fragile and precarious. Tainted by the prospect of death. In becoming a parent I was never more joyful but I was also never more afraid and cognizant of death.

In Brown’s research she has asked people about when they have felt the most vulnerable and exposed to loss. And more often than not what people have shared with her are experiences of great joy. According to Brown these are the sorts of experiences in life that make us feel most vulnerable (Daring Greatly, p. 119):
  • Standing over my children while they are sleeping.
  • Acknowledging how much I love my husband/wife.
  • Knowing how good I’ve got it.
  • Loving my job.
  • Spending time with my parents.
  • Getting engaged.
  • Going into remission.
  • Having a baby.
  • Being happy.
  • Falling in love.
As you can see from this list, joy and the fear of loss go hand in hand.

In the face of this anxiety Brown goes on to describe how many people, in the face of this exposure and vulnerability, practice what she calls “foreboding joy.”

According to Brown, foreboding joy is a way of coping with our fear of loss by emotionally withdrawing from joy so that we might protect ourselves from disappointment. Brown describes a continuum of strategies here from “rehearsing tragedy” to “perpetual disappointment,” from ruminating about worst-case scenarios to keeping our expectations very, very low. According to Brown, all these strategies share a central idea:
We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.
Relevant to my analysis in The Slavery of Death, the antidote to foreboding joy, according to Brown, are the practices of gratitude. People who stay open to joy, despite its risks, are those who practice gratitude. As Brown summarizes, joy is “a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”

In addition, Brown also describes gratitude as a spiritual practice, which connects gratitude to doxology. As Brown writes, “joyfulness and gratitude [are] spiritual practices that [are] bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us.”