Name the Darkness: Jesus & Our Persistent Demons | Mark 5:6-9

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When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

Mark 5:6-9

Well this is interesting. It seems like Jesus had said words of exorcism earlier and it, in a sense, hadn’t “worked”. I wonder if the tradition behind this story was of a man so demon possessed that Jesus’ first try at getting rid of them failed. That certainly seems to be the case here. Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, and it didn’t.

Now, I don’t like pulling what seems like “self-help lessons” from things like this, or appealing to pop psychology, but this could be instructive in a ministry context. Jesus has appealed to his word and his authority to bring healing and to cast out the disorder and evil in this person’s life. It hasn’t worked. It is so big, it goes so far back into the past, and the issues seem so numerous, that it just isn’t going to take a quick shot to the soul.

So in light of this, how does Jesus respond? He asks the person’s name. Yes, the demon responds, but there’s no indication that Jesus is only talking to the unclean spirit here. He asks the man name, and he answers by identifying himself by his evil. But this is still progress. He gives name to what is haunting and hurting him, and this diagnoses his soul and gives Jesus the insight on how to bring healing to this man.

Giving name is powerful for healing and change and even getting rid of demons.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Lament & Remembrance (Nostalgia Can Hurt)


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Lately, I’ve found myself getting very nostalgic, remembering past relationships, friends, places I’ve lived, and people I’ve known. And honestly, I don’t know why my remembering and thinking through all of these things in the past has caused more tears than laughter, especially in the area of relationships.

I have found myself lingering on the Facebook profiles of old roommates whom I’ve completely lost touch with inexplicably. I have been reading through old emails and blog posts that remind me of spiritual fathers and mothers with whom disagreements over the past several years have led to very real divisions..

And yesterday, I heard a song that reminded me of a situation a couple of years ago that was incredibly painful for me. It wasn’t really any one’s particular sin or moral failings that ended up causing all the hurt and pain; just the collision of people’s own baggage and immaturity and struggles. As I thought back on it I remembered the false ideal picture of reality I had blindly painted for myself at that time. I remembered the slow, painful process that was this picture being broken down brick by brick over the course of several weeks. I felt again the shadows of the anxiety and pain from that time.
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Discernment: Making Decisions Christianly & Why It Matters


paul-city-bwMore so than other practices, Discernment is not something we try to do to enrich our lives or draw closer to God. Rather, it is a basic function of our storied existence, driven by our own internal narratives. Because of this, we necessarily find ourselves in positions where decisions great and small need to be made.

Unlike most other practices of the Christian faith, the question here is not whether or not we will practice Discernment, but rather how well we will do it, and how intentionally we will cultivate it. The challenge is not so much to articulate a vision for Discernment so much as to find out what truly Christian Discernment looks like.

series intro

That is why I chose Discernment for a research paper I wrote for my seminary program this semester. It’s essential to human life and being. This is also why I want to share many of the lessons I learned along the way of writing this paper and putting into practice. And so today I’m starting a new blog series exploring this Christian practice of decision-making, also called Discernment.
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How to wear your theological offensiveness (conservative, liberal, & atheist)


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Reading through Luke, I was struck by a dimension to Luke’s portrayal of Jesus I hadn’t noticed before. I also think, in these times where more people are able to have more platforms to speak their mind on issues, it’s an important dimension to take into account.

In Luke chapter 4, we see Jesus officially kick off his public ministry. He does this by standing up at his hometown synagogue, reading some verses from Isaiah and saying that these words are fulfilled in his arrival. He then adds commentary on this, highlighting how Israel has fallen out of God’s favor and so this fulfillment won’t come to them. This enrages the people and they try and kill him right there by throwing him off a cliff (yeah, it’s kind of funny). But he gets away.

Jesus offended these people deeply. He spoke what he believed to be true about God and the world, and they didn’t like it. And yet, people spoke offensive words in the ancient world all the time. There were many Messianic figures, and yet their words didn’t “stick” like Jesus’ did. His words ended up not simply gathering people that agreed with him, but actually changing minds, even while offending those that would be offended.

How did he do this? How can we do this with our own theological (or a-theological) beliefs? How should we wear our beliefs that might be very offensive to others?
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“Simplistic Atheism: a final response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Well, it seems that we were not in fact done with this little series. After my final post, Daniel chose to take me up on my offer to have the final word (as I normally try to do in exchanges like this). He has chosen to respond, point-by-point, to my list of what things would lead me to embrace Atheism. If you feel like any of the points still demand a reply from me, or if you have any questions about what Daniel says, feel free to to comment here, on Facebook, or get in touch with me privately. For my part, though, I consider this particular set of exchanges finished. Once again, I thank Daniel for this exchange. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Paul,

When I initially decided to compile a list of criteria that would convince me my conclusion on the question of theism was wrong, I had sincere hope that a Christian, Muslim or other person of faith would tally up a corresponding register. I am glad to see you rose to the challenge and enrolled in this dialogue. It has been a wonderfully enlightening experience for me, and I do hope that sentiment is mutual.

I read your piece the day it was posted and while at first I found much of it persuasive, the more I reflected the more I realized it was probably the list I would have drafted two years ago, before I renounced my faith. Much of your criteria seems to rest firmly on the aesthetic appeal of the Christian narrative. And this would seem to slot right in line with your epistemological moorings-a concern for the communal connection, compelling force and overall mesmerism of a worldview over against its underlying facticity.

Yet it seems this only holds true up to a certain threshold, given a few of the items on your list. You seem to be OK with affirming the faith given its impact on your life, the power of influence you’ve seen it have on history, and the way it has shaped others with which you’ve crossed paths. But if you were to discover beyond reasonable doubt that this narrative was based on so much myth, that this loosely corroborated Yeshua the gospels are based on was a mere mortal (item #1), you would relinquish the faith forthwith.

Thus it seems to me that our epistemic divergence is one of degree, not of type. With that in mind, I’ll attach some brief notes beside the items in your list. Continue reading

Humbled into Pride (thanks & sorry) {a confession}


paul-pipe-bwLast week was an odd week on the blog. It was one that humbled me in such profound ways. The readers of this blog shocked and amazed me with their kindness, encouragement, and continued support of what I try to do here.

My series of discussions with my Atheist friend concluded on (what I felt was) a high note. The number of readers of that series numbered into the thousands, even though the writings were so long. (I copied and pasted all the posts into a single Word document just for the heck of it, and it was over 100 pages long–single-spaced! So if you read most of those, then congratulations, you finished a book in a week-and-a-half.)

People in all parts of my life were reading (at least some of) these pieces. People at work, church, Facebook, and Twitter all sought me out to encourage me in these conversations. The diversity of people who were keeping track of this stunned me and humbled me. I couldn’t believe how many people would spend their time reading stuff I wrote and listening to my own thoughts and opinions about things.
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Simplistic Atheism {4}: What could make me an Atheist?


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(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

In this series of exchanges with my friend Daniel, I’ve tried to argue that his Facebook post on why he is an Atheist expressed an overall view of the world that is too small and too simplistic. I think this is because of his empiricist method and materialist conclusion about reality–that all there is is what we can see, touch, feel, etc.

Some concluding remarks

My whole point has not simply been that Daniel’s facts or even his method is wrong. But rather, it finds its proper place, meaning, fullness, and possibility within the Christian view of reality. I have argued in each of my posts that Christianity does not “refute” reason, science, history, skepticism, textual messiness, historical difficulty, or even doubt. Instead, the Gospel encompasses it all, and each of those things find a greater fulfillment in their use, cohesion in the whole of the world, and reality within that place.

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