Me and Simon of Cyrene down by the Schoolyard

Apparently, when one starts a blog, one should begin with autobiographical details that include interesting tidbits about the blogger. Pictures are also regarded as important. Below you see me pictured with my favorite Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night (1888). I am also wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide shirt because I am from Alabama and am a big fan of college football’s best program (I hear you Clemson but talk to me when you’ve won 5 in ten years.)

That I like Van Gogh and Alabama is good to know. I am also a Sting fan and have seen him solo and with The Police about 15 times. His solo version of Message in a Bottle at The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1981 remains the best thing I have ever heard. I have written and recorded about 120 songs during the past 25 years. Some of them are embarrassing, some are actually pretty good. I also fancy myself as something of a philosopher. The influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein has been huge but that does not diminish the influence of many other philosophers and poets living and dead. I bring all of these things, the most interesting things about me, to the study of religion because I am also a clergy person, the least interesting thing about me, in a denomination I do not currently care to name.

My religious journey has taken me from naive literalism (which is distinct from but close to fundamentalism) to its flip side, atheism (which is distinct from but close to non-theism) and back to Christianity through liberation theologies and the philosophy of the aforementioned Ludwig Wittgenstein. I imagine my Christian life as being similar to Simon of Cyrene’s. I didn’t ask for it. Someone just came along one day and stuck a cross on me and told me to carry it. I didn’t always feel that way. I would not have said that back in my early days when I was starting Bible studies in high school, attending Sunday School for 9 years without missing, preaching my first sermon at 15, and doing revivals with my friend Greg in early college days. Nor would I have said that during my atheistic days when I was studying Philosophy at Samford University, conducting BS sessions with friends (for some BS meant Bible Study but for those of us in the know it stood for something else), and meeting my future wife. But I do feel that way now. Because despite my best attempts to shed it (attended Law School for a year) I remain a Christian of some strange sort. I have not encountered anyone in ministry who thinks like I do. In fact, I have not found many Christians who think like I do. On the other hand, I have found no atheists who share my views on religion. I have put down roots in a very slender liminal space where I feel stranger to most and friend to those at the margins of theism and atheism. I write from these margins. When I address my Christian friends, I am actually hoping my atheist friends overhear and when I address my atheist friends, I am hoping my Christian friends overhear. Geographically, I live in a land of progressive Christians who value diversity and inclusion, but I have never been sure if that extends to people like me.

What I will be doing in this blog is attempting to pose questions that lead toward more creative and constructive thinking, while offering analysis of current conceptual traps that are keeping progressive Christianity from being as powerful as it should be. I will also promote my book ZeroTheology: Escaping Belief Through Catch-22s (Due summer 2019 from Wipf and Stock) though I will not mention it all the time or write only about topics it covers. Anyway, that’s pretty much it. You should also know that I like being provocative but never for the sake of only being provocative. I almost forgot, here is another picture. This one is from my childhood.

7 thoughts on “Me and Simon of Cyrene down by the Schoolyard

  1. Closer than you think…

    1. We shall see how this goes over.

  2. I don’t have enough information at this point to know exactly what you mean by Progressive Christian, but I think you mean respecting everyone without regard to ethnicity (race is a false construct), gender & sexual orientation (LGBT, Trans or whatever), religious beliefs (Muslim or whatever, as long as they are peaceful) or political ideology (as long as the adherents respect disagreement without attacking and name-calling); I would consider myself in the same category. I read the Bible and the words are clear enough to me, when taken in context, that I have no use for theology. What is the point in looking for answers from other fallen people when God has already provided them.

    1. You may have noticed that the title is Zero Theology. I mean all that plus not taking the Bible as authoritative in any way.

      1. Thank you for the clarification. I believe I made my opinion about theology clear, but using the Bible as a guide for my treatment of others has resulted in my having very many friends and very few enemies. The only times I have had problems is when I have tried to have discussions or maintain friendships with people who adhere to the current far-left, progressive faction of the Democratic Party because they do not tolerate anyone who questions their rigid authoritarian orthodoxy.

  3. I’m curious what you are meaning by the phrase “ZeroTheology.” Do you propose to talk about God while not talking about God? Or are you talking about the stuff that God represents in human conceptualizations, utilizing a theologically-informed methodology, but endeavoring not to use the religiously-laden language of classical and contemporary theology?

    What fascinates me, and what rose up in my thinking as I read your comments, and the previous set of questions, is the idea of Zero itself. Zero was “invented” or “discovered” by Islamic Philosopher-mathematicians as a place-holder for that which does not exist, mathematically speaking, i.e., for nothing. It was adopted, as I understand it, from Buddhist thought about anatman and the idea that there is nothing that is self-existent – all things arise from things and processes that precede us. This self-existential nothingness at the center of all things was represented by an empty circle. It was the perfect symbol for an empty place-holder in mathematics, and made computations much easier.

    So, I wonder if God (notice the empty circle in the middle of that word) functions as a sort of place-holder for the questions, paradoxes, mysteries, and down-right idiocies of life that the logic-driven narrative in our minds tries to wrestle with. Of course, our Daoist friends remind us that “the Dao that can be named is not the Dao.” Contemplative Christian mystics say pretty much the same thing. So, the questions are posed, koan-like, and are contemplated in order to achieve some break-through in consciousness. Is this what you are after here? A possibility for break-through? An “Aha!” in the midst of our wilderness wanderings?

    I suspect that you have more fellow-travelers than you realize. It’s just hard to see them for all trees.

    1. Craig, I enjoyed dinner. As I indicated, I chose ZeroTheology for three reasons. First, it is catchy and provocative. Second, it is because I make no theological claims or offer no theological explanations. Third, the catch 22s in the book cannot be escaped. They can only be transcended.

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