Revisited: Fiona Apple

I remember the first time I “discovered” this song. It was a few years after Tidal came out, I think, and I was in my first real relationship, if you will. I was so sure I loved him, and in a way I did. But we were so incongruent. Our paths were heading in very different directions and I felt as if I had to choose between abandoning someone to their chaos to discover my own answers or… drowning in order to save someone else. This song spoke so deeply to me; that someone out there understood suffering and the beautiful depth it gave to life, as well as what it meant to be with someone who didn’t see it. Who didn’t know that the depth that we love others is the depth at which we might also suffer, and who didn’t believe the price we pay is worth admission. Over and over, I would choose to love at the cost of pain rather than choose to not love at all. I had to believe it was worth it. That it was an essential part of what it meant to be truly alive.

This is not to mean that I believe all love is pain or suffering, but sometimes there is loss, or betrayal, or disappointment. The guy I was with at that time… well, it worked out for the best for the both of us when it ended (I assume). And I’ve discovered there are special people out there who know some of these depths we can reach and choose to let it be something that enhances their life rather than steals it. That makes them treasure even more the shades and shadows, to reach greater and greater heights. As I listen to this song, I remember feeling the way she does at the beginning… “I’ll never glow, the way that you glow…” and I’m relieved I don’t feel that way anymore. More than ever, I feel filled with light. But I believe that is because I have discovered the blessing, the hope, the love in my struggle. As I grow older, I feel like my emotions go deeper, but they are less turbulent. There is a nuance to life that the black and white vision of my youth did not allow. Anyways, I’ve listen to the Tidal album a few times this past week and it’s reminded me of all this and I wanted to log it somewhere.

 

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Borrowed Time

Animation isn’t only for children. This short made by Pixar has been described by some as dark, but it seems to accurately capture some of what we learned about in my last class about life through death: the cost of love, the pain of loss, and that we all become familiar with grief.

Theological Reflections 2 Thessalonians

2 THESSALONIANS

While 2 Thessalonians is considered a disputed letter, it is still a biblical text and although perhaps not penned by Paul himself, offers great amounts of insight and wisdom into the faith of early Christians and the struggles of the early Church.  Additionally, it was most likely written, if not by Paul, by someone familiar with Paul. This kind of letter written by someone in another’s name (and as they would written) was not unusual in that time.

I particularly appreciate the symmetry we see to 1 Thessalonians in the Thanksgiving by the mention of faith and love and also in the acknowledgment of their endurance through the persecution that the church has been facing (whereas the previous letter discussed the trials that Paul has faced).  The prayer that follows is particularly powerful: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, “…God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.” I feel like this would be an amazing prayer to memorize and pray for anyone who is suffering or feels like they are struggling.

Much of the writing focuses on deception by the devil and the Parousia, as well as  the signs that will come with the “lawless one” and warnings to believe the truth and not be deceived.  Shortly thereafter, perhaps to lighten the blow a bit, it says in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” In my experience I have found this so far to be true; that if I rest in the Lord’s word and seek God’s wisdom I find myself strengthened. It is not necessarily that the problems are any less but that the Lord has better equipped me to handle them and they seem less like problems. Additionally, when I have faith that God is in me, while someone may take my life on earth they cannot do anything to take away my eternity with God. In this way I am guarded.

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” I particularly enjoy this verse because it focuses on encouragement and hope as they face persecution; it reminds them to keep in the traditions they were taught, some of which don’t seem to stick with them. Apparently there are still lingering issues with idleness that weren’t resolved from 1 Thessalonians and so the advice now becomes even more extreme but seems to be consistent with other advice Paul has given.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7, “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of [our] Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us. For you know how one must imitate us…” They are not saying to shun all “disorderly” people but believers who are disorderly and refusing to change, eating free food from anyone or being idle when they are able to work. This is not the way of a believer and as Paul has explain in Corinthians, by expelling a believer the hope is that they will change their ways and return to Christ, receiving the Spirit. As it says in 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, “But you brothers, do not be remiss in doing good…take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame. Do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.”

The last bit I want to call out is the another part that echoes 1 Thessalonians, and it is again reminding them of how Paul and his followers lived. 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10, “…in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” This just further emphasizes the continuity that I Thessalonians has with 2 Thessalonians and reminds us it refers only to believers capable of work who will not.  A later line refers to people who are basically busy bodies rather than being busy working. In Greek it was a play on works that pointed out the difference between those who were busy and those who getting into other people’s business instead. This is why they advise that if you are able to work but are being a busybody instead you haven’t earned your food. It is not a line to condone denial of charity to those in need.

Three German Theologians Post-Holocaust

Jurgen Moltmann hypothesized that God’s suffering is real. He theorized that it was relationally flowing from authentic love. Summarized below are some of the ideas contained in Moltmann’s theology.

Jurgen Moltmann, a German post-Holocaust “political theologist,” placed suffering into the being of God and described this idea as the “crucified God.” Before this, it was assumed in most circles that the suffering experienced by Jesus was relegated to the flesh and that the divine nature was out of the reach of this suffering. Moltmann’s proposal presented the startling vision of a God that truly suffers with those who suffer in the world. During the crucifixion, Moltmann suggests that not only does the Son suffer a brutal physical death, but the Father also suffers in the separation from His son and out of their mutual love the Holy Spirit comes into our sinful and broken world. It is really important to note that God doesn’t have to do go through this; God freely chooses to suffer out of their love for humanity. This does not justify evil or bad things happening in the world; instead it is a reminder that God is a God that sides with the suffering and rests in the depths of it, desirous for the freedom and restoration of the Creator’s people.

Dorothee Soelle worked through three “theological positions” by which she shapes her conclusion that “divine power is the silent cry of life in the midst of suffering.”

     Dorothee Soelle is a German whose family helped hide a Jewish family during the war and elected to visit Auschwitz as a young Lutheran theologian. Bearing witness to such events caused her to re-evaluate the classical attributes ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. As Elizabeth Johnson says in Quest for a Living God, “…she went from classical theism’s omnipotent Father who requires obedience, to the powerless God on the cross who models the impotence of love, to the crucified and risen Christ in whom the divine victory of life over death empowers our own participation in God’s power of life.” (Johnson, 63)

First, she questioned why we would be encouraged to worship a God whose most important characteristic seems to be power and disliking of independence. She eventually finds this incongruent with the character of God. Then she goes on to the idea of this passive, selfless love in Christ who dies on the cross. The portrayal comes across as weaponless, that love is impotent and that it creates apathy in followers in the face of real-life human suffering (as one might see in those who allowed the atrocities of WWII to happen). Soelle came to believe this was because it was neglecting the whole story of Christ, excluding the value of the resurrection. Finally, she arrives at the conclusion that the Divine is, “…a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) While nothing justifies events like Auschwitz to her, the belief that God shared in death and suffering as well as brings this kind of power through the resurrection of Jesus offers a vision of a loving and justice seeking God we can worship and with whom we can be in relationship.

Johannes Metz didn’t find the suffering God image helpful. Instead, Metz theologically positioned the problem of suffering within the constellation of considerations. Several components of theology guided the development to his two part approach.

Metz actually fought on the front for the German army at the age of 16; while he was delivering a message his company was attacked and he came back to only bodies where just a day before there were youths sharing hopes, dreams and jokes. His Catholic confidence in a good God  and orderly world began to separate and the Holocaust created a gap that couldn’t be bridged by ignoring the issue, as many in theology were doing.  Nor did Metz agree with the “God who suffers” that fellow Germans Solle and Moltmann had concluded upon. He felt this internalization made suffering beautiful and eternal and therefore went a different path. Suffering was outside of God. There aren’t simple answers. “Toward that end, Metz proposes two intertwined steps: remembering and lamenting unto God.” (Johnson, 65)

First was to remember. Jesus Christ stood in solidarity with all humanity. Through recalling his sacrifice and resurrection, we should also remember those who suffer throughout human history.  This is done because it takes victory away from the conquerors, the writers of history. It also connects each individuals story to the story of Christ in a concrete way, in a way that promises hope for them and also that reminds us of the dangers of inaction; the power of evil.  Second is to lament to God, to keep the question to our Father open rather than wrapping it up in a neat package. “So too, suffering of past and present must drive us toward God protesting, complaining, lamenting, grieving, crying out of the depths, insistently questioning “How long, O Lord?” (Johnson, 67)  This keeps our hopes alive.