Dark Roast & Dieties in Small Town Texas

“F*&K YOUR GOD.”

As I strolled up to the patio door of the local Starbucks this morning, these are the words, graffiti’d onto the brick wall, which greeted me.

Now, this kind of thing would never happen in Austin, or, for that matter, in most quarters of the western world. But in Tyler cultural “Christianity” is still identified with the status quo.

I used to think that the status quo had been endlessly deconstructed. Then I moved to Tyler. (The first thought that popped into my mind upon focusing on the graffiti, juxtaposed as it was with the ominous “666,” was, “Really? People still do that?”)

Now make no mistake: the “street urchin” teenagers (for that is how they are known in these parts — for me this is sort of a term of endearment) who scribbled this intended blasphemy on those coffee fortress ramparts are to be pitied and chastened, not least for their immaturity and brazen arrogance.

I must admit, though, that I agree with them. And so do all the Old Testament prophets, St. Paul, Pseudo Dionysius the Aereopagite, Thomas Aquinas, and many others.

Because the god of Green Acres Baptist Church is not the God which Moses encountered in the bush that was burning, yet not consumed. The god of Green Acres, more often than not, is the god wrapped in the American flag, the god who backs the Republican party, the god who sanctions suburban middle class values.

Indeed, the god of Christ Church is, all too often, not the God which appeared to Abraham in the middle of a dream as a smoking cauldron and promised, in essence, that if he were to break covenant with his people he would be torn from limb to limb. The god of Christ Church is the god who prefers the country club to the Salvation Army and the county jail, the god who discourages any kind of emotional outbreak of praise, the god who prefers establishment to marginalization.

The god of liberal protestantism (embraced, for example, by many of my clergy friends in town) is not the God who is both loving and holy, in both the Old and New Testaments. The god of liberal protestantism is the god who equates christian discipleship with secular revolutions and arbitrary, ideological notions of “justice.”

In fact, the god of Matt Boulter — so would say Denys the Areopagite and many others throughout Christian history — is not the God who is both a “still small voice” and a “mighty rushing wind.” The god of Matt Boulter is the god of intellectual curiosity, the god of theory over practice, the god of convenience. For these, if I am honest, are what I worship.

And so therefore Green Acres Baptist, Christ Episcopal, purveyors of liberal theology, and Matt Boulter all must repent. We must repent of breaking the first commandment by multiplying the number of gods we exalt above God. Deeper still, we must repent of breaking the second and third commandments by claiming that those gods are God.

The Buddhist tradition beckons toward the apophatic Christian tradition (that is, the “way of negation” or the via negativa) by saying “If you find the Buddha, kill it.” In the same way, the God of Scripture and Tradition is the God who is always above and beyond: beyond language, beyond being, beyond our reach (intellectual or otherwise). If you think you have grasped God, you be can be certain that you are wrong. We can speak of God only indirectly or “sideways,” and that for two reasons: incarnation and worship.

Incarnation: the Word became flesh and lived among us. The Logos became man, so we can speak of this Man Jesus Christ. In speaking of him, so Christians claim, we are speaking about God.

Worship: it is true that our language about God is problematic, but these complications, slippages, and false motives evaporate in true worship. When we worship God, we are not so much speaking about God. We are speaking to him.

“I love you. I worship you. You are my everything.” This is the language of praise. This is the heart’s deepest desire.

Then and only then, when we sing and speak to God, can we finally speak truthfully about him.

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Olivia said,

“Matt, … just this morning I was reading Kevin Hector’s *Theology without Metaphysics*, and I recently read Jean-Luc Marion’s *God without Being* (and took a class with him). Your post seems very consistent with much of what Marion says and writes–with the apophatic anti-metaphysical drift of his (very orthodox Catholic) faith. This morning I read in Hector’s book that the Radical Orthodoxy people are all about metaphysics, though. I remembered that you love Radical Orthodoxy (mostly from conversations with Libby about you). What do you think about Radical Orthodoxy’s commitment to metaphysics v. the anti-metaphysical critique of ontology as idolatry in apophatic theology?”

Olivia,

First, I don’t think that the kind of rant against idolatry which I make in this article necessarily requires an anti-metaphysical stance, given at least certain understandings of metaphysics.

It has been 15 yrs since I read Marion’s _God without Being_. It greatly impressed me and influenced me. However subsequent to reading it I realized, in agreement with Radical Orthodoxy, that one can (in fact, figures such as Augustine and Aquinas do) hold _both_ a dionysian embrace of negative theology, which essentially holds that God is “beyond being,” _and_ a kind of metaphysics. For example, Denys Turner. I think that Heidegger (whom I don’t claim to understand yet) is crucial here. I think that one can show that the metaphysics of, say Aquinas, is neither a “metaphysics of presence” nor an “ontotheology.”

For example, in _Cities of God_ Graham Ward speaks of a “transient ontology,” seen, for example in the theology of Gregory of Nyssa. Just as the Body of Christ (both the resurrected body as well as the church as well as the consecrated bread of the Eucharist: this is known as the “three fold body”) is not able to “pinned down,” is not “stockpileable,” and only comes to us as a gift … so also with being.

That’s where I’m at now, and where I’ve been for about 10 yrs, since discovering Radical Orthodoxy.

Olivia,

Some links:

On Graham Ward on ontology of transience:

http://www.religiocity.org/2010/06/05/_cities-of-god_-transcorporeality/

On the three-fold body:

http://www.religiocity.org/2007/12/05/81/

On Dennis Turner:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovjhYu5IGSQ

On Radical Orthodoxy in terms of a broad introduction (click on the link at the bottom of this page):

http://www.religiocity.org/2007/11/07/mclaren-milbank-christian-change/

Thanks for the links! I know so little about Radical Orthodoxy; I’m looking forward to reading/listening to these.

I have a hunch that Marion would agree with your reading of Aquinas’s metaphysics.

I’m actually still working through the last section of God Without Being, where he talks about the Eucharist, martyrdom, and the church as gifts / revelations of God. I wonder what the difference between his treatment of these things and RO’s treatment of the 3-fold body as gift is.

Olivia,

I’d recommend that the last link be prioritized.

Peace to you!

Thanks for this post. Well said!

matt,
a very brave post. i read this in somewhat disbelief that you’ve actually published it to the internet.
bravo.
tim.

Great post. To oversimplify, this is what has kept me (thus far) in the Episcopal Church fold. I’m concerned and even dismayed by much of the recent bent of the church, and to be honest, I fear where it may lead us. Accordingly, there are times when Roman Catholicism and/or eastern Orthodoxy look very appealing to me. But then I am reminded of the unfathomable greatness of God, how limited our understanding of Him. It is within the Anglican tradition that I find a place to acknowledge that God is bigger than my (or anybody else’s) comprehension.

Clay,

Spoken like a true Anglican!

Thanks,

Matt+

Matt, All I can say is that I loved this post. I’m back in Autin..Georgetown to be precise..and would love to stop by and possibly worship with you and Bouquet if I am in Tyler. Melanie’s family is from the area (Dangerfield, Longview) so it will happen someday. Lova ya bro’

Rob,

Thanks friend!

Hope to see yall soon.

Matt+

Matt, Wonderful post. And I noticed you made an attempt to fix the small fond size by making the font color darker. Great. Now if you could just find someone that knows how to install a font-increaser widget for those of us who are visully impaired. The viewer could increase the font-size as small or as big.

Danny,

Great to hear from you!

Found a church yet?

Peace,

Matt+

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