The Event of the Unconditional

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

The event is exposure to the folly of an unconditional call—not absolute knowledge but the in-breaking of the promise/threat of a future that we cannot see coming. That event is the embodiment of our aspirations, not the bodying of Supreme Being or Absolute Spirit. Religion is the score of a poly-stylist symphony whose music expresses our sense of claim laid upon us by the totality of otherliness—ambivalent tonality, at times appearing grotesque according to worldly standards, steeped in tradition but not bound to it, with a hint of romanticism mixed in asl evening in the loaf. 

When the event of the unconditional comes upon you, it is likely to turn your world topsy turvy, inside-out. After all, it is not the great theologians who are the voice of the unconditional. Instead, it is the hungry, the suffering, the weak, the socially un-washed, the left out and left behind. Their voices are muted by the principalities and powers of the world. They will only be heard if you listen within the deafening hush of the silence within. 

The world creates a lot of noise—a strategy to keep us away from the hush of silence where a different world is claimed. That claim is the compassionate commonwealth of peace and tender justice (kingdom of God).


Mustard Seeds Not Metaphysics

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God. I was so caught up in the ideas of Chapter 9: “Mustard Seeds Not Metaphysics that I missed the flow of the chapter. This prompted me to review by outlining the chapter about The Theopoetics of the Kingdom of God.


Theology is a discourse—the kingdom of God in the form of poetics


  • Poetics softens the voice of theology
  • It becomes the theology of the event that is taking place in the name (of) “God.”
  • collection of metaphors, metonyms, narratives, allegories, songs, poems, parables,
  • not to define the event, but to allow it to happen, to expose us to it

The classical sense of theology

  • a set of concepts, propositions, and arguments
  • to figure out the being of the best and the brightest, of the god (theos)—pure form
  • that pure form is impervious to change and unmindful of all else
  • difficult to sync that with Jesus’ abba,who counts our tears and hears our orayers


  • end of strong theology; beginning of weak theology
  • gospels are theopoetics
  • seeking a figurative way to talk about what is going on in the name (of) “God” or kingdom of God
  • paradox of the “logos of the cross”
    • incredulity about the logos of the world
    • promise of something yet to come
  • the event is not a necessity, but a possibility
    • it does not exist, it insists
    • the possibility of the impossible

Hegel’s Vorstellung

  • Hegel’s theopoetics was a transitional stage
  • God as Supreme Being was a Vorstellung(a representation)
  • Religion (and its truth) is a little green, immature
    • Revelation + imagination
    • Eye-opening revelation as a picture story
  • Displaced regionalized religion (part reason, part faith) with the Absolute Spirit
  • Absolute Spirit had three centers
    • Art (sensuousness)
      • Sports is the way many people get their art—beauty of form and motion—maybe religion, too
    • Religion (Vorstellungstirs up feelings of connection with Absolute Spirit with spiritual land intellectual content)
    • Philosophy(reason)
  • Vorstellungas story “is the onlyform in which mostpeople can absorb the absolute truth.”
    • About metaphysics, not mustard seeds
    • Requires thinking
    • Think through the picture-stories—that is, what is going on in the unfolding of the Absolute Spirit
    • Find the unconditional version of the unconditional
    • Human being need a concrete exemplification, a magnetic individual, an intuition of the Absolute Spirit to aid our thinking through the Vorstellung
      • Jesus is that magnetic individual
      • [This reminds me of Howe’s description of Yeshua as the one who constellates the healing for the woman at the banquest of Simon the Pharisee]
    • Philosophy de-codes the signals in the Vorstellung
  • Kierkegaard’s critique: God must have entered the world to consult with German metaphysicists
  • Tillich’s critique: can never find an unconditional way to speak about the unconditional
  • Hegel’s breakthrough
    • Revelationis a rich, imaginative, and suggestive figuration of the Spirit
    • Religion takes shape in Vorstellung(poetics), not supernatural intervention from on high
    • Thus, inviting thinking (theology) into the sanctuary to figure out what is going on in the Vorstellung
  • Caputo’s critique re: what is going on in religion and theology
    • The call of the unconditional, not absolute knowledge
    • the embodiment of our aspirations, not the bodying forth of Absolute Spirit
    • The task of theology is twofold:
      • Protect the unconditional from being identified with any conditions
      • Maintain the unconditional in the weak mode
    • Hegel’s metaphysics (like any metaphysics) is driving out of control, DUI
    • Caputo substitutes a hermeneutic of experiencefor metaphysics

Caputo’s replacements:

  • Absolute Spirit & ground of being àinconceivable, programmable event
  • Pretentious metaphysics àunpretentious poetics
  • Theology àtheopoetics
  • Religion as purveyor of Revelation àa song that lays claim to us unconditionally
  • Art, religion, philosophy // science, ethics, politics, everyday life àways to negotiate with the underlying eventiveness of the space between the unconditional and conditional
  • Religion as Sabbath rest àun-sabbath spooking us 24/7 producing unrest


  • An evocation evoked by a provocation to
    • Provide a sense of the event
    • Disarm the dispassionate
    • Draw the into the fray
  • God’s folly is not to cling to existence, but to insist
  • Our folly is to respond to a call whose provenance is clouded and uncertain
    • Not only to respond to the call, but to also be responsible for it

The Kingdom of God

  • The scriptural name for the folly of God
  • An event which calls toward a world under God’s rule
    • Mad about justice and forgiveness come what may, even unto death
  • What is called for never comes
  • Christianity is dependent upon its notcoming
    • While waiting for the Kingdom [Yeshua] we get Plan B—the church
  • The folly of the kingdom (and the church) is what produces the scorn of the worldly kingdoms

What do I Love when I Love my God?

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

What do I love when I love my God? was Augustine’s question (Confessions) and Derrida’s (Circumfessions) and Caputo’s,  So, what is it the I love when I love my god? I love:

  • That a new-born infant could strike terror in the heart of Pharaoh and Herod
  • The beautiful image of wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion lying down together, led by a little child
  • Photosynthesis, the Eagle nebula, gentle rainfalls, and babbling brooks
  • Deep friendships, family, tenderness, and passion
  • The snarky wisdom of prophets who wandered naked through the streets to make a point, married a prostitute to declare God’s relentless love, or called the Samaritan temple women’s association “cows of Bashan”
  • That Newtonian mechanics and quantum physics are contradictory explanations of reality conspired through 13,8 billion years to produce me
  • Yeshua’s baptismal awakening and wilderness discernment of a mission on behalf of the left behind and left out
  • Awe
  • Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill deconstructing generic religion
  • The unheard inner voice that continues to disturb me
  • The Big Bang
  • The openness of the impossibility of the future
  • The Way of Yeshua
  • Love
  • The fresh smell of the earth after rain
  • That humanity could dream of a commonwealth of peace and tender justice
  • The growth and transformation between the moment I first held each of my children and this present moment
  • The great parade of faithfulness (Lord’s Supper) coming forward to sacramentalize life and memory
  • Religionless religion and a messianic promise without a Messiah
  • Thingfeeling and Feelthinking
  • The unconditional that calls, lures, solicits, provokes, spooks, and haunts
  • Tout autre (total otherliness)isa radical roll of the dice, a promise/threat, where the risk runs all the way down so that what lies ahead is a chance for life, abundantly
  • The Perhaps! that exposes us to the unforeseeable, leaving us unprotected, at risk, full of hope and so also exposed to despair.
  • That all my theological musings and formulations can be deconstructed by one word—Perhaps!

Monday following Easter

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

I remember that some celebrate the week following Easter as a time for Fools for Christ. What if, instead of adoringthe risen Christ, we were to be jesters who laughed and danced at the foolishness of the resurrection—further evidence of the folly of God? We can’t wrap our imaginations around the craziness that we have actually experienced—Yeshua, who died almost 2000 years ago, continues to influence the lives of people today, to influence my life. It doesn’t make sense; but that is my experience. Somehow, in some strange way, I sense the inrush of the Other (tout autre) when I connect with the stories of Yeshua’s teaching and healing. Those stories tease out of me a greater sense of connection and responsibility with others and the world—not responsibility for, but responsibility with.

I disagree with most of the political stances of politican like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Roy Blunt (my senator). And yet, as a citizen, the responsibility for the maintenance of American democracy is the responsibility of us all. So, I joined by grandkids—along with 10,000+ marchers in St Louis and more than 1 million across the U.S. to march against gun violence. Did Ryan, McConnell, and Blunt pay attention? Well, they certainly didn’t join the march. Is their voting record likely to change because I marched? Because they are each heavily supported (and financed) by the NRA, maybe not; but the foolishness of the march was that the impossible might become possible.

Jesters don’t solve anything or pass any laws. They can, however, soften the king’s automatic response and, on rare occasions, tease out of the king the beginnings of a radical change of direction. Oui, oui. Viens!Yes, yes. Come, tout autre, surprise us with the improbable and impossible.

Easter’s Surprise (cont.)

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

In plain English, if there is such a thing, l’invention de l’autre means the “advent of the other.” In plainer English still, invention means “incoming!” as an interjection, like “fore!,” where “incoming” means that something is coming at us, at our head. When someone shouts “incoming!” the right response is to duck. L’invention de l’autre: heads up! Deconstruction is a way of staying heads up, of shouting heads up—or it does not exist.   Caputo, Prayers & Tears (p. 72)

Divested of a “horizon of waiting,” one must still prepare for it. . . . For however incalculable and unprogrammable, however aleatory [chance-y] and heterogeneous to calculation the incoming of the wholly other may be, one must get ready, one must be prepared, in order to let the other in. , , , To prepare oneself for this coming (venue) of the other is what can be called deconstruction. (p. 72 & 73)

Paraphrasing Paul Scherer, we are making our church members into atheists by preaching that the Easter story is about what happened 2000 years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. When will we trust ourselves and our members enough to tell the Easter story as it happens today?

The call to worshipon Easter ought to be a warning shout, “Incoming!” The Sermon should focus on the question: “Are you ducking or standing heads up?” Easter is the awesome and awful celebration of the “incoming of the other”—a repetition, not a re-telling, of Mark 16:1-7, Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-7, and John 20:1-18. It is only then that we can understand our tears (tenderness) and tears (woundedness). Opening to the impossibility of the future is not about full pews and bright flowers. Instead, it is about bringing hope to empty bellies and colorless lives.

Easter’s Surprise

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

Christmas and Easter are the difficult seasons of the Christian calendar—so difficult to comprehend that we have had to invent alternative celebrations that have no discernible link to what the seasons ostensibly celebrate. Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny have become so embedded in the popular psyche that they have replaced incarnation and resurrection. Actually, instead of replacing “the reasons for the seasons,” they have diverted our attention so that cheaper theological arguments could hold sway.

Both seasons are about the collision between the unconditional (which we often name as God) and the conditional (the realities of our lives). At some level, the church has always recognized the importance and intensity of these two seasons, by the amount of time set aside to prepare—4 weeks of Advent and 40 days of Lent. 

Easter’s surprise is not the physically resuscitated body of Yeshua. If that were the case, then the only faithful response would be doctrinal obedience—accept that Yeshua was physically alive, then physically dead, then physically alive again. Because that didn’t even fit within the cosmology and worldview of the first century of the common era, the early church’s theologians propounded another theological doctrine—the second coming. Yeshua would soon return and resume his mission of transforming the earth into a heavenly realm where God’s strength would reign supreme.

Unfortunately, Yeshua anticipated return seem somewhat delayed. He kept NOT coming—at least not in the expected way. Surprise!

Traditionally, popular theology has been the attempt to control our being negatively surprised by substituting a future grand surprise—life after death, heaven. Easter’s surprise has become an anticipated future. We make a grand hoopla in church on Easter day, but no one is surprised. Everyone has read the last chapter of the book and knows that the butler did it—Yeshua walks away from the tomb into the sunset, as if  in a Hollywood film. We all love happy endings.

We know how to control the conditional or, at least, pretend that we do. We can pretend to be surprised when, after cranking the handle on the Jack-in-the-box, Jack pops out. And so, we pretend to be surprised on Easter when Yeshua pops out of the tomb.

Being surprised by the unconditional is what we fear because we can’t control the surprise. We long robes keep telling the pew sitters that every Sunday is Easter, but no one takes that seriously. Where is the surprise in that?

So, what is the Easter surprise? What is it that we are to celebrate? The surprise is this: no matter how hard we turn the crank, Jack is not going to pop out of the box! It is not about Jack popping out of the box. That is a distraction. It is about our anticipation as the music plays on. Easter is about the anticipatory waiting that begins with Lent and rises to a crescendo as Easter day approaches.

On Easter, starting with the first sunrise service, our anticipation is heightened by the adrenal glands pumping adrenaline into our systems. We are ready. Our muscular system is primed and ready to go. But, go where? To the tomb! To the tombs of the least, lost, last, left out, and left behind. That is the tomb where the unconditional has been killed by the conditional. That is where anticipatory waiting is directing us.

When we go to that tomb, we may find that as others are healed (salved, saved) we, too, may be salved (saved). We, too, may experience a resurrection (a direct connection with the Way of Yeshua). We, too, may be surprised that the messianic age has been inaugurated and we are present to see the commonwealth of peace and justice opening before our very eyes.


(to be continued)

Holy Saturday

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

As Presbyterians, we don’t any special liturgical celebrations for the day betweenGoodFriday and Easter—no Triduum, Easter vigil, or Midnight Office. It is just another day that passes without attention.

We don’t prepare our people for the silence of waiting. The difficulty is that we want to rush from Golgotha to the empty tomb—all conditions under control. But Saturday gets in the way unless it becomes HolySaturday.

Holy Saturday is the feast of the unconditional the feast of God-doesn’t-exist-God-insists. When our liturgical calendars are designed to guarantee that a conditioned Supreme God  is in control, the unconditional is ostracized and beat into submission.

The only way to leave space for the unconditional is simply to wait actively, prayerfully. It is a waiting with one word whispered through the watches of the night: “Come!” In the rawness of the silence-that-is-not-filled, “Come!” is the prayer of folly—offered into the emptiness of the spaciousness and the quiet, unsure of its target, unsure of what might come, unsure if anything will come. In the face of all the uncertainty, “Come!” arises from a deep place of passionate desire and, having been spoken, dissipates into the hollowness of the night.

Holy Saturday operates within us sans Easter. We are not asking for Easter to come and so, when it arrives, it comes as a surprise that upsets every condition of our live—generating both tears (affirmations of tenderness) and tears (rips in the fabric of our beings). The surprise of Easter is not a resuscitated body 2000 years ago but an open door to our own transformation toward wholeness and connectedness. If we leave church on Sunday morning, heading for the family brunch, where all will be bright smiles, then we may have missed Easter.

There is a good reason to divert our attention at Easter with bunnies, peeps, colored eggs, and baskets of goodies. The real Easter is a season of hard work—the hard work of personal transformation. The true joy of Easter is when the door to new possibility open after HolySaturday’s patient, agonizing, and unfettered waiting for the unconditional, which may not come.

Good Friday

Good Friday

What is goodabout Good Friday? The usual answer goes something like this: If you were rightly sentenced to death and someone stepped in to take your place at the time of your execution, would you be grateful? Therefore, we should  be grateful for Jesus standing in for us.

GoodFriday is a remnant of the “half-blasphemous and mythological” [Tillich] doctrine of God that requires substitutionary atonement to rescue us from our sin. We sinned; a price (ransom) must be paid to redeem us; Jesus substitutes for us in order to please God. Really!?!

What kind of God have we created through centuries of theological ruminations? We like to say that “God is love” with the same breath that exhales the idea that God wants our death because we are felons, with respect to the spiritual law, but will settle for the death of his son instead. How utterly strange!

First, a realistic look at the crucifixion of Yeshua. Then, an interpretation that is more fitting with that which happens in (and under) the name of God.

The Crucifixion:Friday is the day, according to the texts; but it is necessary so only to satisfy an interpretation within the Passover liturgy of Judaism. On a continuing basis, the liturgy of Christianity is shaped around Friday as the day of crucifixion. Did it necessarily happen on Friday? I don’t know; my interpretation of the event is not dependent on the Jewish liturgical calendar. After all, liturgical celebrations can be adjusted to fit the needs—e.g., Christmas (birth of Jesus) set in December so as to distract early Christians from celebrations of Saturnalia.

Yeshua was tried for treason and, tacitly for blasphemy, because he stirred us his followers against Roman political and military rule and the Temple’s hegemony over Jewish religion. He was rightly perceived as a dangerous man because he was gathering a sizeable following by speaking truth to power. He was put to death for his own (social and religious) transgressions, not those of anyone else. Mess with the System and the System will take you down. And take him down it did!

The Interpretation:The conditional was threatened by the unconditional. Rome knew its power was conditional. That is why the various Caesars strove so hard to maintain power and hegemony. That was what the presence of the Roman garrison, overlooking the Temple Mount, was all about. Totalitarian governments throughout history have tried to suppress religious expression unless made conditional by adoration of the present political leader.

The crucifixion was the straw that broke the divine camel’s back. The high and mighty God died on the cross along with Yeshua. Actually, all the conditions that were placed on the unconditional died that day—omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and existence. The almighty Supreme Being, ruler of the Universe, bit the dust on that Good Friday.

Maybe that—the death of conditions foisted upon God—is what the real meaning of Good Friday is all about. “Free at last! Free at last! The Lord God Almighty is free at last” It wasn’t only Yeshua who had to pay the penalty for human sin—the evil that occurs when power and violence are elevated to social peace-keeping (ala Girard’s mimesis)—God did so as well. The Good Friday question is two-fold: Will Yeshua be raised to new life within the community of those who followed him and will God be raised from the tomb, stripped of all the conditions foisted upon tout autre (Derrida’s totally other), into non-being—neither existing nor not existing. To call this day GoodFriday is to trust into trust that the unconditional—however the unconditional is named (God, impossible, wholly other, commonwealth of peace and justice—continues to insist toward an impossible, unscripted future. And it means that even I may be insisted upon—though, there is no guarantee.

Maundy Thursday (cont.)

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

If I were to be truthful, I would acknowledge that I am never totally freed from my wishful thinking. So, in part, experienced insistence is my wishful thinking when joined with the wishful thinking of the legacy of Israel (the Jubilee year), Yeshua’s Kingdom of God, and Paul’s body of Christ. When my wishful thinking joins with that of the Hebrew Prophets, and Albert Schweitzer, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., then it moves from wishful thinking to insistence. Unconditional insistence has implanted itself into the hearts and minds of people throughout history—the great cloud of witnesses. It has become part of the collective unconsciousness of humanity. And it insists upon me—unconditionally. My response, however, is conditioned by many factors, not the least of which is how I trust into trust.

This Maundy Thursday morning worshipful conversation was between two friends—soul brothers, as it were—who are both wrestling with the realities of new understandings and feelings about those life experience that can be referred to as faithing. Individually we each wrestle in a different ring; together, however, we make a formidable tag-team. My wrestling style is Thinkfeeling—that is, I think my way into feeling. The feelings are always there, but it takes some thinking and writing and conversation to tease them out. One teased out, I can articulate how my thoughts are enhanced through articulating those feelings. Wayne, on the other hand, is a Feelthinker. He begins in his feelings. He feels them deeply, but has to take extra oains to articulate them. Once he begins to move those feelings into thought, journal them, and talk about them, his articulation becomes more crisp and his movement into the feelings is deepened.

There is no single pathway into the unconditional. If there were, the unconditional would be conditioned. Derrida and Caputo are right that there is no pathway that will lead to the unconditional (God, if you please). Instead, this is a lot of advanced preparation necessary to prepare us for the incursion of the unconditional’s claim that arises within us.

What has been instrumental in our growth (deepening) is that my Thinkfeel and Wayne’s Feelthink have complemented each other. My Thinkfeeling teases out his ability and desire to articulate his feelings. His Feelthinking teases out of me a greater ability and desire to connect my feelings with my thoughts. As a result we both continue to grow toward wholeness and integrity. This is why we can talk about ourselves as community, even though we are only two.

Maundy Thursday

Reflections and musings occasioned by Caputo, The Folly of God.

This morning I attended a Maundy Thursday worship in my bathrobe. No, I didn’t venture out to church. No self-respecting Presbyterian church has Maundy Thursday worship services at 9 a.m. The worship happened via a telephone conversation that began with a question(s): What helps me name the insistence that I experience so that it isn’t just my wishful thinking. I don’t want to fall into the trap of God-in-the-highest or of Tillich’s God-the-ground-of-being. I don’t want to lose the depth. Am I kidding myself?

I don’t have an answer. I am trekking in the wilderness, in the desert—a blind man poking around with a stick.

One of the insights of Prayers and Tearsis that one will not experience the unconditional, the impossible, the totally other without “a lot of preparation in advance, that a long and difficult advent is needed to prepare for this in[ter]vention. . .” Insistence comes as a shock to the system—one’s personal ego system and the corporate systems of religion, politics, economics, etc. Unprepared, the insistence, “instead of shocking us, will just pass us by without a ripple.”

Derrida and Caputo suggest that deconstruction is what prepares us. While I agree, there is needed an underlying reality within that permits deconstruction. Some call it faith. Faith is the preparation that opens us to the deconstructions that prepare us for the shock of insistent’s invasion. Only when we began to trust into trustwere we able to ask the question, “What’s next, Papa?” [Romans 8:15, Message]

This journey began with a leap into the unknown. That leap launched a journey that has a deep history with that trust. Experience of numerous events on the journey opened the possibility for the trust to deepen and broaden. And, as trust deepened, any hope for some kind of magical fleece to save the day was abandoned. There is a consistency of the history with that trust. It means constantly saying “Yes.” And I have!

Say “Yes” to trust many time over had the effect of exposing the hairline cracks in my ego container. Every time “Yes” was spoken—every time trust was trusted—the cracks widened until the fissures overtook the solidity of the ego container. Now, to ask “What’s next, Papa?” is not an ego-striving, a wanting to know what is ahead so I can control it’s coming. Instead, it is more a declarative statement than a question: “Bring it on! Whatever the future holds—no matter how much it shocks me or the world around me—I trust into trust that I will survive and will, in justice, find some quality of life.

So, then the question becomes: How do I teach spiritual formation? How do I help others move out of the signs and symbols into the experience of trust? After all, what we are talking about is not in the writings out there. Some of the wise have been not been able to articulate the experience and tie it to a theology.

It is a truism that faith (trust) can’t be taught; it can only be taught. The best that we can do is tell the stories of our experience with trusting into trust. Then, when someone responds positively, we can help them grow into their own stories. As D.T. Niles said, “We are one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That is why community—mutual sharing of journey-stories—is so important. In the sharing, we grow. Neill Hamilton was correct: we don’t develop trust on our own; instead, we grow into the trust of the community—even if the community is only one other person who is also preparing to the shock of the advent of the unconditional.

While we try to avoid getting boxed in to categories, we have shifted from theology to ethics. The commonwealth of peace and justice is calling for an ethical society that embraces justice—the well-being of all in society. [As a side note, salvationis no longer a theological concern. It is an ethical matter that is built on a medical model. Health is a ethical-political matter as we have learned in the morass that is America’s dilemma.]

To prepare for the possibility of the impossible—the incursion of the unconditional insistence—is to shift concern from theology (who or what is insisting?) to ethics (what is this incursion calling me to do?). But, ethics is frightening—especially if I can’t locate it in a certain theology. Joseph Fletcher’s Situational Ethicsblew the church’s thinking out of the water. If action isn’t pinned down by theological doctrine, if the long robes don’t have a categorical answer for every situation, then our theology will fall apart and have no meaning at all. That was the shaping of the fear when ethics is detached from being a sub-category of theology.

Trusting into trust, however, suggests another alternative where theology is a sub-species of ethics. Paul Lehmann’s Ethics in a Christian Contextattempted to explore this alternative. The basic question is ethical: What am I to do? However, my response to that question is guided by my context—I am a follower of Yeshua and in community with other followers. A Buddhist, experiencing the insistence of the unconditional, might have a response that is nuanced differently from mine. Theology is important, but not primary.

This takes us back to the initial question: when I experience insistence is it really unconditional, or is it just wishful thinking. That was also Augustine’s question: What do I love when I love my God?