the god of the bottom

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Monday, June 29th, 2009

the god of the bottom

while i’m not necessarily suggesting some kind of weird, mystic thought connectivity, it certainly seems as if god uses streams of interconnected pieces of thinking to foster my own theological growth and investigation. over the last several days, that very thing has occurred.

several days ago, i listened to a podcast that featured an interview with len sweet, a self-described theologian, author and futurist (the title “futurist” always gets me…who really knows what that means…does it mean a guy with a quasi-mullet, because len sweet definitely has that…). while i most defnitely have some significant disagreements with some of this theologies and commentary about the emerging conversation, he’s a guy who is deeply spiritual and is able to draw observations about god from culture that most would never see (his twitter is interesting because of these very things).
in the interview, sweet was talking about what distinguished jesus & christianity from other religions/movements/ways of thinking throughout time. he said (paraphrase),
aristotle said, “follow my teachings”
confucius said, “follow my sayings”
moses said, “follow my commandments”
muhammad said, “follow my pillars”
but jesus said something very different:
jesus said, “follow me.”
the idea is that with jesus (and subsequently christianity…when it’s done properly…), life is about a person, not a thing or merely an idea. truth is a person, not an abstract concept. jesus is personal. following jesus isn’t about doing things, it’s about being something. it’s about an intimacy and closeness.
so, in the midst of still stirring that thought over in my mind (and actually using it in a sermon the very next day), i, last night, attended doug pagitt’s book tour at argenta united methodist church. his book tour, which is “part one-man show, part revival, part book reading, part hootenanny, and part communal gathering”, centers on his latest book, a christianity worth believing: hope-filled, open-armed, alive-and-well faith for the left out, left behind, and let down in us all. i’ve had the pleasure of reading the book and even blogged about it quite some time ago.
over the course of a couple hours, pagitt worked through the book, beginning with an excellent, yet concise, history of early christianity from the time of jesus to the reign of constantine. of course, we know that constantine made christianity the official religion of the empire and things, well, haven’t quite been the same ever since. one of the many legacies of that time was that we have many articulations of the story of god told from very greek perspectives. basically, the story of god shifted from a hebraic telling to a very romanic perspective. while this isn’t devoid of any good, there were some particular worldviews that made their way into scripture, creeds and common understandings of god that tweaked the understanding of a jerusalem-based faith system.
during the time of constantine, the “competing” gods were the mythological gods: zeus and posse. those gods were thought to live atop mt. olympus—far away from people. the idea is that on top of their mountain, they ruled high above the lowly humans. what you then have is a view of god that puts god upon a high, distant pedestal and humans in a lowered, disconnected position.
the understanding of god’s relationship to humans became top-bottom, rather than the hebraic side-by-side.
to make a connecting point with sweet’s quote and pagitt’s assertion, jesus was defined just as much (or more, i would argue) by his personhood as he was his divine nature. he lived with people. he was accessible. he was like us. he was one of us. he was not only fully god, but fully human.
god isn’t distant. he dwells among us, as the gospel of john so beautifully states. he doesn’t hover above us on some faraway mountain top. he’s here. and through the reality of his personhood, we are intimately connected.
jesus identifies with the people on bottom. he lives on the bottom. he has descended the mountain and advocates for those with whom he lives.
jesus is, certainly, the god of the bottom.


  1. Morgon77 says:

    Just a note.

    Actually, Constantine just legalized Christianity as a religion that could exist in Rome (and this fluxed a lot over the next several hundred years). It wasn't until about 500 AD that Christianity became the state religion.

    Constantine started a period, but he wasn't the source of all of the trouble.

  2. ted says:

    Jesus cannot be Lord of your life AND your homeboy…no matter what the emergents or athiests or any other groups do…Jesus will still be Lord…he doesn't dwell on the bottom, he's not emerging out of the mud..he's not waiting for our help…this does not bring glory to God…which is the emergent's biggest problem…they are more interested in bringing glory to man than they are bringing glory to God…this is dark stuff man…I'm still wondering how you can still follow these guys knowing that they are teaching universalism, and deny so many things that are essential to the true Christian faith…it's not ALL good…some of it is very bad…and fyi: we ALL are separatists…either we are separated from God or the world…you can only pick one!

  3. christen byrd says:

    ted…stop it. seriously. if you have to insult ryan's intelligence so much that you think he actually "follows" anyone other than jesus…that in itself makes me angry. you've now stated it multiple times, and you are incorrect sir. it is very bold of you to make these accusations about someone without actually sitting down and having a conversation about what they actually believe…and don't tell me you've tried. because you have had "blog wars"…not conversations. i think you would be quite surprised by how wrong you would be if you would quit accusing and spreading rumors and lies about him, and actually talk to him. you have a very distorted view of my husband, and for that i'm sad. and it is with this distorted view that you read all of his writings and listen to his words. you are clearly only interested in bring him down.

    so please, get a hobby…or something, other than this because it's getting annoying. i'm sure you may think i am out of line with this…but you are the one who is out of line. if you have a problem, address it, don't cowardly post these ridiculous statements. because you better believe i am doing all that i can not to pick up the phone and give you a call. because to ryan, this means nothing, obviously because he's actually leaving this crap up…when most people would take down anything that makes them look bad. but he realizes that most people have read this stuff and laughed. and he knows that people actually know him and what he believes. apparently you do not. however, i am not that cool about it, and i'm tired of it. and i'm done. go ahead and post whatever ridiculousness in response to me that you want.

    thank you. seriously, stop it.


  4. ted says:

    Cristen, if Ryan is not following these guys, then why is he touting them in spite of the fact that they are teaching false doctrines etc…this may seem like a war of words, but it is in fact a battle for you and your husband…i like ryan…and you…it's amazing that he can trounce on anything but when the "conversation" runs counter to what he believes, suddenly we can't have our conversation anymore…you keep saying I don't know what Ryan believes…if he doesn't believe what these guys are teaching, then why keep promoting them? hate on republicans, hate on america, hate on the white man etc etc…but disagree with Ryan and the conversation is over…btw, i had intended on talking with ryan, but he left pretty quick..

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