Note: Can I Say This at Church is produced for audio listening. If able, I strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which has inflection, emotion, sarcasm where applicable, and emphasis for points that may not come across well in written word. This transcript is generated using a combination of my ears and software, and may contain errors. Please check the episode for clarity before quoting in print.
Welcome to another episode of the Can I Say This At Church podcast so thankful that you're here before we get started in today's episode, I want to make a brief appeal to your patronage. This podcast is supported completely and 100% by you. If you have in any way felt moved or challenged or impacted or enjoyed what you've heard, please consider going to our Patreon page you can find the link in the show notes. You can also find that link at our website. Can I Say This At Church calm and click on the Patreon button. Your donation in any amount is so helpful and I am greatly appreciative for it.
My guest today is Dr. Richard back. Richard is the Professor and the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He's the author of unclean the authenticity of faith slavery death, reviving old scratch and his most recent book the topic of our conversation today is called stranger God. Richard research covers topics such as psychology, vanity, disgust, and contempt. Richard also has a popular blog called Experimental Theology. I would encourage you to reach that out a fantastic blog and to find the discussing anything from Johnny Cash, to hell to, Scooby Doo. It's very fun.
In today's conversation we discuss finding God in the other and at the same time recognizing how we struggle to do so. And knowing that ahead of time how we can lean into being Jesus and more importantly, seeing Jesus and those that are marginalized. Those that we deem, “less than” it is a fantastic conversation. I greatly hope you enjoy it.
So welcome back to another episode of the Can I Say This At Church podcast. Our guest today is Dr. Richard Beck. Dr. Beck, thank you so much for taking the time out of your own your Christmas season to be on with us today.
Hey, thanks for having me.
So I just recently finished reading Stranger God, about a week ago, enjoyed it greatly. And so I'd like to discuss that a little bit here in a few minutes. But before that, I'm certain that there will be some people that are either unfamiliar with you, or unfamiliar with your work. So can you give us just a brief kind of kind of how you became to be doing what you're doing today and then what led you to write Stranger God.
Yeah, of course, I am a professor of psychology actually, some people mistakenly think I'm a theologian, but as a psychologist, I study psychology of religion. And so a lot of my published work has been about the interface and psychological processes and Christian faith and practice and a large focus on my research has been on social psychology, the way the way we deal with different groups of people and social psychological obstacles towards hospitality. Welcome. And so the very first book I wrote was called Unclean and, and that kind of stuff, kind of trajectory of writing lots of different books about the integration of psychology and Christianity.
And Stranger God is kind of a popular version of Unclean; kind of a tour through the social psychological challenges we face and welcoming others and in some practical insights about how we might kind of cultivate more hope heart towards people.
nice yeah I realized that as it got halfway through I was like this seems pretty familiar to Unclean and what until the back half that it that it deviated tremendously.
So there are a lot of one of the things I like about your book, there are just a lot of openness, a lot of honesty and you personally in personal stories. There's a portion of your book that you speak about Texas and being that I'm from Texas, it brought me back; and there was a portion there were you spoke about Tejano music in your car and other things that you do.
I actually had to take a timeout to refrain and and listen to a little music. It took me back. I don't play that in Virginia, but I missed it. And so the in a nutshell what is your goal that you're trying accomplish with Stranger God as opposed to Unclean.
Well, I think Unclean was more of a kind of an academic attempt to explain the obstacles the effectual and emotional obstacles to hospitality mainly through the lens of disgust and contamination psychology.
Stranger God widens the view and doesn't just focus on feelings of inner, poor, personal revulsion or disgust but also focusing on things like fear and I think that's really relevant at this point in America the way our our inhospitality is flowing out of anxiety and fear and so I try to widen the emotional territory and serve a pretty extensively all the different kind of a sexual triggers that we have from fear to discuss to contempt and cast that bigger vision.
The other thing with Unclean is that it doesn't really get into practical applications, it's just very diagnostic. And so as I went around talking about the material, churches have asked for practical solutions, as they should. I would finish my material, they say, “Fine, hospitality is hard for us”. We're going to run into all these social psychological triggers. So what are we going to do to six and nine in the early days and have a really great answer for that. So that so that I think the big draw of Stranger God over Unclean is that it tries to offer some very practical daily kinds of habits to help us widen the circle of our affections to be more hospitable to people.
Because the big theme of hospitality at least in Scripture is how God comes to us when we welcome strangers. And there's a big theme all the way through the Gospel, how Jesus kind of appears in disguise or incognito. So Matthew 25 you know, I was in prison and you visited me. I was homeless and you gave me shelter but when Jesus puts a child in front of his followers and says whenever you welcome one of these the least of these my brothers you welcome me. So that's the big take home Of Stranger God is the more practical call that I don't think Unclean gets at. And Unclean is a great book and some really nerdy people love Unclean but some people find it hard-going because it's more academic slant so Stranger God is also just more accessible and it is a lot more stories in it and so it's a quick read, but I have an impactful one.
I would agree, as a non-academic, I did find it personally…I found it easier to read, not that the other one is not easy just this was just easier to read and smaller pieces without having to take so many notes.
I want to dig in a little bit…you talk about disgust and contamination in a way that most churches I don't think do and how that affects hospitality. So can you kind of go into how disgust, psychologically works, and how that correlates to fear and contempt and I guess revulsion would be a good word.
Well, I yeah, that might seem like a weird thing to talk about, you know, discuss psychology like, I don't feel disgusted by people. But if you ponder it, and I think your listeners think about it, and you think of all the adjectives we use, and throw at people who we find uncomfortable. You'll notice a lot of those are kind of discussed related words, we call people trash. We say somebody is revolting. They're icky, they give us the creeps, they're slimy, and so we use the idiom of revulsion and contamination.
Somebody is a rotten person, you would say. So we know that we use adjectives to push people away. We see even children play these contamination kings on the playground where I called cooties when I was brought up where somebody touched united cooties. They passed on this sort of virus and if you pass touch somebody else you pass it on.
So children naturally seem to reason about social relations in the idiom of clean and unclean. And we typically obviously associate our group with the clean and pure and holy and anybody on the outside is somebody who is the unwashed. And that's just another adjective we use, the unwashed masses, the people that are not as pure and clean as we are. And so quickly realized if you reflect on it that we read about social groups in this idiom of purity. And I think religious people are particularly prone to this because of our moral sensibilities and how morality is understood as being in a state of cleanliness, or contamination and sin is the thing that produces that contamination. What that means in the psychological way is that when we reason about people in the idiom contamination, feelings, you know, personal feelings of revulsion, get pulled up and used and then directed towards other people. And, and that those feelings of discussing contamination, are obstacles to welcoming people and this is obvious to any reader the Gospels, you see the Pharisees stepping away from tax collectors, centers and prostitutes as unclean.
They've erected kind of a moral quarantine against those people, and they're radically inhospitable. And Jesus's practice was to break bread, to sit down, eat with the unclean. And so that's one of the big fights in the gospels is religious people, the Pharisees who define holiness as quarantine from the unclean, and then a Jesus who does something very counterintuitive very emotional strange in the sense that he achieves holiness through hospitality. And I mean that it's emotional strange to us because that's designed to teach us the psychology of disgust when we see somebody who is a moral contaminant, sinner, embracing them, breaking bread with them doesn't seem to be the obvious route toward holiness. And yet that's what Jesus calls us to do.
So Stranger God is this prolonged meditation on all of those emotional triggers and how we fail to, to crossover into hospitality the way Jesus did.
So that's just disgusting revulsion and the other the other feelings follow quickly after that, obviously, if you are afraid of somebody that that's a trigger, and I think we should get America lots of people very anxious about all kinds of things from terrorism to economics, and those fears make us worried about strangers.
And contempt is just another version of disgust it just is hierarchical, to discuss kind of directed downward towards people who are beneath or below us. And so psychologists know that discussing contempt are very similar emotions. It's just contempt is more hierarchical. So I use contempt, to kind of wrap this bit up, to kind of get people on the hook in a way that disgust might not you know, some people might say, I don't feel disgusted by people. And I go, Okay, fair enough. You probably may feel that people are being ridiculous or awful. Like, like, if you just survey your feelings. When you scroll through your social media feed. You're going to feel most of us feel lots of anger, young scorn for people and that usually gets everybody on on the same page.
Like, okay, I can see how I have some exceptional emotional triggers towards certain groups of people. And social media is a place where a lot of triggering happens.
Yeah, I've heard it said, and I don't know who said it. I'm sure I read it, that when you're scrolling through your social media feeds, you should be 10% angry when you do it. For fear of being in an echo chamber and and never learning to grow, or to or to see a different viewpoint. I don't know if that's truthful or not. I try to do it, but then I find I can't be on there very long at all.
I think and maybe America is different because of our Puritan back roots. So I feel like scriptural alee, you'll find a lot of churches and a lot of Christians making that case on cleanliness because of the Old Testament. And and they forget that Jesus seem to not really mind that too much. Why do you feel like that is? Or does the old testament to those purity laws, you know, where, you know this person is unclean because this happened or this person is unclean because they touched a dead bone or whatever, are there different levels of purity; or is it all just you're clean or unclean and and that is what it is?
I think the Scripture is complicated about on that and I think one of the struggles that we have is when we have a kind of a what some people call flat hermeneutics, we just kind of like just set all these scriptures side by side and read them…
In a prooftext kinda way?
Yeah, everything's kind of treated equally. But one thing you'll notice that in the Old Testament itself is this anxiety about the Levitical purity codes. So on the one hand, we understand that Levitical purity codes are trying to do, they're trying create a people that are distinct from the surrounding cultures.
Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests. We are to be kind of a witness to God's reign and rule in the world.
So that so we, we get that.
But then there's the, in the Old Testament self, there's these anxieties and these worries about those Levitical traditions, and that usually those concerns are usually were raised by the prophetic tradition.
And so that you read things in the Prophet saying, like, you know, I don't really need all your sacrifices, because I own every cattle, I own all the cattle on the hillside. I don't need that, or in Isaiah…
I despise your religious feasts and festivals because the true fast is justice and care for the oppressed. So in the Old Testament itself, there is a there is a dialectic there is a tension between the two.
And so you can't read them flatly. There is a tension there and Jesus inherits that tension in the Gospels. The Pharisees kind of represent that Levitical tradition. They were revivalist groups kind of calling people back to kind of a pure life of Torah obedience. Even though they're not in the Scriptures, we know at the same time there was the Essenes in the Qumran communities, but they fled, you know, they flee out into the wilderness to kind of maintain their purity as well.
And then Jesus, though, as a teacher of the Torah does something really different, and he seems to privilege the prophetic critique over the Levitical tradition. And so…
What do you mean by prophetic critique?
Well, for example, Jesus, breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners in Matthew 9. And the Pharisees critique him from a purity perspective. They say “Listen, you know, your are you making contact with the unclean?”
And when Jesus would touch lepers again, he's violating the Levitical code there. He's moving into a state of uncleanliness and contamination by touching lepers and by eating with sinners, and they critique him from local perspective.
But then Jesus quotes the prophets, He quotes Hosea actually, and he says, God desires mercy, not sacrifice. And so there's this tension there. Sacrifice is that vertical impulse to achieve, say, purity. But Jesus says God wants mercy. More than that, and it's the same kind of thing that that comes out in these fights about the Sabbath keeping.
So is a goal of Sabbath keeping to use it as a ritual to set yourself apart as a holy person, or is the Sabbath a space in your in our lives to do good to heal? And Jesus again, privileges mercy there.
So all that to say is, yeah, there is a purity impulse that comes out of Leviticus, but the prophets push back against it and make it a little bit more complicated. And I think one way of reading Jesus is his siding with the prophets in that critique, or at least reframing. I think that's what Jesus doing. He's not saying purity is not important. He's redefining what pure looks like. So Jesus is a holy person, the holiest person who ever lived and he is embracing lepers and the unclean, then that's what holy people do.
Holy people don't run out to the suburbs and live in gated communities and create their own little, evangelical bubbles; that's not what the purity impulses supposed to do. Yeah, true. impulses supposed to move towards the prostitutes, tax collectors, the lepers of the world, because that's what Jesus says the holy person should do.
So it's not anything purity is irrelevant. He's re-defining our imaginations of what purity is, and my point in Stranger God is that that revisioning that he's trying to accomplish is not natural for us; it's very counterintuitive. It doesn't make sense that you would run toward sinners to be holy. And that was the Pharisees problem with Jesus.
Is that teaching holiness through this really weird approach? Rather than avoidance?
Well, I mean, people still get angry when you do that. You'll see so many, well, you see so many so many of the famous saints and whatnot, they do that and people aspire to and then no one does it. I want to circle back to what you said a minute ago. So you talked about some people in ancient Biblical times would would leave their community and kind of go off into the desert to remain pure. And and then you alluded to it again, and people will live in their gated communities or their church doesn't seem very inclusive. So why do you feel like some people are more concerned with their tribe than they are justice or they're more concerned with, to use a quote that you use in the book? Is that black guy in a hoodie going to hurt me, as opposed to how can I love that guy? Why do you feel like we do that?
I think it's just the human condition. I think this was a psychologist to me steps in the human condition is that our minds are pretty much our default is towards a kind of a tribalistic mindset. Humans are very, or we're naturally wired to identify in group or our tribe, and to proceed anybody on the outside of that tribe is a stranger and we view them with weariness. And we can argue about where that comes from, and why we're that way. But that seems to be our default. And I think there's ample evidence that as you look around and see all the tribes divided in the world from race, to nationality, to religion, to sexual orientation, to politics, to class, I mean just the tribalism is at a fever pitch it seems like right now.
So that's what human humanity looks like, just naturally, that just, that's our default. And so what happens I think is on…the… in Stranger God I call that the kind of our social autopilot is like, you just go on social autopilot is you just walk out of your door, you're going to find yourself attracted to people very similar to you and very suspicious too people who are very different from you.
And that happens for everybody. That's just so to me, that's just that we don't need any deep explanation for why that is. That's just the beginning. That's just the raw material you're working with. That's what's sitting in our pews right just normal human being that tend to see the world tribally.
Maybe its that there is some, you know, good reason why we do that. Maybe it helps us survive, you know, in a very scary world. I don't know.
My point though is, is that the reason why Christians don't move out of that is because these are emotional issues rather than intellectual issues. And so you can hear a sermon on the Good Samaritan. But that's that's information, like our problems with following Jesus are not educational anymore. Everybody knows the answers that are going to be on the final exam, right?
When you hear the story of the Good Samaritan, you know, you're supposed to help, yet we don't all why because it's not an intellectual problem. It's an affectionate issues, emotional issue. And emotions are hard to change.
If you've ever felt depressed, and somebody tells you to say you know “cheer up”, well, you know, that's not very effective advice. You just can't flip off sadness like that. And the same thing I'm arguing is the same goes for feelings about human beings if you have feelings towards somebody, so just think about political opponents; that's like a simple example.
If you people have very strong feelings about politics well if you're really angry at that, those people I just can't walk up to you and say, love them, you know, like, you just can't go from one emotional register the other that quickly, it's, it's not like a matter of choosing. So how are you going to become hospitable to people who really trigger you emotionally or your example people you're afraid of?
So the reason we do all that is just human psychology. We have an in group outcome psychology, that's kind of our natural social autopilot, and it's going to take a lot of intentional, deliberate work to overcome that psychology.
II want to circle back to fear, contempt, and disgust… I've heard you say it before, so humor me, I'm sure you've answered this question a lot but you give two separate examples and for fear of Godwin's law. I'd like you to dig in a bit on how when people are not in our tribe or not, I guess to microcosm it, not in our family, you know, not my wife and my kids, even so far as my neighbor, how you've spoken about how anything outside of my personal moral influence becomes just nasty or disgusting, or mistrusted. And you relay that to how fear of contamination can be displaced from object at object; be it us, you know, Hitler's sweater or a Dixie cup to do that.
And so, choosing either one of those, can you dig into that a bit? I was talking with a friend about it, and he's like, what did you say?
(laughter)And then I've come to ask other people, just friends about the Dixie cup, including my wife and they all look at me like I have lost my mind. Like, why would I ever do that? But they also can't tell me why it's wrong. And I can either so….
(laughter)…Yeah, so your listeners will want to get into Stranger God to get into those examples but I use a couple of examples from disgust research to illustrate the power of emotions in this conversation which is kind of what I've been talking about.
So the Hitler sweater example is psychologists bring people in the laboratory may show them a ratty old sweater and they tell them it's Hitler’s sweater; Hitler once owned it and wore it, and then they invite them to put it on. And most people decline or at least will feel really uncomfortable to put it on.
And then you ask them well why is that like why would you feel uncomfortable putting it on why would you feel uncomfortable taking it home and hanging in your closet? And the answer is we feel like somehow Hitler's Evil has contaminated the sweater. Like it has a moral virus in it. And so we don't want to touch it. Now we know that that's unreasonable. That there the morality of evil isn't, you know, a contaminate that can rub off into fabric and rub off on you. And yet again, this goes back to the psychology here, we tend to reason about morality in the idiom of contamination. Even though we know it’s illogical our emotions cause us to push that away I am revolted by that sweater.
So the obvious extension of the Hitler sweater example is, if we reason about mortality in the idiom of disgust, then if we see somebody who we consider to be a sinner or engaged in sinful practices, an immoral person or even an evil person, then obviously proximity with them contact with them becomes this kind of source of interpersonal revulsion. And my point here is that even though we know a proximity with an unsavory or immoral person isn't going to put us at moral risk we act as if we do, we feel it. And so the Hitler sweater examples just trying to point out to us the degree to which our emotions trump our minds.
We can't make a logical case for what we feel the way we do we just feel that way.
and it's the same with people. We just have these feelings and we can't account for them, but we act on them.
The Dixie cup example is, you know, I asked audiences to swallow the spit in their mouth. And most people have no problem with that. Then I say okay, but how would it be different have asked you to spit into Dixie Cup and then quickly re-drink it? And then most people find that would be a little bit more disgusting, it's not really disgusting. But then I ask well what's what's the physical differences of swallowing in your mouth or swallowing spit you put in a Dixie cup and re-drink? And it's because there seems to be very slow physical difference between those two acts and yet there is this huge emotional boundary that separates the two.
And what it illustrates is the way these feelings of revulsion, and disgust, and boundary, (monitoring psychology) the minute the spit leaves the boundary of the body, you don't want to reincorporate it. And so, we use these feelings to create a effectual boundary; anything perceived to be on the inside of this effectional circle; and like you said, it's usually my people, my tribe, mostly my family, and may be extended family members, and some very, very close friends.
But these are effectional tribes there's all kinds of them right? There's is an effectual boundary around your home. But then you have an effectual boundary, let's say around your, your faith community, you might have an effectual boundary around your neighborhood or your school or your country. So we have these effectional halos these fictional boundaries and anybody on the inside of that, that we consider a part of my people, my my clan, my tribe, we treat them as the spit that's inside our mouth is something that is just a part of me.
Anything on the outside of that, like spitting to Dixie cup, is now treated with this hesitance to be welcomed back in. And that hesitance is greater on a continuum, it can just be a slight hesitation to say hello, to invite that person to lunch, to welcome them to the school district or to the neighborhood or to the country. And it can go all the way up to you know, more extreme versions of hesitance. So from, you know, intolerance to hate name to agenda, genocidal extermination of those people. It all is rooted, it's all rooted in this perceiving the outsider as a source of contamination.
And so like in America, that would be you know, refugees or Republicans or Democrats, depending on which side you fall on or, or Muslims.
Yeah. And I'm glad you, you know, cast it out politically, because a lot of us like to believe that we're on the side that is the tolerant side. You know, like, “I have to be right”.
Well of course! That’s my side! Of course I’m right.
Yeah, your side is the good side, and then everybody disagrees. On the bad side. We all have people in our world that effectionally we struggle to welcome.
And so if you're honest about it, again, just go back to social media, and just watch your feelings. And notice where you struggle to show hospitality.
Yeah, no, you're right. Um, want to use the rest of our time wisely, there's a handful of other questions that I wanted to touch on. One of them is personal to me. So you talk about as you go, and you speak to churches, and you talk at conferences and do whatever else as people are engaging with you. And this topic, that the one thing that you notice is that churches fears embracing death on the worship stage.
And so to bring it home for me, I lead worship in my local church. And I read through that a little bit and, and I'm still not sure where I sit with it, I'm not 100% certain that I understand it. So what do you mean by asking a church to embrace death?
Well, so what psychologists have discovered about disgust is that there's different kinds of it. So obviously, it's rooted in the food system, right? We'd be pushed away disgusted by the things that we think are contaminated. And then we have been spending most of our time talking about it's called the social-moral disgust; the way those feelings that we use to push away bad food is, is are used to push away bad people, right?
So it's a moral social kind of form of revulsion. But psychologists have also gone on to discover that disgust is also focused on pushing away reminders of gas and of our bodily vulnerabilities. And so people feel uneasy or revolted by, or uncomfortable around, people who show physical deformities. They feel revulsion around death, like around corpses or hospitals. And what I what I go on and talk about here is how those feelings of discomfort around people who display the vulnerabilities of the body, they remind us of our frail, animal, mortal nature that our bodies in mind can fail us. And so these would be the homeless, or the mentally ill, or people with dementia or senior citizens are people with handicaps and disabilities, anybody who kind of reminds us of death and by that I don't mean like, you're afraid of death but afraid of our frailty and our failure and our neediness. That what would disgust does in that situation is it pushes out of public view, these people who remind us of our bodies and our frailty, so, from the sick to the disabled, to the mentally ill to the homeless.
American culture does a really good job of pushing those people off the stage. We tend to fetishize in America, the talented, the youthful, the successful in the in the evil. And anybody who kind of violates that kind of Walt Disney veneer of perfection in talent and vigor and youthfulness is uncomfortable. And so what happens, the worry I express in Stranger God, what happens is that when churches don't monitor kind of the implicit assumptions of the American success ethos. We tend to just put on stage and to center our attention on the talented and the youthful and the able. And so lots of churches are really kind of just shrines to youthfulness.
You know, senior citizens are not given time or focus, you often not see disabilities on stage, mental illness is still very shameful and are on it goes. So it's not just about worship because what happens is, you kind of become what you elevate. So if you're always elevating success and usefulness and vigor than is, what happens is then people who struggle, people who have a mental illness or people who have experienced some sort of failure, moral or otherwise, they begin to hide.
Because they're like, well, this is kind of what's going to get praised in this church. But for everything you're praising, there's often something that's hidden in the corner that you don't want to talk about. And that might not be explicit, it's not like the Church says that, but it becomes it's implicit in what you constantly kind of praise and worship. And so what we can have our churches with lots of people that hide from each other and are superficial because of intimacy. Because usually what we're hiding from each other are our failures, failures are shamed, then that leads to the hiding.
Yeah and your hiding openness as well. You're hiding you're, you're only giving people that outer layer of your onion, so no one ever gets to see or be with you.
Being a needy, vulnerable person is really shameful in America what was praised in America because of our success ethos and you know, the kind of rugged individualism is self-sufficiency like America was built around a mythology of self-sufficiency and what that what that means is you're not supposed to need anything you are self sufficient. So what that means is “I don't need you”. So I'm coming in the church self sufficient, which means I don't need anybody in this building.
And, again, I don't think anybody would consciously say that that's what they believe. But that's the way you're shaped in American culture to not need anybody. And so we're more than willing to serve other people, you know, like I can help you, but I'm fine; I don't need anything from you.
And the point I try to make, in Unclean and Stranger God, is that when we're all self sufficient, when nobody needs anybody in the building, then all of these relationships are really disposable.
And they're also really inauthentic because we actually really do need each other when you're not admitting it.
And so consequently, love can’t occur. And in this self-sufficient body, love can't flow because nobody needs anybody.
And love only flows when I have needs and you have needs and we begin sharing back and forth to each other. There's a flow there of reciprocity, and gift, and grace.
So that's kind of what I'm trying to get at there with the whole idea of disgust pushes away reminders of our neediness.
Can we as a church, as a people, as a culture, (because I think you can love people whether or not you're Christian I don't see how you cannot) but can we as a people solve the problem of being hospitable and welcoming and going to people with the slogan like you'll see in most Southern Baptist Churches of well “we’ll”, and I'll give them a name, “we’ll love Elmo, but we hate that Elmos gay so we just we got to love on him but we got to hate what he's doing”.
Can you speak on that a bit?
Yeah, I mean, I appreciate what the sentiment is trying to do. It’s trying to balance this tension that we were talking about earlier in the podcast between the Levitical code of purity and the prophetic call for justice and hospitality, you know, you're trying to balance mercy and sacrifice.
So, you know, it's believed that we can do that by hating behavior, but loving human being. My my point is, and I kind of take a cue here from the Theologian, Miroslav Volf, and he talks about this thing called the will to embrace. And the will to embrace, as he defines it, is this recognition and acceptance of a person's worth and dignity prior to any other judgments we make about them. Before we sort people into gay or straight Republican, Democrat, progressive, evangelical, rich or poor, black or white, Muslim, Christian, you know, on and on it goes before we sort people into their social grouping these tribal groupings that we have all these feelings about, you have to have the will to where you have to accept them into humanity first.
Because if you don't, if you see them through the social label through the kind of tribal filter, you've already lost track of the humanity and a process of dehumanization, and demonization begins occurring, subtly it begins occurring. The seeds of hate are already sowed in your heart. And my point is as a psychologist is that it's almost instantaneous. It's not like you're even deciding not to do it, you just do it. This is a social autopilot stuff. You are already emotionally reacting to a person. Once you hear that they are gay, or once you hear that they're Republican, once you hear that they're Democrat. And once you hear that they're Muslim, or they're in a different denomination than you like the minute you hear the social filter, you have feelings.
And at that point, the game is probably almost always lost. Because once people are emotional, and I think we've all seen this right when people are emotional, really hard to talk at that point.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, once I get angry, I think once anyone and I work at a bank and, and I deal with people in their money and nothing gets people more emotional quicker than, you know their money or their religion or their kids, and I find it so hard to talk people off the ledge, or I'll say something I'm like, that's not what I said, I'm not insulting you. Not, you know, and but it's I don't know. And I'm sure psychologically, you could probably say, but we won't get into the science of it. I don't think that part of your brain even works once you become upset or fearful or whatever else is being released in your in your, you know, your brain chemically when all that happens.
I think you're exactly right. I think that's you just really articulate what you just said, I think that's it, there's a part of your brain engages and just kind of kicks out rationality and that dynamic that you just described with string your God is trying to go after that, that when it plays out with social groups.
Back to come back to the point about loving the sinner hating the sin my problem with that should be obvious now is that you're you're framing the person in light of their sin you know you're there seeing them as a sinner and so some other sorting has occurred. Right, they are this sinner and then you're and then you're trying to somehow rehabilitate their humanity in light of that judgment. And my point is that you got to over backwards you have to embrace them in their humanity.
Yeah. You might then go on to have a conversation about holiness.
And I want to be cleared about to conservative listeners because they might think well this…what are you talking about? Just love everybody I don't care about the sin…and I'm not saying that. I'm saying hospitality is uniquely focused on securing people's dignity and humanity that like that's what its main practice. It's not acceptance of, you know, we're going to disagree politically about some things. We're going to disagree about some moral things and even doctrinal things. So I get that, and I'm not saying that we don't ever have hard conversations. But those conversations can't be life giving conversations, unless the humanity of everybody at the table has been secured on the front end, and that's what fails to happen.
We're having conversations about politics, and we're having conversations about doctrine and sin without the will to embrace. And that's why we just yell at each other. And that's why the conversations become hateful and angry, and dehumanizing for everybody on board. So, hospitality is about embracing the dignity of the person across from the table, even though we might vehemently disagree about politics and morality.
And I'd argue from for at least my age demographic of millennial, I think that's why so many of us are evacuating the church but are extremely spiritual still, and just because we're tired of everybody bickering. Maybe that's just my my personal reflection.
I don't want to give away the back third of the book at all. But you had two quotes in there and one I want to talk about both of those. And that's, that's where I'd like to end for the day. Um, you speak on grace and you define it in a way that I've never heard preached, or maybe I just don't pay attention because my brain is tuned into what the next worship song is going to be.
which happens more often than not, I have to listen to our own churches podcast to know what was said yesterday, because I have no idea between my three kids and leading worship, I have no idea what the sermon was.
You speak on grace and how its measured differently in the way that most churches assume that it is and you talk about how the word means “gift”. And so I was hoping you could speak on that a bit. You talk about who's allowed to get it and who's not allowed to get it and the difference in the way that Jesus and and Paul talks about grace versus the way that we do?
So this is this is me summarizing work by Paul scholar, John Barclay. His book, Paul in the gift, grace just means gift in ancient context. And Barclay makes two points.
One is obvious and one is kind of a little bit more unique. And I think this is the part you're reacting to. So the first part his point was that the age of context gifts were given by wealthy patrons to other kind of wealthy people or other kinds of people in different classes society to secure their favor, and their cooperation. It was a patronage gift economy. So you would give gifts so people could pay you back at some point. So you gave gifts to worthy participants worthy recipients I mean. Then Paul came along with this kind of revolutionary view of grace. Where he said, You know God does something very different with God's gifts. God doesn't give his gifts to just, the worthy; that he gives them to the unworthy, he gives gifts to everybody regardless.
And that was a big innovation. And it was so innovative and so successful that now we kind of assume that was always the default of grace. Gifts were always supposed to be given to the unworthy, that's what makes that's what makes it grace.
But that was a really big, crazy idea when Paul said that when God you know that God gave his gifts indiscriminately to the unworthy. That Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, we didn't deserve it. So that part of grace, we know very well.
But Barclay goes on to make his point he goes, but Paul deployed that theology very differently the way we deploy it, we deploy that message as an altar call. You don't deserve… you didn't deserve God's grace. But Jesus died for you anyway. So what's your response going to be? And then we make an altar call pitch. That is not how Paul used grace. Paul's big struggle in his churches was social. He was trying to get these very different groups of people to worship together.
He was creating these really innovative communities where people who have never broken bread together, are sitting down and trying to do life together. And so you often see this in the kind of the Jew Gentile distinctions, you see that in the first part of relations where, you know, the Jews were breaking bread with the Gentiles, and then Peter backs away from that fellowship; and so Paul confronts him. And so there's this honor, shame distinction between the Jew and the Gentile. And then you also see in First Corinthians between the rich and the poor, and how the rich, we're not waiting for the poor a communion, and he tells him to wait for each other. So Paul's big fight in his churches was how to get these social groups to welcome each other. He deploys grace to make his argument. He basically says, Listen, these honor, shame distinctions that you have imported from the world into the church had been eradicated by Jesus.
He has given his gifts to everybody indiscriminately. So therefore, because you have been welcomed, you welcome each other. And that is a very different view of grace because now we realize that grace isn't just about me and my private relationship with God. Grace isn't just about me and my salvation. Grace is about how I welcome my neighbor. Grace now has a social function and a social component. And so Paul used grace to create leverage for hospitality not to create guilt for an altar call, but for Jew and Gentile to welcome each other, for rich and poor welcome each other, for males and females to welcome each other. So in Galatians when he says there's no neither male nor female, nor Greek slave nor free, those distinctions were honor, shame distinction. And Paul is using grace to eradicate the honor shame culture of his time to create a new social reality. And I think we struggle the same thing.
America has its own honor shame codes. You know, we have our own classes of despise people and exalted people. This goes back to the worship stage, right? Even sure churches have their own honor shame codes, what gets honored, what gets uploaded, what gets approved of and what gets hidden? And, and Paul is saying, because God has given his grace to everybody in this space that means everybody's welcome to this table. And so yeah, Grace is a social revolution.
Yeah. So it's a tool to be more inclusive or to get rid of that social circle to reach out to to other people.
And I want to want to end on one final quote from from the book if that's okay. And then and ask you the final question.
I'm talking about just a minute ago, you know, Grace is it is what God is using to make space for us and, and there's a line that you use in the book. And I may say it wrong, this is from memory, it says it, that “we are somehow inside God, and that we exist solely because God is continually making room for us to be there”.
Which I think is, is just beautiful. That's just beautiful. So with grace in mind, with hospitality in mind, and with a cognitive reasoning of knowing that we're going to be upset or disgusted, and then how do we as a church proactively do this better? To circle it all the way back to the very beginning of people would ask you what are some things that we can do?
And so I would ask you the same question for those listening for for pastors listening or for deacons or anyone.
What is something that we can do that would that would become generative and would continue to be fulfilled daily?
Yeah, I want to circle back to some stuff we talked about at the beginning. Again, I don't think the problem is educational. So I don't think more teaching on the Good Samaritan is going to do it.
I think we all know what the point of that story is. So I think we have to grab onto is spiritual disciplines and practices, the way we change our hearts is through daily habitual practices.
When we talk about spiritual disciplines we tend to focus on the vertical spiritual disciplines. Just Bible study prayer, you know, fasting contemplative retreats, you and God focusing on the vertical, but I’m arguing that is missing the spirit. There's some missing spiritual practices and argue that they are these spiritual practices, there are spiritual disciplines of approach that focus on the horizontal, inner personal. So when we think about working our relationship with God, very rarely do we think about approaching a person at my work, who would rather not invite to coffee, you know, like, we'd rather try to carve out time for more prayer time at work. Instead of saying, you know, you know, Julie or John or whoever that is, and I struggle with them, they're annoying, you know, I'm tend to be dismissive of them.
Maybe my discipline is once a month, to invite them to lunch, to disengage the social autopilot, and move towards and so maybe somebody at work, maybe somebody in the neighborhood, maybe it's somebody who's sitting in a Pew next to you. Maybe it's the refugee family that moved into town and volunteers starting to volunteer down to refugee agency or, for me it was going out to a prison and then worshipping a church with lots of poor and homeless people.
Like wherever your triggers are, you create habits and disciplines of moving towards those people. I think you're only limited by your imagination.
But the discipline there is selecting and then approaching a person. So lots of people want hospitality to be this big, welcoming initiative as a church launches and I think those are great. Don't get me wrong.
But to me, I just look at churches and say… there's somebody in your life right now that you can welcome and I don't know where that is. I know that your next door neighbor, I don't know if it could be your spouse in your marriage could be you know, it could be that other mom, your kids second grade class, it could be that Father that stands on the sideline your kids soccer game.
But it could be the refugee that lived in your town, or it could be the gay neighbor, or whoever, like, we all have these triggers. It could be your Trump supporting uncle or your Hillary loving aunt, you know, there's somebody in your life that you have walled off from your affections.
The practice of hospitality is being very intentional and moving towards those people with with with just simple acts of kindness. And I think the promise of the Gospel is that when we do that, when we welcome the stranger in our lives, God will show up in ways that always surprise us.
Amen. That could almost be a prayer for the day. So thank you for that. That was beautiful. I want to take some time to direct people, and I would highly recommend anyone that hasn't or anyone that that likes what they've heard to do go out and buy your book. And so they can obviously get that on Amazon and most likely at the publisher as well. Where else would you direct people to engage in honest dialogue or conversations about this type of topic? I know, you have a blog. And how else would you would you have people get engaged?
Well, I mean, yeah, I blog every week, Monday through Friday at my blog, Experimental Theology, and I hope that, you know, people like oh, blogs are terrible, but I mean, I think I try to cultivate a hospitable place on my blog. I mean, I have my own perspectives on things, but I try to be a welcoming person. So they can definitely, they can definitely find there. But I think there's tons of places you know, online that you can engage.
For example, like I have an interest in, obviously the, you know, the penal system in America. So there's always podcasts and things that you can follow. Like there's one come out of San Quentin Prison called Ear Hustle that I really like that just let you kind of in the world what it's like to live inside of prison.
So I think what I would recommend people to do is that if they have a passion for something, to find locations on social media, where they can learn more about and reach out and listen to people who are very different from them, and sensitize themselves to their world and their struggles. And that kind of can widen your own personal horizons.
That's a good start to end for the day. So Dr. Beck. Thank you so much, so much for coming on. I know we're all busy this time of year and I am I'm grateful for your time.
I think it's an important conversation so I'm glad to talk about it.
Thank you so much to everyone that listened today to everyone that is support us in any way via Twitter, Facebook, the iTunes reviews, both the negative and the positive ones. Any feedback is so helpful to those of you that have donated in any amount. I can't tell you how much that helps those funds help to make all of this happen.