Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality – book “overview”

10851385I just completed reading a VERY insightful and powerful book by Dr. Richard Beck. It is the book entitled, “Unclean.” After reading it I thought to myself, “now, here's a book that many of my friends need to read.”  I must warn you this is a bit of "heavy" reading…it is not overtly academic rather what it is is highly "psychological" and "weighty."   Beck exposes the reader to some of the psychology behind that which prevents us in being faithful to the mission of Jesus. Here’s a couple of ways to explore his book:

View his intro to the book video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp-OAJhkoio

Secondly, you could read the entire book OR you can think about reading the book and in the meantime read a few of my comments to see if you are interested in the subject matter.  Frankly, I believe this work is spot on in terms of how followers of Jesus and religious institutions "react" to people and situations that are distinctly outside of their "tribe."  Here's a quick summary of the book:

Beck is a Psychologist who explores the Psychological implications of something he calls, “Disgust Psychology.” His “thesis” is that human “disgust” becomes a prominent “boundary” psychology and mechanism within local churches that deter us from our missional vision and call from Jesus. 

He actually takes on the old cliche that says that we can “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Beck exclaims that because there is underlying psychological and emotional “disgust” toward sin that it is impossible to love any “sinner.”

The central argument of the book is that psychology of disgust and contamination regulates how Christians reason with and experience notions of holiness, atonement and sin. The psychology of disgust also regulates social boundaries and notions of hospitality that should be embedded within the body of Christ (i.e. local church). Disgust psychology causes us to “run” from fully embracing “incarnational” theology.

He believes that the missional church needs to embrace what it means to follow Jesus into a “world of the unclean” without fear of contamination instead of being deterred by the implications of disgust psychology that will always tempt Jesus followers to separate, withdraw and quarantine ourselves in safe “churchy” places. In seeking purity and holiness (that demands boundaries and quarantine) the church pulls away from sinners…disgust psychology prevents us from doing what Jesus did, that being, embracing a radical hospitality that rewrote the “rules” of how we see people through the lens of mercy and love. Beck writes, “disgust erects boundaries while love dismantles boundaries.” He says, “the pull (to be pure) is so overwhelming that the desire to be “clean,” “pure,” or “holy” begins to trump other considerations: the need to welcome others or the importance of facing our own need and vulnerability. The will to purity always dominates the faith experience."

He says that churches instinctively create “moral circles” around their clan, tribe or “kind.” People outside of that “circle” are treated with indifference, hostility and/or pragmatism. In fact, he quotes anthropologists and other researchers in saying that, “humankind ceases at the end of the border of the tribe.” I can’t even think of another incredibly personal way of defining some of the issues churches have in moving beyond tribe…Beck calls what many church bodies do to people outside of the tribe, “infra humanization” (which is a belief that outsiders does not possess some vital or defining human quality that renders them “less than human”).

He writes, “when religious life comes to be dominated by holiness and purity categories, two things happen. First, social stigmas are created to protect our purity, pushing people away who are threats to our holiness. Second, the purity emphasis creates an otherworldly focus on the spiritual, eventually privileging the spiritual life over the life of the body. The Lord’s Supper actually is a regulating ritual that pushes against the temptation (Gnostic really) to deny and condemn the realities of the human body.

Beck is also at his best when he takes on the issue of the Lord’s Supper and how churches have used the Sacarament as a means of exclusion instead of radical hospitality. He believes that the practice of the Lord’s Supper prepares the Christian community for mission. He believes that partaking in the Lord’s Supper actually fundamentally “alters and remakes” the human psyche by dismantling the fissures and disgust mechanisms that drive exclusion within the church. Here’s a great quote,

“…the Lord’s Supper is a profoundly deep and powerful psychological intervention. At the basement level, where the seeds of exclusion are sown, the symbols and practices of the Lord’s Supper restructure our experiences of otherness. Through imagination and participation, the psychology of disgust, which activates the dynamics of exteriority and exclusion, is dismantled and rebuilt into the image of Christ…the Lord’s Supper becomes a profoundly subversive political event in the lives of the participants. The sacrament brings real people into a sweaty, intimate, flesh and blood embrace where there shall be no difference between “them and the rest.”

I could go on all day about his book and its applicability – his total embrace of hospitality, his hermeneutical journey through the Matthew 9 text where Jesus has table fellowship with “tax collectors and sinners” (his paradigm for that which touches off our reaction of disgust). He writes extensively on the “will to embrace,” the church’s incarnational ambivalence, and the fact that he believes strongly that the Lord’s Supper is that ONE event in the life of the church which ties us into Jesus’ practice of table fellowship and radical hospitality as well as shapes our missional imagination.

This morning, I decided to expand my knowledge of Beck and his work by bookmarking his BLOG and listening to a couple of his talks on YouTube.  Truthfully, I've been blessed and challenged by his work and passion in teaching this material and his research.  All I can say is "check it out."


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