The Elder Spirit

O.G. Rose
14 min readApr 15, 2024

Inspired by “Concerning Elders” on The Flâneur and the Philosopher

Frozen Glory Photography

I spoke with Joel Carini of The Natural Theologian and King Laugh (April 2024), and it was a complete blast. A number of topics arose around community, eldership, and the problems with a Church today which lacks a means for development. I believe that the “mid-years” (say 30 to 60) are basically ignored and forgotten in society today, and without a process in these mind-years to help Christians mature and gain wisdom, how can we expect them to be Elders when they hit 60? Furthermore, as Joel and King Laugh emphasized, we tend to associate the young 30-year old who just graduated seminary as someone filled with Christian knowledge and insight, which means the Church tends to turn to the young for their learning and preaching. Though not impossible, it is unlikely someone so young could be familiar enough with life and its experiences though to prove able to offer wisdom and discernment as we often need to handle “messy and gray” topics and decisions which define life (where there are no clear answers or obvious “right and wrongs”). And yet a young pastor tends to become the one to whom we turn for leadership, perhaps setting the Church up for trouble and a lack of development.

Inspired by the likes of Bruce Alderman and Cleo Kearns, an Elder for me is someone who dwells in a different movement and sense of time, who is able to see patterns that to younger people are “new,” while also able to discern how much of “The Real” (Lacan) someone can handle while motivating them to experience that Otherness (so that they keep developing), but not so much of the Otherness that they are overwhelmed and “reduced to ash” like would have been Dante before Beatrice if “she smiled too quickly.”

People naturally dislike change, and so an Elder must push people to change, but if people are pushed to change too quickly, it can destroy them. Thus, an Elder must be trained in an “Art of (Un)veiling” (as discussed with Cadell Last at Philosophy Portal regarding Dante and Lacan), which requires situational discernment regarding particular Christians in their particular walks on what they need to do to “keep moving,” but not in a way that “sets the Christians up to fail” (like a good coach). This suggests also why an Elder needs to be strongly “rooted” and a “dweller” in a particular community; otherwise, the Elder likely lacks the relationship needed to discern the particularities of the people there who might be doing their best but perhaps not able to tell what is best — a paradox all humans must live with and that Eldership can help us face.

The Other is the one who is hard to hear. The Other is the one who is hard to be around. To be like Christ require us to be around Others, and Elders can keep Christians heading in the direction of Otherness, of not avoiding Others while letting themselves see themselves as Christians all the same. This is very hard work, basically destined to often people, and (perhaps in reaction to that rejection) it will not suffice to “thrust” or “throw” congregations into Otherness at a rate that will destroy them. An Artform is needed, one Elders could master. They do not let congregations become “too fixed” (to allude to Dante), but nor do they let congregations advance too quickly and unsustainably. They are wise. But how do they discern wisely? For me, this is modeled in Paul and requires philosophy. We have discussed Paul as “A Model of Christian Situational Reasoning” before with Jacob at SENSESPACE and Dimitri at Actual Spirit), and I believe that Elders are supposed to do something similar. This is not easy, but without it the Church cannot readily participate in “the model” presented by Paul, which if needed for us to participate in the work and movement of the Holy Spirit (in how Christ is alive and acting now), then we are in trouble (we are perhaps outside a mode needed to be Christian in the name of being Christian).

For many, instead of the Spirit, I fear that the Bible has practically become the third person of “The Trinity” for many believers, which can lead to pathologies and trouble. Without “situational reasoning” as modeled by Paul, we can find ourselves having to turn to the Bible for “the right answer” on issues that are not necessarily “given.” This leads to trouble. We need the Holy Spirit, and if Paul models the Holy Spirit as he writes his Epistles, then it is clear that we can “be filled with the Spirit” not just in an emotional mode, but also in a philosophical model. Thinking can be “filled by the Spirit,” for I believe that is what we see in Paul. No, he is not just thinking, but he is thinking (for a time) to determine how to act rightly in situations where the answer of “what is Christian” is not self-evident. Again, to be clear, this is not to say philosophy and thinking are better than emotions — that is not true. Rather, both emotion and thinking tend to become self-effacing when they become autonomous, meaning they cease to relate dialectically with one another: this is when an “unfolding” is lost that dehumanizes and threatens the work of ever-creation. Today, we seem to have a problem emphasizing emotion with “the Spirit,” and my point here is only to suggest that one can be “filled with the Spirit” in the act of thinking as well.

The Elder is to keep us from “shutting down what we don’t want to hear,” yet the Elder should also have the wisdom to discern what we can handle hearing. Much of life is about these odd, “fitting” middles, where we don’t want to go too much in this direction or too much in that direction, and sometimes people describe this as evidence that we need “balance” or “diversity.” It depends on what we mean by that, but regardless I think a problem arises: how do we discern that “x spot” between y and z is best for this given individual (for the best proportions could be different for another)? It is one thing to say, “We need a balance,” but an entirely different matter to discern particularly the character of that balance. So it goes with saying, “Timing is important” or other notions that I don’t disagree with, but that acting on requires discernment and Eldership. And again, because a universal answer that applies to all individuals is impossible, Elders for one community may not be Elders for another, not because they lack capacity or intelligence, but because each Elder has different particular experiences with different people. Elders must have dwelled long enough to have watched and to watch how the congregations grows and unfolds. Elders have committed, for there is certain thinking that can only arise from commitment (flowers grow with roots).

Nobody intends to make mistakes or bad decisions, and yet we all do, which immediately suggests that we might be doomed. If we can end up in terrible situations while intending to do what’s right, what hope is there? This is where the Elder can come in. The Elder has experience with how “good intention” can lead to bad outcome, how “good ideas” cave have unintended consequences: their expertise rests precisely in discerning operations and movements of “the frenemy brain” (as I like to call it). Life can be gray, but it doesn’t follow from this that there aren’t better or worse decisions, or that in the end anything goes. Christ tells us to love our enemy, but what if our enemy will kill our family? Christ tells us to give to the poor, but is it wrong to own a house? Christ tells us to forgive, but when do people use the knowledge that we should forgive them to take advantage of us? On and on — these are questions that are not directly answered in the Bible, and also we should note someone might claim they are being taken advantage regarding their beliefs in forgiveness (as example), but actually they are just saying that to avoid forgiving. How can we tell? Well, to have any hope of knowing, we’d have to be there, “dwelling” in the particular context with the particular person, hence why an Elder must dwell. But the Elder could still be wrong, hence why Eldership also requires courage and vulnerability, and why then Eldership might have turned (where allowed by the Church) to favor an “abstract universality,” to avoid risk (as King Laugh noted). As a result, the Elder becomes someone “good at Church things,” but this is a specialized occupation that makes it align with Capitalism and careerism. It has a place, absolutely, but it is not what the Christian needs in a confusing and “gray” world. If the Church cannot provide discernment in “grayness,” it will perish, as those without wisdom do…

Irony is increasingly being used today as a cover for people to do something they want to do while acting like they don’t want to or shouldn’t be held responsible because they are just performing; people are using pain and emotion to suggest they should be able to do x or y; people are using their jobs to hide from their families while acting like they are only working for their families; and so on. There are numerous “meta-moves” and complicated ways that humans act and work, and an Elder is someone equipped to navigate and discern these situations. This is needed, for the one who is genuinely ironic can look like the one who isn’t genuine; the one who is indeed hurt can resemble the one only acting hurt; the one who is working hard for her family can look like the one using work to avoid the family; and so on. Elders help discern these “gray zones,” and yet “the case” of one situation could be one way, while an identical “case” regarding another person could be the opposite. Hence, to stress, particular experience and discernment is required, which suggests dwelling and also vulnerability, for the Elder could be wrong, tempting him or her to turn to “abstract universal knowledge,” as has so badly damaged the Church today. And if our world is increasingly “meta” and able to find models to reference and justify behavior in ways like we’ve described (and please note that if we are self-deceived, that works because we don’t know we are self-deceived), then the role of Elders couldn’t be more pertinent. They help us with Humean “self-defense” (as discussed often in O.G. Rose); they help us face pain versus run from it while telling ourselves we face it; they help us think beyond what seems like good thinking (“mentidivergent,” as discussed in Belonging Again (Part II)). They help us see that authority should come as a “sight” of a work of living — an authority of beauty.

As we learn in Hegel, all values erupt at a certain point of exhaustion, over-extension…meaning we need someone to help us gage that point. If Elders are lacking, we will prove unable to do this, and perhaps this suggests a reason why the Church is failing. Indeed, there are many Christians unhappy with the Church today, but should we oppose it or leave it? To use a Kantian phrase I like, I believe we need to “dwell” in the Church to work and “change its conditions of possibility,” which is a revolutionary act that isn’t “revolutionary” as we Moderns can think. It is slow work, but it is good work. And Eldership seems central in “changing conditions of possibility,” those whom help guide us through “the work of thinking,” which is a work of blood, action, and risk. It is frightening, which is why it can train us in courage. And the one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18)…Fear is the opposite of faith more than doubt.

The Other is the one hard to hear. The Other is “surprising.” “How could anyone think this way?” — is this a question of judgment or a question of wonder? The Elder is to help us speak more of wonder than rage, but no one can do this without work and training. Christians can emphasize attending Church in fear that Christians will “drift away,” as they can fear philosophy in fear that it will cause Christians to “drift.” Ironically, this might contribute to a Church in which “the Spirit’s work is being denied,” and so indeed Drift occurs (what we fear is what can come unto us). The Church hence becomes a place where we scoff, “How could anyone think that way?” versus be amazed by the question of “How do people think like they do?” Elders can help us feel wonder and mystery before what otherwise might cause us fear, anxiety, and resentment. Philosophy can help us relate and link together Revelation and Reality, Revelation and Reason, and I believe this creates Beauty and Wonder. Elders are Artists. The Gospel requires Artistry.

In First World Nations, where there is wealth, as King Laugh brilliantly noted, we don’t need one another, so amongst wealth we must choose one another. But people are hard, and if we have no preparation or Elders helping us work through “(un)veiling,” we will likely not be able to make this choice (which I have called elsewhere an “Absolute Choice”). Where there is wealth, the need for Eldership can be all the greater, and yet ironically we might be less likely to have Elders. Where we lack Elders, we will likely prove unable to choose one another, and so community will become difficult, especially where people are very difficult and don’t share “givens” — meaning that the only Church which will likely survive is the one which keeps out “the neighbor” who Christ suggested we must love if we are to love God. Is a Home of God possible that isn’t also a Home of Neighbors? No, but that means Eldership is central to discern if our Home is only a house.

Overall, the point is that the Elder is to help us discern gray issues, and yet the Church today often seems to be in the business of avoiding “gray issues” at all costs. As a result, it’s role and relevance can be questioned, and furthermore we seem to have little sense of who or what an Elder must do. This is only worsened when philosophy is demonized, and when the Bible is treated as containing all the answers to everything. The Bible does not. It cannot. If the Bible contained precise prescriptions for Drone Ethics, this would likely prove it was written by God and thus limit free will, or else nobody would have understood the Bible in history and the book would have been lost forever long ago as gibberish. The Bible seemingly must be written like it is, but to be relevant throughout history, it has to provide “a model” by which to go about “thinking like a Christian” beyond its historic horizon at the time. This is what we see in Paul, what I’ve called “The Third Testament” that we are still in today. Paul is a model of Christian thinking, an inventor of theology (as N.T. Wright as put it), and without this model I fear Eldership and even the Church will ever-suffer.

I have been suggesting here that there is something about Eldership and philosophy which is inseparable, and I have also suggested that we can “be in the Spirit” and engage in philosophy, theology, and “situational reasoning,” given Paul’s “mode” in writing his epistles. Furthermore, I have suggested that the Church might be in trouble if it does not regain Eldership as such. On this point, I might note something that I’m not entirely sure of but which might have some legitimacy. Jesus tells us that “the unforgivable sin” is blasphemy the Holy Spirit, which makes sense if the Holy Spirit is needed for us to receive Grace and Salvation. There are also interpretations of the verse as suggesting we should not claim that the work of God is actually the work of Satan, which in this context might be that we shouldn’t say the work of Christ is the work of a demon, as some religious leaders were claiming of Jesus at the time. I think all of this is entirely valid, and here I only want to add an additional thought, which is to suggest that we might do something at least like “blaspheming the Spirit” if we always deny philosophy in Christianity. The reason for this is because if the Spirit can use and work through philosophy and “situational reasoning,” as we see in Paul and even Jesus when he is being confronted by religious leaders, then I think it is reasonable to suggest that there can be ways in which we “deny the Spirit” to deny philosophy. This would make sense if philosophy makes Eldership and wisdom possible (though it of course depends on what we mean by “philosophy”), and furthermore it can often seem (in my experience) like the most excited and engaged Christians have philosophical tendencies. Maybe not, but as we should not be quick to shut down emotion, for the Spirit can use emotion, so we should not be quick to shut down thinking, for the Spirit can work through thinking.

Dialogos and Circling as John Vervaeke and Guy Sengstock discuss seem to be spaces in which time speeds up, deep relation is possible, and “flow” happens, and we are told in John that God creates and speaks through “The Word.” “Free speaking” seems powerful, and there is a history of associating the Holy Spirit with “tongues.” “Freeing speech” seems to matter (as discussed in “The Net (93)”), and philosophy is a way to keep speech going without falling into assumptions, presuppositions, or “small talk,” assuming it does not fall into mistakes of “hard skepticism” or the like, as warned against throughout O.G. Rose. Again, “The Net (93)” discusses what “freeing speech” looks like, and the point is that what is described there (and in Belonging Again II.1) are very consequential of the Church. “(Un)veiling” seems to require “freed speech” in order for us to gradually and slowly encounter Otherness, and we might say that a role of Eldership is to engage in the “freeing of speech”: they are to keep speech alive (the Spirit), which is to keep wisdom possible, and that requires philosophy. Reason Spirits as Spirit reason.

If we deny speech and philosophy as such, we might be participating in something like “blaspheming the Holy Spirit,” which might lead to a failure of the Church and Christianity. At the very least, “we will know them by their fruits,” and looking at Christianity today it doesn’t seem like a rejection of philosophy is yielding much fruit. In fact, I see the Christians engaged in philosophy often “bearing fruit” — suggesting that the Spirit works through them (though not always). And yet ironically Christians can associate philosophy with “rejecting God” and something like “blasphemy,” a speech that needs to be shut down. Has the Church ascribed work to Satan which was actually the work of the Holy Spirit? Have we ignored what Christ taught?

It’s another topic, but as I discussed with Matthew Allison, much of life is about our capacity to handle “surprise,” which I would associate as “the clearing” or “situation” of truest reality (we tend to associate “the more constant” with reality, when really I would argue that “the constant and regular” is simply what is regarded so that “surprise” is possible and meaningful). Elders are those who can help us prepare for (versus “plan for,” to allude to a distinction we made with Ivan Illich) the “surprising,” precisely so that we not overwhelmed or “destroyed” by surprises (“The Real”) when they occur. Elders help us “navigate surprise,” and perhaps there is nothing more important than this we are to be enabled in life versus “disabled” (as Ivan Illich argues defines life today). Where life is “disabled,” as perhaps philosophy is rejected, can we speak of New Creation as anything but an abstraction?




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O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart.