Monday, December 30, 2002

Christ Event

You asked about the Christ Event

You asked about the Christ Event. It's familiar theological shorthand or jargon and refers to the fullness and completion of salvation in Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. "Event" emphasizes Christianity’s claim that God acts most definitely and most definitively within the context of human history, and so emphasizes that our salvation's not just a vague religious generality but actually something quite un-religious, very un-otherworldly: God's invasion into the course of human history in order to fulfill all of his promises, in order to draw creation back to its Creator, all of this occurring in an actual "event" that happened within definable linear, chronological time and at a specific longitude and latitude, on a stage filled with human actors. You "wind event," "terrorist event," cardiac event"...I hope this helps!

"Jesus is 'myth'?" Gerhard von Rad points out that myth has a greater degree of density than history. I'd assume density makes myth truer than history, at least in some sense. But I also know Jesus was a human person, like you and me, one who lived and walked etc., on this earth in the course of human history – whatever meaning you choose to assign to that. And as Holy Spirit, Jesus does live within us, but (in my humble orthodoxy!) I also meet Jesus again and again not only in the scriptures as the "unique and authoritative witness to God's activity and God's word to me" ("divine revelation, human disclosure" again); I also meet Jesus as the Spirit indwelling me and I meet Christ Jesus in others, whether or not they specifically define themselves as Christians or as Jesus people of some kind or another.

What I'm saying here is I have a serious problem with your use of the word "myth," though clearly there's a whole lot about Jesus that's far larger-than-life, at least larger than life as I commonly experience it. In The God of Jesus, Stephen Patterson says Paul's Jesus gradually assumes gigantic (otherworldly?) mythic proportions.

Andrew Wyeth's John Wesley?

Your likening the John Wesley portrait to an Andrew Wyeth painting…

Your likening the John Wesley portrait to an Andrew Wyeth painting really appeals to me! I don't know all that much about Methodism. I know, of course, that John and Charles wrote 8,000–10,000 hymns that are very highly regarded by all Christians, and that Methodism began as a "heart" rather than as a "head" movement. That is to say they weren't frantically writing multiple volumes of theology the way Luther and Calvin were, though the later date of the Wesleyan movement may have been part of the reason for that – being further removed in time from Medieval scholarship. And the possibility of perfection through the work of the Holy Spirit originally was built into Wesleyan theology though it seems as if that's no longer emphasized: in other words, a theology of the "Third Article" (Sanctification) of the Creed rather than of the First Article (Creation) or of the Second Article (Redemption).

I know some Methodists are into glossalalia and they also have a strong tradition of lay testimony and lay preaching. And like the other mainline churches, Methodists in this country (as well as in the UK) have a powerful practice of biblically-based social and political activism.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but when you mention knowing Methodists in the 1940s and 1950s, do you think you were old enough and aware enough of religious styles to be able to discern all that much about Methodism? "…serious, sober sided, self disciplined, examples of the Protestant work ethic." With this I agree, though a lot of that "Protestant work ethic" actually is the government bureaucrat's work ethic. Although I'd rather not generalize, it's also true a whole lot of the more intellectual "head" theology these days still comes from the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Those folks have such well-tuned minds and can turn out some exceptional material!


As you said, the concept of the progressive march of history is a Western one. But we now live in the interregnum between the Eternity that was before the dawn of “time” and the Eternity that will be after the end of “history,” when the Word of God, predestined in Eternity to the restoration, redemption and salvation of all Creation will prevail and linear, historical time will end.

A comment about doing biblical theology: as Christians we (I) run with some basic assumptions:

• God’s supreme, most conclusive self-revelation is found in Jesus of Nazareth – a human, born of human parents, who walked and lived on this created earth in historical, measurable space and time. Jesus’ person and work reveals the transcendent as immanent.

• The God and Father of Jesus the Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “I AM” of the Covenant on Mount Sinai.

• God is God of history, God of nature.

• Creation is a product of the will of God and therefore distinct and separate from God. Humankind is part of creation. God indwells all creation as Holy Spirit.

• (Therefore,) just as our own individual history in time, space and place reveals our identify, our corporate history reveals the Living God in ways understandable to us as human creatures.

• The outrage, the strange world the Bible reveals is the offense of a Holy God Who dares and risks his very Self, His reputation, by invading human history and living as one of us in order to re-reveal Himself to creation, in order to reconcile creation to its Creator.

Once people settle comfortable into a place and a space they often forget who they are, who God is: a God Who travels and sojourns with the people, a stranger and a sojourner with the people, God of History, “God of Great Surprises,” in Corita Kent’s words! Meaning is central to our lives as humans. And as you pointed out, the meaning of the Exodus is freedom, liberation, hospitality to the stranger and to the sojourner…I love that God tells Israel he is a stranger and a sojourner on the land with Israel – forever! And the many stories in which hospitality shown to the stranger equates with giving hospitality to God.

Comfortably settled in space and place, people often try to define God, the indefinable, indescribable One, and not only to picture and define God, the wholly Other but ultimately to objectify God and then also to deify objects. This is one of the many temptations of “civilization,” “citification.” The nomadic religion and way of Israel and of Jesus is a religion and a way of promise. Nomadic religion is religion of history. If only we’d observe the first commandment, life would be so easy. The first commandment is all we need!

You underlined and ?-marked “The Biblical Witness.” Maybe you’ve noticed the phrase is kind of a buzz word. However, your question was “…what does Leah mean here?” When I say “the biblical witness” I’m referring to the broad sweep of recorded revelation: myth, saga, history, prophecy, eschatology, apocalyptic, poetry – everything…but beyond that, I assume all these writings witness to God’s ongoing activity in human history and most definitively in the Christ Event. And as you probably realize, I trust in the essential inspiration of scripture and I also trust its canonization was Spirit-ed. However, I also believe a lot of human writing and human activity is Spirit-led, which means I see the compilation of the Bible as somewhat accidental – though an inspired accident! As always, I claim God’s most authentic and fullest self-revelation is found, seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, felt – in, with and under the everyday ongoing activities of human life. I read a taxonomy of the Christian walk someone had invented according to what they considered a biblical model. Its seven marks were kinda like Luther’s Seven Marks of the True Church. First was “the mark of the stable: begin where God says.” No, not true!!! God always begins where we say! It’s exactly as you wrote, “He meets us where we are in our understanding.” Jesus reveals a Servant God who continues to condescend, who serves us. We serve Jesus’ God most perfectly in serving one another. In meeting others where they are, in beginning where they say. As you often point out, most especially in welcoming and in serving the stranger in our midst. Jesus is our ultimate model, in every way.

You wrote, “Jesus…is God showing us Himself…” Yes!!! Amen!!! Jesus shows us a sym-pathetic, com-passionate God who suffers, grieves, rejoices with us. The God of Love who does not condemn. Do you know the song “Endless Love” that Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sang long ago? Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross recorded it more recently. I love the line in the song, “And love, I’ll be a fool for you.” Those words perfectly summarize God’s intervention in history – God’s intervention in each of our individual lives, our God’s passion for humanity.

Although I can’t quote the passage exactly, in I and Thou Martin Buber speaks of “primitive man” being asleep much of the time and says in effect, “most of his waking hours also are sleep.” Isn’t that what you’ve been saying about all of us? We need to awaken to, come home to, God who is beyond time-bound and space-bound history. In “that day” each of us will be found: no longer sojourners, no longer “resident aliens.” We’ll be at home and at oneness with ourselves, one another and with our God.

theodicy notes

How does Christianity explain this world of hurt?

As you may realize, the short version of Christianity’s answers are:

1. Creation suffers, struggles and grieves in pain with death’s agents and with death itself because creation is fallen. All of the incalculable manifestations of death point toward this fallenness. How did this fallenness, asunder-ness, this sin come about? By humanity’s not living in the image of the God in Whose image God created them; by abrogating their call to creativity and community and, paradoxically, by grasping the gift of freedom - which also means they’ve made a whole lot of mistakes and taken lots of missteps.

2. Christianity’s answer is a free and sovereign God of mercy and love, justice and life Who in freedom and sovereignty suffers, struggles and grieves with creation: a God Whose answer always is resurrection. This God, Who raised Jesus from death to new life, is manifest in all creation and present to every one of us, most specifically in the Church as the new Body of the Risen Christ. God is present in, with and under creation with the hope, the promise and the reality of redemption. BUT, the signs of God’s presence remain elusive – our Free God cannot and will not be contained: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Just as you said, God cannot be limited by time and space and, as I keep trying to explain, I agree. Even as revealed in the human Jesus, God cannot be contained limited or defined. In freedom God remains the One Who will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy…though still, response to creation's needs continues to be God’s primary passion.

3. My point about death’s agents and about death itself is that the sum of the parts not only is synergistic in being greater than the literal addition of the parts, but it’s also vastly different in kind from any of the individual parts and assumes a real liveliness and a dynamic of its own. Although at their origins the “powers and principalities” are practically inert, in combination they take off on their own with a cosmic presence and a cosmic influence far beyond anything they ever could have as discrete elements. They become real persons with personalities and with tremendous power to extinguish life. This gets back to what I wrote about the infrastructure supporting the epistructure. Possibly systems of all kinds begin with the individual? –Colossians 2:15; –Ephesians 6:12

Having said that. I remember your telling me you don’t go with the theology of the Servant God. Yes, it is one of Christianity’s main theological currents, and it’s also where we derive our Christian identity of a servant people. We know the God Who condescends to us and identifies with us in every way, ultimately in the death of Jesus of Nazareth, in Jesus’ death meeting us in the experience we all inevitably have in common. And God again meets us in the experience for which we hope in Jesus’ resurrection.

Theology/Theodicy Question

Originally posted in a slightly different version on Best Friends Animal Society Forums.

Trust me to jump in whenever there's a "theological question!" "Why God allows this" is the question of theodicy, and there's general consensus that none of the world religions or spiritual ways possess anything remotely resembling an adequate answer.

Some of you on these message boards know my perspective is Christian; theology is one of my principal passions! In the seminary classroom we learn about biblical content and sources and redaction and authorship and about scholarship and "higher criticism"; we learn responsible biblical interpretation (especially for preaching and teaching), church history, languages...but we don't get easy answers for all the hardest questions of life and existence.

As one of you wrote, "we flawed humans let God (and creation) down." Humans abrogated their charge, their stewardship over creation. That's one of the partial answers theologians often give; in other words, sin has inevitable consequences of brokenness, dysfunction and decay, and those consequential costs frequently escalate - or at times disintegrate - into something immensely chaotic, seemingly random and completely out of control. The sin, whether thought, word, or action, in itself is a sign of separation between humans, God and creation, and the sin also causes further disjunction between heaven and earth. A couple of you observed, "we disobeyed God in the garden," and that's another traditional and accurate but still incomplete answer.

Historically there have been a multitude of suggestions and ideas as to just what is this "image of God" in which humans, as the crown of creation (as a matter of fact woman is the chronological crown of creation) are made. To me one of the most credible ways we human creatures image the Divine is with our free will or agency: all so true about disobedience in that paradisiacal Eden of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, but it's also true at the moment of violating God's authority that caused a such a rupture in the relationship among humans, creation, and their Creator, humans also seized the gift of agency or free will and therefore at the same time also took responsibility for their daily lives and their own well being, just as someone here mentioned. And as she says, free will also means "free choices." Sadly correct that at that same time humanity gave up the stewardship of creation God had charged them with as well, just as one of you already said.

In terms of "Why God allows this," although God's sovereignty is one of Christian theology's main spins on the biblical revelation, we always distinguish between God's perfect will and God's permissive will; that is to say, God never would plan suffering, grief, pain and brokenness, but since humans have the gift (=given) of free will, God doesn't force us to do good and avoid evil. Created in the image of our free God—God's freedom is another essential tenet of biblical theology—humans also are free to some extent.

Furthermore, God is watching and God does know when you pay kindness to animals or to humans or to the earth or to any part of God's cosmic creation, the total environment included! And as you suggested, prayer indeed is one of the most important ways we share responsibility with God.

And everyone, please remember: the day will come when all our enemies will be defeated, will be no more, including the enemy of death! Once again, my perspective is Christian, and the Bible claims Jesus' death and resurrection resulted in the death of death. Parts of the New Testament witness seem confused and confusing but the general Christian conviction is that although salvation/ wholeness/ reconciliation and all the rest of the promises of God already are "done deeds," in Jesus Christ, but there's still a sense in which creation remains fallen. We also have the indwelling Spirit, enabling our response in prayer, word and action to the many needs we see about us. And there will come a day we'll see, hear, touch and live totally within a redeemed and restored creation. That day will be the fullness of redemption. We talk a lot on these Furoms about "Rainbow Bridge." The familiar story begins, "Just this side of heaven..." When each of us and each of our animals leaves this temporary body, we go to the Rainbow Bridge, or a place that closely parallels it, where it's almost heaven. At the end time (the Eschaton in biblical Greek) all creation will be reunited and restored and in perfect bodies. No longer will we dwell "Just this side of heaven"; we'll live in the fullness and completion of heaven, the arrival of the Day of Jesus Christ, the world of a restored creation. What form will that take? Another subject of major speculation!

As the book of Job 12:7-10 reminds us all:
You have only to ask the cattle, for them to instruct you, and the birds of the sky, for them to inform you. The creeping things of earth will give you lessons, and the fish of the sea provide you an explanation: there is not one such creature but will know that the hand of God has arranged things like this! In his hand is the soul of every living thing and the breath of every human being!

Sunday, November 03, 2002

Word of God: Bible, Jesus

BUT THE BIBLE [AND JESUS!] REVEAL GOD'S PRESENCE incarnate in our midst: 'God among us; God within us!' In the ark of the covenant, tabernacle & temple the sign of God's presence was physical and tangible – 'sensible' [Westminster Catechism] but its revelation was static, unmoving & iconic and therefore an imperfect representation of the God of the Bible we know as dynamic, free & elusive. And those artifacts eventually led to a return of the imperial religion of Egypt, as well. The 'God-Spell' is not that eventually we will live with God but rather that God lives with us! Here and now! The 'SCANDAL' of the Gospel is a Holy God who condescends to live and die as one of us, a Transcendent Other revealed and revealed over and over again in common, ordinary, everyday 'sensible' things – as common as water, bread & wine; as common as the neighbor next door. As common as US!!! Just as Jesus was a living, breathing, moving revelation of God, so are we! In baptism we are called to be and to show salvation to one another and especially to the stranger in our midst. The salvation/wholeness/healing we bring is a redemption, a 'buying back' of ourselves to ourselves, to one another and to our Creator; a 'redeeming' that lives and moves and breathes and changes with every human need. Just as God's primary passion is response to human need, that becomes our primary passion – our baptism makes our response in grace and freedom possible and 'sensibly' apparent. The ark, tabernacle and temple can be seen as imperfect 'types' of Christ, therefore as imperfect representations of God, but Jesus himself lived – and died – as a perfect representation [I used to say 'ultimate & definitive manifestation' but haven't used that phrase for a long time] of the loving, merciful, free and elusive God who responds not to our attempts to contain God for our own edification ['imperial religion'] but instead responds to our need, to the world's need for redemption and sanctification and for 'holiness.' Does this work for you? My point is, despite the Christ Event, we still live in a fallen world. Our call, our ministry is the reconciliation of the world to itself and to its Creator. 'God...sets before us the ways of life & death.' In other words, the ministry is in our living and in our lives: this is Pentecost, we're 'clothed with Power from on High;'the ball's in our court now.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Reformation Stuff

Here's some of what I'd emphasize:

First, we Protestants also affirm tradition, and a person or a people without history and tradition is a no-one. Did you ever see the play, Conversations with my Father? If not, check it out!

I'll begin with the UCC Free Pulpit Statement:

"Freedom of the pulpit in matters of faith and morals, according to the dictates of the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the traditions of the UCC, and the realities of the world."

You can point out the UCC's "traditions" go back as far as those of the Church at Rome, and until the Continental European Reformation included the same ones. And, of course, the traditions of the UCC probably are the broadest, most varied and most diverse of any denomination anywhere. :)

Our Protestant (I currently like a capital "P") traditions include those of worship – especially the TWO sacraments – scriptural interpretation, biblical and systematic theology, social activism, political activism: just as the Roman branch of the Church also affirms and celebrates traditions in all of those areas.

Agreed there are differences between the late medieval Roman Catholic Church that so appalled Luther and the other Reformers and today's RCC – and agreed there've been times we church bodies that evolved from the Reformation haven't always kept faith with the promise and intent to continue re-forming!

In losing the Word, the late medieval church had lost the essence and the sense of the sacraments, just as today there are some churches that have "lost" the sacraments, thereby losing the Word's essence. Part of the Reformers' – esp Calvin and Luther – spirit and genius was their insistence on always holding Word and Sacrament together in tandem and in tension.

Mike, I keep returning to Scripture...

From "In the beginning, God..." to "...'I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" the biblical witness reveals God's passion for creation, for creation's needs, healing, redemption, completion and wholeness = holiness.

The Bible – and supremely Jesus – are about the outrage of a Holy, Transcendent Other who actively reveals himself in the nitty-gritty (remember "nitty-gritty?") of everyday, earthbound human history. Clarence Hilliard says we gotta become like "the funky Black nigger Jesus," (remember "funky?") who even took part in human death and dying, just like us, so our first death of baptism into Jesus' death would not only cancel our second death but also transform it, since that baptism's also into Jesus' resurrection.

One of my primary points is that the sacraments not only point toward the saving Christ Event and in a sense replicate it; the sacraments also model or image and are microcosms for us of the way God continues acting and working and being in our world, in our human history, within the medium/milieu we know best, the everyday life in which we live and breathe, suffer and rejoice – just plain interact with each other :)

Because of this, I often quote the Methodist Book of Discipline: the very idea of transubstantiation "overthroweth the nature of a sacrament!" (This is most certainly true :)!)

Getting back to the scandal of a Holy God who risked living and dying as one of us, this God, our God, is Sovereign and Free and so could choose any course of action whatsoever, but not only did our God in passion for relationship and response make creation and then redeem that "fallen" creation, but God chose to continue re-minding us of his favorite manner of acting – because, just like Israel, we kept forgetting. And we still keep on forgetting!

So we remember, actualize and anticipate water, bread and wine made Transcendent at the same time the Transcendent again becomes immanent in creation's earthbound "stuff." Re-minding us and re-showing us the Risen Christ present and apparent, though always elusive and hidden, in the sacraments and now, at Pentecost, also in the Body of the Risen Christ, the Church.

Gosh, I kinda went off on a theology tangent, had I known that's where I'd go I'd have emphasized FAR MORE the Risen Christ's presence in all redeemed creation (which of course is all creation) (yeah, Luther) as well as in the community of faith (Zwingli's emphasis though of course all the Reformers "went there" and "were there" as well).

...just as God raised Jesus the Christ not into some remote, other-worldly far-away "religious" glory but God raised Jesus to earthly, earthbound "glory," among the people he had loved to the end, despite being betrayed into death...

Monday, October 07, 2002

Wedding Prayer

O Holy One of Being, Source of our lives and of our living; O Great Spirit beyond the limits and confines of earth, of the heavens, of space and eternity; O Timeless Spirit Who indwells all of creation and each of Your creatures, today we remember and celebrate Your life in us and our lives with each other. Today we especially praise and thank You for the special gifts to us of Doña and Scruffy; we glorify Your name for gathering us together in honor of their love and commitment. We give thanks to You for the many friendships and furriendships all of us have found on the Best Friends Forum.

And today, O Living One, we implore Your love, mercy and protection for all the animals and critters of land, sea and sky, for all creatures of plains, rivers, prairies, oceans, mountains and lakes and streams. We ask You to particularly bless the animals and staff at Best Friends, and all of us especially plead Your most bountiful blessings and abundant mercies upon farm animals and laboratory animals, the often forgotten ones whose cries of aloneness and pain go unheard.

We send these our words in praise and prayer to You, the One who is our Word of Life, Amen!

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Sacred Space again

This is such a thought-provoking topic!

In my first reflection on Sacred Space, I wrote wherever God and the People of God meet is Sacred Space and a Sacred Place; whenever they meet each other is Sacred Time. More about some Sacred Space ideas: I often recall and remember the countless times I’ve dreamed, imagined, meditated, prayed, reflected and just been there in a church or cathedral sanctuary both in this country and in Europe. Over and over again I recapture the sense of the sacred I’ve experienced in those rooms. “Holy” because the sacraments are celebrated in those places and spaces, “sanctified” because there God and people have encountered each other and covenanted with each other; in those sanctuaries people have entered covenant and reaffirmed covenanted relationship with each other and with their God.

And I’ve long been moved by the church building’s being central – literally “in the center,” – at the heart – when the town first was built. In much of Europe the church was the cultural, economic, political, religious and social core…in a plethora of towns in many countries the farmer’s and craft markets still happen in the gathering place around the church.

Throughout the biblical witness are many images of the people of God, but for me the most potent and telling one is that of the Church as the Body of the Risen Christ, proclaiming the death of the old order and the birth of the new. God calls [Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: “…calls, gathers and enlightens the church…”] the Church to Presence and Proclamation. Because we know the Church as the Body of the Risen Christ, in those city squares the church is a real, physical – a tangible, visible – proclamation of the church’s presence in the center of the people, public evidence and public declaration of the resurrection. What’s more, the sound of church bells and carillons makes that proclamation audible! The church in the square conveys an inspiring image of Sacred Space to all the people.

The church building’s authority, the tower, bells, the carillon – and the cross – all are an unyielding presence filling the whole community. In sight and in sound they’re a consolation to the community, a reminder that the presence of the church is the presence and proclamation of the at once Crucified and Risen One.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Sacred Space

Wow, thanks for this great topic! I need to write about it.

First, wherever God meets the People of God is sacred space; whenever God’s People and God encounter each other is sacred time. Because of this, unmistakably those events take place more than only in the church sanctuary.

Then – back to the biblical witness. And God’s call to covenant and our individual, inspired responses to God’s initiative! Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob…Isaiah, Jeremiah…in each of their situations (and in all the incalculable others) God’s call and our response into the vulnerability and risk of covenantal relationship happens in a particular and identifiable place/space and time, revealing and affirming God’s passion for relationship with creation, revealing God’s unending participation in the day-after-day of human history.

Because of this, I believe there’s an authentic sense in which the church sanctuary often is particularly Sacred Space: after all, that’s where we usually administer and celebrate the sacraments – and with the sacraments in the sanctuary we covenant and re-covenant our relationships with God and with one another. For me, there’s a particular sacredness about any place and time we risk entering into the vulnerability – and the promises! – of covenantal relationship.

And I agree with you about memory. Returning to baptism and eucharist: both sacraments are memorial, fulfillment and anticipation; both sacraments are a microcosm of the eschaton. And the sacraments illustrate, image and replicate for us the way God meets us everyday, outside of worship, without the ‘sanctuary.’ And so, just as many our encounters in the course of daily life are sacramental ones in which we join with the holy, our memories of those meetings, our active anticipation of future sacred experiences, also are sacramental.

Friday, August 16, 2002


Why do I pray?

To draw closer to God, to know God better, especially in terms of discerning God's plans for my life; to know myself better and therefore to know others better – "Out of a sense of self, a sense of the other." And I pray to remember and to allow God to remind me of the mighty and gracious acts of God in my own life, as well as within the history of God's people.


Baptism is a might act of God that incorporates the person into the whole Body of Christ; the witnessing congregation agrees to support and affirm the "wet behind the ears" newly baptized person; baptism is a liturgical act, a work of the people, and so baptism never ought to be "private" except in case of real emergency and, in those cases, the person and/or parents/sponsors of the person usually participate in a rite within the congregation's regularly scheduled worship that affirms the baptismal covenant, and also lets the congregation respond in covenantal affirmation and agreement.

As we live baptized we live both in slavery/bondage (to God} and in freedom (from self); we're both dead (to sin, death and the devil) and we're alive (to new life in the Spirit). We're baptized into Good Friday and into Easter Dawn. You asked if I was "ready for a miracle?!" But I'm living a miracle, I live in grace, I am baptized!!!

Promises, Covenants, Reconciliation...

But I still insist the promises, the covenants and the reconciliation of the world in the Christ Event very definitely are for everyone, whether or not everyone consciously affirms them. The obliteration of death is a done deed. And, our God has no trouble with anonymity – it's us humans who like to get credit for everything we do. OK, it's we humans who insist on getting credit for everything we do!

You said, "I think we are meant to learn from this very public death of [Jesus'] body that we survive death of the body, that no matter what happens to our bodies, nothing happens…" But Jesus did die; he died forsaken by his friends and he died feeling completely forsaken by the Father. And he was raised from death on the third day ["day" in Semitic thought and languages means an entire day or part of a day; you told me "3" is the number for birth in Gematria!]. It so strikes me that he wasn't raised immediately! In wisdom God realizes we need time to grieve and in many ways to not feel the pain and the betrayal. When you’re dead you don't know you’re dead…trust me, I know that from experience! True, and also very probable that Rome didn't officially record Jesus' death, as he simply was just one more incidental Jew. I've written before about early Christianity's editing, troping and glossing of scripture, though I don't use those words in a negative or depreciatory or derogatory sense. Those people just needed to make their point about Jesus; they wanted to convince us!

You wrote about the Holy Spirit: "Mostly it's a memory." I challenge your word, "Mostly!" Because I trust the HS is a lively, active, generative and regenerative – re-forming – force of being that includes memory, as memory's one of the ways we recognize the presence and action of the HS, but which is really present in a way that plain memory simply is not. The whole discussion of the Risen Christ's "Real Presence" in the Eucharist…

Later you said, "For me, the Holy Spirit is the remembrance of Love that God has gifted all of His separated children with, that need of remembrance, saved for us in our minds for that day when we choose to remember. We don't need to accept it or acknowledge it for the Holy Spirit to exist in our mind." Yes, with some reservation. Memory is critical to our lives in the Spirit; you know how often Israel forgot and how completely Israel forgot; you remember the consequences! I believe our memories are part of the Spirit's gifts to us. However, I also trust the Spirit of Life indwells each of us, indwells all creation, and this Lively Spirit has a force and a will of its own.

Spirit, Church

The Holy Spirit calls the Church to proclamation in word and in deed—proclamation by its very presence in the world. This kerygma is the announcement of the death of the old order, the resurrection of the new order from the ashes of the old, in the Person and Work of Jesus the Christ, most definitively in his death and resurrection. The Church is the Spirit-indwelt Body of Christ, the baptized People of God, marked with the Sign of the Cross and the Sign of the Empty Tomb, surrendered by human family, embraced by God, set free from sin, death and the devil, and fully incorporated into a new family, the whole people of God. The Spirit calls Christians to be a servant people. In serving others, we serve the Christ, the Christ whose presence – like the presence of both the Spirit and the Creator – is both hidden and manifest in all of physical creation, in all of human life and human history.

A paraphrase from I And Thou:"Once upon a time," tells the Brahmana of a thousand paths, "the gods and the demons were at strife. They asked, 'To whom shall we bring our gifts?' The demons set their gifts in their own mouths. The gods set their gifts in each other's mouths. Then Prajapati, the Primal Spirit, gave himself to the gods."

Like Israel, the Church has sociological, economic, psychological, religious, spiritual and political implications, as well as a few more I can’t think of right here and now.

I didn't suggest, imply or claim that everyone was a Christian! Only that the reconciliation of the world, of all creation, in the Christ Event was for everyone, whether or not they "accepted" it or were consciously aware of it. It’s so telling that in Acts 7 Stephen proclaims universal salvation in the context of the history of God;s people, Israel. And the prophets whose words we have in the Hebrew Bible also proclaimed Israel's God as God of all.

Nor did I say there was "nothing beyond the received tradition of Christianity." Although I'm convinced there is no "beyond the received tradition," I tried to say I consider Christianity ultimate but I also said other traditions, styles, experiences and understandings can enhance, compliment and complement Christianity. I'd especially encourage learning about and experiencing other world religions or some of the more local, indigenous ones. Our received tradition is about Israel's God, the Bible's God and Jesus' God. It’s about "this baby named 'Save'" [Walter Brueggemann]. It's about promise, covenant, Word and history. Grace, love, fidelity and freedom. About the God Who chooses a people, calls out a people and sojourned with his people, ultimately living among the people as one of the people. About the God Who demands to be our only God, the only God worthy of being our only God. God of Good Friday and God of Easter.

Rise, Shine!

Rise, shine, you people!
Christ the Lord has entered
Our human story;
God in him is centered.
He comes to us by sin and death surrounded.
With grace unbounded.

by Ron Klug

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Christians, Christianity

Our God is the One Who is and Who was and Who is to come most definitely revealed by the at once crucified and risen One, Jesus Christ.

Christians and Christianity make highly specific claims, which include assertions about God, creation, Jesus and the Christ and about the Church as the Body of Christ. Furthermore, Christianity affirms God’s definitive self-revelation in the ongoing events of human history as One Who is hidden yet apparent, in, with and under these events. So if a worldview or interpretation of life isn’t consonant with these claims, it’s not “Christian.” And this doesn’t mean it’s mistaken or incorrect – it may be a different or an alternative explanation of the same Truth. There is only One True God, though each and every revelation or manifestation of the Holy One necessarily is limited and partial. So when we contemplate God, meditate upon God, that God, logically and necessarily must be the Bible’s God, even when described using different words. I agree that written and spoken languages are limited and often confusing.

When I claim creation as separate and distinct from God but also the impossibility of separating creation from the Source of Life I don’t see any contradiction. Creation is fallen (yet at the same time redeemed) as the Holy One, in absolute perfection, is not, cannot be. I continue to see much of physical existence, as well as spiritual existence, as fallen and still in the control of both past and current agents of bondage and alienation and demonization. The sins, separations, asundernesses that hold creation in bondage and slavery demonstrate not only spiritual separation but also an extremely physical separation.

I may agree with you that in a sense salvation may always have been complete…though still, Jesus lived and died and was raised to new, resurrected life not only in the shadow and thrall of “powers and principalities” of all kinds and dimensions but those same forces still engage and all too often continue to shape and to define us as individuals and as a society. “And so he got rid of the Sovereignties and the Powers, and paraded them in public, behinds him in his triumphal procession.” –Colossians 2:15

And then from:

But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” –Genesis 3:9

To the last page of the Bible:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, LORD Jesus! –Revelation 22:20

“Please, Aslan,…what do you call soon? “I call all times soon,” said Aslan. –C.S. Lewis, …Dawntreader, page 138

When you wrote, “In truth, we cannot be separated from the Source of Life,” you reminded me of Paul Tillich’s saying, “We’re separated and yet bound.” You said, “What is needed is unlearning, removing obstacles to knowing God.” Supremely in the Christ Event, the Christ Experience, God Himself actively and actually removes the obstacles. And then Jesus comes to us again and again to help us unlearn and remove ALL obstacles to knowing God. With the Creator, Jesus indwells all creation as Holy Spirit, in order to help us become and to be the Christ.

“God changes his mind” is such a wonderful understanding of the God with such a wild passion for creation he incessantly response to human need – our God who not only continues condescending to humanity but who even “repents,” turns around ins response to our need. God always, always begins where WE say!

Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." –Exodus 33:21-23

In other words, “You only can be aware of My Presence after I’ve been there!!! Because when I’m there, my people and I are such an indistinguishable unity, one of us looks like the other—you can’t tell us apart! In Jesus, we don’t need to wait until after the experience to be aware of the Presence, we’re immersed in God’s Presence in the ongoing activities of everyday, earthly life. And now, we’re called to recognize The Presence not in spiritual things, but in the “stuff” of common and ordinary life. In “earthen vessels,” of course!

Jesus’ physical existence is important to me because I live in a physical world. My Friend, Savior, God-Revealer, Avatar and Rabbi needs to be a Real Presence in my world. Without relating to space, time and history I’m disoriented and disrelated. I can’t find others or myself, I don’t clearly remember people or events. I’m unable to plan tomorrow Jesus asked us to remember him as he revealed the God of History the One Who creates, redeems and sanctifies in spite of time/space limitations. This doesn’t mean God is limited, only that God condescends to our human limitations. It’s not only the tensions and temptations of culture and society that drive us away from at-homeness, at-oneness in God. We also simply keep forgetting who we are, and Jesus keeps showing us the way back to our Creator, the Source of All Life and, when we are reconciled and freed from the bondage and the pain of living as a stranger, we and all those we touch become the Christ. But then we forget once again…though someday this seemingly endless cycle will end. The Gospel of the Father’s self-revelation – and self-giving – in the human son is worldly and earthbound and shows us that some day. Within history, every one of us will journey to and then arrive home in a world and a life transcending this current world and its existence.

I’m struck by God’s promise to bring this people into the land, to give them land, or the stewardship of the land on which in a sense they still remain strangers and sojourners. Slaves don’t own land. “Real” property, or at least its stewardship, is a gift of freedom, of liberation. “Land” is an ongoing and persistent scriptural theme. But when Israel became landed, settled in space, they forgot their total dependence on the God of the Exodus, the God of History, Whose supreme self-revelation is in time.

Cornel West says, “We are people of hope. Why do we party on Friday night [pay day in the working-class community]? Why do we go to church on Sunday mornings?” Because of Jesus, of course!


“Tell me more about ‘condescension.’”

Oh, one of my favorite topics! To begin, our God is a God of majesty, glory and sovereignty whose supreme self-revelation is as a God Who willingly abrogates His majesty, glory and sovereignty in order to become small for us a human, in Jesus Christ. Small enough to die. For us. Our God is God of the Covenants Who tabernacles with His people (condescension again: the transcendent become immanent – visible, touchable, audible…).

A Holy God who risks His very self…to create and then to reconcile creation…Relationship is risk! Above all, the Bible witnesses to God’s passion for relationship:
And God said: I’m lonely still…
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled
him down
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun…
Who flung the stars…
This great God…
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life.
Amen. Amen.

by James Weldon Johnson, from The Creation
Because, as you’ve implied, the Trinity isn’t three persons who have lunch together.

I love the section of Exodus [24:7-8] when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai, reads the Book of the Covenant within the hearing of the gathered people, throws the Blood of the Covenant on the people…and then, in the very next chapter God says, “Hey Moses! Tell my people to build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in the midst of my people!” [Exodus 25:8] That’s what it’s all about: Emmanu-El, “God With Us.” So we can do the Word…

Creation itself may be the most outrageous and radical act of God’s condescension: to create in the image of the Holy One of Being. A Transcendent Other Who tabernacles with and indwells all creation. According to God’s promise we wait for and hope for not only new heavens but also for a new earth in which righteousness dwells [2 Peter 3:13]: before the Christ Event righteousness was an attribute of God alone, but in Jesus the Christ all creation is made righteous.

Again and over again Scripture testifies to God’s ongoing, decisive and unique action in human history. Isn’t humanity’s never-ending (and eternal!) search the search for the transcendent? We don’t need to seek, because the Transcendent has sought us out and met us, revealed Herself to us, most tellingly and most definitely in a human, in one of us – in Jesus of Nazareth. In the tension and on the edge of this historical ethos we’re born, live, love, suffer, give birth of all kinds, suffer, die and are reborn. Again! And isn’t this also the “in spite of” of grace in our own lives? “Treasures in earthen vessels,” not in “religious” things. God’s love is an everyday, common, ordinary and extravagant love that continues responding to our everyday and ongoing needs.

The artist and the poet both observe, evaluate and reshape their creations, just as God does. Creation is every artist’s, every poet’s, every parent’s passion. Every creation is its creator’s dream, imagined and imaged before eternity was breathed into being, imagined forever. In God’s ongoing condescension to us the God Far Off becomes Near to us in order to reshape us into the creation we were created to be and to become. I see our creation in God’s image as giving us the spectacular gifts of freedom and choice. Radical condescension! When humanity first claimed that unspeakably awesome gift in the paradise of Eden God rejoiced in A-dam’s “disobedience” as it meant humanity freely had chosen to walk in the Holy Way rather than remain at the childish state of unquestioned obedience. In this sometimes-called “fall” into “sin” or “separation” A-dam claimed humanity’s birthright of the freedom of God’s children created in the Image of the Holy One. The tempter told our progenitors “you will be as gods” if you eat the “forbidden fruit.” And the tempter was absolutely right-on! We reclaimed the Image of the God in Whose Image we were created to be and to live.

If creation weren’t “fallen” (we’ve talked about this) – actually a pre-redemptive state/situation as creation’s fallen-ness enables creations’ return in freedom to its Creator – there would be nor need for redemption or sanctification. The Word at once judges (evaluates), holds in hope and gives itself again in promise to shatter the separation between the Word and the Word’s creation in what Bonhoeffer calls God’s “unfathomable condescension.” Although eternity is divine, time as we know time is a human construct – one of God’s gifts to human need. In Jesus the Christ eternity and time both collide and actually become indissolubly united.

And many will come from east and west and north and south, and sit at the feast in the kingdom of God. ~ Luke 13:29

The eschatological feast is both sustenance and celebration, as is the empty tomb of Easter dawn. They’re both God’s “Surprise! You haven’t been annihilated!” and they’re also an entirely new Dance of Life. William Stringfellow says (paraphrased, as I haven’t read An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land for a long time) the Bread and Cup are “tokens of the Resurrection” and these “tokens…are discerned as the Word of God indwelling all creation and transfiguring human history.” All creation is redeemed and now the transcendent Holy One is present in our very midst, in, with and under the redeemed creation (endless and eternal condescension now!). Since we are both spirit and flesh, God enters our own individual and corporate lives as both Spirit and Flesh. Everything is God’s Word and Activity, always sacramentally present in, with and under all of creation. Jesus Christ, the LORD of Chalcedon, is both Body and Spirit, just as we Christians, “little Christs,” are both body and spirit. The Risen LORD’s presence in this redeemed creation makes transcendent common, everyday stuff like water, bread and wine. Just as the empty cross and the empty grave reveal God’s presence in the world, so now does all of creation. God continues to condescend to his beloved creation as Spirit, indwelling all and enabling us to see the Face of God and live not only in Jesus, in Jesus’ People the Church – the Body of the Risen Christ – but in all people!

Like the father in the dream you wrote about, the Creator awakens and re-enters (re-minds?) creation with a new name, with a new and this time unforgettable Dance of Life (I referred to the Eucharist as a new “Dance of Life”) in which we encounter the at once Crucified and Risen One in the substance of common, ordinary, everyday existence. Now all life is Holy. Now our home is the heaven, the paradise, the Eden of the created earth that previously had been a place of alienation, bondage and disconnectedness.


· Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your first-born…that you may give me your blessing." "Are you really my son Esau?" [Isaac] asked. "I am," he replied. Genesis 27:19, 24

· ...But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Genesis 32:26b-28

This so strikes me at this point in my life – in the earlier text (both are from the "J" or Yahwist) Jacob pretends to be other than the person God created him to be and all kinds of troubles result; in the second passage Jacob publicly claims the real identity God already has blessed him with and God gives him a new name with which to engage the world…interesting. Similar to God's speech to Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of this earth…when all the morning stars sang together and the children of God shouted for joy?" i.e., "Whose creation are you? Who has planned your life?" Only God creates life and gifts creation with life; only God can be trusted to fulfill life. After wrestling down by the riverside with the messenger of the LORD, Jacob is so changed he no longer imagines he can do anything on his own. Now Jacob trusts God, now Jacob trusts life is gift, life is grace! And both Jacob/Israel and God "win!" Our own home is in the fallen-ness as well as in the bounty of this created world. From our own struggles in the world, from our wrestlings with our own demons and with ourselves, our debilitating struggles with others' demands, expectations and definitions of us, just like Israel we finally signify our inability to sustain ourselves and are overwhelmed by grace. Like Jacob, we're disimagined of our own self-sufficiency, of imagining – imaging – we can be self-generated. The judgment, and the hope of the creative, redemptive, sanctifying Word is that we are not alone. That Word points us in the direction of Christ alone, the at Once risen and Crucified Once. Jesus shows us that our Creator makes Shekinah, dwelling-place with us. Jesus shows us that the Kingdom, Heaven, Salvation, Wholeness is within us and among us.

This is about Baptism!!!!!

Also, "The Ark," from Gerry Rafferty’s City to City, (1978)

See, the dark night has come down on us,
The world is living in its dream,
But now we know that we can wake up from this sleep,
And set out on the journey…
We’ll take the road that leads down to the waterside…
We’ll meet out on the water,
Where all strangers are known
The truth is there to set you free…

"River" so often in Scripture is boundary, border or barrier – for Israel, the Jordan was all three. As it was for Jesus, as it is for us. The early Church always baptized in the flowing water of a river. River of Life. The River of Life flowing from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. And what is the Throne of God? The Cross is God's Throne! As Christians we consider baptism so much more than a "little ritual." For Christians, baptism is a mighty Act of God. Maybe I've paraphrased Jürgen Moltmann's describing baptism as "sign, witness, representation and illumination of the Christ Event?" Paul says we’re baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection, marked with the sign of the cross and the sign of the empty tomb. Baptized we wear the marks of crucifixion and of resurrection. But paradox – the Christ Event is both finished and not yet. I wrote about the Eucharist as commemoration, realization and anticipation. Baptism is the same. Baptized into Christ, into Jesus' death and resurrection, which also is our own first death and second birth, we again experience the freedom and choice A-dam claimed as his birthright as the Creator's creation when he left the paradisiacal Eden. We are home where we always can be the persons God created us to be, connected with the Source of Life. Anew God names us, sharing our new name in common with our sisters and brothers. We baptize within the context of the gathered community, which represents the whole People of God. Baptism is the gift of life for which the recipients needs do nothing, though both sacraments demand human participation. Our new family: no longer strangers as the waters of the baptismal river embrace us all. Now we claim all the separations, distinctions and distractions that once were barriers as the boundary and border of our new life together!

Just as in baptism, in the unity and commonality of the eschatological Eucharistic feast, Jesus, as God's representative, gathers everyone. If Jesus, the host at the table, invites everyone without prejudice, who can be excluded? Only those who choose to exclude themselves. Jesus truly is present at the table, both as host and within and among his gathered people. Who are Jesus' people? Everyone. Not a single exception. Only those who choose to exclude themselves are excluded but I trust that ultimately, the free and gracious gifts of the Christ who promises to draw all to himself will prove irresistible.

Thursday, August 01, 2002


You asked for some of my ideas: 'theological, emotional, experiential and spiritual?' I've already written 'theological,' and for me – to an extent – those other parameters are similar to the theological. And I've apologized for nearly always thinking biblically and theologically! The confessions ramble through my mind, too ... but back to your question. Emotional and experiential memories raise a firestorm with me! Jesus: 'this [bread] is my body, take and eat; this cup is the new covenant in my blood.' Then Paul, of course! 'As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until his coming again.' Because for Paul, Christ Jesus always is at one and the same time both Crucified and Risen, when we proclaim the Lord's death we also proclaim his rising. The Bible's God is, above all, God of Life and God of the Living. As central as the cross is to Christianity, isn't the empty tomb as definitive for us – and at times far more challenging – for our response and witness as the baptized People of God? Even more decisive than our sometimes less-than-willingness to embrace our own deaths? As the people of God our faithfulness is in our spoken kerygma and, especially, in the acted kerygma of our lives, in our bodily and lively, 'life-ly' proclamation.

Here are some ideas:

• bread = body

• Body that is raised

• Christ's body = revealed in the breaking of bread / body

• Church = Body of the risen Christ

• Bread / Body = nourishing

• Body / Church = nourishing the world, especially the stranger, the outcast and the ‘other’

• Church / reveals Christ’s crucified body = in its redeeming brokenness

• Church / reveals the Christ's risen body = in its liberating wholeness

That's not very emotional or experiential yet, but it's a beginning!

Friday, July 26, 2002

From Confessio Augustana

Here's Melanchthon:

From Augustana XXIV:

Augsburg Confession cover...At the same time the abominable error was condemned according to which is was taught that our Lord Christ has by his death made satisfaction only for original sin, and had instituted the Mass as a sacrifice for other sins. This transformed the Mass into a sacrifice for the living and the dead, a sacrifice by means of which sin was taken away and God was reconciled ... the Scriptures show in many places that there is no sacrifice for original sin, or for any other sin, except the one death of Christ. For it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews that Christ offered himself once and by this offering made satisfaction for all sin. It is an unprecedented novelty in church doctrine that Christ's death should have made satisfaction only for original sin and not for other sins as well ... In the second place, St. Paul taught that we obtain grace before God through faith and not through works ... In the third place, the holy sacrament was not instituted to make provision as a sacrifice for sin –for the sacrifice had already taken place ... but to awaken our faith and comfort our consciences when we perceive that through the sacrament grace and forgiveness of sin are promised us by Christ...


Let me try responding to one of the Saturday morning comments:

"Christ is about getting us re-connected to our physical as well as spiritual nature!"

In a single word, again – YES!!!!! Once again I'll say it's all about the outrage of a Holy God who condescends to live and die as one of us, living and dying in the total pain and vulnerability of human flesh! It's about a Transcendent, Holy Other revealed and revealed again in water, bread and wine. Revealed and revealed again and again in the common, ordinary everyday 'stuff' of creation and of our common, ordinary everyday lives; nothing is too ordinary nor is anything too transitory to remind us of God's love and faithfulness, to remind us of God's nearness and ever-presence! Revealed at the 9th hour, the hour of Jesus' death, when the Temple veil was torn and heaven on earth no longer was the province of a select few only at a select time of every year, but heaven came to earth and became possible for all of us.

Our Scripture's answer to the pain and perplexity of human existence, to our sorrow, grief – and to our joys – is our Free and Sovereign God of mercy, grace and love who indwells creation, indwells us, and who sorrows, grieves and rejoices with every breath we take! Our God is present whenever and wherever we break bread and share a cup – not only in the church sanctuary or during the regularly scheduled Sunday liturgy! But everyplace everywhere and every time becomes holy and sanctified, because wherever God and the People of God meet is holy, sacred sanctified ground and holy time – 'qodesh.'

It's all so tremendously physical – remember, when the Bible was canonized, they threw out everything that possibly remotely could've made Jesus less than fully and totally human! It's not about the possibility of our living with God someday; rather it's about the reality of God's living with us right here, right now. Just as at the 9th hour, the hour of Jesus' death, when the Temple veil was torn and heaven came to earth and became possible for all of us. [OK, some shorthand there: I need to backtrack to the Incarnation and fast-forward to Easter Dawn, but this'll have to do for now.]


[Part 3]

Ulrich Zwingli

Zwingli's point essentially was twofold: since Jesus is seated [incumbent] at the right hand of God, Jesus can't also at the same time be in Zürich, Geneva, Wittenberg, London, San Diego...Luther's rejoinder, 'God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent; therefore the right hand of God is everywhere: in Zürich, Geneva, Wittenberg, London and San Diego!' But furthermore, Zwingli observed, 'This is Pentecost, we already have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and what 'Realer Presence' do we need?!' We need only a reminder of that Presence!


Part 2:

The SCANDAL of our Holy God's self-revelation in the written, recorded Word of Scripture and in the living, enfleshed Word Christ Jesus is its very physicalness=humanness=vulnerability and therefore its corruptibility and decayability on every level! And this Word's dynamism includes its ability to address and fulfill each one of each of our needs on every level, including physical, though also, of course, spiritual. Makes me think of the Interpreter's Bible's tawdry habit of over-spiritualizing Jesus' life, mission and teaching!

A whole lot of Jesus' actions and words were sacramental ones – IOW, they pointed away from themselves to a larger essence and reality. The union of the physical with the spiritual: earthiness and the Word of God is part of our definition of 'sacrament;' the sacraments, although mighty acts of God, demand human initiation and participation for their existence! This organic union of physical and spiritual is the reason Protestants always have rejected the Methodist Book of Discipline states, that very idea 'overthroweth the nature of a sacrament.'

Mark's and Matthew's accounts of Jesus' 'founding meal' tell of Jesus' predicting his betrayal by 'the one who is dipping bread in the same dish with me.' IOW, a meal can engender the intimacy of community; the betrayal by anyone you've broken bread with is all that more painful since it implies – and means – betrayal of the sacredness of intimacy.

Although I'll probably write more about this later, my answer to Drew is yes, any shared food and drink can be Holy Communion with one another and with our Triune God, but I believe we still need to formally schedule and celebrate Eucharistic celebrations within the context of the gathered people of God, as a reminder of the ongoing sacramentalness of life in Christ; but I also trust the sacraments themselves may be efficacious in ways beyond our more ordinary, day-to-day 'Holy Communions.'

Eucharist notes

Many months ago I wrote in response to a 'bagel and coffee' Holy Communion/Eucharist idea! At that time my point was:

The fruit of the vine is a potent and multivalent biblical symbol; to use another drink or juice is dissonant with the integrity of the Bible's witness to God's self-revelation of saving acts within human history, to the continuing efficacy of God's activity within a worldly, earthbound, physical human context, because these actions – and our sacraments, baptism and Eucharist – always gesture beyond that particular 'kairos' moment toward a more cosmic and universal meaning, to the 'Yes' of God's promises fulfilled in 'chronos.'

Although the earliest Eucharistic celebrations featured a round loaf of leavened wheat bread, I'm OK with using bread made from a different grain in any culture or circumstance where wheat bread's not common or ordinary. But again I'd caution to keep it as close as possible to creation [one reason wine is preferred over grape juice; besides, wine's more celebratory and although this feast is sustenance, it's also celebration!].

That said, it seems as if now the questioner was looking for a different focus. So I'll mention I've powerful and poignant memories of being welcomed and fed – physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually – at a meal as well as powerfully painful memories of being excluded. For myself there's no more 'leveling' experience than mutually participating in a meal, no more denigrating, dehumanizing – marginalizing – one than being excluded while everyone else is feasting.

A meal or snack eaten alone sometimes meets my need for physical sustenance [can be a mood stabilizer, as well! – happens to me all the time!] but from my own experience it lacks the fulness and completeness of a meal shared within a social context. Whether with one other person or with several, for myself food is, above all, a way of connecting, and if connecting in this moment, doesn't that also mean connecting with our shared human histories, connecting with our shared aspirations? Just a few thoughts.

To be continued…

Real Presence

Agreed that the Real Presence of the Risen Christ is central BUT Jesus' post-Easter appearances (please not to begin a discussion of "Resurrection vs. Appearance"!) definitely were "sensible" ones, although, as always, Jesus remained, at least initially, hidden; and Jesus' presence always was elusive just as it had been during his earthly life and ministry. As the definitive manifestation of the God we know as both hidden yet apparent though still at the same time free and elusive, how could Jesus be otherwise?

lively discussion!

Thanks for keeping this discussion alive! My point is I believe Jesus is physically, as well as spiritually, present at the Table. And though I believe the Sacraments themselves definitely retain a privileged character, they also serve as models or metaphors for God's continuing action in the "accidental" activities and events of everyday life, that we may be able to discern God's gracious actions moment by moment. It's all incarnational; it's all Incarnation. It's all sacramental; it's all Sacrament. Life is Liturgy! But we need the consciously and regularly scheduled gatherings and celebrations we formally designate "sacrament," as proclamation to ourselves and to the world. More about this later.

A Favorite Topic!

One of my very most favorite topics! I consider Zwingli's view far too constricting, though I often consider his considerable youth and wonder how his understanding would have evolved had he not gotten himself killed at such a relatively young age. Of course the Lord's Supper/Eucharist is memorial, but doesn't Paul make clear to us that it’s also realization and anticipation? For myself, Luther come closest to capturing the outrage of a Holy God Who dared live as one of us, a Holy God Who condescends to continue to reveal Himself in, with and under common, ordinary, everyday human experience. I also appreciate the reminder of the "mystery" and telling us it's no cop-out—Roman Catholics do have a far greater sense of the mysteries of faith than do we Protestants who so tend to do our bestest to explain and rationalize just about everything including those mysteries that not only are above and beyond our understanding but which also probably aren't to be understood by us! And also which we have no need to understand. Although I agree the Roman Catholic view is ok, with the Methodist Book of Discipline I agree the idea of transubstantiation "Overthroweth the nature of a sacrament!" (This is most certainly true!) And transubstantiation also fails to capture the essence of the Incarnation. I'll give this more thought! Wait—one more thing. Walter Brueggemann points out that Holy Communion is "pre-Eucharist." Any thoughts on that idea?

A few more words.

A few more words. The earliest recorded celebrations featured a round leavened loaf of wheat bread and a shared cup of wine. Although it's so very apparent that many, many shared meals are sustenance and celebration, Holy Communion and Eucharist, I'd caution against being too "vernacular," particularly in liturgical practice we formally designate as ""sacrament." The fruit of the vine is a potent and multivalent biblical symbol. Historically, wine has been the preferred fruit of the vine as grape juice is artificially kept from fermenting and is a step further removed from creation. In a culture in which wheat bread isn't common, ordinary everyday I'd very definitely spring for bread that IS. However, I'd still be extremely cautious about substituting anything for the fruit of the vine. And again, we join both in substance and in spirit with all the saints in every place and time and consciously need to plan our liturgies (as well as all of our lives!) remembering, realizing and anticipating that fact.

Thursday, July 25, 2002


Doing theology means engaging mystery and being engaged by mystery and especially engaging and being engaged by paradox. In the United Church of Christ Statement of Faith we affirm, "In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot." In the Old Covenant Scriptures we encounter many human redeemers; in the New Covenant God Himself is our Redeemer, though we still find redemption in a human, but now our redemption is in a human One Who is yet the Christ! For Paul, Jesus becomes the Divine Christ at his death and resurrection; Jesus is always at once both crucified and risen. For Paul, we are Christed at our baptism, when we partake of Jesus the Christ's death and resurrection. For Christians, the empty cross implies the empty tomb and challenges us to be free in Christ so as to live Easter in the midst of tombstones and graves – to assume our "Christness." We Christians are a people of the book, our Book being the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. in the Gospels we have John's "Son of God" as well as the synoptics' "Son of Man." Just as "Son of a prophet" means a prophet, "Son of God" means a God and "Son of Man" means a human. Enoch in the Pseudepigrapha (as well as Daniel and Ezekiel) refers to the "Son of Man" as the One who will usher in the New Age. The outrage and the SCANDAL of the Gospel is a Holy God Who lives and dies as one of us, that it is a HUMAN who ushers in the New Age. But that human is the Divine Christ! And just as the written Word of scripture is both divine revelation and human disclosure, so is the Living Word Jesus the Christ both divine revelation and human disclosure. Showing US who we are and showing us who we can become. Each of us is both born of the spirit and born of the flesh – Luke refers to Adam as "Son of God."

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus?! Jesus is the image of the invisible God; Jesus is the transcendent invisible God enfleshed and visible in total human vulnerability. 'What unique role did/does he play in [the] history?...' Jesus is the one who signals the end of the old age; the one who initiates the New Age. As Enoch in the pseudepigrapha writes, the 'son of man' will usher in the New Age. The outrage is that this one, this 'son of man' who renews all things is just that – a human and not a god, but still paradoxically the image and the essence of God beyond time and beyond space.

...loving glow of God's own face
You who sang creation's story...
Love that fills the night with wonder
Love that warms the weary soul
Love that bursts all chains asunder...
You who made the heaven's splendor
every dancing star of night...
...gentle Christ who lights our way...

by Marty Haugen

But the Bible and Jesus!

But the bible (and Jesus!) reveal God's presence incarnate in our midst: "God among us; God within us!" In the ark of the covenant, tabernacle & temple the sign of God's presence was physical and tangible – 'sensible' [Westminster Catechism] but its revelation was static, unmoving & iconic and therefore an imperfect representation of the God of the Bible we know as dynamic, free & elusive. And those artifacts eventually led to a return of the imperial religion of Egypt, as well. The 'God-Spell' is not that eventually we will live with God but rather that God lives with us! Here and now! The 'SCANDAL' of the Gospel is a Holy God who condescends to live and die as one of us, a Transcendent Other revealed and re-revealed in common, ordinary, everyday 'sensible' things – as common as water, bread & wine; as common as the neighbor next door. As common as US!!! Just as Jesus was a living, breathing, moving revelation of God, so are we!

In baptism God calls us to be and to show salvation to one another and especially to the stranger in our midst. The salvation/wholeness/healing we bring is a redemption, a 'buying back' of ourselves to ourselves, to one another and to our Creator; a 'redeeming' that lives and moves and breathes and changes with every human need. Just as God's primary passion is response to human need, that becomes our primary passion – our baptism makes our response in grace and freedom possible and 'sensibly' apparent. The ark, tabernacle and temple can be seen as imperfect 'types' of Christ, therefore as imperfect representations of God, but Jesus himself lived – and died – as a perfect representation [I used to say 'ultimate & definitive manifestation' but haven't used that phrase for a long time] of the loving, merciful, free and elusive God who responds not to our attempts to contain God for our own edification ['imperial religion'] but instead responds to our need, to the world's need for redemption and sanctification and for 'holiness.' Does this work for you? My point is, despite the Christ Event, we still live in a fallen world. Our call, our ministry is the reconciliation of the world to itself and to its Creator. 'God...sets before us the ways of life & death.' IOW, the ministry is in our living and in our lives: this is Pentecost, we're 'clothed with Power from on High;'the ball's in our court now.

Animals in the Bible

You know I'm not prooftexting! I'll begin with some Bible verses that tell about God's passion for all creation:

Genesis 1 God's Word creates everything.

Genesis 1:20-22 God creates sea creatures and birds.

Genesis 1:24-25 God creates all animals.

Genesis 1:26-30 God gives humans dominion over and stewardship of creation; there is plenty of food for everyone.

Genesis 2:19-20 Animals are God’s creation; humans have safekeeping of and naming of animals and birds.

Noah's Ark by prawnyGenesis 7:1-3 At God’s command, Noah takes animals and birds into the ark, which he built at God’s command.

Genesis 8:1 God remembers Noah and all the birds and animals

Genesis 9:8-17 God makes a covenant of grace with "every living creature…birds, cattle, and every beast of the earth."

Psalm 8:7-8 Praise for God’s giving us dominion over creation: flocks, herds, beasts, birds, fish, and sea creatures.

Psalm 36:6c God redeems both humans and animals.

Psalm 50:10-11 God, "The Mighty One," knows and possesses all animals, cattle, birds, field creatures…

Psalm 104:11-12. 14, 17-18, 20-21, 26 The entire psalm celebrates God’s care for all creation and its creatures: light, heavens, clouds, winds, fire, earth, water, thunder, mountains, valleys, springs, ravines, beasts of the field, wild donkeys, birds of the air, cattle, food, wine, oil, bread, trees, cedars, storks, crags, moon, sun, darkness, beasts of the forest, lions, sea, sea creatures, leviathan…by the Spirit all are created and renewed!

Psalm 148:7-10 A charge for all creation to praise its Creator! In other words, for all creation to engage in our "chief and highest end to glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever." (Westminster Catechism)

lamb sheep

Isaiah 11:6-9 The Eschaton, "Messianic time" of "new heavens and a new earth": the Peaceable Kingdom: The wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 41:18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness pools of water, and the parched land into springs.

Isaiah 41:19 In the desert I will put the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle and the olive; I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together.

Isaiah 43:23

Isaiah 43:23 Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, O mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.

Isaiah 49:13 Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

Isaiah 51:3

Isaiah 51:3 The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

Isaiah 65:17, 25 New heavens and a new earth; the wolf, the lamb, and the lion…

Matthew 6:26 …God feeds the birds of the air…

Luke 12:24 God feeds the ravens…

2 Peter 3:13 …new heavens and a new earth…

Several theological concepts and images appear in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Covenant Scriptures of the New Testament I’ve referenced. First comes the act of “creation.” After evoking the first light of earthly time, by His dynamic, creative Word, this free, transcendent, almighty and omnipresent Creator wills to form not only humans, but also every aspect of earthly substance, including “animals,” which carry a creative life force in themselves!

Then, "dominion" and "stewardship" and "naming": Dominion means Lordship. To be a steward means to care for one’s charge; in the Bible, to name anything or anyone means to bestow an identity upon that being or thing. Any being’s name – including God’s – reveals or manifests what and who that being is. To know a creature’s name implies both intimacy and relationship; the Word speaks to and redeems all creation into relationship and intimacy, drawing all creation out from anonymity and estrangement in order to be known by its Creator and by every other creature.

Next, God remembers not only Noah, but also all the birds and animals. In the biblical witness, history and the memory of history are closely and inextricably linked together. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Sinai Covenant, God of the prophets, God of Jesus the Christ, reveals himself as a God who acts in human history, as God whose primary passion is the humanity of his creation and that humanity’s needs.

And covenant. There’s no more central concept in the entire Bible! Covenant is about creation, grace, redemption, renewal; it’s about the primacy of life over death; it’s about the God who initiates and does whatever is necessary to maintain responsive and responsible relationship. In Genesis 9, God’s covenant with "every living creature" is a covenant of grace or one of free gift – in other words, the "coming together" of relationship is given and unconditional, rather than being an "if – then" one that depends upon the condition of the giftee’s performance! God makes this covenant; God performs it.

Throughout the witness of the Word of God runs a constant theme of a new and renewed earth, of a new and renewed creation, right here in this physical, material world. The God of the Bible is a God whose supreme self-revelation is in the course of human history, "in, with and under" (Luther) the material stuff of creation. God revealed again and again in water, bread and wine; in humans and in all of creation – including animals, of course! I’ve quoted just a couple of the many, many new creation verses – these essentially are Resurrection texts.

In both testaments there are images of the Lion of God and of the Lamb of God. In New Testament theology, Christ Jesus, the image of the transcendent, invisible God beyond time and beyond space, becomes and is both "Lion and Lamb."

A few more notes: Christianity's – and the Bible's – central proclamation is the Mighty God of All Creation's self-revelation in the powerless, weak and vulnerable – in "the least of these." In Christ Jesus, God became and lived as one of the least of these, in innocence and vulnerability: vulnerability to the point of death. Although the separate and distinctness of Creator and creature is an essential biblical tenet, just as essential is the conviction God indwells all creation as Holy Spirit! Therefore, the Holy Spirit of God indwells animals, just as it lives in humans. Jesus’ charge to humanity is to be responsible to "the least of these." Jesus says any kindness we pay to these innocents is as if that kindness was done to him…and therefore, as if it was done to God, as Jesus is the image and essence of the Holy God beyond time and beyond space.

The God of the Bible calls us into covenant/relationship/response with our Creator and with all creation. God addresses us as covenant partners; God speaks to each of us as those who are called to hear, to receive, and to do his Word. That Word calls us to justice and righteousness; as God’s servants and agents we’re summoned to allow and bring about the restoration and reconciliation of all creation, proclaiming in word and in action, the freedom of the year of Jubilee. Our God, as Holy Spirit, makes Shekinah, "dwelling place" with us, making possible our response to creation’s needs. Especially in the Isaiah verses I’ve quoted, all creation rejoices in its redemption! And if the mountains and hills, deserts and streams celebrate, how much more so the animals!

Tuesday, July 16, 2002


Welcome to Leah's blog, or rather Desert Spirits's blog, "Desert Spirit's Fire!" Here you can read some of my theology and some of my new views – as well as some of my more-or-less neo-orthodox ones – about scripture and theology. Here I'll post stuff about my general everyday life, loves, days and nights. Maybe some of my poetry and other people's poems, as well.

Desert Spirit's Fire is an ecumenical celebration of and inquiry into scripture, and a whimsical view of my sometimes passionate theology. I've thought about, talked about and written about these ideas and concerns in response to questions and inquiries from friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances.

Welcome, and enjoy your visit!