Friday, December 26, 2003

Christmas in the Desert

Christmas in the Sonoran desert has become one of my most treasured experiences. Needless to say, Salt Lake City is a [cold] desert and San Diego a [coastal] one, but the hot desert with its singular beauty and distinctive glory is something else completely! As I wrote in Voice of the Holy Spirit and Voice of the HS 2, in the Exodus desert and outside of any humanly designated governmental jurisdiction Israel first covenanted with Yahweh, receiving Yahweh’s commandment to have no other gods; after Jesus’ mikvah in the Jordan, the Spirit drove him into the desert. Underneath the crazy beauty of its bleakness, the desert teems with actual and potential life! The desert doesn’t often bloom, but when it does, its flowers are spectacular beyond anything “mere” words can capture. In the desert’s austere splendor we need to search for evidence of God’s sacramental presence, but the very nature of desert is an extremely sacramental hidden yet apparent one. Mary’s and Joseph’s child was born into stranger-ness and desertedness, just as later on Jesus died deserted outside the civilization of the city.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Voice of the Holy Spirit 2

Although I said I'd return to this topic in early 2004, it's still more like late 2003, so continuing with more about how I sense the Holy Spirit's presence and voice. I'll begin with Nate's asking me last Saturday evening in San Diego if attending Harvard Divinity School had made me more spiritual and more faithful. I replied no, it hadn't—though my life experience definitely had made me more faithful and more spiritual! A while ago on one of the UCC forums when someone asked "What tethers you," I answered with the title of Harold Friedell’s hymn, "Draw us in the Spirit's tether!" ...and by the tethering of the HS I've come this far by faith. This morning during the liturgy at Carrie's church in Tucson we publicly proclaimed the Nicene Creed with its, "We believe in the HS, the Lord, the giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the son, Who has spoken by the Prophets..." and then "One, holy, catholic and apostolic Church..." the Church – of course – being the work of the HS:

The work, power and passion of the HS in that prototypical Church that began appearing while God's desert people wandered as the books of Exodus and Numbers document, as the people of God's creation and re-creation received manna from the sky, water from the rock, and healing from the snake lifted up as foreshadows of Jesus' breaking bread and offering the cup of life on the night of betrayal and desertion, and then lifted up on the cross of death on the Friday we now call "Good"; the whole congregation of the people of Israel living and worshiping as a gathered assembly; later during Jesus' earthly ministry; then at his crucifixion, on the day of Pentecost, moving outward from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth, and in the church's 16th century re-formation and its continuing renewal up through this very day. Again in the words of Luther's explanation of the 3rd article of the [Apostle's] Creed:

I believe I cannot by my own effort
Know Jesus my Savior or come to him
But the HS has called me...
Calls, gathers and enlightens the church...

Those Reformers has it so right: on our own we can do nothing much except become experts at sin and alienation; real living? It's all about the HS; and real life often is about the cleansing, refining and renewing of the desert!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Voice of the Holy Spirit

Anita Van Ingen emailed me,

“I write a blog called Moving Godward: The Desert Blogs
"and I’m doing some research on what the voice of the holy spirit sounds like to different people."

I'm going to expand "sounds like" and include feels like, sounds like, tastes like and smells like! It’s striking the Westminster Catechism says a sacrament is a sensible and outward sign – rather than simply a visible one, so I’m thinking about sensible (sensory) manifestations of the reality of the presence and activity of the HS in our lives. And since you asked me, it’s probably most appropriate for me to respond in terms of my own experience, and not even in terms of what other people have told me – you’ve probably asked quite a few people to answer this question, right?

I’ll begin by mentioning the help the HS gives us in interpreting scripture – a witness to God’s activity in the world that from the beginning was Spirit-breathed – a witness whose canonization also was Spirit-ed. Although that can be problematic, since different people claim various and sometimes conflicting interpretations of the same text.

In everyday life we intensely can sense the Spirit’s presence in conversation, in many kinds of human and animal interaction and – traditionally – in worship (but not always in worship). I’d love to say I sense the HS’s presence within the ecclesial community, but too often church settings, like committees, etc., are so charged with conflict, overt and covert hostilities and general irreconciliation or at least non-conciliation it’s almost impossible to breathe.

But since this question’s supposed to relate to “desert blogs,” I want to go off onto something like a tangent from what I just wrote, though definitely not a tangent in the least as this relates to the work, witness – and presence – of the HS in our lives, most particularly in our experiences of seeming desertion. In the desert Israel first rendezvoused with Yahweh; in the desert – driven out by the Spirit – Jesus first met the Spirit; possibly our first meeting with the real presence of the HS happens in the desert, too...not the presence we imagine we need but the Presence God knows we need.

Scripture’s multitude of promises includes God’s assurance of life lived eternally in the presence of God. How many times have I said the real miracles aren’t the spectacular signs and wonders, but rather Yahweh’s enduring specialness is the passion of presence with the people?! What’s been going on in almost any particular scriptural passage? Lots of things, but in particular the extraordinary fact of God with the people!

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Peacemaker of the World

Micah 5:2-4

2 But you, Bethlehem, David's country, the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule Israel.
He'll be no upstart, no pretender. His family tree is ancient and distinguished.
3 Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster homes until the birth pangs are over and the child is born,
And the scattered brothers come back home to the family of Israel.
4 He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by GOD's strength, centered in the majesty of GOD-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home, for the whole world will hold him in respect—
Peacemaker of the world!

Luke 1:39-55

39 Mary didn't waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, 40 straight to Zachariah's house, and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and sang out exuberantly,

You're so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
43 And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me?
44 The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
45 Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

46 And Mary said,

I'm bursting with God-news;
47 I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
48 God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
49 the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
50 His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him.
51 He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts.
52 He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.
53 The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.
54 He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
55 It's exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Dear Friends in Christ: grace, mercy and peace to you from our Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier God!

Three more shopping days—three days away from Christmas. Now…everyone who has everything done, stand up! Stand up and sum up what you felt when you made your last purchase, put up the last strand of Christmas lights the last ornament on the tree and the final yard decoration of the season. I'll give you a hint…the word I have in mind is right over there on that banner: JOY! Okay, now you can sit back down… Let's all take a quick moment and just relax: close your eyes, and remember your best Christmas ever. Recapture the surroundings, the smells, the tastes, the sounds, the sights; ask yourself what it was about that memorable Christmas that made it the best; look for one defining moment; keep that image in your mind and feel the emotions you felt back then; let your body and your spirit let go of any anxiety, stress, fears, or doubts you may have about this year's Christmas.

Christmas is known as a time for hope, peace, love, and joy; it is a time to be with family, to feel the warmth of a fire on a cold snowy night, a time to share a warm eggnog latté or triple peppermint mocha with a friend, a time to join in song and celebrate the joys of the entire season, and a time to be at peace with one another. However, for many folks, Christmas also is one of the most horrifically stressful seasons of the year. It begins the day after Thanksgiving, when at least half the local population rushes in to Wal-Mart or wherever to get a new DVD player or more Christmas decorations or just to buy whatever's there on the shelves or intrusively waiting in the aisles to be bought; in the pre-buying frenzy when a woman—maybe even your neighbor or my friend—gets trampled by the swarming mass of people waiting at the door in the early hours of the morning, Wal-Mart gracefully offers to put the loss-leader DVD player on hold for generous!? Our secular society insists Christmas is a time for shopping malls, 16-hour sales, clicking and double-clicking at online auction sites and consumption venues; for too many new and improved gadgets you can't live without, or that would make the perfect gift so you don't need to let guilt consume you because you've been buying so much for your family and yourself. Everyone here has dealt with the retail world in some way at this time of year; every year we hear not only in church but from the media, too, "shopping and buying is not what Christmas is all about."

Consumerism is the attitude of what we often refer to as the secular society, but what does secular mean? Here are some suggestions: a secular society can be one in which religion has become a self-consciously separate institution; or, in a secular society religion and spirituality are totally integrated with everyday life so there is no self-conscious religion per se. Our English secular comes from the Lain saeculum, meaning this present age.

Beyond this, in many ways biblical living is not "religious," since religion typically has more in common with cult, ideology or philosophy than with a lifestyle based on a free response in time to the actions of a gracious God in history, so at least in these terms, Christianity is not religious. But is it secular? As Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann insists, "We are indeed made in the image of some God." Most pre-rational societies made their gods in the image of their society, which then conveniently continued to reflect the gods. Although folks in those cultures probably did not realize their gods were made by humans, as we look back to theirs and then try looking inward at our culture and society, we realize just maybe we have made our own gods—those gods we first form and then keep reshaping into our own image of consumerism, greed, acquisition and possibly above all restlessness and discontent.

Briefly, if in a secular society religion is a self-conscious institution, probably this post-modern USA culture is secular, carrying all of us along with its tide; but then as the people of God in Christ Jesus, to an extent we qualify to be called "secular" in terms of the second definition of secular, since for us who live in Christ the Way of the Cross is supposed to be seamlessly integrated into every aspect of our lives.

But back to our talk about Christmas giving and Christmas mania! It took me until too recently to realize all the gifts in the world couldn't bring me what I have come to know as "joy," but I will come to that a little later.

A few years ago on my neighbor's dad's birthday my neighbor's family received a surprise: instead of the family giving gifts to their dad, their dad gave gifts to them, telling them the best birthday present was seeing their faces and reactions when he gave gifts to them. What he gave to each person wasn't the important part—it was the gracious act of giving, in and of itself. I'm not sure the younger kids in the family have come to realize the importance of what he gave them that day, but the teenagers and the adults most definitely have! While I'll admit I am not immune to the intense consumer attitude that fills our every day lives, I desire less every year. Christmas time has become a much more spiritual and Christ-centered time for me and in more recent years I keep experiencing more and more of the hope, peace, love and joy of Advent and then Christmas; I partly thank my neighbor's experience for that.

Now for a little change of pace: I know the sermon title sounds as if I'd planned to talk about Peace, but that was so two weeks ago. I took the title from the passage in Micah we read this morning, which tells of the coming of one who is to rule in Israel whose origin is from old, ancient days. One of the best parts of the scripture reads:

Micah 5:4

"He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by GOD's strength,
centered in the majesty of GOD-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
for the whole world will hold him in respect—
Peacemaker of the world!"
Micah also foretells the one who is to come will be from the people: to hear this in that particular time had to be some pretty great news, since in those days God was a high, lofty, faraway figure; God was an eternal immortal Wholly Other and Holy Other looking down upon the earth and zapping the people who refused to believe in him and follow him; therefore, most people feared God, not as in the fear of awe-filled but in the fear of afraid. And as Mary tells her story to Elizabeth, she says, "His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him." But that's not the important part! The good news is he who is coming, the one God is sending is a mortal, a human, one from the people and one of the people: a friend, a neighbor, a human being, a person exactly like each of us, but without sin, to share our common lot and to live a life like ours, including being born of a woman and dying and being buried. As the infant in the Bethlehem manger, to this world of the earth, our God descends, willing to live among us in the image of our humanity so we might take part in his divinity!

The scripture readings keep bringing Christmas day closer and closer, focusing our attention focus more on Mary and the baby's birth; life in the world around us is reaching a peak of anticipation. The big day is almost here! Yet do all the gifts, the ornaments, the lights, the decorations and everything else Christmas has become really fill us with true Joy? How can there be any room for the true joy during this season if we fill it with all this stuff? I don't mean to be cynical, because I too find some sort of fulfillment all of it brings, but it's only second best to what we can truly get out of it all. To experience joy is to experience an intimate connection; joy is truly a spiritual experience. Christmas joy, Christ's joy is being 700 miles from your family on Christmas day, but still feel like you're part of a family here. Christmas joy, Christ-filled joy can be found in the moment a parent first sees their newborn child's eyes or at a moment in the forest when you begin growing deep roots like the tree you are leaning against and you realize you are the same as the tree, connected to the earth and to all that is in the earth. Joy could be some dark summer night when the stars seem to reach into your body and fill you with their light, or a moment when you look across the room and catch your lover's glance and know you belong. Or here in church, today, on the last Sunday of Advent: in the silence; in the music; in the laughter; joy is in everything and everybody.

Like Mary, we each carry Christ in us; each of us carries an image of the divine, but we can't look only to ourselves to find joy. We can't look to who we are, or what we can do, or what we can get. It is in what Mary and Elizabeth are celebrating. Both Elizabeth and Mary rejoice, but they are not celebrating anything of their own doing; they don't celebrate because of what they have accomplished, or because of what they deserve; they celebrate because they have been given Joy to share with the world. So again I ask, is it all worth it? Are all the things you bought going to help you to experience Joy? Maybe. It is possible if there weren't all the commercial hype surrounding Christmas, and all of it simply was a sacred celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ—if that were the case, it might get old, and we might get weary of celebrating it. Maybe the commercialization adds that variety we need to continue to feel moved by it year after year. But I ask one thing: please, never, ever forget to look for the joy of God-with-us and God-among-us in the vulnerability of the baby in the Bethlehem manger outside of all of that! Thank you!

To God be the Glory!

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Advent 2, 2003

  • The Spirit and the Church cry – Come, Lord Jesus!

  • And all who yearn for his appearing say – Come, Lord Jesus!

  • All creation pleads – Come, Lord Jesus!

  • Maranatha!

Thursday, December 04, 2003


“Why did we ever retreat into the sanctuary in the first place?”

Without delving into a lot of history and in this short space necessarily leaving out the multitude of vital functions the cathedral church assumed earlier on, especially in Europe, that whole sanctuary development has a lot to do with the rationalization and bureaucratization of Christianity ...and, as Max Weber pointed out, when religion becomes rationalized – and maybe denominationalized! – with a dichotomy between professional and non-professional (“lay?”) practitioners, that’s when the division between sacred and secular begins really big-time, and often assumes horrendous proportions, as in the Jerusalem Temple. And “horrendous proportions” as in the late Medieval church, as well, though always there have been faithful and even re-forming individuals and movements.

But modulating into a different key, I also love thinking of the church sanctuary as a place of safety, of prayer and worship, and a place where God and the people of God meet in a unique and focused way, preparing the people to recognize God’s presence wherever God and people encounter each other. In this context I need to refer to the sacraments again, since not only does God come to us with specific and special grace in the sacraments, as well as helping us remember Whose we are, but the Eucharist particularly forms one of the ways God enters our world in common, routine and everyday things and ordinary, day-by-day actions – like breaking bread and sharing a meal!

“’s important to remember we’re “marketing” the gospel, not the church! I think there’s a big danger in confusing the two. Don’t you?

Marian, yes, oh wow – thanks for the reminder this is about the gospel and about the church as one of the various vehicles that can convey the gospel...however, we also need to remember the Church is the Body of the Risen Christ!

“...maybe that should be return the church to the marketplace! Remember Luke 5:1-11?”

Called from where we are right now to go where the Spirit leads! I’ve heard that called “the mark of the stable” – begin where God says! :)

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Some thoughts on evangelism

William Brandes wrote:

“This is dying-and-rising, transformational stuff we're talking about!”
Actually, that is what marketing is about. Very important that you don't mix-up marketing and promotion. Folks do it all the time and give the focus and inventiveness, the transformational ability of marketing a bad gloss. No matter the organization. No matter your journey, marketing is a very valuable tool. Saddle Back understands it. Willow Creek does too. And, so do any number of organizations and congregations willing to focus on what business they are in.

My response:
Yes, transformational dying-and-rising! As I've previously pointed out, even the gods of the Egyptians could do the fireworks, but there were a couple of things those other gods didn't do: unconditional, unevoked and gracious presence with their people, and - resurrection from the dead!

During the 2001-2002 academic year, as I was listening in my marketing classes for the Community Economic Development program at San Diego State, I kept thinking (really!) about how I could apply some of the concepts we were learning about to the church and specifically to evangelism, though since then I'd hardly given it a thought until we began considering Willow Creek and Purpose-Drivenness on this forum. We're always cautious to admit it's not about sheer numbers, but without at least some of those numbers how far can our evangelism reach?

And we emphasize that for Jesus, since it wasn't about the signs and wonders but rather about the Sign of Jonah: death - and resurrection - and about God-with-us, God-among-us, we're not supposed to shout from the rooftops about all of those visibly spectacular miracles. I cannot get beyond the fact that, for me, the sacraments remain both the most hidden and understated as well as the most transparent evidence of the way God prefers to work among and within the people and those megachurches, despite emphasizing the Word, for the most part neglect the sacraments (aside from insisting on so-called believer's baptism). I'm still thinking that in order to say anything fair about Purpose-Drivenness I really need to read what the movement is saying about itself, instead of extrapolating my own imaginings on what they're doing.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Creativity and Creation

Let’s begin with both Genesis creation accounts: Genesis 1, the human created in God’s image: creative, will-full, and above all, created for community, for covenantal relationship. And Genesis 2, the human who carries the Spirit-ed breath of the Divine. In the creation hymn of John 1: the pre-existent Word, the Word that eternally dwelt in interrelationship, becomes “flesh” (visible, touchable, audible, scent-able, smell-able, savor-able – taste-able: in other words, humanly “experience-able” and actually HUMAN – “very human of very human!”) and lives with us. Life lived in the Word; John tells us “that life was the light of humans.” Of us! The Word through Whom creation was formed; in the Word was life . . . is relationship not the essence of that “life?” As Christians we know the Word transforms by freely calling us and drawing us into relationship. So creation/relationship is necessity, essence and passion. So true since 325 we’ve affirmed the “Godhead” or “Trinity,” but was that interrelationship truly sufficient? Was it sufficient for the Trinity’s expressive essence to be “alone” and only with itself? Think about it! Since God’s essence and attributes include love, creativity, passion, grace, giving, glory (Moses Maimonides said God is identical with God’s attributes) . . . the Trinity/Godhead was necessary from the beginning but ultimately so was physical creation itself. Creativity is God’s essence, and because Godself is un-created that creativity needs expressing somehow and somewhere. A lot of this has to do with the nature of the covenant/s into which God calls us and also enables us.

Saturday, October 11, 2003


Do all of you (any of you?) know Robert Farrar Capon’s Parables trilogy: Grace, Kingdom, and Judgment?

I recently reread the first two and read Judgment for the first time and I so need to say what he does with the concept of Word is absolutely Johannine!

Relating to Capon and regarding Word, evangelism and church in general...a while ago I heard a local Pentecostal pastor say, “It’s all about the Word; nothing happens here except by and through the Word.” Reformation Christian that I am, my immediate reaction was “What about sacrament?” But now I’m more and more aware of how sacrament encompasses and implies Word and how Word always involves and illuminates [explies?] sacrament, too. To that I’ll add nothing on earth ever existed or exists at all except by the breath of the Word of Life and the Word of God continues as creator, co-creator and renewer of all creation. So it’s primarily a matter of making people aware of the presence of the Word and the presence of salvation=wholeness=redemption in their very midst. Right here in our very midst!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Radishes in the Bible

Topical Study or Word Study or...

Since I've wondered about my current topic, "Radishes in the Bible," ever since I heard an allusion to it somewhere at whatever time that was, I decided it's high time I posted something regarding Radishes in the Bible on Desert Spirits Fire, my theology place. So here goes!

Charlotte and the White Horse,© 1955, @copy; renewed 1983 by Ruth Krauss with Maurice Sendak's exquisite illustrations (published by HarperCollins), long has been one of my favorite books, the kind of book you read over and over again. As it describes the end of the rainy season, the poetic narrative says:
the wind and the rains are gone
the grass is coming out of the ground
the leaves are coming out of the trees
the people are coming out of doors
they are coming out of windows
they are coming out and planting radishes
the worms are coming out of the old apples—the time of my singing is come.
summer radishesUnlike my usual approach, I searched for "Radishes in the Bible" and radishes Bible – which yielded 66 hits, like the number of books in the Bible! But none of those was truly biblical, so it looks like I'm on my own (as usual). To begin, the root of radishes means root, meaning it's both a root veggie (that we already know from how it grows) and it must be very basic or fundamental, as in the mathematical concept of "radical," and in the sense a person, behavior, idea or action can be radical. So far quite good. Then, the seeds germinate very fast, yielding greenery in only a few days. I remember buying one of those cool kits kids like and that contained radish seeds and appropriately radish-y soil, a very fun thing since the sower (me – we're talking about "biblical," not?) could see results really fast. So how biblical is that? According to a couple of my recent posts and in-person discussions, being fast, doing things fast and things that are fast or act fast aren't particularly biblical at all, since I've been observing how our God tends to act slowly – at least when we humans want God to be a fast God – and since a thousand years is to God as a nanosecond is to us...insights I gleaned, BTW, from the online discussion of Water Buffalo Theology I participated in a while ago. Isn't "gleaned" an agricultural word?

From Beliefnet I get a daily Torah reading along with Jewish Wisdom, and for September 15th they called the Wisdom, "To be rooted," and the quote from Simone Weil says, "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul." (from The Need for Roots found in A Treasury of Jewish Quotations, edited by Joseph L. Baron, Jason Aronson Inc.)

Enough for this time about Radishes in the Bible...

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Why One Way? 7


Why One Way? by John MacArthur

why one way coverHi again, everyone! And E, I totally agree with J about your being a most gracious and also a most supportive facilitator: knowing you is a pleasure!

First I'll respond to your asking why I don't affiliate more with more conservative Christians and say it is more them than it is me…I'd love more ecumenism vis-à-vis them and me, but they're the ones who consistently separate themselves.

M, I just got online and read your post and you've got it all right, alright! My friend and neighbor who's active at one of the large local metaphysical churches keeps telling me about "prosperity thinking" [theology??? I guess any worldview or lifestyle can become one's god-talk.] I'll try to comment further on your post at another time, but right now I have only a few minutes.

E, you wrote: "I have found in this world INTEGRITY is a quality one must constantly work at. But, I cannot think of a better quality knowing that someone's word is a bond." And God's Word is God's bond – amply and fully demonstrated in Jesus Christ!

Dr. Mac quotes Scripture in saying church leadership must be "above reproach…" as Paul points out, no one is righteous, no not one…but I agree with Dr. Mac (and with E, of course) not only church leadership but every Christian's gotta walk the talk.

In another passage E refers to Dr. Mac's asking, "But whose church is this? Is this your church to be used at your discretion, or is this Christ's church?" At Dr. Mac's church they "gather to worship God, to exalt Christ, and to hear the Word of God preached." E, your reference to Dr. Mac's pride is most telling!

"…a return to these six distinctives of Biblical Christianity…"

He says this is Christ's church, but Dr. Mac never even ever mentions the sacraments, not even a single time! How can any local church or church-body be fully biblical without a sacramental emphasis and lifestyle, without constant awareness of our baptism and of God's call to Eucharistic inclusivity?

To all participants and lurkers, a "God bless you all" and a big thank you from me, as well! This has challenged me and I've learned more of where I stand and I know our discussion participants better than I did.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Why One Way? 6


Why One Way? by John MacArthur

why one way coverHi, everyone…gosh, once again Dr. Mac so loses me! Again we need to ask, "What exactly is the Good Friday-Easter proclamation" Is it about a "personal relationship" (a concept not in Scripture) with Jesus as Personal Savior? Or isn't it rather the declaration of the end of the reign of death, the proclamation of the reality, primacy and ascendancy of the reign of life – "The Sovereignty of God," since someone on one of the other threads said "Reign of God" sounds exactly the same as "Rain of God!"

To quote a translation into English of Martin Luther's paraphrase of Psalm 46:

"That Word above all earthly powers
No thanks to them abideth
The Spirit and the gifts are ours…"
Continuing on this chapter's topic, I need to say both exclusivity – salvation only in the Christ event – and inclusivity – that the salvific Christ Event has a cosmic, totally all-encompassing scope and reach to all creation, whether or not the person or entity affirms Jesus as "personal savior" or publicly confesses the name of Jesus.

Nehemiah chapters 8 and 9 are wonderful, but we need to read them in historical context, and since that's available in a lot of places I won't go into it here. Here are the verses our facilitator mentioned:
Nehemiah 9:2: "And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners..."

2 Cor 6:14: "Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

E also suggested:

2 Corinthians 11:4: "For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted…"
and then E, you questioned,

"How does they apply when we worship? Are those verses and example authoritative? Are we incompatible?" And, "May I ask respectfully those who would worship with other faiths if you love Jesus how can we not proclaim Him? Or why would "you deny Him before men." Or are you proclaiming Jesus but .... (fill in the blank)."

For me, ecumenical Christian services are simplicity in that regard, though most more doctrinally conservative Christians around here almost never associate with more liberal Christian types, since in general they don't consider people like me really Christian partly because of our not considering the Bible literally inerrant. So far as interfaith services go (and especially since 9/11/2001 we've had a bunch of those here in Paradise) if I have an opportunity to speak in public I always self-identify as Christian; when I'm not part of the leadership I don't say unless people ask. My point is there's only one true God so whoever worships God worships the one true God, and I'd be very uncomfortable with Satan worshipers, for example, but that's not the issue here?

Again Dr. Mac's doing Scripture as the "objective, authoritative truth of God," rather than Christ Jesus as the truth he proclaimed himself to be.

E, you closed with, "E loves Jesus, the ultimate TRUTH! Have a great Lord's day!" I'll echo with "Leah loves Jesus, the ultimate TRUTH!" And with "everyone have a great Lord's day," too! That's exactly what it's about – it's about the living Christ, and about the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to the extent that they reflect and proclaim Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Why One Way? 5


Why One Way? by John MacArthur

why one way coverThere were some things I really liked on the first couple of pages of chapter 5, so I'll mention those and then go on to express my dismay about what I really did NOT like further on in 5! First, together with E I like Dr. Mac's saying the authority of the Word of God is the authority of Godself, rather than of any office, calling, church body, or any other expression of the church. And I love his words, "To speak boldly and declare that God has spoken with finality is neither stylish nor politically correct." I also much appreciate his describing our decision as Christians as being "to accept Scripture and set its authority and ourselves against the rest of the world."

But as he continues, once again he's totally lost sight of the ambiguity, vulnerability and sometimes outright plain complexity of the manifestation of the Word the Good Book is. Again he uses the phrase "biblical Christianity!" Well, I totally believe my Christianity is "biblical" and becoming more so every day, but it's not much like what Dr. Mac's been talking about! I won't comment again on his saying "effeminate and powerless" in the same breath!

"False religion!" With M, I'm not sure how much more of this I can take, but I also know for a fact this kind of discussion and exploration is very good for opinionated "moi." I have no trouble whatsoever with the course description (BTW, from Claremont) that appalls him so. And I sure do need a large does of humility these days! I agree with M that God enjoyed everything about the picnic she described and I also believe (in all humility) God likes interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

Someone asked,
I guess the real question is — what constitutes an "other worldview?" is it Islam vs. Christianity or is it the teachings of Christ (mercy, humility, compassion) vs. the teachings of the materialistic, self-centered and self-interested world?
I think you're absolute correct in saying that's the "other worldview" we see in the life of Christ and in his teaching, so in closing and once again, I need to ask Dr. Mac, "where is the person and work of Jesus Christ in all of this?"

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Why One Way? 4


Why One Way? by John MacArthur

"A Christian worldview." "Authentic Christianity…is concerned first and foremost with truth" "Biblical Christianity is all about truth." "God's objective revelation (the Bible)…" One of the conservative Christian buzz phrases regarding scripture is propositional revelation. So we have the KJV and NASB (other translations, too?) laid out with each verse as a separate statement, a distinctive "proposition," so the reader can rest assured knowing it's all clean and neat and clearly defined.

why one way coverEarl, it looks as if you and I pulled out some of the same concepts from this chapter! I very much like Dr. Mac's saying on page 42, "Christian truth…isn't nullified by changes in worldly opinion or standards or political correctness. It doesn't need to be adapted and redefined for every generation." And, "The same truth Abraham, Moses, David and the apostles believed is still truth for us." Right on! And to be picky, Timothy's deutero-Paul! On page 45 he says what I wrote in an earlier post about letting scripture interpret scripture, so I gotta agree with him there, as well. Together with Earl, I like his saying, "Real faith involves the assent of the mind and the submission of the will to the truth." IOW, not a feeling, though I agree with Dr. Mac that reflecting on God's self revelation and salvation in the course of our human history will generate some extremely intense emotions.

But, "…the truth is instrumental in salvation? …hearing and embracing the truth…we are called…to proclaim Scripture as the supreme truth against every lie propagated by the world." ??? I'll think about that, though I need to say, "called to proclaim Christ Jesus crucified and risen!" And, of course to proclaim, "God still among us and God still with us!"

From Dr. Mac I want to hear about the possibility and the reality of transformative relationship(s), about our God who calls a people and in covenant creates a people. The biblical accounts of the people of God for sure are messy, untidy and frequently chaotic narratives of people living, loving, sinning and dying, but they're also about our God entering the people's history to the extent of tabernacling, of "pitching a tent" to live among the people, of God in Jesus Christ literally dying to love creation, and of God daring and risking to call the people – yes the people!!!!! – as God's partners in bringing salvation, wholeness and healing to a broken world. Why One Way? is a short book that can't possibly cover everything, but Dr. Mac is making Christianity too much of a head way rather than a relational heart way.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Why One Way? 3


Why One Way? by John MacArthur

why one way cover

Moving right along, or I would be, but I open every file I had about chapter 3 and the title, "Rationality" was the only content.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Why One Way? 2


Why One Way? by John MacArthur

One of the discussion participants posted: "The Bible in the UCC is viewed as "the authoritative witness to the Word of God" that's us right?"

Although I didn't participate in the survey you mentioned, I'd call the biblical witness "authoritative," though technically my description of its authority most likely would place me within the 30%. As we teach in Sunday school the Bible's not a history textbook, not a science textbook, not a book of rules and not a book of general religious platitudes, but a highly specific witness to the saving acts of a Holy, Transcendent, still-Living God as that Sovereign God calls and forms a covenant people, completing the redemption, liberation and deliverance of all creation in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the human one, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we affirm and celebrate as the ultimate and definitive manifestation of God.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority: for me, the biblical text has authority to the degree it "shows forth Christ," to paraphrase Martin Luther, which some passages do splendidly, others really not at all.

why one way coverCurrently I'm without call, but people in the congregations I've served literally have been all over the map in their views of biblical authority, from a scattered few who openly said they wanted "nothing to do with that old Bible stuff," to folks who were literalists to the last comma and period – though not necessarily KJV adherents – to some others who considered the Bible an authority in a vague, exceptionally freewheeling manner, to a bunch that pretty much concurred with most of my interpretations (must've been listening to me!).

M said, "And sometimes God-truth gets made the most real in story, myth and song. Then as now." And I respond, "Amen, amen, and AMEN!!!"

Dr. Mac "truthfully" loses me when he writes (page 24), "But if we really believe Scripture is the Word of God, why should we balk at saying it has an objective meaning, it is absolutely true, and all other interpretations are false!...The Bible is God's revelation to us." The cultures into which the biblical texts were revealed and recorded simply didn't run with the same post-enlightenment view of truth, objectivity and accuracy we've inherited from the Enlightenment, and which, as he admits, post-modernism has pretty much discredited. As I said last evening, for me, as a Reformation Christian, Jesus Christ is the "true" Word of God; the sacraments are visible words, too. Although casually I frequently refer to scripture as the "Word of God," Christ Jesus is God's definitive Word of revelation, telling us of our created-in-the Divine-image-humanity, God's Word insisting on justice (the righteousness of God!) for all creation, the still-speaking Divine Word of Life.

Dr. Mac claims, "Scripture…is also sufficient to equip us thoroughly with all the spiritual truth we need." If by "spiritual truth" he means revelation about the Holy and Transcendent Other self-revealed in Jesus Christ, I'll agree. And for sure there are many times that the written words of scripture leap off the Bible's pages to become incarnate and human in various ways, but Dr. Mac appears to be seeking the kinds of cut-and-dried answers we can't obtain anywhere as we live in this world.

Our author uses the expressions, "authentic Christianity" and "historic Christianity." But it seems as if he's not particularly in touch with Christianity's historic and cultural – and religious – origins! So I'm struggling to converse with Dr. Mac, since he and I seem to be running on divergent tracks.

But I'm still thinking!

J, excellent points, thanks! Some of Dr. Mac's writing does sound biblio-idolatrous, and indeed, the decision to canonize which books was very rooted in culture and history; IOW, for cultural and historical reasons we (on this thread) might decide different writings "should" be canonical.

I don't hear enough about the person and work of Jesus Christ from Dr. Mac, though the book's title references the "One Way" of Jesus Christ. Go figure.

W wrote, "I worry when we take the Bible as THE ONLY word of God. God speaks in so many ways…when I disagree with the "message" do I ignore it because I disagree... when MAYBE the message is coming from God?"

Part of F's response included, "Perhaps some of us dwell too much on the written Word and do not stop to listen to God's spoken Word in our hearts and minds. In learning to listen to God's spoken Word, we may also learn to listen to God's written Word in a new way!"

Yes, yes, yes – it's about the Word again becoming a reality we can sense and therefore really appreciate and appropriate as a part of us, part of our very living, breathing and relating – an incarnate word! W, I know discerning the spirit behind the message has gotta be one of the most difficult things we do, and despite all the classical "tests" we can perform to decide the validity of the message, sheer human obstinacy still often remains in the foreground and in the background…you KWIM! The day finally arrives when all a person can do is what they see as the most likely and least unlikely choice.

M, your words remind me of my writing a couple of days ago that I think I was a better preacher and teacher before I'd learned quite so much about the incredible complexities of biblical interpretation! As I just said to W, as the deadlines loom, sometimes you need to Just do it ® – to quote and credit Nike from a couple years back.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Biblical Christianity

The Church in the World

Doing yet another CROP Walk, helping build another Habitat for Humanity have become expected Christian “works.” People have told me they think my “religiousness” is silly or superstitious. I can roll with it, though! Because biblical Christianity ain’t popular! But if one simply were a “spiritual” person, that’d probably be OK with most of the rest of society. It’s the activism, the concern for the sojourner, the stranger, the “other” whom our God became in Christ Jesus that makes us less than trendy. I like describing Christians as “salt and light!” I’ll add “leaven” to that, as well.

To comment on “modernism ‘…began with a presupposition that nothing supernatural is real…’” Much of the world’s offense regarding the Bible remains its peculiarly and particularly not-spiritual witness, though of course I acknowledge it as the narrative describing a Holy Transcendent Other’s actions and interventions in creation’s life and history that makes its witness so physical and material!

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Why One Way? 1

The Church in the World

Why One Way? by John MacArthur

Moving into chapter 1: first of all, thank you, thank you to our moderator for your most gracious "facilitation" of our discussion! Thanks everyone else for participating, too.

Have I ever been "seriously 'hated'" for believing in something so fully? I've being called inappropriate, unchristian and who knows what else, because I do insist on taking a stand and why one way coverwhenever necessary I insist on demonstrating my convictions. The lonely individual stance is what's difficult – doing yet another CROP Walk, helping build another Habitat for Humanity have become expected Christian "works." The same as M's experience, people have told me they think my "religiousness" is silly or superstitious. I can roll with it, though! Because biblical Christianity ain't popular! But if one simply were a "spiritual" person, that'd probably be OK with most of the rest of society. It's the activism, the concern for the sojourner, the stranger, the "other" whom our God became in Christ Jesus that makes us less than trendy. I love E's describing us as "salt and light!" I'll add "leaven" to that, as well.

To comment on modernism "…began with a presupposition that nothing supernatural is real…" Much of the world's offense regarding the Bible remains its peculiarly and particularly not-spiritual witness, though of course I acknowledge it as the narrative describing a Holy Transcendent Other's actions and interventions in creation's life and history that makes its witness so physical and material! That's all for now; I'll be back tomorrow!

Saturday, August 16, 2003

On Heaven

Desert Spirits Fire on Heaven

I'll comment on what seems to be the central concern. Yes, I believe ultimately everyone will "go to heaven" – once again, Jesus promises to "draw all to himself." The gift of reconciliation, restoration, wholeness, healing is offered to all – and when God offers a gift, God never rescinds the offer – God's Word is sure and God cannot contradict Godself: in Christ Jesus, the incarnation of the Eternal Word, we have physical evidence of the fulfillment of all God's promises, although I'm not a universalist in the sense that I consider all "religions," all "ways" equally good and valid. Back to Elmer: I agree that whatever heaven is, it definitely needs to be "different from our present reality," though we catch glimpses of the heaven experience off and on, now and again. Doesn’t this get back to our definition of "heaven" – whether it's a here-and-now, a hereafter-now, or some of both (which is what I consider heaven to be). Being bold with my experiences and emotions again, I'll say "homecoming" is my definitive description of heaven.

Election? Well, (semi-)orthodox Reformed theologian that I am, I believe in election, but I read the Bible as proclaiming God has elected every part of creation to be redeemed, reconciled, made whole – whatever terminology works for you. Since linear time is a gift of God's condescension to humanity/creation, and because God is outside of and beyond both time and space, God has foreknowledge of any "future" creation may experience.

"Does the Bible make exclusive claims?" Yes!!!!! The song of the scriptures we affirm sings of a God of Sovereignty and Glory, a God Who expresses power and dominion in love, mercy – and justice; a God Who reveals his Glory ultimately in becoming one of us, in being "high and lifted up" on a cross of shame in solidarity with society's outcasts, those he declares most worthy of positions at his right and at his left. Scripture sings of a holy, righteous God of justice Whose children also partake of the Divine crucified glory.

For me the Bible's and Jesus' central message (in Marty Haugen's words in his "Now the Feast and Celebration") remains:

For God has come to dwell with us
to make us people of God
to make all things new!!!

And I've long assumed our faithful God will eternally indwell all creation.

Friday, August 01, 2003

More Theology of the Cross Notes

When I saw your introductory post for Chapter 4b I started thinking before reading, and a few minutes ago I checked our thread again where you said, "What I think IS foolishness, a stumbling block, and just plain ANATHEMA to our culture is the Christian claim that we are not made for ourselves, we do not live for ourselves and we do not die for ourselves." Exactly! I was planning to respond to your previously asking, “Just what is it about our faith that is 'foolishness' to our culture?” And I’ll say that peculiar foolishness is evident in our proclaiming we worship the foolishness, the indignity, of our God crucified; when we proclaim the reality of resurrection, when we aspire to living in the weakness, vulnerability, shame and dishonor of servanthood rather than existing in the comfort and triumph of being served. This gets back to the un-churched and de-churched considering Christianity yet another possible selection on the smorgasbord of spiritual delights: it's all about "me and me," and maybe peripherally about "I" but not about an "I" truly connected to any other "I." Our God crucified, dead – and risen – isn't about prosperity thinking, isn't about conspicuous achievement; it's unreasonable and illogical and unscientific.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Our slow God...

Our slow God...for 40 years wandered in the wilderness with the people of God

that God might learn what was in the hearts of the people of God

and that the people might learn one doesn’t live by bread alone…

God created us in the image of God, so that image includes:

  • creativity
  • love
  • naming, designating
  • [limited!] sovereignty over creation
  • justice!
  • community
  • free will and the capacity to choose
  • and slowness!

Thursday, June 12, 2003


Breathing Life of all, Breath of the Merciful, Giver of the Journey, Creator of the Cosmic Dance, Mystery of Life and Hope Eternal, send your Spirit into our lives, open our hearts to your truth and grant us wisdom to follow your voice, that the Risen Christ will live in each of us. In the name of the one who came that we might have life let us give thanks and praise to our God for such a gift, in Jesus’ name we pray!


Thanks to Nan C. Merrill and her Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness...

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

10 theological issues...

(my reflections about) 10 theological issues facing theologians in the U.S.:

• Interdependent World

• The Bible

• Proclamation, accommodation and syncretism

• U.S. megalomania, economic and cultural imperialism

• Economic greed and consumerism

• Cultural, spiritual and religious relativism

• The Church’s identity and the meaning of that identity: can the organism known as the Body of the Risen Christ coexist with the institutional church?

• Education of clergy and especially education of laity

• Ecumenism – can we mainline churches (Protestant and Roman Catholic) live, study, talk and work, pray and worship with those not like us church bodies?

• Taking academic theology to the streets, as some already have been doing

Friday, May 23, 2003

Eucharist notes again!

So far as reception of the sacrament is concerned, I agree with Jürgen Moltmann: Jesus' invitation to his Table is prevenient – there for the taking. For me the Eucharist is multivalent and its meanings inexhaustible. But the question as to age or condition (or whatever) at reception of the sacrament interests me especially since the Reformers insisted on keeping Word and Sacrament tightly yoked; in losing the Word, the late Medieval Church had lost the essence of the sacraments, and I’m convinced there have been and continue to be churches that have "lost" the sacraments and in doing so have lost the Word's essence, since God’s self giving in Jesus Christ is at the heart of both proclaimed Word and visible Word.

But part of the reasoning against admitting infants and young children to the Table is in the need to retain the unity of Word and Sacrament, so for some people the question becomes whether the potential recipient has heard and received the read and proclaimed Word. This evening I've simply putting the suggestion out for consideration since, despite having said that, I feel none of us is "keeper of the sacraments" and authorized to exclude those whom Jesus already has included.

One more note, though. Robert McAfee Brown suggests persons who in their daily lives haven't been practicing justice, righteousness, hospitality and inclusion maybe should be excluded from the eschatological Eucharistic feast! Any ideas on that?

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Another reply to Leahkim

Leahkim, you wrote:

Often people who don’t believe things can happen, they don’t try hard enough for things to happen. Wouldn’t you agree on that? …sometimes it is really hard to draw the line between realist and pessimist. have hoped and still continue to hope…for many impossible things… Many then thought impossible…became so possible and came true. As long as we can keep our head straight and open our hearts to a warmer brighter side…not giving up…Trying our best…. Hope will exist…

Besides… nobody believed that Jesus was going to rise from death…and he did…

Let’s hope and let’s try our best to make that dream and hope…wish come true.

So much to think about! They didn’t believe Jesus was going to rise from death (theological technicality: “be raised” from death) and when they first encountered the Risen Christ, they still didn’t believe it! We humans have tremendously preconceived ideas of what is possible, and sometimes we are so unseeing and unhearing when anything even slightly outside of our concepts of the range of possibility appears in our lives.

Seems as if a lot of what you’re saying is when people don’t believe (trust), then they don’t try doing or accomplishing anything. One of my most recent posts on this site was about God working through us – I read somewhere God does nothing without human cooperation: I won’t go quite that far, as I think at times God does directly intervene in earthly affairs with what we might call a “miracle,” but for the most part not only the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ is responsible for God’s presence and God’s activity and work in the world; in addition, God has no problem with anonymity, not needing or wanting or expecting to get credit for everything the way humans insist upon.

The biblical writers – especially Jesus and the prophets – the early Church we hear about in the book of Acts and the Church today and all people everywhere, find themselves walking and living such an exceedingly fine line between hope and trust and action and “works!” Without necessarily considering and intending our activities and responses as works righteousness, still seems like people truly and firmly believe God should be giving them points or credits adding up on their charts for everything they try to do and achieve. I know I think that way more often than not!

Then, of course, Jesus is extremely clear about whatever we do to “the least of these” is as if we’d done it to him, and therefore to God, as we know Jesus both as human and as the definitive manifestation of Divinity. Because of this, any reasonable person – especially any reasonable Christian, definitely would strive to start and to finish as many kind and merciful and redemptive actions as possible.

As it says in the Bible: “With God all things are possible;” “With God nothing is impossible;” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” And that’s when and where our trusting hope and our serious action both need to happen! After all, if the Mighty God of all Creation, our God of Majesty, Glory and Sovereignty could be born on this earth into human society and live and die as one of us, what on earth is not possible?!

In any case, since God indwells each of us as Spirit, and since God works through not only Christians, the body of the Risen Christ, in order to be God with humanity but God also has no difficulty at all working through not Christians as well as people who affirm no Higher Power whatsoever, how much more “unbelievable” can you get?

You also said, “Trying our best…” It appears to me one of our most serious human sins is not in trying to be more than we are, more than we were created to be, but our most serious sin is willingness to be less than we are, less than God created us to be! I know I find myself willing to settle for less (OK, less from myself and less from others) than I “should” – and I say “should” very advisedly!

Holy Week 2003

It’s after Easter; I’d started writing this early in Holy Week, intending to email it to friends and post it on my theology website, Desert Spirit’s Fire Alive. But since I didn’t finish it sufficiently to meet my own timeline, here it is now!

The rumors of war became war, and reports are the allies have been victorious in combat and in their soon to be occupying endeavors. Again contemplating the One both crucified and risen, Whose Word above all is God’s Word of Life to us and for us… I’m moving from the more academic to the more explicitly experiential, so rather than commenting on the War in Iraq that’s winding down, I’ll write about God’s actions in my own life. As again I think about and finally begin feeling about these past years of my journey with the Lord of Life, I watch myself on the periphery of my current communities – ecclesial or otherwise, actual and virtual – and even as I ask myself why I don’t risk integrating myself further into the life of those groups, I’m constantly aware moving closer into the center also invariably and inevitably means moving closer to the edge and the concomitant risk of my being pushed off the edge into marginalization again! Dramatic, but true! Really!

As I’ve frequently mentioned during this past year, our God’s ultimate passion is to journey with the people, and as the Bible and Jesus tell us and show us, its being about the journey means God goes everywhere with you and with me and God can be found by us especially when we meet together in community.

Many, many thanks to all of you who’ve been accompanying me on this walk in trust of the Living One. Without naming specific names (there are so many of you and I couldn’t leave out any of you), special appreciation to those of you who’ve encouraged me in spiritual practice outside the usual expressions of mainline Protestantism. Although I’m convinced I’ll always, always affirm the Reformation “solas,” these new experiences have helped in my remaining not only a Christian of Reformation tradition but also a Reforming Christian.

Extreme thanks, also, to the very many of you who in actual or virtual conversation have provoked my thinking (not hard to do, but still I appreciate it!) that – among other things – has resulted in my website, Desert Spirits Fire Alive!

A lot of the irresolution I constantly live with, which has been over the top as well, can be redeemed only by becoming redemptive for others. Last week I though a lot and felt a whole lot as the Church moved into another Holy Week and particularly another Good Friday, but with constant awareness our God's final answer always is Resurrection: above all God’s Word is the “Word of Life!” To us and, above all, for us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you all!

Sunday, April 20, 2003

God Among Us!

According to the Bible (and Jesus!), here’s how it works:

God says, “I have heard the cry of my people and I have come down to deliver them from slavery and bring them into a broad land flowing with milk and honey!”

Then God says: “Hey Moses! I’m sending you to Pharaoh and you’re gonna tell Pharaoh to set my people free [so they may hold a Feast to me in the wilderness…]! Then you will lead my people out of Egyptian bondage, through the desert and into the Land of Promise, a place of freedom flowing with milk and honey.”

A little later the people beg: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down to earth!”

Then, as Walter Brueggemann expresses it: “This baby named ‘Save!!!!!’”…born into human history, born of a woman, born under the law…in order to deliver those of us under the law!

And still later: “Wait here in Jerusalem until you are clothed with Power from on High; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Samaria and even unto the ends of the earth.”

Now? We’re the ones immersed into Jesus’ death and resurrection in the waters of baptism, we’re the people “clothed with Power from on High!”

Once again God says, “I have heard the cry of my people and I have come down to deliver them from slavery and bring them into a broad land flowing with milk and honey!… Then you [that’s us, the Church!] will lead the people out of bondage, through the desert and into the Land of Promise, a place of freedom flowing with milk and honey.”

To deliver God’s people into the paradisiacal Kingdom of God on earth: from life under the law and into the Promised Land of the Reign of Grace. Presbyterians describe the Church as “The exhibition of the Kingdom of God!!” May we be the exhibition and the realization of Heaven to a world in pain and bondage a world still in need of deliverance…even though it is past the ninth hour and the temple veil has been torn apart; even though it is early Easter dawn and the stone has been rolled away!

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Words about Hope

Leahkim! Thank you for the ideas – since you’ve been reading Homeland, I’ll thank Lu Xun, as well!

You said:
Hope is not a virtue that was with us from the beginning. Hope is something that springs forth from nothingness. Hope is something that exists only for those who know how to hope. Hope exists only for those who believe in it. And in the end, those who persist in thinking that hope does not exist, simply end up proving themselves right.

I want to pick up on “Hope…springs forth from nothingness” and “Hope exists only for those who believe in it.”

Hope springs forth from nothingness? So true: creation and re-creation and the New Creation spring forth from:

1) emptiness, void, abyss

2) Chaos, disarray

3) Death. Absence of life.

God’s living Word, Jesus Christ calls forth Creation, re-creation and the New Creation.

As we move into Easter but look back to Advent, the beginning of the church’s liturgical year, the way God’s judgment always is illuminated and clarified by hope – often joyously dancing out of sin, aimlessness and destruction - is unmistakable, just as our endless immersion in God’s ever-present compassion, mercy and love is abundantly plain.

As we meet Christ Jesus, the One both crucified and risen in the Eucharist and in the world – in one another and especially in the stranger, sojourner and the not-like-us in our midst and also beyond the confines of our neighborhood – and as we offer hospitality to that alien – we, the Church, the Body of the risen Christ, as individuals and as a community move beyond hope to actualize and enact in our midst a time of salvation and of wholeness both for the “other” and for ourselves! All of us, the outsider and those we know and who are similar to us journey from an absence of life and community, from nothingness and emptiness between “us” and “them,” to connectedness and community: to life and the possibility of even more life!

But does the hope capable of generating life in this present moment, that evokes the presence of Spirit…does hope exist “only for those who believe in it?” I’m not convinced! In the Biblical witness – and each of our lives – so very often God works mightily in spite of us, far more frequently than because of us! But I am persuaded a lively hope can be a whole lot easier for those of us who’ve already experienced it and who because of experience find trust in hope easier.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Woman who anointed Jesus

Yesterday was Tuesday in Holy Week; at our evening Voices of Eve liturgy we remembered and celebrated the anonymous (to us!) Woman Who Anointed Jesus.

Our conversation afterwards got onto a different track, so I'll write a couple more theological pieces now.

"Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon king!" Members of the temple hierarchy and theological establishment – both guys – anointed Solomon king to reign in glory and live in palatial opulence. They anointed Solomon king within the recognized, reputable and totally expected imperial structure, within the humanly established order of earthly affairs. Jesus talked about "Solomon in all his glory!"

In that society, in that religious culture, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil poured onto their heads; in that time and place, the only feet that got anointed were the feet of dead people, of corpses. At the house of a leper, the dwelling of a person wholly marginalized by society, a woman nameless to us anointed Jesus not to reign in life but anointed Jesus to his death, a dying in the glory of the cross. A woman – someone with no part in the entire Temple array, one who never could be a priest because of gender and caste – anointed Jesus, way outside of legitimately sanctioned and reputable arrangements and expectations, according to worldly reason and logic, but right within God’s upside down, illegitimate order, God's own scheme that invalidates and inverts most people's imaginings of what should be! The Way of the Cross ... the Divinely established order of human affairs.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

A Lord's Prayer for Justice

A Lord's Prayer for Justice (OFM Capuchin of Ireland)

In our scheme of things, survival of the fittest is the rule. In God’s scheme, survival of the weakest is the rule. God always stands on the side of the weak, and it is there – among the weak – we find God!

Our Father.
Who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned. This is the insight of the saints.

Who art in heaven.
Where everything will be reversed, upside down, where the first will be last, and the last will be first.

Hallowed be Thy Name.
May we acknowledge your holiness; your ways are not our ways.

Your Kingdom come.
Help us to create a world where we will walk justly, speak tenderly, and walk humbly with you and with each other.

Your will be done.
Open our freedom to let you in, so the complete mutuality that characterizes your life may flow through our veins.

On earth as in heaven.
May the work of our hands reflect the justice of heaven.

Life and love to us, and help us always to see everything as a gift. Help us to know nothing comes to us by rights, and that we must give because we have been given to.

The truly plural ‘us’. Give, not just to our own, but to everyone including those who are very different from the narrow ‘us’.

This day.
Not tomorrow. Do not let us put things off into some indefinite future, so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice.

Our daily bread.
So each person in the world may have clean air, pure water, enough food, health care, access to education, and so have the basis of a healthy life.

And forgive us our trespasses.
Forgive us our blindness towards our neighbor, our obsessive preoccupation, our racism. Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it.

As we forgive those who trespass.
Help us to forgive those who victimize us. Help us to mellow our spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect parents, the family or the community that wounded us.

And do not put us to the test.
Do not judge only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothes to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor. Spare us this test, for none of us can stand before this gospel scrutiny. Give us instead more days to mend our ways, our selfishness and our systems.

But deliver us from evil.
Deliver us from the blindness that lets us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.


Thursday, April 03, 2003


One of the revolutionary thing about YHWH is that Yahweh, unlike the other gods of the Ancient Near East, didn’t require appeasement, tribute, protection or beseeching! What does Yahweh require and demand? Here’s some scriptural evidence:

Amos 5:18-24

I hate, I loathe, I despise your festivals
I am not appeased by and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer Me burnt offerings—and grain offerings—
I will not accept them; …
Spare Me the noise of your songs,
I will not listen to or hear the music of your lutes and harps.
But let justice well up like water,
And righteousness like an unfailing ever-flowing stream.

Micah 6:8

…And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?

3rd Isaiah: Isaiah 58:6-8

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to set the broken free, and to shatter every subjugation?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring into your house the homeless, cast-out poor, to cover the naked and defenseless, and not to conceal yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the morning dawn, and your healing shall spring forth speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your safety and security.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Incarnational Theology

I need to respond to “incarnational!”

By definition Christianity is incarnational, consequently Christian theology is incarnational! Our central Christian hermeneutic is that our transcendent God of glory and majesty lived on this earth and died on a tree of shame as one of us, in the course of ordinary linear human history; in Jesus we discover the mighty God of all creation most fully and wholly self-revealed in those who are the weakest, the most defenseless, most insignificant and least consequential in their relationships to reputable society and to the economic and political establishments; Jesus showed us and told us the presence of the Holy One of Being is most abundantly and completely found in the “least of these,” hidden yet apparent in the manger, in the everyday words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the “Human One”; apparent and hidden in the human Jesus dying defenseless on the cross of death which for us becomes the instrument of our new life: in Jesus God “shared our common lot,” as the UCC Statement of Faith concisely says of God’s incarnation, God’s “enfleshment” in Jesus.

And Jesus tells us whenever we serve one of the “least of these” in essence we serve him and therefore we serve the Holy and Living One, the God beyond Time and beyond Space, since we confess Jesus as the definitive demonstration and expression of God’s glory and majesty – and power.

Mother Teresa really “got it” – to Mother Teresa her people were the Christ and to her people she was the Christ! But more than Mother Teresa personally “getting it” herself, the Spirit of God and of the Christ – the Spirit each of us received in baptism – indwelt Mother Teresa and worked through her life and ministry.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

God and Law and Order

Do you think God stands in opposition to law & order? Is God an anarchist?

Well, – as at least some evidence of God’s point of view regarding "law and order," we can consider the "P" Pentateuch source – and then there’s always Paul’s Spirit-filled and Spirit-led admonition to the Corinthians to do their prophesying and speaking in tongues "decently and in order." In terms of anarchy, God’s definitely an anarchist concerning the established, comfortable (uncomfortable?), top-down-authority arrangement of human power and clout, with a scandalous preference for "the lost, the least, the little and the last" to quote Robert Farrar Capon’s succinct summary.

There’s lots more, but I wanted to respond to your question!

God and Power

In this Sunday’s Genesis 9 pericope, God sets his bow – his weapon – in the clouds as a sign of the covenant; God lays down his bow – his weapon; in passion for relationship with creation – with us – our God disarms!! God’s bow in the cloud becomes a physical, visible, sensible sign of God’s covenant of grace with Noah and with every living creature; a foretaste of God’s ultimate covenant of grace as Jesus the Christ dies completely defenseless and weaponless, without revenge or retribution.

Genesis 9:12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth…”

Monday, February 17, 2003

Power and Sovereignty

As Christians our ultimate model of power is our God of glory, majesty and sovereignty willingly abrogating that power and becoming “small for us in Christ” – as Martin Luther expressed it: small enough to die. For us. From Christmas and the vulnerability of the manger we go to Good Friday and the vulnerability and absolute defenselessness of the cross. As Christians we confess we find the height of God’s sovereignty in the vulnerability and weakness – in the hiddenness – of a human dying on the scandal of a tree. We discover and recognize the fullness of the Shekinah Glory – the glory of the presence of God – in the weakness of Jesus, “The Human One,” who dies without defense. And that powerlessness proved enough to annihilate the powers and principalities; it was sufficient to effect the death of the old order of death itself; Jesus’ dying on the tree of death that paradoxically becomes the Tree of Life. Our Good Friday / East Sunday proclamation is the end of the supremacy of death and the birth, the ascendancy of the primacy of life – the eschatological reign of the Power of God, most eloquently uncovered and found in the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen One both Human and Divine who shared our common lot and in whose birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension we know and affirm the definitive manifestation of the God beyond time and beyond space. For Paul, the human Jesus becomes the divine Christ at his death and resurrection…and Paul determined “to preach only Christ crucified.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Synagogue and Basilica...

Synagogue and Basilica are meeting places...Church is people! Some Christians are careful to refer to the church building, physical plant as “meeting house.” The Churches of the Reformation usually reserve “church” as the word for either the local church or the universal church catholic and use terms like “synod,” “conference,” “association,” “presbytery,” etc., for the in-between entities or expressions of the Church.

I can’t lose sight of God’s self revelation in the Christ, and I do equate the historical Jesus and the Christ. And since we’re Christed when we reveal, proclaim God to the world (2 Corinthians 5:18 19) we are called (ekklesia, “called out” (of the world)) to reveal God to the world. As you pointed out, during Paul’s ministry, the Way later known as “Christianity” hadn’t yet been fully grown.

Although there’s definitely and clearly a sometimes neglected third dimension, spiritual dimension to Jesus’ Gospel, I want to return to my earlier caution against over-spiritualizing Jesus’ life and mission. Jesus’ revelation of the Father is earthy, earthly and earthbound. So is the Way of Jesus! Though Jesus’ way also is contemplation. For some reason the 19th and 20th centuries lost sight of this earthly reality – something it’s easy for relatively comfortable middle-class types to do.

Liberation theology categories bring us back to God’s self revelation in scripture and in the Christ Event. Mary of the Magnificat is a central liberation theology concept and text:

“He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly, the hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.” –Luke 1:52 53

These words are grounded! Aren’t those happenings demonstrated by Jesus’ life and kerygma, Jesus’ proclamation? I also like the liberation theology theme of the obliteration of SHAME: middle-class mainline U.S. Christianity often emphasizes annihilation of individual sin and guilt…as devastating and as paralyzing as sin and guilt can be, shame is a far more cosmic category, visited upon individuals, cultures and societies by forces outside of themselves, forces over which they have no control – Paul’s apocalyptic “powers and principalities.” …although the historical roots of deutero-Paul’s exposition of and concern with the powers and principalities was somewhat “other than” what I’ve been writing about.

To paraphrase Christiaan Beker in Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel, the Church is the sign of the dawn of the new age and of the powers of life over and against the powers of death, and God calls the Church to active engagement with the world in order to fulfill its redemptive mission in the world. As I’d express it, God calls the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, to be an instrument of grace to the world.

As an aside, although, as you suggested, Paul may have been calling “on the Name of the Lord” on the fabled Damascus Road, I’m not completely convinced, since often grace and salvation break unbidden into life…into this world.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Administration of Baptism

From Paul we know we’re baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and we’re baptized – immersed – into a boundless community. So concerning administration of baptism, we need to ask what is the Good Friday / Easter proclamation into which we’re baptized? And what are the characteristics and the qualities of the Galatians 3:28 community?

The first verse of the first lesson for the first Sunday of Advent (our current year B): “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” —Isaiah 64:1

Though sometimes we refer to the sacraments as “efficacious,” which generally is defined as their being channels of grace or as having “saving power,” the sacraments themselves don’t save; so denying either sacrament to anyone doesn’t mean we’re refusing them the wholeness and the now-ness of God’s actualization of the time of salvation in Christ Jesus. God’s extravagance indisputably doesn’t depend upon the church’s performing the sacraments – the sacraments remain signs of grace; they don’t actualize grace. The sacraments signify and replicate the Christ Event rather than actually being the salvific Christ Event. Yahweh’s neither needing nor requiring protection or tribute from the people was one of the many revolutionary and sensational aspects of Israel’s God and consonant with that reality; many of you observed God’s faithfulness no way is limited to those of us who celebrate sacramental liturgies; God cannot do other than be faithful to her / his essence of redemptive love for all creation.

And I agree when Don suggests what an awesome model of the inclusivity of God’s Sovereignty it is to welcome and to baptize the stranger in our midst – the outcast who may never again be in our community’s presence. As Abraham Heschel reminds us, God is an outcast, God is in exile, and as Jesus tells us, when we minister to the sojourner, the “other,” the not-like-us, we serve Jesus – in fact we serve the Wholly and Holy Other Whom Jesus manifests and represents. Since God excludes no one from this New Sovereignty no matter what, how can we exclude anyone from the font or from the table? But do we need to baptize or celebrate Eucharist? Though Jesus did command us to baptize and to remember him with bread and cup…

Throughout the biblical witness are a proliferation of “types” or foreshadowings of the decisive reconciliation between heaven and earth, the ultimate experience of heaven-on-earth and earth-in-heaven in the Christ Event, but finally, Good Friday / Easter Sunday declares and completes (with God word and action form a single indissoluble entity) God’s ultimate and definitive covenant of grace with all creation. The early morning light of Easter dawn pronounces and reveals with physical, material symbols we humans can comprehend: empty tomb, stone rolled away, speech…the presence of the Eschaton: the death of the old order of death itself and the inauguration of the new: God’s presence with us, among us and within us; the permanent, infinite, everlasting covenant of grace of God’s Jubilee Rule of Shalom – the realm of “enough” – for everyone and justice for all. God has torn open the heavens and come down to earth to dwell forever with us, among us and within us. Baptism remains a sign of this freely given, undying covenant that’s engagement, meeting, reconciliation between heaven and earth; baptism signifies salvation, Jubilee, deliverance from the power, control, authority, dominion, influence, of death and destruction. We live in the new dominion – not in strength, might and power, but in weakness and vulnerability – of the never ending, abundant and recklessly extravagant reality of life lived in the Spirit of the God who has torn apart the heavens and all creation trembles with new and renewed life at the establishment of the abundance of God’s Justice, Shalom, and Jubilee here on earth. For all creation. For us.

Just like us, Jesus was baptized into community: a community he constantly demonstrated and proved to be one without boundaries or barriers to total inclusivity: Jew, Gentile, stranger, citizen inhabitant, male, female, child, adult.

Baptism is God’s remembrance to us of our call to walk with Jesus as Jesus walks beside us, wherever our walk may journey, because we walk with the One Whose answer always is resurrection.