Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas in the Desert 2004

tucson gardenFriday, Christmas Eve, as I flew into Tucson and into another southwestern sunset, the desert displayed its breathtakingly barren, apparently bleak magnificence for what felt like the thousandth time. Despite the Nativity-tides I've spent in the snowy climates of New England and the Intermountain West and notwithstanding representations of snowy if not actually snowbound states of nature generally being considered most illustrative of Christmas, for me the fullness of the reality of God's incarnation as a human alive in human history becomes most poignant among the palms, tucson gardensands, rocks, cliffs, cacti, aloes and agaves (Partial list of local plants: barrel cacti, chollas, desert broom, Joshua trees, mesquite, ocotillo, palo verde, prickly pear cactus, saguaro…), the reality of God-among-us all the time no matter what, remains most self-evident in the fire of a desert sunset, in the budding dawn and incipient day the desert sunrise promises. [why? I'll leave my readers thinking and guessing, though my essential theology gives you a major clue] And somehow remembering Jesus' birth in the Arizona desert is very different from recalling Jesus' Birth in the coastal desert of San Diego, where I've been spent more than a few wintertimes.

tucson garden

At Patti and Floyd's place way outside the Tucson city limits, our dinner for the big yearly gala was amazing! The buffet included chips and dips, a plethora of flavorsome and savory Mexican menu items (tacos, tostadas, flautas—or were they taquitos?—tamales, red chile, green chile, guacamole, refritos, arroz…as well as several sweet flavorfuls: giant cookies, chocolate layer cake, vanilla ice cream and homemade flan).

tucson garden
Now Christmas Day evening has arrived; sundown's here again and we're ready to enjoy traditional turkey while the 7 (seven!) Husky, almost-Husky and Husky-look-alikes (Blues, Copper Queen, Denali, Easter Angel, Nanook, Nikki and Spirit of 2004) lounge around enjoying and protecting their gift toys and treats. Meanwhile, the evening news just announced it snowed today in Corpus Christi, TX, for the first time in over a century!

A most blessed Feast of the Nativity to all my readers and to God's entire beloved creation, reborn and redeemed in Christ Jesus!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Patterns of Prayer

On Moving Godward, blogger Anita Van Ingen wrote:
Prayer is not only a matter of speaking to God, but also of listening to God as he speaks. ... How do we listen? How do we tell him, in honesty, that we heard what he said? Did we even hear what he said?

Deepening prayer is frequently accompanied by repeating back the things we have heard God say. … "Your word says, 'Lo, I am with you always' and so I trust that you are here."

Although I wrote a short reply to Anita on her comments link; here, where I have more space, I want to say a little more:

Anita, you said, "I feel silly in constantly repeating back to God the words in the Bible. ... However, when I repeat back to him the words of the Bible, I am saying, I heard you when you spoke that promise."

Somewhere on this blog I wrote about participating in a discussion of Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath during Lent 2004. She says Jewish prayer is liturgical prayer, and when she neglects formal, printed praying (currently she belongs to the very liturgical Book of Common Prayer. For extemporaneous prayer, her prayer life and her total relationship with God both disintegrate. I'd say when you pray directly from scripture you're being liturgical and you are praying in continuity with Jesus of Nazareth’s Jewish heritage, which is the tradition in which we Christians find our source!

Recently I heard an account about a Jewish person's asking a Christian "Do you have a prayer for that?" implying that within Judaism people do not customarily pray what we'd call free prayer but rather in praying they connect with the saints that have gone before and those saints who will live on earth after they are gone, something parallel to what Christians regularly do during the eucharistic liturgy's anamnesis. That anecdote reminds us, too, that Jesus' bestowing a sample formula prayer at his disciples' request was commonly expected from spiritual leaders in that time, because people were unaccustomed to free prayer.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

morning watch

Patterned after the church's ancient liturgical practice of praying the canonical hours but now in remembrance and anticipation of Easter dawn, there's a Christian tradition of Morning Watch or "vigils." The fourth and last segment of the night watch, the morning watch of antiquity and of the New Testament epoch (that's us!) is from 3-6 AM; during this final watch of the night, darkness gently eases into the quiet early light of Easter dawn and God's Glory softly splashes over all creation. I've started compiling a series of Morning Watch devotionals; here's the first one.

O God, Thou art my God, and I will seek Thee all day long
O God, Thou are my God, and I will praise Thee with all my heart
I will seek Thee in the morning, at noon and in the dark of night
And walk with Thee in safety
Throughout the rage of time


Jeremiah 29

11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
13 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
14 'I will be found by you,'declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.' NASB

11 "I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out--plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
12 "When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen.
13 "When you come looking for me, you'll find me.
"Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, 14 "I'll make sure you won't be disappointed." GOD's Decree.
"I'll turn things around for you. I'll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you"—GOD's Decree—"bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it. MSG


John 20:1

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. NASB

Realized Hope: Resurrection!

John 20:1

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. MSG

A Mandate:

Jeremiah 29

5 'Build houses and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.
6 'Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.
7 'Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.' NASB


Psalm 73:25, MSG

You're all I want in heaven!
You're all I want on earth!


Psalm 23, MSG

A David psalm

1 GOD, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.
2 You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
3 True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I'm back home in the house of GOD
for the rest of my life.

The Message, © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Times of the traditional watches:

Ancient Night Watch

First watch | until midnight
Middle watch | until 3 a.m.
Morning watch | until 6 a.m.

Ancient Day Watch

Morning | until about 10 a.m.
Heat of day | until about 2 p.m.
Cool of day | until about 6 p.m.

New Testament Night Watch

First watch, evening | 6-9 p.m.
Second watch, midnight | 9-12 p.m.
Third watch, cock-crow | 12-3 a.m.
Fourth watch, morning | 3-6 a.m.

New Testament Day Watch

Third hour | 6-9 a.m.
Sixth hour | 9-12 midday
Ninth hour | 12-3 p.m.
Twelfth hour | 3-6 p.m.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Advent 2004

Advent 1 hope
From Advent 1, year B: Isaiah 64

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. ...

From Advent 3, year C: Luke 3

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told
14 them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

Advent 3 joy
Again Advent is here: Reign of Christ, a.k.a. the last Sunday of the liturgical year is behind us, so once more we’ll search the skies and search our hearts, seeking the world’s Redeemer and our Redeemer, too. Although the first Sunday of Advent 2004 began lectionary year A, Isaiah 64 is from year B and Luke's John the Baptist text from year C.

This past Wednesday morning the speaker at the ecumenical Advent breakfast preached on Matthew’s version of *the* John the Baptist text and said the uniqueness of Christianity was and still should be in its care for the poor and, of course, inclusive community.

It seems only a little while ago (but it was an entire year ago, during Advent 2003) I suggested God-among-us truly would be an Alleluia! moment, but then I quoted Luke’s John the Baptizer’s calling the people a brood of vipers and warning them they’d better flee from the wrath to come immediately before that same John announced the approaching Sovereignty of Heaven’s overcoming the chaos, dysfunction and sometimes despair on earth! As they awaited baptism, John’s riverside congregation asked, “The coming wrath? Fruits of repentance? God in our very midst? What then should we be doing?!”

Hmmmm...the God Who covenants and Who spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Who later sojourned with the people, faithfully leading them through the Exodus desert, bestowing gifts of water from the rock and sustenance from the sky, the Mighty One Who shepherded the people to the border and across the River into the land of milk and honey, to the Land of the Promise of the completeness of the Reign of God, that very same God soon will be arriving here, into our midst, and instead of shouting “Hallelujah!” the people ask what how they can escape from the wrath to come?! God is ready to honor the people’s plea of, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” but when they hear John the Baptist’s description of that day of the Holy One’s arrival and the nature of those “awesome deeds” they “did not expect,” they want to escape!

In response to the people’s asking what on earth they should be doing preceding God’s potential wrathful judgment, John says, “If you have two coats—share. If you have food—share.” The Greek word translated share means “gift giving” at its root. To religious types (like us?), this is astounding! John, foretelling God’s fiery arrival, did not say, “run and hide” or “go and pray,” nor did he remotely suggest, “make costly sacrifices to atone for your sins.” John the cousin of Jesus the forthcoming Messiah said, “Share, give a gift.”

Go beyond yourself and get beyond yourselves! If you have, whatever you have, share it with the have-nots. If you have two coats, give one to someone who has no coat and needs one. If you have food, give food to the hungry. Because when you share, if you give gifts, you prepare for the coming of God, our Judge and Redeemer by being the person God created you in His image to be, by being a bearer of gracious gifts. When by sharing what you have you help create a kindred community of equals, you become a big part of making God’s reign happen here in this place.

Caring for the poor among us and community are two essential aspects of being Christian, necessary facets of claiming the name of Jesus Christ who lived to embrace and to reconcile all creation to its Creator and to itself. Remember that Spirit-saturated, radically communitarian church we read about in Acts 2?

God’s advent into the midst of our human condition, God’s arrival in human history will be a time of wrath but also a Day of Grace: the text from 3rd Isaiah reminds the Sovereign Lord we are the people of His creation and cites our obligation to wait, to do righteousness, to remember God’s ways . . . According to 3rd Isaiah, God meets “those who gladly do right, those who remember God in His ways.”

Remembering the ways of God means doing those ways and works of God, performing justice and gifting others by sharing our clothing and food, welcoming the strangers and the sojourners into our community, into our commonality, because when we do so we realize both our humanity and the essence of the Divine image in which God created us; when we welcomingly embrace and gift our neighbors with our substance we become more and more like those early Christians who daily had walked with Jesus of Nazareth and who then finally recognized the Risen Christ among them when he broke bread with them, when he broke bread to share his life within their gathered community.

This Advent, as you anticipate God’s arrival, become who you are baptized to be, become the people of God, and be the people of God, live in the image of God’s justice God created you in: sharing what you have, opening your eyes and your hearts to those right around you, to those next door and down the street from you, to those who have less than you; in the Spirit assume your part in creating the Reign of God on this earth and right here in our midst. The righteous, the just are those people who live in the image of the God of Righteousness and Justice .

...because when God comes, God arrives with winnowing fork in hand, thrashing the wheat and chaff. All gets thrashed; the chaff blows away and gets burnt up, the wheat remains in God’s divine presence. The just, the “righteous” remain with God. Luke’s text describes this as John’s preaching “Good News,” preaching Gospel to the people! God is coming—what then are we going to do?

Thursday, November 11, 2004


This beautiful prayer, redolent with pleas the Christian Lord’s Prayer echoes, is from the Jewish Shabbat service:

May the time not be distant, O Lord,
When Your name shall come to be worshipped in all the earth,
When unbelief shall disappear and error be no more.
Lord, in Your mercy...

Fervently we pray that the day may come
When all shall turn to You in love,
When corruption and evil shall give way to integrity and goodness,
Lord, in Your mercy...

We pray for that day when superstition shall no longer enslave the mind,
Nor idolatry blind the eye,
When all shall know that You alone are God.
Lord, in Your mercy...

We pray with all our hearts:
Let violence be gone.
Let the day come when evil shall give way to goodness:
When war shall be forgotten and hunger be no more and all at last will live in freedom.
Lord, in Your mercy...

O may we,
Created in Your image,
Become one in spirit and one in friendship,
Forever united in Your service.
Then will Your kingdom be established on earth and the word of Your prophets fulfilled.
Lord, in Your mercy...

Eternal God,
In whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness,
No strength is known but the strength of love;
So mightily spread abroad Your spirit,
That all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the prince of peace,
As children of one Father;
To whom be dominion and glory,
Now and forever.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Reformation Day 2004

this afternoon at the Ecumenical Council's Reformation Day celebration the choir sang this song:

Make Our Church One Joyful Choir

Make our church one joyful choir on this glad and festive day
and by song invoke the fire that invites our hearts to pray:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.

Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross
and to take the weight and bear love's uncounted final cost:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.

and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:
Shape us, Christ, to bear your name.

Bend us, lift us, make us strong, send us out with wind and fire,
so the world may hear the song that we offer as your choir:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
Amen, amen, amen!

Thomas H. Troeger
© 1994 Oxford University Press, Inc.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 6b

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Chapter 6b:

foolishness to the greeks coverBishop Newbigin observes, "...denominations have been and are powerful, purposeful, and effective agencies of self-propagation."

On Christian (read: "human?") freedom he points out coerced belief is no belief at all; that acceptance of Christianity or of whatever needs to be done within a person's own time and space. It feels to me as if he's simply thinking out loud about what could be read as a "Christianized" government. Marian C., our discussion moderator said, "I am looking for a secular society with human values consistent with my Christian faith." Me, too!

For me, expressions like "Christian Coalition" instantly evoke visions of Fundamentalists from the Christian far-right conniving and scheming to inflict their particular proposals for a godly social order on everyone else, like it or not. (In a closely related vein, Rick G. reminded us of the Civil Rights movement's transformative effect on not only a "reluctant South," but on the rest of this country, too.) Here in San Diegan Southern California we have a big ecumenical multi-service social service agency that's been doing some effective and at times life-changing work, but it's comprised only of Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant local churches. There's also the requisite large Roman Catholic agency, as well as dozens of smaller groups, some ecumenical, a handful interfaith, and several formally affiliated with a particular denomination. But apropos of "bringing values to the heart of public policy," now that I've given you a spin on what's happening here, I'll say I believe it's a great idea.

His idea of "declericalized theology" resonates with another of my 10 challenges currently facing the church; Bishop Newbigin seems to be emphasizing the ordinary parishioner - also included in my idea - though I was intentionally thinking more about the non-professional lay leaders. And I was so embarrassed to read our author considers the situation (in some local churches) analogous to where the Reformers found themselves. From my experience most mainline churches definitely don't have well-educated laity and most of those persons in the pews don't care, either. One of the hallmarks of Reformation Christianity is supposed to be biblically and theologically well-educated laypersons...

Finally, he cites two very different style Christian communities "centered in the action of praise...that is literally 'out of this world' and is by that very fact able to speak to this world."

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 6

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Chapter 6: What must we be? The Call to the Church

foolishness to the greeks coverAbsolutely for sure I'll agree with Bishop Newbigin's describing the church's call, "to become corporately a sign, instrument, and foretaste of that sovereignty of the one true and living God over all nature, all nations, and all human lives." I could not have said it any better: the exhibition of the Kingdom of God to the world!

In Bishop Newbigin's clearly reminding us Jesus sends us and the Holy Spirit calls us into all the world, I found a warning for myself and the way I usually preach from the Bible and teach from the Bible emphasizing Jesus' birth on society's margins and his crucifixion outside the city gates between society's outcasts, his frequently associating with "others" and the not-like-us…

Yesterday [writing this during Summer of 2003] I went into a local retail store and they had tons of Christmas stuff, mostly decorating and gifting paraphernalia and ephemera, out for sale...and yesterday was August 7!!!!!

Rick G., who was a regular on our book threads, made another devastating observation:
Especially when I consider the alternative our culture is generating, in which upper middle class teens exclaim they will just die if they don't get their Tommy Hilfiger outfits (and mean it) and kids in the ghetto do die over Tommy Hilfiger outfits, in which people embrace consumer goods as THE source of their identity nowadays (and not because they've been brainwashed, but perhaps because we've failed…and isn't it a curious fact that all the original ad firm founders were preacher's kids!?).
I responded: "Perhaps because we've failed." Possibly so. As Christians and as the Church too often we try to find and live as if our identity found in something external to us and evident to others rather than in our being found "In Christ" - which in the world's terms essentially is invisible. The mayor (for a while) of the city I lived in (for a while) had an exceptionally conspicuously consumptive personal lifestyle and as mayor she advocated tons of corporate favoritism, often at the expense of her less-affluent constituency. Someone said to me, "She [the mayor] should know better: she's a PK!" People sometimes tell me I must be "a recent convert" because of my passion for the gospel. I can take that as compliment or as suggesting that people who've been in the church a long time or esp those who are "hereditary Christians" either have lost any fervor they'd ever had or maybe never had any?!

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 5b

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Chapter 5b:

foolishness to the greeks coverThough for the most part, Bishop Newbigin's book has not been as engrossing to me as Professor Koyama, wow, I really liked chapter 5b! He says post-Enlightenment thought and behavior has trumped the old assumption that resources are finite and *some* of us have been acting as if resources of all kinds are infinite…hmmm…lots of familiar ideas, esp that any economy needs to be a mixed economy; he cites the need early on in industrialization and modernization for governmental intervention and even governmental controls to save people from the exploitative outcome of the purer forms of capitalism. He thinks capitalism and consumerism are the sin of covetousness, considers it "a desperately dangerous case of cancer in the body of human society." These days I'm beginning to agree, and not only because I'm living in southern California. Though his proposed alternative doesn't seem particularly realistic, either—but then Christianity's not about logic and realism.

Marian, our moderator asked:
"Should the image of Jesus Christ be in the central shrine of public life? Are we comfortable with this? Is Christianity better than other religions?...What do you think?"
Everyone who knows me [from these forums] probably has figured out I'm Barthian on this issue, so I'll start by saying asking if Christianity is "better than other religions" is like comparing mangos and avocados and then throwing in some rolled oats, because Christianity's not a religion in the common sense of the word "religion." One of the discussion participants asked, "If Christ is to be the central shrine of our culture, is it as service or as sovereignty? And if not Christ, who or what?" His question is my answer: if not Christ, who or what? Because some idea or icon or god or combination of many and/or all of those must be sovereign, since the people need a god…but without the God of Truth people and state both perish! I'll go back to something I think I wrote on Water Buffalo Theology, or maybe I didn't post it there, but lately I've sure been saying it a lot: whether or not a person - or a culture - claims Christ Sovereign Lord of All, Christ is Sovereign and Lord of All: Christus Pantocratur.

I absolutely agree Bishop Newbigin's not remotely talking about establishment of religion nor does he man a visible, physical - in Westminster language, a "sensible" - representation when he refers to "the image of Jesus Christ in the central shrine of public life."

How do we enthrone Jesus Christ in the public arena? By claiming our created-in-God image [, justice, community, *otherness and strangerness*, slowness, creativity...] by doing justice and mercy; by treating each person and all people as fully human, actively affirming and celebrating the Divine in them! I'd also hope a major part of the witness of the present-day church still would be "See how they love one another." So, I believe, we enthrone Jesus publicly and privately particularly with the quality of our friendships - Jesus' ultimate accolade to his companions and disciples was calling them "friends!"

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 5

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Chapter 5: What is to be Done? The Dialogue with Politics


foolishness to the greeks coverOn this California lazy summer afternoon, I'll affirm I'm also baptist, evangelical, reformed, catholic, pentecostal, and - I hope - above all, a disciple.

Page 107: "Neither for Luther nor for Calvin would it have appeared as anything but incomprehensible blasphemy to suggest that human behavior in the sphere of economics was outside the jurisdiction of theology."

Jesus said to the rich young ruler, "What must you do to be saved? Keep the commandments, sell all that you have and give it to the poor: forsake your gods, whether riches, property, a BMV, career or profession - or even your family - and follow the God of justice in whose image you are created; own that divine image by doing justice, loving righteousness, and walking humbly with your God."

There's no doubt being in Christ means not to own the God of Jesus Christ as yet another of "my" possessions, but rather to acknowledge it is God who in baptism possesses us and at many junctures of our lives tests our claim to the name "Christian." Many if not most of those are very public testings, opportunities again to choose between life and death.

On this thread Rick G. mentioned "…that distorted version…of the separation of church and state" which speaks to the non-establishment of religion: forever in this country religion(s) and politics have had what someone referred to as "institutional separation but functional interaction." As Rick said, when we don't like the politics a particular local church or church-body is advocating some of us usually are quick to decide church and politics (or church and any other area of public rather than private life) is inappropriate or plain wrong.

But onto a different direction: in my experience people usually begin attending church or decide to return to church because of spiritual hunger, not because they're interested in biblically-based and divinely-sanctioned social or political activism. They want to feel connected to their spiritual source, therefore all the meditation, contemplation, Taizé chants, incense, candle glow and labyrinths. People truthfully and sometimes desperately are looking for the wholeness they instinctively know they'll find in some kind of connectedness.

Back to Bishop Newbigin: as he observes, the dichotomy between spiritual and material isn't biblical at all and it's especially totally absent from the life of Jesus. I believe "incarnately" is the way we need to read the entire Bible, God's Word always is an incarnate, living, "still-speaking" Word of abundant life.

It's well-known the church at times began over-spiritualizing Jesus' life and teachings in reaction to extraordinarily excessive and idolatrous carnal indulgences of neighboring or local cultures, and on page 97 Newbigin wisely reminds us "there is much in the Bible about what may be called the interior dimension of human existence," while at the bottom of the same page he observes, "Faith, obedience, repentance, and love…are embodied in…jurisprudence, public health, education, welfare and economic policy."

I'll wrap up this post by quoting page 99:

"The king reigns from the tree." "...the victory of God under the sign of the cross."

Superlatively expressed!

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 4c

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Sort of Chapter 4c, but this actually amounts to a few more thoughts on 4b:

foolishness to the greeks coverBishop Newbigin think and writes from the standpoints of faith and values! Agreed – as he previously wrote – as Christians it's inexpedient, unscriptural and actually impossible for us to separate private and public life: earlier I quoted Miguel De La Torre's saying he has a "public relationship with Jesus," and of course, Jesus had a public relationship with his Father-God when he lived and walked on this earth as one of us. Marian C. clearly stated the difference between conocer and saber in the Spanish language, and without saying anything new our author describes how it is we can know each other in relationship, though never is that knowledge ever complete, however much we may long to be completely known just as we fear being totally known.

I appreciate his description of Trinitarian relationship; it's a more earthbound description of the Trinity's cosmic Perichoresis! "Incarnation" and "Trinity" as the junction where we begin understanding "reality as a whole" is good Reformed theology, as well!

Finally, on page 94, I love his words, "The church exists to testify that there is someone, that he has spoken, and that we can begin to know his purpose and to direct our personal and public lives by it." And, in the last paragraph, "…the ultimate explanation of things is found in the creating, sustaining, judging, and redeeming work of a personal God…" A loud "Amen" and I'll add "God is 'still-speaking!'"

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 4b

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Here's Chapter 4b:

foolishness to the greeks coverMarian, once again our book discussion moderator, wrote:
"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."
I responded:

Exactly! When you previously asked, "Just what is it about our faith that is 'foolishness' to our culture?" So now I'll say that peculiar foolishness is evident in our proclaiming and worshiping the foolishness, the indignity of our God crucified; we proclaim the reality of resurrection; 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.

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 4

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Chapter 4: What can we know? The Dialogue with Science

For reading and discussion purposes, we subdivided chapters 4, 5 and 6, so I'll post them in subdivided order.

Here's chapter 4a:

foolishness to the greeks coverThe chapter title, What Can We Know is provocative…when I was at UMass/Boston they offered a course in epistemological sociology called "The Sociology of Knowledge and Ignorance!" Who gets to know what when, how much that do they get to know, and (maybe especially) why do some people not get to know?

One of the reasons I was been slow in getting back to the original discussion site to post (is because I'm becoming in the image of our Slow God? - no, not!) is I didn't have many thoughts on 4a, though I much appreciated everyone else's ideas, especially since I have virtually no background in the natural or physical sciences (which probably is why I was idea-impoverished).

It's no coincidence that God's first recorded creative Word - by the Priestly Pentateuch author, the latest Pentateuch source - was a Word of illuminating, revealing and transforming light. In our discussion, Fred asked, "What else is contained with these words of the Word?" Although the question's not clear to me, with my lack of a scientific background I need to approach the text theologically and I believe the orderliness and careful organization of "P"'s creation account came first when Genesis got compiled in order to show us a God of order and of purpose, telos and very distinctively not a God of randomness, chaos, un-design and disorder.

Back a few posts: I've found many of the unchurched and dechurched often approach Christianity as mysticism, as a contemplative way, and as simply one more-or-less random choice in the contemporary smorgasbord of spiritual choices, not only avoiding the Bible at all costs but avoiding anything resembling social or political activism as well, probably because they won't read and therefore don't interpret the Bible. These book discussions are particularly helpful to me since I'm constantly quandering as to what language to speak in conversation with newly-churched people.

awesomely evocative poetic twentieth-century hymnody:

God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens, by Catherine Cameron, 1967; © 1967 by Hope Publishing Company

1. God, who stretched the spangled heavens infinite in time and place,
Flung the suns in burning radiance through the silent fields of space;
We, thy children, in thy likeness, share inventive powers with thee;
Great Creator, still creating, teach us what we yet may be.

2. We have ventured worlds undreamed of since the childhood of our race;
Known the ecstasy of winging through untraveled realms of space;
Probed the secrets of the atom, yielding unimagined power,
Facing us with life's destruction or our most triumphant hour.

3. As thy far horizon beckons, Father, give us strength to be
Children of creative purpose, serving others, honoring thee,
Till our dreams are rich with meaning, each endeavor, thy design;
Great Creator, lead us onward till our work is one with thine.

New Century Hymnal, No. 556, alt.

Great God, Our Source, © by George Utech:

1. Great God, our source and Lord of space,
O Force of all by whose sheer power
The primal fires that flared and raged were struck, blazed on and still are made:
Oh, save us, Lord, at this fierce hour from threatening fires that we have laid.

2. Ah! God of fire, incarnate Flame,
Through Christ in whom your love has burned,
And burns the way for our dark pace on cosmic routes within us turned:
Lead us beyond atomic night; Guide now in hope our broken race.

3. Lord of the atom, we praise your might,
Expressed in terrifying light;
Before us rise the flames as pyres, or bursts of love--they blind our sight:
Help us, our Lord, O help us see new forms of peace through suffering fires.

Lutheran Book of Worship, No. 466, alt.

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 3

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

Chapter 3: The Word in the World

foolishness to the greeks coverI love the title of this chapter, "The Word in the World," because Word in the World is Who Christ is and the Church is supposed to be!

In this chapter's second paragraph Bishop Newbigin says where it's at for me:
missionaries already organize their corporate life around a story that is told in a book and is continually reenacted by word and sacramental action in their liturgy.
And, of course around the Person that Book and those liturgies reveal and proclaim. Is Newbigin saying the mission and witness of the local church is "where all the action is?" Partly, I think, but by extension he's also saying those church members' lives outside in the world are sacraments that mediate the Christ.

Marian C., the discussion moderator said, "But I do think it's fair to say that he claims that the authority of Scripture rests in the community organized around that Scripture." Yes, that is what I hear him saying, again in many more words than necessary! We Christians are a "people of the book," though of course with the Reformers I agree Christ is above all and in all. Sometimes I differ with the Reformers' considering the preached word to be the Word of God: I'm more likely to consider the lived word – walking that talk – to equate the Christ.

On page 42 Bishop Newbigin writes, "And if the sacred book has been desacralized and placed firmly within the world of objective fact…so also the sacred society, the church, is desacralized."

Page 50: "Is it possible to read Scripture in any other way than as the people we are?" No, not, because scripture itself is an incarnate, "enfleshed" Word, a text both "strange" and "other," and I appreciate his cautioning us about the danger of emphasizing strangeness or otherness to the exclusion of one of them. So true there's no place whatsoever for resurrection within any secular plausibility structures. I think we can get a better picture by more than one person telling the same story and maybe by listening to a few outsiders' versions of the same insider story.

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 2

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture on Amazon

foolishness to the greeks coverFacts and/or values…Westminster Larger Catechism: Our chief and highest end…to glorify God and fully to enjoy God forever!

More and more I realize I've actually and actively been integrating gospel values into my life and making those values more factual. I think "a whole life well lived…a relationship with God" definitely would be joyful living rather than happiness, though I wouldn't exclude the live possibility of happiness: it's that *joy* has added dimensions and greater density! However, Rick, one of our book thread regulars, referred to the "milk and honey earthiness" of happiness and called happiness a "point of entry," and I appreciate that a lot, because sometimes joy simply is not sufficiently earthbound for the way we need to live every day. Besides, milk and honey is a sign of the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven, the realization of the Reign of God!

Page 41: "…the one by whose will and purpose all things exist…has acted and spoken…in order to reveal and effect his purpose and to call us to respond in love and obedience." But I've been thinking, too. About our glorifying God and enjoying God being about our being connected and living daily in the connectedness we have to the glory as children of God we possess by faith in Christ. times I don't know how to answer people who tell me they perceive no difference whatsoever between Christians and non Christians, when they ask me, "What's the advantage of being a Christian?" Is there a personal advantage, or is it rather a gift we have received that we then give to others? My standard theological answer, we are a people who live under the cross, truly presupposes a fair amount of theological finesse and invites discussion most people neither want nor can they easily grasp, so I need something else, but something else that's still biblical.

On one of my other blogs I posted this song © by Graham Kendrick:

Knowing You

1. All I once held dear, built my life upon;
all this world reveres and wars to own.
All I once thought gain I have counted loss, spent and worthless now compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You, there is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy, my righteousness,
and I love You, Lord.

2. Now my heart's desire is to know You more,
to be found in You, and known as Yours.
To possess by faith what I could not earn, all surpassing gift of righteousness.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You, there is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy, my righteousness,
and I love You, Lord.

3. Oh, to know the power of Your risen life
and to know You in Your sufferings.
To become like You in Your death, my Lord, so with You to live and never die.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You, there is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best, You're my joy, my righteousness,
and I love You, Lord.

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 1

During Summer 2003, on the old United Church of Christ forums (which are supposed to reappear in a new version and a different format) we had a second online book discussion about living in mission; this time we talked about Bishop Lesslie Newbigin's Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, which was full of challenges and replete with hope for the church's redemptively engaging the world. In his preface the author describes the chapters in this book as "a somewhat expanded version of the Warfield Lectures" he gave at Princeton Theological Seminary in March 1984.

foolishness to the greeks coverChapter 1: Post-Enlightenment Culture as a Missionary Problem

Here are a pair of great questions a couple of discussion participants asked forthwith:
  • "Is it possible…we have actually surrendered the claim of Jesus Christ to be Lord of the world? Does he truly reign for us only over the realm of the personal?"
  • "Is it not possible for our personal choices to effect changes in the public world?"
Yes, our personal, individual choices frequently effect changes in the more-public arenas of the world – sometimes as the result of a long process and at times almost immediately. It's also clear that the sum of those small, private choices and decisions often is synergistic, with the outcome being far, far greater than the simple addition of the discrete inputs. But the Bible challenges and – I would hope – compels us to consider and claim for ourselves Jesus' assertion he is Lord of all. Because of this, as we are baptized into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection and henceforth live under the cross in judgment and also in grace, the Incarnate Word challenges and obliges each of us to take the extremely scary, open-ended risk of going beyond the comfort of "Jesus, Lover of my soul…my Jesus, I love Thee, because Thou art mine." Really! That uncomfortable (to say the least) action potentially can transform not only us but also the world outside of us and beyond the safe perimeters of our comfort zones.

Next I'll ask if "we" is the corporate, royal and deferential "we?" I'll dare assume it's the "you and me" we. I wonder if I'm too tame and cautious in confessing Jesus Lord of all even with other Christians. Bishop Newbigin mentions several Christ-icons, including Christus Pantocratur / Christus Cosmocratur. He says we're living in a pagan rather than a secular culture, and though I'd never considered that fact, I believe he's correct. It's a sure thing that here in year 2003 [fast-forwarding to 2004, same thing] Jesus Christ has become one of a plethora of possible choices and very few mainline-type Christians are into being thought of as exclusive and particular Christians.

Among the cautions and counsels Bishop Newbigin gave to all of us missionary-evangelists are warnings I know I need to begin taking more seriously:
  • my version of Christianity is an "adapted gospel," shaped by my total life experiences;
  • a person's Muttersprach is "the language of the home and heart" and the Word that transformed Paul of Tarsus' life - and heart - was a vernacular word!
  • We must learn to speak not only the formal language but the dialect, speak the culture of those we evangelize.
And from what Newbigin says, it looks as if...
  • I need to learn to speak "pagan" rather than the "Christianese" most of us theologian-types speak so fluently!
  • Finally, I need to become much more aware of the syncretic elements in my own Christianity, and I say that especially as a person who has lived in and who's (literally) conversant with the symbols of a fairly broad range of cultures and styles.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 18

This is the final post of some of my ideas from our online discussion of Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon during Spring of 2003 on the old United Church of Christ forums. Kosuke Koyama taught for a while at Union Theology Seminary; Water Buffalo Theology is liberation theology, ecological theology and missiology, as well as an offering in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue.

water buffalo theology coverChapter 18: Three Modes of Christian Presence

This is the final chapter, though there's an epilogue consisting of Kosuke Koyama's Pilgrimage in Mission.

On to chapter 18. I love his using the word "attachment!" God's "decisive and irreversible attachment!" What hope for all of us! Christianity as a "noisy" faith…to think I've been *trying* so hard to become a little more contemplative.

Three modes of Christian presence. A hidden presence, a sacramental presence to the world. Suffering because we're involved with others, involved with the other; suffering because we're involved in neighborology! Participating in the "glory of the crucified Lord"—the same Paul of Tarsus also talks about "the glory of the children of God!" And isn't our glory as God's offspring also a crucified glory and a risen glory?

Too often I'm still finding myself comforted by other than Christ, almost keeping pace with my unchurched and marginally churched neighbors and friends. I was delighted Professor Koyama reminded us of the Luther quote, "subject to none; subject to all." That's good to remember when life's not going my way.

I'll close by quoting:
In this eschatological hour, we are called to share the pathos of God, God's pathos toward all scattered things which are held together in the glory of the crucified Lord. Amen!!!!!

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 17

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 17: Toward a Crucified Mind

water buffalo theology coverFinally almost home! This is another great chapter, full of lots more ideas I need: encountering persons rather than ideas; learning a person's not a theory or an missionaries we need to live "in the complexity of history" once again part of our being in God's image! This is sensational: in the bulleted list at the start of the chapter he says, Appreciation of the complexity of history can control theological inflation. Rather than the idea of a person walking in the idea of history, a living person in history's concreteness. I think this whole book has been changing me, believe it or not!

Missiology is tamable but missionary is untamable! Martin Luther and "domesticating" God into a tame household god: as people in the image of God, why do we (I) sometimes let ourselves (me) be "domesticated?" Unity of message and messenger?

Regarding super-arrogance and super-ignorance, some time ago I gave up even pretending to try any kind of conversation with some other Christian but as someone on these boards said, by acting that way likely I'm being a fundamentalist in my own right, too.

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 16

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 16: Is Christ Divided?

water buffalo theology coverKosuke Koyama's asking, "Was Luther baptized for you...was Wesley baptized for you" is so revealing regarding the way people identify themselves by denominational labels rather than by the name "Christian," indicating not only an identity but actual belonging=possession!? Possession by the UCC, the ELCA, the UMC? Wouldn't that mean being owned, possessed by an institutional structure? At least this chapter is more directly accessible than the previous ones!

Professor Koyama seems not to think very highly of denominationalism and at times I don't think highly of denominationalism, either.

Do Methodist Christians study Wesley's theology, do Lutheran Christians study Luther's theology? Many Christians study neither Bible nor theology and most members of most local churches aren't remotely biblically or theologically literate and instead pride themselves on "inherited" Christianity and sometimes even affirm their polity as their foundation! In other words, "The confessions and doctrines which are the historical basis of these world confessional organizations" aren't "living realities" in the lives of the majority of people in these confessional "families." But I also feel different from and divided from (against, at times?) fundamentalist Christianity; I'd like to protect our unique contribution and "save" people from that distortion of the gospel fundamentalist Christianity plainly is.

" organization built around that truth..." gets back to my earlier asking whether the organic Body of the Risen Christ can coexist with the institutional church.

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 15

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 15: Tokyo and Jerusalem

water buffalo theology coverProfessor Kosuke Koyama says God's "first and fundamental gift" to us is "the constant awareness that we are under the judgment of the Word of God," (and in Jesus' death and resurrection, God's judgment leads to abundant life that doesn't decay or degrade). What a chapter about institutions, icons, institutional icons, "religious living," arrogant assumptions and idolatry! Jeremiah's situation is an fitting parallel to Koyama's other examples about Tokyo and of course about us since, as he says, the Japanese people couldn't remotely imagine anything other than being protected by the institution of the imperial system and the emperor. The religion of the Jerusalem Temple was imperial religion that sought to keep God in God's place and imagined being able to keep our God, the God we know to be free and elusive, completely responsive to human entreaty and reactive to human whim.

Safety, shelter, and all of the related static, programmable and unfree, unelusive comforts can be so enticing, but they're neither hot nor cool in any authentic sense at all - it seems to me in order to be "hot" or "cool" any entity needs to be alive! But it's also clear institutions frequently assume a life and a dynamic of their own, but not one that breathes, grieves, rejoices or encounters or interacts with much of anything or anyone else. Right now I'm listening to Steely Dan: the last call to do your shopping at the last mall! (note: I'm editing and cleaning up earlier blog posts for live links, etc. during late May 2015, and malls are so on their way out, lots already have closed, and soon there will be a single standing literal "last mall.") Back to James (and Jesus, of course) and the total folly of putting trust - "faith" - in transitory, ephemeral - sometimes even imaginary - things that ultimately will decay.

Jeremiah attacked "the deceptive theology hanging around" the Jerusalem temple. So we're getting ready for the next chapter that's about our treasured denominations in all their wonderful uniqueness and importance, about the theology and even the idolatry that often surrounds them.

But how does this connect with Thai Buddhists? Or with the institution of Thai Buddhism?

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 14

Part IV: Interpreting the Christian Life

Chapter 14: In Search of a "Personality" of Theology in Asia

water buffalo theology cover
Note from when I originally wrote this: This morning at the pericope Bible study, as we discussed 2 Corinthians 6, I thought of Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama. Paul mentions endurance, troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless night and hunger (oh, those Pauline lists!)--all of these not-pleasant ordeals are about giving up, about crucifying, even the idea of Paul, so he could become the Christ for the Corinthians. Paul also speaks of purity, understanding, patience, kindness, love, being in the Holy Spirit and in the power of God…being cool about Paul in order to be both a cool servant and a hot servant of Jesus Christ. You know the rest of Paul's text: its essence is putting "no stumbling block in anyone's path." And he's telling the Corinthians please to do the same thing!
Although I'm not at all sure the cross has universally immediately understandable meaning, I am sure of its cosmic reach and ultimately cosmic meaning. The Reformers emphasized the ongoing process of conversion, saying only being daily drowned and daily raised in baptism was adequate for regenerating the person, for getting rid to the disconnected "I" and the unconnected "me." We need to remember despite his determination to preach "only Christ crucified," for Paul, Christ Jesus is always at the same time both crucified and risen, so when we preach the cross we also preach the empty tomb.

Also for this coming Sunday, Mark 4:41b: "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" The Lord of the monsoon...

These days (actually it was during those days, back in Spring 2003) I'm also reading Reading the Bible from the Margins, by Miguel De La Torre, who says his Hope College students always give him the "litmus test" of asking if he has a personal relationship with Jesus, and he always replies he has a public relationship with Jesus! Isn't that part of what we're trying to get at here? Rather than being about "me," our evangelism and our ministry in general needs to be about the "other-than-me." And after all, we, us, our and ours are the covenantal, baptismal words. But those words are easy, and it's easier still and highly hazardous since too often we get involved in all kinds of miscommunication and inadvertently offend people when we don't know the culture, and maybe especially when we don't understand the religious background and experiences of the people we're evangelizing.

Cogently expressing what it means to lose what we consider our previous individual identity and take on the name of Jesus Christ and therefore the identity of Christian, Clarence Hilliard says all of us "need to become like the funky black nigger Jesus!"

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 13

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama
water buffalo theology coverDuring Spring 2003 a group of us had a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book on the old United Church of Christ online fora. Water Buffalo Theology is an offering in the Christian-Buddhist dialogue, as ecological theology and as liberation theology. Recently I've been revisiting the book and reviewing some of my comments, which I found interesting and very relevant where I am in my life at this very time, so I hope this book has something to say to a few others, as well!
Chapter 13: Apostle James in Thailand

To begin, a personal note: I tend to vacillate between austerity and elegance of expression in style of worship and in the adiaphora of worship - both "more" and "less" helping us approach the ultimate reality of our both transcendent and immanent God. But the same can be said about our evangelism, missiology and our ministry and living in general. For me, this means not measuring myself in terms of results-oriented successes and it means always remembering God's ultimate call to be faithful rather than to be productive, results-oriented or success-obsessed or focusing on "winning" numbers: I believe that's a lot of what Kosuke Koyama's addressing James is about. Someone on this book discussion perceptively observed, "Koyama's is not a hard core missiology, it's a softer, cooler approach."

Chapter 13 and James (moving away from Martin Luther for a moment in time)!!! I love this chapter, as it concisely describes how we need to live out our lives in Christ both hot-ly and cool-ly! Again, he reminds us the Buddha's type of detachment is the "very radical one" of detachment from even the very idea of oneself! James and "picture-language" ...all language is metaphor, "picture-language."

Being cool means not being attached, or more radically, being detached from whatever decays, from the "changeables." The passage of each individual human life and the life of any human group or organization, including the local church, is extremely changeable and it's easy to become hotly attached to the pressure and constraints of its changes. Slowness in James...

Living coolly as servants of our "hot" God. How can a servant to hot person (person is a hot concept) be cool? But we know our God--particularly God as revealed in Jesus Christ—as a servant-God and any servant needs to coolly do the master's will.

"Risk" also is a hot concept, and Jesus calls us to a life of constant risk, a life that gives up even the pretense of self-protection…but a life that shows no partiality, coolly imitating our God who "is not partial." To become involved in the world without becoming attached to the world, or more accurately, without becoming attached to the powerful pull of the world's fleeting, ephemeral and corrupting pleasure. Page 122: if we're cool, "the King of Death cannot seize" us! Wow, that is so Jesus, so Paul!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 12

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama

Chapter 12: Cool Arhat and Hot God

water buffalo theology coverThis chapter is about God's restoration of the "I!" It reminds me of Martin Buber's saying how *legitimate* is the "I" of the Buddha, of Socrates, of the Christ! For most of us the problem's not so much our insistent "I, I, I," and "me, me, me"; it's the illegitimacy of our cry, the toxic way humans tend to view and relate to themselves and subsequently to everyone else and to God. It's about our unconnected "I" and disconnected "me." Prof. Koyama says according to the Buddhist a person saying "I" is chained to an illusion and a delusion of "I," an illusion of "self." God legitimates both I and self by drawing them into covenant and by calling all of those disparate I's and selves into covenant with each other. As Kosuke Koyama writes, Jesus lives with a strong sense of "I!" And Jesus' strong, legitimate "I" restores and revitalizes our illegitimate "I" that talks about "my" house and "my" spacious upper rooms, to paraphrase God's words through Jeremiah to Jehoiakim. A nirvanic human without "I" ultimately is free from both sight and blindness.

The "hot" God heats the cool outlook by placing it in the context of covenant relationship. God is not free from anger...but this doesn't mean God is quick to anger! Our slow God again!

Covenant is a hot concept, since real relationship never is cool. When relating chills off, the relatedness is gone. God warms the cool person by drawing the person into covenantal relationship. God restores (not eliminates) the "I" before, in the presence of and with the power of God's life-giving, life-enabling Spirited "I." Koyama says "Self without the knowledge of the Lord is the lost self!"

Analysis rather than living connectedness and attachment: to analyze a thing or even a person you need to look at it from some distance, you simply can't be attached and see clearly. Interesting his saying "If the Lord does not explain it to me..." in the wake of his reminding us of Martin Luther's telling us God without strange work is God without proper work! Asking "non-crisis questions" while we're caught in crisis? I do that all the time!

Buddhist holy life is lived "in order to escape completely from existence." Wow! Christian holy life is lived in order to be completely engrossed and engaged in existence. Since the primary truth about humanity is its attachment to existence that's one of the many ways in which humankind is in God's image. God creates for his own possession, in order to have a creation to become attached to!

God and God's people live in particularly close attachment to each other. As Prof. Koyama aptly is this covenant-awareness which has given sharp focus to history-awareness. Theologically speaking, history is the experience of covenant.

God removes distance by attaching to history rather than by detaching from history to "Hebraize" the peculiar apatheticness of the Buddha's teaching! Page 115: God can make use of all weakly historical as well as ahistorical thoughts, convictions, and enlightenments. But the reverse is hardly a possibility.

Hebraization means covenantization. Evangelism to Thai Buddhists - and to everyone else - means bringing the experience of covenanted relationship lived within history rather than outside of history.

Homelessness: nomads aren't homeless but carry their homes on their backs rather than rejecting the idea and value of home. Home is attachment - all so true! Page 107: The principle of homelessness displays its genuine force when one becomes homeless in history... from history to "ahistory" ("historylessness"). Interesting!

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 11

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama

water buffalo theology coverPart III: Interpreting Thai Buddhist Life

A sigh and a deep breath...

Chapter 11: Buddhist, Not Buddhism

Buddhist, Not Buddhism:

"Doctrinally trained" eyes / "incarnate eyes" ... how awesomely illustrative!

"The human encounter is with a *person* and not with a *theory* or a *religion* or any other such thing." Just as God meets and encounters each of us as person rather than as a theory, an idea, or even as a Divine inspiration!

Sometimes Christians become Christianity rather than remaining Christians! A Buddhist or a Christian "complains, laughs, grieves, sweats, suffers, thirsts, and hungers." I love how he describes the idea of ice tea becoming the efficiency and effectiveness of "actualized" ice tea!

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 10

If you haven't visited this blog in the past couple days, I've been posting some of what I wrote during our online book discussion of Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama (old, now defunct, but soon to be revived in a different format) United Church of Christ Forums during Spring 2003.

Chapter 10: Theological Re-Rooting in the Theology of the Pain of God

water buffalo theology coverIn this chapter Prof. Koyama seems to be repeating a lot of what he previously said about our God who lived and died as one of us, our God who not only imagines our pain but feels and lives it so truly knows our hurt intimately - because this God identified with us so completely as to "share our common lot."

I really, really like the word "enculturation!" But to be a little fussy, I think "rooting" might be more accurate than "re-rooting," since we're discussion bringing a new concept and reality rather than reworking an old one.

And still more Luther! What I particularly like about this chapter is the way it can start our moving toward imaging metaphors with which to express and convey the gospel by learning the culture, traditions, languages and especially the meanings by which the people we're sent to serve live out their lives.

I love his saying (page 87), "Incarnation means in-culturation and in-localization." "Amphibious agent" is a resonant phrase, too.

I also like his emphasis on our becoming and being cross-carrying Christians "…in the light of the Son who was crucified outside the city!" (page 89) Reading that makes me realize we need to move outside our comfort zone even to the extent of becoming the "other" we're trying to reach - just as God did in Christ Jesus. But not only does God in Christ know and share our pain - as Christians can we know and share God's pain?

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 9

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

water buffalo theology coverChapter 9: Ten Key Theological Issues Facing Theologians in Asia

Ages ago on this blog I posted this list, which I made in response to this chapter in this book, but here it is again:

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 with those not-like-us church bodies?

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

In an excellent book I read during the past year, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identify, Otherness, and Reconciliation, Miroslav Wolf quotes Daniel Boyarin as he points out although the Pauline solution of

1) relativizing Torah;

2) discarding genealogy; and

3) for the sake of all the families of the earth embracing the crucified and resurrected Christ as the seed of Abraham in whom "there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female,"

...offered a "possibility of breaking out of the tribal also contained the seeds of an imperialist and colonizing practice; Paul's universalism even at its most liberal and benevolent has been a powerful force for coercive discourses of sameness, denying...the rights of Jews, women, and others to retain their difference." -pages 45-46

And Wolf says, "...baptism into Christ creates a people as the differentiated body of Christ...[which] lives as a complex interplay of differentiated bodies—Jewish and gentile, female and male, slave and free—of those who have partaken of Christ's self-sacrifice. The Pauline move is not from the particularity of the body to the universality of the spirit, but from separated bodies to the community of interrelated bodies—the one body in the Spirit with many discrete members. -page 48

We've talked about the West's arrogant cultural imperialism and exploitative economic greed with its super-production and super-destructiveness that keep insisting newer is better and bigger is best - particularly when we harvest most of the benefits! Those characteristics seem never-ending, though sometimes they're vaguely disguised. And this means the West will need to become more ointment than gun in the future -but how? It's easy to relativize all of the West's multitude of impacts on the non-Western world by pointing out for every act of cultural or economic violence there's always a host of positive contributions we can point to with pride - though that pride is generally smug and self-satisfied.

We do need to acknowledge not only will any true missionary encounter needs to be a 2-way street and we need to expect to gain at least as much as we give; we also need openness to the surprise of finding benefits and gains in areas we never imagined. That old adage about its being far easier to give than to receive keeps holding true - the constant challenge of the non-self-sufficiency of grace.

"Asian ointment?" For me also, tai chi and yoga are blessings of mind/body/spirit healing, but that's so individual! To an extent the sum of the individuals is synergistic, but (my thinking and writing are rambling today)…

What will "Asian ointment" suggest about God's creating, caring and self-revealing activities?

It suggests God is not partial - even to us earth creatures that sometimes imagine ourselves creation's crown! It also suggests God's passion for creation and especially for relationship with creatures, even though we're not talking about the "like us" but rather about those "not like us": "the people I created for myself that they might declare My praise!" And reminds us though creation's not necessary, still God rejoices in creativity.

As Christians, despite affirming our creation in God's image, we know God and humans are discontinuous in many ways, so at least logically absolutely everything created is the recipient of both fallenness and wholeness.

As Paul says in Romans 5, the law entered human life and awareness that offense against God's holiness might abound, but where sin abounded, grace was much more abundant: God gave Torah not so much as to actually increase the trespass but to increase human's awareness of their depravity - IOW, the law convicted a creaturely humanity that otherwise was blissfully unaware of its sinfulness and, as Paul admits, grace/resurrection is God's final Word. Because, in any case, we're talking about creatures rather than Creator, even though not about terrestrial creation. Your asking if fallenness and grace are "totally terracentric concepts" shows how fruitful this discussion is! We're all actually realizing how culture-bound we tend to be!

Scripture says one like us in every way - except sin - was born, lived, was broken and "became sin," died, was raised from death and ascended to sovereignty at the right hand of God in order to complete the salvation/wholeness of all creation; God in Christ reconciled "all creation," and not just humanity, to Godself. Having said that, even emphasizing "all creation," it's a highly humanity-centric statement! The Bible does tell us so; however, we've been celebrating our God as a still-speaking God! We also confess Jesus Christ's sovereignty not over humanity alone, but once again over all creation.

As to the possibility of God's becoming incarnate or being "present" in other forms, my reply is predictable: we're living in Pentecost, the Spirit and the gifts are ours, along with God's call to continue doing the work of reconciliation as the Body of the Risen Christ. As Luther affirmed, the right hand of God is everywhere, therefore the Lordship of God in Christ is everywhere. Why would God's "right hand" of sovereignty not also be outside of known galaxies? Aren't they part of "everywhere?" That doesn't quite answer your excellent question, though - I'm still thinking about it.

Likely you've noticed what a Luther fan Prof. Koyama is? I confess I may be becoming one too, since my reading "project" during Winter 2002-2003 was Luther's The Christian in Society..

About God's presence in other manifestations in other than this-world expressions of creation... there's only a single Logos, Jesus Christ, still the "logos" concept was one already known that Christianity seized and appropriated. That Logos was present at creation and through that Word all things were created, and there's no reason to imagine other worlds beyond ours weren't part of that creativity! Yet ultimately, isn't even that particular cosmic metaphor shaped to our human understandings and perceptions?

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8: The Wrath of God in a Culture of Tranquility

water buffalo theology coverAs I read this chapter, I felt Professor Kosuke Koyama was referring to "history" as the realm of human affairs particularly as interpreted by the salvation history of the Bible, and thus his idea of "history" is transferable to any and all times and places of human life with its broad range of interactions and relationships. He particularly contrasts history and non-history, non-history or cyclical existence leading to the ideal of "no-self," which is "the perfect state of no-pathos." Interesting since we've discussed the emotional joy, pain, distress and elation attachments to people, places - and things - can bring us!

Further, in describing Buddhism's influence on the non-historical mindset of many Thai Christians, he describes it as moving away from karmic chains and away from causality: away from attachment! Clearly the God of the Bible confronts us with choices - sometimes choices between life and death, meaning we act in the midst of both existential and emotional attachment to persons and situations. The fundamental message of Thai nature says all is cyclical and reversible, tranquil and placid; the Bible's God claims our attention and our response by showing us the irreversible nature of our actions and calling us to decision - especially decision in relational contexts.

Introducing the chapter on page 68, he asks, "What is the matter with this God?" In other words, this God who becomes perturbed to the point of wrath is not like our idea of a perfect human! This God is no human invention!

On page 72 the author says the theology of the God not-in-history "is also the theology of God who is held captive in the continual cyclical flow of cosmic time and cannot meaningfully be moved to wrath." This essentially is a domesticated God, of course. One of the revolutionary things about the God of the Bible is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the prophets and the God of Jesus the Christ not only doesn't require beseeching, appeasement, protection or tribute - our God actually is immune to such human attempts at domestication. So in part the Thai Christians' God is not the Bible's God, but more like a god of human desires - a safe god who will remain wherever he is deposited and left until the people decide to return and move the god elsewhere. This brings us back to Egyptian religion, temple religion and imperial religion in general. The Bible's God not only is free but also elusive and cannot, will not be "deposited and left and later moved elsewhere" - the sacraments so aptly image the hidden yet apparent nature of the Bible's God! I love his phrase on page 69: "the scholastic captivity of God." It really must amuse God to watch us in discussions like this!

Detailing the limitations of a "theology of the neglect of history" he mentions:
  • The temptation he calls "stratospheric flight," which many times is such a temptation for everyone. OK, I'll speak for myself in that regard
  • An unmysterious God: I love his quoting Luther that God without "strange work" is God without "proper work!" And again, that kind of God is a God humans can understand and therefore domesticate to their own ends.
  • Finally, and strikingly, the not-historical God is a God continuous with humanity: there's no disruption between finite and infinite.
He ends the chapter saying the Thai Christian awareness of God must be "...deepened and substantiated by [their] sensing the presence of God incarnate in Christ." I love the word "substantiated," as it refers so strongly to a tangible, visible, audible God, to the God Whose wrath has "historical and covenantal reasons," reasons of "I-Thou!"

What about USA-brand Christianity? Is it not obscene to define a person or a family as a 'giving unit!' Or someone casually asking how "large" your congregation is - what does that mean? Baptized? Worship attendance? Budget? Staff?"

It looks as if we're returning to "vernacular, colloquial, lingua franca, Muttersprach!" After commenting Thai Christianity's being heavily influenced by Buddhism's passivity and non-historicism, you're asking have WE been "overly influenced" by the non-ecclesiastical climate all around us? Faithful, grace-filled living means walking am extremely fine line: we can argue forever, forcefully and correctly that Jesus knew the people's language and "spoke" the people's culture. And truly there's a lot to be said for not confronting a previously unchurched inquirer with an exegesis of Romans! In not doing so, are we presenting Christianity "watered down?" If "seeker" style worship not only brings in the numbers and the offering but at the same time leads to growth in real commitment to the Lord of Life, why not? But please be assured - that's not my final answer!

About marketing and organization structure in Cleveland, Chicago, Louisville and at other denominational headquarters, I don't know. I do know "they're all doing it," and they're following what's basically a business model. We can describe the Church as "the exhibition of the Kingdom of God to the world!" According to Jesus and the Bible, that Kingdom of Heaven can be identified by agape love and by inclusion and justice, characteristics not often generated by following typical secular models.

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7: "Neighborology"

From Kosuke Koyama,

water buffalo theology cover"How can anyone be a teacher of religion unless he is at home with the language of the people?"
"... was annoyed at me for looking at her in my own terms."
Quote from John Baillie: "Reality is…the other-than-myself which pulls me up and obliges me to reckon with it and adjust myself to it because it will not consent simply to adjust itself to me." Koyama says the missionary (that's us!) is "sandwiched between Christ's saving reality and his neighbor's "other-than-myself" reality. And, the missionary (us, again) surrenders to the Word of God in order to communicate the message of the real Christ to the real neighbors:
"[the neighbor] asks the questions and [the missionary] seeks the answers in Christ."
The law prevents us from seeing and hearing our neighbors ("the other's") real claims on us. And, "we must know the difference between the legalistic I and the missionary I." "The uncushioned neighborology of Christ cuts like a knife through the cushioned [legalistic] neighborology of the ruler of the synagogue."

Sense of God's presence / sense of the neighbor's presence

Too many times after meeting with a person or in a group I've realized what a wall my assumptions and stereotypes and history have built between us. Of course my prior life experience (and even my academic background!) can be helpful and enlightening, but the problem is the way I almost inevitably filter everything and everyone through my own experience. Ages ago I saw an ad that read, "out of a sense of self, a sense of the other," and to some extent that's true, but barriers go up when I assume I know the other because some of my experience has paralleled some of theirs.

Nevertheless, doesn't a whole lot of our identity come from our history? We can't live genuinely as "Persons of Amnesia," but my identity needs to become translucent and transparent so "I" can get out of the way and see and feel the other. I've been in the greatest danger with people whose background is similar to mine! I've tried hard to convince people with whom I have some common experience - or even shared history - to please, please see me as myself and not as mirrors of who they are and where they've been.

To help celebrate one of my birthdays, I attended Herb Gardner's play, Conversations with my Father, with a now-deceased friend. It was about three generations of a Jewish-American family: the first generation doing everything they could to relinquish old country, customs and religion; a second generation halfway in-between both places and ways of being; and finally a third generation seeking roots, trying to reclaim the history the first generation had discarded and announcing to the world a person without history is no-person.

Chapter 8 to follow! This rereading (some) and rethinking (some) is lots of fun!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6: Aristotelian Pepper and Buddhist Salt

water buffalo theology coverOur particularly Western propensity is to equate love with emotional attachment - rather than the agape "will to love," Jesus showed and taught us. The way of love 1 John 4 teaches is the will to love - as is last Sunday's gospel from John 15: we branches are fruitful when we abide in Jesus, the vine; we produce fruit if our attachment is to Jesus. The attachment in feeling and sentiment we post-Enlightenment people call "love" often does lead to disappointment, loss and subsequent pain.

But the Bible reveals God's attachment to the world of creation as a passionate - an ardent and erotic - attachment! Though God's attachment to us also includes decision and action - of grace given to us in spite of and sometimes because of. Action and decision to the point of totally identifying with us to the extent of living and dying as one of us: learning and knowing us, creation - God's beloved - so completely as to walk in our sandals.

The kitchen imagery is exceptionally apt in discussing Christianity, as the Bible is full of references and analogies to common, ordinary, everyday things (material, physical "possessions") and activities. As Professor Kosuke Koyama observes and as we know, real theology is done in the venues and locales where actually people live and not in theology classrooms, as those of us who are so comfortable in school constantly need to be reminded!

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 5

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Part II: Rooting the Gospel

Chapter 5: Bangkok and Wittenberg

water buffalo theology coverThe Luther story is especially arresting in the context of the "vernacular" we've been discussing. The picture in my head/stereotype of Luther includes immense passion, tremendous guilt and sometimes overpowering distress. Earlier, Koyama says the woman who anointed Jesus is a snapshot of the way God acts in human history: countercultural in terms of all the humanly respectable religious, economic, social and political establishments, but that event also clearly shows God reaches out to people where they are at that moment, and it reveals God's preference for the position of those who are marginalized and outcast from respectability. Back to Dr. Luther! Of course Luther interpreted that scripture text vis-à-vis his own experience with both the "in spite of" of faith and grace and the "because of" of faith and grace, which we read as very Pauline. Isn't the Canaanite woman's story also Luther's story? Our author says, "...the amazing power and capacity of faith itself."

Koyama's reaction that Luther's interpretation had to be the correct one is fascinating! He refers to "the overwhelming giant, Luther" and interpretations by persons like church parents and the Reformers and well-known contemporary theologians often do tend to overpower and overshadow our own scriptural interpretations. Sometimes I'll find myself feeling a little guilty when I disagree with them - just like Prof. Koyama felt.

Again returning to Luther - to quote Koyama, "My audience went home with the impression that some kind of neurosis constitutes the vital part of the Christian faith." And I reply, "Some kind of neurosis? Well, Martin Luther..."

Page 55: "In the relationship between God and humans, that is, in the believing situation, our 'because of'must be assaulted by God's new situation in which we are confronted by 'in spite of.'"

Does this speak to the idea of a universal factor erasing political, social, cultural, religious demarcations?

Since I've already read Chapter 6, "Aristotelian Pepper and Buddhist Salt," which gets into basic theological vocabulary and it really gets into what might be called "translating" Christianese into Buddhism's native tongue without losing the essential meaning of our kerygma.

Romans 10:13-15a
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?
But this question is about faith rather than evangelism?


We've been mentioning our God's "slowness." Scripture says we're created in God's image, an image we usually interpret as love, creativity, free will or community. Seems as if "SLOWNESS" also needs to be part of who we are if we're going to resemble God!