Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Longing for Home

Sara recently emailed me:
I have been feeling homesick for San Diego and was so glad to hear from you! We are happy to be "home" with family, but are finding that we don't totally have a place here yet (emotionally). I feel kind of like I did when I came back from Russia. I was thrilled to be back, and sad that I left behind such a magical place and it really took some adjusting. I think that all change is painful but very healthy. For now we are living with Derek's Parents for a few more weeks until my parents' apartment opens up. We then plan to move into a forever house in a few more months.

Sara's words got me thinking about home, belonging, homelessness and unbelonging. Aside from not having a forever house and as a result almost living in the future when she will have a very physical and settled "place," I think part of what's happening with Sara is having lived a bunch of locales and been settled and at home in them, it's the same as I've experienced: I love being everywhere, feel everywhere is home for me, yet I always have a sense of longing not only for where I've just been but for every place I've ever lived.

Home is Always the Place you Just LeftSo I usually have a feeling of not belonging "here" because of my intense longing for "there!" At Open Door Books I noticed the title, home is always the place you just left: a memoir of restless longing and persistent grace–Very, very apt! Book by Betty Smart Carter; Paraclete Press; ISBN: 1557253234; May 2003

Ultimately, feeling rootless gets back to the nature and reality of living the gospel; just like the Israelites of the Exodus, in Jesus Christ we live in the precariousness of nomadic, unsettled existence, daily undergoing baptism's liminality: each day recalling and actually reliving the perilous and risk-filled underwater moment in that watery tomb of death that at the same time is sustaining womb of new life, the fragile instant in which we need totally to trust the baptizer—who, after, all represents God, the One Who really baptizes.

The early church baptized in the flowing water of a river: just as every life moment is different, you can't step into the same river more than once! Living baptized means although every moment is perched and balanced on the limen – the threshold – between our old lives of bondage to sin and self and our new lives of Eastered freedom for others, living baptized means during some of those moments we also know fleetingly the fullness of gospeled community. Many times I've pointed out for Israel the River Jordan had been the barrier separating them from the Promised Land and then became the boundary and border of their Promise Landed lives. Likewise, for us baptism keeps defining us as different from those outside the community of the church yet is an event that counts us into the people of God of all generations: the Covenanted People!

A few months ago I quoted from an author who said being grounded was one of our principal needs; to me her conviction feels so correct! But more about feeling homeless and unanchored; here's a pair of celebrated directives from the Pentateuch:

Exodus 23:9

"Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." NKJV

From Leviticus 25, the Jubilee chapter: v. 23

"The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me." NKJV

In these verses, in another foretaste of His incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, God commands Israel to show hospitality to the stranger because of their strangerness in Egypt and God assures Israel of his strangerness alongside them, so this text delineates both horizontal and vertical relationships. I love how the UCC Statement of Faith says in Christ Jesus, God "shared our common lot," and that's what God has done since the Exodus from slavery – that commonness and common lot of being a stranger, the one not-like-us, the one who doesn't belong with us or among us because they're not the same as we are. But our baptism into the Christ Event obliterates the non-essential differences between us so we can walk together as a community of crucified and risen people. In Christ Jesus God became the alien and the other for us; we live baptized into the God who in Christ still accompanies us every step of our journey.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Prophet Mediator Word

Martin Buber, The Prophetic Faith, page 164:

prophetic faith coverIn the chapter "The God of the Sufferers," writing about Jeremiah - as well as Hebrew prophets and prophecy in general - Buber says: "Not the priest but the prophet he regards as the mediator between heaven and earth, messenger of God and intercessor in one. The contact between godhead and manhood in his view is not bound up with the rite but with the word. ...the word comes again and again from heaven as something new, and makes its abode within man. ...

"and the man who has to make it heard is over and over again subdued by the word before He lets it be put in his mouth. This is not the expression of a familiar deity, with whom man comes into regular contact in fixed places and at fixed times. He, Who speaks, is incomprehensible, irregular, surprising, overwhelming, sovereign. Therefore it is the virtue of this word, and of this alone, to lead, that is to say, to show the way."

That is so Christological, incarnational and sacramental! Though Martin Buber is writing about Jerusalem's Jeremiah, because this passage is about Moses and Jesus, too - the Law and the Prophets - I'll say more about the desert, a subject I've thought about a lot over these past few months: the desert and the central and necessary place desert reality and imagery play throughout the Bible's witness and in the lives of God's people from the Exodus through this year 2004. Regarding this Word that above everything is a Word of life, frequently I remind people it's not about signs and wonders - even the gods of the Egyptians could do the signs and wonders - but it's about God-with-us, God-among-us, supremely illustrated and absolutely ratified in the Christ Event! It's about resurrection from the dead - something no one but the God of Heaven and Earth can do.

But returning to the desert: in the desert Israel learned Yahweh's nature and their identity and call as Yahweh's people - José Severino Croatto calls his book-long study Exodus, a Hermeneutics of Freedom! Here are some of my thoughts on a pair of Exodus texts; the first is from chapter 5:

Exodus 5:1

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'"

"Let my people go! Release them from slavery, free them, let them be 'free to be' in my image as I created them to be." This long has been one of my favorite scriptures to evoke when life is getting rough. This festival in the desert, feast in the wilderness as the RSV expresses it, is worship! Glorifying God and enjoying God with a foretaste of the eschatological "forever" in which we live in Christ.

In the desert wilderness of the Exodus, Israel meets God who identifies with them and God identifies with where the people are - with their total Sitz im Leben - to such an extreme extent God becomes like them, God of the sojourner actually becomes one of the desert sojourners, in more than a hint of the same God, Who in Christ Jesus, lived as one of us, "shared our common lot" of birth, life, death and burial. The covenanted people of God in Christ is a "gospeled" community: the assembly that observes the commandments, the Sabbath and the tithe, the assembly alive in the vulnerability and risking fragility of living with God's sufficient "shalom" sustenance for this day only as each individual and the community put ultimate trust in the God of great surprises Who is God of resurrection from the dead.

My next passage for this study is from chapter 12

Exodus 12

1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. . . . 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, in the land of slavery - a freedom proclamation, emancipation proclamation in the midst of slavery and bondage! Once again, here's the covenanted gospeled worshiping assembling and community of service.

14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. . . . 17 You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance.

"On this very day!" On this very day you are free - not you will be free! Remember Paul's "For freedom Christ has set you free? So don't submit to a yoke of slavery again!" [Galatians 5:1] We could add, "But take up your yoke of service." The Bible emphasizes the one-time-ness of baptism, our one-ness in baptism and our constantly needing awareness of being dead and risen - dying to slavery and rising to freedom. Luther talks about every day – common, ordinary, "everyday" - repentance and renewal with a "daily drowning and rising."

Monday, March 15, 2004

Lent 4 C Joshua 5:9-12

According to the Revised Common Lectionary, here's the First Reading for Sunday, Lent 4.

Joshua 5

9 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace [NIV: reproach] of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. 10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year. NRSV

Along with Shechem, Shiloh, and Bethel...

Gilgal was one of the shrines of the tribal confederacy. This text hauntingly recounts the first Passover in the promised land of Canaan! No longer does the community need to count on manna from heaven; now they can harvest and enjoy the land's bounty. Like our New Covenant sacraments, baptism and Holy Communion, Passover was sacramental remembrance, real-time re-enactment, and anticipation of God's future faithfulness in liberating, providing for and shaping the people into a community that reflects and enables God's own faithfulness and liberation.

It's another reminder of God's very physical and earthbound provision! Any times our lives lose the sense of uncertainty we've experienced in the desert's wildness and precariousness and we begin feeling comfortable and assured of life necessities beyond our very "daily bread," we almost inevitably begin trusting ourselves and our own power rather than God and God's power. Despite that fact, "today!" in this text is so present...rolled away the disgrace, the reproach of Egypt, rolled away the shabbiness and dis-grace of bondage and slavery, rolled in a life of freedom—resurrected life, Eastered life! "Today" is extremely close at hand with an urgent sense of here-and-now, emphasizing we need to live "as if" still in the wilderness, as if we still were trusting God every moment for every bite and every breath, because in real life, we are in that liminal position we assumed when God acted in our baptism. Every today we live immersed in vulnerability and dependence, on the boundary between life on our own and life in community.

Living "today" means out of my own control, into God's control and abandoned into the unpredictable embrace and support of the community!

So you've (we've, I've) been to Gilgal, the place of rolling away doubts, pasts, fears, transgressions, regrets and anything else that's been getting in the way.

Abandonment to God! Out of my own control, into God's control and also abandoned into the often not all that predictable embrace and support of the community... the congregation into which God calls us actually is the Body of the Christ: to each of us and to the world the crucified body of Christ in its redeeming brokenness but also the Body of the Risen One in its liberating wholeness. May we see. May we be!

Gilgal is a kind of onomatopoeia for the Hebrew word meaning "roll," as in roll away.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee conclusion

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

*Concluding Remarks!* tangie | *

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverJust as whenever I read any Christian or biblically-based literature by someone who lives and navigates within a free church rather than a sacramental tradition, I need to adjust my thinking likewise. However, being typically me I'll begin by saying I'd've written this book differently because I'd've kept referencing the sacraments throughout. Now that I'm partially out of the way...

Overall impressions and responses to the discussion moderator's suggestions:

Things you particularly liked.

It's sort of about the same reason I enjoy school! Structures, expectations and the necessity of going along with the assignments other people give me rather than free-spiriting it on my own, and, of course, the mutual ideas exchange. Then, I was proud of myself for not forcing an opinion, idea or agreement with everything! As I've said several times, some of John Fischer's supposedly *universally applicable* remarks applied scarily well to me and just as many didn't.

Things you didn't.

First, see my statement about the sacraments. I need to be aware how highly sacramental my theology has become and I need equally to be aware what a long (strange?), privileged journey (trip? Yes!!!:D :D :D) it's been from my undergrad days at First Citified American Baptist through a slew of permutations and even a few re formations to where I am now. Then, I'd also be interested in some of John Fischer's answers to the questions he posed; however, he may have been intentional about this. If I'm in a listening/counseling situation where someone else is the primary subject, I've discovered at times opening about my experiences and viewpoints can be very helpful, and at other times I'll say almost nothing about myself.

Did it help you? Produce any changes in your life and faith walk?

The book did help me some. Many times John Fischer was so close to where I am and know I shouldn't remain, while other times he didn't describe me or my experience remotely. And yes, it produced some changes and gave me the potential for more change, because as usual with any spiritual/practical endeavor, it made me both more self-conscious and less self-conscious, both of those in positive ways and in negative ones.

Would you recommend this book to a friend?

Yes, with the same cautions I've posted. I may have mentioned here that during Lent 2004 I was in a weekly discussion of Lauren Winner's recent book sensation, mudhouse sabbath. Almost the first comment from one of the other participants was how sick and tired she'd become of all the "12 Step" everythings! At the time I sort of agreed, but then I told her about our online discussion of this book and mentioned in this case the 12-step format definitely was helping me some.


None right now, but after my week more-or-less just reading and not writing much on these boards, I'll be back to read and maybe comment on what everyone else posts.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

[Very] Briefly About Worship

Winter 2004

Psalm 22:3

But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel KJV

Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. NASB

" glorify God and fully to enjoy God forever!"

Christian worship needs to reflect and embody well God's incarnation in Christ Jesus; worship is about enthroning God on our praises; and biblical worship supremely is about God's self-giving to the church, the called-out assembly of the people of God, God's self-giving in Word and Sacrament, reflecting God's ultimate gift of Godself in Jesus of Nazareth.

In my liturgy class we had a chance to design our essential worship space. Mine was the most minimal; here's what I included:
  • a gathering place

  • a place of the Word

  • one table

  • one font

  • a name for the community
Today I'd also insist on:
  • a cross

  • windows open to the world

Romans 6 notes

"Death and Other Blessings" – arresting sermon title? No, just a Pauline one :p

Here we move into the real Gospel According to Paul: death and resurrection! The reality of our crucified and risen life – sacramentally hidden yet apparent in Christ – enables our daily, sometimes (better make that "frequently") plodding gospeled life of loving God and neighbor in the manner Jesus showed us. This chapter reminds us Paul never lost his passion for the Law, but he became more and more convinced of the total impossibility of anyone fully performing any law and more and more convinced of the justifying and redemptive grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Some of Scott's comments:

• Outlet on the American River, in La Jolla caves: even when you've already been there and done that, you still gotta trust!

• Safety in Christ Jesus!

• Freed for good works

• Freed from self-idolatry, which reminds me of Arizona poet Richard Shelton's poem, "Totem" – here's some of it (space limitations prevent quoting all of it; I really wanted to keep these notes short):
stars you inquisitive
shall I tell you the same things
again shall I tell you all the places
I went when I had nowhere to go
shall I draw you a map

while it is still night
with morning around the edges
I will take the face of dawn
in my hands and say it

surely if I can tell anyone
I can tell her
that I have found
the gods and discovered
I am not one of them...
Scott quoted from Wendell Berry's "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front." Here's an excerpt:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die. ...
...When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

...So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. ...

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. ...

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts. ...
Practice resurrection.

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 12

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 12: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else."

Step 12 text notes:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverThe song JF quotes at the beginning and end of the chapter reminds me of REM's "Everybody Hurts." Christians "distant and odd?" But we're supposed to be peculiar people . . . however, we're not supposed to be distant at all, but rather completely engaged with the world. Experiences those others out there have with us real Christians, yes. I've previously mentioned how irritated I get when yet once again I get the unexciting, dreary, out-of-this-world imagining of the so called typical Christian directed at wonderful, totally untypical me. Branding . . . we've been discussing branding over on Evangelism! Image or message? Both image and message need interpretation, though – you can't assume either at face value, since what you see isn't necessarily all you get. Behavioral and cultural issues: if you start attending church maybe you can't have any fun any more. The leader blasting himself totally out of this world! Exactly the popular image of Christians and Christianity: being born for heaven and dying to go there, rather than dying and being reborn to serve this world. Telling our stories so others can identify with them and make us credible. Yes, but more and more I'm tired of using or hearing a lot of those down-home personal sermon examples. These days when I preach I avoid them almost entirely. Sinners in need of a Savior? But also in need of reconciling, covenanted community where a person (you or me) can be themselves, can be real! Going out of our way "to be human." I like that a whole lot. Gesture hieratic and profound? "Hieratic" is a new word to me. As in "hierarchy?" At the banquet of the living—the table of forgiving . . .

1. What is your initial response to being made sport of by the world for being a believer? Is the ridicule simply because you are a Christian, or because you are a Pharisee? Would the criticism be different in each case?

It's tiresome. However, it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. It is (was) more because of my being a Christian than because of any particularly pharisaical behavior I was guilty of. What used to get to me extremely were those so-called intellectuals expressing surprise that an intelligent person like me would be so "superstitious."

2. Why does knowing who we are in Christ become so important when facing the mocking of the world? How can we respond in the way Jesus would?

If we know our identity as people doubly the children of God, that awareness goes far in equipping us with a modicum of equanimity to face the world. To respond as Jesus would? First . . . (taking a deep breath) "pray always" – being in that constant communication with God is essential, and then not to worry about the outcome of what I've said or done.

3. Write out a quick list: What examples of "branding" can you see if you take an honest look at your life? In what ways have you focused more on an image than on a message?

Oh, image image image image image! * And more of the same! *

4. How can an abortion doctor or a pornographer be closer to God's kingdom than a church member or a church officer?

I don't have an answer for this question.

5. How does being vulnerable about struggles enhance rather than harm our witness? Are there certain things we should keep under wraps? Are there any lines that need to be drawn? Why?

It makes us credible and not sounding too preachy and self righteous or anything related to it. I think some things need to be kept more private, so we avoid the sin of pride about being greater sinners (and then more forgiven, and therefore more favored to God) than other people. And it depends on the setting, public, private, or halfway in-between the two. It also depends on the history and degree of intimacy you have with the person or persons you're with.

Communion Eucharist Eschatological Feast - again!

This subject fascinates me! I've already posted several times about the Eucharist - about meaning and reception. Here's a little more about the sometime controversy and frequent questions regarding who gets to draw near to and feast at the Table of Life. I love the way both sacraments reflect and embody the paradoxical nature of God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, the paradox of the humanity and divinity of biblical witness and the plain paradox we encounter whenever we talk about God.

Jürgen Moltmann: Jesus' invitation is prevenient.

...because it's the eschatological feast to which people will come from the east and the west, the north and the south, and sit at table in the Sovereignty of God and the Church is *supposed to be* the provisional demonstration of what God intends for all humanity.

Those Reformers, particularly Calvin and Luther: We need to keep Word and Sacrament tightly yoked, which is one rationale and even a type of justification for some denominations and local churches insisting communicants – including young children – need to get a dose of the Word proximate to the time they receive the sacrament. So, although a Service of the Word is not uncommon, churches (at least in mainline traditions) never celebrate Eucharist without a reading and an exposition of the Word.

Methodist Book of Discipline: If you're receiving the sacrament of HC, you're identifying with Jesus' way, so you need to be preparing for baptism.

Some insist: It's the church's feast - yes.

Others: It's Jesus' meal - again, yes!

Still others: well, North American theologian Robert McAfee Brown says people who aren't practicing justice and righteousness in their everyday weekday lives *should* be kept from the Lord's Table! Part of me concurs with him, though another part of me rejoices mightily every time I hear the presider announce a truly open Table. In ages past more than one U.S. protestant denom had a routine of either distributing tokens for admission to Holy Communion or requiring consultation with the pastor for permission to commune. I'd suppose some congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod retain the custom. hile realizing both Calvin and Luther kept the latter practice in the churches they pastored, I do realize (really!) either one is phenomenally open to abuse.

My response: It's both Jesus' and the Church's meal and...

Here's an interesting note:

Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann: Communion is "pre-Eucharist"; in mentioning Luther's Catechism's (usual preparation for 1st Communion) beginning with the commandments, WB says, of course—it's the God of the Commandments with whom we commune!

Friday, March 12, 2004

Main Street

main street lowell michigan
original Main Street Lowell Michigan photograph by AcrylicArtist on morgue file

edited by my own suntreeriver design identity

Main Street experiences?! I love this topic and the Main Street/Church Street sign on the UCC homepage is wonderful! First, I’ll confess I’ve never read Lewis’ Main Street, so I’ll run with some images and impressions. BTW, many years ago I spent an interesting citified summer on West Main Street.

That particular urban locale aside, for me the name “Main Street” kindles a generic picture and a general metaphor. My picture is from New England or somewhere in the American Midwest; it’s a single central street lined with shops: hardware store, drugstore with soda fountain, flower shop, curio shop, bookstore, coffee/sandwich shop and maybe a down-home-cookin’ restaurant. Ages ago a poem I wrote included the phrase, “The Colonial’s a restaurant on Main Street” [Hudson, Ohio]. This Main Street sports one or two branch banks, the town offices and – at one end of the commercial strip – the absolutely requisite iconic white-steepled church building, most likely Congregational/UCC, possibly Presbyterian or Lutheran, but you’d better believe it's big "P" Protestant!

My Main Street picture has featureless people, but my Main Street metaphor is primarily a lifestyle that includes a describable type of person. Here’s a start: this Main Street Person [MSP] wants to belong—to be homogenous yet stereotypically distinctive and noticeable; trendy and up-to-date about ideas, politics and general styles of everything like attire and apparel, vehicles, home furnishings, recreation pursuits and vacation venues without being on the cutting edge of much of anything; spiritual, but without real commitment to institutional religion or to the radical way of Jesus ... this MSP is anything but counter-cultural and not remotely willing to disengage from whatever society’s mainstream conventions have become for the moment, the particular moment that’s (very) close at hand. Do you remember Charles Schulz’s Lucy as psychiatrist with her, “The Doctor is in ... The Doctor is Real in?” Well this MSP is real, real “in!”

How does my life and style as a Christian correspond to this MSP? And, should it—or not? The “Main Street” subject relates to our discussion over in Evangelism and to the “12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me)” book thread. Last summer we talked about “evangelism in the vernacular,” in a twist on Luther’s insisting on “worship in the vernacular” as a mark of the true church. Peculiar people as we’re supposed to be, we also need to be appear enough like everyone else that they can identify with us and therefore with the reasons we’re in Christ―aside from God’s calling and election of us, but that’s a different subject for another day.

Recently I’ve been reading again Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism; I originally read it a couple years before the UCC E-Forum became so active, and I wanted to see how my perspective had been changing. In that book he talks a lot about living “gospeled” lives, which include keeping covenant, keeping the Sabbath and keeping the tithe. During this Lent I’ll be participating in a live(!) discussion of Lauren Winner’s new book, mudhouse sabbath. And some time ago I read Marva Dawn’s Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Eerdmans, September 1989). So I’ll conclude by saying one of the distinctions and contrasts between the MSP and what my lifestyle as a Christian needs to be involved the way I keep Sabbath! And I’m planning to continue this topic some other time.

Romans 7 notes

The Cotton Patch Version (CPV) of Paul's Epistles translates Paul’s subjunctive of emphatic negation – μή γένοιτο – which in English usually becomes a polite and deferential "by no means" – as "Hell, no!"

Recap of Romans 6: after our near death (well, actually experiencing our first death) experience we’re less fearful of death power, so (referring back to Berry's Manifesto) we’re free to practice resurrection.

When we're the sinned against, we are so exquisitely aware of the law and all the most minuscule transgressions of the law

Even mentioning a possible and potential occasion of sin (Las Vegas for the gambler, caches of drugs for the addict) is enough to set our hearts wildly yearning in that direction. In our post-liturgy discussion group someone suggested, "How about Hot Fudge Sundae for the dieter?"

Cheryl: if there wasn't a law, we wouldn't want to do it!

Cheryl: if one person does it, then the next person does, then the entire group begins doing it and the joint participation "normalizes" the offense and transgressing the law actually becomes normal, literally the "norm!" Mob mentality (Cheryl's words)

Harvey Cox: "Sin is normative in the Fall." (Sorry I don’t have the reference.)

Isabelle: multiculturalism in Paul's time is like today’s internationalization! Internationalism?


Today I'd like to mention Jürgen Moltmann (for one, and possibly not the only one) compiled a taxonomy of 1st Article (of the Creed) theology, emphasizing Creation, and citing the Roman Catholic Church's theology as an example; 2nd Article theology, emphasizing redemption and focusing on God's initiative in the Christ event, with the Reformers of 16th-century European Reformation (OK, primarily Luther and Calvin) as his examples, and finally 3rd Article theology, as he articulated John Wesley's position of holiness and ultimate sanctification.

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 11

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 11: "We choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude."

Step 11 text notes:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverThe Mountain of Holiness and the great Rivers of Law and Grace flowing from the watershed . . . the river that's never the same river more than once! Maintaining a "not true" image of ourselves . . . yes and no. To get technical (pharisaical?) about it, one of the expectations of our living in society is to have the willingness and ability to maintain a certain façade. But I won't run that one out of steam. page 143: getting mad because someone else had received as a gift something I've been working years to get. Yes, sometimes! I can identify with that. I like JF's pointing out we've done nothing to deserve, create or maintain our righteousness. "Maintain" is particularly telling, since when we accept a gift it would seem I'd need to do something faithfully to take care of and sustain the gift, as in stewardship of it. Also on p. 143, "We have been clean all along . . ." so all we need do is claim the gift, but again it's not of our own work but rather a work of grace. He quotes "mourning into dancing" from Psalm 30, which is appointed for this coming Sunday, Easter 3! I believe this book was right in alignment with another lection a week or two ago, as well! Paychecks! This afternoon over on Evangelism I wrote, "Checks and balances? There are none, at least not in the way we humans imagine them, as in the kind of earned justice and just desserts we like to deal in. For many people a lot of the time it's not about human dignity, need and worth but more about earning points vis-à-vis that person's behavior's effect on me!" Yep, that's the human norm. A thankful heart cancels out pharisaical flaws! There's some Worm Theology on pages 145-146, though. His resentment story about the success of someone else's book on the same subject he'd written a pamphlet about . . . another attitude I identify with. Doing in hell rather than experiencing in heaven? A horrifying idea to be unattached to your own "works?" I for one enjoy the results of my own creativity and I recognize my abilities as gracious gifts of God. So what's going on here?

1. At what point in your spiritual journey did you begin to realize it was pharisaism that was depleting your life of joy and gratitude? What factors or situations heightened the awareness of your heart's condition?

I don't know that I have. On the one hand I'm often open to God's surprises, like the many times my plans haven't worked out at all because God has put His plan in place, and I'm always hoping it will prove superior to mine, but on the other hand after recent years I've been extremely grateful nothing worse has happened and that I'm still alive and even thriving! So I've found myself caught up more in a wormy attitude that in a gratitudey one.

2. Other than for specific occasions, such as your birthday, is it difficult for you to expect something you feel you haven't earned? Do you know why?

Partly because I imagine people are looking at me and telling themselves in preparation for inform me that I don't deserve whatever it is because I haven't earned it. However, in recent years I've gotten far better at receiving gifts.

3. What kind of poverty can overtake a thankful heart? Could you ever have so little that you would have nothing to offer someone else? At what point is complaining justified?

Back to Worm Theology. At times I've found myself far too thankful because I haven't been annihilated, because things aren't worse than they are, and in the process I've found myself willing to be satisfied with far less than I should be in terms of employment, friends and other various life trappings, gear and accoutrements. I also realize if I'd allowed myself some loud complaining (if only within my own hearing!) I might've taken far swifter action than I did.

4. Is there anything for which you are not thankful? Is there anything you assume is your right and can therefore be taken for granted? Why?

My experience has been that I settle for too little and find myself full of gratitude for the chicken-feed of not having been totally wiped out: after all, everything could've turned out so much worse, so therefore I'm thankful for what I have and where I am. IOW, Worm Theology! Actually, although I didn't do "all that school" because I wanted to make a whole lot of $$$, I still find myself believing I'm entitled to be able to make a reasonable living and not be stuck in poverty - *tangie*

Thursday, March 11, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 10

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 10: "We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality."

Step 10 text notes:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverRight away JF grabbed me with the words of this step! "Astonishing" is exactly what God's self-revelation in Christ Jesus is; "astonishment" is the only imaginable response to our God of glory, majesty and sovereignty choosing to live and die as one of us. And that's the God Who has the power that raises the dead! I like Kierkegaard's idea that opens this chapter. Everything I've been trying to do to better myself "is completely and utterly ineffectual?" I don't think so! It may not exactly be salvific, but it sure does help in my spiritual growth and in the lives of others around me. Part of me likes the Sermon on the Mount's image of revisiting the Mosaic covenant, but another part of me prefers the solidarity with the "little people" of the Sermon on the Plain and its promise of justice.

"Failure is the doorway to freedom." I need to ponder that. Page 131: "Law has no grace?" Possibly not in and of itself, but law leads to the realization of inadequacy and the subsequent grasp (embrace) of grace! All of you know Paul of Tarsus and his theology of depravity and grace. I don't like the way JF spiritualizes the Sermon on the Mount, (preferring Luke's version, which is about the reality of material and economic poverty), but OK, each of us is spiritually impoverished at times, and if we're not right now, we have been and will be later and/or must become so! We're supposed to lose? As Robert Farrar Capon insists, only the last, the least, the little and the lost will be saved or can be saved! Because we gotta become like God (You shall be like God, as the tempter promised back in the primal Garden of Earthly Delights), we need to empty ourselves and take the attitude and the actual position of a slave…remember Maundy Thursday's foot-washing? Oh wow, I was reading and typing through this chapter and then JF quotes Fr. Capon! Absolutely true we never would've thought of the gospel of being forgiven, freed and sent forth to serve because it is outrageously against our human ideas of greatness.

Page 135: "Just as law has no grace, grace has no law." Imagining we deserve the status of being saved, of being whole? but in a sense we do, since we're God's creation. Page 137: earthen vessels, clay jars drawing attention to their contents rather than to their appearances. Yes! That's essential information for those of us (ahem) who tend to be into appearances.

1. Have you ever taken a particular virtue, isolated it, and done everything in your power to perfect it? What was the result? If you haven't done this, do you think it's possible?

No, I haven't but it like the idea. Even though I'll never "win," I will make progress, which will better our life and the lives of those we touch, as in the concentric circles made by the stone thrown into the pond.

2. In your experience, does the local church reflect the opening statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Why or why not?

Too many people in too many local churches have too much tendency to spiritualize (or to "over"-spiritualize) the whole entire Christian Jesus trip. I've also not been thrilled with all the smiling liberals who imagine they're saying and doing all the right things but in real life, are saying and doing one obscenity after another.

3. If our salvation, or our being chosen by God, doesn't amaze us, what are we missing? To whom is salvation truly the greatest gift? Is it possible to be "good' enough that the wonder of salvation is diminished in our lives?

I'd hope and expect all creation would be elect! It's not only God's gift to each of one us and to the entire redeemed, restored and recreated creation; it's also God's gift to Godself, as in the Christ event God buys back, "redeems" creation for His glory: "The people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise!"

4. Are confession and repentance a natural part of your church experience?

Yes, if JF is referring particularly to Sunday morning worship, I really like it when worship services include confession of sin and absolution offered and conveyed by the Word and in the Name of God. However, when I participate or attend a liturgy that doesn't include confession and absolution, I'm fine with that, since so many of them do. This past Good Friday evening I was at a worship and concert event where we had the opportunity physically to nail sins, attitudes, concerns or whatevers to a big wooden cross using a big hammer. Powerful!

5. Have you ever seen a Pharisee dance? Can you picture it?

No, not quite but claiming my own sometimes pharisaical and legalistic attitudes (both about myself and about all those "others" out there and even in here, in the visible church), I often come close to it when I end up laughing at myself. BTW, I love to dance anywhere and at anytime, but I think this is more about Dancing Before the Lord than it's about going to some secular dance club venue.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 9

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 9: "We are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider others better than ourselves."


Some notes on the step 9 text:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book cover"Servant of this gospel!" The incident about the guy who'd "completely misconstrued" the conversation even though he'd only heard a little of it. Interesting about the group's discounting what the guy had said about JF. The addictiveness of being treated as a special person by outsiders when you're not treated that way at home by insiders who sort of think they know you. Yes! Next Sunday's (Lent 6) 2nd lesson from Philippians 2! Page 122: seeing others as they could be in Christ and thus "creating an environment for it to be so." Also, seeing myself as who I'd be without Christ! Casting blame on others or taking the blame ourselves? This gets back to our E-Forum discussion a couple weeks ago about being called into community and our covenantal interresponsibility. Page 126: being beguiled "by the cares and pleasures of the world."

1. Do we have a responsibility to consider criticism even if it is delivered in a way that is not constructive? Is there anyone from whom we should not accept criticism?

Yes. I've discovered even when or if someone else's (friend, foe or stranger) assessment of me is 95% incorrect, there's almost always a morsel of truth in what they're saying, in however accusatory a manner it may come across. And when someone's assessment of me is close to 95% glowing, I need to be aware of what they're leaving unsaid or (possibly) of what they're not aware of.

2. How can we consider others better than ourselves without having a self-image problem? If we consider ourselves to be the least of the least, how can we believe that we have value?

I don't see it a matter of considering "others better than ourselves" at all; too many of us are far too self-deprecating and despite bravado appearing to the contrary, most of us have a far too lowly sense of self-worth, even when our formal theology's got it right. To me it's about assuming the "attitude" of a servant and the corresponding willingness to "pour out" our lives – as in the Philippians text!

3. If everyone else's sin is none of our business, how are we accountable to each other? Is there any place for confrontation in our Christian walk? What are the guiding principles for this issue?

I believe our mutual accountability is mainly in the realm of our interresponsibility to support each other, and that means being sensitive and perceptive to where others are. Of course, everyone doesn't have exactly wonderful gifts and experiences functioning in that are. Oh, confrontation? No, not if by "confrontation" JF is referring to an accusatory, attacking manner. But at times, when a problem or situation persists, we do need to try "speaking the truth in love."

4. How would seeing with the eyes of Jesus instead of our own make a difference in our relationships?

Of course we know Jesus saw both the godliness and the depravity (or at least the potential godliness and depravity) in everyone with complete clarity. Even those of us who are in Christ and have been walking the Lord of Life for a long time need to be very, very cautious and realize our vision often is hazy, cloudy, skewed and just plain backwards and inside-out. I don't know what else to add.

5. How is it possible that there is something true or noble or right or pure or lovely or admirable in every person? Is there anyone you can think of for whom this is not the case? Even through Christ's eyes?

Duh . . . because God created every person! No, I don't know of anyone who doesn't have some of these qualities, but like our gifts for service and our spiritual gifts, everyone has different proportions of the gifts in this Pauline list.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 8

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 8: "We are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us."

A few notes on the step 8 text:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverI resonate with JF's saying like childhood itself, his imaginings about the Bible couldn't "remain so naïve." I also agree with his saying discovering the real stuff about these famous characters was a great relief. And I love JF's delineating the many foretastes of the New Covenant the Hebrew Bible includes. Sarah's subtle sins? JF suggests maybe we relate more to Sarah . . . lying to save my skin? Not a big lie like Jacob's but a smaller one like Sarah's . . . well, I'm extremely unlikely to commit a lie of commission, but one of omission? Today I'll say no more! Finally, JF says we need to tell our whole entire story about our successes and our failures, as "participants in the Story of which Jesus Christ is the beginning, the middle, and the end." Amen to that!

1. In what ways was your early Bible education/Sunday school experience similar to that described in this chapter? How did you feel when you found out the truth about the biblical characters?

Unlike JF, I didn't grow up on Bible stories because I didn't grow up in the Church or even on its margins or its leftovers! But I still so vividly recall the Sunday afternoon (I was about 7 or 8 years old) going past a church enjoying a summer picnic on the church lawn and I clearly remember thinking how fun it looked! So I thought I might like to belong to a church. Slow forward to these many years later, and I've lost all those naïve longings and yearnings and I live with the sometimes sad, often regretful or wistful memories that replaced my childhood naivety but I've also learned Jesus and how Jesus accompanies us along every step of the Way and how Jesus promises us the hope and joy of resurrection!

2. Are there any human figures in the Bible whose sin it seems should disqualify them from the place they were given? Why? What is your reaction to the sin of that person or those people? Does he or she resemble you in any way?

I'll go along with Jonah (and probably with Simon Son of Jonah, too). Previously on this thread I've written – despite my liberal and inclusive theology – one of my most major struggles remains not so much including those other-than-me's but more affirming them as being as worthy as I am. Their sin? Mostly not having the theological insight, ability to interpret scripture, vocabulary and so on and so forth. As the senior pastor I served with on the East Coast once reminded me, "Some of the people we serve have never even been in Harvard Square, let alone inside a Harvard classroom." So I'm saying the immense struggles I've been through these more recent years sometimes and somehow have obliterated my privileged background. So, like, I'm Leah Daughter of Jonah 

3. Has anything in your life led you to think that God cannot use you? If so, why? Is anything too sinful or too ugly or too shameful to be used by God for his glory?

Not really, though some ignorant comments from other pharisaical Christians who've informed me I'm not fit for professional ministry have made me wonder (in those bleakest hours of my most desolate nights). In real life I'm aware that, though I always was well-qualified for ministry, my more recent combats mean now I'm really qualified!

4. If God gets more glory working through sinful people than "righteous" ones, why shouldn't we aim to sin, knowing that his grace will be all the more visible in the light of our failure? What does Paul mean when he addresses this in Romans 6?

When I began reading this question I thought "Romans 6," so I'll refer you to Romans 6: since we've died to sin, how can we deliberately continue sinning?

5. Taking the teaching of this eighth chapter of 12 Steps as a model, what changes do we need to be considering and enacting in the local church?

Oh, we've got to intentionally be more inclusive of everyone. I'm still haunted by my intentional exclusion from a church where the pastor actually imagined letting me be active there (I was between calls, and it was another (but mainline, too) denomination) would mean some select big $$$ contributors would leave.

Monday, March 08, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 7

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 7: "We embrace the belief that we are, and always will be, experts at sinning."

A few notes on the step 7 text:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverJF's use of the word evangelical annoys me, as does his talk about being saved! But on page 97 he admits salvation is ongoing and he references the "body of death" Paul talks about. But I gotta confess I can identify with his talking about taking "some pleasure" in the Schaeffer family's "shortcomings." I also identify with his sense of disappointment in finding out a public figure he admired was less than perfect . . . the "perfection is possible" myth. Page 95: " . . . the whole point of the gospel is forgiveness of sin . . . " Well, that's part of it, but forgiveness of sin hardly is the whole point or totality of the gospel; JF seems stuck on a static understanding, though on page 96 I like his reminder "sin is a daily reality." Depth of sin and the corresponding depth of God's mercy and love. Amen to that! More of God in my life leading to greater awareness of sin. That I like, as well! Recovery never is over: we're never recovered, always in recovery – so true, esp regarding sin.

1. Why is it so damaging to both leaders and followers alike to live in an atmosphere of denial? Why do we wish to live in a structured and ranked hierarchy rather than in a community of fellowship and equality?
Frequently I'm not so much in denial as I am in discomfort about living with anxieties, irresolutions and non-reconciliations. Previously on these forums I've mentioned I'm an ENFJ (the natural teacher); that same ENFJ also is The Great Reconciler, and though we're also natural leaders, I need to be aware of that dislike of and discomfort all the time. "Structured and ranked hierarchy?" Gosh, I am so extremely organizationally challenged I find myself wanting others to organize and put things into place for me, including the social and ecclesiastical worlds I inhabit. For me it's not so much rank and hierarchy as it is lack of chaos and, again, a degree of comfort?

2. What are the inevitable messages we send to our struggling fellow believers and also to non-Christians when we claim we are completely victorious over sin?

I don't know a single Christian who claims they, themselves, "are completely victorious over sin." But I think with non-Christians we need to explain the victory has been won in Christ, but we still live in the *tension* of "not yet" as we move toward "That Day" of total Shalom and complete Jubilee.

3. If we are relying on ourselves to "get us through," have we experienced God's grace? Is it possible to truly encounter God's grace by choose to reject it or to supplement it with human effort? What can we learn from the Galatians about the deception of works-righteousness?

Once again, a fine line between trusting grace and responding to grace with the gratitude of faithful, thankful and sacrificial living, because God does absolutely demand of each of us performance of the whole law, in the lively sense of doing the Law, performing the commandments, esp the Great Commandment.

4. Is the experience of confession and forgiveness as fresh in your life as it was at your conversion? If not, do you believe it can be?

JF comes from a tradition that assumes a radical experience of conversion rather than the kind of gradual growth in faith and awareness and works most of us have been experiencing. But I'll confess I don't appreciate the freshness of forgiveness to the extent I used to, and re-appreciating and re-appropriating it is part of my discipline for this Lent 2004.

5. Does the discovery of more sin in our lives mean we are regressing? How can intimacy with God and fellowship with others be compatible with a constant and growing awareness of sin?

No, not at all does discovering more sin in our lives mean regression! As we were saying a while ago, everyone seems exquisitely aware of the times they're sinned against: we need to become more sensitive, aware and perceptive to our own failings and sins. Intimacy with God and community with others (Christian or not) as others serve as mirrors for our behaviors and as we learn to move onto the next moment without become too obsessed over how I, me, my and mine behaved in that last instance.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 6

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 6: "We are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character"

A few notes on the step 6 text:

12 steps for the recovering pharisee book coverJohn Fischer's Narnia reference is one of my favorites! Being de-dragonned hurts like more than crazy, but the relief of finally having been de-dragonned is such freedom and relief! Well, to get technical =again= Paul wasn't "formerly Saul of Tarsus," he always remained so and Acts doesn't say he was riding a horse, but (given our knowledge of the culture) we assume he was :p

Page 79: righteousness as a system rather than as an inner reality; external, not internal. Sounds familiar :0 Falling "to the ground" = humiliated, but in the best way, by God's holiness and God's grace. Baptism: being immersed in a situation of real bodily vulnerability and dependence. "Abandonment to God!" Out of my own control!

1. Why is ethical/legalistic righteousness irrelevant? Why can't we be saved on technicalities? Why is it never enough?

I think it's never enough because God assesses the attitude just as much (or even more) than the action and its results, and I truly do not believe anyone's heart ever is 100% pure.

2. Does the beginning of your story as a recovering Pharisee bear any similarity to Paul's? Were you in a sense knocked from your horse or blinded by Christ's brilliance? What factors and experiences have made you aware of your need for grace?

No, like so many of our journeys in faith, my awareness has unfolded gradually, with an occasional lightning rod conviction of a particularly bad action or attitude, which are among the factors that've made me aware of my need for grace.

3. In what ways do you feel you are being humbled as you journey along God's way? What blind spots have you discovered?

Humbled, "Grounded" – to lived right here on this earth and in this world rather than in the world (mine) that imagines I'm ok on my own by myself. For one vivid example, I got humbled really mega big-time when on my 6th serious try I finally got a formal dx for the OCD-ish entity I'd been living with since 9th grade. Since the =treatment= I got turned out to be anything but therapeutic (IOW, "Disastrous"), for some time after that every one of my former plans and then subsequent plans turned to zilch.

And just yesterday a friend (new pastor in town: we've been acquainted for only a couple of months) uncovered one of my blind spots (too sore and sensitive to say more right now, since it related to my favorite (most prideful?) area of *my* expertise – theology!). Well, it wasn't really about my theology per se but rather about my sometimes arrogant personal style . . . ouch!!!!!

4. Once we have an awareness of sin, what are our options? Why is "middle ground" impossible once we realize what re really are apart from the sacrifice of Jesus?

Well, the theology I get from the Bible tells me I'm not simply a miserable wretch but I'm also created in God's image and precious in God's sight: simul justus et peccator! I also know for a fact many, many people need to hear, believe and heed "Original Blesssing" in large doses!

5. Is there anyone in your life whom you once considered inferior but whom you have had to learn to trust in order to experience God's freedom? Is there anyone whom you still believe is beneath you in any way?

Good question? Not so much people I considered inferior but needed to learn to trust, more like people whose appearance and behaviors I wasn't crazy about but I forced myself to learn who they were.

6. Do you still have any investment in "pseudo-spiritual bank accounts" that need to be liquidated? Do you have any self-achieved assets that have not yet been tossed on the refuse pile?

Both yes and no on both parts of this question, but again I want to refer to "original blessing" as well as "total depravity!"

Saturday, March 06, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 5

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

STEP 5: "We will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves".

A few notes on the step 5 text:
12 steps for the recovering phariseethinking it's other people who need to hear that "truth," who need the Christian music . . . I like that one! The "Judging those who judge" subtitle is a big one for me . . . which is worse? Me or those judgers out there? JF's using the word "condemnation" reminds me of Paul's famous, "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." I've always loved the way Paul continues his trains of thoughts with that "therefore!" Page 66: "You get worked up over what you are battling in your own life." Very often true, but I wouldn't say that's always and inevitably so. Page 67: thinking you already know what you need to know as an "obstacle to truth and revelation."

Page 68: hard keeping faith alive when everyone you know is a Christian. No one has to articulate the faith in a context where it's assumed . . . JF mentioning his church's pastor "overcoming many internal barriers just to get up there." Also, reminding people of his humanity, and of theirs. I like that a lot! Page 75 – to embrace the gospel each day!

1. How do you feel about not being in a position to teach others? What do you learn from your feelings in this area?

Well, duh – if this is about life issues, in the past I'm been quite persistently unteachable, so others likely need to learn the hard way, too. But about teaching in general, you people gotta remember I'm an ENFJ, otherwise known as "the natural teacher," so in that regard I tend to do very well.

2. How can we know the difference between being angry at something because it is sinful and being angry because of sin in our own lives? When is anger justifiable? What does our anger tell us?

Wow, this is a great question! Especially the first sentence of it. I think it's valid to be angry at sin in general and at our particular sinfulness and sins. Sometimes anger is justified, but it need to be properly expressed and acted on and scripture tells us not to let the sun set on our anger.

3. What parts of the gospel of Jesus Christ are we suppressing or denying in order to maintain our position, status, or platform?

For me the gospel part I sometimes suppress and feel justified (!) for suppressing it is the inclusive piece: I do not want those rich, fake, narrow-minded or other similar types to be in the same (heavenly?) place as I am. I guess that needs to read "heavenly places!"

4. Are we losing our childlike wonder? It there a reason others are afraid to tell us we are becoming hardened and critical?

Sometimes. But Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening both were pretty much fun. But annoying, since people were laughing at things I said that I meant to be ironic or even sarcastic rather than funny. Historically I've definitely tended to be far too serious about everything, including (especially) myself

5. What can we learn from Jesus' response to Nicodemus? How is it possible to know the truth and yet not be born again? How can we have the answer and still be avoiding the question?

Being "born again" is about letting go of our control, it's about the scariness of entering the darkness of the pre-birth womb or tomb, and allowing the God who raises the dead to raise us to new birth. To use another Johannine analogy, being born again means letting the Spirit blow where the Spirit wills – about the unimaginableness of God! In the end, it means being convicted of our Pharisee-ness, being cleansed and then set free to serve.

Friday, March 05, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 4

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

Step 4: "We have decided that we don't want to get what we deserve after all, and we don't want anyone else to either,"

A few notes on the text: "just [full-of-justice] mercy" and "just [simply] mercy"! Mercy, compassion, graciousness, patience, chesed, abundant love: freedom to the captives, good news to the poor enacted "this day!" We know that as the familiar text about Jesus' entry into public ministry, but these days we're the body of Christ, so we need to be and do all of those image-of-God characteristics today, "this day!"

John Fischer refers to Jonah, the prophet reluctant to include everyone – all creation, but especially those skuzzy not-like-righteous-Jonah others – in God's love, mercy and reconciliation. Then we had Peter bar Jonah, another one disinclined to extend the inclusiveness of Gospeled community to those not like him. Us? From my own standpoint, I've written a little about it in Steps 1, 2 and 3. On to the questions!

1. In what way can a parent showing mercy to a child be more effective than by showing justice? Who are the child's primary reflection of God's nature and character?

12 steps for the recovering phariseeI like the example our author gave about his dad and the justice/mercy pair. My guess is the author wants us to answer "parents" as the primary reflection of God in kids' lives, but more often it seems to be people outside the home, like teachers, neighbors folks at church or even pastors!

2. What is your natural response to "common grace"? Why do Christians in general have a hard time accepting that non Christians enjoy good things?

Like most of God's people, I've got Jonah and Peter streaks; however, long, long ago I learned to try talking to, having a conversation with anyone who turned me off in any way, and that's gone a long, long way toward making me far more understanding than otherwise I would've been: getting a clue as to what walking in their shoes might be about.

3. This is the day of salvation. What does that change for us? What perspectives, attitudes, and goals are affected as we seek to be vessels of God's grace?

Today, this day! That's Pauline, isn't it? What does it change? I need constantly to be aware of my being both dead and alive in Christ, constantly aware of my baptism – and, that also means daily repentance, as Luther wisely insisted.

4. If we are going to be the light of Christ in this world today, what is our calling according to Romans 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 6:2; and 2 Peter 3:9, 15?

Romans 2 includes verse 4: "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?" Hmmm . . . chapter 2 is from what's called the "prosecution" section of Romans! 2 Corinthians 6a: "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I'm going to [maybe] do a little eisegesis and say for God, every moment becomes a kairos one, an opportunity for "salvation," for greater wholeness and holiness – for becoming and being more like God. The verses from 2 Peter are about God's patience! So we need to become more patient with others, just as God is patient, and more patient with ourselves. I'll add more responsive to the reign of the HS in our lives and in the rest of the world (that means those others that Jonah and Peter would rather not have had included in God's grace filled reign). The church as the provisional demonstration of what God intends for humankind? The church????? That's us!!!!!

5. How does not showing mercy to others reveal that we are not leaning on God's mercy for our own salvation?

More than anything not being merciful or (horrors!) actually being unmerciful to others means I don't have a whole lot of awareness of my shortcomings nor much intention of repenting of them.

6. Who are your "enemies"? Is it more common for you to think of and pray for their salvation or their judgment?

I've gotten into the habit of praying for people who've offended me, and these past years have been an extremely hard row to hoe. For the most part, I find after I've prayed for them for a few days or weeks, their actions that have so displeased me almost never continue bothering me.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 3

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

Step 3 - "We realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven't worked for it and don't deserve it."

A few notes on the text: typical non-Christian idea of a Christian is a better-than type person. "Branding!" Image / Message "True witnessing is nothing more than telling somebody about Jesus." Admitting we're in Christ only because of grace! Christians believing facing sin and forgiveness is a something done in private so we can present perfection to the world.

1. Why is it unreasonable to be indignant when others receive something they don't deserve? Or when they don't receive what they do deserve?

Maybe the question is wrong, but I'll try to answer. It seems to be about our distorted human sense of justice and our insisting getting our basic needs met, our "daily bread," is something other folks (but not us!) must earn rather than something owed them.

2. What keeps us from recognizing that there is nothing we can do to earn our standing with God?

12 steps for the recovering phariseeWhatever our religious orientation or lack thereof, most of us in this country are basic products of that old-time Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism rather than of the basic Protestant Theology of Jesus and the HS.

3. From a pharisaical standpoint, why is trying to live out the law "easier" than living by grace? How does this relate to fallen humanity's tendency to live in isolation rather than in intimacy?

Our God's ultimate demand is not only the letter of the law but the law perfectly performed from our transformed inward hearts. God insists we become new people, which means truly giving up totally to the HS's inspiration and direction rather than engineering everything so we can get by on the outward appearance of our works.

4. How can our preoccupation with measuring what others deserve be a constant reminder to us that we ought to prefer God's grace to seeking our own reward? What if we get what we have earned?

First, I am not preoccupied "with measuring what others deserve!" We need to pick and choose this book's content: some of the stuff is embarrassingly right-on for where I am and some of it's not! But back to the question anyway. For me, this is a control issue. In some ways I'm not much into control, beyond having the discipline I need, but in other ways I want to call the shots and determine the outcome rather than leaving it up to the God of Great Surprises (to use Corita Kent's apt description).

5. What kind of people do you consider to be "undesirable"? How would you react to their sin being pardoned?

Although there definitely are people I'd prefer not spending much time with, I don't consider anyway truly undesirable – it's more of a continuum of desirability regarding work, recreation and socializing. But to take a different outlook, it's OK if their individual sins get pardoned, but don't really reconcile them – that is, don't make them even coexist with me in community, let alone belong to the same community! I am so weary of all the trivial criticisms, endless misunderstandings and all the refusals to see me and others as anything but someone who is an inconvenience and not a person with the same needs those "not like me's" have.

6. Are there things in your life that you have added to the law that you take pride in keeping? What are they? Have you in any way redefined "sin" to fit your own desires and perspectives?

Hasn't almost everyone redefined "sin"? A while ago Phyllis posted some excellent thoughts on the commandments, and how God does not qualify them in the least! She's absolutely correct, and we do tend to put our human qualifiers on the commandments, but then again, often the situation we're in forces us to take the least undesirable direction – not cut-and-dried, right-and-wrong, black-and-white. IOW, it ain't easy at all. God demands from us the total performance of the entire law, and we need to claim the atonement to cover the parts we mess up. But the catch is we need to acknowledge the incompleteness of our performance before God and before humans and then we need to accept the gift of completeness we have in Christ Jesus.

7. How can worship weaken the vise of our control? How can acknowledging God for who he is bring us into the enjoyment of his grace?

Likely you know fear is the opposite of love? And when I ask myself what I'm afraid of, my real answer is "I don't know!" I believe for most of us the only solution is long experience with God's provision and with God's control and the gradual loosening and ultimate losing of our own control. However, probably all of you have met or known few people who seem to have been born with an pure trust of God and near-total reliance on grace. Worship? More later on worship.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 2

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

Step 2 - "We have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind."

I agree with the John Irving quote that heads this chapter: "Everyone feels morally superior to someone." I also identify with his experience in the checkout line at the office supply store. and with his saying, "Having identified the same behavior in myself, I could now forgive her more easily and avert the judgment, as well as forgive myself for the judgmental thoughts I had toward her." And, she was "a real live person!"

12 steps for the recovering phariseeJohn Fischer advises putting ourselves in their position (and I'll say it's often hard to even begin the process of forgiving without having at least a little understanding of the other person's position) and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Oh wow, that's what's gotten me in really big trouble a lot of times! The codependent streak in me gives them far more than a little benefit of any doubt and too often ends up mired in black-and-white thinking about every event and everyone.

"Not just any group will do. It need to be a group committed to telling the truth. The Pharisees traveled in a group, but it was not a group that told the truth." AA and "drinking buddies" handling the same problem in a different way. True.

I love his saying, (page 33), " . . . personal pain is the pathway to empathy. It's worth the pain to become more human—to identify with people—to join the human race." That's exactly what I've been hoping – particularly in the week of recent years!

1. Why do we frequently have one scale of mercy for ourselves and another for those around us? Why do we feel we deserve mercy when we judge others harshly?

Although I probably do still judge others more harshly than I just myself, I need to say these past years have been so devastating and shattering – esp in terms of the ways I've constantly been judged – I truly think at this stage I need to have mercy on myself more than I need to have mercy on others.

2. In what ways do you find yourself putting others down in order to elevate yourself? Is your action implicit or explicit? Mental or verbal?

I'm proud of my ability to articulate the Gospel and theology; I'm also proud of a lot of my other abilities. It's something I mainly think about but never would dare mention to anyone else.

3. What kind of accountability could you implement to more quickly recognize and address your inclination to put others below yourself?

Well, in real life, there are few venues or situations in which I do (sad to say) tend to assume a sort of superior attitude, and those are discussing theology with some select people – though at the same time I can be extremely compassionate without being in the least patronizing with other people from similar backgrounds as those "some select."

4. Who serves as a two way mirror in your life? Does this person or persons have the freedom to be honest with you? Do you seek the truth about yourself as they see it?

These days I no longer have anyone who knows me well enough truly to be a mirror for me. Seems as if people either are busy projecting their insecurities onto me or, they tend to see me in a totally unrealistic, pristine glow of achievement and worthiness I cannot seem to disimagine them of.

5. Do your friends protect you and one another from vulnerability, or are they committed to the truth? Can you think of "no-talk" rules that exist within your circles? Why are certain things off limits?

Am I feeling cynical? This evening I am feeling cynical, so I won't answer this one.

6. What are some questions that could be asked among your friends that would keep everyone honest?

These days I truly have no clue. Lately the conflicting messages I've been getting from everyone is driving me crazy (did I mention I'm an "E"?)

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee 1

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazon

Step 1 – "We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people."

My first reaction was, "but judging others definitely is not my 'single most unmitigated pleasure'" – I feel, I know people have judged me wrongly and unfairly too, too many times! What floats my boat? What really floats my boat? Lots of things, but I love reading theology and writing theology, teaching and preaching, as well as drawing and playing the piano, esp in public.

12 steps for the recovering phariseeAs I previously posted, I'm not particularly advanced in my Jesus walk, but what's useful in this Step 1 chapter is John Fischer's examples of the routine and casual daily judgments we make: I recall Jesus Tillich describing how people tend to be prideful because they've avoided the "more serious sins . . ." so now I hear myself saying I usually avoid "more serious types of judging!" I like his saying, "So long as we remain our own authority, we do not have to be challenged." Conclusions [about self and others] that contradict reality? Hmmmm . . . however, I constantly judge myself for all of that small stuff, maybe not noticing the big offenses? But then is "judgment" the correct word? Isn't impatience or annoyance more accurate?

Back to the book: if these Pharisees – these representatives of the Law – had entered heaven, they wouldn't be judging! Wow! As Fischer, reminds us, God gave us and Jesus showed us the absolutely essential law: doing justice, loving mercy and walking – humbly – with our God!

Study questions, page 165:

1. Why is it that we tend to develop a strong, established "out look" on life but neglect to foster a truthful, searching "in look"?

Because not only do we live in the physical world of God's creation, but because society – in both its external and its internal-ized manifestations – constantly accompanies our every move, every thought and every emotion. We gotta live with all of those other people and we've discovered it can be hell at least as much as it sometimes is heaven.

2. How does an inwardly judgmental attitude gradually shift our standard from being focused on God to being focused on people? What are the dangers of comparing ourselves to others?

This is a 2-part question. 1) Focusing my standards on people means I ignore our holy God's demands and then quit trusting God's direction and provision and then gradually assume the criteria and values that popular culture, a self-serving, prosperity-seeking and affluent sports and entertainment industry keeps visiting upon me rather than critiquing my behavior and attitudes by Gospel standards. 2) One of the pastors I served with often used to say (from Recovery International, i believe), "Comparisons are odious." But I think there are valid uses of comparisons! But that's not what this is asking. The dangers of comparing ourselves to others (or others to ourselves) include striving to be like them or not like them rather than to be walking our walk. IOW, living their lives rather than our own life.

3. By setting our own "standard," in what way(s) is our view of reality altered? How can spiritual arrogance bring us to the point of assuming that our standard has become God's standard?

I'll refer to my response to question 2, and also say our (my) reality becomes where I live, what I live and what I give: where my treasure is, there will my heart be also, and these days for many of us time is our utmost treasure and one of the things we're (I'm) most selfish and least selfless with.

4. Can you think of anyone you would not want to be with in heaven? Give your reasons.

Well, a few of those historically notorious types...

5. Judging others used to be pleasurable for us. Now, knowing that we will be measured according to the measure we use, why does it make sense to be a "recovering Pharisee"?

Becoming a "recovering Pharisee" seems like a good idea so I can live more of the time with God's perspective on life (my own and others) and serve God and others more faithfully.

Monday, March 01, 2004

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee Introduction

12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer on Amazo


Moderator: "Please respond to as few or as many of my questions as you desire. "

1.) John opened with a powerful paragraph!!! One statement, in particular, jumped-out at me: "Like anyone, I want to be well thought of. I am often conscious, as I am even now, of picking my words carefully, like walking through a minefield of impressions, so as to appear honest while stopping short of the naked truth that might implicate me more than I am willing."

Can you relate to that?

12 steps for the recovering pharisee1. Oh, yes I can! And, I'm the Enneagram's Performer/Achiever – I don't know the difference between what I do and who I am, and my primary Enneagram wing is the Individualist – I am wonderful, special and unique! [But don't come too close because then you just might discover I'm like everyone else in so many ways] Also, as a moderate "E," I get much of my energy (and hope for at least some acclaim) from other people. To paraphrase the Jesuit John Powell, "Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? Because you might not like it and it's all I have!" Of course . . . we could continue with a discourse on Pauline theology, but Powell is right-on concerning our reluctance to self-reveal. And then we consider our holy God's self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth and wow! God was unafraid and open in His self-revelation in weakness, vulnerability and as one of the "least of these!"

2.) John then describes the encounter which led him to use the "Twelve-Step" recovery model for dealing with this "chronic disease".

Do you believe that the "Twelve-Step" model is appropriate for dealing with this "problem"?

2. As you're aware, I'm trying it!

3.) Have you personally had experiences in dealing with "problems" of various sorts through "12 Step" groups/organizations (share only if you wish to)?

3. In my introduction I mentioned my experience with ACoA and I gotta tell ya, those people whined so incessantly and insistently and when the meeting was over a bunch of them wanted to go to Marie Callender's to continue the meeting! I gave it about 6 months, though, and I found the analysis helpful.

4.)Are you comfortable with John's personal description of "The Old Covenant" and "The New Covenant"?

4.) I agree the standards of the Old Covenant are "impossible to pull off consistently," so we flee to the mercy seat -- Luther (again!) writes so eloquently about the Gnadestuhl of God's grace we find in the crucified and risen One! John Fischer is correct we Christians tend to set our standards high enough to weed out those undesirable "others" but low enough we actually can attain that level. I'd echo what the 12-steppers on this thread have been writing about the New Covenant written on hearts of flesh and again I'll refer to the heart being unsatisfied with "mere works" since we know God searches the heart – the attitude – behind our all-so-necessary works. I love how Ephesians' author pleads that the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, since the eye is so exquisitely sensitive, just as our hearts (depths of our wills) need to be if we're truly to be Christians, "little Christs."

5.) John writes, "The Pharisees enter the picture as the ones who figure out a way to make the Old Covenant work for them, thus making the New Covenant unnecessary." Respond to that statement, in the overall context of his explanation in the rest of that paragraph.

5. Though I haven't read what John Fischer says, I disagree. In giving the New Covenant Jesus never trashed the Old but rather fulfilled it. Our Christian talk about Law is double-edged – Jesus' death and resurrection signaled the end of the sacrificial law, but the Sinai Covenant never ended! As you know, that great theologian of grace, Martin Luther himself, begins his catechism with the 10 commandments! As Anders Nygren says in his Romans commentary, The Gospel According to Paul is about "the inward heart, not satisfied with works!" Because of this, Nygren calls Romans the "purist gospel!" Paul never lost his passion for the Law but he became more acutely aware of the impossibility of fully performing the Law.

6.) React to his "The darkness" explanation on page 11.

6.) React to his "The darkness" explanation on page 11?

Oh yes he has that one right as well! 

7.) In the last paragraph, John writes, "I know, for I am an expert in the downturned look, the haughty eye, the wagging head - and I've had enough of it." Does anybody else here (I sure do) personally deal with the temptation to give "...the downturned look, the haughty eye, the wagging head - "? Are you, too, ready to say "I've had enough of it."?

7. After these past years I'm no longer convinced I'm such an advanced Christian but I feel I've been wrongly judged too many times and I feel my real faults and shortcomings have been ignored. These days I'm more aware everyone is at a different stage of their journey, more aware God brings each of us into situations and among people that best will enable our further spiritual growth. What I need to say "I've had enough of" is my futile attempts to earn my own wholeness, my own shalom, while continuing to do everything I can to care for this world of God's wild passion and tender compassion.