Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Good News?!

Recently I decided ecological theology would be my newest focus. Discussing Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama partly inspired me! Then, I was searching to discover what Paul Santmire, one of my earliest influences, currently was doing. As a very confident and arrogant (even then!) undergrad music performance major I'd sometimes attend Krister Stendahl's early Wednesday morning eucharist with breakfast and discussion afterwards; Paul Santmire, who at the time was protestant chaplain at Wellesley College was a frequent participant and the group as a whole encouraged me to consider some kind of career in theology ... they probably thought anyone who didn't even grow up in the church but who had the chutzpah to talk theology with the dean of Harvard Divinity School had to be too crazy to lose to the Church! Anyway, in my searching online I discovered Paul Santmire has written a lot of ecological theology so I'm going to read some of it. A roundabout way of saying I so resonate with!

And before that, (Marian), you asked,

is the Good News of Jesus Christ better news to those of low estate? Does God in Jesus Christ really lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty?

A short response for now:

For a very long time Ernesto Cardenal's 4-volume Gospel in Solentiname has been one of my favorite commentaries, though these days I don't draw on its rich and perceptive dialogues nearly as much as I used to and still need to be doing. These past Lenten Wednesday evenings I attended Vespers at the biggest ELCA church in town (updated 11 years later to say that church now is far from the biggest ELCA in these here parts); each time while we're singing the Magnificat and afterwards as well, I ponder the live possibility of Jesus' gospel of radical inclusiveness, restoration, Divine provision and sustenance possibly being better news for the economically and socially marginalized than for those not-so-much-so. I ponder it while I'm in that congregation's recently renovated sanctuary surrounded by the rest of the newly redone buildings on campus, and the clearly very middle-class congregation: IOW, surrounded by affluence The idea of good news to the marginalized stays with me the rest of the evening, too So do I copout and describe all of us everywhere as at least spiritually needy? I don't think so – because from early on at First Mariners' American Baptist Church I learned to read scripture with an economic lens, so right now I'm simply thinking out loud and on paper, or more accurately on the 'puter :p

Part of me agrees with people being considered simply people, and I also resound with evangelizing for intentional diversity – but fact is our protestant mainline church bodies are overwhelmingly White middle-class to upper-middle-class in culture, and, for the most part in the actual physical appearance of their constituencies, despite a few discrete ethnic or "other" congregations. And sad to say, for the most part "discrete" describes them accurately, in the sense of their being apart from the mainstream mainline local churches...

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Exclusion and Inclusion

Though I'm not gay or bi or exactly a racial or ethnic non-majority, I've also had agonizingly painful experiences of exclusion from the church, and above all at a time I needed refuge, sanctuary, community and inclusion above everything else! I won't revisit the details, but during those for me it was exactly as a friend suggested:

"Sometimes evangelism comes from outside the church and speaks to the church."

During those years I found welcoming places, people, and welcome tables!, where prior to that time I probably wouldn't have imagined looking: in other words, not inside the more physical, more *visibly* institutional walls of the church at all. Since then and finding myself again being welcomed and my gifts more appreciated in the local church, I've become constantly aware of how those of us who are the church aren't the only ones advancing "God's mission," and although I'm speaking of myself as a lone individual (truly was both "lone" and "individual" at that time), since then I've tried to be even more aware and responsive to people and their situations ... I find myself still needing to make some sense of what otherwise I'd write off as several almost entirely lost years.
I, the Lord of font and cup,
covenant to lift you up.
Splash the water, break the bread; pour out your lives.
Faithfully my love you'll show,
so their hearts will always know,
They are mine eternally . . .
"Resident Aliens" describes our dual citizenship very well.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Gospel and Redemption

Here's a tinge of anticipation of celebrating Reign of Christ, the updated replacement to Totensonntag, the Day of the Dead!

Concerning "redeem the time," it's striking that time is a gift of God's condescension to our human need, yet we cannot replace lost time. And in the context of time's not being replaceable, the idea of "redeeming" time is a challenge! The economic connotation of redemption (to buy back a person's freedom, liberate a slave, unbind the captive, forgive the sinner, get that 50¢ off the item we're buying with the coupon from the Sunday paper) fits well with the common notion insisting "time is money," and by "money" we typically don't mean just a handful of cents-off coupons, either!

In our various mainline traditions we think little, teach and preach even less about those 2 Thessalonians-like "end times," yet we know in biblical terms every moment is an eschatological one, every moment is a kairos time of God's encounter with the people of God and of our response and decision. Each moment is about our call to claim and assume preaching, teaching and living (walking that talk) the gospel.

By "economic" I mean any kind of quid pro quo: it doesn't need to involve legal tender.

Since the physical evidence or the "incarnate enfleshment" of who we are (the goods, since most people don't call them "bads"), often are the people's gods, we want to be able to control them so we purchase them to have them nearby, controllable and accountable to us..."domesticated gods!"

Regarding "The church as storefront [to the consumer culture]," there's double meaning there, as members as consumers of religious offerings, pastors and church staff as 'providers' of consumables. "Storefront" is an interesting image, especially when we consider the phenomenon of the inner-city storefront church, which frequently is an immigrant church or at the very least the gathering-place for folks who haven't assimilated into the dominant culture; it's a meeting place for people who haven't yet acquired or even learned what it "means" to be a real American.

Here are some insights I found on pianist Lorin Hollander's website:
We are never taught that we are born with a "primal wound," an experience of emptiness which we crave to fill in any way we can, an undifferentiated yearning or "thirst for wholeness" (C.G. Jung) which cannot be filled or satisfied in the ways we try. We are never led to discover that the only way this yawning void can be filled or satisfied, ultimately, is through a creative search that reaches for the Divine, creative work, often in the arts, which ongoingly surrenders our cravings and attachments, through self knowledge and spiritual discipline.
"And what does our Good News have to offer them in place of...?" The Gospel freely offers its own offense, the offense and outrage of a Holy Other Who lived and died as one of us, sharing "our common lot," and the Good News offers baptism into Jesus' crucifixion and also his resurrection: actually united with him in essential death and in new life like his! Beyond that, the Gospel offers not another disposable commodity but the demands and freedom of covenanted community; it offers something most people couldn't ever even imagine they need, the way all that spam thinks the general public imagines and even believes will fulfill it and =cause= happiness. We've been talking about abundant life, and abundant life is a large part of what the Gospel offers and gives.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Monday Evangelism Notes

Obedience and evangelism? During this past Lent 2004 I participated in a weekly Wednesday discussion of Lauren Winner's recent sensation, mudhouse sabbath. She points out the Jewish way is to do first, and as a result of doing, believe afterwards. . . as Christians we often think it needs to be the other way around. In his Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe,Walter Brueggemann argues for obedience before conviction, too, at least from those already *acquainted* with the Risen Lord of Life. "Run, come, see - the stone rolled away!!!!!" "Come and see...Go and tell!" And then the Word of the Lord, Word of Life: "I go before you."

Marian asked, "How hard is that, to do what Jesus has tells us to do? Apparently pretty hard at times..." Yes, difficult beyond description, since I have my own agenda I'd like to consider as being God's agenda (sounds like those politicos on the right and on the left, with both groups insisting their particular agenda is God's, as well, because how on earth could it ever be otherwise?). Truly open prayer and really seeking discernment is so hard because I gotta got me out of the way.

We've met the Risen One and we've seen and touched his wounds, that sensible, sacramental evidence of his willing brokenness unto death because of his faithfulness to God's passionate love for the world of God's creation. In Graham Kendrick's Philippians paraphrase, "To be found, my Lord, in a death like yours, so to live with you and never die!" We're well aware Jesus undeniably was "crucified, dead and buried." We've seen and touched the evidence, and though Jesus goes before us, not demanding we go it alone, it's more comfortable and comforting to think through this one more time, to lead and participate in another Bible study, because we know the high cost of obedient discipleship...

Before long we'll again celebrate the day and then the season of Pentecost, Feast and Festival of the Spirit's descent: without the Spirit there is no witness, but both within our gathered assemblies and out there in the world of God's creation and recreation we meet a whole lot of reassuring evidence of God-with-us, God-among-us and within-us, so indeed we can "Do all the Words, Perform the Word!"

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Sabbath and Weekend

John Paul II, speaking to Australia's Roman Catholic bishops, on Friday, 26 March 2004 said:
When Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes subordinate to a secular concept of "weekend", dominated by such things as entertainment and sport, people stay locked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens.
mudhouse sabbath
I love the quote from the Bishop of Rome, and this is a great discussion question about "The whole concept of 'weekend' and the Church." During Lent 2004 I participated in a *real* rather than a *virtual* discussion of Lauren Winner's mudhouse sabbath (Paraclete Press, November 2003). keeping the sabbath whollyAnd a couple years ago I read Marva Dawn's Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, (Eerdmans, September 1989) which mightily impressed me, but at that time I didn't begin making any more changes in my Sabbath-keeping than I'd made when I lived in Salt Lake City and found myself totally spurred on my the example of many of my Latter-day Saint neighbors.

For both authors, Sabbath-keeping means claiming our in-God-created images and honoring our human need for receptive, refreshing, refilling and redemptive rest. In my mudhouse sabbath discussion group, we covenanted as a group to become more aware and intentional about everything we did, whether traditionally religious or more broadly secular, and sometimes slower about everything, as well. Besides the Sabbath, the book includes chapter on "fitting" food, fasting, body, aging, doorposts, candles and weddings. Hospitality, too, mourning and prayer. As Lauren Winner points out, homes where people are always hurrying and moving fast don't light candles!

prayer book for remembering the womenThough I started writing this about Sabbath and Weekend, the related chapter on prayer impressed me lots, so here I'll say something about that chapter, as well. Lauren points out Jewish prayer is liturgical prayer, prayer-book prayer. She said the times she'd tried to pray only free prayer and nothing else, after a few days her prayer life degenerated into an unhealthy "me, my, I and mine." Back to the quote from Rome's current bishop: "people stay locked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens." He was talking about what happens when people do the sports and entertainment thing rather than the God and the godly ones, but that's exactly what happens when all of our prayer is free prayer. reflections for ragamuffinsFor a couple of years I've been beginning my morning prayer-time with matins (or sometimes vespers, since I don't do well in the evening with centering or much of any purposeful prayer) from A Prayer Book for Remembering the Women, (Liturgy Training Publications, November 2001); only after I've read from a daily devotional book, often Brennan Manning's Reflections for Ragamuffins, (Harper SanFrancisco, November 1998) prayed one of the offices, and prayed a chapter of scripture - I particularly love the cosmic Christ of Colossians - do I move into intercessions, etc. After that I pray the wordless Centering Prayer. Recently I remembered how I fell in love with The Book of Common Prayer when I first discovered it at First Mariners American Baptist Church, and I plan to return to some of the BCP's liturgical prayers.

Some Freedom and Deliverance Notes

For the past several weeks I've been in another online book discussion, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me): Finding Grace to Live Unmasked by John Fischer. Besides being a writer, Fischer is a singer and songwriter. Unlike other books we've read, this one's more specifically about the dynamics involving God, the discussion participants and all the folks we daily interact with than some of our others have been: it heavily emphasizes both vertical and horizontal relationships.

Here are some of my notes about Step 10, "We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality."

12 steps for the recovering phariseeRight away John Fischer 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 incredible power of raising the dead! I like Kierkegaard's idea that opens this chapter: try to perfect just one of Jesus' commandments. Though I haven't ever tried it, the idea attracts me. 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.

John Fischer suggests 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 extravagant promise of complete justice and total equality. The author asks if the local church reflects Jesus' opening statement in the Sermon on the Mount. My answer is, "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."

"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.

One of John Fischer’s study questions about this chapter asks, "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?"” To that I'd reply, 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!"

A couple of other questions the author asked were: "Are confession and repentance a natural part of your church experience?" On this one I replied I really like it when worship includes confession of sin and absolution offered and conveyed by the Word and in the Name of God. However, when I participate in 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!

And finally, one for almost everyone: "Have you ever seen a Pharisee dance? Can you picture it?" Well, 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!

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Resurrection Proclamation

easter banner

1 Corinthians 15

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: ...
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. ... KJV

Romans 6

easter baptism3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. KJV

"Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them." Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Let the sea roar and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice... Isaiah 42:9-11a

Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. Isaiah 44:23

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted. Isaiah 49:13

Isaiah 51:3

For the LORD will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. Isaiah 51:3

For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the tress of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. Isaiah 65:17

lamb sheep

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD. Isaiah 65:25

For as the new heaven and the new earth which I will make shall remain before me, says the LORD; Isaiah 66:22a And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Revelation 21:1-2

And he who say upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Revelation 21:5a

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

Tree of Life

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

(Isaiah and Revelation scriptures RSV)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

words beyond the Word

from late last December:

How extraordinary that whatever the weather, God constantly gives us evidence of God-with-us! Evidence such as the sacraments, especially the eucharist, and the sacramental presence of others of various traditions who formally comprise the Body of Christ, and also those "least, lost, little and last" [Robert Farrar Capon’s words] that God indwells and particularly favors. Evidence of Jesus Christ's redemptive Lordship and absolute authority as we cycle through the changes and transformations in the seasons and in natural creation: in the liturgical year, too, of course! Yes, even here in southern California where we imagine we claim only two seasons, but we actually have many kinds of weather lots of the time.

More than once I've been called a Calvinist, and in recent years I've found myself moving toward far more austerity in worship than I'd've imagined even possible; I've found words beyond the Word becoming more and more significant and even central to my life, to the point it sometimes feels cluttered and verbose far more than communicative, but on that always-there "other hand," my theology has become more and more sacramental, both in terms of the pair of liturgical actions we call sacraments but particularly in my perceiving, describing and defining virtually every - if not every - facet of creation, creativity and human activity as abounding with sacramental potential. We've been talking about evangelism as God's gracious work; we've also discussed various musical, artistic and other expressive modalities besides and aside from that so-familiar spoken verbal proclamation. There's something intrinsically and implicitly im-mediate about wordless communication, whether a human look, a touch, music sung or played, the glow of natural (read: "non-incandescent!") light or a shimmer of shifting colors. It's an experience of earthiness, and earthy and earthbound is exactly what God's incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth is, and isn't that the offense to all of those religious types out there? And the this-worldliness of the Incarnation often offends those religious types inside here, in the church, does it not?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Sovereignty, Eucharist and Ascendancy

In seminary I wrote a paper with the amazing title, "Sovereignty, Eucharist and Ascendancy in the Synoptic Gospels!" During this Lent 2004 I've thought about, written and heard a lot of theology of the cross but since it's Holy Week I'll say a little more about sovereignty, Eucharist and ascendancy, but not with explicit reference to the synoptics.

Moving downriver from theology of the cross, it's time to segue into Martin Luther's theology of the ubiquity of the risen and ascended Christ. Remember Luther and Zwingli at Marburg? Arguing the eucharist/real presence issue, Zwingli claimed the real or authentic presence (Geneva Reformer John Calvin preferred "true presence") of the risen Christ in the Lord's Supper wasn't possible, since Jesus Christ ascended sits (is incumbent, rules from) at the right hand of God the Father. nature reborn coverOf course, "presence" implies and assumes "actual!" Though with Zwingli acknowledging Christ's ascension to God the Father's Right Hand, in responding to Zwingli Luther pointed out the Right Hand of God – God's sovereignty and dominion – is everywhere and throughout, under and over all creation, thus the Right Hand of God to where Jesus Christ ascended and from where He now reigns is everywhere: in Zurich, in London, at Marburg, in San Diego: absolutely all places at all times! To describe the Risen Christ's presence in the Holy Communion, Luther frequently used the formula "in, with and under." And resolving another concern, Luther and the other Reformers concurred about concomitance, or the fullness of the Risen Christ in each element: to participate fully in the Eucharist, it's not necessary to partake of both bread and cup. Or is that impartation of properties?

Only slightly away from this central subject, a short time ago I read Paul Santmire's most recent book about ecological theology, Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, an offering in the series, Theology and the Sciences). Santmire makes the astonishing assertion the person presiding at eucharist holds the totality, entirety and completeness of the redeemed and restored cosmos in her or his hands in the person of the risen, ascended One Who also is now descended, once again "incarnate," among and within the gathered and transformed Eucharistic community.

Another quick aside: to paraphrase the Heidelberg Catechism, in the sweep of Heilsgeschichte revealed and finished in the reconciling Christ event, we move from Christmas with the mystery of Spirit in Flesh to the Ascension, with its mystery of Flesh in Spirit.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Evangelism and Baptism

"E-question: when we use the word 'evangelism' are we thinking about bringing people to Christ? or about bringing them into our own congregation, our own denomination? ...But...isn't it truly the way we live our faith (and talk about our faith) that communicates our walk with our Crucified and Risen Lord?"

Asking about brand names, as in [the proprietary sense of] "my" denomination and "my" congregation, brings us back to the twinnish games of survival and numbers. The word evangelism and particularly the act of evangelism (=living evangelically) means demonstrating the story (incarnation), telling the words (proclamation), and bringing the stranger into Christian community (incorporation), the stranger who then in response assumes the incarnation | proclamation | incorporation cycle to others and for others who aren't yet conscious of belonging to and within the drama of salvation-history.

Our own denomination and congregation? In many ways I'm not very open to expressions of the church outside of our mainline-type sistern and brethren and formally-covenanted-with ecumenical partners. I truly and firmly believe the proclamation in many "Christian" quarters is anything but biblical and sometimes even anti-biblical in its exclusive particularism and I confess, I do believe I'm baptized into those who are the theologically like-me BUT with a strong qualification saying I'm also baptized into the unfamiliar person at my door, the outlandish one on my streets, the homeless guy on the next corner, the alien among us (esp here in Promised Land Southern California) as well as into the prisoner, the rejected, the unknown and unknowable, because in those folks I most clearly meet the Christ into Whom I've been baptized. But then again I trust the reconciling Christ Event is so drastic, so overwhelming and so totally inclusive all creation everywhere is born, lives, dies and rises in Christ, so I cannot exclude any creature or anything created. Since we're sent into the world and called to preach Christ Crucified for the life of the world, so in the end I'd hope we wouldn't insist on any particular label or engage in behavior of any kind that would give us a sectarian feel..