Thursday, June 24, 2004

Rivers, Deserts, Identity

desert scene with stars
Rivers, Deserts, Identity and...Freedom!


A while ago I had lunch at Olive Garden and spent part of one of my stored value gift cards. Since I think theologically something resembling 24/7/12/365, of course I began thinking about the theological implications of stored value and how such an idea could play out in our everyday lives, away from restaurants, malls and all those other shopping scenes where gift cards are easily spendable, and I started connecting stored value and stored values to the constitutive events in our lives as Christians and as a Church. This time I'll briefly explore water and manna, opening with some wet realities, and because the scriptures I'm referencing are so wonderful, I'll quote them instead of linking to them. Here's my first list of images...set your imagination free!

  • Creation's primeval waters
  • Jacob by the riverside
  • Moses and the waters of Meribah
  • Water from the rock!
  • Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan
  • Riverside Church!...a.k.a. the Church by the Riverside: that's supposed to be us!
  • Our baptism
  • Baptism contains *stored values* of death and resurrection, the "value," "worth" or worthy-ness of new life in Jesus Christ, and those *stored values* make possible our living and serving with freedom in Christ Jesus' name.

from Genesis 32 - Jacob *becomes* Israel; this is an Elohist text:

22 And he [Jacob] arose that night and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of [River] Jabbok. 23 He took them, sent them over the brook, and sent over what he had. 24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob's hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.
26 And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks."
But Jacob said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!"
27 So God said to him, "What is your name?"
He said, "Jacob."

28 And God said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel [Prince with God]; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed."
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, "Tell me Your name, I pray."
And God said, "Why is it that you ask about My name?" And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [Face of God]: "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." 31 Just as Jacob crossed over Penuel [Face of God] the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip. NKJV

from Genesis 35:

from the Elohist:

1 Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother."

2 And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone." 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.

9 Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name." So He called his name Israel. 11 Also God said to him: "I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. 12 The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land." 13 Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.


14 So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it.


15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel. NKJV

Exodus 15 - the slaves of Egypt *become* liberated Israel!
...into the Desert of Shur... to the waters of Marah... then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
When the people left the geographic, phenomenological Egypt, one of their first stops in the desert was Elim, with its 12 springs of fresh water and 70 palm trees that provided shade and shelter, and which is a *type* of the deliverance we find in the plethora of gracious gifts we receive in the gospeled Reign of God in Jesus Christ. The name of the gateway to Elim's sanctuary, safety and protection was Marah, "bitter waters."

Exodus 15:26 contains critical cautions and tremendous promise, 'If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you'" In other words, if you are obedient...

Theologian Martin Buber, in The Prophetic Faith, says, " is only at this point, at the exodus from Egypt, not in Egypt itself, that the people comes into actual existence, and only at this point is the name "Israel" perfectly manifest as 'the visible programme of God's sovereignty.'" (page 44) During those many years of being manna-fed, Israel lived and thrived with the experience of heavenly gifts and divine justice with the ensuing freedom that meant a Shalom'ed enough for everyone and too much for no one; under Moses' leadership and Yahweh's Lordship, the wilderness sojourners lived in daily com-pan-ionship. Again from Buber's The Prophetic Faith, page 44: "Our path in the history of faith is not a path from one kind of deity to another, but in fact a path from the 'God Who hides Himself' (Isaiah 4:15) to the One that reveals Himself." The God who Self-reveals in gifts of mercy and gifts of justice! Here's a second image list:

  • Israel and desert manna
  • People of God's passion and supply...
  • ...try making it on their own and idolize unreal gods
  • Manna contains *stored value* enabling our living precariously to minister in the world
  • More stored value for further food?
  • Or more *stored value* in trusting for the future and its needs?
  • More for our daily rather than the stored-up valuable bread
  • Like baptism, the Lord's Supper contains *stored value* enabling our living and ministering in the world
  • Beginning with baptismal sacramental ordinance and continuing with a Eucharistic one (sacrament, Lord's Supper, Holy Communion)

Exodus 16, out of Egypt!

1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Zin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days." ...

11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'"

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'"

17 The Israelites did as they were told...he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed...

23 He said to them, "This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'"...

25 "Eat it today," Moses said, "because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any."

31 The people of Israel called the bread manna...

33 So Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the LORD to be kept for the generations to come."
34 As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.

Brief Remarks - stored value!:

Yahweh's people Israel called the manna "Bread of Heaven," and for forty years it supplied all their nourishment in the desert. In chapter 6, John the evangelist calls Jesus, the one born in the Little Town of House of Bread, Bread of Heaven, and today, the day of salvation, of shalom because we live in and with Christ Jesus, our Risen Lord, we have the benefit of living manna blessed and broken, given to and shared with everyone who wants it (everyone is welcome!), living within our community and within us to supply all our needs! Like the Israelites in the process of becoming free, as long as we remain faithful by obediently listening and obeying by doing justice and righteousness, that reality of the eucharistic manna's *stored value* will keep working for us and in us, for the world and in the world!

Like the Eucharistic Supper of the Lamb, that wilderness measure of Manna represents Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Word of Life; via John (6:48-58), Jesus called himself the real manna from Heaven, and promised anyone who ate that manna, that Heavenly Bread of Life, never would be hungry, would live forever and never die! Talk about stored value! In revelation about the Logos, the chapter 1 "Prologue" to John's gospel identifies Jesus as the Word, the verb, God's action! Jesus is the Word, Jesus is the Bread of Life, Jesus is our manna and the entire world's manna, and Jesus is our provider through the Word in the world and the Word indwelling our hearts: along with the Deuteronomic historian and Jeremiah, Paul insists, "the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so you can do it." (Deuteronomy 30:11; Romans 10:4) Values of worth and worthiness stored in our communities and in our inmost beings to give for the life of the world, to give towards the world’s shalom!

I'll end with words by Antonio Machado from his poem, "Cantares"—poetry that expresses what Jacob/Israel and the *people* named after him were learning, in the same way we're still learning and walking by the Spirit's leading:

Caminante, no hay camino; se hace camino al andar.

Traveler, there is no road; the way is made by walking.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Servant of Yahweh

Jackie, you specifically asked about 2 Corinthians 4:5:
For we proclaim not ourselves but Jesus Christ [as] Lord, and ourselves your slaves because of Jesus.
As I briefly explained, Israel had a long and essential Servant of Yahweh tradition from which Paul derived a lot of his servant/slave rhetoric. Here are some details...if you read through all of this, you'll get to a discussion of Paul!

Servant of Yahweh, Servant of the Lord in the Old Covenant Scriptures

The Hebrew word for servant, eber, denotes "authorized messenger of the LORD": the presence of Yahweh's servant equated with Yahweh's presence and carried the same clout! In Israelite history, the servant of the LORD was chosen by Yahweh, the LORD Himself; from its inception, the "Servant of Yahweh" concept implied the position of a slave.

For Israel, the highest tribute you could give a person was to call them "the servant of Yahweh." In the Hexateuch Moses is "servant of the LORD [Yahweh], and "Moses My servant." In fact, "Moses the servant of Yahweh" is just about Moses' official title, and later in the New Covenant Scriptures, the author of Hebrews (13:5) describes Moses by saying, "Moses was faithful in all His [Yahweh's] house as a servant." Joshua, "Moses' servant," who led Israel into the Promised Land also was "the servant of the LORD" (Joshua 24:29).

Through Jeremiah (7:25) Yahweh says, "I have sent you all My servants the prophets." Jeremiah even calls Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar "My [Yahweh’s] servant" (25:9, 27:6)…although he fantasized himself Top Dog, Nebud unknowingly was God's servant and the vehicle for liberating God's people.

Also, compare Jeremiah 30:10
So do not be afraid, my servant Jacob--—it is Yahweh who speaks--Israel, do not be alarmed: look, I will rescue you from distant countries and your descendants from the country where they are captive. Jacob will have quiet again and live at ease, with no one to trouble him. [11] For I am with you to save you...

and 46:27

But do not be afraid, my servant Jacob, Israel, do not be alarmed: look, I will rescue you from distant countries and your descendants from the country where they are captive. Jacob will have quiet again and live at ease, with no one to trouble him [28] Do not be afraid, my servant Jacob--it is Yahweh who speaks--for I am with you…
The psalm-singers call themselves the LORD'S servants, and according to Psalm 34:22. "The LORD redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned." In Zechariah 3:8b of the Book of the Twelve [sometimes referred to as the "Minor Prophets"], the angelic messenger calls the promised Messiah a servant: "...for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch."

2nd Isaiah's Servant Songs, "Songs of the Suffering Servant"

In the book known as Isaiah, "servant" first appears in Isaiah 41:8, where it indisputably refers to Israel, "created by Yahweh and not to be forgotten."

Four poems from the unidentified Deutero-Isaiah are known as the Servant Songs or the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Biblical scholarship considers these poems a related whole that explicates a coherent identity of the Servant of Yahweh. Generally speaking, 2nd Isaiah (chapters 40-56) is considered exilic, although the literary style is more consonants with the post-exilic era of the scribes (as in 3rd Isaiah, chapter 56-66), but a prophetic message of hope would be work well during the gloomy discouraging days of exile!

* 42:1-9 | The servant will bring justice to the nations, the peoples

In this first servant poem Yahweh describes the servant as His chosen, bearer of His Spirit, who quietly and gently will bring justice to the peoples of all the earth, to mediate a covenant for all and to liberate the unfree.

* 49:1-9a | Israel as a light to the nations, the peoples

In the second poem the servant, clearly distinct from the people Israel (though in Isaiah 49:3 Yahweh addresses the servant as Israel...that's usually considered a gloss by a later redactor because in himself the Servant subsumes the meaning of the ideal Israel) ...continuing, in the second poem the Servant mentions being called from the beginning, sheltered in Yahweh, and speaks of both discouragement and trust. Yahweh promises the Servant will be a light to the Gentiles and leader of the people's restoration.

* 50:4-11 | My back to those who beat me

Here the Servant tells of being taught a message for the weary and he describes his sufferings that were a result of his obedience and confidence in Yahweh. In 50:10-11 Yahweh first encourages those who listen to the Servant, and then addresses those who scorn and spurn the Servant.

* 52:13-53:12 Bruised for our iniquities

In 52:13-15 Yahweh speaks of the Servant's humiliation, wise actions and later exaltation, though the Servant’s appearance suggests anything but dignity and will astonish nations and kings! Beginning at Isaiah 53:10, the prophet-servant becomes the instrument of Yahweh, Who acknowledges His Servant. Here the Servant becomes a trespass offering but at last he will be exalted and will justify the nations, the *peoples.* Deliverance from exile and deliverance from sin, separation, debt and bondage (essentially the same in the Hebraic economy) are joined in a single person, this Servant of Yahweh. Since mediator Servant was a prophet, too, here priest and prophet meet in one individual and with his assured exaltation, prophet, priest and king meet together in the Suffering Servant.

The Person of the Suffering Servant - speculations

Ages ago I copied this and have no clue as to the source, sorry!
"the exilic prophet gradually passed from the conception of Israel as a nation to [the concept of Israel as] a person through whom its true destiny would be realized. In this passage the Servant's mission in this passage seems highly bound up with the restoration."
Here’s a paraphrase from some of my class notes; I'm not sure of my sources here, I've learned to be a lot more careful than when I took these notes:

Some consider the Servant of Yahweh a personification of the ideal Israel, endowed with Yahweh's Word and Spirit; others believe the servant was a metaphor for Judah's suffering exile in Babylonia (Judah, the southern nation, was Deutero-Isaiah's original audience), and that by its misery and distress, Judah vicariously delivered healing to other nations by witnessing to Yahweh's salvific, justifying power. Also, given that Israel's prophets characteristically were called "my servants, the prophets" and "servant of Yahweh," the servant may have been an individual, and if the servant was a real prophetic figure, Jeremiah would be a likely candidate, since according to Kings and his self-titled book Jeremiah was a social outcast and physically very ill-treated. Besides Jeremiah, other suggestions include Judah's king in exile, Jehoiachin, 2nd Isaiah himself, and Zerubbabel, the first post-exilic governor of Judea. However, Deutero-Isaiah may have intended the *Servant* illusion to be indistinct and nonspecific, not so much particularly historical but more of a *standard model* for the people of God everywhere and in every time. The church historically has interpreted the Suffering Servant of 2nd Isaiah to mean the Crucified Jesus…and Jesus calls the church, Jesus calls us to service, only service, in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Servant and Slave in the New Covenant Scriptures

In his epistles, Paul of Tarsus draws upon the *servant* image, applying it to Christ Jesus [Philippians 2:6-8; Romans 15:8], to himself [Philippians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 3:5, 4:1, 9:19; 2 Corinthians 11:23; Romans 1:1, 1:9], to individual Christians [1 Corinthians 4:1, 7:22; Galatians 5:13; Romans 6:16-19 (this is Paul's marvelous slaves of righteousness passage: v. 18 literally reads "your were enslaved to righteousness!"), Romans 14:18], those in political authority [Romans 13:4, from the passage Martin Luther famously interpreted] and to the church at large [1 Corinthians 4:1, Galatians 5:13; Romans 14:18].

Possibly Paul's most celebrated *servant* passage is his quoting in his letter to the Philippian (2:6-8) church what unquestionably was one of the very earliest Christian songs:
although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He poured out Himself, taking the form of a slave [morphen doulou, to transliterate, since this blog template doesn't support Greek], and in the likeness of men having been born, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, and that death by a cross.
According to Mark (10:45) the gospel-writer, in his own words Jesus declares the culmination of His servanthood: "For even the Human One did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Later on, in an immediate reminder of the 2nd Isaiah's Servant of Yahweh Songs in Isaiah, in Acts 4:27, 4:30 and Acts 3:13, Luke reveals how the emerging church called Jesus "servant."

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

random notes

:: random :: notes! ::

Still some more unsystematic ideas I need to get out of my head (again!). Thanks for your patience with the stream of short ones while I’m working with others.


*Christianese* must come across to unchurched people as strange, foreign and unusual, and I'm not referring to some of the theological language the typical pew-sitter doesn't know, but simple generic Christian words. Sometimes we refer to church activities in coded, insider language, too... Thanks to Cheryl Kosits for acquainting me with "Christianese!"

Gifts of Grace, Means of Grace:

Because it's one of the technical theological terms non-church people use but sometimes with a different subtext, I use the word "grace" very cautiously. When I use the word, I try to explain grace as gift, and I frequently tell the story about Craig Dunn, my management professor in the Community Economic Development program at San Diego State University, who effectively said, "Exchange gifts!?!? Are you talking about a gift or are do you mean an economic transaction? You can't have it both ways! Either one is valid, but don't confuse the terms." To me, his exclamatory explanation makes grace as God's initiative clear, but it takes so long before anyone really gets the message. God dispenses grace in many paradoxical ways, as in eucharist and baptism, as in the word read without much inflection and sometimes haltingly preached, and in life's daily sometimes mundane exchanges and routine events. And God self-reveals most fully in the weakness and shame of the cross. Though God freely dispenses it, grace is not without cost to us, since scripture speaks of a choice and Jesus' Way not only includes but requires repentance and obedience.

Evangelical Living:

To immerse ourselves in the gospel story until it becomes our story; to spend the time and take the practice to figure out how to "relate" (to tell) the Heilsgeschichte without those familiar (to us) words, maybe by telling (relating, as in *relational*) the narrative of God's gracious activity in our own lives?! A few months ago I emailed my current faith journey to an out-of-state friend and her response was a disappointed "but it's not religious!" But it was about the people who've entered my journey and about the churches that for me have been family, friends, employers and opportunities for service. It was about "God in my life," about "God with me" at each stage of my walk. A couple days ago I commented about Advent and resurrection =together= because it so striking that each of our three ultra-major festivals of Incarnation, Resurrection and Pentecost essentially is about reassurance of God's presence with us and among us.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


And considering Covenant again:

Time after time the subject of *covenant* emerges, so here's a little more:

Modulating into a different key for a moment, I love thinking of the church sanctuary as a place of safety, of prayer and worship, and especially as a place where our covenanting God and the people of God meet in a unique and focused way, preparing the people to recognize God's presence wherever God and people encounter each other. I've quoted this song before on this blog:
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...

© Linda LeBron, 2002
God of the Covenants: God is the ultimate Covenant-Maker, Covenant-Keeper and the One who enables us to keep covenant, most spectacularly in the Christ Event.

Karl Barth, Dogmatics!

Since prior to seminary I've been major Barth fan and reading his Dogmatics was one of my fave assignments, but I'll say "animals, plants, rocks and the rest of creation" indeed to have a redemptive covenant given and fulfilled by the Covenant-Maker and Covenant-Keeper, and we know well of it, from the witness of our Scriptures and from our lives in the created and reconciled world.

Covenanted persons:

Please see my earlier post, "Christians and Covenantal Community," from Sunday, February 27, bears the essence of what I want to say.

Living within our Baptismal Covenant:

Check out my Friday, 21 May 2004 post, "Living Baptized: a few more notes."

We live out our baptism within that covenanted community and in the world, for the world...

Those New England Puritans!

Covenants pervaded their lifestyle and sensibility, and for the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of the making of covenants there was no end! There were cosmic, national, state, church, tribal, social, political, communal and family covenants; there was a covenant of redemption and a covenant of grace, as well as covenant philosophy. According to the Federalists, God never had dealt with humanity in any way other than that of covenant, and since God's covenant action recorded in the Bible was intended as the prototype and model for earthly action, no area of human activity could be outside of the bounds of this idea. On a closely related note, in the obligatory Hebrew Bible survey in seminary we *had* to read Delbert Hiller's Covenant: the History of a Biblical Idea, and the professor informed us if we didn't understand that book, if we didn't understand the concept of covenant, we wouldn't understand our seminary education!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Cosmic Christ

Pulling together some musings about the Cosmic Christ:

First, here's a link to Colossians and a link to Ephesians!

Christ and Creation:

The broad, expansive sweep of the biblical witness reveals creation as God's passion, to such an extent God freely chose to live and die as one of us, learning what it was like literally to walk in our sandals. As Christians in the Reformation tradition we emphasize God's sovereignty supremely revealed in the cross and there is something so drastic and totally inclusive, something so complete, final and all-embracing in the reconciling Event of Jesus Christ, all of creation is born, lives, dies and rises with him, all creation finally comes under and lives under Jesus' Lordship: again I'll refer to Martin Luther's declaration that the Right Hand of God - the Sovereignty of God in the Risen Christ - is everywhere, actually fills and permeates every aspect of creation: Luther wrote about God pouring Godself out into creation and both Calvin and Luther considered creation a venue of God's glory and majesty! But despite the cosmic Christ Event's encompassing all, scripture still speaks of a choice we must make: repentance; and scripture demands of us a cost: obedience.

United Church of Christ Statement of Faith:

With its "reconciling the whole creation to its Creator," the UCC Statement of Faith evokes the cosmic Christ of Colossians, and though in its cosmology Colossians challenges Gnosticism's powers and principalities and claims Christ's reconciling and reigning Lordship over everything and everyone created--esp in its assertion of his making hash of the "powers," not only Gnostic ones but all those other influences that bind themselves to us and often rule our institutions and that all of us actually invoke at times ... I'd also include the witness of Paul's undisputed writing and of the Jesus we meet in the synoptics in claiming the Lordship of our Crucified and Risen man of Nazareth over all creation, not just a terracentric one!
Shout To The Lord!

My Jesus, my Saviour,
Lord, there is none like You
All of my days, I want to praise,
The wonders of your mighty love
My comfort, my shelter
Tower of refuge and strength
Let every breath, all that I am
Never cease to worship You


Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing,
Power and majesty, praise to the King
Mountains bow down and the seas will roar,
At the sound of your name
I sing for joy at the work of your hands
Forever I'll love you, forever I'll stand
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You

Repeat verse

© 1993 Darlene Zschech /Hillsongs Australia (Admin. in U.S. & Canada by Integrity's Hosanna! Music) All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Malls, Cathedrals and Museums

more ideas I need to get out of the queue; maybe I'll develop some of this later!


Although I don't often mall-crawl, when I do, I particularly notice too many people in malls and other public places look too empty, and accordingly we Christians suppose and presuppose the empties doing whatever they can do fill those empty spaces and unfulfilled lives with all kinds of stuff. From Jackson Browne's song, "Running on Empty":
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to, to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see they're running too ... running on empty, running behind ... you know, I don't even know what I'm hoping to find .... running into the sun but I'm running behind!
Like all of us sometimes do, that song's singer keeps running into a nameless and meaningless oblivion-like state. The music is wonderful, energetic and drives the listener (I guess that must me) into its state of mind.


Without delving into a lot of history and in this short space necessarily leaving out the multitude of vital functions the cathedral church assumed earlier on, especially in Europe, that whole sanctuary development has a lot to do with the rationalization and bureaucratization of Christianity...and, as Max Weber pointed out, when religion becomes rationalized (and maybe denominationalized!), with a dichotomy between professional and non-professional ("lay?") practitioners, that's when the division between sacred and secular begins really big-time, and often assumes horrendous proportions, as in the Jerusalem Temple. And "horrendous proportions" as in the late Medieval church, as well, though always there have been faithful and even re-forming individuals and movements. Also, the Jerusalem Temple was a prime example of what Luther called the "domesticated God," the God at humanity's beck and whim, the trivial God who could be manipulated and coerced rather than the sovereign, free and elusive God of the Bible.

And, since the physical evidence or the "incarnate enfleshment" of who we are – the goods, or, more accurately the 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 even accountable to us..."domesticated gods!" We're supposed to be a different, a "peculiar" people, and that gets back to our wondering how we evangelize: with modalities that look like those in that other world, as in consumer goods and consumable bads, or with unique, biblically-informed ones?

Museums and Muses:

Churches on the way to becoming museums? Museum exhibit or mission example? Let's ask what a museum does at its best. But first, in his Powers trilogy, Walter Wink does a great job on the letters to the angels - to the spirits of the seven churches in Revelation, as he points out each organization, each institution and each organic expression of the church (local, regional, or whatever - you know!) has a particular spirit external to, greater than and different from the spirit or *angel* of any of the individuals that comprise a specific entity. It seems to me a museum at its best displays succinctly and locally a wide if not inclusive range of a particular painter, period, style or genre. So if some of our local churches or even denominations are becoming museumized (is that the same as "fossilized?"), why do we feel some of those characteristics are worth preserving? Just something to think about :)

And finally for this evening,

the church (your church, my church, anyone's church) as storefront to the consumer culture!!!

Double meaning there, as members as consumers of religious offerings, pastors and church staff as providers, purveyors 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 people 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. The original and root meaning of ekklesia, usually translated church, was the called-out, called-together assembly. As in convention or conventional! Interesting thought?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Contextualized Mission

Contextualized Mission? Yes! Right here and right now (in Southern California)!

Here's some fodder I'd like to develop later; a lot of it's still at a highly preliminary stage:

As 21st century consumers we know commercial marketing of all kinds offers us endless menus of almost infinite consumption choices, but the kind of *marketing* of the Gospel we do as missionaries and evangelists actually is the call and the work of God, and in the power of the Spirit, God also makes possible our response. Since God initiates the mission, we need to be in constant communication with God, the boss and the let the Holy Spirit of God lead us! Furthermore, it means we can run our own ideas past God, but God has the final say about what actually gets tried. We need to do the kind of prayer that's a whole lot more listening than it is talking and yakkin' ...nd studying scripture to learn how God historically has spoken and acted in parallel situations. Some of us engage others by becoming missionaries and evangelists, bearers of "Good News," in home and foreign mission fields, sharing and teaching the Gospel, teaching adults literacy and life skills, digging wells, distributing food and clothing or providing medical care. Recently I read the most elegant and eloquent phrase: the community of those who are commanded and who observe. Besides that celebrated primary proscription against idolatry, most of all God commanded and enjoined the people to show hospitality to the stranger and the sojourner:
  • Exodus 23:9
    Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
  • Leviticus 19:34
    But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
  • Deuteronomy 10:19
    Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
...and for us as Christians that's also one of our primary calls, so God calls every one of us to show hospitality to the stranger in our midst, as in this neighborhood, right here and now.

The Wolf Shall Dwell cover Wherever we're living these days, those strangers, those *different* folks are right next door and directly across the street. We've gone way beyond the horror of Christendom's culturally imperialistic Bad News so sparely disguised as evangelism; by now we've finally at least started to learn about contextualizing our proclamation and service so it's culturally appropriate when we're sent to countries and neighborhoods that are visibly different from ours; we usually learn their spoken language and their social customs and popular culture to some extent, so no longer do many Americans or Northern Europeans confuse Christianity with American (or Northern European, or whatever) culture and customs. We still need near-constant awareness of our own cultural idiosyncrasies and of the culture of the evangelized and we need all the time to get and our agendas (esp those agendas of imperialism and colonialism, with still keep happening subtly and not-at-all-subtly) out of the way! This is an important place for some formal courses in cultural anthropology and probably some "training," for lack of a different word. Although there are many available resources, Eric H.F. Law has provided a pair of exceptional books, The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community and The Bush Was Blazing But Not Consumed: Developing a Multicultural Community Through Dialogue and Liturgy in this area; I've spoken to groups and used some of his ideas in limited ways. Despite growing up in an effectively multi-cultural setting, I still make far too many assumptions, both about the "other" and about my own capacities to integrate, understand and fully include others' perspectives and experiences within my own still-limited frame of reference.

But now that most of us (like me, of course) are so sensitive and so savvy, we imagine we'd never ever stereotype anyone or any situation, and I've seen educated people who don't lack life experience say and do the most obscenely horrendous things. The Bush was Blazing coverFor example, when I'm with my neighbors: simply because they live in my ZIP code and even in my condo complex, there's no way I can assume therefore they're like me and would respond to the same expression of Christianity that speaks to my experience. We all live in southern California and we have every ethnicity and lifestyle and family configuration right here, right now. You (I, one) cannot assume anything whatsoever from appearance, and I'd say even less so in 2004 than in prior years. And because we truly have learned so much about other cultures we think or imagine we really know and understand, now we've got to be particularly careful not to stereotype. It's extremely challenging!

It's easy to let our human desire for power and control come close to consuming us, as well, that will to power that in so many ways evolves from a desire for security and belonging: knowing who we are, where we are, and what our particular role is and letting every else know, in no uncertain terms. And we need to let go of our human thinking the only way - or maybe the best way - to accomplish anything is through force or strength in the usual meaning of the word.

I mentioned the human desire for power, meaning an element of force, coercion or even control, but then there's the power of storytelling, proclaiming the Gospel as it has happened in our own lives, in our own private and public worlds, as the story of Jesus, and Spirit and re-creation emerges as a narrative that can engage our neighbors! I'll admit it's often easier for me to teach or preach on an epistle or other less immediate passage than on a more immediately accessible narrative or a parable, but our lives are about "story," and it's in the midst of our individual stories and the relationships and the historical communities into which our stories send us that God acts to challenge, restore, renew and redeem us back for God's own purpose and praise.

In this context I need to refer to the sacraments (yet once) again, since not only does God come to us with specific and special grace in the sacraments, as well as helping us remember Whose we are and heal the distortions in our lives, but the Eucharist particularly forms the model of the ways God enters our world in common, routine and everyday things and ordinary, day-by-day actions - like breaking bread and sharing a meal, and common, routine events like meeting our neighbors and other strangers.

Touched by the Fire!

A few random yet interrelated ideas...sometimes I need to post so I can get them (temporarily) out of my head:

At least at the time God first calls them, there are few non-reluctant prophets in the Bible. God wants to hear our "Here I am, send me!" and God can overcome all kinds of qualities and lacks thereof we humans consider deficiencies and shortcomings. But God's call to "the church" really means not individuals as much as is *means* the called-out, gathered-together and sent-out Resurrection/Pentecost community, the assembly of saints where, by the power and in the power of the Spirit, the Crucified and Risen One is incarnate.

During the devastation of southern California's Firestorm 2003, one of the local meteorologists mentioned there are some desert (and other?) flowers that won't bloom because they can't bloom unless their seeds are seared and burst open by fire. As the people of the Church, we need to remember fire's purifying qualities, especially remembering the soil is more fertile, the land more productive and also a better home and shelter for animal wildlife than before the fires...all of that is true of us, as well, as the Spirit's fire touches us, equips and qualifies us (seared and burned, yet purified, reclaimed, restored, re-formed and renewed) for our responsibilities as the Church of Jesus Christ sent into all the world to proclaim and to demonstrate the Good News.

Fire carries a multitude of meanings: warmth, consumption, destruction and refinement; fire also carries connotations of eternalness and holiness. Within the biblical narratives, God frequently appears in the form of fire, and God's advent in fire assumes different meanings at various times. Sometimes God's fire means holiness, as the burning bush theophany - or manifestation of Divinity - meant holiness to Moses; sometimes in the biblical witness, just as in our own lives, God's fire means blessing, as when fires from Elijah's altar revealed God's favor. Would not the Divine Presence in our very midst be a true Hallel, Halleluiah moment? Well, to John the Baptist, God's coming in the form of fire meant judgment, the separation of the good and worthy wheat from the bad and unworthy. Then again, on the Day of Pentecost, that day we celebrate the birth of the Church, we read in the book of Acts about a mighty rush of wind and about flames of fire resting upon the heads of the gathered assembly: as Christians we claim both the Divine Breath - the ruach Elohim - and the Holy Flame!

Fire isn't a solid you can grab nor can you weigh it on a scale. Fire has potential for a plethora of different kinds of energy use, too, and fire lights our pathways and our imaginations. Fire is a synonym for a lively, living idea, and for mania: "tame the fire in the mind," a pharmaceutical company's ad for an anti manic drug encouraged. A blazing fire's flames throw brightness into the surrounding darkness and reshape the worlds they touch; fire awakens in us the possibilities of unpredictable transformations and the recognition of sacred moments in our lives. Let it blaze!!!!!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Earthly Good Living

  • Christ has died;
  • Christ is risen;
  • Christ will come again.
  • Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
About this world, this bountiful creation, this oftentimes haven of joy, I'm with Edna St. Vincent Millay as she says in her poem, Conscientious Objector, "I shall die, but that is all I shall do for death." A while ago a friend was laying some truly extravagant compliments on me while I kept thinking, "Wow! Really?! Thank you!" Then he added, "Your earthbound theology," and to myself I said, "That one I knew!" :) With Rich Mullins I know the Lord is in his Temple and I hear the prairies calling out His name!

So sadly, too many folks consider Christianity one of the multitude of options on the current *spirituality* smorgasbord. Since these Sundays of Easter we've been hearing the lections from Revelation, once again I'm wondering at, dreaming about and even sometimes daring to rejoice over the vision of the redeemed and restored City of God, the New Jerusalem with the river of the water of life and the tree of life with its leaves for the healing of the nations, the healing of the peoples! From Carly Simon's "Let the River Run:"
Trembling, shaking.
Oh, my heart is aching.
We're coming to the edge,
running on the water,
coming through the fog,
your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,
let all the dreamers
wake the nation.
Come, the New Jerusalem.
Great tribulation, rapture? No, not: because that's completely inconsistent with the biblical witness as a whole, which calls us to life and service (=ministry) in the world, calls us to live out our lives alongside the marginalized and the just plain hurting as a crucified people and as persons of the empty tomb. Both the world and the church have read every age as an end of the ages, every age as a "great tribulation," and whenever societies, nations or persons are suffering and in distress the very last thing we as Christians and as a Church can do is renounce our baptism and allow anyone or anything to ease us up, up and away from the disarray and turmoil.

But rather than remotely talking about any kind of affection whatsoever to anything material, or even created or even fabricated, materialized creation, I'm *simply* trying to describe how we live out our baptism in this world, right now and right here, as in "where we are planted." :)

...and to the completion and the fullness of redemption, or salvation, or whatever expression you prefer, right here in this physical, created world. One needs to be very careful not to over-spiritualize and other-worldly-ize Jesus' life and Jesus' call to us, which is a call to ministries of justice and compassion in the right here and right now. Sometimes all that super-spiritualizing reminds me of the text expositions in the old Interpreters Bible! I remember mentioning in a group that the Bible's "not a metaphysical witness" and getting some very surprised looks in response!

...I'm constantly trying to steer people away from over-spiritualizing Jesus' life and ministry and even from over-spiritualizing our lives in the Spirit, but God does call us to be "stewards of the mysteries of God," not so much as futilely attempting any explanation but in obedience living out our baptism in service to others because we believe [trust] the outrage of Christ crucified and the *mystery* of the Sovereign God who would dare to live - and die - as one of us, becoming one of the least of these.