Sunday, October 31, 2004

Reformation Day 2004

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

Make Our Church One Joyful Choir

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2004

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 6b

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

Chapter 6b:

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

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

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

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

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

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 5b

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

Chapter 5b:

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

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

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

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

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 5

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superlatively expressed!

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 4c

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

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

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

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

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

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 4b

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

Here's Chapter 4b:

foolishness to the greeks coverMarian, once again our book discussion moderator, wrote:
"What I think is foolishness, a stumbling block, and just plain anathema to our culture is the Christian claim that we are not made for ourselves, we do not live for ourselves and we do not die for ourselves."
I responded:

Exactly! When you previously asked, "Just what is it about our faith that is 'foolishness' to our culture?" So now I'll say that peculiar foolishness is evident in our proclaiming and worshiping the foolishness, the indignity of our God crucified; we proclaim the reality of resurrection; we aspire to living in the weakness, vulnerability, shame and dishonor of servanthood rather than existing in the comfort and triumph of being served. This gets back to the un-churched and de-churched considering Christianity yet another possible selection on the smorgasbord of spiritual delights: it's all about "me and me," and maybe peripherally about "I" but not about an "I" truly connected to any other "I." Our God crucified, dead - and risen - isn't about prosperity thinking, isn't about conspicuous achievement; it's unreasonable and illogical and unscientific.

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 4

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

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

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

Here's chapter 4a:

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

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

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

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

awesomely evocative poetic twentieth-century hymnody:

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

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

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

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

New Century Hymnal, No. 556, alt.

Great God, Our Source, © by George Utech:

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

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

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

Lutheran Book of Worship, No. 466, alt.

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 3

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

Chapter 3: The Word in the World

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

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

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

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

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

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolishness to the Greeks Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 18

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

water buffalo theology coverChapter 18: Three Modes of Christian Presence

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 17

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 17: Toward a Crucified Mind

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 16

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 16: Is Christ Divided?

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 15

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 15: Tokyo and Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 14

Part IV: Interpreting the Christian Life

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 12

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama

Chapter 12: Cool Arhat and Hot God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 11

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama

water buffalo theology coverPart III: Interpreting Thai Buddhist Life

A sigh and a deep breath...

Chapter 11: Buddhist, Not Buddhism

Buddhist, Not Buddhism:

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 9

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

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

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

10 theological issues facing theologians in the U.S.

• Interdependent World

• the Bible

• proclamation, accommodation and syncretism

• U.S. megalomania, economic and cultural imperialism

• economic greed and consumerism

• cultural, spiritual and religious relativism

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

• education of clergy and especially education of laity

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

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

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

1) relativizing Torah;

2) discarding genealogy; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 8

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 7

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 7: "Neighborology"

From Kosuke Koyama,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 6

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 6: Aristotelian Pepper and Buddhist Salt

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

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

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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 5

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Part II: Rooting the Gospel

Chapter 5: Bangkok and Wittenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 4

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 4: The "Efficiency" of the Crucified One in the World of Technological Efficiency

water buffalo theology coverIn Chapter 1 the author describes Christianity's way as slow! And now he's writing about the amazingly "inefficient investment" of God's nomadic peregrinations in the desert with the people "these forty years" to learn the people's hearts and to teach them one "does not live by bread alone." In this context, "investment" is an interesting word! But since we can't live without bread and all the other means of sustaining our earthly existence, God also remains faithful to providing for our material needs: "your clothes and your shoes didn't wear out on you." Partly because of this he logically observes, "The Lordship of God has a historical substance…It is the crucified Jesus Christ in Golgotha under Pontius Pilate." Koyama calls Jesus of Nazareth a "spiritual" Messiah, asks if technology should be our Messiah. "God is love" is intangible; technology is tangible. But is technology part of God's answer to our physical, earthly needs? Or is technology humanity's answer to our wants?

"Technological shalom…must sit in the shalom feast of the Messiah."
Because of technological advancement, Wal*Mart and comparable retailers may pursue and initially actually achieve some efficiency and economies of scale, but in the long run doesn't such a arrangement become burdened by corporate organizational and end up slowing down and ultimately denigrating many of the lives it sought to make more efficient?

One of our discussion partners observed:
I see every day the truth of Koyama's statement regarding the need for the completely different form of "spiritual" or "crucified" efficiency that comes from the inefficient processes of seeking God's presence. And any search takes time, patience, persistence, and a willingness to set aside "efficient" behaviors.

The author cites a World Council of Churches study regarding the interaction between [local] traditional culture and religion and universal technological civilization [my italics]. He says when technology intrudes traditional ways usually rebirth and transform rather than disappear, and the traditional and the new/revolutionary " only in people who shape them and value them." 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 - God in Christ reconciling to world to Godself and trusting the continuing ministry of reconciliation to us! That's why we're reading this book - to become better (and more efficient?!) ministers of reconciliation!

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 3

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 3: Gun and Ointment | The Future of the Christian World Mission in Asia

Kosuke Koyama says Jesus' anointing shows, "the substance and manner of God's participation in history."

water buffalo theology coverRather than being anointed by members of the temple hierarchy and the theological establishment - guys - to reign alive in glory in sumptuous palatial opulence, within the recognized and reputable imperial structure, within the humanly established order of earthly affairs - Jesus was anointed into his death in the glory of the cross by a woman - a person without any part in the Temple array, who because of gender and caste never could be a priest. That woman who to us is nameless anointed Jesus, at the house of a leper, a person totally outcast from polite society, far outside of the legitimately sanctioned and reputable arrangements and expectations of the world but right within God's upside-down, illegitimate order, God's own scheme that invalidates and inverts most imaginings of what should be - God's way, the way of the Cross, which we know as the Divinely established order of human affairs.

Marian, our discussion moderator, asked:
Are they [Christian world mission and western culture] so tangled together that we'll never untangle them in our own minds?
Tough question! In doing almost any kind of ministry, I find myself worrying a whole lot that my attitude and actions might come across as arrogance and even imperialism; I wonder if I truly have the people's best interests in my heart, or if my life experience and perspective have duped me into visionlessness about where and how the people I'm trying to serve are living their lives and where they need to be in the future. At the beginning of Chapter 3, Koyama writes, "It was 1511..." He then details the way the modernization/imperialism connection took off, with Alfonse de Albuquerque's conviction God was on his side: "commercial avariciousness and theological self-righteousness" ...and the subsequent disarticulation of Asian, economic, political and cultural life - to what end?

The author quotes Mao Zedong regarding the proletariat's "responsibility of correctly knowing and changing the world." And calls it "proletariat ointment": Present-time ointment.

Contrasted with Gandhi's ahimsa - non-violence ointment: an ancient ointment.
Both proletariat ointment and ahimsa ointment ...are two outstanding examples of Asian participation in history. They are not just ideas. Both realize the presence of a strange ointment called the missionary ointment which is trying to heal the wounds of history by the name of a man crucified two thousand years ago.
I needed to quote this, and please read my paragraph supra about Jesus' anointing into his death!

"Prayer and hymn singing in the vernacular" is one of Luther's Marks of the True Church; I'm convinced "Evangelism in the vernacular" also needs to happen for the Church, as the Body of the Risen Christ, to be true to its call, as Jesus always met people more than half-way - Jesus met people as who they were and where they were. For Luther, suffering and persecution also defines the true Church. At the end of chapter 3, Prof. Koyama asks, "How can the Christian mission do this [stand against the 'guns' and give passionate encouragement to all the 'ointments'] unless it begins itself to live under the 'sentence of death?'" I need to think that through a whole lot more.

As you pointed out, the author considers modernization the "gun," or "weapon;" he says it's a new orientation and, most strikingly, modernization allows "environmental control!" We just read Chapter 2: "Will the Monsoon Rain Make God Wet?" So with modernization the people gain control of the environment? But we know our God as Lord of nature!

Marian also asked:
Should western Christians and western theologians...let Asian Christians (or Asian-western Christians like Koyama) define Christian mission for Asia?
Back to my comment on your first question: will attempts at ministry, at attempts to heal what I discern as some kind of pathology hinder rather than heal? It's all too easy to decide difference=disease. I truly believe I'm not commercially avaricious, but too often I catch myself in what definitely could pass for "theological self-righteousness" In seminary we read a paper that had a subtitle something like, "Spiritual Elitism in Corinth," and how I am so constantly convinced I read the Bible properly, my theology is the right theology (because it's somewhat "left," of course)...…and more sins against others' lives and sensitivities than I dare confess.

Thinking about our discussion moderator's asking in response to my "evangelism in the vernacular":

What would evangelism in the vernacular mean to you?

Elsewhere we noted that Christianity in this country wouldn't always be (well, it isn't now!) First Church on the corner of Main and Elm, housed in an iconic white colonial or colonial reproduction building, pews lined up facing the chancel that features a communion table topped with brass candlesticks donated by Annie and Henry's grandparents, 19th century hymns sung from a cloth-bound book and accompanied by a Hook & Hastings organ, the traditional Gloria Patri and doxology, Tiffany-type stained glass, Strawberry Shortcake Socials and picnics on the grassy church lawn...

In my own journey, since I didn't grow up in the church, as an adult I actually lack some of the harmful gear a lot of people have from childhood religion, though of course I have other stuff to contend with! Any church remotely answering that description never would have had any way of reaching me then or where I've ever been.

But of course the churches like those I described got their clues and a good deal of their style from the general outlook of the surrounding "secular" culture, just as the appeal of the Willow Creek churches and the other smaller, more fundamentalist churches in our neighborhoods is consonant with the traits that attract people to secular activities and institutions. In other words, those churches are strongly vernacular!

Back to thinking about "what would evangelism in the vernacular mean:" Telling the Good News in the people's muttersprach, in their "lingua franca," which, of course, means far more than their spoken and written language's syntax and grammar. Our "evangelical" language needs to reach all of their cultural sensibilities as well as their actual native idiom of everyday lives, their values, hopes and dreams. What do they desire for themselves, their children, their community - and even for the worlds beyond theirs? What would they perceive as Good News; above all, what can we demonstrate to them that would make them willing to risk change?

Water Buffalo Theology: Chapter 2

Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama on Amazon

Chapter 2: Will the Monsoon Rain Make God Wet? An Ascending Spiral View of History

water buffalo theology coverRegarding Chapter 2, Marian, our moderator observed:
"...I think our biblical understanding of God is deeply shaped by anxiety about climate and nature, by law and a sacrificial cult meant to 'keep things right' between the people and God. …in a totally different climate - a monsoon climate, with no worries about water, and with frogs and water buffalo instead of sheep and goats - how different would the biblical understanding of God have been?"
A couple of comments: In the biblical witness, physical, natural and weather phenomena don't become unimportant or peripheral; instead, every time God encounters people (until Jesus) something other than God stands in place of God - usually a natural sign or symbol: mountain, fire, earthquake, storm, other diverse types of "weather," cloud, rainbow, though at times a person - like a prophet - appears and speaks as a sign of God's present Word! Early in the Bible's testimony Yahweh discloses himself as God of history, but Yahweh always condescends to the people's needs, always accommodates his sovereignty and power to the people's humanity and vulnerability, meeting the people with novelty and surprise, but the newness and revelation is virtually always embedded within the more familiar and mundane. I've previously mentioned what wonderful models for God's activities in the world and in each of our lives the sacraments are - the Risen Christ concealed and yet revealed in ordinary, everyday - natural - things - as common as water, bread and wine!

As Christians we acknowledge Jesus Christ as God's final Word - but we also affirm our God still-speaks in the interface between the biblical text itself and the reader of that text; we celebrate the Christ, God's living Word in proclamation during our liturgies in our church sanctuaries; we celebrate God's presence and God's voice in the Church as the Body of the Risen Christ and in our societal and personal actions and interactions. In many and various ways God is a "Still Speaking" God! Since the Bible's God is God of history (and, let's not forget, the Bible's God also is God of nature), because human history continues, logic says God must still be acting within history. And I think for each culture and each community as well as for each of us as individual Christians, the journey by faith remains the usual 3 steps forward followed by 1 or 2 steps backwards.

Marian asked:
Do you think the God of the bible - our living and still-speaking God - is any more tied to a Mediterranean climate than a monsoon one? I.e. any more tied to an ancient, middle-eastern semitic tribal experience than an ancient Asian rice-farmer experience? Because we met that God in the one context, does that mean we forever carry that original context as part-and-parcel of the gospel message?
This question is especially interesting , in particular since this book we're reading is liberation theology and it's also ecological theology. The liberationists claim God indeed is partial, not to a particular people, nation or tribe but rather to a particular class and type of person: those who are altogether marginalized, estranged and "not-like-us." But your question of our God and "ancient, middle-eastern semitic tribal experience than an ancient Asian rice-farmer experience," reminds me of the massive hermeneutical task always set before us when we interpret the Bible, a witness to God's activity in an extremely not-like-ours culture and world...when we undertaking preaching and teaching those texts, we do so acknowledging them as a Word to us and for us, despite cultural disparities. IOW, yes God is equally tied to, God is equally active in those different cultures.

Looks as if I've almost gotten into a new discussion, but in passing I'll comment I'll agree God definitely has a preference for the exploited and hungry and abused because of the vulnerability of their situations, but it's not a greater love for them as individuals nor is it a greater passion for their freedom and potential. Right now I won't try to say any more about that!

I also believe it's inevitable we'll take some of that original context into the next setting. Earlier I wrote about our need to become at least as aware of the symbols of our own culture as we are of the symbols of the new culture. Easier said than done, but with careful awareness it is possible to interpret ancient texts as God's living Word for today in a social and cultural setting new to us - just as we always attempt to do here at home.

Water Buffalo Theology: Introduction and Chapter 1


During Spring 2003 on the old United Church of Christ forums we discussed a trio of books about missiology; on this blog I've already posted some of my thoughts upon reading

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh was the last book of our missionary trilogy.

water buffalo theology coverWater Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyam, published by Orbis Books), was the first book we talked about, and since I've already referred to it several times on this site, over the next few days I'll post some of the chapter-by-chapter ideas I had when we read it and, because now I'm reading the book again, maybe I'll have more ideas! The thumbnail description of WBT would say it's about the Christian-Buddhist dialogue and would describe it as both liberation theology and ecological theology. Since these days I haven't done much on the other ideas I'm currently thinking about, I'm planning to share some of our discussion of Lesslie Newbigin's Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture as well. Our discussions, all expertly moderated by Marian Conning, were wonderful, and I'm taking advantage of having the time to revisit these books as well as taking advantage of the convenience of what's essentially online file storage.

Part I: Interpreting History

Chapter 1: Theological Situations in Asia and the Mission of the Church

1. Part 1

As we keep learning all the time, "contextualization" is the jumping-off point in "doing" theology! And should be where we begin as practical and as academic theologians, anywhere and at anytime...just as the prophets, Jesus and the disciples combined theory (the written Torah) and urgent, passionate activism. Of course a few of them acted first and thought afterwards

The Hong Kong situation appealed to me mightily both as a "case study" - must be that one-time wannabe social worker in me :p - and in terms of my own tendencies and propensities. The Jeremiah 29 passage Professor Koyama cites is one I frequently quote to myself! It's both the original source of "bloom where you're planted!" and it's practical, down-to-earth direction for living shalom-ly with self, with neighbor and with stranger. He speaks of making "life meaningful and Christian (=slow) in the context of time running out" and oh, how that does apply to a hasty people like the people of Hong Kong and many developing, modernized cultures and societies and economies (is "modernization" still a viable concept?).

I also love his emphasis on the groundedness of a truly biblical lifestyle...although Singaporeans were his illustration of the people living ungroundedly high in the sky and out of reach of earthiness (humility?), the very same rationale could be made for the denizens of Hong Kong!

Where can Hong Kong celebrate their "slow" (=Christian) thanksgiving / homecoming liturgy? Not in the parking lot or heliport, Koyama asserts, and with that I agree. But in some ways it doesn't get any more post-urban-industrial or even more post-modern than Hong Kong, so is a physical return to the earthiness of soil necessary or even possible?

1. Part 2

One specific, contextual issue in my own life and ministry? Well, yes...I'll mention a couple things. First, Koyama's observing that doing the Word doesn't begin with Augustine, Barth and Rahner (though I've long been a major fan of Barth's), but you gotta "discard abstract ideas" for "immediately tangible" objects...IOW, to paraphrase the author, it's about enabling prophetic encounter between God's Word and God's World! I gotta get out of the way, because it's more than about history and about culture, more than about simple accommodation to where my people are: I'd call it sacramental, though he doesn't express it so.

When I served in the inner city I found getting out of the way far easier than I do here in San Diego, possibly because the inner city setting was more congruent with my own life and experiences and understandings. Here in San Diego, all too often I find myself self-conscious about emphatically making my point about everything. As I frequently mention, God takes us out of our comfort zone so often, it can be helpful if the basic situation is comfortable, since it's guaranteed not to remain that way for long!

Again from my own experience: although compared with the lives of our 3rd and 4th world sisters and brothers I've always had a relatively abundant diet and, by grace, despite some financially and otherwise precarious times I've never lacked physical shelter, some time ago I experienced a series of significant losses and subsequently for several years I sensed what felt like a real loss of self as well as a lack of the life giving and life enabling refuge, shelter and sanctuary of Christian community.

Although several years have passed since that time, I'm a way different person than I was before then!

His question on page 18 regarding the relationship of accommodation to proclamation, syncretism and "iconoclasticism" (iconoclasm?) is something we all need to be considering, all the time.

Part 1

...the relationship of accommodation to proclamation, syncretism and "iconoclasticism" (iconoclasm?)...

Regarding the "symbols" of a culture - whether we're in Thailand or in Nebraska, somewhere in California or Amsterdam, learning, knowing and appreciating those "symbols" (both ours and theirs) and having at least some clue about their meaning is essential before we even begin dialogue with anyone "not like us." Here's a place to note when I think of the courses I've formally taken in school that have been most useful and influential to me, my two semester of cultural anthropology (Introductory and Anthropology of Religion) at UMassBoston definitely are up there in my top half-dozen.

Before writing about
...the relationship of accommodation to...
I want to say something about cultural symbols, because before we can recognize any kind of relatedness, we need to know what's relating to what!

As Christians and as the Church we live in a Christian context and our official, formal symbols are the scriptures and the sacraments. But how about the symbolic meaning of potluck dinners, church council meetings, committees, talk and talk and more talk, social and political activism? An individual Christian's or congregation's symbols also may include a particular social, political or theological image within or vis-à-vis the community; it may include friendliness or even exclusiveness. You catch my drift! The list is long, and many times we're not remotely aware of what to outsiders may be the most obvious and evident symbols of our culture - or our church - which is one reason studying cultural anthropology can be so helpful

In Thailand it's sticky-rice, bananas, rainy season; in Maine maybe it includes blueberries, lobsters. For San Diego: Big Box retailers (like the rest of the country), surfers and surfing, our rainy and dry seasons, desert, ocean, sun, sky - and a tremendous concentration of material wealth.

Attached to every symbol is a corresponding meaning. If the meaning ceases to be important, the symbol itself will fade and die, as well.

Part 2:

Proclamation: every entity proclaims and declares something, if only be the fact of its existence, but our Christian kerygma tells about our holy God's incarnation into the longitude, latitude and linear time of human history and of a particular culture and the ensuing reality of the death of death itself in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the One we know as the Christ of God. And the same God Whose passion from the beginning has been to journey with the people, continues incarnate in the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, and still accompanies the people on their journey in the longitudes, latitudes and linear time of human history and now within many diverse cultures.

Syncretism: In his preface to the 25th Anniversary Edition, Koyama says a couple of extremely revealing things: everyone everywhere inevitably read the Bible from their own experience's perspective (he was citing the situation of folks who knew the Upanishads), and he insists the gospel demonstrates its power in the pluralism within Christianity. There's little or nothing original within Christianity, but I've long been convinced the synthesis is unique! But the "syncretism" concern is how far can our basic proclamation extend? We know Jesus promises to draw all to himself, but one of the major problems in evangelism everywhere is to what extent the new Jesus people need to divest themselves of their former allegiances.

"Iconoclasticism" (iconoclasm?): I'll stay with the more familiar "iconoclasm!" As computer users we're really familiar with icons, but originally an icon was a static, fixed representation worthy of veneration. God's proscribed against image-making in order to lessen the likelihood people would worship the fixed and unmoving rather than the lively and dynamic. But, as you probably know, any society's or cultures icons hold a great deal in common with their symbols, and like Israel's Golden Calf often need to be shattered and destroyed, which brings us full circle back to:

Proclamation! Because for us, as Christians, Jesus Christ is over all, in all and with all.

More thoughts about Hong Kong, homecoming and us:

Where can Hong Kong celebrate their "slow" (=Christian) thanksgiving / homecoming liturgy? Not in the parking lot or heliport, Koyama asserts, and with that I agree. I've already said it doesn't get any more post-urban-industrial or post-modern than Hong Kong, and I am unconvinced a physical return to the earthiness of soil is either necessity or possibility.

To respond to this I'll start with the author's claim (page 18), "Jakarta is as central as Jerusalem and London in the mission of the Risen Lord." And he says this immediately after insisting on Jesus' charge recorded in Matthew 16:24 - we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus, IOW, live with the "crucified mind," in order to "participate in authentic contextualization." Though initially it may sound astounding to make Jakarta or anywhere else "as central as Jerusalem," if the person and work of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ is not for Jakarta just as much as it is for Jerusalem, he truly is not and cannot be Lord of all.

Hong Kong will be able to celebrate homecoming (after all, isn't homecoming the ultimate thanksgiving?) within a community gathered not only to perfunctorily and ritually evoke the presence of the risen Christ in Word and Sacrament, but when that gathered people attests to the presence of the Christ in each another: having gone slowly enough to know and to call each others' names, having gotten sufficiently grounded to ignore at least some of the babble of commerce and consumerism, having decided to "seek the welfare of the city" (city="civilization") where they are rather than seeking the wellbeing of their purses and properties: looking outward to the other's interests and inward to an authentic, relational and re-creative self. The "crucified mind" can be as basic as looking to others' interests rather than our own…seems elementary, but in my own life simple inconveniences can cause me considerable distress.

We're baptized into the cross, and must never, ever forget that reality.

Truly knowing and calling another's name happens only when a person has slowed down…if you're going to live in Hong Kong, an actual return to the soil won't be possible, and some people may decide to go elsewhere, go where they can touch and smell and feel the good ground. Although I always, always try to avoiding over-spiritualizing Jesus' life and mission - and the Church's life and mission - still, I believe earth, soil and ground can serve well as metaphors for the individual's attitude and that of the community, for a spiritual earthiness, realness and groundedness. Recall that what we're reading is ecological theology as much as it is liberation theology...

Though I said I wanted to respond to the question on page 18 about the relationship between accommodation and proclamation, syncretism and "iconoclasticism" (iconoclasm?), when I looked at my notes and the book's text, I noticed Professor Koyama also asks, "How do we understand accommodation in the mission of the church: in the church structure, in liturgy, in theology?" I won't attempt to answer that now, but it sounds like a subject for a series of books!