Saturday, February 20, 2010

frog blog hymns discussion

Over on her frog blog, 1-4 grace started an interesting discussion about hymns. Her blog's not live any more, so I removed the link.
Tell me your own ideas of hymns which are meaningful, those which are painful or stir other negative feelings. What hymns do you really like? Which ones could you do without?

By the way, I am not doing any actual research. I am just interested in what folks have to say.
Good one! I'll begin with the negative stuff, which includes Amazing Grace. A while back I said to someone "it has no Christology and no theology (not to mention the near-obligatory funereal-sounding bagpipe versions at actual funerals)..." he responded "agreed, but a little soteriology..." to that one I needed to reply, "disembodied soteriology? I do not think so!" Then there's Borning Cry, part of the pain of which I know is John Ylvisaker's typically tawdry tune. The hyper-militant Lift High the Cross almost grossed me out the first time I heard it, but it's still better than Onward Christian Soldiers.

"Among the" (as our cultural anthro teacher tried teaching us not to say) more recent hymns I like a lot, I'll list Marty Haugen's Here in this Place / Gather Us In—I especially love how the harmony undulates between major and modal; Now the Silence with words by Jerry Vajda, music from Carl Schalk; Earth and All Stars, preferably in the original more rhythmically dynamic version. Rise, Shine, You People Ron Klug's text with the tune Wojtkiewiecz, after composer Dale Wood's original Polish name... "He comes to us by sin and death surrounded, with grace unbounded" moves me to tears. I love #524 in the ELCA's new Evangelical Lutheran Worship, What Is This Place and blogged about it all of three years ago. Praise songs? Definitely Shout to the Lord!

For older hymns, I love Gently Raise the Sacred Strain, #146 in the current LDS hymnal. Praise to the Lord, the AlmightyLobe den Herren a fabulous one to lead from the organ and I have especially wonderful memories of singing it during my first interview weekend in Utah with the Utah PCUSA Presbytery and the Utah UCC Association convening together; singing with a room full of pastors almost always is a great experience. One more for now: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, because What's not to love about it?

Despite my own reasonable sensitivity to inclusive (or not) language, in many cases I don't like the texts of old familiars distorted simply to make a point of being inclusive. I'll probably come back and add a few essentials when I suddenly remember I've left them out, but that's all for now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Roll of Thunder

roll of thunder cover
This one's for Black History Month 2010.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor has won several major publishing industry commendations and awards including the Newbery Award for 1977; I'd like to bestow my own reader award for the dozen fast-reading chapters in a book originally intended for middle- or high-school ages but that hardly talks down to a more "mature" audience and, I imagine, most of the vocabulary is basic enough for a bright 4th or 5th grader.

The story happens in post-emancipation Mississippi USA during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. The author doesn't specify an exact locale but refers to a fictional town of Strawberry as well as the real city of Jackson where, by the way, author Mildred Taylor was born and my own grandfather grew up. Spokane County in Washington State was the only one I found with a Google search, so that's one for the book, as well. And this was three decades prior to the Civil Rights movement that with legal decrees only started initiating the dawn of desegregation followed by sometimes grudging, occasionally truly triumphant integration of Black Americans and White Americans. Interestingly, until mid-20th century only Blacks and Whites qualified to become American citizens; most of the country remained racially and ethnically suspiciously divided (and still is), with what feels like endless disputes over the international border between California, Arizona, Texas and Mexico.

First-person narrator Cassie Logan is the young teen daughter of Mary, a school teacher and of David, who spends a lot of time away from home laying railroad track in neighboring Louisiana; grandmother Big Ma, Uncle Hammer and a few other elders provide some backstory and lots of historical perspective. Biblical themes of land, justice and peoplehood run throughout the book, punctuated remembering and recounting tales of Southern Slavery punctuated along the way with reflections about injustice and inequalities and hints of daring hope for a truly free future. Each successive generation is willing to settle for less and more able to trust dreams of a different reality down the road--if not now, when? Mildred Taylor has written so skillfully from Cassie's perspective you'd think she'd actually lived the events, though she tells us her own father was very much like David in the book and as a youth he basically was Cassie's brother Stacey. Christopher-John and Clayton Chester, a.k.a. "Little Man" complete the trio of Cassie's brothers. David spends a lot of time away from home laying railroad track in neighboring Louisiana

The Logan family is privileged to own 400 acres of land; in 1887 Grandpa bought 200 acres that by the year 1933 had no mortgage note to pay yet still had taxes; in 1918 he acquired 200 additional acres that during the time of the book had mortgage plus taxes. The Logans and some of their Africa-American neighbors recognize land as gift that further will provide crops that will enable them to pay taxes and the mortgage on the land that will keep them living there and will continue to yield food for their dinner table.

In some ways scripture views land, the earth, as inalienable gift, Leviticus 25:23 famously says, "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers [aliens] and sojourners with me." God is the creator and the original owner but wait, it all belongs to Him, anyway! In Native American culture, too, land cannot be sold. However, access to rich, healthy, well-stewarded ground is essential for our mutual survival, yet during the Jubilee Year, the 50th year, the one of 7 times 7, the land reverts to its original (human) owner/steward. "They" say land is inalienable gift, yet "they" also observe all wars are about territory and we have the concept of real estate, real property.

The Logan family related to the dominant White-controlled economy sometimes with fear-tinged submission, at times with almost play-acting "yes sir, no sir, of course, ma'am" behaviors amidst finding true refuge and safety in a solid, respectful and respecting family of parents, their offspring and the dad's mother, Big Ma. The church that has given its name and a lot of funding to Great Faith elementary school play major roles, too.

Although earlier on in the novel we find examples of death-dealing and destructive fire, closer to the conclusion of the book, fire becomes redemptive as Cassie's father David torches a portion of his own cotton crop in a prescribed burning that directs the Whites in power from possibly pursuing a handing or lynching because they need to prevents the fire from spreading to their own land; for a while the fire brings along with it the visible reality of White and Black "children of slaveholders and children of slaves" working compatibly side-by-side.

And oh, of course there's a prominent White character who is on the side of the Blacks, the lawyer Mr. Wade. And we have the Wallaces, which sounds like a code name.

My experiences growing up around grandparents heavily influenced by Southern social and cultural practices made me think a lot about what I read in Roll of Thunder. I recognized a bit of the attitudes, though tempered by recognition of mutual humanity and mutual needs. The food was familiar, too; what got called Soul Food for a while was exactly the same vittles as poor(er) White Folk typically ate. By the time my grandparents reached New England they'd owned farms and worked the land in Nebraska and North Carolina, and though they'd become urban cliff-dwellers they retained heavy respect for the land. Need I mention we often enjoyed black-eyed peas, grits, cornbread and biscuits? I attended high school in an inner-city school that imagined it at least could desegregate and maybe even integrate some day and did my second undergrad stint at a university originally formed for non-traditional students that included a lot of African-Americans and other distinctive groups. Later on as an adult I lived and served in a predominantly African-American community, where I discovered my familiarity and relative easiness with African-American cuisine and customs coupled with my relative lack of stereotyping and assumptions was a powerful asset to bring to the situation. If I had doubts about my abilities - and who doesn't at times? - my horror at the words and behaviors of some outsiders who came in for volunteer or paid work constantly assured me.

What have you been doing for Black History Month? Just wonderin...

"reads like a real-life experience" — my amazon review

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

proclaiming the scandal of the cross

Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement

proclaiming the scandal coverProclaiming the Scandal of the Cross brings the reader word and prose "images" of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The book features eighteen authors all told with a tailpiece, a headpiece and one in the center by editor Mark D. Baker. Contributors include big names like C.S. Lewis and Rowan Williams though sadly, only a scant four women. Brief bios in the front of the book show they're mostly Western Protestants, mostly pastors from English-speaking countries. Sadly surprising is the apparent total omission of anyone from a Lutheran or a Roman Catholic perspective, although I especially appreciate the inclusion of Frederica Mathewes Green, who writes from the Antiochian Orthodox tradition.

I found this book to be a helpful resource that I read very quickly. Despite my background, I've been known to get seriously bogged down in densely-written theological tomes - not to say those weren't written well - but this wasn't one of those. I especially like the real-life stories that contextualize each concept and the way each author nuances their atonement concepts a little differently. Each discrete chapter opens with introductory explanations and concludes with a descriptive wrapup of the material just presented.

Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross goes beyond the generally popularly acknowledged models of the atonement of Jesus Christ that typically include conflict/victory, legal penal satisfaction, and moral influence/example. In his intro, Mark Baker observes [page 31] "...for centuries, Christians preached and taught the message of Christianity without the gospel leading them to the inescapable conclusion of penal satisfaction." And, "It is noteworthy that Orthodox Christians still read their Bibles without finding this theory."

[page 35, still in Baker's intro] "Through the lens of a Western legal system, anyone is just who meets the standard of the law. But a Hebraic understanding of justice is more relational: anyone is just who keeps one's covenants and commitments to others. Here, we could say that God is considered just ... because God is faithful to his covenantal promise to provide salvation to Israel and through Israel to the world."

I found material from several chapters especially helpful and revealing...

Chapter 9 from Richard B. Hays, "Made New by One Man's Obedience" based on Romans 5:12-19

page 97 "If the apostle Paul had turned this passage in to me as a short theological reflection paper, I would have told him, 'Get thee to the writing tutor.'" ... "so that he can pass my course on Greek Exegesis of Romans."

page 99 "But the Adam-Christ analogy should [page 100] never mislead us into thinking that Jesus Christ merely undoes the effects of Adam's transgression and puts us back at square one with a blank slate. Instead, Jesus has swept us into a new creation in which our identity is now positively redefined by his faithfulness rather than by our own disloyalty to God."

[page 100 continued] "Paul almost never talks about 'forgiveness of sins,' because ... he has a more radical diagnosis of the human predicament and a more radical vision of the new creation. We need far more than forgiveness or judicial acquittal. We need to be changed. [page 101] We are saved because we participate in the new humanity that Jesus, the faithful, obedient one inaugurated. ... this faithfulness not only models a different pattern of life but also actually creates a new kind of family."

chapter 3, "Rising Victorious" by Frederica Mathewes Green clearly and concisely defines the Christus Victor atonement model that remains most prominent in the Eastern Churches.

Doug Frank, in chapter 12, "Naked but Unashamed" lines out an account both psychological and told in the first person as he describes how the cross obliterates the shame, the fears about self-revelation and the self-alienation most of us feel far too often. [page 133] "...since God is so wildly and scandalously for us, who, including ourselves, can possibly be against us?" Historically, obliteration of shame in the cross of Jesus Christ has been a focus of liberation theology, and I appreciated Doug Frank's very real-life contemporary middle-class western world examples.

In another chapter (14) about shame, this one by Mike McNichols, "Jesus, the Ultimate Outsider" on page 147 quotes Dr. Ray Anderson's definition of shame as "...the perceived loss of our place with others. Those who have the power to create our history have the power to make us feel worthy or unworthy at the core of our being. ... We feel shame as loss of being."

[page 149] McNichols describes when "Jesus himself became the ultimate outsider. ...He was banished from the world of homes, family and friends, work and play."

Chapter 11, "The Cross as Prophetic Action" by Brian D. McLaren brings us Hosea 2; and on page 115 he calls the desert "a place of aloneness, trials, and reconstruction" and says "The Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, ... will become a passageway to hope."

[page 116] "[Israel] was already his [God's], but he bought her back anyway." McLaren contrast the money-changers "for prophet status, in contrast to Jesus' for-prophet status."

I love Brian McLaren's asking, [page 117] "Could it be that just as Hosea in a sense exposed God's betrayed heart ... could God be saying, not just with Hosea, 'You're breaking my heart!' but also through Jesus, 'You're torturing me, killing me.'"?

McLaren continues by asking, "How different this gripping understanding of the passion of Jesus is from the formulaic transactional understanding promoted by evangelical pop-atonement theology. ... How must God feel about ... our continuing betrayal of God's heart, our ongoing missing of the point that might be funny if it weren't so sick?"

I highly recommend this book as a teaching and discussion resource; it could be helpful as part of the preaching enterprise, as well. But not including a single currently practicing Roman Catholic troubles me and I particularly consider the omission of a contributor writing from a Lutheran perspective both glaring and puzzling, especially given how central the theology of Martin Luther has been for the Church in the West and given that most of his theology was very specifically "Theology of the Cross." In fact, for Luther, the cross of Calvary formed a Weltanschauung, an all-encompassing worldview.

I'll semi-conclude by first quoting from one of the class handouts I prepared for the theology of the cross course I developed and facilitated during 2007:
The cross of Calvary forms the ultimate type and reality of God’s characteristically hidden and paradoxical, sacramental presence in the commonest things, situations and people. Especially in the cross we learn God totally subverts evil for good, as the death of Jesus Christ becomes a redemptive reality for all creation.
I also paraphrased Luther and wrote:
Theologians of the cross build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself, particularly God’s self-revelation in Christ crucified. The cross of Calvary forms a paradigm and model for God’s characteristically hidden and paradoxical, sacramental presence in the commonest things, situations and people.
Four articles from the Heidelberg Disputation [1518] form my final conclusion for this blog:

19. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened [Romans 1:20].

20. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.

my amazon review: "a helpful resource despite serious omissions"