Monday, June 14, 2010

Truman G. Madsen: The Sacrament...

...Feasting at the Lord's Table

scholarship, devotion and joy!

The Sacrament: Feasting at the Lord's Table, by Truman G. Madsen. The author, who was born in 1926 and died only a year ago, on 28 May 2009, was emeritus professor of philosophy and religious studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Truman Madsen served in many callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including ward bishop, stake president and stake patriarch. The LDS Church long has had a worldwide presence, but during the earlier part of Brother Madsen's life it still was something of a Wasatch Front, Utah phenom. With the exception of the exceptionally ecumenical Christian Churches-Disciples of Christ, like the other church bodies that evolved from the various 19th century restoration movements, the LDS Church has not been involved in ecumenical dialogue though it regularly cooperates with other churches and church-related entities in humanitarian endeavors and responses. As you can read in the biography I linked to (but that does not chronicle his passing, so needs to be updated), geographically, intellectually and spiritually Truman Madsen's own world grew and flourished far beyond basic Utah Mormonism, making this a book I imagine even a completely unchurched person could enjoy. And they might be astonished at the depth, breadth, inclusiveness and un-preachiness of this book by a passionately committed follower of Jesus Christ!

the sacrament - I love the content and the format; each of the ten chapters relates to different aspects of the Lord's Supper—Atonement, The Prayers, Sabbath, Fasting, Glimpses Beyond are some topics. Within each chapter there are a dozen or more sub-topics, each a single page or less. The titles ring like poetry...listen to: How Long Is an Hour? Why Not "Thy Kingdom Come?" Holiness and the Name; The Word "Always" and the Rock; Inspired Introspection; The Lower Part of the Inner Court; A Time to Trust the Silence; Invincible Gratitude; Of Union and Surroundment; Of Pistachio Oil; Can the Spirit Enter a Stone? My Power Lieth Beneath; On Beauty and Overcoming... In the preface the author points out about The Sacrament: Feasting at the Lord's Table "There is no fixed beginning or end. It need not be read in sequence, but can be 'dipped into' at random." An unusual feature for this type of book is the alphabetical topical index at the end. Similar to mudhouse sabbath this is more of a handbook than something you'd tend to read cover-to-cover, though for sure it is engaging enough to be read straight through.

The book is full of fascinating scholarly morsels! On page 104 concerning John 12:3-8 and Matthew 26:12, "Was this Mary of Bethany also Mary of Magdala?" asks Brother Madsen. But in any case, the oil with which she anointed Jesus unto death was "...a mixture of balsam and pistachio and perhaps also the balm of Gilead from trees beyond the Jordan." In Greek, pistis means faith, trust. Regarding Matthew 20:23, on page 101 he tells us "In Semitic languages, 'cup' has the same root as the word for door or vestibule or entry way. 'The cup' in antiquity was the figure of one's role in life, one's condition or one's destiny... it remains the metaphor of a divinely appointed role." That's the kind of detail I love to include in my own writing and teaching, and both delighted me since they previously were in my own who knew? category.

the sacrament - back coverAlthough Truman Madsen's worldview extends well beyond the perspective of a single denomination or specific ecclesiastical tradition, each of the dozen pages in the third from the last "Glorious Modern Precedents" chapter recapitulates an event in Latter-day Saint history. Vignettes range from "Tuesday Sacrament" where President Madsen says Tuesdays are the preferred day of the week for Jewish couples to marry, because on the third day of the week God pronounced "it is good" not once but twice, to a description of astronaut Don Lind's "Sacrament in Orbit" to concluding the section with "A Solemn Assembly" in the upper room of the (Salt Lake City? location not specified) Temple.

Beyond devotion, beyond scripture, doctrine and theology, beyond exquisite scholarship, beyond simply "Christian," The Sacrament: Feasting at the Lord's Table shows us glimpses and visions of the eschatological feast to which God summons all creation, from which no one and nothing ever is excluded—a true Wholly Holy Communion. This is the way God calls us to be and to live, with joy, with passion and in total trust.

my amazon review: scholarship, devotion and joy!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

race matters Cornel West

Race Matters first hit the bookstores in 1993; the second Random House Vintage Book edition "with a new preface by the author" is dated May 2001.

Cornel West is teaching at Princeton again; check his site for more information as it invariably evolves and updates.

race maters coverRegarding "matter" as verb and the fact that ethnicity, phenotype, genotype, color, gender and nationality are concerns race matters; it's about "matter" the noun when it comes to stuff concerning nationality, phenotype, regionality, color and accent; a few other burdens every one bears include stereotypes, assumptions, body type, dietary habits and sexual preference... all this relates to how seemingly subcultural gear interfaces with the supposedly dominant culture, how it can separate and divide, how at other times helps attract and cohere.

Especially in the race-aware, extremely socially stratified - yet almost as multicultural and multilingual as it gets - USA, Cornel West's arguments and conclusions are worth considering. As social scientist he deconstructs structuralists and behaviorists and like everyone else, realizes causality ain't all that clear cut or simple, nor are solutions. Oh, yes, of course, "people of color" have progressed hugely in this country, attitudes and practices have become more just and equitable all around, yet true equality remains rare anywhere. In his Preface 2001 Professor West explains "...The most immediate consequences of the recent experience of multiracial democracy is increasing class division and distance in American society and black communities. This is so primarily because the advent of the multiracial American regime coincided with escalating levels of wealth inequality." [xv]

Mary Chapin Carpenter sings "Stones in the Road"...
And the TV glowed that long hot summer with all the cities burning down // And the stones in the road flew out beneath our bicycle tires // Worlds removed from all those fires as we raced each other home...
Unlike Mary Chapin Carpenter, who is one of my favorite singers and musicians and sings the way I wish I could, during the days "Stones in the Road" is about [later edit: I recently found out this isn't a MCC original—Joan Barz wrote the song about an earlier era. I'm referring to MCC's experience and mine.], I was growing up in a very urban world that was trying to survive, make sense of the present and imagine a future amidst all those fires.

Writing first in the 1990s and doing some revisions closer to present-day 2010, in Race Matters Cornel West laments how particularly in the (lower-case) black community (but is there a cohesive black community still to be found anywhere?) "We have rootless, dangling people with little link to the supportive networks--family, friends, school--that sustain some sense of purpose in life." [page 9] and asks, "How do we capture a new spirit and vision to meet the challenges of the post-industrial city, post-modern culture, and post-party politics?" [page 11] He perceives an "eclipse of hope and a collapse of meaning" [page 19] and describes "Nihilism [as] ... the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important), lovelessness." [pages 22-23] Although there are " kinds of personal turmoil and existential meaningless in black America" [page 56] he could be talking about almost everyone who recently has been affected by what's politely called "economic downturn" folks who find themselves less structurally connected than they were, and especially less able to reconnect in ways that help rebuild a recognizable identity and reclaim a place in the world. Mary Chapin Carpenter has a song about "A Place in the World," too; it doesn't bring along with it stinging social commentary the way "Stones in the Road" does, but it speaks to everyone's deepest yearnings:
What I'm looking for, after all this time
Keeps me moving forward, trying to find it
Since I learned to walk all I've done is run
Ready, on my mark, doesn't everyone
Need a place in the world

Could be right before your very eyes
Just beyond a door that's open wide
Could be far away or in your own backyard
There are those who say, you can look too hard
For your place in the world ...

But to be alive is to know your purpose
It's your place in the world...
For sure I'm blogging about myself and the insane frustrations of not being able to achieve some kind of way to serve world and community. But I'd also point out recent statistics about more families preparing, eating and enjoying far more meals together, finding less-expensive and free recreation options, in some cases becoming emotionally and (of necessity) physically closer than they were, appreciating each other more.

Money talks! Cornel West says there's "...a crisis of too much poverty and too little self-love." [page 93] Quite a few blogs ago I mentioned especially when I lived and served in the inner city I observed ways people exist in many kinds of poverty, economic almost being the least, albeit often becoming the last straw. Race Matters doesn't mention how increased suburban racial and ethnic homogenization had left a permanent underclass living in neighborhoods like New York's Harlem and Boston's Roxbury, but in the olden days of racial segregation, African-American professionals were visible examples of financial and educational accomplishment and lived alongside single mothers on welfare. Teachers, attorneys, entrepreneurs and physicians were living example and inspiration to those less well-off who hadn't made it yet. In recent decades housing in general has become more economically than racially or ethnically stratified .

More optimistically, Cornel West mentions current multicultural popular culture in the USA that has expanded almost to cover the globe (seen any recent news or entertainment clips about mainland China or Japan?) [page 121]. A sign of acceptability (within limits) and desirability (that has its boundaries), it also is a kind of cultural assimilation; Professor West mostly means the way sartorial styles and particularly musical genres that originated in the black ghettos have mainstreamed. I've blogged a definition of ghetto as "nothing much goes in or out of it that wasn't there the day before." However, historically most of the money that's spent in isolated ethnic enclaves does leave and doesn't return. Ever. Interesting that "Malcolm X feared the culturally hybrid character of black life." [page 145]

Providentially also, during the past decade a significant number of African-Americans have purchased and rehabbed residential property in the Roxburies and Harlems of this country, gone back there to live (or moved there for the first time, since some of them grew up in suburbia or exurbia) and sometimes opened their own businesses or established franchises of national entities.

Jazz is music and jazz is "a mode of being in the world." [page 150] On the first Sunday of Advent 2008 for the start of lectionary year B, one of the local churches featured a Eucharistic liturgy featuring jazz orchestra and jazz choir. The lections included the "Little Apocalypse" of Mark 13 and one of my all-time favorites, Isaiah 64:1-9. Someone observed how jazz, prophecy, and apocalyptic go together so very well! As a musical genre, jazz can boast multicultural, multiethnic and multi-musical origins and most characteristically is rhythmically improvised over a particular harmonic ground. As a mode of being in the world, jazz living celebrates convergence of multicultural, multiethnic and multi-linguistic origins, with rhythms most characteristically and most authentically improvised over the particular ground we're on right now.

I'm blogging after my second reading of Race Matters, and probably will reread it in a year or two or three; it is good food for solid thought!
life stuff button
my amazon review: good food for solid thought

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

lauren winner: mudhouse sabbath

mudhouse sabbath by Lauren Winner on Amazon

Small in size and light to hold, making it easy to slip into purse or backpack, mudhouse sabbath could become a handbook and resource for almost anyone's spiritual journey. Lauren Winner writes from the perspective of two of the great Abrahamic traditions, Judaism and Christianity; from her Jewish upbringing she brings perspectives on prayer, liturgy and community and she filters her Christian experiences as a present-day member of the Episcopal Church. Each of the eleven chapters has a dual title in (transliterated) Hebrew and English; topics include sabbath, food, morning, hospitality, weddings and doorposts. Notes at the back reference scripture and other books, too. Her words and sentences flow almost exactly like real-life speech and the sentences are short enough not to need to go back and read it again to be sure you got it. Such a pleasure to read!

mudhouse sabbath"Mudhouse" is the name of the coffeehouse in Virginia the author enjoys and at the time of writing (book is © 2003) sometimes visited on Sunday after church. (The site looks very pretentious to me.) I didn't try to find the origins of the name, but I like to think of similarities with mudrooms that form a liminal space that's neither still out in the world (or even in the yard) nor quite yet completely inside the house, a conscious bridge between outside, more public space and inside, more private space. They're especially common in climates that feature winter snow, and provide a handy, safe place to shed boots, shovels, mittens and parkas so you're not out in the elements and you're not wrecking the best rug or the great room, for that matter, with mud, dirt and leaves. In each chapter Lauren talks at least a little about her own perspectives and sometimes struggles between being private and being public, about how much to bend in order to let other people into her own bent spaces, something that only can be done in spaces where you're not afraid of spoiling pristine surroundings, where you know it's okay to drop some crumbs and let sentences hang mid-air.

Lauren talks a lot about obedience. As a Jew, you don't do something because it feels good or because you desire or like the outcome; you do it because God has commanded it. And not surprisingly, in the long run you usually do feel good and discover the outcome is exactly what you desire. Life grounded in Torah and directed toward God is intentional and almost seamlessly integrated between sacred and secular, between public and personal. I particularly love how shopping for food, preparing it, feasting on it and fasting from it, preparing for Shabbat, grieving death and anticipating new life in marriage all take time and thought because they need to be done properly, in a way that almost forces you to consciously be aware of God, gracious Creator and bountiful Giver to Whom it all belongs, anyway. As I mentioned in my intro, this is literally a hand book and Lauren could have included other subjects or expanded on the chapters she chose. But one of the beauties of mudhouse sabbath is the way every chapter can apply to every reader and easily be adapted to your own circumstances. I hope you'll buy the book, enjoy it and make some of these insights, disciplines and practices part of your own daily walk.

my amazon review: bridging and integrating Judaism and Christianity

Sunday, June 06, 2010

last days: deepwater horizon take 2

Deepwater horizon, blog take one: oil and water

oil spill day 48: Sunday, 06 June 2010. 31 May completed the biblical number of 40 days…

nature conservancy

The photographs of oil-soaked waterfowl are unbearable to view; they reinforce that without any doubt Obama's presidency will be marked by, possibly solely remembered by, an epic environmental disaster over which he had no control. No one can unwind time, though conventional wisdom and common sense says some of us might be able to consider and examine what has gone wrong, learn from it and use the knowledge to help make a different future that's not an endless recycling of the same behaviors and outcomes. A couple years back someone in a bible study I'd been attending and sometimes facilitated suggested "end times" as a possible study topic. People who hold onto the worldview of conservative evangelicalism typically look forward to the end of this physical earth as we know it. Those final days especially will feature The Rapture in which they confidently expect to be included as in, "in case of rapture this car will be unmanned" / "In case of rapture, can I have your vehicle?" / "In case of rapture, I'm not sure reading this bumper sticker is a top priority for you." Truth to tell, in so-called liberal mainline denominations not only is "end times" in that sense not a viable theological topic, it's not a plausible or possible one. In terms of responsible interpretation of scripture, to consider the faithful in Christ caught up into the air and floating away as the earth is undergoing the most catastrophic event imaginable mocks and negates the gospel call to journey alongside all people and all creation, to be the presence of Jesus Christ in the world, just as it turns upside down scripture's call to love and cherish the earth just as the Creator God cherishes and cares for all creation.

For some millennial (premillennial, amillennial, postmillennial, Darby, Ryrie, Scofield…) dispensationalist basics, check out this site; it explains dispensationalism more concisely than I could or care to:
…a system of Bible teaching or hermeneutics which holds: 1. That the revelation of truth from Adam to Christ was progressive and that none of the Old Testament writers or prophets had or knew all of the truth of God. 2. That through the various ages or periods of time, God revealed special portions of truth to humanity and placed humanity under a particular test regarding this revelation.
But there is an important theological topic of eschatology, or the word about the redemptive consummation of creation's original purpose. Christianity proclaims the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ completed the work of salvation for all creation, yet typically we assert that we actually live in the proleptic or anticipatory realization of the eschaton, rather than in its fulfillment. Throughout its witness, scripture calls humanity to help initiate justice and redemption for all creation and an ultimate vision of the messianic feast to which the entire earth is invited, welcomed, gathered together healthy and restored, living in mutual dependence and covenant. Without water, that dream cannot be realized.

For sure many prophets we know from the Hebrew Bible wrote and preached about a Day of the Lord, which variously was a time of deep darkness, doom and despair, a occasion for immediate repentance followed by redemption or a time of hope. Apocalyptic writing full of metaphor, code, mystery and hidden (apocalypse literally means uncovering, therefore a "revealing") symbolism tends to emerge and flourish in times of political unrest, turmoil and uncertainty; besides the the book of Revelation in the NT, parts of Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, 1st Isaiah, the "Little Apocalypse" of Mark 13, some of the writings of Paul of Tarsus, 2 Peter (probably I've missed some) all include hidden symbolism, dreams, visions, and often dualism.

In my previous blog about the Deepwater Horizon incident I wrote, "Through its witness, scripture brings humanity a call to help initiate justice and redemption for all creation and an ultimate vision of the eschatological feast in which the entire earth is healthy and restored, living in mutual dependence and covenant. Without water, that dream cannot be realized."

Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow (remember them? from Peter, Paul and Mary) wrote and recorded "Very Last Day"; The Hollies had a version, too. In some ways it's a slice of vernacular apocalyptic, though it contains a huge burden of scriptural, ethical and practical reality.
Everybody gonna pray on the very last day
When they hear that bell a-ring the world away
Everybody gonna pray to the heavens on the judgment day.

Well the law is given and the law is known,
A tale is told and the seed is sown,
From dust we came into dust we'll go,
You the know the Lord once told us so.
Each brother takes his hand,
Heed the meaning of the Lord's command
Get ready, brother, for that day.

published by Neworld Media Music Publishers and Silver Dawn Music
"The law is given (to us) and the law is known (by us) … Heed the meaning of the Lord's command…" God's covenantal decree is nothing like the arbitrary social code self-righteous pharisee types invented and continue to invent in order to separate out people they didn't like with impossible demands and elevate themselves; it is a graciously given way of life that brings sustenance and more life along with it to those who observe it. Over these past eight years I've blogged a fair amount about the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant and the Great Commandment (love God, neighbor and self) and won't repeat what I've previously said, at least not right at this moment. No one knows how much more devastation creation can bear. But there is something we can do, even the majority of us who do not have the kind of money that talks (a high level of financial articulation). Check out the Nature Conservancy link in The Gulf: Ways You Can Help image at the top of this blog and may peace, justice, and righteousness return to the earth of God's creation the earth God calls – and enables us in the Spirit – to help preserve, sustain and re-create!