Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Bible...really, The Bible

There are a couple blogs that I follow pretty closely. Some are listed to the right. One of them, Allan Bevere's, had a link to an interesting CNN blog by Steven James. In it he points out that the Bible is really a text that is "Very raw. Very real." I agree with much of what he has to say. The church has tended to make the Scriptures some high and hallowed thing that the average person cannot hope to reach or touch. Many others, like James, have attempted to strip away the religious veneer that obscures this real and living compilation of inspired words.
There is the danger, however, that we push the humanity too far and neglect the calling that these words place on us. We are called to move beyond "partying with Jesus" into a real, living, vibrant relationship with him. Yes, that means to go to the wedding at Cana and party down. It also means to climb the rocky path to Calvary and lay down our lives with him.
James' piece is good and necessary, but it is not the final word.
Here is a link:

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Second Garden

The other morning I was meditating on Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Much ink has been spilled on what took place that night as Jesus prayed and the disciples napped. Jesus asked the Father to let the cup pass. Why? What cup? Some think that it was the cup of God's wrath that Jesus was asked to drink to the very dregs. These people say that Jesus was aware of what was coming that night and the next day. He would be tortured and killed. Some, if not most, believe that Jesus was also aware of the purpose for this. He was to be the sacrifice, the ἱλαστήριον;  the means and the place where forgiveness, or atonement was offered. I'm not convinced that he was aware of this. But, that's a topic for another day.
One thing that I am sure of was that Jesus was convinced that he was being faithfully obedient to the Father. Paul made this clear in Philippians 2. It was the Father's will that Jesus move forward to the cross. 
I think that there was something else happening that night that sometimes gets overlooked in the search for theological truth. That thing was the grief that Jesus felt about leaving this life. Although, he knew that something far better was coming, I think that he experienced a sense of loss, too. From what I can see in the gospels, Jesus enjoyed life. He was accused of hanging with drunkards and gluttons because he "came eating and drinking." He was a prophet who enjoyed working with the outcast and marginalized. I'm sure he had joy in healing people and restoring lost family members. Children seemed to hold a special place in his heart. And, we must not forget his parting words to his most intimate associates. “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" John 15:15 NASB. These were important relationships that had been forged over 3 years of living, eating, drinking...being together. He was leaving Peter, James, John and the rest. Did he know that they would respond favorably to his absence and the Spirit's presence? He may have had his doubts, especially if we take Mark's portrayal of the twelve. Jesus had experienced joy and laughter; testing and fulfillment; everything that life in Palestine at that time could offer a person. I think we should consider these things. Jesus was, after all, human. He can relate to our concerns about loss. And, we must learn to identify with his faithfulness in order to move forward in our own lives.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Paying Attention

The recent uproar in Afghanistan reveals a tragic gap in how people view others. The president and his military team have been quick to point this up as an accident. No one in an American uniform would intentionally destroy sacred documents. There are procedures for these kinds of things. Over the years I've noticed, though, that accidents tend to be more likely when people don't pay attention. I raised 2 kids. I know what happens when people don't watch what they're doing. However, it seems that when someone holds something to be important and worthwhile, she/he tends to pay closer attention. This helps keep the accident to action ration way low. I think that if we begin to view Afghans and other Muslims as significant, and not all terrorists, we may see fewer accidents happen. No, we don't have to agree with everything that is taught in Islam and other cultures. But, we do have to remember that they are created in the image of God and are deserving of care and respect due God's 'very good' creation.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Kingdom Within

As I was reflecting on God's reign in our lives, I was struck by a couple things that we, in our fast-paced, immediate gratification culture may miss. We look for the so-called Kingdom of God in the world around us. Opportunities to serve and bring God's dominion to bear with the poor, the beat-up and those others with needs that we can help to meet. These are all GREAT! As Christ followers our job description includes Luke 4:18-19.
But, there is another thing to consider. Jesus also that his disciples should love God with all of their heart, mind and strength. Then he said, "And your neighbor as yourself." I wonder where that love will come from when all of our resources are to be directed toward loving God. I think part of key to this is that Jesus also taught that we should seek first the kingdom of God. In another place, he told a group of religious leaders that the kingdom of God was within them. Some translations have this as the kingdom is in the midst of you, indicating something external. But, for some contemplatives the idea of kingdom being within a person resonates. As we seek the reign of God within us, God can then love our neighbor through us. Rather than an external "doing the work" of the kingdom, it, (the kingdom), wells up from deep within us as living water to care for others and the cosmos. God is all and in all.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I read an excerpt by Henri Nouwen yesterday in a book entitled, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life. In it he wrote about Christ followers being "Beloved" by God. The text he used was Jesus being baptized and the voice of the Father stating that this was God's beloved Son in whom God was very pleased. By extension, we who are adopted as God's children, (John 1:12), are also "Beloved" by God. As I meditated on this I said, "Ok...so what?" In my mind's eye I saw Abba taking me on His lap and embracing me. I imagined the Father and Son laughing and slapping me on the back to welcome me into the divine family. Yet, no joy. Granted, I have spent many years stuffing emotions. I promised myself that I would not allow myself to be hurt...again. But, this is Abba's presence we're talking about. Shouldn't there be some emotional response?
One of Nouwen's favorite pericopes is the story of the Prodigal from Luke 15. He likes to point out the unmerited favor that the father showered on his wayward son. Especially, since the son seemed to have rather self-serving motives for returning. In the story, however, I did not detect a great deal of joy and happiness from the son. Yes, one verse states that they began to celebrate. This could indicate that the son perked up. However, I've been to many celebrations and not felt especially festive.
So, considered what the reception and grace given to this wayward traveler could reveal about the others in the story, in particular the father. I saw that to the servants, the father was lavishly generous. Not only did the son get a huge welcome home party, but apparently, the servants were welcome, too. The father was conspicuously forgiving. This is one of the main themes of the story. The eldest son saw the father behaving 'over-the-top,' but could not see past his own concerns. The prodigal, himself, experienced acceptance in the face of expected rejection. In all of these, the father received some sort of 'glory.' Generous; forgiving; lavishly pouring out more than was warranted; accepting.
No, I don't feel particularly warm and fuzzy about being "Beloved." But, it's really not about me, is it?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I have recently been working through a small portion of Scripture in the Gospel according to John. Many of the ancient spiritual mystics and contemplatives wrote about union, or communion with God. In these writings one can get the idea that 'abiding' with, or in, Christ is foundational. I read John 15:1-7. In the 2011 NIV the verb, meno, has been rendered, "remain." So, verse 4 reads, "Remain in me, as I also remain in you." According to BDAG there are several ways to understand the language of 'remaining.' One of them is, of course, to remain in a certain place or position. It refers to location. In a sense, it can carry with it the flavor of dwelling or lodging. When I read 'remain,' however, I get the idea that it is something static that is left where it was found. 'Remain in the house' means to be static and stuck in a position or location. The NASB rendered this word "abide." Again, BDAG, confirms this, also. Part of their definition is, "to denote an inward, enduring personal communion." TDNT contains, "By the use of μένειν Jn. seeks to express the immutability and inviolability of the relation of immanence."1 God abides in the Son, believers abide in Christ, Christ abides in believers, believers abide in God, and God in believers. Kittel goes on to assert that, in this use of the present tense, "the eschatological promise of salvation becomes immediate possession [of believers].2
For me, the use of 'abide' rather than 'remain' is a more accurate understanding. Abide in English carries the color of relationships in active growth. It is a 'green' word. It is not a 'steely gray' word like "remain."
The text in John is deserving of long, quiet meditation to allow the Holy Spirit to "abide" in us.

1&2Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (4:576). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Prince of Egypt

Last night my daughter put in the dvd of the animated "The Prince of Egypt." It's the story of Moses as God used him to liberate Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh. As we began, I had in the back of my mind Cecil B. DeMille's "Exodus" with Charlton Heston. The grandeur of that production with Heston's portrayal of a larger-than-life, and somewhat other-worldly Moses stood out in my mind. However, the animated production took a very different view of Moses and his relationship with just about everyone. His relationship with Pharaoh was especially interesting. While deMille developed the enmity between the two men, the folks at DreamWorks allowed a more human Moses to arise from the story. Yes, he still kills a guy and runs off to the desert. Yes, he met Jethro and Zipporah in Midian. And, of course, he met God at the burning bush.( I was surprised at how closely DreamWorks kept this particular encounter to the actual text.) Anyway, Moses went back to his tent, without the added gray hair that Heston sported, and had to convince his wife that he needed to go back to Egypt. For anyone who is married, this was an accurate portrayal.
Moses returned and was welcomed by Pharaoh at first. Then began the signs of God's judgement on Egypt and its gods. I could see the Pharaoh being changed. At first somewhat surprised and incredulous with Moses, he became more and more hardened and angry. Even before the last plague, though, he still tried to woo Moses back into Egypt's good graces. In the end, however, the angel of God swept through Egypt killing the first born. As Pharaoh's son lay dead, Moses came to Pharaoh and was told that the people were free to go. Rather than say "I told you so," the storytellers showed Moses leaving Pharaoh and breaking down to weep. Wow! Even though God had judged Egypt harshly, there was no joy in the deaths of so many. Even later in the story at the Red Sea, I caught some of the ethos of sadness when the army of Pharaoh was destroyed. Although the Israelites were free, and there was joy for that, the loss of so many sons of Egypt was not something to gloat about. These men had fathers, mothers, children, wives, friends and lovers who were left bereft. The parents of the lost first borns were devastated. I truly believe that God was deeply grieved by what happened. Lives were snuffed out in an instant throughout Egypt. First born; warriors. Beloved children; brothers. Not a time to rejoice, but to reflect on the effect that our own pride, arrogance and stubborness can have on us...and others.

Friday, February 17, 2012

And in this corner...

I love reading the work of good scholars. Especially, journal articles. These folks are virtually always responding to someone else's idea or positions. The most fun is when they disagree with one another. So and so is 'contra' the other so and so. And, they always have well thought our reasons why they are right and the other wrong. The banter between these will-trained professionals gives me hope that, like the blind squirrel, I may find an acorn once in a while.
The one missing element, however, is who is asking themselves, 'What if I'm wrong'? The other person is assuredly wrong. But, what about me? Can I quickly back-pedal and make it look I was right, thus saving face? Or, can I say, "Yes, I was wrong. Thank you for helping me see that." I would hope that I could.
But, I really hope that the Battle of the Ph.D keeps up...it's more entertaining than the W.W.F.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's all about Grace

When the word 'grace' is mentioned in most evangelical settings, one's mind almost automatically turns to salvation, justification, and faith. After all, this has been the foundation stone of Protestant theology since Luther. There are other ways to understand this, however. Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers have a pretty good handle on this. Let me share a bit of my story to make this a tad clearer. Over the many years that I have been a follower of Christ I have sought to build a vibrant devotional life. I've read the books, listened to the messages, and watched the videos. Time after time I have resolved to get up earlier and spend time with God. I have compiled my prayer lists to assist me. I have purchased the devotional books written by the so-called spiritual giants of history. This 'great cloud of witnesses' who seemed to have the answers to my dilemma. And, time after time...I failed miserably. When I was a student at Ashland Theological Seminary I chose a track that required my to take classes in Spiritual Formation. I know, yawn. I was up for the languages and the biblical studies. These were the important classes that I looked forward to. But, something began to happen. I had a class on spiritual disciplines led by a woman who was very unassuming. To look at her one would not think of her as a spiritual heavyweight. However, as is most times the case, looks are deceiving. She used Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth  as a text. I had read the book when it first came out way back when. I was not impressed by the choice. But, as the class met I found a refreshing that I had not experienced before. A thirst began to grow that impelled me onward and inward. I thank Dr. JoAnn Watson for her passion and wisdom. But, I did not realize that this was the beginning of God's gracious work in my life. The following year I sat under Dr. Paul Chilcote in a class entitled "Person in Prayer". During this quarter I came upon a web site, http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html, that I began to follow daily. I was able to read the selected passages of scripture in a relatively short amount of time. This enabled me to build a habit. Again, I did not recognize this as a blessed gift from a loving Father. For about 3 years I followed the practice of spending time in the morning using the Office as published at the above site. Of course, there were days that I missed. But, rather than beat myself up and admit that I was defeated, I would be back at it the next day. More grace from God. More recently, since my heart attack, I have found that I need to spend more time with God. This has grown into a desire and passion that causes me to look forward to spending substantial time in the morning. I have begun to remain silent and strain to listen for God's voice; to look for God's presence. The scripture has begun to speak to me about the condition of humanity and our responsibility to serve our fellow travelers on this 3rd rock from the sun. A few days ago I realized, or maybe God spoke, I don't know, God does, that this is an example of Yahweh's grace in my life. The journey from Dr. Watson, through Dr. Chilcote, through 'missionstclare,' through a heart attack, and through this present leg has all been God's grace. None of it was through my own strength, ability or education. God is the author and trainer of these things. So, I thank God; Father, Son, Spirit for this outpouring of Grace. For Grace it is. And, if I should wake tomorrow and it's gone, or changed, that will not alter the fact that God has given it.

Coincidence? Probably not

It's interesting that, in light of my post from yesterday, that this one from Brian McLaren would show up today. There is much in this that very appropriate.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who's the real enemy

Last Sunday I listened to a message about becoming the people of God. It was delivered by a dear brother who I know loves the Lord and desires, above all, to serve God. The topic was about becoming the people of God with an emphasis on Acts 2 & 4. The whole community and sharing thing that many have talked about for the last, well, 2,000 years. In the message the speaker brought out the many perceived difficulties that the Church has in trying to embody these first century qualities. This is where I started to have issues.
The talk digressed into a demonization of western culture since the "good ol' days" of the 1950s. You know, Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, etc. The feeling among many like this pastor is that we were closer to, and more responsive to, God in those days. That the media, the government, technology, and other culture changing events have moved us closer to the brink of hell-fire and damnation. He stuck in the necessary "we're at war" statement to intimate that the culture, and those who drive it, are our enemies. By the time he was done I was totally frustrated. My frustration derives from the fact that people in the church in the U.S. many times equate the "thing" with the "people." The media becomes those people in the media. The government becomes this or that politician, big business becomes those people in business. The problem with that is we are NOT at war with these people. Our battle is with principalities and powers that are spiritual, not flesh and blood. But, our well-meaning leaders have targeted the flesh and blood and the spiritual enemy is ignored. I can't tell you how tired I am hearing about the bad new days. These are the days we live in. We need to deal with them in a way that honors Yahweh and brings the love and healing of Christ to bear. There's no use in whining and complaining. It's easy to sit back and say what the problems are. It's another thing to take action...any action...and do something constructive. If there's one thing that the Emergent Church can teach us, is that we have a responsibility and the resources to actually make a difference in the world. We can take on the principalities and powers in the name of Christ.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Thoughts on biblicism

Yesterday I touched on an issue that some may be hold near and dear to their heart. I mentioned that I am neither a biblical literalist nor a fundamentalist. In present-day parlance, I am not a biblicist. I understand the biblical canon, as we now have it, to be "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" 2 Tim. 3:16-17. What is important to note is what is not mentioned in this text. Nothing is said about being historically or scientifically accurate. Nothing can be drawn from this to indicate that any anthropological applications, i.e., relationships between women and men, etc. may be imposed on all people, at all times, and in all places. William C. Spohn wrote in, "Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics," about something analogical imagination. Rather than simply stating, "the Bible says it, that settles it," we are encouraged to look at how the text related to its world and then to apply the text to our current world situation. This takes hard work. But, it's important to remember that the biblical text was written by humans about their own human experiences. It was transmitted by humans to other humans. Most importantly, it is always interpreted and applied by humans. This is not to say that the divine is not involved. I absolutely believe that the inspiration to write the text was God's alone through the Holy Spirit. And, I believe that the Holy Spirit has superintended the text, including the inspiration of those who arranged the canon. But, by putting all of the emphasis on the divine part of the text, and making it some Barthian Word of God, we lose the humanity of the documents. The human-ness, with all of  the foibles and triumphs of humanity, are lost to some magical mystery tourbook mentality. Yes, the Bible is inspired by God. No doubt. But, we probably should leave it room to do what Paul wrote to Timothy about. Not to try and shoe-horn it into some container that was not meant to contain it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

John Piper and Masculinity

If anyone knows me, or reads the stuff I write, it will not take them long to realize that I am not a fan of John Piper. There are many reasons, but most of all, I am not a biblical literalist or fundamentalist of any flavor. Linked to this post is a blog post by Ben Witherington III. I have great respect for Dr. Ben as a New Testament scholar and brother in Christ. In this post he, too, takes exception to something that Piper stated at a conference. Within Witherington's post is a link to that address by Piper. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Ben. And, I would even take his position further. Maybe more on that at a later time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Service or Servitude

I've recently been going over my materials from one of my classes at seminary. It was "A womanist hermeneutic."
The class has become the focus of much reflection of late. What is the impact of locating one's life within the reality that race, class, and gender are cultural areas in which a dominant culture oppresses and subjugates the 'other'? The womanist theologian looks for ways to read, interpret and apply the scriptures in such a way that true egalitarianism can emerge. Not sameness. But, to allow each person created by God to find and define their own identity and place within the Reign of God in this world. One thing that stuck out was the issue of being a servant. Jesus stated that he had come to serve, not to be served. What does this say to us who look to Jesus as Lord and Master? I guess and even more primary question would be why was it necessary for Jesus to demonstrate service? In a narcissistic world, one where each person has a subjective need for power and recognition, what better way would there be than for the Creator to show us how? Service need not be weakness. Jesus revealed that true service flows from a position of strength. By exhibiting humility Jesus showed us how to put others' needs above our own. In fact, through his example true service was revealed to be something that can only be willingly offered to those who require the service. The disciples at the last supper 'required' their feet washed. Jesus willingly offered the service, then told them to do likewise.
Service demanded creates servitude. This is wrong and should be called the sin that it is. It oppresses and demeans others. True service lifts the other by demonstrating God's care for each person. I wish that I could say that we have all learned lesson well. But, in this world there are still those who control the power; political, economic, etc., who demand the uncompromising obedience and servitude of others. We who have achieved great comfort and security need to see whose backs have the imprint of ours and others' boot heels. Just a thought.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Church growth...

Yesterday I read a post about the continuing trend of people leaving the church. In particular, this dealt with mainline churches, but can be applied across the board, with some exceptions in Africa, South America and, maybe some areas of Asia. These concerns have been voiced as long as I can remember. They have sparked worship wars and all sorts of new programs to meet people's apparent wants and needs. From the seeker sensitive to the high liturgical, church leaders have scratched their collective heads looking for ways to keep people in the pews.
One more, Bishop Timothy Whitaker, a United Methodist from Florida has waded into the discussion. He wrote that what these churches may be experiencing is a resounding "No" from God regarding present paths of ecclesiastic practice. Rather than looking for new methods, they should be looking for fresh direction from God. Ok. But, the hoped for outcome is the same. If these churches find God's path, then membership should grow and stabilize.
But, just for the sake of discussion, I think that's still not the answer. I mean, so what? Do we have another committee to discuss the correct way to seek and discern God's will and motivation? And, if they could possibly come to consensus, which is unrealistic, what then? Tear it down and start over? I am reminded about a particular baby and some bathwater. What if we are, actually, already within the will of God? What if we were to take seriously the statement, "many are called, but few are chosen"? Church decline would not be the source of so much anxiety. (Except, maybe for those whose livelihoods are tied to it.) This should in no way stifle our zeal to be 'gospellers.' We are still called to bring Yahweh's reign to bear in this hurting world. But, our focus and concern would be on that rather than maintaining a church roster.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Politics as usual, or words from a brother?

I just had the opportunity to read a speech delivered by Pres. Obama at this year's National Prayer Breakfast. The speech was filled with words that were directed at the audience. It was in a style that those present would expect and appreciate. It also contained its share of politics. The president is in an election year and did not miss this opportunity to promote his policies. Hey, it's part of the package.
But, I was deeply impressed at his understanding of values that are embraced by people of varied and diverse faith communities. As the leader of a pluralistic society in a post-modern culture, I think he did a very good job. The speech was not condemning, it was inclusive. It did not alienate any faith community, but praised each. Actually, I was surprised at his apparent candor and transparency about his own faith. Again, I take some with a rather large grain of salt. A politician is still, well, a politician. However, with the hate and vitriol spewing from some others engaged in this year of choice, President Obama's words were a stark and refreshing contrast. Some folks may not care for his policies, but I don't think that I can question his values and concerns for everyone, including "the least of these."
Here is a link to the speech:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mitt, what are you thinking?

Ok, so maybe I'm not very bright. But, in an interview with Soledad O'Brien after his primary victory in Florida, Mitt Romney made a statement that, if it's truly how he feels, I hope will cost him any chance at becoming President. The statement, while qualified, was that he was not focused on the very poor or the very rich in this country. The reasons? The poor have a 'safety net' and the rich are just fine.
What safety net? Yes, there are government programs like medicaid and food stamps. But, they're still poor with no realistic hope of ever becoming anything other than poor. This imaginary safety net idea reminds me of a scene in the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth" in which a flyer tries to show off and cuts the, yep, safety net down. He missed a grasp and fell, the imprint of the useless net embedded on his broken body.
Romney, while touting this 'thing,' stated that if it's broken he'll fix it. How, Mitt? You have stated that your focus is not on these people. Why should we believe that, as president, you will have any concern for them?
No, Mr. Romney. You can keep making your millions and remain isolated from the people of this country. I, for one, will not support you. I will do whatever I can to see you defeated.
For any who cares, here is a link to the interview:


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letter from a former slave

I found this letter in a news item from Yahoo. I have no idea if it's authenticity has been determined. However, it does display the resilience and strength of people that were at one time treated as chattel. I especially appreciate the humor.
It's important to note that at no time does the writer indicate that he wished to take retribution for the treatment inflicted on him and his family. This is one point that I have seen reiterated time and again by the womanists. While they have strong feelings about justice for everyone, there is never an indication that revenge is an option.
Please, take time to read the letter: