Friday, March 30, 2012

Jesus Christ, Kurios

One of the neat things I learned at seminary was how the writers of the New Testament began to proclaim Jesus as Lord. While we, sitting some 2,000 years hence tend to simply accept the title in a manner that we would accept any other title, i.e., Doctor, etc., this was not so simple in 1st century Rome. Then there was one lord and his name was Caesar. To dispute this was a one-way ticket to crucifixion. Read the gospels. Jesus was convicted of claiming to be a king. Not something one wanted to do if one had hopes of living a long time.
Another thing that came from the idea of Jesus' lordship was that worship was directed to Yahweh through Jesus alone. In a pantheistic culture this was somewhat of an anomaly. To add to this, one of the deities to be worshiped and sacrificed to was none other than the lord Caesar. For the apostles and the early church, then, worshiping One God and proclaiming Jesus the Messiah as Lord created a double-whammy of perceived apostasy and treachery. Paul, Peter and James encouraged the churches that they wrote to with a message of perseverance in the face of cultural pressures to 'return to the fold.' The gospel writers, also, seemed to present their narratives with encouragements to the respective audiences they wrote for.
The people who chose to follow The Way were persecuted for being contrary to the accepted system. The Pax Romana was a big part of that system. Of course, it was peace at the tip of a sword, but it worked. We can read how Paul got in trouble because he 'made waves' that could have brought the weight of the Pax down on the heads of the locals. He taught things that were unlawful for Roman citizens. Things like a God other than the accepted gods; a Lord other than Caesar. No more idols.
And the result? A world turned upside down. Culture changing acts of political defiance.
What does any of this mean for us today? I think more than can be discussed in a blog post. But, we can take a moment to reflect on what idols and gods we have accepted. Perhaps, that green guy George? What about American exceptionalism? For sure the triune god of our age; "Me, Myself and I."
The message that the apostles proclaimed directly confronted the gods of their age. It proceeded with power. Power to transform lives and culture. Does the message we bring have that power? Do our attempts to argue  and explain things like justification and sanctification make any real difference to those who are pressed down and broken by the gods of our time? Where is the power that goes along with the proclamation? I think that we have become disconnected from our Source. In order to see the light of the Gospel chase the darkness of culture that light needs to shine into the deep darkness of our souls and our churches. It's hard work. It's dangerous work, just ask Jesus. But, it''s necessary work.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Peter Enns and Adam

There is an interesting thread beginning over at
Dr. John Byron has blogged about Peter Enns' book, The Evolution of Adam: What theBible Does and Doesn’t say about Human Origins (Brazos Press, 2012).
The book has the potential to free many from the shackles of biblical idolatry, (bibliolatry). So many of us put the scripture in bondage to something that it was never intended to be. It is not a history, although it contains some. It is not intended to be science. Regarding some of the factors that Enns proposes we approach Adam today, Dr. Byron wrote, "(1) literalism is not an option, (2) that the Bible and science speak different languages and ask different questions, (3) that inspiration should embrace God’s use of cultural idioms, and (4) that a rapprochement between evolution and Christianity requires a synthesis, not just adding evolution to theology."
I am waiting anxiously for Amazon to get my copy of Enns' book into my hands. It sounds like a refreshing take on an old discussion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Religion in politics

The following article showed up at Jesus Creed today.
I have spoken out on issues that are clearly political. I will continue to do so.
At least when I feel that there is some injustice or oppression involved.
This article reveals, though, something that I have been afraid of for awhile.
People in the society at large are tuning out, or worse, becoming hostile to people
injecting faith into the political process. I have to admit that much of what some
folks, particularly politicians, have to say regarding faith is not appropriate. But, this
is America. Folks have a right, and in some cases a duty, to speak their minds.
It would be nice, however, if every now and then they would think first.
Anyway, here is a link to the article:

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Some thoughts on prayer and identity

As I press prayer deeper, I find that there are more than enough distractions to try and keep me from pressing prayer deeper. I’ve read quite a bit about the experiences of others who have plumbed the depths of contemplative prayer. They all speak about these annoying, mosquito-like distractions. And, they agree that we must hold these things in the light of God’s presence so that a conversation with God can shed light on them.
One such ‘distraction’ is the recurring memory of certain sins in my life. These were dealt with through confession and repentance long ago. But, as I begin to pray, some of these memories just show up. As I have brought these before Yahweh, have rehearsed events in my life that may have some connection to these things. They seem to end with the fact that I was adopted as an infant. I have learned a bit about my birth parents. Enough to know that I was pretty much an unplanned for accident. But, this alone does not explain the continued interruptions of my time with God.
Then, I began to realize that who I am is strongly connected to the communities that I have been a part of. These groups and systems have shaped my life, perhaps more than I realized. Family, school, friends, co-workers, and others have created environments in which I have both flourished and foundered. I think, however, that God wants me to consider the larger group: the Human family.
I have known for many years the depths I am capable of sinking to. There is no sense in trying to fool myself. Jesus articulated some of these, “out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). In a word...‘me.’ Henri Nouwen wrote in The Wounded Healer, “Through compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that people feel resides also in our own hearts, that the cruelty the world knows all too well is also rooted in our own impulses. Through compassion we also sense our hop for forgiveness in our friends’ eyes and our hatred in their bitter mouths. When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we can do the same. For a compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.”[1]
Perhaps, some of what I am experiencing is for my own healing. Maybe merciful Yahweh has seen fit to dust me off and polish me up a bit. No, lousy metaphor. Elohim has decided to crush me into dust in order to melt me and refashion me. Maybe other folks get dusted and polished, not me. But, I don’t think I’m alone. I am human! I stand in solidarity with humanity! I don’t know for sure where God is leading. But, what I do know is that God is completely trustworthy and faithful. Where ever this is going, I can trust Yahweh.

[1] Nouwen Henri J. M., The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, (New York: Doubleday, 1972), 45.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

More prayer stuff

Yesterday I met with my spiritual director and we discussed the "task" of prayer. Like many protestants I have viewed prayer as something that one does. I get up; I say a prayer; I get on with the real business of the day. In the process, hopefully, I grow from being a newbie 'pray-er' into a mature and accomplished 'pray-er.' This was the crux of our discussion. I mentioned to him that the more I experience prayer, the more I realize how little I know about it.
His response was that I probably needed to view the time in prayer as "being" with God, not progressing from one level of proficiency to another. There is no destination to be reached or goal to be achieved. As I reflected on this, and other input and experience, I have begun to realize that prayer isn't really something that one does. It's something that we become. Prayer is an attitude that consumes one's life, not simply a task that can be checked off of a "done" list.
Yes, I'm still a newbie. But, Thomas Merton wrote that we will always be considered beginners as we sound the depths of God's great love and goodness.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Do you take this woman...

Ah, yes...the good old days. Ward and June Cleaver, Ozzie and Harriet, Archie and Edith. One man; one woman. What ever happened to those days? Why can't people in the U.S. simply leave the biblical model of marriage alone?
My dear Dr. John Byron over at Biblical World has an interesting note today. I guess, when one asks what ever happened to the good old days, we can say they never really existed. Hollywood and Madison Ave. built an image that never had any basis in fact. At least, not a fact that could translate to anywhere else in the world. Before we continue to lift up some idealized image of marriage, perhaps we should see what God had to say.
You can read Dr. John's blog here:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thoughts on culture and biblical engagement...

I attended a men's breakfast this morning. Good food! After the meal one of the leaders of the church usually gives a short presentation about something 'manly.' Today's topic came from the experience of one of the co-pastors. He shared about his son's graduation from basic training and how these young men and women were being equipped to take their place in the defense of the U.S. He spoke of the discipline, honor, and respect required of each individual and group. These young people are well prepared to focus on their task. There is much we can learn from this type of training in our spiritual lives, as well. But, that's a topic for a different time.
This pastor took the topic in a direction that many fundamental evangelicals like to go. He described the siege that we are a part of in the West in general; America in particular. According to him, the church has given back whatever "territory" it has held to Satan. This capitulation will, then, inevitably lead to a conflict in which the church will suffer persecution and loss. He has, in so many words, described one of the 'refuge responses to culture' that Reggie McNeal wrote about in A Work of the Heart: How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders. He wrote that one response to what is a perceived hostile culture is "withdrawal-reactionary." Leaders with this perspective see the culture as "the world" that should be "avoided as a dangerous sphere of human activity that threatens the Christian culture." Now, this particular pastor will disagree that he advocates dissociation with the culture. He has stated that we must engage the people in the culture with the gospel. However, the gospel that is presented does not speak to the culture. Many, in fact, simply view it as irrelevant.
But, the end-game is the same. Because we have 'lost ground' and capitulated to an 'enemy,' we must then take up the battle and try to 'restore' the 'good, christian values' that once reigned supreme. In this battle there will be casualties. In fact, these are to be expected, and apparently, embraced. These will be martyrs to the cause of the cross.
I have problems with this on more levels than I can articulate now. If we are in a battle, who is the enemy? For many of these folks the enemy is anyone who is not 'with us.' They are 'other.' If they want to become something acceptable, they must become 'us.' This disqualifies any liberal thinker. Forget about the environment. It's not important because it's going to be burned up in the end anyhow. And, it's more important to make sure that the pews in heaven are filled than to live for justice in this world. I think what scares me most is the pseudo-martyr attitude that is becoming more prevalent. We've seen what this has done in radical Islam. In fact, we've seen it in radical fundamentalism in Christianity. Shootings in churches and bombings of abortion clinics ring loudly in the ears of many.
Yes, I agree with him that we are in a battle. And, it's a fight to the death. Our enemy, however, is not the abortionist or Barak Obama. Our enemy is unseen. He fights with deception and stealth. He has been likened to a ravenous lion searching for people to devour. He is the power behind the systems that oppress and imprison. Greed, poverty, hunger, war, hate and intolerance. He can only be defeated by prayer and a willingness to be light and salt in this; now. I know I have not done justice to this topic. There are so many dimensions and nuances to Biblical cultural engagement. But, this is important. We are not fighting people. Humans are the image-bearers of their Creator. They are all, each and every one, significant and important to Yahweh. They need to be honored and respected as such.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

The ongoing discussions about biblical inerrancy continues to fascinate me. I've read the Chicago definition. I find it wanting. Mostly, because it tries to define God in an extremely narrow manner. It also, I feel errantly, raises the biblical text to the place of godhood. It is, as they say, bibliolatry. What really got me thinking about this was the nastiness that many display when this question comes up.
While struggling with this, and other issues related to the biblical literalist position, a professor of Old Testament asked an interesting question. While considering both Ruth and Esther as stories that most likely were not accounts of actual events, he asked if it was possible for truth to be expressed in fiction. Hmm....Heck Yeah! I began to think about the story of Scripture as narrative...a love story from Yahweh to creation. The inconsistencies in the text disappeared as did the battle between science and theology. In this world all can live together in the discussion. Inspiration has never been an issue with me. The text is inspired. It is, however, free to express God's love, mercy, compassion, etc. without the hindrance of having to line up with, or do away with observable truth. Yea, God!
Anyway, I bring this up to share a link to another blog where this topic is being chewed on once again.

Lead us not...

Temptation. That word has sent shivers up and down the spines of countless faithful for centuries. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples in some translations has the line,  "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." peirasmós, translated temptation, (because of the negative sense derived from the context w/evil), also has the idea of test or trial. James wrote that the person who perseveres through trial is blessed. Thomas à Kempis wrote about this in The Imitation of Christ. No one, according to him, is immune to temptations and trials. They are, "troublesome and severe, are often useful to a man, for in them he is humbled, purified, and instructed." In another place, he refers to Paul's statements that temptations are common to humanity. In these God will leave a way to get through them. The task, for à Kempis, is to not run from trials, but to let God help us through them. "Fire tempers iron and temptation steels the just."
This way of thinking seems to run counter to what we in the West would think. We want quick fixes. We don't want to experience any discomfort, especially internally. When temptation comes, it starts in the mind. We are "tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (Jas. 1:14). The battle ground is laid within our thoughts and desires. Sin, then is born and matures into death. This is what scares people. What if I fail? Why can't I simply get past these tests? We want to 'pass' them and graduate. There is no graduation in this life. Reliance on God the Holy Spirit is how we persevere. It is the crucible in which our minds are renewed and we are transformed; metamorphosed into the likeness of Christ. Rather than running from these trials, it seems that it is more important to embrace Yahweh and walk through the fire.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No Fear

Henri Nouwen wrote in Turn My Mourning into Dancing about how people are many times driven by fear of losing something that they have. We fear burglary, so we spend thousands on home security. We fear losing status, so we try to paint a face on ourselves that elevates our standing. We fear this and that, so we focus on taking whatever measures we deem necessary to protect and hang onto these things. The scripture teaches that God is not a God of fear. Yahweh is all about love and security. Nouwen's argument leads us to try and simplify our lives by letting go of things. When we realize that we cannot hang onto them anyhow, where is the sense in tenaciously clinging to stuff that is going to pass away? Jim Elliot wrote, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." True words.
I'd like to take this idea a step further. There are many people in the U.S. who make the argument that this country was built on "Christian" ideals and principles. This allows them to equate anything patriotic with the "Judeo/Christian ethic." (Whatever that is.) This includes the concept of Manifest Destiny, unfettered capitalism, white patriarchy, and American Exceptionalism. It also creates an environment where we need to have the biggest, baddest military and economic system so that we can protect what is perceived to be 'ours.' And, whatever is 'ours' is our right to claim as Americans. We live in constant fear that some country or power or terrorist organization will try to take what is 'ours.' We justify these actions by quoting some scripture taken out of context.
When I read the scriptures, however, I find a different view on things. I see what Nouwen wrote about. I find Jesus as a servant calling others to service. I find that detachment from stuff is the road to happiness and contentment. I find a rich guy who was told that he lacked one thing. He should go and sell his stuff and give to the poor. Then, follow Jesus. Perhaps if the U.S. was to actually take a Judeo/Christian view and, say, forgive the crippling debts of developing countries, particularly in Africa that we could, as a nation, make a positive impact in the world. Maybe, if we took Jesus' words to forgive and pray for our enemies Iran and others would not consider us the Great Satan. We could become a true expression of Jesus' love for the whole world. This was evidenced by his obedience to the Father in laying down his life for the world. What better example of "letting go" is there?

Monday, March 12, 2012

In Obama's own words...

I found this interesting. So many of us are quick to pass judgment on others based on what we, fallible tho we are, think is correct. We hold ourselves up as the standard of virtue and propriety, and anyone who does not measure up to our expectations automatically becomes "other."
In the current political races, some are quick to hold up their own morals and piety as that standard. They then proceed to castigate those who are somehow 'less' moral and pious. President Obama has been the target of much derision from the so-called 'religious right.' But, what does Obama have to say? I haven't yet heard him engage in the same spiritual vitriol, but I could have simply missed it. What he has stated, or testified, can be read here:

We are called to follow Christ. It is Jesus, alone, who can make the valid claim that "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me." This authority is not shared. It is exclusive. Jesus is the ONLY one who is able to judge a person's heart. Certainly not politicians.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Love Fuels Devotion

I've read several accounts of folks who have had spiritual experiences that manifest with physical sensations. Most notably, a burning in the heart or breast. Both John Wesley and Richard Rolle wrote about this. Today, as I was praying, I asked Yahweh about this. It seemed that such experiences fueled the ardor and devotion of these men. It sparked a holy desire to know and serve Christ. It also became a reminder of God's goodness and love toward them. So, of course, I desired a similar experience. (How human.) But, I sensed the Lord pointing to the fact that I was there, in God's presence, devoting my time and attention to God.The words that came to my mind were, "This is the fruit of love." While the physical flame is absent, the burning desire to know communicate with and serve God is present. This is a result of Yahweh's love for me. This agape of God is ever and always flowing outward. It flows outward from God to God's good creation. Our love, if it is genuine, flows outward into the world so that both human and non-human creation is affected.
Maybe, someday Yahweh will bless me with a burning in my heart like Rolle and Wesley. Maybe not. But, I really don't think that's the point. Love and devotion...that's the heart of it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Slow Learner

One thing I've noticed over the years is that it can take me awhile to wrap my head around some things. In seminary, especially, this was true. I could read a text or hear a lecture and it may have been days later, after reading and re-reading, ruminating and otherwise pondering that the light would turn on and I would 'get it.' This has been the process for understanding a question that has bothered me about some folks' understanding of the new heaven and new earth mentioned in Scripture.
Let me offer some background. I began following Christ a long time ago. Over the years I have been involved with faith communities that are pretty much fundamentalist in their approach to Scripture. As a result, much of their 'gospelling' has been to state that we should not be concerned about ecology or economics, (unless it's conservative), but, rather we should get people saved so as to populate some disembodied heaven of the future. After all, the physical realm is going to burn up and pass away. Now, I have to say that this never really resonated with me. There seemed to be a disconnect between this mindset and what Jesus actually did and said. But, there was a certain logic to the idea that if this cosmos is going to be, at the very least, replaced, why should we concern ourselves with running out of fossil fuels or holes in the ozone layer.
After reading N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church 3 times, (I said I was slow), something clicked. In the book Wright mentioned that people should be involved in bringing justice and wise stewardship to this world, now, in anticipation of that new creation. If humans are to be stewards and co-regents with God in the care and oversight of the new creation, then we should be about that business today, in this world. Not that it's a practice run, but Paul wrote that nothing that is done in this life will be lost on the next in the resurrection. We can, therefore, justify social justice and ecological justice here and now without diminishing the importance of the kerygma of the Gospel.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday

Well, it's Super Tuesday for the GOP. I'm not all that politically minded. These elections generally turn me off. The endless ads for and against this or that candidate and the spins that each puts on their positions does little to kindle any interest. This year's presidential election is especially, well, "Yawn." The GOP has no one. Romney, who in all likelihood, will eventually win the nomination is simply not fit. His background in business is not enough to qualify him to stand at the fore and represent the U.S. in the world. The biggest hump to get over with him, though, is that he represents the continuation of white patriarchy at its worst. The statements that he has made regarding the poor are a huge red flag. Not only in this country, but the poor and oppressed around the world need a person in the White House with compassion and empathy. Neither of these appear to be in Mitt's vocabulary. Romney brings an isolationism and extension of American Exclusiveness that cannot be healthy in the continuity diminution of the international stage. Again, I can't stress it enough, Mitt's Not Fit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Vineyard revisited

I was thinking about this text this A.M. Jesus spoke the parable in the context of being questioned by the religious leaders at the temple. They wanted to know who had given him the authority to speak and teach as he did. We know that Jesus threw the question right back at them by asking about John's baptism. When they would not reply, Jesus proceeded:
Luk 20:9 He went on to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.
Luk 20:10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.
Luk 20:11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed.
Luk 20:12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
Luk 20:13 "Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.'
Luk 20:14 "But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. 'This is the heir,' they said. 'Let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.'
Luk 20:15  So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. "What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?
Luk 20:16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

We know that Jesus directed this to the leaders. Luke wrote in verse 19, "The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them."

One of the things that modern evangelicals in particular like to do is appropriate scripture and try to apply a literalist interpretation to the world and culture today. In the case of this text, I've heard preachers and teachers state that the tenants can be represented today by those who are outside of the church, as they understand it. This would equate to the government, gays and lesbians, pro-choice advocates, or any other person or organization that they choose to anathematize. But, in the parable Jesus was addressing the religious leaders. Those who had set up their religious sensibilities to exclude anyone who believed, practiced, or tried to understand Torah in any way other than their particular party line. 
I think that a refreshing way to look at this text would be to challenge the so-called religious leaders to see that Jesus was seeking justice and righteousness in them. That the marginalized in our culture are not who he is speaking to. He is speaking to the people who dismiss and disregard the poor, hungry, homeless, gays and lesbians, handicapped, and I could go on listing others. Jesus came a redefined who is accepted...and who should be accepted by God. Who are called to take on Jesus' yoke. Who have no voice of their own.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prayer is hard work

As I journey on in learning more about prayer, I'm discovering how difficult it is. Yes, some say that it is so simple that a child can do it. True, but I'm not a child. I've read what some of the 'master' of prayer and the contemplative life have written, and there's nothing in them that says 'simple.' In fact, they almost unanimously describe prayer as hard work. It is. Our will is not something that is easily bent away from its own comfort. We like the path of least resistance. To sit in the presence of Yahweh, and focus, pay attention, seek expectantly, watch and listen is difficult. Usually, after a short time, my mind wants to wander and imagine...anything but remain still. This is where I usually would stop and assume that the prayer time was ended. However, I'm finding that it's important at precisely that moment to persevere and redouble my effort to focus. The Psalmist spoke to his soul. I find I am doing that. "O my soul, pay attention to the Lord. O my soul, listen; watch; seek."
I've heard many people say that prayer is something we should do because it benefits us. That's how we receive our 'spiritual food' from God. And, I think that this is partly accurate. What is more important, I think, is that we find our proper posture before the Creator of the Universe and can learn about God's purposes in the world. Prayer is the communicative link to our Lord and Master. Do we receive explicit and detailed instructions? Usually not. At least for me at this time, I hear more about Yahweh's character. God is about compassion for the 'other.' The Lord is about moving outward, not inward on self. Love, patience and mercy are present where the Lord is. Yahweh is interested in heavenly kingdom stuff. If this is accurate, then it points to where our interests and energy should be focused. Being a servant of God means to attend to our Master's interests. Just a thought.