Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vigilance-The Word of the Day

This A.M. as I prayed, I spent time in confession/reflection. The importance of remaining vigilant began to develop in my head. Now, it seems that most folks think of avoiding sin and the lusts of the flesh when this word is spoken. "We must remain vigilant against...you fill in the blank." But, I don't think that's the best way to be vigilant. Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, "But I say, walk in/by the Spirit and you will most certainly not fulfill the lusts/desires of the flesh" (5:16 my translation). The focus is the walking in the Spirit, not the avoidance of lusts or desires of the flesh. Paul did not say 'don't do this stuff.' He said 'do walk in the Spirit.'
Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and all of the needs we have will be taken care of. He also told people to come and follow him. He did not tell them not to follow something or someone else.
We tend to focus on all of the behaviors and processes that we think should not be done. 'Don't do this. Don't do that.' That breeds legalism...and the letter of the law kills. But, Yahweh desires that we embrace the Spirit. If we are vigilant in our following and seeking, then the rest will look after itself.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Walking in the light in a dark world

Over the past months one topic has been recurring in my daily prayer. It is the only thing that has brought me to tears. That is humanity's ability to inflict damage on itself and the world around us.
Awhile back it was human trafficking and slavery. I just cannot understand how people can use and destroy others in the name of greed and profit. Today, as I reflected on the violence and hatred in the world I saw human kind as a virus that has infected the very good creation. I could see Mr. Smith from the Matrix talking to Neo about the 'smell' that the human virus caused. A repulsive stench that needed eradication. I wondered, then, why Creator/Yahweh continues to tolerate this 'infection.' We utter meaningless crap about 'original sin' and 'total depravity.' Yet, we sit on our platitudes and do nothing. We simply accept the status quo and rail against liberal politicians. There are a few voices out there trying to alert us to the dangers. Yet, no one listens.
Can anyone answer me?
How can a grown man kill a 6 year old boy and toss his body into the garbage? How can a white community harass and destroy a benevolent community made up of non-whites? How can a society build and stockpile weapons designed to utterly destroy other societies? How can people steal others and sell them into slavery? How can people worship a green guy named George? This idol is made out of paper, but is used to control, or destroy, entire economies? (Don't believe me, check out Greece and Africa.) How can we value this false god more than real people and real creatures who live and breath?
My prayer was, and is, "Yahweh! I am spent. I don't know what to do. How long, O Lord, will You allow this? When will You raise Your people up as one to stand in the face of this evil? Let Your Spirit, Ruach Elohim, hover and brood over the face of this chaos as You did in the beginning. Let order come through the speech of Your mouth. Let Your voice be heard once again bringing life out of death."

Some times are just difficult

I've been away for a few days. Sometimes life happens and our nice routines get disrupted. Then, it takes awhile to adjust and get back into form, or maybe a different form. Over the past couple weeks my dad has been ill. As he has gotten older, as it is for all of us, the physical systems start to wear. This has been a source of concern for me and my family. We are trying to adjust to new demands and responsibilities, while maintaining all of the old ones. I'm sure that there are many others out there dealing with similar issues.
How do we make the transition to care givers for aging parents and other family? There are probably as many opinions about this as there are people living through the experience. There will be those who state that it is the childrens' responsibility to return care to those who gave care for so many years. Others may have the opinion that professionals should be retained to help with care. After all, none of us are really trained in recognizing and meeting the needs of aging adults. I'm sure there are some who hold that the cycle of life simply requires that family care for family; it is the natural response.
I don't know for sure. This is pretty new for me. I feel that I missed out on some of this while my mom was alive. She was cared for in a professional setting with my dad by her side all of the way. I did not feel it was necessary to watch her closely. Now, I do have some regrets that I was not more involved. Yet, another part of me wants to keep this mortality at arms' length. I don't want to get to close to the messiness that any relationship can bring, let alone that of someone nearing the finish line. (See, neat little metaphors rather than simply stating the reality.)
Anyway, it looks like things are changing. I guess that's the way of it. Not always easy, but hey, no one every said it would be.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Let's talk about LGBTQ followers of Christ

The church has been wrestling for years with questions about what is a right and proper response to people who do not think and act in ways that it thinks are appropriate. The ongoing questions about how much the culture should be allowed to speak into the lives of the faithful still go unanswered. Much of the reason for this is that people do not talk. Those in the church have no idea what these 'others' really think, feel and believe. Those outside of the church are likewise ill informed. Over at Dr. John Byron's blog a few days ago there was some evidence that a discussion could begin. In fact, in many areas there has been some breaking of ice. But, even here, when the question of homosexuality comes up, dogma digs in and walls are quickly erected. I am becoming more convinced that this is simply not the way that Christ followers should behave. There is far too much talk about sin and judgement and woefully not enough talk of Kingdom and Yahweh's reign in the good creation.
What do I think about this issue? I have to say that I believe that we must embrace our sisters and brothers where ever they may be. We must also be light in a world that has far too much darkness, hatred and misunderstanding. Can we? I pray that we can rise above fear and ignorance to embrace one another in koinonia.
The primary issue that is in the news these days is about gay marriage. Here is a link to an essay that is well thought out and deserves consideration. I'm not sure I agree with all of the points in it. But, it is a place to start a dialog. I must be clear that I believe that Yahweh desires holiness and single-minded devotion from those of us who chose to follow. We cannot, however, neglect Christ's attitude toward all of God's people...those to whom he was sent to bring liberation and life to.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Lorica

One of my favorite heroes of old is St. Patrick. Very little is actually known about him. And, there is even less writing or other artifact that can be confidently ascribed to him. There is a prayer that has become known as St. Patrick's Lorica, or Breastplate that is around in various incarnations. I have chosen the one below to give a glimpse into a distant, pre-modern past. It's unlikely that Patrick actually wrote this prayer, but one source stated that it is 'Patrician to the core.' What I notice is how all-encompassing the prayer is. Whoever wrote it was, as one person said, 'a Christian Druid.' This person understood clearly the interrelationship between humanity, the good creation of God, and the unseen world in which angels, demons, and Yahweh dwell. While much of the language is archaic, the prayer can help us to reflect on our relationship with these elements. Are they relevant to a post-modern, post-Christian culture? Could we, perhaps, get a better handle on our place as God's eikons? Enjoy!
I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial,
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.
I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.
I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.
I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.
I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and my soul, against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning,
against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Obedience of God

As I was driving to work today I was struck with something that I should have known, and is most likely known by folks a tad quicker on the uptake than I. This AM I read John 17. This has become known as Jesus' High Priestly prayer. What came to my mind and hung around for awhile was that Jesus used phrases like, "the words that You gave me" and "You sent me into the world." Jesus, who as the eternal Word of God, who has been with the Father and the Spirit always, who enjoyed glory as God the Son was 'sent' and 'received.' In the first he humbled himself to become obedient to the Father. In the second he was not completely self-sufficient, but was required to receive from the Father as a humble person must. Now, I've read the kenotic hymn in Philippians many times. And, I've heard how Jesus was obedient and faithful in his life and death. But, as I reflected on the Son's love for the Father and the very good creation, I had my breath taken away as I began to see this played out in the incarnation. How good is God?! How great is Yahweh's love and compassion for the world? I cannot come up with words to describe this wonderful gift that God has lavished on us. Why? Because of Agape. How can we not respond to one another, to those who we may consider "other," and to the very good creation with the same agape and with gratitude?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Knowing God

Awhile back I had a discussion, well, let's say a momentary interchange, with one of the pastoral leaders of the church I was attending. I was excited about the scriptures, in that they were becoming alive for me in ways that I had not experienced previously. I mentioned to him that I did not think that the Bible was a users manual for humans. It's purpose is not so much to tell us how to behave as it was to reveal God's love for the Cosmos. Although, there are things that point to how God expects those who are called as God's children to live and act, this was secondary. My point being that unless we allow God's word to transform us internally, the external things are of little importance. His response was that the Bible is a guide to living a morally and godly life. That it is imperative to follow the guidelines and precepts present in the text in order to please God.
Hmmm....I don't think so. In Jesus' day there were groups of people who thought like this pastor. We know them as Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees loved Yahweh. They tried to follow the Torah in their everyday lives. They followed all of the prescribed behaviors in order to respond in righteousness to the grace they had received as God's chosen people. This kind of thinking led Paul to state that he was, in fact, righteous according to the Law. But, the Pharisees missed something. Jesus said about them, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Many today, like this pastor, think that by reading, memorizing, and attempting to apply the scripture as if it is law, they will achieve righteousness and, ultimately, eternal life. Yet, like the Pharisees, they aren't able to "come to me" and receive life.
Like the Sadducees who were mistaken about the resurrection, people today impose on God presuppositions that limit what they allow God to be. They have an idea of how God is supposed to work, and try to fit the scriptures to that small understanding of the Creator/Yahweh who walked among us. Jesus' response? “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God?" (Mark 12:24). We all try to fit the infinite Yahweh Elohim into our finite minds. We are not built to grasp and understand the transcendent. But, we do God, the very good creation, and ourselves a great disservice when we try to do that very thing. God will not be fitted to our image. God, on the other hand, will try to make us into the image dei.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

I saw this cartoon over at Dr. John Byron's blog. For me, it sums up the position of biblicists. Folks who come to the scripture with presuppositions that specify how God must act, speak, exist in order to shore up a poorly designed position of biblical inerrancy. More on that to come.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

North Carolina Amendment 1

I must lead a very sheltered life. I try to stay away from television as much as possible, (but, Jeopardy and NCIS are still part of my things to do list :o). Today, as I started checking out the news on my computer, the story about North Carolina's Amendment One was bouncing around the cyber world. I checked out my usual blogs and found quite a few active discussions happening. Most of these were not favorable to the amendment. I was going to leave that discussion for others, but the more I thought about it the more I simply couldn't stay out. I went to the North Carolina statehouse website to find out what the amendment actually contained. News items and blogs are usually not the most impartial sources of news. Here is the content:
"Sec. 6. Marriage.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."
 Pretty simple. Nothing in the language that screams discrimination. Nothing here that states the same sex relationships are bad or evil. It simply denies that any 'marriage' or other domestic union that does not consist of only one man and one woman will be recognized as a legal union in the state of North Carolina. But, what the amendment does not say explicitly, it screams from between the lines. The voters of this state, complicit with the elected representatives of this state have effectively written discrimination into their constitution. They have made it legal for businesses to deny all rights to the partners of their employees. These would include medical insurance, death benefits, end-of-life decisions, etc. It also is indicative of a prevailing mentality that creates subgroup of people who are deemed of less value than other people. Only those relationships that contain one man and one woman are worth anything. All others are simply denied existence.
It does not matter which side of the same sex marriage question someone supports. But, in this country everyone is entitled to equal protection and equal rights under the law. North Carolina has just said "No!" to that.

New Blog at Patheos

One of my very favorite professors from Ashland, Dr. Wyndy Corbin-Reuschling, has begun contributing to a blog over at Patheos. You can access it here.
Dr. Corbin teaches theology and ethics. She is the first person who showed me that it's ok for Christians to think. Thanx!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

When did "christian" become an adjective?

I am revisiting a book I read many years ago. It is What on Earth Are We Doing?: Finding Our Place As Christians in the World by John Fischer. I read it when it was new in the late 1990s. As I pick among the many nuggets of good stuff that Fischer wrote, I am reminded of why this particular book made such an impact on me. In fact, I offered it to other leaders in my church who, whether they read it or not, never seemed to be captured by Fischer's insights. You see, it takes contemporary evangelicalism to task. In our world we have attempted to build a parallel to what many would call "the world." You know, that place where sin and debauchery lay waiting to waylay us and subjugate us to the cruel taskmaster of "worldliness." So, according to Fischer, the word 'christian' became an adjective. Rather than the noun that it originally was coined as, someone who was a little Christ, we have made it descriptive. There is christian music and christian bookstores. We have christian novels and christian self-help books. We go to christian concerts and seminars and grocery stores and barbers. We have created a new "christian" world that allows us to have all of the stuff that the other 'bad' world has, but with a veneer of christian respectability. Is this what the gospel calls us to? Are we to insulate ourselves against the supposed enemy called human existence?
Back in the early 1970s I was part of the so-called Jesus Movement. One thing that we set as an objective was to show the world how it was possible to live according to the 1st century model of church that we read about in the book of Acts. We figured that if we could show people that this lifestyle 'worked' they would beat down our doors to get a piece of it. After all, as Fischer noted, we are a very pragmatic culture. If something 'works,' it absolutely MUST be true. We were, in fact, building the foundation of a 'christian' worldview. Today, one can look at the myriad organizations and churches that tout that their version of christianity works! You can be successful and have all of your needs met, just 'step right up' and climb aboard the gospel train. No more worries, no more stress, no more of the troubles of 'Your' world. We actually believed this. And, we preached it. The trouble was, it didn't work. And, those on the outside could see that it didn't work. We had televangelists talking the 'christian' talk, but failing miserably in life. Co-workers, who saw us everyday struggling to hold two worlds in tension, knew that we were failing. Now, we wonder why the culture has marginalized the message of Christ. We continue to try and show the world how good it is to be in a 'christian' world, but they aren't watching. They really don't care. As far as they are concerned we are a rerun of some bad 50s sitcom.
So, what to do? Honestly, I don't have answers. That's a good thing, I think. We cannot hold Yahweh in some box where we can let Him out when we need Him, but then close it when He gets too close. We want comfortable answers to all of life's questions. After all, won't that prove to the outside world that we are correct? Will that not vindicate us? Let me share a quote from Fischer's book. This is something that he quoted from a lecture series given by Robert Farrar Capon:
The Gospel proclaims a disreputable salvation. It hands us neither an intellectually respectable God nor a morally serious one. It gives us an action of God in Christ that is foolishness to the Greek in us and a scandal to our Jewishness. It presents us with a Sabbath-breaking Messiah whose supreme act is to be executed as a criminal-and who then rises and disappears, leaving us with a blithe assurance that everything is repaired even though, as far as we can see, nothing has been fixed.
It seems that God is way bigger than we can imagine. God's way of working in the cosmos is not what we would necessarily think it should be. Living as the bible seems to prescribe should work! But, we live in the time between now and the age to come. This life is filled with paradox that cannot be answered. There is a mystery about Yahweh that we cannot possibly understand. Not all of our questions will be answered, nor should they. Living in a separate, disinfected world is not God's way. Getting closer to Yahweh, letting the Reign of God flourish within us is a way to start. Letting the glorious, good creation immerse us into the very presence of the Creator/Yahweh who walked among us is a way to begin living. Separating ourselves from the very world we are to be witnesses to this Great and Loving Father is not.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Next Generation

And, I don't mean Star Trek.
There's been a lot of talk for many years about how to prepare the so-called 'next generation' of Christ followers to carry the faith forward. This discussion is usually held among the elders of the present or near-past generation about young, mostly male, children of these elders. (If you're not confused yet, you will be.)
Anyway, I want to point out at least one fallacy and raise questions about this position. On the surface, this idea sounds plausible. Deuteronomy discusses the importance of teaching children about God and the works that had been performed by God, i.e., the Exodus. There also seems to be some age division that took place between those who were old enough to fight and those who were not. But, throughout the Old Testament a 'generation' referred to all who were alive at any given time. It was not neatly divided into some specific number of years, say, 40. Even those who espouse the above idea of training the 'yet-to-be-involved' age group, there is no consensus on what a generation actually is. If we want to hand the reigns over to those who are younger, then we need to include them NOW in the faith. That includes in all levels of leadership and ministry. The fallacy of generational divisions simply doesn't hold in view of scripture. Some may want to argue about the age of 13 being when males became full members of the community. That does little to help us today as we try to integrate both male and female into active roles in the church. In fact, this is pretty much ceremonial anyway. We really don't trust young people at this age. Yet, it is precisely at this age that we must begin to integrate them into the community. We need to let them learn through practice, not preaching, how to live and grow in the community of faith. They need the opportunities to succeed and fail. Yet, we continue to talk.
One of the problems I see is, what are we leaving for them? We seem to want them to continue just as we have, to be the 'protectors of orthodoxy' in a hostile world. But, what if they don't see things that way? What if God has other plans? Not only do we not trust youth, but we don't trust Yahweh to keep and grow the body of Christ! We leave a legacy of paranoia and conflict. We leave our battles with the culture, but not the life necessary to navigate a way through them. Many young people do not share the culture war mentality of the modern church. Yet, we try to press the importance of this perceived war into their minds. Let it go, Church! Our battle is NOT with the culture. Our battle cannot be delineated along conservative and liberal lines. Our battle is not with politics and economics. Our battle is a spiritual one that requires spiritual communities. It requires people willing to step outside of doctrines and dogma that divide and hold to that which unifies. Even if that means joining with 'outsiders.'
Young people need to be included. They need to collaborate and build community. They need to be a part of something significant. If we keep trying to crowbar something that doesn't make sense to them into their lives, they will bolt and do it themselves, anyhow. Maybe that would not be such a bad idea.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Believing the Unbelievable

I enjoy reading blogs. There are several that I follow regularly. And, from these, I chase down others. I love finding out what other people are thinking, and how they are thinking. I learn from them what is important outside of my little corner of the cosmos. (I also learn how much I don't know about, well, most things.)
On one of these little excursions, I found the following: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2012/04/how-to-live-as-a-christian-without-having-to-believe-the-unbelievable/#comments.It was posted by a person named Jim Burklo. You can check out his cv @ http://www.jimburklo.com/.
Anyway, in this post Burklo presented much of what can be described as progressive theology. Much of this thought is also found in the emergent church. I'm not going to review the post. But, I do want to think about it for a minute.
He wrote that what is important about following Christ is, well, the actual 'following' part. We should be more concerned about living the love of Christ over against believing all of the doctrine, dogma, (and I might add 'drama'), that has grown up with the the Church over 2,000 years. He wrote,
"It really isn’t important whether or not you take the Bible literally, or whether or not you believe all the creeds word-for-word.  If they don’t make sense to you, don’t worry about them.  Don’t let dogma and doctrine get in the way of practicing Love, who is God ... But repeating creeds is not the price of admission into Christianity.  Instead of caring whether the story of Jesus’ resurrection was a fact or a myth, let’s concern ourselves with things that matter.  Let’s care about our neighbors without jobs or health insurance, face the resentment in our hearts that needs to be released, struggle with how vote and be activist citizens, and learn how to bring our careers in alignment with our highest values.  Let’s gather in churches, soup kitchens, work-places, living rooms, and caf├ęs to support each other in doing things that matter, and let go of old doctrines that don’t."
I agree with him. There's an old saying that states Christians are one of the few groups on this planet that regularly shoot their own wounded. We are, by and large, argumentative and spiteful. We stand on a plank and call it truth while the whole platform goes up in flames around us. And all the while, people die of starvation and thirst. They lose their homes, if they ever had one to begin with. They are raped, murdered, sold into slavery, oppressed and forgotten. Hey, folks...these are the ones Jesus came to save. Where are we?

But, there are some inconsistencies in Burklo's presentation. He suggested that it is important to find a community of like-minded with whom to serve. It is important to practice spiritual disciplines and Bible study. Don't these require some small seed of belief in something? Is not prayer a miracle of God's grace?
By simply stating that we must work with the "spark of the divine that is in every one of us," faith in what cannot be seen seems to be left out of the equation. If Jesus is not God, (part of orthodox doctrine), then why bother with the poor? They can fend for themselves in this survival of the fittest universe. If the invisible Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God, is not brooding over and in the creation, then what ignites that spark of the divine within us? Why should we care for our neighbor? What difference does it make if Palestinians and Israelis blow each other up? Why should the rich not get richer?
I'm sorry, but I don't put much faith in the human heart to do what's good and just. I can, however, put my trust, and life, in the hands of the God of gods who alone is able to transform my heart of stone into one of flesh.