Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Under Construction

I'm going to be trying some new things on this blog. The first thing I've done is to eliminate the 'Interesting places' and replace it with a list of blogs that I frequent. Please note that just because I've put a link to a blog on mine, that does not mean that I agree with all of the content of the other blog. I have found that each of these, however, does stretch me and make me take pause to reflect. One of the things that keeps me on my toes is to check out opinions that may differ from my own. I think the dialogue this can encourage is important. Whenever we get content and complacent within our own comfort zones bad things can happen. Our minds and hearts tend to atrophy and we can become functionally useless. So, poke around and comment.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Imago Dei

Read an interesting blog this A.M. It reveals much of the current direction that Christ followers are taking theology. I find the position refreshing. If for no other reason than it provides fodder for reflection. For those of you who know me, that's one of my favorite past times! Anyway, here is the link. Please take a minute to read it. Then take more than a minute to reflect.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What do we really believe about God?

One of the things I mentioned in my New Year's Things that I'm tired of was how scholars continue to kick dead horses. It seems that some things cannot be released and allowed to die. I have realized that these folks have been trained to question. They ask and ask and ask. This is, actually, a good thing. Nothing in faith is above questioning. That's how we appropriate and make the faith our own. None of us can accept the word of someone else. We MUST learn how to make it ours. But, in this process I've found that a lot of folks make faith about US. We try so hard to appropriate the text and the tradition that we miss the supernatural, the other, the Godly. Evelyn Underhill got it when she wrote, "The tendency of all worship to decline from adoration to demand, and from the supernatural to the ethical, show how strong a pull is needed to neutralize the anthropocentric trend of the human mind; its intense preoccupation with the world of succession, and its own here-and-now desires and needs...It is the mood of deep admiration, the meek acknowledgement of mystery, the humble and adoring gaze..."
So many scholars and theologians can argue about the text. What it says or doesn't say. But, very few are talking about the work of the Spirit. Where is the mystery? Where is the stuff that cannot be easily explained by historical or literary criticism? I think that the mystics among us are being overshadowed by the scholars. Christ followers are empowered and guided by what is unseen and unfelt. We are experiencers of God, not simply those who can understand some 2,000 year old text. I agree with Underhill. We need to get over ourselves and immersed into the reality of God, who is Spirit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I now pronounce you...

The past few years there has been much ink spilled with books, essays, blogs, etc. about Godly or biblical marriages. The evangelical tradition that I grew up in is very patriarchal when it comes to marriage relationships. The husband is the 'head' of the wife who, in turn, must remain submissive to that headship. After all, Paul made it clear in Ephesians that this was so. For many years I've felt that this is simply not accurate. There was something missing when Paul could say something about men, (husbands), being like Christ and women, (wives), being something less. This seemed to ignore the 'no longer male or female' texts. It also made singles into second-class citizens. Today at Rachel Held Evans' blog, she posted a guest essay about this issue. I thought that it was wonderfully thought out and presented. Here is a link:
Please take time to read and comment there, or here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

God's gift of Creative Reflection

Most of my opinions and thoughts on things are most likely incorrect. Or, at least 'half baked.' I know this, so I try not to cling too tightly to them. In fact, it takes very little effort for someone to question me and send me off to reconsider my positions. Many times this reflection forces me to make modifications. I find that the added input from these other folks is good and deserves a place in my thoughts. Other times, my position is vindicated and I am content to hang on to my position. At least until someone else comes along to question it again. I think that this is a fairly good way to develop opinions and beliefs. It allows me to use the brain that Yahweh has given me. A creative mind that has the ability to reflect and learn. This, I think, leads to growth.
There are many folks, however, maybe even most, who do cling tightly to their positions. Some of these positions may be untenable in the face of prevailing data. But, they call if 'faith.' Their position has been verified by God, or some other source that is outside of, or higher than they are. It's not 'their' idea, but God's. This necessarily relieves them of the responsibility to think and reflect for themselves. How sad this is.
I think that part of the issue with this is the human need to be accepted as part of a group. We desire to be a part of something larger and more significant than we are by ourselves. Many times this leads to a phenomena called 'Groupthink.' In order to belong, we give up our right to think reflectively and creatively and we adopt the thoughts and positions of the group. This is done willingly and without reflection.
There are many dangers inherent in this process. One, as I've already stated, is that people simply don't think. They don't reflect on beliefs and practices that seriously impact their lives. It is more important to belong to the group, and perhaps safer, than to venture into the unknown realm of real faith and trust. The group defines the identities of its members. Who they are before God, self and others is given up for the sake of the group.
Another problem with adopting the group's positions on things is that boundaries of exclusion are defined and raised. When we appropriate the group's thought as our own we immediately define who we are, as well as who they are. We need only to take a cursory look at history to see the damage that has caused. Ask those who have been colonized how it feels to be 'other.' Look at the Holocaust in Nazi Germany to see how 'we' care the 'them.'
There is another group, a larger group, that we may be able to be a part of that wouldn't have these kinds of consequences. That group is the Community of Creation. I first heard this term used in a book by Dr. Randy Woodley. This group includes all of creation; all things and all people. The Community is the result of Yahweh's good, creative work. It might be said that it is the result of God's Creative Reflection. There has been too little use made of this great gift of God. We can think and reflect creatively. Perhaps it's time to start.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tolstoy and Moral Relativism

As anyone who knows me or has read this blog can attest, I really like a couple of the Renovare resources for devotions. I am now working through Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines...again. Today's was an excerpt from an essay by Leo Tolstoy. In it he decried the use, or abuse, of various substances that tend to dull one's consciousness and render their ability to think and grow. In his reflection on the reading, Richard Foster, who co-edited the book, stated his concern for using conscience as a guide to moral living. He wrote, "it is especially problematic in our day in which modern relativism has turned conscience into virtually anything we want it to mean." He then turned the idea of relativism into a similar "stupefying substance" not unlike the alcohol, tobacco and opium that Tolstoy denounced. He cited as a corroborating source Dallas Willard. He quoted Willard, "there is now no recognized moral knowledge upon which projects of fostering moral development could be based."
Now, I've been hearing this same kind of concern for many, many years. It seems that it is used anytime the established 'norm' is challenged. In my time it has been applied to the liberal 60's and all those hippies who turned the world upside down. It became the cry from the watchmen and moral gatekeepers when post modernism began to show its hoary head in our culture. Now, these same folks are stating that all of the support and underpinnings of a moral and virtuous society have been destroyed. Watch out! The end of the world as we know it is upon us!
Many folks, particularly conservatives, feel that without some commonly accepted absolute truth(s) society necessarily must founder; rudderless in and ocean of individualistic ambiguity. I'm not sure that I entirely agree with this prognosis. Yes, absolutes that were accepted as truth by our parents, grandparents and, maybe, great-grandparents have been challenged. And, I think, rightfully so. Without fresh insights and understanding gained through challenge we cannot really 'own' any kind of moral or virtuous action or thought. There is NO real threat in challenge! Even when these actually reveal inconsistencies and inaccuracies in long held positions, they are still not a threat. Sometimes it's necessary to dig through and shovel away the crap in order to see the kernel of truth that has been buried. That kernel can them be rethought and recast to better serve society as it is now; today.
I actually believe that there is a very healthy moral under girding for today's society. I see it revealed in actions taken by entire communities to support folks in the aftermath of Newtown. It is embodied when people stand up to powerful forces of injustice. The moral fiber of those who care for the weakest and most vulnerable of our fellow humans is a strong witness. It shines in the lives of Palestinians and Israelis whose hearts and lives are linked in support for one another. Virtue shines when people chose what is right over that which fosters hate and division.
But, perhaps the most problematic point that comes from the moral gatekeepers is the fear and distrust that it engenders. The obvious objects are those who question and challenge. These are enemies to be fought and destroyed. They are no longer fellow travelers through life, but something 'other' and evil. I'm sorry, but I haven't yet found where Jesus took that position. More disconcerting for me, though, is the palpable lack of trust in Yahweh. It seems that God is rendered impotent by the challenges raised by those who have been created in the Divine image.
I have hope. I trust that God's will surely will be done on earth as in heaven. I am equally sure that when assumptions and interpretations, that MUST be flawed because they are of human origination, are challenged that we really have nothing to fear. In fact, we may, as one wise person was reported to have said under similar circumstances, "Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these [people] alone!...For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop [it]; you will only find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:38-39).

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dorothy Day: A Hidden Treasure

The title of this really isn't fair. Dorothy Day is far from hidden. In fact, there are many who are seeking her canonization as a saint in the Roman Church. But, for most protestants she remains somewhat hidden. I had never heard of her until I read an excerpt from one of my devotional books. The heading of the section of the devotional is 'Service.' I read the brief bio that stated that she was a social activist and union organizer in the early part of the 20th century. The fact is, she was a Socialist. But, something happened. According to the bio, "while working as a journalist in New York City, Day moved from atheistic socialism to Christian belief, shocking her friends by embracing Roman Catholic faith." She met a man, Peter Maurin, and together they co-founded the Catholic Worker movement.
As I read through the devotional that was taken from her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, I was struck by this person's concern for the poor and marginalized. As I prayed afterwards I was drawn to check out the website of the Catholic Worker movement. A quick search took me to http://www.catholicworker.org/index.cfm. I began to poke around on the site. I did not spend a lot of time reading the various articles and pages that were there. However, tears began to flow. I wept as I simply viewed what these saints were doing.
I am a follower of Jesus. He said,
                         The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, 
                         Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. 
                         He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, 
                         And recovery of sight to the blind, 
                         To set free those who are oppressed,
                         To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Luke 4:18-19
While we argue about who is 'in' and who isn't, countless people are suffering from hunger and cold and sickness. The questions about 'Gays' or socialists or whatever, you fill in the blank, simply are not important. Jesus came to save. He healed and he fed the hungry and he fought for the marginalized. Should we not be with him? Dorothy Day shames us. I hope the Roman church does canonize her. And, I hope the rest of us will honor her with our actions.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Pot calling the Kettle Pot

This morning as I was praying and meditating I began to reflect on how God uses people and events for God's own good purposes. I have been praying for many months that God would use me. I have been trained and am gifted in certain things that just don't seem to be evident in my life. My life, in fact, is supremely ordinary and routine. I get up, get dressed, get breakfast, sit in my office to orient myself through devotion, go to work, come home, etc. "But, Yahweh," I ask,"when are You going to start to use me? When can I see the evidence of those things that I have been gifted for? When will You allow me to use my training?"
Then, today, I read an excerpt by Karl Rahner. In it he voiced my same frustrations about being caught in the ordinary and routine. How this seemed to take him far from God's presence. Then he wrote that it was in the ordinary stuff of daily life that God's life is present. This got me thinking about the various places where the writers of scripture refer to God as the potter. Is the pot cognizant of being a pot? Does the pot know when, or with what, God fills it? Yet, we cry out to God, "Fill me with this or that!" Our voices raised, we shout, "Don't feed that person or cause with what You have filled me with!" In our ignorance and arrogance we tell God that we must know all of the what, when, where, why and who before we will allow the Divine prerogative to be used.
We don't even know that we are pots. So, I guess all of that to say, if the ordinary seems, well ordinary, perhaps that is what God has chosen to fill me with today. I just need to chill and be a pot.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Hobbit

I just got home from viewing 'The Hobbit" part 1. I have mixed feelings about it. It kind of followed the flow of Tolkien, but added quite a bit. Now, I get Jackson's desire to forge a connection to "The Lord of the Rings" and all, but some of the action in this movie really doesn't belong and doesn't add anything. Tolkien did a great job without any help from Jackson and associates.
Tolkien's genius shines in the book. There is so much 'richness' in the pages that simply cannot be transferred to the silver screen. In the first chapter, Bilbo finds his home invaded by a clutch of dwarves. After all of the social amenities are dispensed with the dwarves settle down to an after dinner singalong. This snippet of Tolkien's writing reveals a deep understanding of the creativity that Yahweh has given to us. He wrote about Thorin Oakenshield's harp, "when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill." The music transported Bilbo to other strange, exotic lands. Places that he was unfamiliar with. Places that had new and different heavens and tastes and smells. The music took him.......
For those of us who have been blessed, (or cursed), with music in our souls, this is not an unusual image. I have been transported into the presence of Yahweh on the wings of song. The melody and harmony, pleasant or dissonant, are part of the gift that God has lavished on us. As Julia Cameron wrote in the Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, "Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God." God has gifted us with creativity. Creativity that can move and transport us to places that only God has seen.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

St. Francis' Prayer

I've been reading quite a lot from blogs and news sources. Listened to people talk. And I find the polarization sometimes disconcerting. Especially, among those who follow Yeshua. I understand that people hold differing positions and opinions on myriad topics. These range from marriage to gun control, to politics, to faith itself. I don't for a minute think that these differences are bad or wrong-headed. But, what I find more and more distasteful is the vitriol that is being thrown about without any concern for the recipients nor those who are witness to it. When someone on social media writes about hate and destruction, it's not only those to whom the flames are directed, but all of the others who have access to the heat who inevitably get burned also. The words, paradoxically, then become fuel for more flames and hate to feed upon. There are ways to express opposition and displeasure without becoming hateful and destructive. For those of us who claim allegiance to Yeshua the Messiah, the God who walked among us, there is no choice.
There are few people in history who have grasped this concept better than St. Francis of Assisi. Anyone can search online for details about this son of God's life. I want to share just one thing that has been attributed to him. It has become simply known as The Prayer of St. Francis.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Perhaps, if we can let these words sink into the deep recesses of spirit and mind we can actually become instruments of God's peace; salt and light within a decaying and dark world. The choice belongs to us.