Christ after Christmas—a conceptual experiment

Let me begin with an admission. As a follower of Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) and as a member of the religious body (the Christian church, Presbyterian branch) that stands as his legacy, I have always been troubled by the use of Christ as an exclusivism that hides a superiority complex. I have been “. . . tempted, whether for political, historical, or theological reasons, to give up on Christ—in the name of Jesus.[1]

A statement in a recent read on political theology—“. . . there will not be a single square inch in all of creation over which Christ does not say, ‘Mine!’”[2]—aroused in me the incipient sense of disconnect that the use of Christ brings. When I ask what the Mine! statement means, visions of the Salem witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Crusades come to mind. Or, more recently, I hear new accounts of Muslim mosques and Jewish synagogues being defaced or burned. I hear Ku Klux Klan members finding airtime to denounce a whole variety of people they deem to be sub-human. I hear bakers refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because doing so would compromise their Christian faith. In every situation mentioned above, I hear echoes of the word “Mine?”—the dark shadow of Christian exclusivism.

Before going on a further rant, I need to back up and ask how we Christians have become, in our own minds, an exclusive club!

I believe two images (one from the Hebrew scriptures and one from Yeshua’s teachings) lay the foundation for understanding Christ—the Jubilee and the kingdom of God. Furthermore, this examination necessitates a temporary dividing Christ off of the name Jesus Christ. (Later I will examine whether I can stitch the terms back together.

Leviticus 25 details the Jubilee year—a sabbath of sabbaths. This was to be an interlude in the midst of Israel’s life. Jubilee was a year of restoration—primarily focusing on the land. Family relationships, connection to the land, and property rights are all to be restored, renewed, or transformed during the Jubilee year—a reminder that Israel’s existence was grounded in the reality that “the land is mine [God’s].” [Leviticus 25:23] The problem is that there is no evidence that a Jubilee was ever declared. “It is always coming but it never quite shows up; it keeps getting postponed.”[3] For a brilliant essay on the Jubilee that never comes, see It Spooks.[4]

Because the Jubilee was a promise never fulfilled, a new vision had taken its place by the Yeshua’s time. Yeshua’s teachings were grounded in the imminence of the kingdom of God—a permanent restoration of social structure so that the poor and marginalized people of the world would be brought into the mainstream of life. But the restorative kingdom, like the Jubilee, did not arrive. The Jubilee, re-branded as the kingdom of God, was projected by the early church onto a timeless eternity.

Jubilee, in the Hebrew scriptures, and kingdom, in developing Christian thought, are concepts grounded in an understanding that God has been involved in the forming and sustaining of Israel and its native son, Yeshua. Both, however, are unfulfilled promises that are now planted in the future. As a result, we are left with living “. . . in the space between a memory and a promise.”[5] Enter Christ into that spaciousness.

In popular thought and inherent in much Christian theology is the understanding that Christ is a substantial being that subsists across time. That being is, on God’s behalf, in charge of salvation—that is, the risen savior. While Christian theology is clear that the salvific act was the mediated through the death and resurrection of Yeshua, the persistence of the Christ-image suggests that there is still work for the redeemer to do.

Let me go out on a limb here—Christ is not a reality, but a vision, a hope, and a dream. It is the successor to Jubilee and kingdom. Better yet, Christ is the poetic image that takes Jubilee and kingdom and projects them onto a cosmic canvas. Yeshua was a very special human being whose embodiment of a God-filled life is normative for Christians—a life embodying compassion, peace, and tender justice; a life given for self, others, and the creation. During the short years of his mission, he tried to form his band of followers into a community of compassion, peace, and tender justice.

After Yeshua’s crucifixion, those followers returned to the lives that they had remembered from before they met Yeshua. But something happened! The passion for God and for others that had characterized Yeshua’s Way of life, began to stir the passions of those who had been with him for his ministry and mission. Something irrupted into their lives. They called it resurrection. It was as if Yeshua continued to instruct and form them. He had come alive within and among them. Yeshua’s Way was a path upon which they now were traveling.

Yeshua’s Way had become a way of life for them. Compassion, peace, and tender justice “. . . is a Christ-haunted call to long for kingdom come”[6] Christ is a call that haunts us, not from the future, but from the midst of life here and now, in the meantime. It is a spectral call that arises from we know not where. Is it God or some machination of my own mind? Is it the unheard voice of the cosmic hum or something more or less substantial? “I know not what, one or many, real or unreal, saving or dangerous, whoever or whatever this is will not leave me alone.”[7] Call it God if you will; or Allah or Buddha, or Thou, or Mystery, or YHWH or . . . . What I do know is that I have committed myself to this “Christ-haunted call.”

Neil doGrasse Tyson, speaking as a scientist (in a conversation with Bill Moyers), suggested that myth has a significant power in life when “. . . we take it to the next frontier and apply it there.” Living between memory and promise causes us to construct our theology with myths and symbols and then to project then out to the next frontier—not some heavenly afterlife, but to the frontier of a life in community lived for self, others, and the creation. That projection was the Way taught by Yeshua, the Jubilee, and the kingdom of God wrapped into one and trying desperately to find traction in the midst of daily living.

In Christmas pageants conducted thousands of times across the face of the church, the children have it right—Christmas is about baby Jesus. Christmas is the arrival of human potential embodied in a personal. Full human potential involves a connection with something (call it God or Mystery) that stirs us deeply toward compassion, peace, and tender justice.

But what do we do after Christmas?

There is no waiting for an afterlife to attain that full potential. The only arena for personal and community development is here and now. Christ is the haunting call that is experienced within and among us; the call toward the frontier ahead—the well-being of all in society.

When we say “Jesus Christ” it is as if we have called him by name—Jesus is his first name; Christ, his family name. That is neither appropriate nor sufficient. Whether it is putting a “ruach pause” between Jesus and Christ in order to “put breathing room back into Christology”[8] or simply saying Jesus the Christ, separating the two terms helps me track new understandings. Yeshua is the memory and Christ, the frontier (or promise), between which I am called to live my life to the full—embracing compassion, peace, and tender justice that forms, sustains, and renews self, others, and the creation.

 

[1] Catherine Keller, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 134.

[2] James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology, Cultural Liturgies, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 83.

[3] John D Caputo, It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call, 2015, 15.

[4] Caputo, It Spooks. 13-45.

[5] Caputo, 21.å

[6] Smith, Awaiting the King, 89.

[7] Caputo, It Spooks, 26.

[8] Keller, On the Mystery, 136.

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This statement is false.

 

This statement is false! Can you wrap your mind around that? If the statement is false, then the inverse is true and the statement is true. If the statement is true, then false is true? So, is the statement true or false? No, it isn’t!

Let’s try a different one—can God make a rock so big that even God can’t move it? Or—what is the sound of one hand clapping? These enigmas are designed to baffle us.

We, human beings, seem to be hard-wired to create meaning and make sense out of the data of the world around us. Science and religion are two meaning-making systems. Each approaches meaning from a different direction. Both have a fatal flaw as the root of their meaning-making.

Science is understood as a method for examining and explaining the world as it is. Science does its work openly, inviting falsification (prove me wrong) and verification (prove me right). Science is held in such esteem that it has been called “the predominant belief system today.” (Steve Hagen)

Science’s fatal flaw, however, is to be found in its assumptions, its presuppositions about the nature of reality—for example, nature is orderly or a thing is what it is. These presuppositions are taken for granted. Any contradiction of those assumptions causes a kind of scientific panic. Is light a stream of particles or a succession of waves? Actually, when examined closely by scientific experiments, an individual photon can be experienced as either a single particle or a wave. The experiment itself determines how the photon will present itself. The very nature of the experiment determines the outcome. Scientific experimentation affects how reality presents itself. Presuppositions determine outcomes. Science is the best approach to relative knowledge about reality, but not the final arbiter.

Religion, like science, proceeds without close examination of its presuppositions. In the popular mind, faith is often described as believing in the unbelievable. Presuppositions—for example, God is a presupposition—are assumed to be true. The end result is a system of beliefs, each built and dependent upon other beliefs—a double-looped system that is designed to prove its beliefs by citing other beliefs. How do know that God created the world? Because the Bible tells me so. On and on it goes.

Joseph Campbell has suggested that religion’s fatal flaw is transforming religious experience into ideas, concepts, and beliefs. He writes, “I don’t believe that people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

There is a movement in the church away from orthodoxy toward orthopraxy—from belief systems to integrated practice of faithing. Theology is the discipline of articulating and explaining the church’s belief system. Orthodoxy suggests that there is one predominant and particular set of beliefs that is primary and true. If you don’t shape your beliefs in this prescribed way—if you don’t believe correctly—then you are probably a heretic.

Orthopraxy accepts beliefs as a secondary phenomenon. Christianity, for example—taking its lead from Jesus of Nazareth—is about integrating into your life compassion, peace, and justice. These are the basic values of the commonwealth of peace and tender justice (kingdom of God) that Jesus proclaimed. This approach to being alive wasn’t unique to Jesus. It was a part of his Jewish legacy—“Act with tender justice; show compassion in all you do; be humble as a follower of God.” [Micah 6:8]

I agree with Gretta Vosper (With or Without God) as she explains “… why the way be live is more important than what we believe.” Our beliefs can be extremely valuable, but not in and of themselves. Instead, our beliefs must support a vibrant way of living that demonstrates care for self, others, and the creation.

What if a dynamic, zesty life were the measure of religion—passionate and filled with compassion; wholesome and integrated; groaning and growing; peace and tender justice; caring for self, others, and the creation? What if you could be called a good Presbyterian, a good Buddhist, a good Methodist, a good Jew, and even a good citizen, if it didn’t matter whether you believed or disbelieved in God? Maybe genuine religion is an open approach to life that resembles the best that has been associated with the name of God, without all the superstructure of a predetermined belief system. What if belief is simply a tool, a resource for living life to the full?

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Giving Up Christ for Christmas—an experiment

Christmas has always been a difficult season for me. As a pastor, I was adamant about Advent as preparation for the coming of the Christ child—knowing all the time that most members of the church were preparing for something else. As a husband and father, I found often myself at odds with the rest of the family about Christmas decorations, the amount of money sent on gifts, and the place and role of Christmas cards. I wanted to pare down the externals and keep focus on the true meaning of the season. That being said, I never found myself supportive of the effort to deride the use of the term “Xmas” by those who wanted to put Christ back into Christmas.

Recently a friend told me that she was celebrating the Christmas season differently this year by taking religion out of her celebrations. Her focus would be on enjoying the season as it is, instead of how it should be. This was not an anti-religion action; just a pro-Christmas one. I decided to follow, in my own way, what this wise woman had suggested.

So, this year I am consciously focusing on the holiday season without trying to make sure that I can shoe-horn Christ into the celebration. Instead, I am going to recognize the holiday season for what it is—a folk holiday with its own folksy stories, songs, and practices.

I am willing to acknowledge that the Christmas that I had hoped would happen in the past, was a figment of my imagination (and the church’s). In truth, the story of Jesus’ being born in a manger in Bethlehem, shepherds gathering around, and wise men eventually arriving from the east is also a folk tale. The Advent and Christmas hymns we sing in church are folk songs.

If we sing Christmas hymns in church during Advent—a definite No! No! during my tenure as a pastor—the world will not come to an end. Nor will a global tribunal be summoned to adjudicate the severity of the theological damage done to the kingdom of God.

So, I have started off by doing something that I have dreaded and or avoided for most of my adult life—I have decorated my apartment. My small tabletop tree has a prominent place in front of the fireplace. (It’s small enough that it doesn’t block the TV that is directly above it.) I recovered the ceramic Nativity set that my mother made in 1981 and it is the first thing I see when I come in from the outside. In the hallway, outside the bedrooms, I have a table covered with ceramic and glass angels. And I have a pine wreath on my apartment door.

Yesterday, our church bulletin had a listing of about 15 shut-ins. I, who has never been in favor of sending Christmas cards, will be sending a Christmas card to each of them. I have never been a big fan of elaborate lighting systems for homes during Christmas. While I can’t decorate the outside of my apartment, I am going to spend a couple of evenings driving around to enjoy the lights. Hearing this, my daughter asked if they could go along.

I even went Black Friday shopping on Thanksgiving evening—a No!No! in the past. As a result, all my Christmas gifts are purchased and wrapped. As a confirmed introvert, I often find excuses for NOT attending Christmas parties. No turn-downs or lame excused this year, I am looking forward to 5 parties.

Nativity sets, angels, Christmas trees, multi-colored lights, and even Advent hymns do not change the reality of this folk holiday. Children are flush with anticipation and excitement. Many adults are sad or depressed because of losses, broken relationships, or unfulfilled dreams. And then there are the multitude numbers of men, women, and children who are homeless or facing life-changing illnesses or other circumstances that will prevent them from attaining their fair share of joy and wholeness.

Experiment with taking Christ out of Christmas is not about walking away from faith or rejecting religious traditions. It is, however, an admission that the Christmas season is not under the church’s control—and it should not be. If Christ is to come, it will not be because we have celebrated Christmas properly. If Christ is to make an earth-shaking difference in the world, it will not be because we have deleted Xmas form the vocabulary, with everyone saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” If Christ is to come, those of us who care about the Christ are going to have to be as concerned about that coming in July as in December. If Christ is to come, that coming will only be accomplished when those who claim to be followers actually do follow and treat life as if the reign of God were already here.

The good news of the season, my friends, is that we are not waiting for anything that is not already here. Whenever you show care for someone else—feeding them, sheltering them, or caring for them—Christ has come. Whenever you bring a smile to a young child, or companionship to a shut-in, or compassion for a family faced with illness or death, Christ has come.

What are you waiting for? Actually, if there is any waiting during this season of waiting for Christmas to happen in human hearts, it is God who waits—waits for you!

Happy Holidays!

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Thin Places or Thick?

I have always been fascinated by the Celtic concept of thin places—where the world seems to light up with a dynamic sense of Mystery, an extra-ordinary presence that can take us beyond ourselves. Beautiful sunsets can be thin places. For me, standing at the edge of Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, watching the power of the water as it cascades to the waiting canyon below has always been a thin place. So was the place in the woods, at camp, where I, as a young teen had a circle of trees transformed into my own chapel in the woods by the presence of radiant sunbeams.

These days, however, I find myself continually finding thick places instead. Most prominent of those thick places are: a Republican Congress and Executive branch that refuses to pass any legislation unless it undoes actions and initiatives of the previous administration; A Democratic Party whose only vision is to depose the sitting President and win the next round of elections; and the corporate enterprise formerly known as the news media that is remarkable proficient at chasing down rabbit trails. Thick places!

Thick places are the walls we erect between our differing points of view, chasms that open between the various ways we live our lives. The building blocks of those walls and the bulldozers digging those chasms are our fears. Then we begin to be afraid of the walls and the chasms themselves. In fear, we back away from them, becoming increasingly unable to see the people they represent—the people on the other side.

In a church fight, a wise man told those of us on the other side: “When you look at the lineup of those on my side of the issue, you tend to pay more attention to the most radical ones at the back of the line. Likewise, when I look at your side, I tend to see the most radical of your proponents. The backs of our lines can’t talk to each other; but those of us toward the front can.”

When we have built walls and dug chasms, there is only one way ahead—stiles over the walls and bridges over the chasm where those of us toward the front of our separate lines can meet. But what do those stiles and bridges look like? What does it take to put them in place?

First, it means that I refuse to paint those who disagree with me as enemies. And I no longer assume that they all agree with the most radical position I oppose. I have encountered in recent years many responsible gun owners, members of the NRA, who want restrictions on military-style automatic rifles, large clips, and bump stocks. Furthermore, they support more stringent regulations about purchasing and registering guns, including training in gun safety. I can no longer assume that all gun owners support the dogmatic rhetoric of the NRA.

Second, after decommissioning my inflammatory enemy name calling, I find that I am now in a position to broach the possibility of conversation across the divide. While we may not be able to meet initially half-way between our two opposing positions, we may be able to meet on the stile over the wall, or on the bridge that crosses the chasm between us. Before we can talk, we have to take a step or two toward each other—shouting at a distance has never been a very good way to communicate. Too much is lost in the transmission and reception.

Third, I’m not sure where it goes once we start talking. But that’s the point. Conversation , in and of itself, can lead somewhere—even if it is more conversation. At least we aren’t tearing at each other’s jugular.

And our fears. They are not going to magically disappear. If, however, we begin to engage one another across the divides than maybe, just maybe, instead of backing away from our fears, we will move toward them and through them. We can acknowledge and embrace our fears, acknowledge and embrace our differences, as well as acknowledge and embracing one another—even if we don’t immediately and forever solve the issue dividing us. Such reaching out across the divides that separate us—finding a way to live together in the tension of differences— is the American dream. When we reach out to one another, we begin to heal the spiritual disease that is infecting our society.

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Who was right—Chicken Little or F.D.R.?

 

Chicken Little“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
F.D.R.“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Chicken Little:  But, you don’t understand. The sky is falling; the world as we know it is coming to an end.
F.D.R.:  Slow down and take a deep breath. Why do you think the sky is falling?

Chicken Little:  Because it hit me in the head. Paul Ryan tells me that his new tax plan is going to save me lots of money; but the New York Times tells me that Paul Ryan’s plan is selling me down the drain. I can’t believe anyone anymore.
F.D.R.:  Granted that truth is being bent, but how does that equate to the end of the world?

Chicken Little:  When our leaders can’t agree on anything and government is deadlocked, we are in BIG trouble.
F.D.R.:  But, the United States has always been rather resilient. The pendulum swings in both directions—sometimes too far to the right or to the left. We, the people, always seem to find a way to bring it back to the middle.

Chicken Little:  But it feels different now! No longer is Congress a place when pragmatism thrives. It’s ideology verses ideology. And now, we-the-people seem to embrace racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
F.D.R.:  There you go again, jumping to the most radical conclusion. What about all the good that our nation has done in the world.

Chicken Little:  And now we are the laughingstock of the world. No one respects us. Other nations see our president as a child having tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.
F.D.R.:  Do you think that we’ve totally lost our positive leadership role in the world forever?

Chicken Little:  Well, to be truthful, I’m wondering if we are well on the way to the demise faced by other great nations in world history—Rome, the Golden Age of Greece, the British Empire, and so many more.
F.D.R.:  Maybe, instead of full collapse, what we are experiencing is the finding a new role in international politics. Maybe we have had too much influence, for our own good and the world’s. Maybe this is the opportunity for the rest of the nations of world to step and take their rightful place as leaders.

Chicken Little:  And, as that happens, maybe we will collapse internally—socially, economically, and politically. In fact, maybe we have already collapsed spiritually.
F.D.R.:  What do you mean when you say that we may already have collapsed spiritually.

Chicken Little:  The American spirit has always been a “can do” pragmatism. If something is wrong, we fix it—maybe not perfectly, but we continue to make little adjustments along the way. Now it seems as if the only option is an ideological one. It’s either my way or the highway!
F.D.R.:  I wonder if a part of our problem is that we have become afraid. On the one hand, it looks as if we are afraid of each other. But what we really fear is the boxes, the ideological harangues, we have locked ourselves into. We have been caught up in fearing our fears.

Chicken Little:  You may be on to something. Say some more!
F.D.R.:  Maybe those we disagree with are not the enemy. Maybe the enemy is the distance we have put between ourselves, the walls we build to keep us apart and isolated from one another.

Chicken Little:  Maybe if all of us who feel that the sky is falling—on both sides of the issues facing our nation—got together and actually talked as neighbors…
F.D.R.:  Exactly! What if we began our conversation together by sharing our fears—fears about family, jobs, health, growing older, social solidarity, …—maybe we would find more in common with each other. Maybe then, and only then, could we begin to think about the big issues that face our society.

Chicken Little:  So, maybe the suspicion that the sky is falling is the impetus we need to begin talking with one another.
F.D.R.:  And , maybe our most fearsome fears are the beginning place for those conversations.

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Einstein was right, too!

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
     —Albert Einstein

I get the impression that current wisdom suggests that we can resolve the dysfunction of our current political system by getting the correct candidates elected in 2018 and 2020. The other side won more elections in recent years. Things will change things if our side starts winning more. Of course, that’s the problem! For me, this is simply attempting to “solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Our political system has devolved into a crazed ideological battle for the soul of the nation. The Republican party is being held captive by a right-wing Tea Party mentality and over-funded by the deep pockets of corporate interests. The Democrats, on the other hand, can’t seem to organize around any political platform except the desire to be re-elected. They, too, are beholden to funding interests.

Our national political leaders of both parties act like preschoolers who haven’t yet figured out how to play together. Contrary to the popular aphorism, the one who dies with the most toys is not the winner.

While members of the legislative and executive branches of our government perpetually bickering over funding to keep the government running, the American public is trying to balance family budgets in the face of the spiraling costs of medical treatment and wondering if there will ever be sufficient funds for retirement. Add to this, a constant fear of when and where the next mass shooting will happen? Will a classmate of my daughter bring a gun to school and begin shooting? Will my son be safe from attack at an outdoor concert? Will we be safe while worshiping at our mosque? Or our synagogue? Or our church?

Who in Washington is concerned about the Middle Class or lower income families? Ask yourself this: How many Middle Class or Lower Class Senators or members of Congress are there? How many of our elected representatives receive financial support from lobbyists in excess of your annual income? Who do they really represent?

It is time to change the nature of political conversation in this country. I wonder what would happen if we were to commission a couple of prominent politicians who still are accorded some level of respect—say Joe Biden and Mitch Romney (or you choose a couple of others)—to begin a national dialogue. Surround them with a team of scribes and provide adequate funding; then send them on the road for the next couple of years to host formal and informal gatherings of this nation’s people to listen to their concerns. They could meet with coal miners in Kentucky, urban Millennials, ranchers in the Dakotas, residents of Silicon Valley, employees in the Rust Belt, church-goers in the Bible Belt, town hall meetings in New England, backyard bar-be-ques in Texas, Inuit villagers in Alaska, Muslims in Detroit, Blacks in Ferguson, MO, undocumented farm workers in California, and . . . .

Am I naïve in thinking that the results of beginning a national conversation might produce a different political agenda than that currently envisioned by the two stagnant political parties that have tied Washington in a Gordian Knot? Of course I am naïve; but I know that we are not going to resolve our current dilemma by doing more of the same.

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Hemmingway was right!

Hemingway recommended that everyone needed a functional crap detector built-in, automatic, and shockproof. Hemmingway was right!

Brené Brown’s latest book, Braving the Wilderness, has an interesting chapter entitled “Speaking Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil.” She has helped me understand much of what is happening in today’s political scene in the United States. Here are some of my take-aways from reading Brown:

  1. There is a functional difference between lying and BS. Liars defies the truth; BSers dismiss (discount) it.
  2. We often lie to cover up something we have done that we know is wrong. When we BS, we are often covering up our lack of knowledge and/or experience.
  3. BS is ultimately based on giving up objective inquiry. If situations are too complicated for me to understand, I can easily shift my focus to what I believe (or want to believe) and declare it to be true. “That’s good enough for me!”
  4. BS assumes that you are wrong (no matter how many “facts” you have amassed) and I am right (because my beliefs make more sense to me than your “facts”).
  5. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and desperate measures are often fertilized with bullshit.” (page 106)
  6. It is extremely difficult to set and maintain civil boundaries and personal integrity when “knee-deep in BS” because BS is based on the abandonment of reality.

It does not take a very sophisticated crap-detector to spot BS in the current political climate. We know we are in trouble when politicians and religious leaders are willing to support a candidate running for the U.S. Senate because he would vote right, even though he is accused of molesting teen-age girls on multiple occasions. As Neil Postman suggests, “all ideologies are saturated with bullshit.” Ideology is destroying our political, religious, and social institutions.

Bullshit can’t be defeated by more bullshit. That only piles it higher and deeper. So, where does one draw the line? When do you confront BS; when do you ignore it. Brown suggest the line is “etched from dignity”—your dignity and the dignity of others.

Postman suggests that honing our crap-detection systems is part of the answer:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings.

For me, becoming that certain type of person means not giving up our integrity in order to belong. It means learning from those who have developed a spiritually-integrated wholeness in their lives—Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Dalai Lama, Pope Francis. Learning from these spiritual masters, however, may mean using your crap-detector on the systems that have grown up around them.

Unfortunately, too many of our political, religious, and social leaders believe their ideological systems, rather than the persons, actions, and values that were replaced by the ideologies.

On the political scene, I think we have a two-fold problem. On the one hand, our President is the BSer-in-chief. He is in over his head. His chief skill is his BS-ability. On the other hand, we have Senators and Congressional Representatives who daily use BS as a subterfuge to cover up their ideological lies. The line between Republicans and Democrats is not etched from dignity.

Too much contemporary political, religious, and social commentary is an attempt to speak BS to bullshit. My previous post was about the Boston Declaration. It is one of the few things I have seen that truly speaks truth to bullshit. It draws the line at a dignity for human life etched, not in political expediency, but in the dignity of life itself—life drawn from the well-being of all, in society.

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The Boston Declaration

Yesterday, a group of 200 theologians and other religious leaders—mostly from universities and seminaries—released a statement “to dramatically grieve over the corruption of US Christianity and to call the country into a time of reflection and action to end oppression.”

The Boston Declaration: A Prophetic Appeal to Christians of the United States is an 1800 word statement that sets the Jesus Way as grieving (lamenting) over a society that has failed its basic values of community and diversity, retreating into ideological despair and divisiveness

The  Declaration ends with a “Call to Action” based on Joshua 24:15—“Choose you this day whom you will serve!” It begins with these words . . .

Today, we as Christian followers of the Jesus Way, call on the people of the United States who call themselves by the name of Jesus, to reject all political and social movements that do not lead to life.

. . . and is followed by ten specific arenas for action.

The press release ends with this statement, “The signers of the BOSTON DECLARATION will strategize throughout the United States to interrogate both Democratic and Republican 2018 candidates on their commitment to the concerns addressed in the pronouncement.”

The full text of the Boston Declaration can be found at: https://thebostondeclaration.com/blog/2017/11/18/the-boston-declaration.

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Tell the Story!

For the next few days, I am meeting with my co-author to review our editor’s recommendations for Chapter 6 on Yeshua. In addition to all the typographical and grammatical corrections, Michael (our editor) has written extended notes about matters of content and flow. The best was comment was left in a note appended to the page:

As we read the note, we both broke out in laughter. Our editor had nailed us! We hurried and made a poster to hang over our work desks:

How easy it is to want to preach about those matters that we care so deeply about. Matters relating to faith, spirituality, and religion are among the most deeply held. Sometimes we preach with words. Other times it is a shrug of the shoulders, a scowl or a full-face grin. We preach when we argue with others and when we walk away. We preach by those we associate with and those we don’t.

As we thought about it, an idea arose. As seminary trained ministers, we wondered what kind of leaders for church ministry would be produced if the very first day of seminary education confronted students with this statement: We are going to train you on how NOT to preach but, instead, to be a crafter of stories. For your first semester, you will listen to stories being told. You will research story-tellers and story listeners. You will learn to craft stories with words (both prose and poetry), with paint, with clay, with creative dance, with song, and in conversation. Perhaps you will find new ways to craft stories through gardening or cooking or … For the rest of your seminary education, you will learn how to listen to the stories of scripture and how to re-craft those stories for listeners today. You will be challenged to transform the great theological concepts into stories that children, youth, and adults can relate to. In short, your seminary education is all about transforming you into a story and a story-teller.

When you complete your seminary education, you will take your story-telling on the road—most likely to a congregation. As you tell them the intersection of your story with the biblical story, they will begin to trust you with their stories. Then, together, you will carefully tend to the laboratory of the living word (a story laboratory) that engages the world’s stories with the openness of the Gospel’s story.

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Resurrecting Resurrection

Even resurrection must die in order to be raised to newness of life.

To restrict resurrection to an historical event in the past and/or a wish  for that past event to be replicated at-large in some non-distinct, hazy future is to turn resurrection into a belief system based on fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a vital and creative role for fantasy. We want out children to fantasize so that their world might not be constricted by the narrowness of our vision, which has become cramped by the seeming realities of eveπryday life. Some of us read the fantasy of science fiction literature as a way to expand our vision of the possible. We hire consultants to help us expand our sense of some of the fantastic possibilities which the immediate future might hold. But we seem to rely on theologians to redefine the past so that it continues to constrain us.

Resurrection is not so much a magical theological ideal as it is a beautiful poetic image, a resounding symphony, a spectacular work of art arising out of the bosom of Israel, preserving the grace of justice in the name of God.

Resurrection is much less a statement about the past and/or the future than it is a declaration about the present—a fantasy becoming a reality right before our eyes.

Resurrection is . . .
a story that enfolds me
a passionate experience
a relationship that transforms
a movement embracing a deep passion for life
a free gift that bubbles up and overflows into a people
the endowment of hope that constitutes a New Humanity
the reality of memory and experience that insists upon me daily

Resurrection is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the stale humdrum of daily living. Resurrection is something that irrupts within me, awakening me from my         slumber, infusing me with energy to meet the needs of the day.

Resurrection connects me to Yeshua—to his life’s mission—stirring my passion for that which is beyond me. When resurrection irrupts, I sense a new presence within—a Yeshua presence. An abba-presence. It is as if Yeshua’s thoughts become my thoughts; his Way, my way. And, when I pay attention to what that presence insists, I become (in some small way) an abba-presence that disturbs the conventional world around me.

If I may cite parts of the old hymn:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?

So, what must die for resurrection to be raised to newness of life? Is it my fantasy that ALL was accomplished in the past on a cross and that I should focus my attention there? Or is it my wishful thinking that, if I keep my nose clean, I will be part of some grand resurrection in the future?

Actually, what must die is that part of me that wants to remain aloof, unencumbered by the toil and strife around me. “The peace of Christ [that] makes fresh my heart” is not a nice, pretty feeling that calms me down in the face of the world’s stresses. Instead, it is a rallying cry that asks me to search out those places where and those people for whom that “peace” is not present and do something about it. It may not be my job to fix it, but it probably is my calling to stand in those places, with those sorely affected, as together we confront the “principalities and the powers,” speaking a different kind of truth to them, a truth that probably sounds to many like fake news. So, here I stand, I can do no other! “How can I keep from singing?

 

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