Embracing Life

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What do you choose — religion or life? God or God’s calling? Scarcity or abundant life?

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Exodus 17:1-7
        1 The whole Israelite community broke camp and set out from the Sin desert to continue their journey, as the Lord commanded. They set up their camp at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people argued with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why are you arguing with me? Why are you testing the Lord?” But the people were very thirsty for water there, and they complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with this people? They are getting ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of Israel’s elders with you. Take in your hand the shepherd’s rod that you used to strike the Nile River, and go. I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Hit the rock. Water will come out of it, and the people will be able to drink.” Moses did so while Israel’s elders watched. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites argued with and tested the Lord, asking, “Is the Lord really with us or not?” (CEB)
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[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.’ -Henry David Thoreau” by QuotesEverlasting is licensed under CC BY 2.0]
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Lessons Learned Reflecting Upon Exodus 17:1-7

There are legends and myths that are passed down in every culture and every religion. This is one of them. Trying to re-write it makes no sense. The story is an extension of the manna saga. Everyone knows that you can’t cross wilderness territory on foot without water. So, finding water becomes mythologized as being the result of God’s miraculous action. The deeper meaning of the story, however, is found in the last line. Being faced with the miracle of life as journey into the unknown, the Israelites chose to quarrel and disrupt one another’s life. Raising a theological question (“Is the Lord among us or not?”) was more important than embracing life (abundant life) in the midst of their journey through the wilderness — choosing religion over life. Sounds like the church today! When we focus on the Caller instead of the calling, on Heaven instead of heaven-on-earth, on scarcity rather than abundant life in the midst of scarcity, then we are prey to the addiction of religion.

On the other hand, when we live without depending on God to rescue us, when we are the locus of love, when we move ahead confidently even in the midst of uncertainty and lack of knowledge, when we are co-creators locating the eternal in the midst of life, when we live in the freedom that comes from accepting responsibility, when we live with no plan B, then we will understand that

God comes as a calling, an insistence, an unheard inner voice challenging us. Every prior experience, every prior relationship, every prior understanding, helps shape the moment “in which I must resolutely decide the next step without any cosmic support.” There is no predetermined divine script that I am to follow. There is only the echo of experiences of the ages — namely, the divine mystery becomes real only in the act of befriending and loving the world and its inhabitants, when my life is expressed as embracing the world.  If I can’t embrace the wilderness of my journey, as well as the rich times of celebration, then God has no reality and life is simply the theater of the absurd without hope or joy.

The Human One

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 10.31.19 AMYeshua rebukes Peter for the very testimony that is encouraged in every Christian church? Why? Have we anything to learn?


Mark 8:27-33
          27 Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.” (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons Son of Man (Magritte)” by Williamo! is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

 

Ruminating after Mark 8:27-33

Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Answering that question in the positive seems to be the accepted mantra for entrance into the church. The long robes have suggested that Peter was rebuked as a matter of timing. Many 1st Century Jews expected a political Messiah who would overthrow Rome and re-establish a kingdom like the one ruled over by David. To attach that expectation to Jesus would put his mission in jeopardy. The Messiah’s identify was to be safeguarded until it was revealed in grand fashion as an effect of the Easter celebration — that is, the “Messianic secret” would be rendered null and void after the resurrection. Then everyone would know that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) and the Jews would be restored with their own kingdom — this time under God’s rule. NOT SO!

There is a much simpler answer to the question of what is the meaning of Yeshua’s* rebuking Peter. Yeshua did not accept the title of Messiah. In no way did the title “Messiah” fit with his mission. His was indeed a “messianic” mission, but he was not the Messiah.

Immediately after Peter’s effusive answer — “You are the Christ” — Yeshua* began to elaborate on the meaning of “The Human One”* [“the son of the man” in the Greek text]. This was the title Yeshua* claimed for himself. The mission of The Human One* was to live fully in God and to serve as a catalyst for all human beings to live fully in God — that is in the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice*.

So, why not accept the title, Messiah? Quite simply, the “Messiah” (“Christ”) is an elitist concept and Yeshua’s* mission was to establish a “flat” system that did not rank power, economics, or social status ahead of human need. The Commonwealth* that Yeshua* anticipated empowered all individuals to access the inner power of messianism — that is, to become whole, mature persons who lived in communities of peace and justice which fostered continual human development. This paradigm change was based on the relocation of God from “out there” to in here.”

For Peter and the disciples to attach the Messiah label to Yeshua’s mission was to totally misunderstand what he was about. To bandy the title about publicly was to sabotage his mission.

Let’s admit it. Many (most) in the church are elitists. Many (most) in the church assume that Jesus Christ is a superior being — divine, savior of the world. Many (most) in the church believe that Christianity is superior to any other belief system. Many (most) in the church contend that believing in Jesus as the Christ is necessary for salvation. Many (most) in the church are uncomfortable with suffering and powerlessness. Many (most) in the church believe that a powerful intervention by God will overcome the powers that be.

The Human One isn’t as sexy a title as Messiah. Egalitarianism isn’t as sexy as elitism. But the reality is that Yeshua understood himself to be the Human One and he understood his mission as establishing, in God’s name, an egalitarian community comprised mainly of the lower classes (the poor and the dispossessed). That has been a hard pill for much of the church to swallow. Have we anything to learn about this? It would seem so!

Presence

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 12.56.06 PMPsalm 114:7   Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, (NRSV)

 [Scripture quotations are from] Common Bible: New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]
[Image: by johnhain is licensed under  CC0 Public Domain]

In the midst of life there is a power, a force, a dynamic, a Presence. Some call it God, or Spirit, or mystery; others, Creator or Creation or serendipitous creativity.  Some have rejected all attempts to describe that which is given the name “God,” claiming the appellation ‘atheist.’ The simple atheist does not believe in God. The evangelistic atheist  resists every attempt to describe a presence that is given the name “God.”  In contradistinction to the atheists, those who call that dynamic Presence God have built religious systems to protect their beliefs and practices. Ironically, over the long course of history, many of those beliefs and practices work against the dynamism of the Presence. They go all out to protect the particularity of their beliefs and practices. They bottle up Presence, trying to prevent it from getting out of hand. They might just as well attempt to carry fire in a paper bag.

What becomes important, then, is all to which we attach the name of God. Whether God exists or not, whether God has substance or not, whether God is real or not, what matters is that we continue to name God in certain contexts. Even the atheists continue to name the God in which they don’t believe. (I usually find myself not believing the God which the atheists deny.)

The divine mystery, the Presence, can’t be bottled up. It is part of the normalcy of life. It can no more be domesticated than the will to live. However, when Presence nudges and nags by dint of an unheard inner voice calling us to live life to the full, in solidarity with the least, last, lost, and left out… then we become the fire burning away at the non-necessities of our living, the wind blowing change into our perceptions of the world, the refreshing living water that quenches thirsts…  then we become the presence of the Presence.

Paul Tillich, The Shaking of The Foundations, put it this way:

“The name of infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of our being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation. Perhaps, in order to do so, you must forget everything traditional that you have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself. For if you know that God means depth, you know much about Him.”

 

 

A Crucifixion Journey (13th Station of the Cross)

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Is the primary meaning of crucifixion exhausted as an historical event? Or, does crucifixion engage us existentially? What might it mean to”lose everything including God?”

[Image: “Creative Commons choose your crucifixion” by Samuel Landete is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Peter Rollins (Insurrection, 2011) briefly sketches the process by which he died to the ‘closed system’ that had been structured for him by his family – removing all his possessions from his room (renunciation); stopped attending his computer course (giving up on his projected future); and telling his parents that he was no longer part of the family (hating your family).

In the sacrifice for religion, Christ loses everything for God, while in the sacrifice of religion Christ loses everything including God.  (Rollins, p. 27)

35 years ago, my wife suffered a significant brain trauma. Although I didn’t know tat the time, that was the occasion in which I chose to sacrifice everything for God. The unheard inside insistence was a call to action — invest your life in health and wholeness for Sue, Russ and Cheryl, myself, and the church. It was within this latter portion that I invested the ensuing years. It meant moving from trying to be creative in ministry to being spiritually grounded in person and in ministry. Serving as a pastor was the training grounds and the practice field; serving as regional church administrator was the proving grounds.

The crucifixion that meant sacrificing of everything including God was a very different journey. It began during a week of continuing education at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey. The first foundation stone was my acquaintance with Wayne which quickly morphed into a friendship and continually grew and matured as we came to understand ourselves as fellow journeyers and soul brothers. The other foundation stone from that week was the experience of walking (in reverse order) an old, abandoned ‘stations of the cross’ on the monastery grounds. At the end, there was a nagging nudge that I had just ‘undone’ the crucifixion and would need to ‘re-do’ it in my own manner. Little did I realize at that time that these two foundation stones were inexorably linked together and that the benediction on the stations walk was also a blessing on this crucifixion journey with my new friend — “whoever enters through here will be saved.”

Crucifixion Journey I was concluded on 4 January 2015. After three months of declining health, Sue succumbed to the ravages of a wildly aggressive brain tumor on 17 December 2014. A little less that three weeks later, I was able with deep joy to celebrate the gift of Sue’s life and faith. This journey transformed me down to the roots of my being. Because of it, I was made a new person.

Crucifixion Journey II followed a different path however. In the first Journey I was focused on  preservation within a dwindling decline — that is, seeking to preserve as much wholeness as possible in a situation that admitted only to partiality. In the second Journey, however, wholeness and integrity were open possibilities, only limited by what could and must be given up. D.Min. studies pointed at new ways to do ministry. My new-found friendship with Wayne was the fruitful breeding ground for personal growth and transformation as we lived out our learnings and put in place systems that brought transformation to our ministry settings

During this time of aliveness, however, something was not right. Inside there was an aching that would not let me go. It became an agonizing, throbbing, grief — a haunting realization that the “God stuff” I had been preaching and teaching just didn’t fit with reality. Try as hard as I might, I just couldn’t translate old theological concepts into meaningful ones for today’s world of understanding. I read John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, John Hick, Gordon Kauffman, and so many others. While soaking up these progressive theologians with great delight, I continued to feel that they didn’t quite go far enough in “giving up on God.” Insistence was insisting; call was calling; nudges were nudging; nagging continued without ceasing. I knew that something more (or was it ‘less’) needed to be done, but I didn’t know what. Enter philosopher-theologian John Caputo, . Here was the language system and the theological concepts that began to make sense. And most definitely even more significant was the continuing conversations with Wayne.

The only way the presence of God was going to be preserved was to let God die. For me this was the beginning of the 13th Station of the Cross. The mystical experience (the two-fold entrance into Crucifixion Journey II at St. Meinrad’s) had now entered into a part of my being. It had previously been too easy to see the crucifixion as a biblical event that had ‘meaning’ for us. Now the crucifixion is an experiential event that undoes my meaning and leaves me dependent upon the choices I make in response to the insistence, call, nudges, and nagging that I hear. Like Christ on the Cross, I am “left naked, alone, dying.” And that’s enough!

Relocating God

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What was the significance of Yeshua’s* baptism? Is God “up there” or “in here?”  

Mark 1:4-11          John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. …  About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. 11 And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.][Image: “Creative Commons Baptism of Christ 10” by Waiting For The Word is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Mark 1:4-5, 9-11

John was in the limnal, chaotic space between God and humankind inviting people to claim God’s forgiveness of their sins. He was overwhelmingly popular with the masses who thronged to him. In the midst of the crowd, Yeshua* emerged to be baptized. He arose from the water discerning God’s affirmation in the form of a dove and a voice saying, “You are mine, which is beginning to delight me.”

 

Musings on Mark

John, a throw-back to the prophets of the First Testament, came preaching the gospel of an apocalyptic Messiah who would establish God’s reign of Goodness on earth, banishing all evil. In order to prepare for this Messiah, John baptized people into a repentance and a new obedience to God. While he baptized with with cleansing waters of the Jordan (the unifying waterway of the people of Israel), he anticipated the coming of the One who would baptize with Spirit. While water might cleanse the surface, only the Spirit transforms the inner being. It was the coming of God (God’s reign) that John prepared Israel for. It was God who baptized Yeshua* with spirit.

We don’t know what motivated Yeshua* to come to John’s baptismal liturgy. His decision to do so, however, signaled the beginning of a new era in human history. Something new was afoot, brewing in the inner being of Yeshua*. His descent into the waters of baptism was likely similar to that of all the others who came to John — some combination of curiosity, a sense of incompleteness, a desire for change and renewal, a longing for deeper connection with God, and/or hope for the restoration of Israel. His resurrection out of the water, coupled with his wilderness experience, could best be described as one of the “hinges of history.” The world would never be the same again. As he came out of the water he experienced the beginnings of a shaping of his calling, an insistence in the name of God. Perhaps.

Yeshua’s* experience was three-fold:  First, he experienced the tearing open of God’s very being. God was now vulnerable to human experience. Secondly, Yeshua* encountered the presence of Spirit (God, mystery, divinity) as an inner reality (a shift from heavenly realms to the human psyche). Third, he discerned an affirmation of a calling to a messianic vocation (though not the apocalyptic Messiah that John was awaiting.) It is likely that there was great intra-psychic conflict within Yeshua at this point. It was that conflict that led / drove him to the wilderness where the shape of his messianic vocation would be completed.

Today’s scientists tell us that humankind is the universe’s capacity for consciousness and self-reflection. Prior to Yeshua’s* baptism / wilderness experiences, God had been perceived as the dynamic power of the universe that acted upon human beings – a mysterious Other that interposed itself in and through the nations of the world (with a special perceived relationship with Israel). Beginning with Yeshua’s* baptism / wilderness experiences, a theological, spiritual quantum shift occurred. God was now to be experienced within the depths of human consciousness — Yeshua being the first fruits of this mutational shift. God now had consciousness — a shift from awesome (magnificent and terrifying) power to a weak force best described as ‘love.’ God was the ‘Thou” which is to be experienced within and in relationship with others (especially the poor, distressed, and suffering). The world could never be the same thereafter.

On Caputo and Friedman

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“God doesn’t exist; God insists” (John Caputo). What does God Insist and how do we respond?

Philippians 2:12    Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
[Scripture quotation from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]
[Image: “Creative Commons Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” by justine warrington is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Ruminating over Philippians 2:12

“Every physician knows that attempting to overcome a disease by trying to eradicate a pathogen head-on is generally a losing battle. Battles of will with viruses, bacteria, and malignant cells are generally wearying and ineffective at best. Even with enormous medicinal and mechanical power at hand, the physician will always have more success if he or she can promote the organism’s own natural capacity to win and natural will to survive.”  [Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve]

For the followers of the Way of Yeshua*, the cross was a crisis of faith, a pathogen that took the life of their beloved leader and infected their hope for the future. Gradually, however, they began organically to experience a growing insistence, a nagging feeling, a calling that kept them connected with Yeshua*. They called that sense of  continuing presence ‘resurrection.’ This very natural occurrence in the lives of the early Christian community had to be told. They resorted to mythology in their narrations. The biblical discussion of resurrection was projected back to the weekend of Yeshua’s* execution. Executed on Friday (cross); raised on Sunday(resurrection). Their projections had nothing to say about that day in between — Holy Saturday.

In the intervening centuries since, the church and its theologians have found themselves in the disquieting state analogous to Holy Saturday. It was like having a disease, a deadly virus, a malignant cancer. Unfortunately the “doctors” of the church tried to eradicate the dis-ease by a head-on assault. It was the classic diversion of “Let’s You [that is, the divine You] and Him [that is, the anxiety of living in the meantimes, the in-between times] Fight.” The result of this theological game was a) a powerful God supposedly able to win the game and, hopefully, placate our anxieties, b) a divine Jesus able to pre- and post-exist, c) resurrection as a strong (that is, historical) fact, and d) an other-worldly, after-life salvation. As Friedman suggests such battles of the will with religious pathogens and spiritual viruses (that is, existential anxiety) “are generally wearying and ineffective at best.” Bishop Spong’s description of the church’s alumni association and the disinterest in religion (but not spirituality) of an entire generation (or two) is evidence of how wearying this head-on approach with a strong God has been.

John Caputo’s radical weak theology is built upon our “natural capacity to win and natural will to survive” — that is, our natural (I am tempted to say “God-given” – perhaps) ability to experience and respond to an inner insistence that calls us to attend to a Way of life that is out of step with the Long Robes of the church’s history. It engages our willingness to embrace the anxiety of the meantimes, the in-between times. It requires, to use Friedman’s terms, non-anxious presence and self-differentiation.

Caputo writes of the audacity of God to give up existence in order to insist. That insistence often bears the name of God. Perhaps. The anxiety comes, not because we have given up the existence of God, but because the insistence places the responsibility squarely on our shoulders. If anything godly is going to happen in the world, it will happen because we make it happen. This is the existential anxiety of Holy Saturday that knife-edge between the cross and resurrection. The suffering of the world is already present (” For you always have the poor with you..”); we can’t escape the cross. Resurrection (new life, liberation, wholeness), on the other hand, is always one step ahead of us. We live between memory and promise, between cross and resurrection. Every day is Holy Saturday, anxious waiting, in the meantimes, in-between times.

Liturgies of remembrance and sacraments of insurgence are the institutional carriers of memory and promise. Our liturgies of remembrance focus on re-telling the stories of the journeys of those whose lives embraced the promises of Israel (caring for widows and orphans and extending generous hospitality to the strangers in their midst) and those who walked in the Way that Yeshua lived and taught. These were the ones who knew themselves to be called in the name of God. Perhaps. They were the ones who faithfully, and often sacrificially, responded to that call. Our sacraments of insurrection are orientation and training experiences that embody the practices of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. One of my favorites is the great procession of the children of God (perhaps) going forward in church to receive a sacramental meal of a few crumbs of bread and a sip,of wine or grape juice. That great procession is comprised of young and old, male and female, rich and poor, multi-racial, and (if truth be known) believers and non-believers. Brueggemann suggests that one of the great (sacramental) acts of insurrection is table grace — a simple admission that we have received gracious gifts beyond what we have necessarily earned or deserved. We are admitting that, like our Israelite ancestors, we are being fed manna in the wilderness.

To stand over against centuries of strong theology is not a task easily chosen. On the other hand, to ignore that insistent projectile that has pierced my heart and head is not an option. I have been haunted (am daily haunted) by that nagging persistent unheard calling that will not let me go.

O Call that will not let me go,
I trust my anxious soul in you,
I offer up the life I owe,
That in the ancient Way I’ll go
And richer, fuller do.

O Joy that seeks me out through pain,
I cannot close my heart to you.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That tears shall cease to flow.

And on this Holy Saturday,
When, in the meantime, I will go
And walk along Yeshua’s* Way;
Finding the lonely, poor today
Off’ring much more than a “No!”

If salvation comes today,
And I hopefully pray it will,
Please share it with me if you may
And then together let us say
Ev’ry broken heart fill!

O Call that that fills my heart with joy,
Sends Me with Justice and with Peace,
Insists that I will soon annoy
The powerful who just destroy
The last, the lost, left out, and least.

O Call that will not let me go,
I trust my anxious soul in you,
I offer up the life I owe,
That in the ancient Way I’ll go
And richer, fuller do.

The Audacity of God

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Audaciously, God has chosen weakness over strength. smallness over bigness, forsaking us rather than fixing us. In a big risk, God has chosen to be present as an ‘unheard’ inner insistence, calling us toward simplicity.


Psalm 22:25-31

25 I offer praise in the great congregation because of you; I will fulfill my promises in the presence of those who honor God. 26 Let all those who are suffering eat and be full! Let all who seek the Lord praise him! I pray your hearts live forever! 27 Every part of the earth will remember and come back to the Lord; every family among all the nations will worship you. 28 Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord, he rules all nations. 29 Indeed, all the earth’s powerful will  worship him; all who are descending to the dust will kneel before him; my being also lives for him. 30 Future descendants will serve him; generations to come will be told about my Lord. 31 They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born, telling them what God has done. (CEB)

 

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons paradigm shift” by robermf is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Psalms 22:25-31

The foundation of my praise in worship is the audaciousness of God. While some fear God; I am awe-struck that God’s presence is not in the fearsome power of earthquake, wind, or fire, but in a gentle and quiet whisper that can only be heard inwardly. It is a presence, ironically, that the poor tend to experience more readily than the rich. It is easy to entertain hoped-for-ness that the entire world would live in response to that unheard inner calling that comes in the name of God. Perhaps. It is quite another thing to live hope-fully in response to that insistence, patterning one’s life according to the life and teachings of Yeshua. Will this make a difference for future generations of those yet unborn. Who knows? The best I can hope for is that my life becomes transformed and that such transformation might touch a few lives in the generations that are striving to make sense of the present time. To those who will listen, I will simply say that I do this in the name of God. Perhaps. Audacious, some will say. Of course!

Reflections

Meister Eckhart:

“Therefore let us pray to God that we may be free of ‘God’.” [Sermons 52 & 87]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). … God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.” (Letters Papers from Prison (p. 360). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.)

John Caputo:

“So the conclusion I have reached is that religion’s God is too large, too great, too Big a Why-in-the-Sky for things down here on earth to live without why.God is without why; but religion is chock full of why’s and wherefore’s” (Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim, 2015, page 111f.)

“God insists, but dare not exist. … God’s insistence is God’s existence. … To rid God of God is to simplify God down to the the purity of an unconditional calls upon and disturbs the conditions of the world, where we are called in turn to lead a simple life. (p. 114)”

Leonardo da Vinci:

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[Image: “Creative Commons Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” by ~Bani~ is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

 

The audaciousness of God is the exact opposite of our need to”protect” God from being misunderstood. We construct elaborate theological frameworks that make “God” a cosmic Santa Claus, an eternal manipulator, an ever-present house mother. We want “God” to fix things when they go wrong (when we “screw up”). We expect “God” to be in control. I am convinced that the core of the biblical message, the “marrow of the Gospel” is that “control” has been abandoned to human beings. Yeshua* as the Human Being* (“Son of Man”) catalyzed the God-process of growing humankind toward wholeness of being and purpose. That God-process (a trial and error experiment) is continued as we attend to the unconditional call(s) to lead a simple life — compassion instead of separation and alienation; peace instead of fear and war; justice instead of oppression and marginalization. We are called to this simplicity in spite of the fact that the Powers that Be continue to shout at us — “complexity,” “can of worms,” “Pandora’s box,” “Gordian knot,” “it’s not that simple!” The audacity of God sides with the simple, not the complex.

Law and Order (or Ardor)?

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When are we able to set aside provisions of the law? Do we have the right to do so?

Mark 2:23-28          23 Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. As the disciples made their way, they were picking the heads of wheat. 24 The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! Why are they breaking the Sabbath law?” 25 He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was in need, when he and those with him were hungry? 26  During the time when Abiathar was high priest, David went into God’s house and ate the bread of the presence, which only the priests were allowed to eat. He also gave bread to those who were with him.” 27 Then he said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath. 28  This is why the Human One[a] is Lord even over the Sabbath.” (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons Riding on the Sabbath elevator” by Betsy Devine is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Mark 2:23-28 on Sabbath-keeping

Uh oh! Now they’ve done it. Yeshua’s disciples have reaped grain on the sabbath to feed themselves. How dare they violate the sabbath in that manner? Of course there was precedent — David and his companions went to the temple on the sabbath and ate the bread of the Presence. So, what is at stake here? Does human need take trump the law; or is it the reverse. Actually, the answer is more complex. The Human Being (‘son of the man’) — that is, the part of Yeshua (or the disciples or you or me) that is truly in touch with God — is the only arbiter that can make that decision. The sabbath law (and other laws as well) is there because most often most of us are not enough in touch with the inner God-impulse to make such a radical decision. Therefore, we follow the law. The Human Being in Yeshua discerned that.

The remarkable part of this story in Mark is that it is the disciples who have chosen to pick and eat the wheat on the sabbath. They have begun to assume the role that Yeshua* is leading them into — namely, the Human Being. Yeshua had gone through the field of wheat. The disciples, on the other hand, were making their way through bu plucking and eating. They, not Yeshua* were violating the strict interpretation of the sabbath law. That which Yeshua* was (and was becoming) we are invited to become.

Repairing the World

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How do we measure up when compared with Yeshua’s* mission? Are we faithful participants in construction the Way toward the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice?

Mark 1:14-15 & 27-28       14 After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, 15 saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”… 27 Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” 28 Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: “Creative Commons guernica” by Laurence Simon (Crap Mariner) is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Pondering Mark 1:14-15 & 27-28

Hildegard of Bingen characterized two activities which comprise Christian spirituality — clinging to God (devekut) and repairing the world (tikkun olam). These activities are analogous to the twin facets of Yeshua’s* mission which “involves him in disseminating the good news of God and in expelling the forces of oppression and dehumanization throughout Galilee” (Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: The Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel, 1989, p. 84). Both descriptions harken back to Micah’s depiction of what God requires — namely “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, CEB)

Tikkun olam is an embodiment of both “embracing faithful love” (caring for the poor and dispossessed) and “doing justice” (reordering power to give the poor and dispossessed a level playing field, an equal access to abundant life).

As I reflect back over my years of active ministry as a pastor and a regional church executive, I realized that the more I tried to engage church members and presbyters in repairing (tikkun olam) the church and its worldliness the more resistance I found, which lead to a drain on my devekut. Conversely, when I don’t attend to my devekut, I have no energy or passion for tikkun olam.

The church, it seems, gravitates toward devekut and away from tikkun olam. Why is that? Is it because tikkun olam is scary and involves “getting our hands dirty” in politics? Probably. Is it because in the “normalcy of civilization” (John Dominic Crossan’s term for the Domination System) organized religion easily becomes a retainer in the system — that is, a lower official dependent upon the favor of the Powers that be, while keeping the people focused away from true social and political power? Most likely!

In American society, where religion and politics don’t mix in polite company, we have seen that all the economic growth over the past 30 years was passed up to the wealthiest 10%. Political rhetoric and action is tending toward restricting voter rights and defaming immigrants while, in the church, we are still arguing over gays and lesbians (and paralyzing ourselves in the process). In some quarters of the church, “evolution” and “climate change” are verbal signifiers of heresy.

Failure to engage in repairing the world (tikkun olam) depletes and calls into question the validity of the good news that the church proclaims (devekut). To what God(s) are we truly clinging? Does Yeshua’s mission no longer have the power to attract and inspire?

The Wilderness Inside

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Was the wilderness testing a one-time experience or did Yeshua* periodically (regularly) engage his interior chaos to find and restore inner strength for his mission?  

Mark 1:12-14, 35    12 At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.  … 35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place [“wilderness”] where he could be alone in prayer.(CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: CC0 Public Domain]

 

Musings on Mark 1:12-14, 35

Mark, as is his wont, presents the gospel story in crisp, clear, clipped fashion. Yeshua* goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Immediately thereafter he is driven into the wilderness for 40 days. Then, his public ministry and mission begins.

Wilderness is about the inner chaos that occurs when one is troubled by conflicting claims upon oneself or is anxious about embarking on a path with suspected negative consequences. Going into the wilderness means facing the possibility of nothingness in one’s current and future life. While the church has most often called Yeshua’s wilderness experience a time of temptation, it might be more accurate to say it is a time of testing, a “time of critical scrutiny when things must be sorted out.” (Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: The Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel, 1989, p. 73)

Of course, 40 days in the wilderness was a literary device, paralleling Israel’s 40 year journey through the wilderness. Israel’s wilderness was also a sorting out — setting aside the old ways (conscripted life in Egypt) in order to prepare for a new way (life in a land of “milk and honey”). For Israel the old leaders (including Moses) had to die off before entry into the new land. Old familiar ways, recognizable structures and patterns, common expectations die hard.  Change is hard; transformation is threatening and scary. For Yeshua, the familiar ways of Israel, the recognizable structures and patterns, and common expectation were in need of replacement if the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice were to be implemented.

Yeshua’s* wilderness experience was not a single, isolated occurrence. Mark depicts two other times when Yeshua* went into the wilderness to pray. Most translations use the word “desert” to depict the location of Yeshua’s* praying. (The same word is translated by wilderness and desert.) Rather than understanding “wilderness” as a geographic location to which Yeshua* went, I prefer to understand it as a description of Yeshua’s* inner (spiritual) geography — in order to fully engage that inner geography, it often becomes necessary to withdraw to a more secluded (“deserted”) place. I suspect that inner wilderness was a continuing experience of Yeshua — necessitated when popularity with the masses seemed to override the mission of reordering the powers, when resistance from the Powers that Be increased to a fever pitch, when ever his closest disciples seem not to understand the basic dynamics of his mission. Whenever the gospels describe Yeshua’s* retreat for prayer, it seems clear to me that Yesuha is reentering the inner wilderness to sort through his mission with “critical scrutiny.”