Responding to Call — Grounded in Love

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 1.20.41 PMEphesians 3:14-21           14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God. 20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.. (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 Meet a Klutz Called “Grace”” by Danielle Lynn is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Reflections Provoked by Ephesians 3:14-21

Strengthened by insistence
in the name of God
perhaps
I take on the messianic process
I become one more foretaste of messiah
grounded in  love

I don’t want to be messiah
I don’t want to be identified with God
too much responsibility
too many expectations
impossible tasks
improbable outcomes
I don’t want to be the one
who insists

Having been insisted upon
Having been called
Having been nudged
and beckoned
and nagged
I respond
hoping to move toward
the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice
hoping to take one more step
following in the Way of Yeshua

And then I am told
that, responding,
I make God present
I present a foretaste
of the presence
of messiah
so I become
God’s
intention
messiah’s
hope of the world

Insistence didn’t ask
if I were ready
if I wanted the responsibility

Insistence just insisted
nudged
poked and prodded
nagged
invited

Insistence called
and I answered
Spooky,
isn’t it?

Turning the Cloud of Unknowing Upside-Down

 

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What might it mean to live perpetually on Holy Saturday — that is, in the tension between suffering (cross) and solidarity with the suffering (resurrection)?

[Image:”Creative Commons Cloud to Cloud Lightning” by ThaliaTraianou is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0]

The author of the Cloud of Unknowing suggests that there is “a privation of knowing” that exists between us and God. We are never at a point where we can really know God. The best that WE can do is acknowledge the cloud that separates us from God. The author also suggests that we need to keep a cloud of forgetting beneath us. This keeps us from getting trapped by all those things and associations that direct us away from God. Dorothy Soelle suggests that this is likely what Jesus meant when he said, “Don’t be anxious…”  The cloud of forgetting keeps me from holding on to the oughts and shoulds of “religion”.

While the Cloud of Unknowing was probably on target for its time, I think that I would now say that the metaphor presented is actually upside-down. A ‘cloud of forgetting’ needs to be maintained above, providing a canopy of protection from all the images of an existent, powerful God of strong theology (and to protec from the musings and protestations of the Long Robes). Beneath is a ‘cloud of unknowing’ which is penetrated only by the projectile of insistence — that is, those nagging nudges, irrepressible invitations, consistent callings that move me to pay attention to and interact with marginalized people, situations, and circumstances which present themselves to me on a daily basis.

What is the origin of these insistences? From whence do they arise? Those of us in religious traditions tend to suggest that they come “in the name of God” (to which we probably ought to add “Perhaps”). The truth, however, is that the origin of such insistence is beneath the cloud of unknowing (“a privation of knowing” their origin). Such is the radical, weak theology of John Caputo and the insistent projectile that has penetrated my heart and mind.

Caputo writes, “So the present is exposed to the arrivants, to who or what is coming [to insist / call / invite / nudge / nag], as well as to revenants, those who are coming back [to spook / haunt]. We live in messianic or spectral time, responsible to both the living and the dead, both the living and the still to come, to the whole community of saints. We live in the space between a memory and a promise.” (p. 21, It Spooks) To put it simply, we live between spooking and insistence. The question remains, what is it that spooks me? By what / who am I haunted? What lies beneath the cloud of unknowing?

My first thought is that I am spooked by the traditions / values systems / worldviews of my family – the Brenners and the Deeters. These have become manifest by the way Mom and Dad (as well as grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins have interacted with me, much (most?) of which I internalized without thinking. To this add the educational, cultural, and religious institutions and systems which helped instruct and form me by making me aware of other possibilities of value clusters and worldviews.  An underlying dynamic of all these spooks has been power, control, and patriarchy.

Fortunately, there was been a sub-culture of insurrection that has insisted upon me — characterized by participation, fairness, integrity, and wholeness. The roots of those subversive values must for me lie in a) the Israelite insistence on care for widows, orphans, and strangers, b) Jesus’ Way of putting the poor first in our thoughts and actions, and c) an insurrectional insistence that seems to dwell somewhere in the collective human psyche.  Clayton Crockett (It Spooks, p.109) writes, “I am an intellectual and unfortunately not an activist.” I would slightly amend that statement for myself, “I am a reflectionist and unfortunately not an activist.” Like Crockett, “I seek ways to understand processes and situations so that actions can become efficacious, although it is easy for [reflection] to become an end in itself.” Some of that which haunts me was initiated and maintained in the name of God. Perhaps. (Although for most of the generations of the past there was no “Perhaps” to it.)

In prospect and retrospect (‘arrivants’ and ‘revenants’) there has been and will be such a mixture and confusion of influences that I could never be aware of them all, let alone separate them out into managable understandings.  I must be content to live beneath the canopy of a cloud of forgetting (protection from the haunting that descends upon me) and above the secure undercover of a cloud of unknowing (privation of knowing the source of the insistence that arises within me).

Kierkegaard (Practice in Christianity) insists that we dare not jump too quickly from cross to resurrection. For me, it is more straight-forward and emphatic — we live perpetually in Holy Saturday, caught on the knife edge between cross and resurrection. It is here, in the meantimes, in the in-between times, that we are insisted upon to engage in the suffering of the world (cross) in order that we might respond with some semblance of solidarity with those who are suffering (resurrection). Holy Saturday is the day of insurrection, the day lived in anticipation of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, the day in which we follow the Way of Yeshua. Holy Saturday is today; it is every day. Living in and through perpetual Holy Saturday is made possible by liturgies of remembrance (telling the stories of those who, having gone before us, have lived creatively and faithfully with insistence) and sacraments of insurrection (letting reverberate the echoes of hope for the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice).

Stand Up for the Uncompromised Life

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“Tabitha koum” (stand up). For what are you willing to stand up?

Mark 4:22-42 (passim)
22 Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet 23 and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him. … 36 But Jesus … said to the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” … 40 Then, taking the child’s parents and his disciples with him, he went to the room where the child was. 41 Taking her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Young woman, get up.” 42 Suddenly the young woman got up and began to walk around. (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 Ralph Waldo Emerson He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life” by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Mark 5:21-43
In the years during and after Yeshua’s life people expressed amazement by telling great stories about amazing people. Stories of miraculous healings and people being raised from the dead were the currency of such stories. Yeshua was the focus of many of these stories of amazement. In our day and age medical miracles are almost a dime a dozen. EMTs and emergency room staff routinely bring people back to life with electronic defibrillators; doctors administer drugs and surgery to cure and/or retard life threatening diseases. I personally have watched a surgeon remove a piece of detached cartilage from my knee, felt the blood course through the veins of my arm after hand surgery, and have had had cancer arrested in both bladder and prostate. Amazing!

There is something more amazing about Yeshua than healings and raising the dead. He lived a life that was not compromised by striving after social status, money, recognition, or power. He had the sense of an intimate connection to the highest principles of life (peace, love, justice, wholeness) that are identified with the name of God. Perhaps. And not just principles… Yeshua had a deep passion for the plight of the poor, the marginalized, the distressed, and the suffering. His compassion was so profound that he willingly faced his own death because his life and teachings were considered insurrection by the powers of the Roman empire.

I am troubled that so many people today who call themselves Christians are willing to settle for some degree of social status, financial gain, recognition, and/or power believing that they can be whole and wholesome without a radical commitment to peace, love, and justice. I am troubled that my commitment is more casual than radical. The good news of this passage is that Yeshua says “Let faithfulness take precedence instead of fear.” When facing death (whether literally or metaphorically)… when confronted by a world run on the basis of power and intimidation… when life seems threatening instead of affirming… then it is time to throw fear, trepidation, and dismay out the window replacing them with wonder, awe, confidence, joy, contentment, and a buoyant, hopeful faith that puts trust in friends and neighbors (near and far). Such faith confounds the principalities and powers that expect us to cower in their presence.

“Stand up!” (Talitha koum) is not only addressed to the ‘little girl.’ It is an invitation to all of us — young and old, male and female, rich and poor, black and brown and white, gay and straight, Arab and Palestinian and Jew, … — to rise up and take our place in the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. It is an encouragement to follow in the Way lived and taught by Yeshua. It is a clarion call not to be taken in by the boisterous and pretentious posturings of empire (whether political, social, cultural, or religious). It is an insistence that begs a response.

Caught In Between

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Mark 1:5 The entire Judean countryside and all the Jerusalemites were going out to [John], and they were letting themselves be baptized by him in the Jordan River confessing their sins.
9 … Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and he was baptized into the Jordan by John.

[Scripture translation from Herman C Waetjen, A Reordering of Power: A Socio-Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel; Copyright © 1989 by Augsburg Fortress Press]
[Image:”Creative Commons Renew Humanity” by Celestine Chua is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

 

Herman Waetjen, in his powerfully insightful translation and commentary on Mark (A Reordering of Power, 1989), distinguishes between the baptism of Yeshua and the baptisms of all the Judeans and Jerusalemites by his careful attention to two Greek prepositions — εν (in) and εις (into). The Judeans and Jerusalemites came out to see the extravaganza of John the Baptizer. They stood knee-deep εν (in) the river, as it were with fingers crossed behind their backs, allowing themselves to be baptized by John. After all, what could it hurt? Yeshua, on the other hand, was baptized εις (into) the Jordan, the life-blood of Israel. He was all in, fully present, selling all.

To be truthful, I find myself to be caught somewhere in between εν (in) and εις (into). I’m not just a spectator to the spiritual life and all that it entails; nor am I “all in,” my every thought and action conditioned by a sense of the presence of that which we call God. Perhaps.

There seems to be some kind of a dynamic force-field in which I live and move and have my being. Many would call that God. All I can say about God at the present moment is that I continue to experience within me a persistent nudge, an insistence, in invitation, a call… something that is not just my own musing or the projections of my ego. It come as a projectile aimed at the center of who I am. I suspect that this persistent unheard voice has something to do with that which Carl Jung called the collective unconscious and which religious folk variously describe as Mystery, Divinity, Spirit, Presence, One, Ultimate Concern, Love, God…

Speculating about God (a favorite activity of mine) does not answer any of the questions or solve any of the problems associated with “God.” At best, such speculation, serves to limit the projection of my shadow (the darkness, the mean-ness, the de-humanizing, the narrowness within me), giving me poetic images, symbols, and metaphors which facilitate the living of my life and my interactions with others.

The basic question which remains, however, is “What assurance do I have that the unheard voice which insists upon me will direct me εις (into) a way which can faithfully be associated with the name of God. Perhaps. What is to keep me from acting “in the name of God” to kill Muslims, to deport immigrants, to profile Blacks, to prevent women from receiving appropriate health care, to hate gays, to marginalized the homeless, or to use gun violence as a means of proving my worth? To this question I have a much clearer (yet still speculative) answer.

My measuring stick — to evaluate, discriminate, and choose between the seductive and the promising possibilities — is the life and teachings of a small rural town construction day-worker from the backwater territory of the Galilee. His name was Yeshua. He gave all that he knew of himself εις (into) all that he was coming to understand of God.

What drove Yeshua was his passion for the underdog (the poor) who were systematically used and abused by those socially and financially privileged ones who wielded power. For Yeshua, power was a divine gift designed to produce peace and justice through compassion, not a winnowing fork that the privileged were to use for their own gain. Yeshua resisted being saddled with the elitist title, Messiah. Instead, he settled for a seemingly more mundane title — the Human One — the one who lives εις (into) his/her full humanity. In keeping with that, Yeshua promoted a kind of egalitarian messianism — that is, each person has within themselves the wherewithal to become fully human, integrated, whole and the tools to share in building the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice. So, if it seems to repeat Yeshua’s Way, if it privileges the marginalized in the realms of social, political, and cultural power (even if calls my privilege into question), if supports  the construction of a horizontal society drawing upon gifts of each and distributing the benefits to all, then I trust εις (into) trust that this is the Way I must choose.

Unlike Yeshua, I am not “all in.” I am caught somewhere between εν (in) and εις (into). That which I know I must choose is not what I always choose. I must therefore depend upon and be accountable to the support and counsel of a community of those who likewise wrestle with being caught somewhere between  εν (in) and εις (into). Traditionally, a crucial place for that community was the church. For increasing numbers, the church no longer can function in this way. This is the topic for another time.

Redemption — from Event to Process

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With a word (“Abba”), Yeshua* turned theology inside-out and upside-down. God was no longer ‘out there;’ now God was ‘in here.’

Mark 14:36 – He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (CEB)

Romans 8:15 – For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (CEB)

Galatians 4:6 – And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (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 Redemption 01” by uzeq, used under CC BY 2.0

 

Yeshua turned the theological world
inside out
and upside down.

God was no longer
up there
in Heaven
the monotheistic Supreme Being
brought to the world
by the Hebrews.

God was brought
out of heaven
to reside in the human heart;
that was where Yeshua
experienced God.

“Abba” wasn’t a cry
to a distant God
from which Yeshua
was “a chip off the old block.”

“Abba” was an appeal to
God of the moment
God immediately accessible
God within…

God had changed
His/Her permanent residence –
all the old contact information
is invalid.

With this change of residence
there is no longer room
for the Messiah
as boarder.

The Messiah cartel
has been broken up,
subcontracted into
individual hearts and minds…

The Messiah is dead
long live messianism!

The Redemption Event
has been replaced by
a redemptive process…

The Messiah
has been replaced by
a messianic process…

God
has been replaced by
a God-process…

And, so, responsibility
for the world’s
compassion,
peace, and
justice
has been placed
in our hearts and hands!

Psalm 8

Psalm 8     1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! You made your glory higher than heaven! 2 From the mouths of nursing babies you have laid a strong foundation because of your foes, in order to stop vengeful enemies. 3 When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made— the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place— 4  what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? 5 You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. 6 You’ve let them rule over your handiwork, putting everything under their feet— 7 all sheep and all cattle, the wild animals too,8 the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, everything that travels the pathways of the sea. 9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth! (CEB)

Re-Thiking Psalm 8:1-9

Audacious Lord, in place of omnipotence and omnipresence, you have chosen to be present as awesome insistence. The only access we have to that which we name as God (Perhaps!) is by attending to that unheard calling that echoes deep within us. When we are are open as new-born infants we find ourselves to be related to the stars in the heavens. We are, indeed, made of stardust and yet we seem to have a divine imprint stamped upon our beings. Our response to your awesome insistence increases divine presence in the world and moves us just a step closer to that ideal Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice that Yeshua taught and lived. When we act as citizens of that Commonwealth, it is the name of God that is praised. Perhaps.

 

Imago Dei — God in Me

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“When I work to become human, is it not
God in me that is striving to become human”
Elizabeth Boyden Howes

 

Genesis 1:27  “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” (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 Joseph Campbell All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you” by BK, used under CC BY 2.0]

 

Created in the image of God… how easily we take that statement for granted! But what does it really mean? As many times as I have used that phrase in preaching and teaching, I have to admit readily that I don’t know what it means. I like the sound of it; it seems an antidote to what we see from politicians and what we hear on the news. The difficulty is that if I am created in the image of God, so too are the racists, misogynists, homophobes and the murderers, rapists, pedophiles, and so many more. What kind of God transmitted this divine image to humankind?

Perhaps the difficulty is a directional one. When we hear imago dei (“created in God’s own image”) we think from-the-outside-in — that is, the imago dei has been planted in us from an external source (God as a theistic reality, a Supreme Being). What if we were to reverse the directionality — from-the-inside-out? The imago dei is an inner dynamic — a longing, an internal zeal for becoming more human. For the Christian, this is a yearning to follow in the Way lived and taught by Yeshua; for the non-Christian, a propensity for a more humane life.

When I strive to become a better human being, I am cooperating with a divine desire, an insistence, a call. When my life is more reflective of peace, wholeness, and justice, then it can be said that God is more alive in the world.  Carl G. Jung put it this way:

“Christianity holds at its core a symbol which has for its content the individual way of life of a man, the Son of God, and it even regards this individuation process as the incarnation and revelation of God himself.”

Imago dei — that is who I am! I am God’s yearning for a world that is characterized by higher values — the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice (“Kingdom of God”). As I continue to grow toward maturity and wholeness, so does that divine dynamic within me and, hopefully, so do others around me.