Holy-History – The Impossible Possibility!

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Creative Commons Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock in background” by askii is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Jewish-Christian story begins with the creation of this world including the formation of the proto-beings (Adam and Eve) who inhabit the ideal world of the Garden of Eden. The clue to the human story is “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). Its presence anticipates the holy history taken up in the ensuing biblical narrative.

Genesis posits the concept of an ideal world dependent upon a direct relationship with God (that is, with the very power of being, the foundation of meaning). The call of the proto-humans to become truly human means that they can’t live in the ideal, but must be cast out into the real world East of Eden. Even a divine prohibition can’t protect genuine humanity from the struggle between good and evil.

The human experiment is not without its downside – witness another biblical story, that of Noah and the destruction of most of the humans (the evil ones). It presents a kind of do-over for humanity, a fresh start for building a meaningful life.

The Jewish-Christian story moves to the transition between proto-history and holy-history with the Abraham narratives. Abraham, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, depended upon a direct relationship with God (that is, with the depth and meaning of life itself). Paul (Romans 4:3) quotes Genesis 156 – “Abraham trusted God and it was credited to him into/unto (eis) justice (translation by Waetjen). This was not a faith/belief relationship wherein Abraham’s right beliefs presented God with the opportunity to pronounce Abraham (humanity) “righteous” – that is, of sound belief and therefore “saved.” Instead the relationship was based on mutual trust – a transaction that presupposed doing justice in the world. God called Abraham (visited justice upon him) and Abraham’s response was to act in a just manner. Justice – knowing the difference between good and evil (knowing what enhances / diminishes human capacity) and the consequent doing the good – is the foundation of genuine humanity, the ground of all that transpires in the name of God.

Holy-history continues the human story with the acknowledgement of the difficulty of maintaining a constancy of justice. Therefore human society tends to build around law (which proscribes evil, that good might result).

The early Jewish-Christian story has Moses going up Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law directly from God. The Ten Commandments represent one perspective on what human community is called to implement in the name of God. The people at the base of the mountain, however, were impatient and moved to construct their own more human-based foundation for society. How often it is that this struggle between two perspectives on order in society is conjured up as the distinction between the sacred and the secular. Unfortunately, the sacred tends to be perceived as an abstraction that distances itself from the real world. There is no abstract sacred realm that hovers over the secular. The sacred can only exist in the here and now, as an insistence that is visited upon me, shaking me to my foundations, opening me to the possibility of compassion, peace, and justice for all. While the Law may not be able to save us, it can open us to the possibility of the something more to which we are called as human beings. The Law, however, can only perform this pedagogical function in dependency upon the transaction of trust between human beings and the insistence / call that arrives in the name of God.

Paul proclaims that Yeshua fulfilled all the conditions / requirements of the original covenant of with Abraham (that is, mutual trust generating justice). As such, Yeshua becomes the “new Adam” – that is, the foundation of humankind’s quest for meaning, integrity, and wholeness. Yeshua, identified with the New Human Being, was the first fruit of the New Humanity. For Paul, Yeshua fulfilled the quest for a genuinely human life and subsequently calls Jew and gentile alike into the New Israel / New Humanity. Paul locates that quest for the New Humanity in the “body of Christ.”

To be “a new creation in Christ” means to awaken to life whose meaning is no longer held hostage to he hamartia (sin) – that is, ego consciousness is no longer a solid base upon which to build meaning. Instead, we are insisted upon / called into an abundant life that does not hoard privilege and power; instead, it is a life whose first impulse is doing justice as an agent of God’s Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. Whenever injustice is done, it is acknowledged and set aside so that a justice-based repair can be implemented.

The “intermediate” conclusion of the story of holy-history is stated in Romans 1:17 – “For in it [the good news] the justice of God is revealed through trust into trust; as it is written, ‘The one who is just will live by trust’.” The good news is that God’s justice is entered into by trust and made manifest in daily life. Salvation is the actualization of justice by the New Humanity. This conclusion to the story of holy-history is “intermediate because it can only be actualized in an on-going way as we become the agents of that justice day-by-day – the impossible possibility!

To Obtain Eternal Life?

 

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Creative Commons Fountain of Eternal Life” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Eternal life is not about a heavenly afterlife. Instead it is about the quality and depth of meaning right here and right now.

Luke 18:18     A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” (CEB)

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

 

Expanding Luke 18:18-30

A certain official approached Yeshua and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” Yeshua responded, “Please reserve your superlatives for the insistence, the calling that comes in the name of God. Perhaps. Eternal life is about the quality and depth of life lived now! You know the moral dictates; No adultery. No murder. No stealing. No false witness. Honor your parents.” To this the official said, “That describes me to a T.” Hearing this, Yeshua pressed on, “Then, you fall short in just one area. Try this: sell all your possessions and distribute the proceeds to the least, the last, the lost, and the left out. This is the simplest way for you to experience the heavenly treasure you so deeply desire. In other words, follow the Way that I have been teaching and living. That Way brings the eternal into the midst of everyday living.” Hearing Yeshua’s challenge, insistence, calling, invitation, the young official became very sad because he was a man of great means. Yeshua’s invitation was going to cost far more than he had ever expected.

Yeshua was also sad as he looked at the official’s downcast demeanor. “The wealthy do not have it easy. Their possessions have possessed them. The focus on acquiring and managing wealth and status sidetracks the eternal and counteracts the basic premise of the Way — namely, to put yourself on the line for the others. Eternal life means emptying out the superfluities of your life in order that you can invest yourself in relationship to others. And the test case is always relating to and investing in the least, the last, the lost, and the left out. Ironically, it always seems that those with fewer possessions are willing to give them away so that someone with a greater immediate need can be helped

These words from Yeshua prompted some of the by-standers to ask, “Then who can be saved.” Yeshua answered, “At first glance it may seem humanly impossible. but I’ll let you in on a little secret — there is a Way. Our ancestors have been teaching it for centuries — namely, to care for widows and orphans and to give full hospitality to the strangers you encounter. Instead of investing in the stock market, make your investment in others, especially those with pressing needs. God’s audacity meant giving up power, prestige, and status; depending, instead, on our very human capacity to pay attention to unheard inner callings and then to respond by following in the Way that gives a preview of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice.

Peter then asked, “What about us? We have given up everything — home and family — to follow you!” Yeshua answered, “If you gave up home and family because you heard God calling, then you already have your reward. As you follow in the Way you are experiencing a sampling of God’s Commonwealth of Peace and Justice and your generous investment in others continues to make God present in the world. That is enough!

From Nudge to Insistence into Call

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Creative Commons The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination……365/365” by AndYaDontStop is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sometimes a nudge comes before the insistence. It often takes time for insistence to mature into call.

1 Samuel 3:6-7 Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.” (Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)

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

John Caputo’s dictum – “God does not exist, God insists” – has been transformative for me, opening a whole new way of thinking and being. Caputo describes that change as a movement from theology (rational reflective thoughts about God) to theopoetics (metaphorical musings about what transpires in the name of God). Insistence can sometimes best be described as the scent of the rose or the smile on the face of the world of the finger tickling the belly button of the cosmos.

Conversation about insistence seems to generate many synonyms – invitation, provocation, lure, nudge, urge, goad, stirring, prod, spur, spark, call, and more. It seems to me that these terms represent somewhat of a spectrum – “nudge” does not seem to have the potential or the passion of “insistence;” instead it represents a milder, less intense form. “Call / calling,” on the other hand, might rise to the level of another category. Insistence is a passionate stirring within; calling is a discernment arising out of the insistence and beginning to give it direction. Insistence is what Meister Eckhart calls ebulitio, “the welling up and flowing out of the love of God within.” Call is the decision and commitment to channel that welling up and give direction to the outflow. Call is the commitment to live into a response to the insistence.

As I reflect upon my personal experience with the insistence that comes in the name of God (perhaps)… as I connect personal experience with my study and practice of discernment (both individual and group)… as I attempt to make sense out of my 20 years of wilderness wandering toward calling as a Presbyterian minister… I am convinced that my intuition early on picked up on a nudge that was becoming insistence echoing around inside me. I immediately misidentified that insistence as call. It then took 20+ years of pretending to live out a calling before the insistence was transformed into a genuine call upon which I could respond.

While I had been confirmed as a member of the church at age thirteen, it was not until my senior year in high school, that I began to experience an inner nudge. For some reason I couldn’t explain, I began attending worship on my own. I had been nudged, something (I knew not what) was stirring within me.

During the middle of my junior year in college, while participating in a mission project with the Inner City Protestant Parish in Cleveland, Ohio, I was rooming with the director of our ecumenical student fellowship. He asked that question which is often asked of college juniors and seniors – “What are you going to do with your life after you graduate?” My answer was immediate, “I think I want to go to seminary and become a minister.” Because I had never consciously entertained that idea previously, I almost had to ask, “Who said that?” My intuition transformed the nudge into an insistence.

In retrospect, one thing was missing from my continuing process of faith formation. Everyone assumed that since I had articulated the insistence, I was indeed called. No one helped me process that insistence. No one asked me if I even understood what becoming or being a minister even meant. No one helped me reflect upon the kind of spiritual growth I might need to experience in order to be a Presbyterian minister or the kind of seminary education that would best prepare me. As a young Samuel, I had no Eli to whom I could run; no one to help me process the nudge, especially as it was becoming more insistent in my life.

Seminary probably should have been a time of deep struggle with faith and vocation. In truth it was relatively easy because academics was my strength. My mind was nourished; my spirit was not. During the next 20 years I served as pastor for 2 years, returned to Princeton Seminary to receive a Th.M. degree, and then served three churches as Minister of Education. My ministry showed some promise and a lot of creativity, but never demonstrated the level of productivity that was expected from me. On more than one occasion, I was asked about my sense of call. The insistence was strong; call was weak.

All that changed toward the end of August, 1981. My wife, Susan, suffered a major trauma which brought her to the brink of life and caused brain damage. Something quite different was stirring in me during the months that followed. I didn’t know whether Susan would live or die, whether she would recover or not. What I did know (even though I did not know how I knew it) was that, whatever happened to Susan, the children and I were enfolded in a genuine deep hopefulness. It was during this time that I read Ignatius on consolation and desolation. What Ignatius seemed to be saying was that if I were experiencing deep peace and that peaceableness was not a outgrowth of the circumstances of my life or something that I had earned or particularly deserved, then perhaps I might consider it as a gracious gift (without why) that comes in the name of God. That understanding began to transform insistence into call. At the end of nine hectic months, a new chapter was opening in a tumultuous way as I was fired from my position as Minister of Education.

After being fired I returned to familiar territory and was welcomed back into a previous presbytery where I spent the next year as an interim pastor and then, at the recommendation of Presbytery staff, became interim and eventually installed pastor for a congregation I served for 12 years. Those twelve years of ministry were the proving grounds for call. Nudge had morphed into insistence which then was transformed into a deep sense of call demonstrated by personal, professional, and congregational spiritual growth.

The lack of a guiding community (an Eli) to help me process the insistence I had experienced earlier in my life served as a different kind of insistence during these twelve years. I became committed to establishing (for myself) and helping others form colleague groups for personal and professional formation and continuing discernment of call. My leadership with the congregation and in the Presbytery prepared me for a new ministry as a presbytery executive. I was told by a member of the presbytery executive search committee that I was the only one of their four candidates who had demonstrated a clear sense of calling to that ministry.

An early stirring, a nudge, intensified into an insistence. Ministers, professors, Presbytery candidates committee, family members, and I misinterpreted that insistence as a calling. In retrospect, however, that insistence had not been nurtured so that it could mature into call. Personal maturing had to precede the maturing of my call. As is sometimes the case, personal tragedy and grief can accelerate that process, as it did with me. Caputo suggests that instead of a projection, insistence is a projectile that pierces us. Call happens when the direction of that projectile is discerned, committed to, and acted upon.

Half of my forty years of ministry was spent living a lie because I had not progressed beyond insistence and, in fact, had continued to mis-interpret my experience of insistence as call. My ministry struggled because creativity became a substitute for call. My creativity kept a shield around my inner being, protecting me from being “outed.” I could hide the reality of my faltering faith by making creativity the face I showed the world. The insistence continued to insist but was not yet transformative – that is, not until the protective carapace was stripped away by my wife’s trauma and I began to listen to the vibrations of my inner self. Listening, I clearly heard anew the insistence, discerned its direction, and committed to it. The insistence finally transformed into call; my trying/pretending to do ministry finally became ministry.

My Theater of the Absurd

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Creative Commons Uptown Theater, Youngstown, Ohio” by Bill Eichelberger is licensed under CC By 2.0

“The Kingdom is made up of beings of a deeper darker faith communicating in a midnight rendezvous, what ever they may “rightly pass for” during daylight hours. … Such people dare to let their faith weaken in order to allow a more underlying but unstable faith break through and to admit the appearance of a more elementary hope in a more indelible but indiscernible promise.”      (John Caputo  Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Christian, page 102)

 In 1942 Albert Camus presented his essay The Myth of Sisyphus – chronicling absurd and ironic human life without purpose. Following conceptually along this same path, the Theater of the Absurd emerged.

In 1945 I experienced my own Theater of the Absurd began with a visit to the Uptown Theater in Youngstown, Ohio. At age 5, my mother had taken me to the Uptown, bought me popcorn, taken me to my seat and spoke those words that would impel my life forward in the absurd quest to fulfill them. “I am going to leave now. I know you will be a responsible little boy and stay in your seat and not get into trouble. I will be back to get you when the movie is over.” And so she left… Or did she?

The movie ended 70 years ago. For this oldest child of an oldest child of an oldest child, the reel of “responsibility” continues to play and re-play in my head. Purpose in life became subservient to the branding iron of responsibility that had been seared upon my being.

What am I to be, if not “responsible?” Does being responsible still mean staying in my assigned seat and not causing trouble? I don’t think so. And yet there is a part of me that harkens back to the refrain, “be responsible.”

What can responsibility mean for this 75+ year old widower, retired Presbyterian minister, ersatz genealogist, curmudgeon wanna-be? My life would suggest that I am probably not going to escape the image of “The Responsible One,” but can I bear that image accompanied by integrity, moving into wholeness, including gentleness, being interdependent and interconnected with others, as a mature citizen of the cosmos?

Being responsible does not have to mean being in charge, in control. Being responsible might just mean being in relationship. Perhaps being responsible leads me:

  • to let my faith weaken

  • to allow a more underlying but unstable faith break through

  • to admit the appearance of a more elementary hope and

  • to engage a more indelible but indiscernible promise
    within myself, with others, and out into the world. 

Oremus! (Let us pray)

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Creative Commons Prayer” by Quinn Dombrowski is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Colossians 4:2-3     Keep persisting in prayer, staying alert in it and being thankful. Include prayer for us, too, that God may open a door for us to proclaim the message about the secret of the Messiah  (CJB)
[Complete Jewish Bible Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.]

Some thoughts on prayer after reading John Caputo (Chapter 10, “Conclusion: Dreaming, Praying, Hoping, Smiling” in Hoping Against Hope, 2015)

Prayer begins with a dream – a dream of an ordered and orderly universe spinning off toward an embracing future, a future packed with promise. Sober reflection bids us to encounter the finality of that ordered universe – at least, the finality of our little corner of the universe. It may be some 5 billion years down the road, but our sun will burn up all its hydrogen, collapse upon itself, and finally explode contributing more star dust to the universe’s process of growth and death. Finis!

It is not the finality
that leads me to prayer
but the promise
not the impending certainty of death
but the possibility of abundant life

I thought my role
as minister of the gospel
was to lead the people
    in prayer
the blind leading the blind
NOT SO!

we can
I can
only follow prayer
into the dark corners and recesses
of a future that beckons
    but never arrives
a march forward
    into the unknown

prayer takes on a life of its own
troubling me
unsettling everything I think I know
    about myself
    about others
    about the world 

meditate
we are told
to reduce the stress of modern life
find a safe place just to be
but when I just am 
when I leave myself open
    to the reverie of my dreams
    to the unsettling graces of prayer
I am transported
to an alternate universe
    where the impossible is possible
    where the wolf lies down with the lamb
    where the child plays over the hole of the adder
    where peace and justice are the normalcy of civilization
I weep
I shudder
I shrink back
    realizing that this impossible possibility
    is beckoning me
        provoking me

        inviting me
        calling me

prayer is not my invitation to God
offering up a Christmas list
of wishes I want to receive
    for me
    for others
    for the world
prayer is an open invitation to me
    awaiting an r.s.v.p.
    
awaiting my response

I don’t pray to God
I pray into God
           into the impossible possibility
           into life itself

prayer is risky business
inducing a state of perpetual disequilibrium
    in me
    in the community of faith
    in the not-so-faithful
    in the world itself
        exposing us all
        to that which wants to come alive
in the name of God
perhaps

prayer is
    a smile on the face of the world
    a smile from the future
    a smile arising out of the depths
inviting me
coaxing me
troubling me

come!
alleluia!
amen!

Life Bubbles Up

 

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Creative Commons Bubbling Up” by Neil Williamson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Luke 10:41   “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”

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

“[Meister Eckhart suggested that] Jesus speaks Martha’s name twice, secretly signifying that Martha has two gifts to Mary’s one. Martha lived both the contemplative and the active life. … Martha’a good works in the world are not superfluous to her mystical unity with Jesus but their issue. They are what Eckhart calls the ebulitio the welling up and flowing over of the life of God within her out into the world.” (John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, 2015, p. 77)

Meister Eckhart
Rhineland mystic
Fodder hidden from the Inquisition
Pricker of theological bubbles
Ebulitio!

Mary
sitting at the feet of Yeshua
choosing to break the boundaries
and NOT do women’s work
student-disciple
Ebulitio!

Martha, Martha
hospitality visited upon her
possessing a double gift
choosing to break the boundaries
of curiosity and prominence
cleans house and fixes meals
Ebulitio!

Yeshua
visitor in the home of Martha
accepting hospitality
choosing to break the boundaries
welcome and affirmation
bubbles up and overflows
on Mary and Martha
Ebulitio!

Mary and Martha bubble up and overflow
with the life of God
within and in the world
within and in the world
Ebulitio!

Life doesn’t just happen
Life is not shaped, managed
Life bubbles up from within God
bubbles up insistently
bubbles up into creative transformation
within and in the world
within and in the world
Ebulitio!

Life is not
sitting at the feet of a theological master
waiting for the life to come
being smarter, richer, more prominent
Life is a gift without why
within and in the world
within and in the world
Ebulitio!

Life is the evanescence of a rose
it blossoms because it blossoms
it smells sweet because it smells sweet
it dies because it dies
Ebulitio!

My life has too many whys
why I spend time with my grandchildren
why I read John Caputo
why I fly fish
why I go to church
why I drive a Prius V
why I cut my own hair
why I don’t like liver
why… why… why…
And yet
Ebulitio!

Life bubbles up
evanesces effervescently
genuinely surprises
radiates with the impossible possibility
And life bubbles up in me
and in the world
Ebulitio!

That which bubbles up
insists me
invites me
calls me
lures me
shakes me to my foundations
Ebulitio!

Shaken by the insistence
fermented by the invitation
sparkling with the call
I bubble up
I bubble up as from within God
I bubble up as God’s new presence
I bubble up as the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice
within and in the world
Ebulitio and Amen!

Something is afoot…

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Creative Commons Into the Great Wide Open” by maartmeester is licensed under CC BY 2.0

something is afoot in the midst of everyday life…
    something that wants to come alive…
    something that wants to take flight…
    something that wants to move
        toward wholeness…
        with compassion…
        approaching peace…
        into justice…

something is going on…
    happening…
        stirring…
something is insisting…
    inviting…
        calling…

we often call that something “God”

“God does not exist, God insists” proclaims the theopoet…
something is afoot in “the name of God”…
    a cosmic lure…
    an “unconditional solicitation”…
        compassion entreating
        peace eliciting
        justice petitioning
            planted in “the beggar with outstretched arms”… 
            occupying the diseased body
                   of the one dying of the Ebola virus..

            settled in with the refugee fleeing
                   from political oppression…

            in the screams of the one abused by
                   the racist…
                   the homophobe…
                   the sexist…
                   the terrorist

for the Christian
that something is also afoot in the name of Christ…

the name of Christ stirs within
    the embodiment of God in Yeshua of Nazareth
    the empowerment of the powerless
    the gradual movement toward justice
    the insistence of salvation for all

the name of Christ
            embodied in a community of faith…
            made manifest in the New Humanity…
    visits hospitality upon a world in turmoil
    interrupts the arrogant with grace
    disturbs the powerful and privileged with humility

the name of Christ
is the name of a deed
    an act of healing for a broken world
    balm for the hurting
    binding up the broken-hearted
        delivering justice to the dispossessed
        offering a rose to the downcast
        putting a smile on the face of the cosmos

the name of Christ
    gathers the hope of the hopeless…
        the dreams of the dejected…
        the longings of the forgotten…
    mixes them together with the promises
    that come in the name of God
        and insists upon me… and you…
            calling us to something…
                                   anything…
    for God’s sake…
    for the sake of the world…

something is afoot in the midst of everyday life…
    a chrysalis birthing a butterfly…
    a bulb bursting forth a tulip…
    a pregnant woman delivering an newborn…
    a mother wren pushing her young out of the nest
    a family sending its youngest out into the world…
at the same time…
    the world is hurting
    the climate is gasping
    the ozone layer is groaning
    the Amazonian forest is weeping
    the arctic icepack is shrinking

that something is stirring
    within me
    within you
        calling for a compassionate response toward the hurting
        inviting a peaceable overture to the enemy
        visiting hospitality as a gracious gift for the other
        appealing to a sense of justice for all
    encouraging a Christ-like deed

mystery is afoot
    abundant life wants an opportunity
    transformation desires a hearing
        in the name of God…
        in the name of Christ…

Forbidden Fruit?

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Public Domain: Jan Brueghel de Oude en Peter Paul Rubens – Het aards paradijs met de zondeval van Adam en Eva. Created: circa 1615

Would avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil have been a good thing? Is it possible to avoid eating of it?

Genesis 2:15-16 & 3:22-24 15 The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17 but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” …22 The Lord God said, “The human being has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Now, so he doesn’t stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever, 23 the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to farm the fertile land from which he was taken.

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

Deconstructing the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

The Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s encounter with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been used to buttress an archaic theological concept – namely, original sin. As Bishop Spong writes, “In this way [Augustine] explained how God’s original perfection was now distorted by original sin and how the perfection of God’s world was ruined by the fall into evil. It was a fascinating story, the kind ancient people created to explain the realities of their experience.” The contention would seem to be that, if Adam and Eve did not disobey God and eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, humankind would not be mired in sin. Of course, the difficulty with this reasoning begins with the assumption that the story is an historical account of an actual event involving real people. Therefore the motivation of those real people (and the outcome of their action) needs to be explained.

Lets begin at a rather different point. The account of Genesis 2 & 3 is an early mythological account that attempts to explain the origins of human suffering. While the story does not go to the lengths that Augustine and centuries of theologians have gone – original sin is a phenomenon passed along generationally through sexual intimacy – it does focus on the disobedience of the mythic characters as they interact with God. The introduction of the snake (the tempter) picks up the seemingly natural human fear of snakes and thereby finds a convenient entity to blame for human misfortune. “The devil made me do it.” This whole understanding of the story is based on the assumption that there is an ideal world available either at the origin of life or, subsequently, as the fulfillment and consummation of life – that is, “heaven.”

Perhaps there is an alternative way to view this mythic story… a way that does not assume its factuality, but understands the deeper truth behind it. That deeper truth may even take unexpected twists as history moves along. That is to say, as history changes, as circumstances morph, as human understanding grows, truth (with a lower case “t”) evolves.

One option, which retains the Big God in the Sky, might suggest that Adam and Eve were experiments. God was doing a beta test on these experimental prototypes by giving a command that was contrary to the desired result. If Adam and Eve obeyed the proscription from eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil, they would be forfeiting their capacity to become human – that is the ability to distinguish between good and evil. Then God would have to try again for inhabitants of the world.

Another (perhaps more appropriate) option is to acknowledge that not only are Adam and Eve mythic characters, so is the God of the story. Any commandment that Adam and Eve were not to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil is counter to what human beings must do. We human beings are hard-wired to discern the difference and choose between that which is good and that which is evil. For we humans, even a assumed order from God, cannot prevent us from being who we are – meaning-makers who discern good and bad, long and short, helpful and not-helpful, wise and not wise… A corollary to John Caputo’s dictum that “God does not exist, God insists” must be that any insistence that diminishes human capacity can not be received in the name of God.

Therefore, the Genesis 2&3 story is about the foolishness of postulating an “ideal” world to be inhabited by human beings. Until they were expelled from Eden, Adam and Eve could not attain their full humanness – which, in the story, is defined as discerning between good and evil. Other strains of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures suggest that there is more to humanity than just splitting the world into the good and the bad. These strains suggest that living beyond one’s self interests – compassionate peace-making and justice for all – is the challenge, the charge, the calling for humankind.

We live in the real world. Discerning good and evil is simply a means to move us toward a life focused on mercy and justice. What is insisted upon us in the name of God? – to do justice, love mercy, and to act with humility!

Toyohiko Kagawa, Japanese theologian and activist, put it this way:

“There are theologians, preachers and religious leaders, not a few, who think that the essential thing about Christianity is to clothe Christ with forms and formulas. They look with disdain upon those who actually follow Christ and toil and moil, motivated by brotherly love and passion to serve. . .They conceive pulpit religion to be much more refined than movements for the actual realizations of brotherly love among men. . .The religion Jesus taught was diametrically the opposite of this. He set up no definitions about God, but taught the actual practical practice of love.”

 

 

Microsoft, Apple, Linux & God

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Traditional Christian ethics / theology / eschatology (whether Liberal, Conservative, or Fundamentalist) has been similar to the battle between Apple and Microsoft. Apple users (read that as “traditional Christian ethics / theology / eschatology”) tend to have a rather snobbish approach toward Microsoft users — namely, our operating system is so far superior to yours that we can’t comprehend why anyone in their right mind would want to use Microsoft Windows (read that as “other systems of ethics / theology / eschatology”).

Both systems, however, are top down retributive (closed source) systems. Both Apple and Microsoft offer computer users a system that pre-determines what is to be available to them. “Here is what is best for you,” they both say. Both represent what Peter Block (Community: the Structure of Belonging) calls “culture” — a shared valuing system.

Linux is quite a different matter. It is an open source system that keeps it’s focus on possibility. A broad, diverse community of users and programmers distribute ideas, possibilities, corrections, and program codes. Everyone has access to everything. Even as a user who does not understand code development my ideas about what the operating system might do and/or what particular software programs might do are shared in open forums and, if some programmer is interested, implemented.

Traditional Christian ethics / theology / eschatology is caught up in a retributive snobbishness — there is only one way and I know what it is. My Christian way is far superior to your Islamic or Jewish or Buddhist or … way. I know that because I have a retributive source (the Bible) that tells me so. My Christian operating system is so far superior that I can’t comprehend why anyone in their right mind (or in their right belief) would want to use any other. Therefore, I will use imperialistic / retributive tactics to get you to accept my beliefs. “Hey, Stupid, I know that I am right! I don’t know why you can’t accept that. After all, the Bible tells me so!”

It is a seismic shift in orientation to conceive of God as an open source system (that is, a system in which my input is important.) John Dominic Crossan (“Eclipsing Empire” DVD series) puts it this way:

“Without Christians living Kingdom-lives, according to Jesus, or resurrection- lives, according to Paul, nothing [related to ‘God’s Great Cleanup of the World’] would ever happen. They claimed that, in the past, we have been waiting for God while God has been waiting for us. No wonder that nothing has happened up to now. They proclaimed that the eschaton is a cooperation between divinity and humanity. It is a matter of interaction, collaboration, and participation.”

Richard Beck (Experimental Theology blog) has suggested that so much of religious dialogue is based on the fear of facing life, with all of it’s unknowns. Rather than acknowledging our insecurities and learning to harness the energy (in the direction of possibility) that such insecurity brings, we have chosen to conceive of a g/God who is in active control of the universe (and my life) — that is, “the path of least resistance.” We end up with a g/God of retributive justice that punishes me when I stray and has an ultimate punishment for all the infidels. In Peter Block’s terms, we get stuck with the (external) culture. Beck (reviewing Hunter’s work, To Change the World) suggests that the we get stuck by either a) defending against society’s culture [Conservatives]; b) attempting to be relative to it [Liberals]; or c) striving to maintain a purity within it [Anabaptists]. The open source alternative, according to Beck, is a “realized presence.” Such a real presence affirms the world in which we live and provides an alternative valuing system (antithesis).

And, you may ask, what is the alternative, the antithesis? For Christians it is the Way proclaimed and lived by Jesus of Nazareth – the living of one’s live through hospitality, self-giving (kenosis), integrity, connectedness, peace, justice, love, … For many Chinese it is the Tao from Confucius. For Buddhists it is the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. And there are many more. I am not suggesting that these ‘ways’ are all synonymous. There are ‘ways’ that have come and gone (e.g., the Shakers). Each of the ‘ways,’ however is evidence of a people who have chosen, to use Paul’s term, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). These various efforts give rise, metaphorically, to a broad grin on the face of God.

After years struggling to help Christian churches learn to engage in conceiving possibilities based on abundance rather than deficiencies, I have concluded that God is the ultimate Appreciative Inquiry with provocative propositions — that is, God is the distribution (paying forward) of justice based on possibility rather than the retribution (paying back) of punishment for perceived mis-deeds.

To turn our understanding of God up-side-down & inside-out — that is, to encounter an open source God of distributive justice that seeks to bestow on every human being that which s/he deserves simply because s/he is a child of God’s own making — creates a tsunami that washes over us, baptizes us, and deposits us into the midst of a restorative (open source) community (Peter Block) that encompasses far more people than the religious congregation / community to which we are attached. That tsunami deposits us into the midst of the world — surrounded by people who are like us, and unlike us; people who like us and those who don’t; people with whom we have understanding and people whom we do not understand and who, in turn, don’t understand us; people we love and people we demonize, as well as those who demonize us. And it is here, in the strange mix of humanity (and divinity) that we and they are visited upon with the gift of “realized community” where suddenly we can “realize” the possibility that we are actually brothers and sisters of a fractured family. Such a realization opens the possibility of discerning a Way to live together… not my way, or your way; instead, a new way!

Crossan tells us that “empire” (and it’s attendant system of violence — that is, “peace through victory) is the normative mode of civilization. It is so normative that it pervades all our thinking, even our thinking about God. Competition is about winning a decisive victory over your opponent. Leadership is about directing the course of events out of one’s superior wisdom, or amassed experience, or willingness to “grab the bull by the horns” in a crisis situation. God is about divine leadership that cannot be bested by any opponent. God is omnipotent (able to impose divine will at any opportunity), omniscient (pre-knowing everything before it happens so as to impose punishment and rewards), and omnipresent (so God will not miss any misdeed and no miscreants will go unpunished).

I shudder when I think about God as conceived in the above paragraph; and yet I realize how easy it was to write that description, for it is what we have been socialized into throughout human history. How strange and difficult it is the to try to listen to and embrace the radical teachings lived out by Jesus of Nazareth. It is far simpler to elevate him to divine status where he takes on the imperial attributes of God than to follow in his Way. Paul presents us with a similar radical picture of a Way by which non-Jews can understand and live through God’s distributive (paid forward) justice which is also called ‘grace.’ Paul was radical enough that the disputed Pauline letters actually make accommodations to Roman culture — still radical, but not quite so much — while the non- Pauline letters (agreeably not written by Paul, though attributed to him) strip the radical nature of Paul’s thoughts and leave a reactionary and stunted message.

God as open source community… as a participatory venture… as a magnetic attraction pulling us into the present where we work out our own salvation daily, in fear and trembling… as peace through distribution of the benefit of justice… these concepts are hard for us to grasp and live into. They seem alien to us, for they contradict so much of what we have learned through the centuries. But that should probably not surprise us; for we have learned it from listening most closely to those who are benefiting from “the normalcy of civilization.” We have learned it from the victors, who can assure us about what is “right.”

Perhaps we would do well to listen more closely and more carefully to the disposed and marginalized peoples of the world. And, of course, that can only happen when we are in community with them, when we realize their presence with us and our presence with them. That is a presence that eliminates the disparity and discontinuity between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ ‘They’ don’t become ‘us’ and ‘we’ don’t become ‘them.’ Instead, there is a new creation.

Thus, in conclusion, God is more like Linux (a disparate open community of cooperation that operates by possibility and cooperation) than Microsoft or Apple (closed communities of power that strive for competitive edge through tight control and branding).

For Today’s Leaders

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Creative Commons Bad Idea” by soozed is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In a day when political debate has become a repetition of heartless slogans and spiteful sound bites, what can one say? Micah provides a clue.

Micah 3:1-3   1 Hear, leaders of Jacob, rulers of the house of Israel! Isn’t it your job to know justice?— you who hate good and love evil, who tear the skin off them, and the flesh off their bones, who devour the flesh of my people, tear off their skin, break their bones in pieces, and spread them out as if in a pot, like meat in a kettle.

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

Reflections on Micah 3 for Today’s Leaders

Listen you political leaders. Your leadership should be based on justice rather than the insensitive (may I say evil) ways that you display. You are cannibals who regularly devour the people, bilking them out of what is rightfully theirs. You might as well break them into pieces and boil up the remains in a cauldron. Touting God, you are leading the nation astray, away from anything that even resembles the insistence, the calling that comes in the name of God. Perhaps.

You religious leaders are no better than the politicians, crying “Peace” while you wage war on the poor and deceive the rest. As a result of your leadership, the people live in increasing darkness, with no vision of what God expects of them. You all are a disgrace. You have nothing to say that even remotely conjures up the name of God. Perhaps.

Well, that all has got to end. I stand before you with an ache in my heart caused by a sure insistence, an unheard inner calling in the name of God. Perhaps. It is a word that trumps everything that you “leaders” have said and done. You spat upon justice and embraced inequity (iniquity). You have exercised power through violence and wrong-doing, building a society that is aimed in the wrong direction.

Do you truly think that bribery, favoritism, and exploitation are the ways sanctioned by God, the ways to build a sanctified nation? Not so! And as a result of what you have done, the United States will lose its place of prominence and prestige among the community of nations and Washington will be the laughing stock of the world, the butt of many jokes. You all who have tried to live high and mighty lives will be brought down off your high horses. This is the word of God. Perhaps.