Three Endings – All Leading toward Galilee

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 10.18.59 PMMark: 16:Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Luke:  24:When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. … 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.

Matthew: 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, Greetings!And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Three Endings — One Directional Arroe

The synoptic gospels represent the church’s trying to make sense of the life, mission, teachings, and death of Yeshua. This had become important because the early church not only was seeking to follow in the Way Yeshua taught and lived, it was continuing to experience Yeshua’s presence in the midst of its members lives. It was as if Yeshua had not died. Paul captured this experience in his term “the body of Christ.” It was not resuscitation of Yeshua’s dead body that they had been experiencing, but a resurrection, an abiding presence. The abiding presence of Yeshua (that abiding presence was now referred to as “Christ”) seemed caught up in the parable of an empty tomb. Each of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Luke and Matthew) found different meanings in that parable.

The story goes something like this: It was the first Sunday after Yeshua had been put to death.

When the women (the first responders, representatives of the church’s front-liners) went to the tomb they were shaken at the very core of their beings. It was as if the tomb were empty. Something had happened which initially confused and dumbfounded them. Quite frankly, they were spooked and haunted by what they saw and heard in their inner selves. The women (and the church as a whole) were experiencing a new calling that seemed to have its origin in Yeshua, himself. Somehow they just knew that the tomb was not able to hold Yeshua. It was as if he, himself, were talking to them, leading them, as if he had never left them. That insistence, that calling, that presence was almost more than they could comprehend; and yet it was as familiar as a beckoning greeting from Yeshua, himself. At this point, each the three synoptic writers pens a distinctly different conclusion.

For Mark, the women fled in terror and say nothing to anyone. That very natural reaction to the the response of fear was not satisfactory for many, so two additions were added to Mark’s account in order to bring the story more in line with the church’s desire to move ahead as its members followed in the Way. Mark, however, is true to the primary response of people when directly encountering Mystery, Spirit, the Other, Thou, God – namely, fear and trembling. Mark doesn’t sugar coat it, instead he tells it as it is. The initial response of Yeshua’s followers was to abandon the mission, to abandon Yeshua himself. Today we, too, often shrink from the responsibilities of being followers of the Way of Yeshua – witness prayers of confession in the litanies of public worship.

For Luke, the ending is a little more nuanced. The women do “go and tell” but their message is received with disbelief – “They are speaking nonsense.” If Mark has presented the response traditionally accorded to women – namely, they are so caught up in their emotions that they don’t act – Luke picks up on the response of the men – retreating into their heads and dismissing the emotiveness as nonsense. Only Peter (brash and reckless as was his wont) pays attention and rushes headlong to the tomb to see for himself. He retreats in wonder, not quite sure what to make of this empty tomb (that is, what to make of this abiding presence in their midst). He wonders, as we often wonder.

For Matthew, however, the abiding presence is easily explained. The women were quite sure that what they had experienced — namely, the continuing lively presence of Yeshua — was available to the whole community. That presence came as an insistence, an invitation, a calling, which death could not extinguish. And where would they experience that living presence, that insistence, that calling?

Here all three accounts agree. The abiding presence (which produces fear, wonderment, and joy) would, of necessity, lead the disciples back home to the Galilee. They, as we, must live into that abiding presence in the normalcy of day-by-day lives. Of course, their lives (as ours) would never be normal again.

Fear, wonder, and joy fill us all as we engage the abiding presence of Yeshua, whom we call the Christ. Joy is not a better response than wondering; fear is not worse than joy. They are simply three of a much broader catalogue of responses to Mystery’s abiding presence. All three can be either stumbling blocks (moving away from Mystery) or stepping stones (delving more deeply into the Mystery). It is not so much how we respond; instead is more about how we respond to our own inner response.

A friend wrote:

How easy we get into trying to explain what we experience in concrete terms. I experience this insistence that keeps me upset and tied in knots and as I tried to figure out what was happening Then I noticed a cloud configuration in the sky … The bible fell open on the floor and when I picked it up I discovered a verse underlined … The quiet of the day seemed to enfold me as if I was in someone’s hand …  I felt a confirmation and a peace with my decision. As I look back I felt a need to tie it to something tangible.

A Theology of Edginess

"Creative Commons Living on the Edge" by Bouncer Criss is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Living on the Edge” by Bouncer Criss is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A recent conversation prompted me to ask “How would I describe my approach to theology?” While I have just completed 8 months of blogging on matters theological – having written more than 180 posts and being genuinely amazed that almost 500 people from around the world have become subscribers to this “In the Meantime…” blog – I am still not sure which theological “labels” apply to my writings. I clearly don’t fit into traditional confessional / doctrinal theology. Some of my musings and reflections are in concert with process theology and/or radical theology, but I am content to leave process theology to those who truly understand it and radical theology to those who are truly unpinned from the traditions of the traditional, institutional church.

Even though it may sound arrogant (it feels more risky than narcissistic), I stand with Angelus Silesius and his poetic quatrain:

I am God’s alter ego.
He is my counterpart.
In timelessness we merge—
in time we seem apart.

 

I have become more concerned…

about progressive leading rather than conservative doctrines;
about Yeshua rather than God;
faithing rather than beliefs
paradox rather than dualism
myth and metaphor rather than cause and effect
questions rather than answers
social justice rather than personal righteousness
messianic process rather than the Messiah
divine calling rather than God’s will
engaging dialogue rather than winning arguments
relational theology rather than dogmatics
convictional knowing rather than eternal Truth
anguish of the disenfranchised rather than [in]convenience of the powerful
power with rather than power over
solidarity with the poor rather than feasting with the rich
eternal life now rather than everlasting life later
re-with-ment rather than isolation

Samuel Wells introduced the term “re-with-ment” as a replacement for the traditional concept of atonement. For Wells, re-with-ment means moving beyond separation and isolation in order to be with oneself, one’s neighbor, and one’s God. Caputo talks about being caught in the tension between the conditional and the unconditional; Rollins discusses the existential tension between crucifixion (abandonment) and resurrection (re-with-ment); for me it means being on the edge between the church’s old farts and a whole younger generation of theological practitioners who are not beholden to the institutional church or its traditional formulations of acceptable beliefs and practices.

Perhaps being on the edge of a variety of movements, understandings, and practices is an apt description of the space I inhabit. Mine is an edgy theology or a theology of edginess.

Some synonyms for edginess: annoyance, restlessness, uneasiness, agitation, expectancy, impetuosity, suspense. All of these represent, to some degree, the theological space I occupy – either in terms of what I bring to my reflections or how my musings might be received by many in the church. At the same time, my edginess does not prevent me from those experiences best described by antonyms of edginess, such as calmness, contentment, enjoyment, peace, ease, tolerance, waiting. Is edginess more a mood or an understanding or an intrusive strategy or …? Yes it is.

An edgy theology is, for me, an intentional decision to go into the wilderness (as Yeshua did), exploring call. It is a trusting into trust (Romans 1:17) that the wilderness will likely confront us with the barrenness of our pre-conceived notions while bringing us face to face with the impossible possibility that we will find true meaning in our lives only when we become who we are with others and with God. Wells calls it re-with-ment; Nouwen, in his second book about the prodigal son, simply calls it Home Tonight!

So…
a theology of edginess
a sojourn outside the box
of traditional theological thinking…
a questioning of every question
and answering every answer
with another, tougher question…
taking the big risk
that salvation is the collective pilgrimage
toward human wholeness in the midst of life
rather than a divine fix
transporting us beyond life…

a theology of edginess
is equal parts laughter and tears
mixed together with
the harshness and gentleness
of every day living,
to march ahead
powerless in the face of worldly power
poor when measured by societal standards
of prettiness and prestige
standing with one another
in solidarity
when we have nothing else to offer
except ourselves
our presence…

a theology of edginess
of an edgy God
who bears-with in solidarity,
having nothing else to offer
but the presence of an insistence
that envisions the impossible possibility…

Uncanny?
Spooky?

Mystery!

Experiments in Theology

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Creative Commons Theologia by Scazon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This blog continues to be my attempt to conduct theological thought experiments — that is, relocating “God” from ‘out there’ to ‘in here.’ The theist Supreme Being ‘up there’ does not fit modern cosmology. Yeshua (Jesus) relocated God’s presence (Kingdom of God) within us. We have been slow to catch on. John Caputo writes,

God does not exist; God insists. God is neither presence nor absence but insistence. God does not subsist; God insists. God insists with the insistence of a call, like a very holy ghost calling for justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, love, the year of the Jubilee in a time we cannot calculate but for which we pray and weep.

What are the implications of this understanding for who and how we are in the world? Re-claiming teachings from Yeshua ben Yosef and re-thinking formulations about his role in the life of the Christian — Elizabeth Boyden Howes and Walter Wink have helped me understand what Yeshua* must have meant when he used the term “the Son of Man” [the Human Being or Wisdom’s Child] as the only title he was willing to have applied to him. The church has overlaid that self-designation with “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, who takes away the sins of the world.” [It Spooks, p. 31f]  What are the implications of this understanding for who and how we are in the world?

Lamenting or Yearning?

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“Creative Commons a story called regret” by Kira Westland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 Samuel 7:1-11 (full text of this passage is at end of the post)

Three points of this 1 Samuel 7:1-11 touched me, raising questions:

(v. 2) the whole house of Israel yearned for the Lord. (CEB)

Footnotes indicate that the meaning of this phrase is uncertain. The NRSV has “lamenting” where the CEB has “yearning.” Was Israel lamenting, confused, obnoxious, going down a wrong path, …? Or was Israel seeking, questing, desirous of a better relationship…?

And what about me? In my seeking, I have been deconstructing God… trying to make sense of the history of theological reflection in light of contemporary thinking about the nature of the universe and the nature of humankind. One rational conclusion might be that God is a necessary projection of our hopes, extrapolating what the world might look like if we humans were functioning at our most positive capacity.

So I back off of God and put my attention on Yeshua, focusing on the Way he lived and taught. Recently I read Rohr’s integration of the thoughts of James Finley and Thomas Merton — “This ancient tradition is not simply about believing in Jesus, nor is it simply to live as Jesus lived … we are called to realize the mind of Christ.”

To realize the mind of Christ” can only mean that we are called to live into the fulness of the messianic impulse within us all. I must fully attend to the God-process within — or, as Rohr / Finley / Merton clearly identify it, the infinite and eternal love of God.

_________________

(v. 3)  “If you are turning to the Lord with all your heart, then get rid of all the foreign gods and the Astartes you have. Set your heart on the Lord! Worship him only! Then he will deliver you from the Philistines’ power.”  (CEB)

My search for understanding God — to clarify the concept of God — had felt akin to Francis Thompson’s experience in “The Hound of Heaven.”

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet –
‘Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.’

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

_________________

(v. 8) “Please don’t stop praying to the Lord our God for us, so God will save us from the Philistines’ power!” (CEB)

Throughout my life, since college, “The Hound of Heaven” reminds me that, however much I flee God by escaping into my mind, the experience of God hounds me (haunts) me until I slow down enough to be caught.

Rohr quotes Finley: “If we could really experience all that we really are sitting here right now, just the way we are, we’d all experience God loving us into our chair, loving us into the present moment, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat.”

The rocking chair is not only my metaphor for God, it is also a reminder that I live ‘in the meantime.’ The rocking chair suggests that both God and my current situation (the ‘meantime’) are fluid, always in motion, ebb and flow.

I need to cut myself some slack and ease up a bit. In my best moments I am aware that my experience is wiser than my thinking. To say this does not dis-credit or de-value my thinking. It does, however, frame my thinking within my experience, not the other way around. My reflections don’t replace my experience. They only serve the purpose of helping me understand my experience of the love / affirmation / acceptance / ‘friendship’ that is both beyond me and within me.

“The Hound of Heaven” identifies the crux of the problem in dealing with experiences of and thinking about God:

For ah! we know what each other says,
These things and I; In sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.

Sometimes God speaks in the silence of an inner voice that insists, invites, nudges, calls. (Sometimes I sound off in response to that inner voice.) At other times, after a manifestation of thoughts, God (while remaining anonymous) speaks a word through another person. (Sometimes, I utter a word from God in response to another’s manifestation of thoughts.) At all times, God speaks through love. (Sometimes, I even murmur a word of love.)

Seeking, I am found.

Speaking, I am immersed in silence.

Running away, I am returned home.

_________________                                                   

1 Samuel 7:1-11

So the people of Kiriath-jearim came and took the Lord’s chest. They brought it to Abinadab’s house, which was on the hill. Then they dedicated Eleazar, Abinadab’s son, to care for the Lord’s chest. Now a long time passed—a total of twenty years—after the chest came to stay in Kiriath-jearim, and the whole house of Israel yearned for the Lord. Then Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are turning to the Lord with all your heart, then get rid of all the foreign gods and the Astartes you have. Set your heart on the Lord! Worship him only! Then he will deliver you from the Philistines’ power.” So the Israelites got rid of the Baals and the Astartes and worshipped the Lord only. Next Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah. I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they assembled at Mizpah, and they drew water and poured it out in the Lord’s presence. They fasted that same day and confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Samuel served as judge of the Israelites at Mizpah. When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had assembled at Mizpah, the Philistine rulers went up to attack Israel. When the Israelites learned of this, they were afraid of the Philistines. The Israelites said to Samuel, “Please don’t stop praying to the Lord our God for us, so God will save us from the Philistines’ power!” So Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as an entirely burned offering to the Lord. Samuel cried out in prayer to the Lord for Israel, and the Lordanswered him. 10 While Samuel was offering the entirely burned offering, the Philistines advanced to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered against the Philistines with a great blast on that very day, throwing the Philistines into such a panic that they were defeated by Israel. 11 The Israelite soldiers came out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines. They struck them down until they reached a place just below Beth-car. (CEB)

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

Bell, Bonhoeffer, & Bart – Facing Ethical Decisions

Bell, Bonhoeffer, & Bart – Facing Ethical Decisions

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“Creative Commons Deepak Chopra No matter what the situation, remind yourself ‘I have a choice.'” by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Deuteronomy 30:19-20      19 I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live— 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

I just finished a riveting portrayal of the interaction of George Bell (Bishop of Chichester) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer during WWII (in Samuel Wells’ The Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God, Wiley, 2015.)

Wells describes Bell’s path to the bishopric through ecumenical participation with immigrants and his support of and friendship with Bonhoeffer. Wells, a proponent of the just war theory, did not simply support Britain’s involvement in the war against Hitler; he critiqued British policy and practices when it was the German people (and not primarily the Hitlerian regime) that were being victimized. He supported the bombing of ports and industrial complexes but criticized carpet bombing of major metropolitan areas. Many times he was a lone voice calling for justice in the midst of war.

Bonhoeffer was caught in a dilemma regarding decisions that he had made or was facing. He regretted coming to America and finally decided after much anguish to return to Germany. How could he hope to help re-build Germany if he were not there to share in the sufferings and frustrations of the German people. Then he was faced with a decision that had no “righteous” resolution – participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler (breaking the commandment against murder) or forsake the German people (turning his back and thus allowing Hitler’s evil to continue). When the plot failed, Bonhoeffer and others were arrested. An escape plan was hatched. Before the plan was put into motion, Bonhoeffer’s brother was arrested. To escape now would compromise not only his brother, but the whole family who were complicit in the escape plan. Shortly before Germany was liberated, Bonhoeffer was executed.

We like to think that Christian ethics is about choosing good over evil – or, at least, the better over the less good. If we are dogmatic about it, those decisions are always made before facing the necessity of choosing. The conflict of two “movements” – Right to Life vs. Right to Choose – characterizes the deep theological divide that masquerades as a political battle.

The issue at stake: Do we pre-determine what is ethical (moral) on the basis of pre-existing rules or is there some latitude determined by the circumstances. Was it ethical / moral / (religiously) lawful for Jesus’s disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath to feed their grumbling tummies? Which takes precedent, religious rules or human needs?

Those supporting the Right to Life have predetermined the outcome of any decision regarding abortion – the answer is “No!” Since the intentions of church dogma cannot be enforced in the American public arena, the Right to Lifers turn to politicians to set up an enforcement system – laws banning abortion, defunding of organizations such as Planned Parenthood. In the extreme, one ironic Right to Lifer chose to open fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic calling himself “a warrior for babies.” (No grain picking on the Sabbath.)

Those supporting the Right to Choose have an entirely different approach to ethical decision-making. With regard to abortion, they continue to question the legitimacy of politicians or theologians as medical decision-makers in matters relation to a woman’s health – and more important, in those matters regarding a woman’s right to control her own body. The Choosers believe that no ethical decision can be made outside of the particular situation in which the decider finds herself or himself. (As important as the rules may be, human need trumps them every time.)

In many situations, ethical decision-making is not a simple matter – that is, choosing the obvious ‘good’ over against the obvious ‘evil.’ Such decision-making is particularly difficult when it involves a process of discernment – that is, seeking God’s call. Paul Lehmann (Ethics in a Christian Context, 1966) suggests that the basic dilemma most Christians face is summed up in the question. “What am I, a believer in Jesus Christ and a member of his church, to do?”

To answer that question I must consider: my own gifts, talents, and stake in the matter at hand; how I understand Jesus Christ’s presence in the current situation; my involvement in a particular Christian community and in the Church (ecumenically and historically); the relational, social, economic, political, and/or religious context in which the necessity for a decision has arisen; and the options available. Having considered all this, which may include talking with others affected by the decision or those representing other stake-holders, I must decide. No, you can’t decide for me! That is the nature of the humanity into which you and I have been born, the humankind which Jesus the Christ came to liberate.

Ethical decision-making is often filled with agony and heartache. Sometimes the results of our anguish brings us happiness and a sense of peace. At other times they torment us. Anyone who suggests that ethical decision-making is the simple process of selecting the obvious “good” over the more obvious “evil” has never really recognized the ethical dilemma that they and the rest of us face regularly.

There is an “ouchness” in the choosing. If anyone does not love, honor, or respect oneself… if anyone does not love, honor, or respect others… then it might be expected that they would choose to have an external source (institution, code of rules, a person perceived as superior) make the decision. Ironically, choosing not to choose does not absolve oneself of the implications of the choice. Facing such decisions with the external props which force a decision is one way of describing what it means to be crucified with Christ. It is a defining moment that can lead us into the resurrected life of compassion, peace, and justice.

Choosing is difficult. Choosing can be messy. But choose we must.

Power and Powerlessness

"Creative Commons Window painting for Pentecost Sunday 2008" by Robin is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Window painting for Pentecost Sunday 2008” by Robin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Pentecost Sunday (May 15, 2016)

There is a thread in the New Testament that depicts God’s being emptied of power into Yeshua’s life, ministry, and mission; that emptying then becomes completed in the abandonment of the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34) The original ending of Mark’s gospel account picks up this thread. The followers of Yeshua were dispirited after his death. The prospect of returning to everyday living back in Galilee without Yeshua not only left them sad, but they were immobilized by their terror, dread, and fear.

The Pentecost story (Acts 2) is a mythic representation of a transformation that slowly came over that original band of followers. They had become energized. It was as if the power that had been emptied from God was now infused into their fledgling community. They talked about that infusion as the presence of the Spirit.

Yeshua’s inaugural sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21) is his “Nazareth Manifesto” (see Samuel Wells’ The Nazareth Manifesto, Wiley, 2015). It reflects the Hebrew concept of Jubilee – that is, “release from economic, legal, physical, and relational bondage.” (page 151) Yeshua’s announcement was to become the marching orders for the church, characterized by the image of the Commonwealth (Kingdom) of God’s peace and justice. What had been real in the mind and teachings and life of Yeshua would begin to well up in the life of his followers.

The image of the Commonwealth (Kingdom) creates in the church the tension between memory and promise… between the conditional and the unconditional… between what is and what might be. It is the impossibility possibility (Caputo).The image of the Commonwealth serves as a provocative proposition (a term from Appreciative Inquiry) for the church.

A provocative proposition is a statement that bridges the best of “what is” with your own speculation or intuition of “what might be”. It is provocative to the extent to which it stretches the realm of the status quo, challenges common assumptions or routines, and helps suggest real possibilities that represent desired possibilities for the organization and its people. – David Cooperrider 

When the disciples no longer had the immediacy of direct access to Yeshua, they found that the image of the Commonwealth that he had presented to them continued to beckon, captivate, and insist them beyond themselves. They wrestled with their gifts, their call, what they might become.

The Jubilee that Yeshua announced was now a reality in their lives – a new vision of life that moved them beyond Galilee out into the world. Pentecost was the signal that they had moved through and beyond their suffering and were now ready to live with a new-found energy.

The spectacular power which had been imagined as the sole property of God (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence) was now re-imagined as quotidian (daily) power – the power of the ordinary to move toward the extraordinary, a power accessible to you and me… the power of presence and relational wisdom.

To celebrate Pentecost is to remind ourselves of the tension we experience, caught between power and powerlessness… between memory and a promise… between the quotidian now and the eternal now. That celebration is also a reminder that we have committed ourselves (covenanted) to pursue the promise, even in the face of its impossibility.

 

 

Haunted Houses & Spooky Rituals

Kelchkommunion  -- Public Domain
Kelchkommunion — CC BY-SA 3.0

Deconstructing Worship

The people come forward
a long line —
younger and older
richer and poorer
black and white
republican and democrat
male and female
gay and straight and …

I was in the line
and now I am watching,
caught up in the mystery
of this grand parade.
Are we spooked
or spooky?

Do we really understand
what is happening
when we take the bread and the cup,
the body and the blood?

Are we genuinely united
with one another,
formed into real community
a true foretaste
of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice?

Are we responding
to a divine insistence
or a long-ingrained habit
do we really know
do we really care?

Call to worship
sing the hymns
pray the prayers
give the offering
stand kneel sit
eyes open eyes closed
mind open mind closed
heart open heart closed
benediction!

It was a simple statement
assumed to be true
a theological armor-piercing arrow
“The trouble with you Protestants
is that you don’t know
what to do with
the Body of Christ
after the worship is completed.”

“Sure we do
we sent the Body of Christ
out into the world
to do the work of Christ.”

Silence!

Is worship the insistence
to which we must respond…
or the response
to an unheard call?

Yes, it is!

Worship is haunted
   and it haunts…
is spooky
   and it spooks…
because we live in Holy Saturday
the knife-edge beween
cross and resurrection.

It is no surprise
that worship is the knife-edge
between insistence and response
between memory and promise
between haunted and haunting
between stories of remembrance
   and liturgies of insurrection
between the temporal and the eternal
   Tillich’s Eternal Now

Sometimes I am too spooked
   to sense the “eternal”
sometimes too spooky
   to be aware of the now
so, I come
I come expecting
   but expecting what…
      expecting insistence?

Sometimes when insisted upon
   my hackles are raised
   the hair on the back of my neck sticks out
      and I resist with all my might…
sometimes when insisted upon
   I get goose bumps
   overwhelmed with awe
      and disoriented
and sometimes when called
   I don’t even hear the phone ring
   or, checking caller ID, don’t answer
   or I hang up too quickly.

Eyes open      eyes closed
mind open      mind closed
heart open      heart closed
benediction!

Deconstructing and Repeating Scripture (Part 2)

"Creative Commons Bible, Reading Glasses, Notes and Pen" by Paul O'Rear is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Bible, Reading Glasses, Notes and Pen” by Paul O’Rear is licensed under CC BY 2.0

… Continuing a discussion that started in yesterday’s post.

2 Timothy 3:16-17   16 Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 17 so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Scripture plays a special role in the life of Faith-ing. Through the witness of the people who live their lives in response to the call of God, scripture is the closest thing we have to actually hearing God speak. Because of this, scripture leads us into a healthy discussion about how we are to live in community. That discussion forms us and prepares us for our response to that insistent calling in the name of God. Perhaps.

Being spooked
by a calling,
a nudge
to think out-loud
to be seen and heard,
I am prompted
by an insistence
that won
’t let go.

I repeat
over and over
I am not a wise person
not a poet
not of any significance.

And still the prompting comes
to share my life — 
my being and my expressing,
over and over …
I am not done,
there is more to say,
more to share and do.

I am not finished.
no matter how hard
I try.
The insistence continues
to disturb my thoughts.

All those words about
God (perhaps)
cannot capture the feeling
the awareness of more…
of a larger Creation,
of One who called it forth

insisting on a response
of being, of living
and expressing.

This awareness
I must do it over and over
each hour, each day.

The oneness is like
a melody that stretches
forth into the future.
The tone of
a bell
that continues to hum
long after it is struck.
Yes I know that insistence
which will not let me go.

The response is the expressing
and acknowledging
of the reality.
The reality of an insistence
of God (perhaps)
that is what I write and
will continue to write
over and over.

For those caught in more traditional understandings, what I am doing with scripture is re-writing it to serve my own needs. In one sense that is true. The scriptures of both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible were written for a specific people at a very different time in history. When approaching scripture, I am attempting a re-framing, a repetition of passages. It is deconstructing those passages, removing them from their original contexts, listening for the echoes of ancient Israel and Yeshua. It is then repeating the possibility of those echoes for today, re-contextualizing them, re-shaping them with a worldview that is uniquely today’s. And “Yes!” that means writing our own Bible and, sometimes, recording our journeys with the re-formed passage.

Deconstructing and Repeating Scripture (Part 1)

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“Creative Commons But, Mommy…” by Dagny Mol is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the hallmarks of postmodern philosophy is the interaction of the concepts of deconstruction and repetition. Deconstruction is a reaction to the rigid certitude accorded to reason in the latter stages of modernity. This is especially true when it comes to religious dialogue and theological formulations. Deconstruction listens carefully to the discourse, searching for what Francis of Assisi called “the marrow of the Gospel,” the inner core of meaning. Repetition, then, is a repeating of the possibility of that marrow, that core, in a new context — that is, for today. This re-contextualizing, as John Caputo suggests, is the process by which we let truth happen. Repetition, instead of reproducing the original, is “repeating the possible rather than the actual.”  (Truth, 2013, page 94)

In the church we either desire to access the original teachings of Yeshua or we assume that we know those teachings. What we actually have direct access to is Paul’s repetition of Yeshua’s teachings and the repetition of the Gospel authors and the other New Testament authors. Moreover, the history of biblical scholarship and theology has often been more a recollection of the conclusions of New Testament authors (with layers added on by biblical scholars and theologians)  than it has been a repetition of the teachings of Yeshua. Layer upon layer upon layer. Deconstruction attempts to move the layers to the side.

Schweitzer’s ‘quest for the historical Jesus ‘ and the work of the Jesus Seminar are attempts to get beneath those layers, accessing Yeshua the real person, how he lived and what he taught. While we may applaud the work of those scholars, we cannot be absolutely sure that they have given us everything that we desire. There are, however, direct clues to the core of the Way that Yeshua lived and taught. The roots of Yeshua, to no one’s surprise, lie in the scriptures and traditions of Israel. An abstraction of the core message from Israel is the injunction to care for widows and orphans and to provide gracious hospitality to the strangers in our midst. Jesus’ repetition of those core values was expressed as caring for the poor — not just those with lesser economic means (though they were obviously included under Yeshua’s umbrella of care and concern) but, more particularly, those who had been marginalized and alienated from power.

One of the difficulties with the layers of repetition that have been laid on top of Yeshua is that they have become encrusted, solidified, and entrusted as if they were the final message. “Believe this and you will be saved!” So many of the encrusted layers actually divert our attention away from experiencing Yeshua’s radical wisdom and his wholistic spirituality, directing us to rational belief systems about Yeshua.

How do I go about engaging scripture so that it comes alive in the context of my 21st century world? Conversely, how might I become more alive in the context of the Way lived and taught by Yeshua?

John Caputo’s radical, ‘weak’ theology has provided me with the concepts and the language that both encourage and help me in the task of deconstructing and re-contextualing as I approach scripture. For many years I have been unable to develop and/or maintain a disciplined devotional life. I immediately concluded that this was a deficiency in my life, my faith. I am now beginning to realize (or, more likely, to admit) that the layers of repetition I had been taught were no longer meaningful for me. They did not ‘fit.’ They had become hollow words for me. They have drained me, rather than filling me up. They no longer provide a challenge to a radical life in the Way of Yeshua. Instead, they energized my dis-belief and my argumentative self. I searched for colleagues and mentors who could show me the way. I was drawn to the more progressive theologians and biblical scholars — e.g., John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, etc. As much as I liked their writings (they were breaths of fresh air), I was concerned that they did not go far enough in their re-contextualizing. Enter John Caputo.

Caputo’s statement that “God does not exist, God insists” was a projectile that struck my head and my heart. Insistence, that “unheard inner calling,” is at the heart of Caputo’s radical, ‘weak’ theology. Can my thought processes, my theological framework, my faith practice(s), my life be re-shaped or re-focused? Truth be known, I enjoy being a bit radical; but am I willing to be grounded. I am almost always willing to think new thoughts; am I willing to feel new feelings and act in new ways?

More in tomorrow’s post.

Angelus Silesius – The Rose

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I conclude this series on Silesius’ theopoetics (The Puckish Pilgrim) with the most famous of his poems:

Die Ros ist ohn warum;
sie blühet weil sie blühet,
Sie acht nicht ihrer selbst,
fragt nicht, ob man sie siehet.

The rose is without ‘why’;
it blooms simply because it blooms.
It pays no attention to itself,
nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.

Cherubinischer Wandersmann

Martin Heidegger used this poem to help undergird his idea that truth is discovered in the living of it, as opposed to the idea that there is some eternal Truth that must be sought separate from existence. But the idea of “without why” was not original to Angelus Silesius. He simply reflected in poetic imagery an idea that was present in Meister Eckhart, who died 300 years before Silesius was born.

Eckhart was reacting against Aquinas’ ethics as being too mercantile – that is, trading ethical behavior for a divine favor – the Beatific Vision. Instead, Echkart suggested that, “”[The just person] wants and seeks nothing, for he knows no why. He acts without a why just in the same way as God does; and just as life lives for its own sake and seeks no why for the sake of which it lives, so too the just person knows no why for the sake of which he would do something.” (quoted in John M. Connolly)  Ethical (justice-based) action for Eckhart was simply doing justice for justice’s sake – thus acting divinely, at one with God, the source of true bliss.

This is quite different from the basic idea of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Drive LifePerhaps a modern version of Eckhart / Silesius’s rose is caught up in the poster that simply declares: “Bloom where you are planted!”