Monthly Archives: June 2016

A Portrait of God

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“Creative Commons Die Erschaffung Adams – Michelangelo” by Jörg Lohrer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“God doesn’t exist; God insists.” (John Caputo)

“The Creator of the galaxies lives, whispers uniquely good things about us in our hearts, and urges us to rise up and uses our freedom to become compassionate peace-makers in our world.” (Henri Nouwen)

“Dreams always come from behind you, not right between your eyes. It sneaks up on you. When you have a dream it doesn’t often come at you screaming in your face… Sometimes a dream whispers. … If you can listen to the whisper, and it tickles your heart, and you think it’s something you want to do for the rest of your life, then that is what you are going to do for the rest of your life. And we will benefit from everything you do.” (Steven Spielberg)

“What you have painted is not a portrait of God, but a proof of faith.” (Pope Julius II to Michaelangel, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”)

__________________

The history of humankind contains the stories of many attempts to paint a portrait of a Higher Power / Spirit / God(s) / Mystery / Eternal / The Holy Other / Thou. Upon closer examination those stories tell the manifold ways that people have held their faith(s). Early rituals to propitiate the gods that inhabited all aspects of nature paint a picture of the precariousness of life and the seeming harshness of nature. The individual Gods of tribe / city-state / nation represent the elevation of my / our identity over against the identity of our neighbors and rivals. The One God bears witness to an underlying desire / hope to unify people (ostensibly under my / our way of life).

The history of attempts to paint the image of God demonstrates one of our human foibles – namely, our inability to get beyond ourselves, unwillingness to accept the colors with which others paint, hesitancy to engage and incorporate the stories of others

Within our cultural traditions, our Jewish forebears began to articulate a broader concern related to the One God – namely, the care for widows, orphans, and strangers residing within the broader community. Yeshua refined that perspective by calling his followers to care for the poor.

This compassionate concern for those who exist outside the normal protective mechanisms of society helps promote the idea of a future reality that might not come until after death – the kingdom (reign) of God. This bit of realism recognizes the difficulties many / most human have with sustained compassion.

Our inability to sustain compassion and our reluctance to walking “with” the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers in our midst keeps us from embracing a picture of a God who loves us all, Yeshua who won’t choose between the “right” one and the “wrong” one. This resistance produces a dualistic dilemma that divides the world into “us” and “them,” “good” and “evil;” and ends with the projection of the idea of a future reality that might not come until after death – the kingdom (reign) of God.

The attempts to depict God often left the thinkers with a dilemma. On the one hand was that which drew them toward compassion, peace, and justice, resulting in community. That attraction was toward a better life. It had a positive valence. On the other hand, with a negative valence, was the draw toward power, privilege, and separation which produced empire. Many projected these twin attractors onto a cosmic screen – the ultimate battle (Armegeddon) between Good and Evil, between God and Satan. This cosmic dualism seemed to fit their experience of being torn between the twin attractors. Such a dualism made it easy to divide the world into the Good and the Evil. (And, of course, I / we were always to be counted among the Good, the Godly; and “they” were the Evil ones.) The question then becomes how can we move beyond the dualism without dissolving the tension.

One part of our cultural heritage saw another solution – namely that we all are a combination of good and evil, compassion and power, peace and privilege, separation and justice, empire and community. Sometimes one side of the equation is in ascendancy; sometimes, the other. The book of Job pictures The Satan as a member of God’s court – a heavenly advisor whose function is to question and test the commitment of humans – a task he does only too well. The portrait attempted here is that of an internal conversation within God that keeps Good and Evil in tension, in dialogue, without resolving the issue. The faith that is witnessed here is an inner spiritual dialogue that each one of us must maintain lest the tension be diffused and privilege and separateness power their way into our lives without much opposition. More particularly and more personally, the question is how am I to deal with that tension inside me? Can I pause long enough to engage the scariness my own inner dissonance, while recognizing that I have never been alone.

That inner conversation with the twin attractors is the event which harbors the name of God. Caputo is right, God insists / beckons / draws toward / calls. It is up to us to listen for the voice(s) that whispers from behind “uniquely good things about us in our hearts, and urges us to rise up and use our freedom to become compassionate peace-makers in our world.”

Insurrectionist for the Commonwealth

CCO Public Domain
CCO Public Domain

2 Timothy 4:1-8 1 I’m giving you this commission in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is coming to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearance and his kingdom. Preach the word. Be ready to do it whether it is convenient or inconvenient. Correct, confront, and encourage with patience and instruction.There will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered.They will turn their back on the truth and turn to myths. But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances. Endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the good news, and carry out your service fully. I’m already being poured out like a sacrifice to God, and the time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous[b] judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Looking Inside Paul’s Words

It is the insistence of God (perhaps) and continuing influence of Yeshua’s Way that makes us insurrectionists for the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. It is as one of the insurrectionists that I solemnly urge you (actually it is more than just urge, I want to insist in the name of God. Perhaps.)

Never hesitate to be the message that we proclaim — that abundant living is only found when we turn the priorities of the world upside-down and inside-out… dying to self is the only way to find one’s true self; caring for the poor is the only true wealth of life; giving up power is the only pathway to transformation; the open and effusive love shown by children trumps the calculating deceit of adults every time; true justice is about restoring relationships, not exacting punishment on those who are different and/or threatening.

Be persistent as a living witness to that message even though many label you as deceitful, atheistic, or even the Anti-Christ. What you are is an insurrectionist for the Commonwealth of God’s Peace and Justice. Even though it is not easy, stand tall in the Way that you have chosen (or is it the Way that has chosen you?).

As for me, I suspect that my time is about to come to an end. I have invested my life in the Way because an inner voice of insistence won’t let me be at ease unless I am attempting to live my life as if the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice were the normalcy of civilization. I pray that, as my life and ministry winds to an end, the Commonwealth will become more and more the norm… that the least, the last, the lost, and the left out will be embraced and have their needs cared for… that those with means will understand that status, prestige, and power must be relinquished in favor of participation, relationship, and compassion.

That is what I am awaiting; that is the Appearance, the Advent for which generations have longed.

Biblical Authority — A Sticky Problem (Part 2)

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“Creative Commons Torah and jad – exhibits in Big Synagogue Museum, Wlodawa – Poland.” by Merlin is licensed under CC BY 2.5

The categories of Torah, Prophets, and Writings of the Hebrew scriptures (àla Richard Rohr & Walter Brueggemann) represent an approach to understanding faith formation. Torah is the presentation of structure and predictability for developing faith – laws that are eternally valid and simply to be obeyed. The Prophets represent the agonizing critique of blind obedience and disobedience – calling a growing people back to their living roots. The Writings engage the people with mystery and paradox as they face the realities of everyday life with the necessity of transforming faith into action.

The Hebrew understanding of scripture was dynamic, not static. The rabbis argued among themselves and propounded alternative interpretations which were collected together (Mishnah and Midrash). Conversation, even dispute, is the “stuff” of which scriptural interpretation is formed. In the Christian Scripture, the four gospels reflect four different pictures of Yeshua’s life and mission. Is one of the more right than the others? Yes and No!

The interpretation of scripture is a conversational process, a dialogue within the church and with the world. How does the context of the original authors affect how we understand the meaning of the text? How does our context? What are the questions that the text poses regarding our lives? What are the questions that we bring to the text? What authority do we give the text? (This last question is the difficult one that currently divides the church.)

According to one view, scripture’s authority is external and ontological – that is, scripture is authoritative because it is. Its authority is simply a given, a matter of faith. Scripture is authoritative in so far as it functions to define and delimit beliefs. When one’s belief system is in accord with scripture, that person is right with God (because God is the ultimate author of Scripture).

An alternative narrative would suggest that scripture’s authority is defined (or, more explicitly, illustrated) by its function to bring about transformation in the church, its members, and even the world. Scripture is authoritative only when we interact with it and with one another, allowing ourselves to be transformed by the interactions. We can fulfill scripture’s ‘mandate’ to care for the widows, orphans, and strangers in our midst, only when we walk with them, allowing ourselves to be transformed in our walk together. We can only hear Yeshua’s invitation to care for the poor when we engage the poor in such a way that we might be transformed by their presence with us (just as they may be transformed by their presence with us). It may be more proper and more important to talk about scripture’s function rather than its authority?

Unfortunately, much rhetoric about scriptural authority in today’s church is not about dialogue when facing contemporary issues. Instead, it is a conversation stopper, a dialogue blocker. “You really don’t believe in the Bible” promotes self-righteousness posturing from one side and self-righteous resentment from the other. Scripture has no authority when conversation ceases and party lines are drawn.

Biblical Authority — A Sticky Problem (Part 1)

"Creative Commons Albert V Bryan Federal District Courthouse - Alexandria Va - 0011 - 2012-03-10" by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Albert V Bryan Federal District Courthouse – Alexandria Va – 0011 – 2012-03-10” by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Creative Commons Francisco” by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unraveling the Sticky Problem of Biblical Authority and Interpretation

Scripture is to the church what the Constitution is to the United States

• both are authoritative
• both have a system for review and interpretation

Constitution – court system
Bible – institutional church

• both have been interpreted and misinterpreted by its adherents
• each has two primary schools of interpretation:

Constitution 

The Federalist Society (strict construction/originalism – “ founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.“) 

The American Constitution Society (principles and core values – “law should be a force to improve the lives of all people … [through] a compelling vision of core constitutional values such as genuine equality, liberty, justice and the rule of law”) 

– Bible

Conservative/Fundamental (scripture’s authority is external; it comes from God – therefore “the Bible means what it says”)

Liberal/Progressive (scripture’s authority is transmuted to the church, therefore“the Bible means what it means”)

The difficulty in interpreting the implications of the Bible and the Constitution in todays world lies in the reality that the sum total of human knowledge has changed dramatically since the original documents were written and today’s societies face circumstances that could not have been conceived by the writers who drafted the original documents. As a consequence, both the authority accorded to the original documents (including the intentions of the authors) and the methods of interpreting their meaning in today’s society continue to be hotly debated. One significant difference between Constitutional interpretation and the interpretation of Scripture is that the Constitution can be amended; scripture can only be reinterpreted.

The church chose what was to be considered authoritative (the ‘canon’ of scripture], and what was not. There was healthy debate in the early church about which writings were to be considered canonical (that is authoritative). By the middle of the third century there seemed to be a growing consensus about the shape of the canon. The Presbyterian Church, in the 1st chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, lists its canon by naming the approved books, as well as identifying “the books commonly called the Apocrypha” as not being authoritative.

Scripture is what we say it is and has whatever authority we choose to give it. While none of us on either side of the authority and interpretation divide are willing to admit it, our understanding of Biblical authority and our capacity to interpret scripture rests in a delicate balance of political, philosophical, theological, and practical considerations. At different times and given different circumstances, any one (or combination) of such considerations may be leading our interpretation. And, that is the way it should be!

Since scripture has no amendment plan, we have to interpret the hell out of it – that is, find creative ways to interpret scripture so as to eliminate any use of scripture to promote racism, xenophobia, sexism, violent solutions to relational and political problems, demonizing neighbors, marginalizing individuals or groups, hatred and fear.

Richard Rohr in his daily reflection for 6/16/16 (”The Purpose of the Law”) writes, “Often it takes an initial reliance on some outer authority to send us on the path toward our own inner authority.” Unfortunately, the church historically has been wont to side with scripture’s outer authority (“God says…” or “the church says”) without effectively teaching its members how to traverse the path toward an inner authority. Yeshua had no difficulty in saying “You know what scripture says…; here is what I say…!” I believe that is what he was teaching us to do (individually and collectively – the “and” is important).

Many authors over time wrote down the stories and ideas that seemed to help them understanding how God was at work in their lives and the lives of their people. Over time, the church sifted through those stories and ideas, culling out the best one for inclusion in the canon of scripture. In our time, we become responsible interpreters when we listen to those stories and ideas, sift through them asking how they can inform our journeys as we grapple with the question, “What am I, a believer in Jesus Christ and a member of his church, to do?” (Paul Lehmann) or “How am I experiencing an insistence that comes in the name of God?” (John Caputo) “Who is my neighbor?” (Yeshua)

Reflections — Day Three

"Creative Commons Pride Flag" by BluEyedA73 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Pride Flag” by BluEyedA73 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Is the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando shooting The tipping point? Many have begun to think and feel and act differently because of it. Certainly many of us have been musing about what is on the horizon for our society. 

My friend, Wayne Purintun, is one of those thoughtful ones. After conversations with members of the gay community, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, he spent three days reflecting and journaling. 

Today’s post is the third of three, containing the words from his journal. I commend his reflections to you.

Day Three

the circumstances
of my life
say stay
where you are
Don’t move on
and so
I reflect
on the silences
of waiting
and being present
to this moment
I hear the
noise of motors
and the clatter
of work on
the street
the sounds
of life
and the
activity of the
world around me.
I sense
the urge to
make meaning
out of
waiting
I am reaching
out to distract
myself from the present
Now

The reality
of my NOW
is mis-perceived
as anger –

So my statement
of what is
has a spin
I had not

intended

Perhaps the
signal is one
of interpreting
all responses
as anger
until proven
differently.

That gives me
pause
a culture of
anger and resentment
P E R H A P S !

So we question
anything other
than that feeling
or response –

So life goes on
   So I move on

Reflections — Day Two

"Creative Commons Pride" by Daniel Lobo is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Pride” by Daniel Lobo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Is the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando shooting The tipping point? Many have begun to think and feel and act differently because of it. Certainly many of us have been musing about what is on the horizon for our society. 

My friend, Wayne Purintun, is one of those thoughtful ones. After conversations with members of the gay community, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, he spent three days reflecting and journaling. 

Today’s post is the second of three, containing the words from his journal. I commend his reflections to you.

________________

Day Two

I listen
I read
I reflect
and
there is the silence.
No answers
no word
no feeling
numbness
We do not
understand
We do not
think
or feel
our energy
shapes a reaction
a revenge
a blame
misunderstanding
mis-naming the intentions
just confusion
that freezes us.
And in that moment
   there is no word
We have
   turned off
   all receptors.
all the faucets
   there is no water
   we are dried up.
dehydrated
   in need of a
   saline solution of love.
You are my beloved son
   with whom I
   am well pleased
and we are deaf
   without hearing aids
   in need of a caring
      person
   to take our hand
      and put it under
      a faucet
and say water
   writing it on our hands
      and our heart
         LOVE
Blind, deaf, and dumb
   the hug of humanity
      the embrace of a community
   the insistence
      of God, Perhaps

The wall is high
   and yet the
      light penetrates

   the container of our life
      and we experience
         I Am Who I Am
   I Am
      in this moment
         one.

Reflections — Day One

"Creative Commons Pride" by Michael Ruiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Pride” by Michael Ruiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Is the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando shooting The tipping point? Many have begun to think and feel and act differently because of it. Certainly many of us have been musing about what is on the horizon for our society. 

My friend, Wayne Purintun, is one of those thoughtful ones. After conversations with members of the gay community, in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, he spent three days reflecting and journaling. 

Today’s post, as well as the posts for the next two day contain the words from his journal. I commend his reflections to you.

________________

Day One

I am
feeling
and thinking
confused,
angry
and sad
What is troubling
me?
The insistence
to do / say / be
something
someone
a wise person
who brings
insight instead
of anger
or mind numbing
grief
there is Orlando
and fear
and anger
and blame
and grief.
Where is
the wisdom?
The leadership
that unites
a neighborhood
of divisive people

I see
the many sides
and the
many paths
We are
at a crossroads.
The way
forward is
not backward
to old answers or
reactions
but responses
of the heart.
We need
a time out
to reflect
to be silent
to hear our many voices
to wrestle
and to feel.
Wisdom combines
all that I am
into one voice.
Words must
include feelings
as well as reason
a diversity
of emotions
that is a
Pentecost of language
with one narrative
an alternative response.
I must
visit the depth
of my experience
and the
cauldron of my emotions
birthing all
into a call
to live beyond
myself and my moment
into the presence
of Yeshua
a way of
love and truth
calling me
to live beyond
my emotional reactions
into His way.
Words carefully chosen,
few in number,
and pointing
me beyond myself
to declare
God’s presence
in our midst.

Are the Dead Raised?

"Creative Commons The Hope of the Resurrection (wallpaper)" by Shawn Campbell is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons The Hope of the Resurrection (wallpaper)” by Shawn Campbell is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 Corinthians15:12 12 So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”?
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

How quickly we jump from Yeshua to Christ and, in that jump, lose perspective. To say that Christ is resurrected from the dead is not the same thing as saying that Yeshua was re-vivifed (a dead physical body, alive once again — brought back from the dead).

Yeshua died — physically, end of the story. But the story does’t end there. For the disciples, for the early church, for the whole history of the church, for Christians today, for me, Yeshua is still a vital dynamic reality our lives — as if he were still alive and breathing. Therefore it becomes easy to cross the line and talk about a physical resurrection of Jesus into the Christ.

The truth is that dynamic process of messianism is now available within, to each one of us. That was one of the truly remarkable contributions of Yeshua to the spiritual development of humankind, to the development of God. Perhaps.

So are the dead raised? An incoherent question with only incoherent answers. The question that should be asked is: “How is resurrection possible before death, during life?” “Is there life (that is, abundant life) beyond life?” The wise answer is “Yes!”

True Peace

"Creative Commons Francisco" by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Upload Peace!” by Patrick Breitenbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Joel 2:28-29 28 After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;  your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. 29 In those days, I will also pour out my spirit on the male and female slaves. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

When we acknowledge that
insistence in the name of God
is visited commonly on people
of all religious faiths,
then sons and daughters
will respond to the unheard inner calling;
seniors will dream dreams and
spin yarns about the Commonwealth;
and youth will envision a new world
embracing the wholeness
of Peace and Justice for all.

Moreover, those who had previously
been marginalized and disempowered
will be at the forefront
of welcoming the transformation,
the metamorphosis that occurs
as this world emerges butterfly-like
from its cocoon.

Shaping Community

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“Creative Commons Community Space + baseline” by Luc Legay is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ephesians 4:25 – 32 25 Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. 26 Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. 27 Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. 28 Thieves should no longer steal. Instead, they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need. 29 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. 30 Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. 31 Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. 32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Being very human and not fully integrated within, we need to agree on some boundaries that will help us structure our relationships as a community. For example, lying about our neighbors breaks the very trust upon which our community depends.

It is important to recognize anger within ourselves and others. However, we dare not let our actions toward one another be shaped by those angers. Actually, the best course of action is to confront those angers as they arise, name them, and then find a way beyond them.

Let yourself be known by your diligence and work-ethic not your laziness which tends to steal from the time and labor of others. And let the productivity of your work be shared with those who have needs. Be careful about what you say. Use your brain and your mouth to provide a firm platform for building creative and positive relationships with others.

If Spirit is insisting upon you, pay attention. There is probably some enlightened perception or action that you are being called to. Show compassion and understanding with one another, demonstrating a forgiving spirit where it is called for. Be an imitator of Yeshua, selling all so that you might live in love, peace, integrity, and justice.

When a community practices daily living in this manner, you become a thank-offering in the name of God. Perhaps.