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Radical Trust

Brueggemann suggests that the biblical witness clearly depicts David, not as trust-worthy but nonetheless trusted by God. This radical trust in humans is the foundation of the wisdom tradition. I first encountered radical trust in Herman Waetjen’s translation of Romans 1:17 – “trusting into trust.” But what does such radical trust mean?

Radical trust means that:
The poor are to be trusted, just as the rich are
Blacks are to be trusted, just as whites are
LGBTQs are to be trusted, just as straights are
Muslims and Jews are to be trusted, just as Christians are
Immigrants are to be trusted, just as residents are
Children and youth are to be trusted, just as adults are
Politicians are to be trusted, just as neighbors are

That last one was hard to write, until I realized that radical trust does come with filters – namely, responsibility and transcendence. When any individual or group acts irresponsibly – that is, uses their status, condition, or opportunity to aggrandize their own power – they are not to be trusted. When any individual or group is so focused on things that they lose a transcendent perspective – that is, they act in such a manner that denies “the mystery of life’s underlying order and direction for the sake of those entrusted to us” – they are not to be trusted. Radical trust is radical because of its filters.

The current state of affairs in American society is that radical fear has replaced trust. Radical fear is transposed into radical ideologies which have no filters other than “us” versus “them.” Decisions are brokered on the basis of those ideologies, resulting in increasing chronic anxiety which feeds the radical fear and produces more extreme and rigid ideological schemes. Our politicians are the tip of the iceberg; we are the iceberg!

Responsibility and Transcendence

Brueggemann suggests (In Man We Trust) that the wisdom tradition in Israel was developed partly by those theologians who worked to make sense of the new phenomenon – a king. What was required was a shift in focus for cultural meaning away from cultic practices and toward society and government – away from the leadership of priests and judges and toward the king (and eventually) the prophets.

He goes further by suggesting that “Our task in the church today is to fashion a theology fit for kings – kings of affluence, power, technology, and urbanization.” Is this simply an attempt to legitimize power? By no means! Two threads provide a balance (or perhaps hold some contradictory ideas in tension):

1. Responsibility. Power is never to be absolutized. Government does not exist for the sake of the governors, but for the sake of the governed. Even the ideal king, David, could not get away with his shameful use of power to acquire Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 12 relates how the prophet Nathan confronted David face-to-face.

Wisdom understands that human destiny is determined by human choice informed by responsibility. Such responsibility means going beyond personal comfort and gain. It means seeking the good for all in society and caring for nature.

People charged with leadership (in government, business, education, church, family, etc.) are responsible to and for those whom they lead. Republican and Democratic politicians need training in this area; as do pastors and elders in the church. And responsibility is not only the charge of leaders, it is the calling of participants, as well.

2. Transcendence. Traditionally, transcendence is the term used to gather together the various attributes of the “otherness” of God, especially as that otherness invades and interrupts the normalcy of human life. Brueggemann, reflecting on the development of the wisdom tradition in Israel, offers a different perspective:

Transcendence is the recognition that there is a mystery in life that is not confined to our ignorance, incompetence, or abdication. There is mystery in our best knowledge, in our greatest skill, and in our most passionate concern. The wisdom teachers and their followers did not care form a ‘God who acts,’ but they did know and affirm that life has an order and direction which is larger than human effort and which is not knowable to us. Faith means coming to terms with that direction and order for the sake of those entrusted to us.

I wish Brueggemann had said more about transcendence, but maybe that is the key to understanding the wisdom tradition – there is always enough information to make a decision, even when the data is conflicting. The data most often overlooked or neglected is “the sake of those entrusted to us.”

Responsibility and transcendence are not opposites; instead they complement each other. Together they provide a definition of radical trust, which is the essence of wisdom.

In Man We Trust

I have begun re-reading Walter Brueggemann’s delightful little book on the wisdom tradition in Israel, In Man We Trust: the Neglected Side of Biblical Faith (John Knox Press, 1972). Brueggemann’s usual prescient insight into scripture is present as he describes the cultural shift that takes place during the United Monarchy under Kings David and Solomon.

The shift was from cultic religion to secularized society. The wisdom tradition that resulted relocated accountability and responsibility away from God and toward human beings in community.

The old traditions no longer made sense or fit as explanations for behaviors in the contemporary world. What to do in order to “get through to those who had ‘escaped the gods,’ and so avert the suicidal course of avarice and pride” on which course the nation seemed to have locked its auto-pilot? Abandon the old? Stick to and reinforce the old? No, those options were not chosen. Instead a “radical transformation of the old” was called for. “But Israel under Solomon was so busy that she could not listen in time.”

Brueggemann’s insights could be applied to our culture today. Our society, at large, has been telling us for years that the old traditions of Christianity in America are no longer working. Some of us have doggedly stuck with the old, reinforced their passion for the old, and told the rest of us that we are going to Hell because of our non-Christian beliefs. Others have simply abandoned the old traditions. They are the “NONEs” and the “DONEs.”

I happen to belong to a small group of Christians who are seeking within ourselves a radical transformation of the old. I am not ready to jettison Christianity or the church (although my lover’s quarrel with the church leads me to criticize it vociferously).

“Out of wisdom quite another approach to the gospel is possible. Jesus Christ may ne presented not simply as savior form sin, but also as fulfillment of the summons to Adam in Genesis.” Christianity faith understands that Yeshua opens the possibility of an intimate connection with God we serve, whose summons is experienced within, not from the outside. Furthermore, Yeshua defines what we mean when we talk about genuine human life — connection with God in and through service to others and nature. Why? Simply because human life floats on gratuity — theologically this simply means the the cosmos trusts human beings to be fully human. 

Is American society so busy with our own brand of arrogance and pride that we, much like Israelite society under Solomon, will not listen in time?

Write Your Own Post

For a change of pace, why not write your own blog post instead of reading someone else’s. Not sure where to begin? Following are some beginning questions to ponder.  I’d love to hear some of your stories.

  • What is before you now, stirring within you, nudging you, wanting to come to life in and through you? Are you embracing or resisting it? Where do you find support for your journey in faith as you wrestle with these stirrings?
  • What brings you hope and joy? How do you incorporate that hope/joy into your life? 
  • What angst brings you to tears? Can you explore those tears without fear? While fear often produces anger, does your anger get transformed into a passion leading to redemptive action?
  • As you examine your continuing faith formation (including your involvement – or lack thereof – in church) what hesitations present themselves? what possibilities? Where do you find hope and the permission to make those scary decisions that are hope-filled and leading to a more abundant life?
  • Over and over Yeshua is recorded as saying, “Fear not!” How does “fear not” get into our bones, into the gristle of our lives? What has been (or might have been) helpful in your formation as you discover / access / attain the vulnerability of falling into (God’s) grace? of living out of a bedrock of trust and hope?
  • How have you experienced the challenge to embrace living into a “new” way that understands your life as an integral part of the connection and interactivity of all creation – from Higgs boson to the most distant galaxy? How does that connectedness of all invite you to both responsibility and enjoyment?

Imago Dei

Nicholas of Cusa

“It is the whole universe, not the little human speck of it, that is made in imago dei. … The universe does not resemble a God who stands outside it; it resembles God only insofar as it embodies God, everywhere in the unreserved equally.”  
(quoted in Keller, Cloud of the Impossible, p. 118)


Active Fermentation

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

There is a confidence that builds in us as we learn to listen to the insistence of God (perhaps), that unheard inner calling. That confidence is also known as faithing. Faithing is flip side of calling. When we sense that insistence, we become accountable for our response – a response which makes God present in the world. This pattern (Insistence generating Response becoming Presence) is crucial, for God exists in name only unless we act in God’s name, thus manifesting God to the world. And what is the nature of that manifestation of God (perhaps) — it is simply the spreading of the effects of the Way Yeshua lived and taught, the presence of the commonwealth of peace and tender justice. During his earthly existence Yeshua did remarkably well. We see the messianic hopes of Israel unmistakably present in all that he did and taught. We are confident, therefore, that the creation has turned a corner. The commonwealth is already present, like yeast in bread dough.

Symbol of God’s Presence

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

The tribes of Israel came to David. “We are your kinsmen. Saul was our king, but you are the one whose military leadership preserved our nation and we want you to be king. We believe that it is a calling in the name of God (perhaps) that you should be our shepherd.” There and then, at Hebron, a covenant was established between David and his kinsmen making David king. At the time David was 30. He ruled from Hebron for 6 1/2 years before moving his capital to Jerusalem. From there he ruled for 33 years, making his reign last a total of 70 years. Jerusalem was built up during his reign and became known as the city of David. David’s power and prestige continued to grow, and he became a symbol of God’s presence with the people.

A Choice!

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 

You have a choice to make — life or death, prosperity or adversity. It is that insistence which I have experienced and which I pass on to you, a deep inner calling in the name of God. Perhaps. Follow the Way which is described in the commandments and decrees and ordinances in the name of God (perhaps) and you will live the insurrection life that challenges the systems of this world and moves toward a new kind of life — perhaps even life in the land of milk and honey. It is a choice between a life of blessing in the name of God (perhaps) or a cursed death lived under the specter of empire, and not only for you but for your descendents. The calling comes in the name of God (perhaps); attend to that insistence and let your response be as audacious, outlandish, and faithful as was the response of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Living Water

Reflections on Thirst for God (after reading Reuben Job)

Whenever you have experienced great thirst, you have subsequently been aware how refreshing water can be. When the Samaritan woman ran into Yeshua at Jacob’s well, she was just trying to quench her physical thirst. Encountering Yeshua, however, she experienced something far deeper — namely, a thirst for connection with divine mystery and meaning. Yeshua was responding to that deeper calling.

The desire for connection with divine mystery and meaning seems to be universal, as if our very creatureliness has been formed around that desire. It almost seems imprinted through our DNA. In the rush of daily living, it is easy to ignore, deny, or bury this desire under multiple layers of distractions. And yet, when we face the significant ups and downs of life, that desire becomes manifest in us once again… it is an insistence that we experience inwardly that makes us aware that companionship with that calling, that insistence, that nudge, that invitation, that still small voice within, is our life-blood. It is at these moments that we are aware that life lived outside of this insistent calling is not a possibility that we can easily sustain. We have been created to hear and follow this calling in the name of God (perhaps) just as much as we have been created as ones who must have water to survive.

Today we still look to Yeshua for living water. Joining together in companionship with Yeshua and those who have chosen to follow in the Way he lived and taught is the very thing that will quench our thirst. Like the Psalmist, we thirst for connection with divine mystery and meaning. The good news is that Yeshua’s Way will satisfy that thirst.

Praise! Praise!

Psalms 146:1-10         Praise insistence in the name of God. Perhaps. Praise! Praise! I will sing the praises of God’s insistence, that unheard inner calling that we simply cannot escape. I do not put my trust in empires and politicians. They are of little help. But I do trust those who wait and listen in order that they might hear the quiet voice of insistence that shouts inwardly, awakening us to the conditions of the oppressed. As I hear that divine insistence, the calling that comes in the name of God (perhaps), I know that we are being beckoned toward the commonwealth of peace and tender justice. May the despondent be set free from that which imprisons them; those short-sighted freed from their blindness; the ones who are burdened with heavy loads helped to stand straight and tall; strangers shown deep rich hospitality; orphans and widows be cared for. All this while the wicked are hoisted on their own petard. May the commonwealth of peace and tender justice become the normalcy of civilization until the end of time.

We place the name of God on our best hopes for the world. Ironically, we know that it is the vitality of our loving care that makes a difference in the world and makes God present to that difference. When we go astray, insistence in the name of God (perhaps) shows us the way to return to full, rich life. We know that human institutions falter, so we stake our hope on the insurrection of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. That hope takes on reality when kindness is shown to those lost, ill, oppressed, disregarded, or trodden down by any and all forms of adversity. That kindness is the hallmark of the Way lived and taught by Yeshua. At the time of his death Yeshua cried out with a sense of forsakenness. When we hear that forsaken cry echo down through the ages we are reminded (actually it is much stronger than that — we are insisted upon, called to reach out to those forsaken in life)…  it is then that we  know that the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice is founded on “the preferential option for the poor (and forsaken).” Yeshua has shown us the Way. Therefore we praise all that insisted him and us.