Monday, July 31, 2006

31 July 2006

Today we begin the week with a continuation of Douglas John Hall writing on The Church and the Cross..

The symbol at the center of our faith (the cross) must be turned into an apotheosis (an exalted or glorified ideal) of death, including the death of Jesus. Golgotha, rather, is a courageous facing of death and a confrontation with death - with "the enemy." Here God confronts the enemy and oppressor of life with a view to death eschatological overcoming. This enemy, like all great enemies of life, can only be overcome from within. ...Death must be faced, undergone, entered into - if it is to be challenged, defeated. Hence the second sentence of Moltmann's book on this theological tradition reads: "Yet only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changed the world because it is no longer afraid of death." What Paul calls "the sting of death" ( 1 Corinthians 15:55-56) is removed in faith through the grace-given courage to confront death's mockery of life openly.

There is and there must be that "confrontation." Otherwise, death will rule among us. From the cross of Christ we do not merely receive a pass to the other side of death. We take up a life of confrontation that is not afraid of the power of death because our Lord has faced it - in its full and brutal force - and made the power of death powerless. When I read this kind of talk - as a self-acknowledged coward - I find that I am encouraged to act and speak more often than not. Could it be that in hearing of the "courageous facing of death and the confrontation with death" by Jesus at Golgotha" the Holy Spirit is able to move even me to act just a bit...and then again maybe a bit more? I think so. In fact, as this coward, I would say I am in the boat with a whole bunch of folks. Our task as Church may be to keep telling this story and never turn it into something sweet and sentimental. Rather, we must keep it as real as it was. We must steer one another to focus on the way in which Jesus walked up to the power of death and did not give death an opportunity to win the day - any day. In that community support, even the cowards become more courageous and becomes new.

Connection: When we are able to courageously face all the signs of death around us (and remember they can be quite small and ordinary), we are also beginning to take hold of the life that is promised in our baptism. Life that will live - and live abundantly - even as death stalks us.

O Lord of Life, we await the power of you Spirit. We long for the encouragement of our lives to break in and shape us this day. We know that you continue to bring that power into our lives and we pray that we will be made open vessels ready to be filled by your Spirit of life. Amen.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

28 July 2006

More on the Church and the Cross by Douglas John Hall.

For biblical faith, death is "the enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26) - as the Apocalypse also insists (Revelation 21:4) - "the last enemy," waiting for its final eradication by "the Lord and Giver of Life." This is why the theology of the cross must never become, or seem to harbor, a glorification of death. And this is why, when the cross has been turned into such a glorification, it is right that it should be resisted - as some feminists and others in our time have done. To the surprise of many, Jurgen Moltmann began his book on the theology of the cross with the sentence, "The cross is not and cannot be loved." With this short sentence, Moltmann writes a great question mark over all cross-inspired pietism, heroism, and sentimentality, such as one has in many much loved hymns ("In the cross of Christ I glory," "I shall cherish the old rugged cross," etc.). To such sentiments one wishes to say a qualified yes, but always with the caveat: be careful!

It is to life that we move along the way of the cross. If the cross was the end, what life would we have...what would we have to offer to the world...what would be the gift we bring with us into each new day? We are invited to live within the domain of the Lord of Life. We live already in the victory knowing that to live there means that we will not be in step with the world...and yet we love this new life so much we press on in truth and love. The cross is always an attempt to silence this life and therefore it must be in our way and it must be something through which our journey as followers of Jesus will take us. It does us not good to make the cross something sweet like those chocolate crosses (solid or hollow) that are sold from chocolatiers at Easter. It is and can never be sweet. It is death. It is the attempt to shut up the promise for life that is a gift to all. At the same time, we know that through that story of the suffering of Jesus on the cross comes the defeat of death. The defeat of the power of death that we let rule us, is the beginning of what may be the possibilities of new life yet

Connection: Living within the promise of life given and shed for us means we recognize the way of the cross that is a part of such life. And yet, today is a day to lean into that life and to be ready for what such leaning will bring our way.

You love us, O Lord, and that love brings you into the very depths of our fears and pain and sorrow. And yet, in you great love, you do not abandon us to the power of death. By the power of your Holy Spirit, we find that even as death attempts to overwhelm us you stand alongside and hold us up so that we can look beyond all things into the heart of your gracious promise for life eternal. Amen.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

27 July 2006

Today is a longer section of Douglas John Hall on the Character of Christian Suffering.

Christianity, so long as it remains true to its own sources, cannot embrace any of the heroics of death, including those associated with war or various causes, because its orientation is toward life. Life should not be easily or lightly thrown away. Christianity has this life-orientation from its parental faith, Judaism, a religion that , unlike many other religions of the human species, never succumbs to the subtle whisperings of death -even when it is hounded to death and rounded up by death and shipped to factories whose sole product was the transformation of the living to the state of death. One of the most astonishing facts of human history, surely, is that a people whose whole recorded history is one of suffering at the hands of others, more powerful peoples manifested and still manifests the most intense and jubilant commitment to life - a people whose most cherished motto is "To Life" (l'chaim).

We move toward life. The beloved community is all about life. Life that comes in the face of death and whenever and wherever death appears to have won the day. In each day, we sing a new song that does not sing the melodies of the powers that like to rule other and run the world in a way that will limit the lives of any. "To Life"....of course, to life...of course we have a memory of what it means to be hounded even though we may have not present notion of what it is to be hounded by the power of death because Christianity tends to be walking in step with the powers that have a history of hounding the underdog...the lowly...the minority. But we are a people of the Book and that makes us a people with some sense of memory. We remember the story of Israel and we remember the story of the suffering servant and we remember the story of Jesus walking with great compassion into the lives of the forgotten and we remember the life of the body of Christ, the church, that lives in, with, and under the very fabric of life as it is often rejected and despised. We move toward life even when death is an overwhelming and real presence among us.

Connection: Some days we have to really give ourselves to reality that the Church is made up of a people with such a contrary vision for life that death,through real and terrifying, does not have the last word. It has a word - a strong word - but, not the last word.

Come, Lord of LIfe and Death, be the bright light that comes into this day to reveal the life that makes us all followers of Jesus who are not too afraid to venture out into the adventure that come when we walk along your gracious way . Amen.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

26 July 2006

Today begins a look at how Douglas John Hall looks at the Character of Christian Suffering. He writes about two observations we will consider over the next week.

If I were asked to state a single thesis what this theme is all about, I would borrow a sentence from the first Christian theologian who talked about it more than anyone else, Paul: "While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11). ...I shall elaborate on this thesis in two observations: (1) The end (telos - inner aim) of the suffering into which faith is plunged is life-oriented, not death-oriented. (2) This suffering is a necessity that comes with faith, but it is not merely a foregone conclusion, as though it were predetermined or destined; moreover, it has more to do with the suffering that is outside the community of discipleship than with our own personal or ecclesiastical suffering.

Though death is around us we look to life! We do not seek to avoid death; we expect it and in the face of death and its threats we expect life. Remember though that this is included in every relationship in which we enter. Things will die - demands, wants, preferences, traditions - and yet what comes through those deaths is new life. Too often, I'm impatient about that. Then again, I can be too self-absorbed to be willing to face what life comes beyond the death of my own way and my own view. The Lord of Life - is all about life creating even when we are people focused or anxious about death and its many faces. Sometimes it is good to remember that there is time between the crucifixion and death of Jesus and Easter morning. In the meantime - between these two events - is that dark, all-consuming death. Sometimes that is all we are able to see and at other times it is what we avoid viewing and acknowledging. In both of these cases, death has us and owns us. And yet, we are invited to know death well...know its powers, its tricks, its lies, and its inability to win the day. Unfortunately, this is a place of suffering that comes to us in many ways. The followers of Jesus do not look to avoid this time. We are called to walk through it with one another - the whole body of Christ that knows how to suffer for/with/alongside the whole world.

Connection: Nothing is ever going to stay the same. We may want that to happen reality if it does, the creativity we need in our world and our own lives will never take place. Today we must remember to find ways to stay within a dialogical spirit that is willing to experience death and life...and then experience it...again...and...again.

Be present with us, O Lord. Be present with us as we face all that this day will place in our path. Do not let our fear cause us to run away from other and the opportunities we are given to grow into the beloved community of your saints. Amen.

Monday, July 24, 2006

25 July 2006

Pressing on with Douglas John Hall as he looks at "The Church and the Cross."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings, especially his first major book, The Cost of Discipleship, were a poignant and searing cry to his fellow Christians in both Europe and the West in general to realize at last that the discipleship of Jesus Christ is a serious business; it is not all the sweetness and light of Sunday morning ritual, confirmation at age twelve, pretty weddings, solemn funerals, the pageantry of state occasions. It is a quest for and a witness to truth in the midst of societies that lie, for authentic goodness in the midst of societies that reward duplicity, for true beauty in the midst of societies that celebrate kitsch and sentimentality. Above all, it is a call to obedience in the midst of a society and church that offer "cheap grace." For many of us it was Bonhoeffer's work more than any other that caused us to consider anew - or for the first time, really - this unmistakable claim of the New Testament that the discipleship of Jesus Christ entailed suffering.

When "special interests" demand allegiance lies begin. When those special interests find a more dominant place in the life of a community of people, the best of what a people can be is easily lost. Such things as common goodness are easily dismissed. The excuse is often that there is a greater good that is needed. What was that greater good in Nazi Germany...a return of land...a return of respect...a return to moral integrity...Hum...and that came through such a process of annihilation called the holocaust?!? As we all know, as this was taking things were being made "better" in Germany, the churches did not stand up against this form of self-centered interests that were willing to remove a whole people from the face of the world simply to have the world as they wanted it - not as it actually was. To speak up in such a time as this was not something done without costs. To speak up within the radical love and justice and mercy of the Reign of Jesus was to live contrary to the powers who wanted to maintain and increase control. For the Reign of peace to be established among any country means that those who claim to be followers of Jesus need to be blessed with voices that will cry out in resistance. This will mean the church that likes to simply go along with the powers that be and the world they would build will become a part of those powers and the followers of Jesus will have to speak out against the powers in all forms.

Connection: Today, return to the one who calls us beloved - all of us. In the middle of that journey, watch to see how many times we will see how the powers of our world act quite contrary to that reality and attempt to win our hearts and minds and lives.

Lord be for us the power of life that will give us insight and then courage and then the life that will indeed live contrary to the powers of our day so that there will be a living presence of your love available and willing to be vulnerable for the sake of all. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

24 July 2006

You can expect that I will stay with Douglas John Hall for some time now as he writes of "The Church and the Cross" in The Cross in Our Context.

...I think it behooves Christians today to admit finally that if some of us have at last begun to grasp this reality of our identity and our mission (a suffering community), it is because the whole people of Israel has suffered so excruciatingly in our own time - and, what is worse, has suffered on account of a climate of spiritual suspicion created by Christendom itself. On account of the Holocaust of the Jews, sensitive Christians have
had to ask not only how their faith could have contributed to such an event but also why the Christian faith could have contributed to such an event but also why the Christian faith in its established form has been so conspicuously devoid not only of any sustained suffering but of the very contemplation of that biblical theme.

It is our history to be intolerant. It has been a part of our history to be oppressive. The Church as institution has had its way since it was blended with imperial structures and then the structures of states. We cannot separate ourselves from this history and it is most obvious in the role Christendom played in the Holocaust. What I find of some interest today is how looking back at the Holocaust for some Christians is done in a way to show how the Church is being persecuted, somewhat like that, from the government of our country. In that same conversation is the talk that Christianity is being wiped out or disregarded among us. That seems odd. Don't folks understand that the Church cannot be wiped out by persecution. Do they have no hope beyond hope? Cannot they see beyond their own wants into something more the Church can be? Have we forgotten the suffering of the way of the cross - just as Hall notes? Have we developed amnesia again so that we cannot remember how in the years before we were aligned with the Empire, Christians continued to go out and become a contrary community in the middle of whatever was the atmosphere of the day? There is much to much whining going on among us in the name of Jesus. It is as though we have become so comfortable in the halls of power we can only see ourselves in a dominant position and nothing else. What happened to images of the suffering servant...who suffers on behalf of the welfare of others...who suffers for standing with the beaten and rejected? I think we sometimes want our faith to be a ticket to the "good life" however we define that.

Connection: We would do well to listen closely to the movements of our society. Hidden in the making of rules and the rhetoric of the prevailing powers is the hint of intolerance and special interests. Who will we be interested in as the Church alive today?

When we face this day, O Lord, we see little of the Church on the way of the cross. Rather, we are privileged and use that privilege for ourselves rather than the for the care and healing of a broken world that is lost in its self-concern. Remind us of your way of love that pulls us out to serve rather than to rule. Praise to you, O Compassionate and Just God of New Life. Amen

Friday, July 21, 2006

21 July 2006

The week draws to an end with more about a suffering and real church by Douglas John Hall.

A purely doctrinal or theoretical theology of the cross is a contradiction. This theology is only authentic - only "for real" - insofar as it gives birth to a community that suffers with Christ in the world. Nowhere does Christendom's difference from the New Testament church show up more glaringly than in the fact that the birth of Christendom in the fourth century C.E. brought about a species of Christianity that with rare exceptions could be practiced without any threat or hint of its being a process of identification with the one who was "despised and rejected."

It is no wonder that the Church has such a difficult time being anything but what the world is. We have been knit within its fabric for such a long time. "Despised and rejected" has become an internal event through which Jesus will lead us. Therefore, the story is all about me who somehow suffers in many ways simply by being human. The notion of Christians suffering for the sake of others is almost considered an absurdity. When that does happen, we remember those people. Like Bonhoeffer and others who resisted the rule of the Nazis or the freedom marchers who resisted the law of the land in the U.S so that the brutality against some of us would stop. The way "despised and rejected" is stated these day has to do with people who say they are being oppressed because others want to take a few words out of the pledge of allegiance or take the manger scenes off civic center lawns. That is not suffering folks. That is a spoiled and pampered people who have lost all sense of what it means to suffer. Try this. The next time you see a group of Christians in our country complaining and wailing about how they are suffering and being oppressed here, take a look at them. They look quite a part of the privileged of the world to me. They look like they are used to having the world as they have had it. To suffer for the sake of others is not even in the game plan. They see themselves as the suffering ones...and yet they suffer not like the one they say they follow - Christ, Jesus.

Connection: There are so many people that need to be uplifted by the love of Christ. Now, having said this, I do not mean simply telling them the story...I mean being the love of Christ. The love that will risk caring when we really could simply walk away and care about ourselves alone.

Blessed Lord, open our hearts so that we will have the courage to venture forth along the way of your cross that becomes our cross as we enter into solidarity with the lost, least, and the lowest who long for an abundant life but are so often denied it. Remind us to give thanks for all that we have and then to be willing to give our lives away to those around us. Amen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

20 July 2006

More on the "The Church and the Cross" in The Cross in Our Context by Douglas John Hall.

For centuries theology has maintained that the true marks of the church are the four that are named in the Nicene Creed: "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity). Each of these notae ecclesia can find some biblical basis, but none of them can claim a fraction of the attention paid to the theme of the church's suffering in these sacred writings. They are all latecomers on the scene of Christian ecclesiology. The earliest and most prominent manner of discerning the true church and distinguishing it from the false claims to Christian identity was to observe the nature and extent of the suffering experienced by the community of faith. ...if you preach a theology of the cross, you will have to become a community of the cross. Anything else would represent a kind of hypocrisy.

I have read over this selection a number of times. It is troubling to me because Hall strikes a full chord within the faithful anthem of the Church and I have to say I don't often sing within that chord. I also noted that the words of the Creed, those "marks" can be spoken among us but, for the most part, they mean little to us. But suffering...well, that is as real as life can be. This takes the words of the faith and now we have a life...that we can all understand. We are not a people who simply suffer. We stand with and for and beside folks and for that we suffer in the name of Jesus. That is we suffer in the way of him and with him at our side in the middle of all that will come when we venture into the lives of the sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes...and their equivalents among us today. Suffer?!? It is no game and it is no great aspiration. It is the living reality of the church as we follow the one we claim is our Lord of Life. Here at this level of the discussion about our identity is where I often have to look around and prayerfully ask for courage to walk with our Lord into the blossoming of the Reign of God in which Jesus walked before me and you.

Connection: Come, Lord, Jesus, and hold our hands as we move within this day where suffering may be just what is needed for the welfare of all.

Today's prayer might just be what I printed in the "connection."
Come, Lord, Jesus, and hold our hands as we move within this day where suffering may be just what is needed for the welfare of all. Amen.

19 July 2006

Douglas John Hall continues with The Church and the Cross.

First Hall sites three examples of texts that show the place of suffering in the life of the body of Christ. These are: Romans 5:1-5, 2 Corinthians 4:5-11, 1 Peter 4:12-17 (it is worth the read).
Passages like these describe a Christian life so foreign to the average North American congregation - and indeed, so foreign to the vast majority of Christian churches throughout Western Christendom - that it is hard for us to appropriate them or even to hear them. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is coming upon you." It would be difficult, on this continent, to find even one Christian congregation that could immediately identify with this statement, except among African American congregations here and there, or perhaps among small churches comprised of indigenous peoples, or perhaps in certain gay and lesbian communities - in short, among minorities, who may for this reason be more truly Christ's church than the others. As for the average Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox church the prospect of a "fiery ordeal" is far from the minds of the people gathered for worship of a Sunday...

Most often, I think what we equate with suffering is suffering that comes upon us simply because we are human. Illness, tragic events, loss of a loved one, loss of a job and income might fall into this category of suffering - and it is suffering! And yet, when suffering appears in these texts from Scripture, we are hearing of suffering that takes place within the community of saints due to the lives that emerge as Jesus is followed and the cross is picked up along the way. The suffering is due to action...the action is usually for others - on behalf of others - alongside others. Most often, it is action that can simply be side-stepped and not become a part of our lives. Whenever we stand beside those with whom few would stand because it is thought and believed that they deserve no one to be on their side and making a home for them, we can expect to face the consequences. The consequences are as clear as those faced by Jesus when he ventured, by choice, into the homes of the ones you would prefer to ignore if you wanted to be counted as the holy. Well, holy becomes something new in Jesus. It is so new, it is often rejected and considered outside the bounds of the faith. Whenever we are put there, you can bet that there will be suffering.

Connection: It is with our persistent "siding-with" those without allies that we find ourselves pushed out of the larger circle of life. And yet, the followers of Jesus venture to those places and those people and we praise God all the way.

By hope, O God, we begin this adventure of life that takes us into an every deepening experience of the community of your saints. Knowing that you wait for us and call us toward your banquet feast we press on and begin to see the glory of the wideness of your gracious Reign and we give you thanks. Amen.

Monday, July 17, 2006

18 July 2006

We continue with Douglas John Hall as he writes on the theology of the cross and an ecclesiology of the cross.

...we have to reckon with the fact (and it is a fact) that there is more in the New Testament about the suffering of the church than about any other single theme or issue of ecclesiology. Not only is this theme prominent in the recorded teaching of Jesus ("If any would follow me, let them take up their cross and follow"), but it is a recurrent subject in the epistles, particularly those of Paul.

This is not about the suffering of the world, as such. This is about the life within the community of the followers of Jesus. Due to the life into which we are called, there will come some suffering. Now, we have to put the suffering word into context - our context. Yes, there are those who suffered greatly and to the degree I cannot see myself suffering. And yet, when we follow along the way of the cross, the church -that's us- will take a hit for living within a vision for life that is a part of a contrast community. Try this: speak out against war in the middle of a war. It is difficult to do this publicly even during an unpopular war and an unjust war...not to mention wars that people have called righteous in the past. If we advocate different ways of dealing with conflict and stick to those ways and constantly lift up those ways, then there will be people who will not (let's say) be friendly to us.

Connection: We don't suffer just to suffer. This does not mean we are "downer" people. Rather, it means as we follow the way of the cross, we will step across some lines that some people do not want anyone to cross for any reason. Our calling....step across the line when it is necessary for the welfare of all.

Come, Lord of Life, encourage us in our days of fear and anxiety and walk with us when we are confused and are not sure of what needs to be our next steps as we follow you alone. Amen.

17 July 2006

Reflections will be focused on pieces by Douglas John Hall in "The Cross in our Context" specifically in the Chapter The Church and the Cross.

What kind of ecclesiology - what doctrine of the church - emerges from the theology of the cross? There can be only one answer: the theologia crucis gives rise to an ecclesia crucis. Indeed it could be said that the whole purpose of this theology of the cross is to engender a movement - a people - that exists in the world under the sign of the cross of Jesus Christ: a movement and people called into being by his Spirit and being conformed to his person and furthering his work. A cruciform people.

So, we will be moving into some discussion about the shape of the church. It is best to say the shape of the life of the church - for it is a living body. Hall has a track record of attempting to speak of such a church specifically in the context of North America. In the midst of our affluence and power and yet with great evidence of many who are poor and without power, how does the church take shape and is that shape being consistent with the one who goes to the cross and bids us to follow him?! Right from the beginning of my reflections in these devotions it is important to note that I write from an affluent life. Though we do not have everything in the world, my wife and I want for nothing material. So how does the cross play into my life and your life? In a consumer society that is always looking for how we can be served and what will be of benefit to us, how is the cross made manifest among us. Hall will remind us that this way of the cross is a way of suffering. But he will insist that this is not merely a "gloomy" presence carrying the banner: "No cross, no crown." Walking around as a sorrowful people does not mean we are people of the cross nor are people of the cross merely an optimistic bunch ready to overwhelm the world with joy, joy, joy...down in my heart. In fact, all of us could be reminded of the way of the cross and the meaning of suffering along that way as we move within our context.

Connection: Sometimes we are so consumed by cultural values and images that we are unable to settle into what it is to be people of the cross. As is so common in the themes of these devotions, we must be able to do what children are taught when they are about to cross a street: stop - look - listen. The way of the cross is usually in sight...but it is that road less traveled.

It is by your Spirit, O Lord, that we are able to begin our journey along the way of the Christ. But then within our lives, so many other ways are being sold and it is so easy to follow the way that appeals to our own wants. Keep us engaged in the dialogue that reminds us of the way of Jesus and how that way is the way of life in which we have been baptized. Amen.

Friday, July 14, 2006

14 July 2006

Our last day with Joseph Sittler in "Gravity and Grace."

What do we have that makes it possible to talk to one another? This is what we mean by being, human being, the essence of core of likeness that permits language and intelligibility, even if we have no language in common. For example, if I'm walking down a street in Bangalore, and a fat and pompous character struts out of a bank and slips on a banana peel, the observing Indian will laugh as loudly as I do. This response arises out of the depths of our being. All of life traverses a banana peel, and we all know it, whether in India, or East Asia, or Iceland, or Chicago. Christian theology affirms our connectedness.

Sometimes I wonder if this is much of what worship is to be - a space and time that helps to remind us of the connectedness that is our humanity. If we can be connected as humans, that would be a grand adventure. But the story would not stop there. If we were connected as humans - even through our many differences - there is the possibility that we would begin to realize what an important part we play in the unfolding of our creative power as sons and daughters of God. I am particularly thinking about the environment. To live in a healthy environment demands that there is such a sense of connectedness among us that we can serve as overseers - stewards - of the many gifts of our creation. For our common good it is absolutely necessary. Clean air is just as important to me as to someone I have yet to meet in some far away city. The same can be said of water. Our basic needs demand that we step back into a greater awareness of our connectedness so that no part of creation deteriorates so much that humanity is threatened anywhere. Christian theology must remember this connectedness as we consider our witness in our world.

Connection: Sometimes the best way to remind ourselves of our connectedness is to see it and live with it locally. Our connectedness is often hardest to comprehend when we can actually see, hear and touch those who are quite different. And yet it is so essential.

Make of All Things, though it is so easy to turn ourselves inward to our own concerns and our own little worlds that we think we have created, your Spirit is ever moving us out to realize how broad and wide is the mix of your people. When we are moved to such vision, we are also moved to a life that begins to take into consideration how it is that we are all to be connected. By your grace, we move beyond ourselves to others. Amen.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

13 July 2006

The last two days of this week will end our journey with Joseph Sittler in "Gravity and Grace."

Christian theology says that a person's being, selfhood, sense of who he or she is, is constituted by relationships in such a way that if any one of them is damaged, the individual's being is damaged.
Think about the word being. We're all used to the word existence. I can talk about my own existence, and I can point to the particularity of may autobiographical record. There is such a thing as the particularity of my existence over against yours; each of us can say this of himself or herself: "I was born in a particular place; I grew up with specific parents, went to certain schools."
But when I talk to you of being, I can only talk to you out of my existence and fling words across to the strangeness of your existence, which is in many ways other than mine. But I can do that and be understood because we have something in common that transcends the particularity of our existence.

We are connected. We are these relational beings who are and will be connected. Yes, we each have our own story that is quite specific and unique, but then we are not isolated stories that exist separate from others. In some ways, I think that the Genesis story call the creation of humanity good because it is speaking about the essence of our humanity. We are good or complete or whole as we are in relationship and come to know the importance of relationship and how we are truly bound together. You may be more strange than I can ever imagine, and yet there are many ways in which we begin to see how alike we may be. Granted, it takes time to bridge that strangeness and yet it is by bridging that strangeness that relational beings, like us, begin to find out a bit more about ourselves as part of the human community. If all we will do with our lives is simply deal with life as we experience it and prevent ourselves from touching the broadness of our "being" what a life we miss. Then again, I don't think it is even possible to remove ourselves from the threads that interconnect us and help us to see the worth of others. Andy yet, I know there are people that seem to be just that separate and unable to bridge that strangeness.

Connection: Our varied stories are really quite the fuel for the making of a community or a family or a church. Yes, we each have our separate lives but then...we can, in our strangeness, find a sense of new life in something as ordinary as worship or conversation.

Spirit of the New Day, how fresh it is to experience your power that causes us to reach out beyond ourselves to touch and be touched by the life experiences of others. When that all begins to take place, we are given a wide picture of your love and your creative power. Thanks be to you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

12 July 2006

Joseph Sittler writing about theology makes it sound inviting and real.

By theology I mean a reflection over and over and over again on the elemental events of the Christian community: the entire history of Israel that stands back of the events informing the new Israel. Those events, as they have been recalled and celebrated repeatedly throughout history, are like a certain amount of money put in a savings account. They accumulate an increment through the centuries... The accumulation of theological terms, ideas, images happens because the remembered events are always encountering new situations in the human family, in the social world through history. They are not only pushed toward ever greater richness; they are drawn by events into ever fresh reflection.

The must be that dialogical activity that takes place between the present and all that is going on today and the many stories that we carry with us in the memory of the community of faith we find in Scripture. There is so much power to the stories of old that they bring into the present a character that engages us in conversation. In that conversation we find new ways to hear those old stories and we are given insights into whatever we are encountering today. In some ways, the living word really is living...and must be a living word! When we lose the ability or the willingness to move about and entertain images of old with images of today, could it be that we do so at a great loss to the community of faith. For example, the Scriptures may not have a word to say about contraception (I was in a big discussion about this today) but it is a vitally important issue when we consider the welfare of our world today. And yet, if we do not walk into this pressing issue and bring along the many stories within our biblical tradition and engage in a creative dialogue with our present situation, we may be led around in our thinking by arguments that have no business speaking to the world of today. We need that fresh reflection to help us make sense of old notions and old stories that may now be able to speak to us in ways we may have never been able to hear previously.

Connection: The past is always a gift to us and the present gives us a way to package the gift so that it will be received in awe and thanksgiving. This is an essential dialogue that needs both sides.

Speak to us, O God, as you have always spoken. Use the words of our mouths and the reflections on your gracious history to bring into perspective ways to encounter this day with an openness that will continue to cause the unfolding of your Reign each day. Amen.

11 July 2006

Today's piece by Joseph Sittler seems to address the creativity of theology.

A constructive theologian has a second job. He or she is supposed not simply to teach, transmit, and elaborate, but also to ask what meaning such a statement would have in view of the contemporary situation. That is to say, theology is not an accumulation only; it is a work. It is not just what people have thought, but it also investigates how the church's message might make sense, how its truth might be made clear, given the body of new learning in our generation.

Sittler goes on to give the example of the study of cosmology in the last thirty years. the universe is so much more than we had once known. So now how do we use what was known with what is now known. This would include findings of people like Copernicus. Imagine if we were still trying to fit our thinking into a pre-Copernican mind! In the past two weeks I've been trying to keep up with work being done in the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches. Some of their conversations have to do with women taking historic position in the church and others have to do with the life of the Church with gay and lesbians as fully welcome and participating saints. Sittler notes that theology is also a "work." I take that to be an adventure in progress like a piece of art or a construction job that is often about upgrades as the world continues to change. We have a great work in front of us know as we attempt to look at what we know now about homosexuality and what was known in biblical days. In addition, we are adding to the work more and more understanding of what was being discussed in ancient times and why it was being discussed and how it was being used in discussion. We also have in the "works" trying to have some clarity about how we will be the Church when we disagree and when we need to be up front with a notion of ethics that will widen our vision but also establish parameters in which we will agree to keep the "work" going. Some pastors don't like to "do theology" and yet if we do not continue to be involved in the "work" we will find ourselves unable to talk to the world in a sensible and challenging way.

Connection: We have been given so much by those who have gone before us. But then there comes a time that each of us must become a part of the "work" that will then be handed off to the next generation. Don't be afraid to step forward and join the tasks of the day.

Come, Holy Spirit, use us to design lives that will boldly face the questions of the day with the wonderful gifts of knowledge that are presented to every generation. Then encourage us so that we will not run away from the work that has been given to us as the faithful followers of our Lord, Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 10, 2006

10 July 2006

In writing about theology, Joseph Sittler comments about the task of preaching in "Gravity and Grace."

I was lecturing on the magnificent statement in the Nicene Creed about the relationship of Jesus the Son to the Father. A student sat there watching me with gimlet eyes. When I came near the conclusion, he raised his hand. I said, "OK, what is it." He said, "You know, if it were true, it would do."
No that is as far as a teacher can go. I can't transmit my sense of the truth of the statement to him, like writing out a prescription and letting him follow it. I can only teach in such a way as to engender in him the questions, as if he were saying to himself, "If it were true, It's a big enough truth that it would pull me together." In a sense, that's what a sermon is for: to hang the holy possible in front of the mind of the listeners and lead them to that wonderful moment when they say, "If if were true, it would do." To pass from that to belief is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of the preacher or the teacher.

"To hang the holy possible in front of the mind of the listeners..." At other times, I've used the language of imagination to say something similar to this. When we gather to hear and speak of the life that comes within the realm of our faith, the story must be "big enough" to take us beyond all that we are and into a more profound and creative sense of what it is to be made in the image of God. Some storytelling does that....some does not. As Sittler points out, it is the Holy Spirit that takes people from the hearing to the believing...from the study to the life. Even stories that are "big enough" may not sound big enough for some people...but for others, it may be a story of utter liberation and renewal and joy. We must be willing to enter into discussions about what is at the center of our faith. For in those discussions, we are constantly searching for the stories that are big enough to turn our heads and give us a place to breath and experience the gracious presence of our God.

Connection: I know people are not to talk about the faith with politics at a dinner party. But I would say "Go for it." In the stories of the "holy possible" we each must come to grip with where we are and what else might be needed to make our stories complete.

O Holy Spirit, take our hands and lead us into the adventures of our lives that are filled with the vision of your loving Reign. Inspire us that we will risk listening to stories beyond our grasp and yet within the wide expanse of our imaginations. Amen.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

7 July 2006

I enjoy reading this description of what Joseph Sittler does as a theologian.

My job at the University of Chicago was called constructive theology. My responsibility required that I, as both an individual and a representative of the community of faith, put that tradition on the battle line where the theological affirmations meet general human affirmations: to reason and construct forward into a new situation the old statements of the church and the believing community.
For instance, I can say for myself and within my own community, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord," and people nod their heads in a corporeal and corporate affirmation. They too affirm that. But in the university, the moment I say, "I believe in God," somebody says, "Why? By what right? By what reasonable ground do you dare say a thing like that?" So I have to take the whole tradition of accumulated Christian thought and put it forward as a public event in the face of those who don't believe it or who don't know whether they believe it. Theologians or preachers cannot make people believe. They can only explicate what it might mean to believe, in such a way as to lead others to entertain the possibility of believing.

It was a long piece but I find it was all needed to get us rolling today. Too often, people of faith stay within the closed community of their own kind. That is quite natural and would be most comfortable. I agree that theologians or preachers (or anyone else) cannot make people believe. I also think it is important to be able to witness to that in which we put our trust. If a good talker can convince a group of people that they need to trust a God who will and who has and who promises wealth and healing in their lives, I would expect that people looking for that kind of God would jump on board and do so with some enthusiasm. And yet, I would want there to be some conversation about whether this vision of God is the same vision of God that I find in long tradition and rehearsal of our faith. No doubt, any number of visions of God can be supported by tradition and practice. We are all theologians aren't we?! Therefore, we must be willing to never let the dialogue cease. Again and again, we must ask ourselves about the one in whom we place our trust. In an affluent society, for example, the peasant, underclass, no-credentials-to-show, Jesus who gives away his life for the welfare of others and counts on the love of the community to heal and make whole the people, will not really be the one that is followed. Rather, we will follow a version of that story that allows us to remain affluent, powerful, controlling. Hmmmm... This is where talking about God also demands that we look at the life that comes from such visions and how that life is indeed, contrary to the world and a witness to the one we claim is the God of all things.

Connection: Don't settle for one vision of God. Rather, we can boldly converse about who this God is and what it means that we say we believe in such a deity. What does your God have to do with your life and the life of those around you?

My Lord, we stumble and trip and walk around confused as we move along the roads of life, and yet, you continue to tap us and call us and invite us into a journey in which we will daily see how your love unfolds and how that love and grace comes to life. Help us discern your will by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

6 July 2006

Again, Joseph Sittler on theology.

Theology is not just a church discipline or a discipline that is exercised by people who are religious. Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Anaximander were all theologians - people who wondered, to put it in Anaximander's terms, "What is that thing which is before everything, from which everything comes, and to which everything proceeds?"

Who is not a theologian? A walk out under the stars pulls a person into a great wonder about what's up there...or how did this all come into being...or is there life beyond here? Those kinds of questions and many others often make us wonder about how it all came to be...what caused it? Not even Darwin took on these questions as such. He started with a something that moves and changes and becomes what we see today. Sittler is commenting on a discipline that is set ablaze by the wonder of nothing at all and then something just as familiar as today. From this grand sense of wonder, people turn to the scriptures and the writing in those pages give a bit of direction to our wondering. And yet, even with a book in hand, we wonder about the stories presented there and how they have meaning for people like us. Being people who wonder about what was before everything use a variety of resources to help us wonder even more. In some ways, we begin to settle into our ideas about what is and how we come to this place. Then again, many of us continue to wonder and that is not a frightening thing to do. In fact, it helps us turn more and more to this power we have come to call God - before all things...with all things...for all things.

Connection: Never cease to wonder and in the wondering of the day, find a place to rest and pursue a way of peace.

Lord of What is Beyond and Yet So Close, when we long for an understanding of this life we live help us to boldly open doors and then wrestle with every story that attempts to become our story. In the midst of all of that, we may come to see the eternal face of your creative power. Amen.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

5 July 2005

Today begins a series on Theology by Joseph Sittler in "Gravity and Grace."

I would suggest that Christian theology is an act of faith whereby we invest a theory of episodes, symbols, metaphors, and historical reality with the most comprehensive meaning and truth we can imagine.
The truth of the Christian faith is not severable from the meaning of the Christian faith. It is the meaningfulness of a story composed of both the horrors and the delights of human existence. That is fundamentally what the faithful, the church, will depend on for the the acceptance of its message. People will be attracted to or repelled by, find interesting or find dull, find relevant or find unintelligible, what we say and teach in exact relationship to its interpretive power.
That is the way Christian theology, in the long haul, has got to understand itself and defend itself. Jesus said that if you will obey and do the deeds, you will know the Spirit of truth (John 14:15-17). That means that the meaning appears only when the risk is taken: one cannot judge it from the outside.

A number of people speak of the risk involved in being a follower of Jesus. That risk comes with something as simple as speaking statements of faith. It is also what takes place when we begin to take the message and risk to make it a part of our own lives. When that takes place, we not only listen to the stories we contemplate what they will mean in the context of our own lives and then our lives become a part of that story. When I say I am a follower of Jesus, I not only think about what Jesus has done for me...I am a part of that life that Jesus brings into my life. In other words, I risk to follow Jesus into the lives of others just as Jesus would come. In that following I am involved in deeds that involve some risk. For example: when I reach out to be with those in this day that are like those with whom Jesus lived, I am stepping out contrary to the world's story and making this story meaningful for the very shaping of my life. In some ways, the way I interpret the story of Jesus becomes the way those stories become recognizable through my life.

Connection: It is good to ask "what does this mean." This is especially the case when we ask what something of the faith means within the context of my life today. That will be how we come to face the risk of the faith but also its joy.

God of Our Imagination, we do not see very far into what will be and we do not often walk along the path of your gracious will. In this day encourage us to risk and question and make this day an opportunity to do the faith. Amen.

Monday, July 3, 2006

3 July 2006

A new month brings a new section from "Gravity and Grace" by Joseph Sittler. This one is Language: Allure and Boundary.

In the process of being idiomatic, new Bible translations have subtly but importantly modified many dimensions of the older versions. Remember the beautiful observation, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin" (Matthew 6:28 KJV). We don't talk much about "toil" any longer; instead we go to work. One modern translations reads: "Look at those lilies." That is a quite different statement. With the former construction, the language lies tenderly upon the things referred to. Love, affection, and tenderness are inherent in the language.
Then, too, the word consider has an intrinsic warmth that the word look cannot manage.

The vision or experience of the Reign of God calls for language that will attempt to bring us as much of its fullness as is possible. At times, those words will be how we will make it through the day. A phrase that is used to speak of the love of God and yet it is more than simply saying "God loves you" may be just what is needed to stand up and enter the day at hand. I think of the opening line from the lesson of this Sunday from Lamentations: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases." On those days when I seem to have given up and really would want to call it quits because I cannot see any really good reason for moving on, to be reminded of the "steadfast love" that never ceases will do much more to grab hold of me than "God loves you." Then again, "God loves you" might just be the word for another moment that no other word will fit. One of the reasons I love to take part in the liturgy is that we are invited into language that flows from our tongues that is language we usually would not use. I'm not talking about "old English" (although it can work for me). Instead I am considering the poetic ways in which we sing of justice, mercy, peace, and those words make more sense when the poetry matches music. And is language that is not always the most common in our daily lives.

Connection: In a day of face paced e-mails and quick communication, surprise us with a few lines of well-crafted verse to make a point we would usually walk by.

Within the great expanse of your Reign, O God, there are more points of glory and light than we are able to comprehend. And yet, when we consider you great love, it is as though we are spinning under a midnight sky filled with stars; the view is beyond us and our lives spin underneath the wideness of your glory. Keep us aware of your presence that pulls us beyond ourselves into the vast openness of your mercy and love. Amen.