Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Allow me to quote the ending portion of yesterday's devotion:
"Remembering the whole arc of Paul's argument allows us to raise a question: Is Paul teaching that same-sex intercourse is wrong? Or is he teaching something about the relation between human responsibility, the failure to worship the true God, and ethical faults, and in the process assuming, as a Jew moving out into (Greek) culture in the first century would have, that same-sex intercourse is a good example of sin? Is this last point an example of something taught, or is it an example of a shared assumption of a particular culture, taken for granted in the process of making a point about something else?"
I think that's a good question. I happen to believe that it was merely assumption, not teaching - that Paul's reference to homosexuality isn't what he here teaches but an example he draws from the cultural assumptions of his time to illustrate his thesis about the relation of God, sin, and human responsibility...
My primary intent here, therefore, is not to answer the question about the meaning of this text but to say that it is good to ask what it means before we demand that people believe it in order to be faithful to Scripture. Indeed, asking about the meaning of such a difficult passage is the kind of question we ought, as Christians..., to be considering together. Such questions do not, notice, concern how seriously we take the authority of the Bible. People who take its authority equally seriously can disagree about its meaning.
We all take the book seriously. I would like to add that we must be willing to talk about what we intend to do with the way we look a Scripture. In that way, we may begin to talk about our own biases and how those will have an impact on how we enter and exit a text. For example, if I am nurtured in a church that expends considerable energy in casting a vision that attempts to paint a picture of some or certain people being inside and being saved and others who must be kept outside - unless they become like me - then I will look for ways to be specific about who is in and who is out. In addition, I will bypass those broad themes like justice and money because...none of us make it untouched by those texts. Romans 1 is easy to use as a passage against homosexual activity if I'm looking for a very specific point of condemnation. I can stop at one verse and say this is what the Bible teaches - enough said. But then, when we are able to enter into a dialogue about what might be the meaning or the teaching of the text, we will begin to hear many voices. From the whirl of those voices, we will begin to come a bit closer to something we can hear that will bring us more in line with the vision of God's Reign.
Connection: The next time someone says "...but the Bible teaches..." Take a look and see if it really is teaching that...or is it giving us something more important to consider.
Come, Lord of Life, and open our hearts to hear your Word and to be bold enough to wrestle with your Word and to wrestle within the community of your faithful people so that we can continue to learn about the way of your gracious Reign. Amen.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In other words, the reality of creation, visible to all, should have been enough to indicate to people the existence of some sort of God worthy of worship, and it was because of their sin that they could not see that truth. Therefore, their failure to know God is their fault.
...two things went wrong.
First, they fell into worshiping idols, "and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." They replaced the mystery of God with images that they could describe and get hold of.
Second, "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator," "therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity." ..."Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."
Placher goes on to note that we understand texts only in context...
Remembering the whole arc of Paul's argument allows us to raise a question: Is Paul teaching that same-sex intercourse is wrong? Or is he teaching something about the relation between human responsibility, the failure to worship the true God, and ethical faults, and in the process assuming, as a Jew moving out into (Greek) culture in the first century would have, that same-sex intercourse is a good example of sin? Is this last point an example of something taught, or is it an example of a shared assumption of a particular culture, taken for granted in the process of making a point about something else?
I quoted quite a bit here. I'll share his thoughts on it as I quote him tomorrow. I find that this is a good text (like yesterday's) to push us into looking more closely at what the "teaching" is in the midst of the text that is presented to us. Overall, it make so much sense to a wider audience and to the way of the church lead by the Spirit of God, to let ourselves resist being stuck in one aspect of the story that is really working at making a more essential point. Isn't it odd that we would let ourselves become so inflamed about one way of looking at the text rather than remove that log from our eye and look again at what will become the Good News according to Paul. We would benefit so much more from this text if we did look at what it can say to us about "human responsibility," "failure to worship the true God," and, as he puts it, "ethical faults." Please remember that the list of faults is quite universal...and it is one we easily look past in order to focus on this one example of same-sex relations. I tend to see the others have a more negative impact on the life of the saints than same-sex relations. I would argue that we have made such a to-do about same-sex relationships that we have wounded many of our brothers and sisters and also the church in general.
Connection: Wow. There is just so much to hear...so much to reconsider...so much to discuss...so much to experience anew. When today becomes time for such openness and reconsideration and reveiw, we may really begin to find greater peace among us.
Lord of all Life, we praise you for you Spirit of life that continues to lead us beyond our vision and into the ever-expandiing vision of your Reign. Amen.
In the days of slavery, some Presbyterians as well as non-Presbyterians cited Paul's letter to Philemon as teaching that owning slaves is morally acceptable. After all, Paul does not demand that Philemon free his slave Onesimus.
We might say, in response, that Paul was assuming the social reality of slavery in his time, but what he teaches in the letter has at its core his appeal that in Christ a master might be called to be a brother even to his slave. The letter teaches about a transformation of the nature of human relations, not about the acceptability of slavery. Along the way, we might also emphasize the differences between slavery in the ancient world and in the American South and ask whether what Paul discussed was really the same thing as slavery as it existed in America in 1850.
Here again is that vital point...what is written in the text and what is being taught. As Placher notes the letter has "at its core his appeal that in Christ a master might be called to be a brother even to a slave." This is all about the new life into which we are being called. It is a transformative life that does not do the everyday acceptable stuff - like keeping slaves - in the same manner that has been. We are looking at the way the Reign of God moves our relations to a new level and in that picture, there will be everyday implications for how we live among others. In my faithful imagination I can see people looking at some of Paul's followers and talking amongst themselves about how they are treating their slaves. They still have slaves...but things are really changing. As that imaginative line continues, slavery is lost and relationships of equality and love emerge and win the day. To stay put in the chains of slavery because Paul uses that life issue would be foolish and as we all know, destructive to life around us and a source of great injustice and brutality. From simple, respectful, and loving changes within a well-accepted practice of the day, comes the liberation of slaves and the demand for equality for all within a new realm of life.
Connection: So what is said must be looked at again and again. We cannot assume that words once spoken can be taken as they once were. We also must look to see what is the greater message or teaching that appears to be handed to us. Sounds like a good way to listen to everything that goes on around us - not just Scripture.
What a delight it is to be drawn into your liberating Word, O God. For in the middle of the way we would have the world go, your Word continues to draw life into question and pull us into a vision that will not settle for anything less than the liberation of all people and healing of the cosmos. Praise to you, O Lord. Amen.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Hodge wanted to make sure that theologians did not make fools of themselves by trying to defend the indefensible. He remembered earlier battles in which Christians had insisted that the sun goes around the earth, because the Bible seems to say so. No, Hodge insisted - some of the authors of the Bible may have assumed that the earth is at the center of the planetary system, but that was not the point they were trying to make, and not what they were teaching.
Hodge, for that matter, had no problem with the idea, coming to the fore in the evolutionary science of his day, that the earth had existed for millions of years. The authors of Genesis may have believed in a much shorter time-span of world history, he admitted, but they did not teach it. Therefore, we need not believe it in order to believe in the truth of the Bible.
I should have mentioned yesterday that Charles Hodge wrote this in 1872. He is not "present-day, liberal, non-bible-believing scholar." It is simply good to hear such an old voice able to make us look again at scripture and how we are to work our way into its truthfulness and then out of it with some sense of intellectual and faith integrity. Once again, the word-by-word, literalism that often only likes certain types of literalism, must be shaken so that the Word of truth can be heard in the midst of the chaff. Yes, our faithful story telling is full of images and assertions that are wonderful to read and often inspire our thoughts and devotions. And yet, these stories and some of the elements of the stories are not the essential teaching the faithful are to take from the story. This is quite a liberating word offered by these two scholars. It is a gentle reminder - but direct in an age when we need to be direct about what we think about Scripture and what we take from it for our life together.
Connection: This is a tool to be used. When confronted with language of literalists that want to make the Scripture into something it is not meant to be - be bold about drawing things into question without losing our faithful voices.
Come, Spirit of all Truthfulness, and have this great wind of life that is present in the Scriptures, blow around us and through us so that we will not be halted or stuck in words that do not offer us the vision of your Gracious Reign. Come, O Spirit, Come. Amen
The sacred writers, he said, "were infallible" only "for the special purpose for which they were employed." As to all matters of science, philosophy, and history, they stood on the same level as their contemporaries." So Hodge accepted that Isaiah made false assumptions about astronomy and Paul forgot how many people he had actually converted at Corinth. But these were not the matters they were teaching. "We must distinguish between what the sacred writers themselves thought or believed and what they teach. They may have believe [for example] that the sun moves round the earth, but they do not so teach."
After reading this, I was able to take my fighting gloves off. I usually don't like the use of the word infallible in regard to talking about scripture. It is too often a "baiting" term that really has to do with taking the scriptures literally...and then taking all that is said as the "truth" from God. But here, infallibility allows for an openness to time and wonder and context and world views that change. This really takes to issue the literalists who are arguing for a biblical timeline for the establishment of humanity and the creation of the world. The wonderful story of Genesis speaks an infallible truth about the rule of our God who cannot be subjected under any other power. It speaks a wonderful infallible truth about how we confess that our God, from nothing, creates and can create anew in any age and any time and any place. Does it mean to comment about actual time and how long it took God to create. No. It does say something infallible about our part in the creative process. We are the image of God...we care for all things -as God would care for all things-...we are not oppressive, we are creative and life giving even when we live in the face of powers that can be destructive and condemning and brutal. This is a word of hope that is eternally "infallible."
Connection: Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to think in the middle of our faithfulness. That may mean we don't simply let words like "infallible" have power over us. That would be downright "unfaithful."
Word of Life, we long to be fed by the life-giving truth of your Word so that in all times we can be people whose vision is always expanding and whose hope never is diminished by our shortsightedness. Amen.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
If we study the whole Bible, its central concerns come through clearly enough. We learn that we are all sinners, that God loves us anyway, and that knowiing our salvation rests on grace frees us to live in the service of God and neighbor without worrying about how we will be rewarded.
It is as though we can put to an end the finger-pointing and nit-picking that so often seems to be the reason people pick up the Bible. When we would allow power of the Word to run over us and let the story play out as it promised, we will find that we are left with a day full of grace to spread around. What a joyous way to look at the day. Recently I was reading a few books in which the whole role of religion was to keep people in line. Therefore, utmost in the minds and words and actions of people was an atmosphere of threat. Grace - though talked about - was only for those who deserved it. What a crock!! What a way to throw out the good news that is a part of so many of our world's religions. Alas, we know how people love rewards...and punishments. It is so easy to build a religious movement on such a system and what turns out to be such a brutality - physically, mentally, spiritually. It is so easy to forget the gift and jump right into what is our part in making the gift really for us. Duh...our part...is to receive the gift. The gift transforms...the gift surprises...the gift make us more than we ever thought we could be....the gift moves us into a life of love and hope and justice and peace. WE...we are invited to walk within the Reign of that gift.
Connection: More than likely, keeping the Good News to the very essential word of Grace...of Gift, may be what opens up this day to life we really could not imagine all on our own.
Open our hearts, O God, so that as you continue to call us your beloved, we listen and we find that our lives begin to notice new new roads to travel and more joys to experience in the midst of the ordinary stuff of the day. Amen.
Think then how many signals about genre and meaning in the Bible probably go completely over our heads. We no longer know the cultural clues. Sometimes scholars can help explain them to us. But sometimes even the best scholars are missing things or have to confess their puzzlement. Listen, for instance, to a few verses from chapter 1 of Revelation:
I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see..." Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man...
...how can any of us recover with confidence what that passage would have meant to an early-second-century Christian community?
Placher leads into this piece by setting up what it means to be aware of the cultural setting of a story. He does that by drawing on this introduction to a story: "A minister, a priest, and a rabbi went out on a boat..." We know its the set up for a joke. We know that what comes next is not going to be a type of storytelling. It would be like the set up for any number of ethnic jokes. How we listen to what is said after that opening line is quite important. Every culture has ways of moving in and out of storytelling. Those patterns change in time. To be a faithful reader of the Scriptures, we have to be serious about what we really cannot know or what it is that we simply have to receive from what is offered to us. In the years since I have been a pastor, for example, the scholarly work done on parables and the cultural/social images in the stories has completely changed how I look at the story. They have become so much more full of good useful imagery. Has the truthfulness of God's gracious Reign changed...maybe not? But I now have many more ways of pointing to and highlighting that Reign and possibly even bringing cultural images from today out in order to make the story more rich for us.
Connection: Sometimes it is important to ask, 'What is necessary here?' I find that to be quite important when we are trying to make something out of one verse of the Bible and by doing that, we lose the vision of the whole.
Lord of the Living Word, we long to hear of the fullness of your Reign. Too often we cannot hear it through the many ways we, your people, speak. Remind us of how your Word can be re spoken and rewritten in the forms and shapes of today's language without losing the richness of the stories that have brought us into the faith this far. Amen.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
...The genre of a particular text shapes its meaning. Its meaning determines what it is for it to be true. And therefore I cannot properly affirm its truth without thinking about its genre. If I am to believer in the story of the good Samaritan in the right way, I need to understand that it is a parable and not a crime report.
Data, the robot in one fo the Star Trek series, cannot understand jokes. He takes them literally. He is or was not a good audience for a comedian, and he would frustrate a comedian if he said, "But I took you more seriously and literally than anyone else did." His literalism does not mean that he is the most faithful audience for a joke; it means he misunderstands.
What a good example of literalism! What an important point about how we all need to walk into a text and come to understand how it comes to us. This is where our discussion with one another is so important. I would suppose that there would be many different ways to look at a biblical passage and we would have quite a time dealing with the questions we would ask...if we felt free to ask the questions. Remember, literalists will not give themselves permission to ask the kind of questions that may lead to greater questions and even new interpretation. The text says...this. That's it. But it does not simply say one thing. When we leave the text to be a form of data that is written in stone and therefore unable to be touched and held and tossed around and looked at from many sides, we miss many of the life-giving ways it can touch us! I am not saying you can interpret a text as you want and that will be it. Rather, I'm saying that we come together to talk and contemplate and question and put the text within a context both then and now. It is here in the mix of all this that we are not left with a literal interpretation and we are not left with our own little interpretation. The community is an essential component of take the text and seeing its life.
Connection: We would all do well to practice asking questions and looking at more than the face value of texts...and people's lives.
Come, O Spirit of Life, for as you come among us we are all transformed and sometimes moved from one place to another and come to see life as we may have never seen it previously. Come and take us beyond ourselves into the adventure of community that your Word brings to us. Amen.
Monday, August 20, 2007
...when the author of Jonah tells the story of this prophet who brought all the people of the Assyrian capital to repent, it would have hit Jews like a vegetarian today saying, "Let me tell you the story of the guy who talked McDonald's out of selling hamburgers." They would have recognized at once that this story was something other than history.
That recognition need not imply that the story is "untrue." We learn more about humanity from 'War and Peace' than from 'People' magazine's latest news about the lives of celebrities. But it is truth conveyed in a different way, in something more like an extended parable than a historian's careful account. Therefore, if someone insists on the historical truth of Jonah - conversion of Ninevah, big fish, and all - they are not taking the Bible more seriously than the rest of us. They are misunderstanding it.
What a simple and yet straightforward way of holding up the primacy of the Scriptures and yet, allow ourselves to read them with an eye toward the meaning of the text rather than the simple images offered in the writing. I like to consider all the conversation that is possible among us if we would allow all the many voices of interpretation to speak up and have their voices heard and honored. It seems that within such a conversation, we would be able to hear when and where the text is being misunderstood. Not only that. We would begin to see the profound depths of some of our stories and how they open doors for us rather than close them. When I'm preparing for a sermon or for a class, I attempt to read the opinions and research of those who are able to offer new insights to what is going on in a text. I also enjoy reading how other preachers and teachers peel open the text and talk to it and with it. More time than not, it is a discussion that helps change me and turn my thinking around. Never do I find my faith weakened by the discussion and questions. Rather, most times I simply pause and say wow...that's new...that's different...that really expands my thinking...that was a breath of fresh air.
Connection: So when you listen to the voice of Scripture...make sure you hear your voice but also have space in your mind to hear the voices of others.
Lord, God, you Word comes to us in many ways and it continues to break into us like the fresh rain from a storm that disturbs our plans and yet offers us another one to cherish. We give you thanks for the wisdom and truthfulness of your Word. Amen.
In dealing with the various ways people view scripture (fundamentalist through those who scarcely attend to it at all) he notes: taking the Bible most seriously means one does not affirm its truth apart from struggling to understand it meaning. In speaking about understanding the genre of the text he goes on with an example. ...We do not check the records of the Jerusalem-Jericho highway patrol to see whether (the good Samaritan incident) really happened. Even if we had those records, we would not feel the need to examine them. We recognize that Jesus is here not reporting historical fact but telling a story that will make a point, a parable. In understanding the story as parable, we understand what it really means.
So when people say they take the bible literally, we must already ask about this story. Is the parable taken literally...or could it be "made up" in order to make a point about the truth of the vision of the Reign of God? If we say it is "made up" - let's say to teach a lesson. Do we disregard it? I hope not. But then how do we read the material in the gospel that is around this story. Is it a minute-by-minute historical presentation of Jesus' life...or is it a version (a faithful one at that) of Jesus life as it is put together by Luke? Remember, we don't have this story of a "good Samaritan" in the other gospels. Why only here? We learn quite quickly that the different things we read can be taken in different ways. The genre of the writing must be considered so that we can - in essence - receive from the text the truth that it holds. A parable tells us more about 'who is my neighbor' and the wide embrace of that term...and its potential for controversy, than it does about that dangerous road and what can happen to you there. We must talk about what it means. Not merely what is said. It is in the wrestling with the text and how it is written and even who the writer expects will be hearing it. In that wrestling, our notion of truth may be expanded rather than put in a box and fixed in one way.
Connection: Try this in worship. Before the sermon begins, let yourself wander through the lesson. It may be that your "reading" of the lesson brings to light something other than the preacher. It may be you find yourself in a personal dialogue with the lesson even as you hear the preacher take his/her look at it with you. This is all a part of a faithful journey of reading scripture that is dialogical and helps us all find what could be meant in the lesson.
By your Word, O God, we are presented with life that expands our perception of who we are called to be and how your love and grace shapes us for this life today just as it shaped the saints of old. Guide us as we read and guide us as we listen again to the truthfulness of your blessed Reign. Amen.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
And the followers of Jesus continued to go along through life in accordance to another story - a sub-version of reality. In many ways, this simple text from 1 Corinthians needs to shake us up and cause us to look at ourselves and try to discern whether we are still this sub-version...or have we become a part of the dominant reality. I think this is a painful thing to face. Is that tension still there? Do our eyes sees the contrary nature of the gospel in light of the ways of the world and its dominant version? Are we able to hear that strange good news of Jesus and its call to come and follow even when it would be much more advantageous for us to simply go along with the rest of the pack? There is no outlined plan noted in the text presented here. There is no 12 steps to a sub-version of reality. There is only a reminder of the difference and it is told from the perspective of one who was in the middle of it all. One who was rejected for going about speaking and living a life that set the world on edge. We come to this sub-version as Brueggemann has noted several times; through the adventure of worship with the community gathered as one - all of us - as diverse as can be - as holy as we are when God has called us and embraced us with God's love - in God's Reign.
Connection: Exercise the vision of this Reign of God that is told in the story of Jesus and then trickles down through the ages into our time. Remember that it is always a vision and then an action that is ready for us to exercise today.
Lord of Life, as your Spirit moves over and around us, grant that we will be held up and moved by its power for life that disturbs and shakes and yet, brings peace and hope. For in the middle of the powers of this world, we need to be empowered by something more than our own arguments and abilities. By your Grace, we are encouraged to walk along contrary paths and settle for nothing less than your Reign. Amen.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
'Even though.' Yes, even though the conditions of our world is a dark valley...even though that brings with it all the things that could take place in such a reality - we fear no evil. That is, we will look around and find in the middle of that valley the many signs of the presence of the LORD who bring life that may seem unimaginable...and yet....it is quite within our imagination. Enemies will not be removed from our lives...they will be there and they well not let up their vigil. And yet...again, we will be given what we need - our daily bread will be provided and it will be enough. No, we will have plenty. We will be blessed with a future in the middle of all the dominant stories that attempt to rob us of the life we have been promised. We have a place and we have a life that is guarded and thriving and full even though others try to claim us and rob us and defeat us. Then, from that place we have been given, we become for others a part of its life...its goodness...its mercy.
Connection: Look for the light in the valley - it is there. Be ready to be fed and cared for when it is appearing that things will only be taken from you.
We are blessed by you, O God. We are given life that even as the powers around us attempt to take it from us or rule over us. We give you thanks for all the days of our lives for you are present with us. Amen.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The task and goal of worship, accompanied by education and pastoral care, is to move our lives from the dominant version of reality to the sub-version, finally that our old certitudes will have been subverted by the work of the spirit. Judged by the dominant version, life in the sub-version is vulnerable and foolish and exposed. But the sub-version in the end cannot be judged by the dominant version. In the end, it is judge by the truth of the gospel, by the reality of God whom we attest, and by the truth of our own lives in the image of that God. We are endlessly seduced out of that truth by the dominant version, and so we return again to worship to recite and receive this sub-version that is the truth of our life and the truth of the world.
Months ago I read this and used it on the front page of our weekly newsletter. I think it is a good vision statement to have in mind whenever we work together to plan for worship. It is good to walk into our worship carrying such expectations and being willing to wonder about this sub-version of reality and how it is to become the version of life we enter by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don't think this places pressure on us to "get worship right," rather it invites us to let ourselves be set free within the truthfulness of the gospel that is to be announced in many ways throughout worship. In worship we are about the liberation of God's people and the movement of God's people into a radically new way of experiencing the day in which we live. The simple singing of the same old parts of the liturgy are meant to remind us...to call us...to beckon us...to bring about a transfiguration of all things so that we can go out and face all that the dominant version of life tries to feed us. And we then, can stand up as advocates for another way - or even people who are willing to resist the paths of life that seem to be so empowered by the status quo of this dominant version.
Connection: Again I say....come to worship. Come and hear the word and be the word. Come and let yourself be a part of the holy noise that is capable of raising us up to new life in the name of the one whose noisy life has changed everything - forever.
Lord of our Worship, we gather in your name and we await the moments of transformation that come when we hear your Word and taste the feast and feel the water and let our voices join with others in songs of praise and thanksgiving. When we are weary of the world, pull us out into the presence of your people in worship and bring us that living word that cracks open the day with your love and grace. Amen.
Monday, August 13, 2007
This delicate tension between dominant version and sub-version, I believe, is the true character of worship. The claims made in the sub-version, claims such as "Christ is risen," are a deeply felt, eagerly offered truth. And yet in its very utterance the community at worship knows that the facts on the ground, the data at hand, contradict and give evidence that the odor of death is still very much in play. It will not do for the church to become cynical and give in to the dominant vision. But it also will not do for the church to become excessively romantic about its sub-version and so to imagine its dominance. Rather, I believe that the worshiping community must live knowingly and elusively in this tension, not cynical, not romantic, but wise and innocent, always engaged in negotiation between sub-claim and the world the way we find it.
Again, we come to worship to be grounded in a story that maintains this tension that comes into being every time the story of the resurrection is announced. Every time the Spirit lifts up the church and sends it out running in a new direction, we are not allowing ourselves to become another part of the dominant reality of the world. To be inspired people who have heard the sub-version of reality, we have a life to enter that may ask us continue to be engaged with the powers that so often try to overwhelm us. We are a people who must remain in dialogue and yet we must be a people who are constantly grounded in the storytelling of our worship so that we can see and enter a reality that is not a part of the dominant powers. We must always be willing to ask "what does this mean?" - a faithful sort of question that will help to maintain this tension that is so vital to the life of the church in the world.
Connection: Always keep an eye on the vision given to us in worship and then...in the everyday events through which we walk, use that vision to help move through the day.,
Lord of the Resurrection, we continue to come to you for life that is not under the control of the powers of the day. We are encouraged because it is a life as real as this day and life as strange as your unbounded love in a world that knows not the power of such love. Grant us a glimpse of this life in your name so that we might walk there. Amen.
...the community offers...an alternative to the claim that oppressive power is forever...an alternative of fidelity to a social vision of comparative greed...an alternative cry to a social coercion of enforced silence.
In every such liturgical utterance, act, and gesture, this sub-version of reality intends to subvert dominant versions, to expose them as inadequate if not false, and to empower the community to re-engage reality according to this sub-version.
Worship does help to bring about a new reality. For example, during a very difficult discussion around the guidelines for pastors in the E.L.C.A. in regard to being gay and lesbians pastors being in committed relationships, we went to worship. The discussion was interrupted for the order of the day - worship. Though there was no intentional tie between the discussion and the texts and sermon for the day, it was as though we were being led onto a higher plain. The sermon focused on the Lord's Prayer in Luke. More importantly, it focused on the story that follows that prayer. It is the story of the man who comes at midnight to ask a neighbor for some food for his guests. The preacher spoke about "now" being the time. It might not be the best time or the most comfortable time but it is time to ask for what is needed. Back in the plenary session prior to worship, this is exactly what was taking place. Those who were being excluded from the full life within the church were asking and they were being told it wasn't a good time...in other words, go away for now and come back at another time. And yet, now was the time...ask...be persistent...don't simply go away. I was sitting there in utter amazement. The worship was guiding the way...bringing life...offering another way to open up the day to that wonderful wind that blows among us and takes us to new places even when we do not plan on such movement.
Connection: Sometimes it takes picking ourselves up and taking part in the liturgy of the church in order to see what a different life is available to us in the midst of the dominant culture that attempts to rule our every move. Even a simple devotional act can begin that re-viewing of all things.
Lord of Life, you offer us another way to be your people when we are so readily pulled into the dominant reality of the life around us. We need your Spirit's guidance so that when we are ready to walk into the grasp of the life within this world, we will be swept up by the story of your Reign that becomes for us a guiding light. Amen.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
- goes without Exodus 15, and so imagines that oppressive power is forever
- goes without Psalm 136, with nothing of fidelity and so gives no thanks
- goes without Psalm 107, and end in silence that crushes the human spirit
We, all of us, are to some extent practitioners of that dominant version of reality. It comes at us in many forms; if we conform to that dominant voice of reality, we may receive its surface gifts of well-being and security for a while. There is enough truth in the dominant version of reality for it to maintain its credibility, but only for a while.
Vital to the life of the church is the ability to realize how easily it is for any of us to fall under the rule and be the supporter of such a power that seeks to dominate. It becomes so important for us to be engaged in these few simple exercises as we go along through the days at hand. To be able to imagine what is greater than what is...to imagine a reality in which power is not use over and against others, but rather with the other held up as one of us and worthy is quit a wild bit of imagination. And yet, it is the inbreaking of this sub-version of life for all. In addition, we must be a people who do something very simple and something that can be a part of all the events of this day - give thanks go God who has been and will be available to us in all times. In that way, we may find ourselves in the middle of a radical bunch of people who actually do share and give away and provide for the welfare of others. Finally, it has become more and more apparent to me that this last point of Brueggemann's is so important for all of us - end the silence. We must give voice to the brutaities of our day. There is a need to remember the cry of the whole community. We are a part of that community. When there is suffering...when there is oppression...when there are lies that help the dominant version of reality shut down the way evil so easily crushes people, we can do something so easy as speak up...cry with others...give voice to a reality that is not allowed to emerge.
Connection: Imagine....give thanks...lift every voice and sing of a new way to live even when the face of the world around us does not share in such an imaginative life - as the Reign of God - already among us.
It is so easy for us to fall in line with the way the stories of the world around us would have us go. We call on you, O God, to be our encouragement. Raise up those around us so that as we step forward into this day there are others who will be our help and our support and the very encouragement we ask you to provide for us. Amen.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
This text is Psalm 107 in which Brueggemann notes...we have considered four cases of human disaster and misery, lost in the wilderness, abandoned in prison, sick and without appetite, nearly lost at sea. ...we have seen that every troubled person become a person able to cry out in need and address pain to God. It turns out to be no surprise that God in fidelity answers, reassures, and makes transformation possible. But the trigger in each case is the cry, the capacity to find voice, the sense of entitlement that pain may speak to power and insist upon the redress.
But imagine a world without Psalm 107. What if there were no one to sing this great song of thanks... Imagine a world without cry, without the public processing of pain, without the insistent sense of entitlement that we deserve better than this. Imagine a world that has grown silent and cold of human pain. Imagine a world totally silence, no prayers uttered, no hopes voiced, no hosting of the human condition and, consequently, no miracles of newness and healing.
The "capacity to find voice" - wow! Some people never do find voice. For those of us who are able to cry out...we become the voice for and with them. Too often, there are people who will not lift up their voice - or cannot. We are a people who are invited to do that - to cry...to ask...to demand. We enter into this because we remember the power to which we speak. It is not like the powers of this world who will use anything we say as something that can one day be held against us. We are encouraged and invited to bring the tribulations and the brutality and misfortune of our lives into the presence of the congregation and the Lord who promises to be available to us in all things. There can be no silence among us. We cannot be lulled to sleep and silence by powers that call up images of compassion and fidelity but are actually nothing more that self-indulgent arrogance that only nods at the pain of the world without risking to enter in and resolve that pain.
Connection: Listen to the politicians in the secular and religious circles in which we live. Nothing is to get in the way of the machine that wants to roar along as it has. The brutality of the world cannot be acknowledged without turning into a way to gain advantage and create more deception.
Come, Lord of Life, and encourage us to raise our voices so that the reality of the pain of the world will be held before us in all our day. For as we learn to trust voices that do not try to hide the pain of the world, we may actually come to live through our pain and find the new life you promise. Amen.
The second text is Psalm 136, that highly stylized liturgy, offers a community of remembering that is able to recall in some grandeur and some close detail the wonders of creation and the dazzlement of exodus... from this acute remembering, our singing community has continued with what we take to be the long-term truth of God, that YHWH's fidelity is very, very long-term.
(Then he goes on to say) Imagine a group of people who no longer meet to sing and dance and remember fidelity. In that world:
- Memory is lost and amnesia is the order of the day...
- Fidelity disappears in a large binge of self-indulgence
- Where memory fails before amnesia and where fidelity gives way to self-indulgence, in that world there will be no thanks, no acknowledgement that life is a gift...
The dominant culture all around is one of self-indulgence without fidelity, manipulation without gratitude.
In some way, it is as though all I can do in the face of such an image is to stutter. And yet, we are called to sing! The life into which we are called is a dangerous and risky movement in the face of this type of culture. We are called to keep our eyes and our ears and our lives open to the grand history and story of God's fidelity to God's people - that's us. Even now when there are so many ways we are pulled to take part in the way the dominant culture is so quickly turned in upon its self with self praise and self-indulgence, we break that cycle by remembering whose we are. That status is the beginning of resistance. We are not the followers of the powers of the day that long for us to follow their lead and their interpretation of who we are to be. Even when the dominant culture uses the words of Scripture, they use it to limit our imagination...they use it in an attempt to bless their self-indulgent ways. If we want to help build a courageous church, we must be willing to remember whose we are and with that, invite our children into a life that is risky, transformational, and out of reach and control of the powers that long to win our allegiance.
Connection: It doesn't take much singing in our lives to break the power of the dominant culture. "This little light of mine..." Cannot be touched or extinguished once we sing it and remember what it brings to us and the way we are empowered to question and critique the god-makers of the day.
Your faithfulness, O God, is the power that turns this day into something new. Too often we would march off in the direction of any of the powers of the day as they attempt to win our lives. And yet, in noting your never-ending love we are given new legs on which to stand and sing of your glorious and liberating love. Amen.
The first text is a song in Exodus 15:1-21, the joyous celebration of the overthrow of Pharaoh by the God who is incomparable in compassion and power. ...Pharaoh is not only a historical person, but has become a metaphor and symbol for all established power that seeks to organize the world against covenantal freedom, justice, and neighborliness.
He goes on to say: But imagine the world of Pharaoh without this poem. ...But of course that is the world that the dominant narrative of our time offers us. It believes that technological capacity, economic monopoly, and military mastery can keep the world the way it is forever. It believes that control of finance means that wealth and poverty are to be kept as they are, which places most social pathologies beyond redress.
...And then imagine...imagine...that the congregation, in the wake of Miriam, began to sing and dance and remember the overthrow of power.
When we look at the world in which we live, we must do it with a sense of the whole history of God's people. Too often, we dismiss the stories within the Bible because they are of another time and place that is not at all as real as our day. Ha! We are a contrary people who are asked to hold up this life we have been handed. This is a life that is filled with the "freedom and justice and neighborliness" into which we are invited to live day by day. When we are pulled into that life and pull out of the clutches of the dominant narrative of our time, something does take place. Resistance is often best put to life as we live according to its affirmation and grace that is handed to us no matter what might be the will of the powers around us. Among us, we must continue to check ourselves so that our imagination is always shaped by the vision of God's Reign and not that of Pharoah alive around us. The church can do that. We must do that for one another. We are called to sing and dance praise God in the face of the cultural lords who may call on the name of God but they worship the gods of their own making.
Connection: Take some time today to look around and take note of the gods of the dominant narrative. They should be easy to see...and...they may not be the kinds of things we want to admit are gods among us. For too often, we trust those gods more readily than the God of the Exodus.
Come and take us into the midst of the power of your courageous love, O God. We long to dance today as the saints of old danced and lived in the face of the powers of the world. Too often we are afraid to enter this kind of action, and yet, we trust that you will be among us dancing for all time. Amen.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
...make friends with remarkable men and women who have themselves looked long and lovingly at the real. I mean biblical figures like Abraham and Mary; martyrs like Ignatius of Antioch and Martin Luther King, Jr.; uncanonized women of vision like Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Ann Morrow Lingbergh. I mean Lao Tzu doing everything through being, and Abraham Joshua Heschel doing everything through worship; philosophers like Jacques Maritain, insisting that the culmination of knowledge is not conceptual put experimental: man/woman "feels" God. I mean Mr. Blue, Myles Connolly's New York "mystic" who flew kites and exulted in brass bands; short story writer Flannery O'Connor, dead of lupus at 39, with her mature acceptance of limitation, with so much Christlife in her frail frame - grace on crutches. I mean Thomas Merton, always the contemplative but moving from renunciation to involvement, making contact with Hindu and Buddist and Sufi, protesting Vietnam and violence, racial injustice and nuclear war. Touch men and women like those, and you will touch the stars, will touch God.
I'm sure his list could go on and on. I'm sure we all have people around us that we would add to this list. People who help us look again at our own lives and the world around through a lens that may not come to us so readily. These people are all saint/sinners like the rest of us. And yet, they often help to lead the way so that others can follow and see the vision of the Reign of God through different eyes that then become a part of our seeing. Once we have been opened up to view life through different lenses, it is not as frightening as it may have once appeared when all we could do is see things from our own self-centered perspective. We need to remember that this kind of making friends with remarkable people who help us to look at the real takes place in different ways for each of us. Sometimes it may be in reading. In others it may be in watching how others live and how they appear to move through the day. In others in may be by engaging in conversation that will allow us to question and ask for more. There are so many friends out there that we can slip next to and greet this day...this life...with a new sense of life and being.
Connection: Why not begin by finding out who it may be that is one of these friends for you. That is what really counts. Does it connect for you...are you helped to look again at life?
O God, you bring into our lives the many saints who come around us like gifts filled with new experience and new ways to walk into this day. We give you thanks that we are so rich with the friends of faith that reach back through time like a grand parade of visionaries and people of rich experience and hope. Amen.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
...don't try to possess the object of your delight, whether divine or human, imprisoned marble or free-flowing rivulent. Here is a paragraph from Walter Kerr that has influenced my living far beyond my ability to describe:
To regain some delight in ourselves and in our world, we are forced to abandon, or rather to revere, an adage. A bird in the hand is not worth two inn the bush unless one is an ornithologist, the curator of the Museum of Natural History, or one of those Italian vendors who supply restaurants with larks. A bird in the hand is no longer a bird at all; it is a specimen; it may be dinner. Birds are birds when they are in the bush or on the wing; their worth as birds can be known only at a discreet and generous distance.
As I finished up this piece the first image that came into my head was that of parents who so want to manage the lives of their children and to shape them as the parent would like, that the often lose a bit of the wonder and beauty of their own children...because they cannot look at them from afar without trying to have a say as to how the child will experience life. This happens to all of us and in many parts of our lives. That urge to possess can be so strong, we are not able to appreciate the people and things in our lives that are really quite interesting and worthy - just as they are. Part of the experience of contemplation and prayer is to let things go and take them in only as they are and not how we would have them or shape them or own them. This goes back to Martin Buber writing about relationships as either "I-thou" or "I-it." Only the first of these two is really a relationship in which each side is gifted by the other simply by letting the other be...and then learning what other means. When we attempt to possess those with whom we were attempting to build a relationship, they simply become objects we use and move and keep and...often...abuse. The experience of delight is much more rewarding when we can simply sit back and observe and see something in its fullest measure - that is - without trying to make it us!
Connection: If given the opportunity today, attempt to mark the times in which you were able to let yourself experience the sheer delight of some part of your day...a person...an object...an exchange.
When you delight in your people, O God, you let us go and be who we will be. This doesn't always mean we are the people you would want us to be. And yet, you let us go. In the midst of our becoming, we long for the opportunity to see what it is in us - that brings you great delight. We pray that the next glance in the mirror or as we simply sit and look out at the world, we will remember how delighted you are at are mere presence. Trusting your delight, we may begin to delight in ourselves and those around us. Amen.
...intimately allied with festivity: a sense of play. Not "fooling around"; rather what poet Francis Thomas meant when, in his essay on Shelley, he likened the poet's gifts to a child's faculty of make believe, but raised to the nth power. It demand a sense of wonder that many of us lose as we grow older, get blases and worldly-wise and sophisticated, believe that everything can be explained. No, let your imagination loose to play with ideas - what it means to be alive, to be in love, to hope even in this valley of darkness.
This may seem odd but at times I think this is what happens on a show like Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. People are looking at the the world and the actions going on in this very serious and "important" world and they are able to laugh and find a way to play with the characters and times at hand in such a way that we really have to begin to look at things in a new way. I know this borders on "fooling around," but then again, it may be one way to help us begin to play in the middle of our quite serious and protective day. Sometimes the exercise of play is not something that comes back to us so easily. It is not difficult to let go and enter into moments of sheer delight when we take ourselves and our world too seriously. Just now I thought of that wonderful movie "Life is Beautiful." The "clowning" around of the man who was sent off to a concentration camp was an adventure in play that quite literally was able sustain himself and the little boy with him. There was always a way to open up the day...to see things differently...to imagine when there appeared to be nothing left to imagine...everything was known - even the outcome of this brutal story. When we pray, we play...and that may be the moments of our lives that will sustain us, as Burghardt notes, "even in this valley of darkness."
Connection: What a gift it would be to have people around us that were able to help us play right when the world seems so serious and dark and powerful. Play...with all the "don't touch" items and ideas all around us. Go for it!
My Lord, what a day is placed before us. With your hands, guide us and help us to laugh and giggle and seen this day with various lenses so that we will not be caught up in one, closed-up vision that denies us the wide vision of your gracious Reign. Amen.