Monday, December 31, 2007

Thursday 3 January 2008

Continuing from yesterday from the introduction by Thomas Merton.

Call these values what you will, "natural religion" or "natural law," Christianity admits their existence at least as preambles to faith and grace, if not sometimes vastly more (Romans 2:14-15, Acts 17:22-31). These values are universal, and it is hard to see how there can be any "catholic-ity" (catho-holos means "all embracing") that even implicitly excludes them. One of the marks of catholicity is precisely that values which are everywhere natural to man are fulfilled on the highest level in the Law of the Spirit. and in Christian charity. A "charity" that excludes these values cannot claim the title of Christian love.

From yesterday I'd like to repeat something written by Merton so as to jump us into this piece. In talking about essential values he notes: "values without which he cannot live, values which are now in large measure lost to him so that unequipped to face life in a fully human manner, he now runs the risk of destroying himself entirely." We must at least be "up to" these values among us. It is not the greatest we can is the this least bit of living within a realm of basic values we show that we are at least human. That is a beginning, not an end. From our love or "charity" we begin the greatest journey that brings life to us and to those around us. From this love that is a grounding piece to our humanity, life becomes transformed and a transforming power. It is as we begin to unfold within the embrace of that value that we stretch ourselves beyond all of our expectations and beyond all that we can even imagine. Love takes us out of ourselves and helps us to enter into an other's life and in that conversation, what we all learn to value is the life of the other.

Connection: To start taking steps within the domain of the love we claim...grabs us...and the love we claim....moves us, is a dramatic way to reshape the day. It is not always easy - even in the smallest form...but it is vital to our life expression as humans.

When you stir up the hearts of your people, O God, we are never sure what will surface within our lives. Encourage us to be the instruments of your love whipped up for the sake of the world. Amen.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Due to the fact that we took a week off even after starting a new series of devotions featuring Thomas Merton and the works of Mohandas Gandhi, I thought I should repeat the devotion from Monday, December 24.

Gandhi had the deepest respect for Christianity, for Christ and the Gospel. In following his way of satyagraha (holding on to truth) he believed he was following the Law of Christ, and it would be difficult to prove that this belief was entirely mistaken - or that it was in any degree insincere. One of the greatest lessons of Ganhdi's life remains this: through the spiritual traditions of the West he, an Indian, discovered his Indian heritage and with it his own "right mind." And in his fidelity to his own heritage and its spiritual sanity, he was able to show men of the West and of the whole world a way to recover their own "right mind" in their tradition, thus manifesting the fact that there are certain indisputable and essential values - religious, ethical, ascetic, spiritual, and philosophical - which man has everywhere needed and which he has in the past managed to acquire, values without which he cannot live, values which are now in large measure lost to him so that, unequipped to face life in a fully human manner, he now runs the risk of destroying himself entirely.

This may be enough to ponder on the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus. We are always at the point of leaving behind such wisdom that allows us to look outside of our tradition and grow within our tradition because of the strength and power and beauty we see in another. Maybe the Shaker song is a good reminder to us to turn, turn, will be our delight, until turning, turning, we come down right.

Connection: Do not fear and do not be held back or put in place by powers that are afraid to let you enter into that "right mind."

Come, Spirit of New Life. Come and open our hearts to your word of peace and the experience of shalom as it takes place around us and as we enter into its living presence. Come, and walk with us. Amen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday 26 December 2007

Devotions will be taking a holiday sabbatical until Wednesday morning, January 2, 2008.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Monday 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve seemed like a good time to begin a devotional look at some of the work by Mohandas Gandhi. We will begin with material about Gandhi by Thomas Merton and a few notes about a tie to Christianity.

Gandhi had the deepest respect for Christianity, for Christ and the Gospel. In following his way of satyagraha (holding on to truth) he believed he was following the Law of Christ, and it would be difficult to prove that this belief was entirely mistaken - or that it was in any degree insincere.

One of the greatest lessons of Ganhdi's life remains this: through the spiritual traditions of the West he, an Indian, discovered his Indian heritage and with it his own "right mind." And in his fidelity to his own heritage and its spiritual sanity, he was able to show men of the West and of the whole world a way to recover their own "right mind" in their tradition, thus manifesting the fact that there are certain indisputable and essential values - religious, ethical, ascetic, spiritual, and philosophical - which man has everywhere needed and which he has in the past managed to acquire, values without which he cannot live, values which are now in large measure lost to him so that, unequipped to face life in a fully human manner, he now runs the risk of destroying himself entirely.

This may be enough to ponder on the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus. We are always at the point of leaving behind such wisdom that allows us to look outside of our tradition and grow within our tradition because of the strength and power and beauty we see in another. Maybe the Shaker song is a good reminder to us to turn, turn, will be our delight, until turning, turning, we come down right.

Connection: Do not fear and do not be held back or put in place by powers that are afraid to let you enter into that "right mind."

Come, Spirit of New Life. Come and open our hearts to your word of peace and the experience of shalom as it takes place around us and as we enter into its living presence. Come, and walk with us. Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday 21 December 2007

Today will be the last piece from Brian Blount. It is a concluding remark about living with the Living Word.

Christian faith, and the biblical interpretation that goes along with it, supports it, directs it, is hard. Not everyone can do it; not everyone wants to do it. Many want the comfort of having someone just say forget about the contexts, forget about how the biblical writers were writing for their people in their time, forget about all that and just read all the words as the last word and do what they say, whatever they say. Even if I don't want to tell a slave to go back to his master; even if I don't want to tell a woman to sit down and keep quiet in church, and cover her head while she's at it; even if I don't want to tell someone politically oppressed to obey a government without protest when I think its wrong; and even if I don't want to tell a gay or lesbian couple that they are idolatrous, lusting, unnatural sinners whom I'll love even even though they have absolutely no business and no place in the kingdom of God, I'll do it anyway because it's easy. It's simple. And I long for a simple faith. I'll cry, but I won't do differently. I won't try to find a way to do differently because it's too hard.
It's supposed to be hard, stupid! Whoever would be my disciple must take up my hard cross and follow, follow daily follow tomorrow, where every word is a living word for people living where they are in their present and future, not in somebody else's past.

I think leaving Blount's comments alone for today will be enough of a devotional reflection.

Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest and open up this day with the living word that bring us life and enables us to see the ongoing unfolding of your blessed Reign. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thursday 20 December 2007

To prevent an extra long quote yesterday, I'm simply continuing the thought with today's piece by Brian Blount.

So the words his and him become just as important as the words justification and cross. Mess with either one and you're messing equally with the faith. So the words "slaves obey your masters" or "women be silent in church" must be equal to the words "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars." So the words "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" become as important as "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is not longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus". Every word, no matter how it's tied to its context, must be the last word, or faith itself is somehow challenged.

There must be a way to look at Scripture and make some decisions about what is now the living word among us. We must be able to take a look at the whole story of God's faithfulness and the life it created within a world like ours where divisions rule and there is always a scapegoat on which we can throw our problems and fears. We will still wrestle with some passages. In fact I would pray that we would wrestle. It is in the conversations and dialogues that we may be able to say we give more weight to one passage over another. As Blount suggests, there will be those words that are dead for us. Then again, there will those words that are living and because of that create new life within the realm of God's gracious Reign. Not every word is as important as another. The Scripture is not a book of potions that must be said correctly or it doesn't work for us. And yet, from those living words, people in every time are introduced to life beyond our wants and demands. A living word continues to crack us open to both receive this blessed story of our God in all God's faithfulness and then to have that living word come to life among us.

Connection: The next time you look at Scripture, what is the living word you can hear...what is the Good News that liberates, forgives, renews, recreates? Then again...what sounds and appears to be quite dead for us today.

Living Word, the breath of your Spirit shakes us. We hear it and we are encountered by life that is so rich it is like something new and grand and tremendously healing. Guide us so that we may be fed by this word that brings life. Amen.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Brian Blount brings his discussion about interpretation to an end with a section call "Living with the Living Word." Referring back to what he wrote about the Scriptures and slave and homosexuality, he notes: "We can't be faithful and we can't get to God's truth if the biblical words don't live for us this this."

This is difficult, I know, because the words are biblical words, the words are the canon, and we find it hard to challenge them no matter their context because every word is supposed to be the last word. That's why inclusive language is often so difficult for many people to accept when they read the Bible. The words, the pronouns he, him, and his, have become THE WORD. A faith mathematics of of simple addition takes hold. All the words form an equation that equals faith. Just as in mathematics, we need every number if the total sum in a simple addition problem is going to be correct, so every word must be equally authoritative if simple faith is going to add up.

I find this use of "faith mathematics" to be a unique way of setting up a view of reading the Bible. You can't mess with numbers. If you do, the answer will not be "right." Well, we are not doing math and we are not trying to come up with "right." We are looking to the Word for life. We are looking to the Word to see the Reign of God breaking into our history - past, present, and to come. This will mean the words may carry different weight among us. That is probably unheard of in a simple addition problem. For example: the simply change made in the New Revised Standard Edition of the Bible makes a simple change from "men" to "men and women" if it is likely that the group that was gathered was inclusive. Some folks cannot and will not tolerate that change. Of course, there can be many other example that might get under any of our skin...

Connection: It would be interesting to listen to what people give 'weight.' I would suggest we even do that with our everyday imagery and speaking. It may help all of us to listen better and learn to ask for clarification so we know how close or far we are from one another.

Lord, your Word, is the power to change life and bring into being that which is not. Help us to listen for the truth within your Word as we make our way through the many words we use to help us catch a glimpse of your gracious Reign. Amen.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

One more look at Brian Blount's comments about homosexuality and the New Testament.

What I'm suggesting, of course, is that contextuality is not only important when we compare Paul to our time but also it is important - indeed, imperative - when we compare Paul to the Paul of his own time. When the contextual base of his theology shifts, so does the emphasis in his ethics. When the theology operates from the radical thing that God has done through Christ Jesus, then boundaries break down and people rise up and are brought together. This is Paul's living word, the one that continues into our own time and gives us hope for the way in which all people who have been created as God has created them, just as they are, might be treated equally and accepted faithfully together in the one body of faith.

Here that notion of living word is quite important. Even for Paul, the word brought life and was life and it created life...that was not yet the life of the blossoming community. In Christ, Jesus, Paul's world is shaken up...again and again. This living word is the one that then shakes us up. When that happens, it is a shaking that may rock our lives in ways not possible in Paul's context but very much a part of the radical word that continues to break into our day and bring life that will continue to reshape the community of the followers of Jesus. Part of our faithful journey with this word that continues to come alive among us is that we may well find ourselves surprised by the life it whips up for us. We do not simply go on our own merry way, we follow this Word and we take note of how it shakes the foundations upon which we want to shakes them otherwise this living may become nothing more than another dead word among us and within our context. It must be noted that we are the ones who make it that dead word...for this Word is to always and will always bring life.

Connection: Faithful people must deal with context. Today is always the right time to question how this Word will witness to the expansive grace of our God.

In this season of Advent, O God, stir us up by the power of your Spirit so that as we engage our world this day we will see how your Christ comes to be among us and how in the coming of the Christ, we are shaped to bring that Reigning life into the world with us. Amen.

Monday 17 December 2007

This week we will continue with two more days of material by Brian Blount on homosexuality and the New Testament.

In Paul's thought, God's doing is simultaneously the mandate for human living. The shattering of creation's boundaries that occurs with Jesus' death and resurrection is the gracious provocation of a new eschatological reality that enable human transgressions of the same kind. All people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, stature, or - dare I say it even though Paul does not - sexual preference, are equally acceptable in God's sight and therefore must be equally treated in human living.

Several pieces strike me as powerful - "God's doing is simultaneously the mandate for human living." This is a masterful way of taking a look at what is the life of the community that claims to be followers of Jesus! We would like to question more or restrict more or deny more. But when God acts, it defines us with a wide open doors - frightening but marvelous. Also, I was really taken when Blount writes that "Jesus' death and resurrection is the gracious provocation of a new eschatological reality that enable human transgressions of the same kind." The image of our lives being provoked by grace is disarming. Most often, we use the word provocation with a sense of fighting or paybacks. Here it is the reality of the Reign of God in Christ, Jesus, that....says "Come on...try this out for yourself." In all of this, there may be great fear - such equality in treatment can shake people. This can happen even to the point that we will want to run away from the living graciousness of God's Reign. We need more feet on the road that are being pulled by the Spirit into the midst of this gracious community.

Connection: So how will our feet hit the road today? Try to take note during the day of what it is that provokes your actions. Often, I don't even let grace in...unfortunately.

Lord of the Gracious Reign of New Life, it is by your actions that we have come to define ourselves. Inspire us to see that as you act, you empower us to act in just such a manner. It is by your acting in Christ, Jesus, that we are able to see the vividness of your invitation to new life. Thanks and praise to you, O God. Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Friday 14 December 2007

This week ends with a provocative piece that may take the weekend to unpack. Brian Blount begins by quoting Wolfgang Schrage from "The Ethics of the New Testament" as he comments on Galatians 3:28.
I would like to apologize for the poor editing of yesterday's devotion. Sometimes my stream of consciousness....gets lost or I delete things that I should not!

"In the one body of Christ, all secular categories are transcended, even distinctions inherent in the created order."

This is a crucial point. Paul's understanding of God's actions in Christ lead him to the almost insane conclusion that even the categories that God established in the act of the creation have now been superseded. Even the biblical words of human creation are not the last words for human living. The boundaries standardized for all time at the very beginning of time have been eschatologically smashed down in the act of Jesus' coming, death, and resurrection.

This really does sound like a whole new creation. It may simply mean that creation is being expanded beyond the limits we were able to see. It may also mean that we cannot go into the new place without the power of the Holy Spirit - the power that moves over creation and brings into being all that is new and all that has never been...yet. This is not a new creation that says anything goes. Rather, it is a creation in which much more is able to thrive and live and come to the welcome feast and share in the life that is eternally given to us by our God. This is the God who creates all things and never stops being the creative power and hand behind the life of God's people even as we move through new times. What happens when boundaries are smashed down? Yes, there can appear to be nothing more than chaos. And yet, we are people who profess to live within a promise. Chaos cannot overcome promise. So...are we going to keep holding onto the promise or collapse under the power of chaos?!?

Connection: Keep on moving within the promise. It may not appear to be that sure or that strong...but...we've come this far by faith...just look back and see the witness of those who have endured and walked through chaos in order to bring life into a new age.

Lord God, you are our sanctuary. In and through all time, you are ready and available to lead and comfort and push us or pull us into you peace. We will often resist, but so need you to be that place of rest and refreshment so that we can keep on as your promises come into blossom around us. Amen.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Blount notes that Paul was one who was also able to break "beyond the boundaries of social expectation." He does this in Galatians right at the beginning of that letter when dealing with those who wanted to keep Jewish expectations of circumcision and diet in place - for all.

Paul, though is already on written record, in his correspondences to Thessalonica (2:12; 3:3; 4:7;5:9,24) and Corinth (1 Cor. 2:2), arguing that inclusion into the people of God is based on God's election through the gospel of Christ, specifically the gospel that records Christ's death on the cross. It is God's action, through Christ, that determines one's inclusion into the people of God, not ones adherence to and compliance with the Jewish Law. This means however, that if the Law is no longer the deciding factor, but God's act in Christ, then anyone and everyone who believed in that act could become a part of the people of God. It is this kind of radical thinking that provokes Paul when he makes his radical statement at Galatians 3:28:

"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus"

This is fun. Paul really does come off as quite the radical. And yet, it is not Paul who is radical. It is the mighty act of God in Christ, Jesus - for all. Any limits on that word of life is to become someone who listens to another word...and that is not the Word of the Good News. Within the radical thinking that comes when one is overwhelmed by the gracious and loving action of God, what was considered impossible and out of place is given a place and become not merely the possible but the expectation of what life is to be within God's Reign already breaking in within the everyday stuff of our lives. To be quite frank, this radical word is too much for any of us to catch in its fullness. If we can be honoest with ourselves, we will put limits on it...our own limits...for our own keep some control within our lives - we can bet on that. And yet, the promise is there always pulling us into the life that can begin anew -- now...right now.

Connection: Sometimes, we need to remember to let go. Some would say leap...some would say repent. Whatever it is, there is a life bursting forth ready to be our

Come, O Lord, and stir up our hearts as you have always promised you would do. We know that we will resist you call and yet we need you to start bring change even when our hearts are hard and our minds are made up. Come, O Lord, and stir us up. Amen.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Within the cultural day of Paul, there was an understanding about the natural way of being sexual. It "controlled not only the type but also the frequency of that intimacy." Blount continues:

One performed such acts not as a way of sharing intimacy but of procreating the human species or checking the fires and flames of passion between men and women. The contemporary understanding of intimate homosexual union that often expresses itself physically and celebrates passion within a a committed relationship was alien to Paul as Paul knew the possibility of a believer marrying a pagan was alien to Jesus. So Paul did what others in his Greco-Roman context were doing: He tied his understanding of sexuality to an understanding of sex acts that were properly condoned only when done according to the natural order designed for procreation or as a remedy for the burning passions of lust that apparently threatened the eruption of human bonfires all over the ancient world.

More and more we need to face the reality that our church includes faithful followers of Jesus who are homosexuals. This is already a part of the life of the community in which we worship our God and live as people living within God's Reign. At that point, we can begin to discuss how we all will live together and what we expect within our communities when it comes to our sexual intimacy. This will take work - even if we all would agree that all are welcome and homosexuality does not preclude one's place within the life church. Here is when the face to face conversations must bring us into a deeper sense of what it is to be faithful within a committed relationship that begins with expectations of a life together and the expectation that we will honor one another and keep us focused on whose we are and how that shapes all of our relationship - especially our intimate ones. We ask the community of faith to stand with a heterosexual couples as they are entering into marriage and to help keep them together in and through all things. That, takes work....but we really don't even do that well. Wouldn't it be good for the community to offer such a word of support to homosexual couples in the congregation. Then, in both cases, try to live up to our word to the couples. I don't need to know how a couple has sex to be a help to them in their life together. We want to encourage an intimacy that brings couples closer as they honor one another and then also turn out into the world and honor others.

Connection: Think about it...what is the next step the church needs to be taking rather than staying stuck in an argument that, in many ways, is all about a dead word.

Teach us all, O God, to find the ways of becoming fully human as we engage one another and form intimate relationship. As our humanity is expanded, may we bring good news to all so that your Reign encourages a life that honors others, respects the differences we see and do not understand, and then, is will to also speak a word of correction and admonition as is needed among all of us. Come, O Lord of All, and bless us with your Spirit of recreation. Amen.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tuesday 11 December 2007

We continue with Brian Blount on homosexuality and the New Testament.

Other philosophers, such as Plutarch, argued that love between a man and woman was natural. Sexual activity between people of the same gender was considered dehumanizing because it was unnatural. By "unnatural" they meant, of course, that it had nothing to do with procreation, the condoned purpose of sexual activity between men and women. The two primary secular concerns with same-sex activity, then, were the unreasonable motivation of lust and the unnatural quality of the acts...

For Paul, sexual activity between persons of the same sex was a direct result of idolatry, the human acceptance of false gods or a false understanding of their own relationship before the gods. Paul was thinking of individual, separate actions as God's punishment for idolatry. He was not thinking, nor was he prepared to think, in terms of relationship. He was thinking what humans did and not what God had created, a person predisposed by reason of biology or social learning toward relationship with other persons of the same gender. For him the issue was one of controlling behavior, not running from or living out one's human identity.

Here we see again the focus on "what is done." There is no consideration of the relationship. There is no consideration to the fact that this is who these folks are, shall we nature. When we can begin to focus more on the relationship between homosexuals rather than individual sexual acts (for we don't focus on those acts among heterosexual who are in a loving relationship) we may be able to bring everyone into life relationships that are wholesome and full and responsible. We would do well to focus on good relationships...and building up faithfulness to partners...and building up the family of all people, rather than letting our fears about what is not like us be the power that leads us. We do well when we help one another live "out one's human identity" so that we are able to deal with one another truthfully and honestly and with respect. We would do well to ask how we all can walk together as followers of Jesus rather than picking up stones and being ready to discount and reject other's mere being. At that point, we then, all of us, can talk about the "life" into which we are all invited to enter as people who live within the Reign of God.

Connection: It is not easy to trust how someone else lives. When we are self-centered, we may not even be open to any type of conversation or dialogue. A good exercise may be to relax, remind ourselves that God Reigns, and then be available to entertain something more than our own perspectives and world view.

Just as you, out of love for us, call us into a deeper and deeper relationship with you and our neighbors, O God, we are to be a people who are empowered to enter into relationships that take work and respect and stay focused on the holy life of all your people who encompass more diversity than most of us are willing to accept. Remind us of your love and the love it brings to life among us. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Monday 10 December 2007

We start the week by continuing Brian Blount's comments on "The New Testament and Homosexual Behavior.

Paul was inspired by God's Word in a world where sexuality was understood in a radically different way from how it is understood today... No one talked in terms of a genetic predisposition or early social conditioning and learning, or a way of life, or a nurturing, caring partnership of two people... Paul was very much speaking from and with his surrounding culture in an accommodating rather than a prophetic way. Philosophers of the day, such as Seneca and Dio Chrysostom, considered same-sex activity to be driven by dehumanizing lust. They recognized, of course, that lust was not just a problem for same-sex activity but that it plagued relationships between men and women as well. To them because sexual activity was always motivated by lust, it therefore always had to be avoided.

It is important to note that when a new word or a new idea is brought into a group of people, it is often done slowly...without tipping the boat...without pushing something down the throats of people, and with some sense of what will fly and what must be "accommodated" in order for just the first edge of newness to be considered. Paul was bringing a new word to the world. Even to day - it blows the lid off of things when it is opened up to the fullness of its gracious presentation. The radical notion of the Reign of God doesn't make out well among us. We all need some "buffers." So, how do you talk about sex and sexuality within a culture that cannot go there...or is only able to go there in a particular way and within certain boundaries. Well, maybe you don't talk at all. Then again, maybe you touch on it as part of a greater argument. Then again...maybe you deal with it as only you know how...under the rules and guidelines, taboos and restrictions, and the understanding of the day that are a part of the culture. In that time, it may all be helpful to move into the domain of the graciousness of the Reign of God. But today, in our understanding of sexuality, rather than help to move us into that Reign, we are stuffed within a box...all of us. The sex wins out over the Word. Odd.

Connection: Maybe this is where we learn to listen. Like, "Tell me how you get to that understanding because that is not where I am and I need to listen to you." This is not easy - at least not for me. But it may be valuable in many ways throughout this day.

Open up our hearts, O God, and shake us up so that we can listen to others and yet also lift up our voices so that we may all interact with a bit of integrity even as we disagree...or agree. Amen.

Friday 7 December 2007

Today we move into a section of Blount's work that deals with biblical authority within a present day issue - homosexual behavior.

The New Testament's words on homosexual behavior are also clear. They are words of condemnation; I don't try to deny that. I don't think anyone should. But they are words out of a particular context. Our context is so significantly different that I don't think the words are any longer living, but are, rather, dead words if we try to read them without contextually understanding them today.

I think this is such a wise beginning to this discussion. We cannot deny that the words are there. Yes, the word "homosexuality" isn't actually used...but any of us know what the images are meant to portray - to a point. that is important. To a point...we know what the words portray. It carries a legitimate culture picture. But the picture is caught in time and does not move out of that time into our time quite as easily as some claim. We must be able and willing to engage in a conversation about the changes of context and the way that change helps us to determine if a word is alive or dead. If the conversation does not happen, we will remain locked in our corners and never meet up with one another. That may seem to bring some peace but it is really nothing more than avoidance...and that, is never peace. We must grapple with the notion that the text does say what is says...but...what is being said in the day it was written and what can it be saying in the day of you and me who are reading it now. In many ways, the conversation we are going to be having in the next week in these devotions will be quite in line with what Blount brought forth in regard to interpretation and contextualization among the African American slaves.

Connection: We must enter into conversation with those who do not read like us. We must remember that the word has life within the dialogical action of a community where each side is honored and yet there may be disagreements. That is not an easy place to be. But it is necessary.

Living Word, do not let us hinder your Spirit as we look to the Scriptures to find this Word that brings us rest and truth. For it is in the truthfulness of your life-giving word that we begin to take part in the new creation that we do not control. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Today is the last piece in the section on the living word among African American slaves. Bount wants to make sure we heard that the scriptures were not simply dismissed when they spoke a word about slaves that was a dead word for them.

This doesn't mean that the New Testament text lost its sense of authority for the slaves. But it does mean that their perception of God in their midst was more authoritative. The text must be in line with God's being and God's agenda of liberation. Where it is not, the text, because of the frailty of the humans who composed it, must be challenged and, if need be, resisted as much as the system of slavery it was purported to support. In this way the slaves were perhaps the first biblical critics in America to read so aggressively from "in front of th text" that they could recognize the text for what it really was, the words first century human writers employed in their attempt to convey the Word of the eternal God.

The text stays vital and yet how it is read and how it is received comes into play so that it can be taken as a word that is either alive or dead at the time of the reading. If a passage is so out of tune with what is the context of the day of reading that it cannot be accepted within the realm of the great "agenda of liberation," then we need to look at it again and come to grips with how or if it is still able to speak to us. Again, we must remember that we are talking about specific texts becoming dead words - not all of Scripture. In fact, as we read here, the African American slaves knew the whole book...and what they read in the whole story that brought them life and hope and vision was not being heard in these texts that were locked in the slavery of the mindset of the day of writing. The powerful word of Scripture brings about a new world, and yet, we must continue to stay focused on what is the power that comes from this word...what makes it alive...what then, causes it to be quite dead and lost among us.

Connection: Remember that this way of looking at Scripture is not the way some would like to hear it. So, how do we talk about this faithful encounter with Scripture that is not willing to buy the message in each verse hook-line-and-sinker? Obviously there are folk out there who find it very difficult to question anything in the "book." And yet it is necessary.

Lord of the Living Word, we are fed by the Scriptures and we are encouraged for new life as we encounter the stories of your faithfulness through the ages in the lives of our ancestors. Today as we continue our faithful journeys we long to hear that life-giving word that will always be a word of life and liberation and a call to faithfulness. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Wednesday 5 December 2007

We continue with a living word from the perspective of the African American Slaves.

Professor Jacquelyn Grant is correct in her assessment of what is gong on here when she writes, "What we see here is perhaps more than a mere rejection of a White preacher's interpretation of the Bible, but an exercise in internal critique of the Bible." In other words, if the biblical words on slavery were the last word on slavery, they were too dead a word to keep living for them.

The Word "too dead to keep living for them." That is a powerful notion and can seem almost offensive. And yet, if the word destroys life, how can it be the Word? Such a word is and must be 'dead among us' for it is antithetical to what is known among us as the "Living Word" - Jesus in the flesh. I was just wondering - imagining - what this Living Word would be among us today. Part of that imagination is to settle for a Living Word that would be no different from that of biblical days. It would be a word radically alive and life-giving even if people were resisting the freedom with which this life is given away to all. Are we content with being a lynching people with a word that cannot bring life. Never! Never must we use the Word to create an atmosphere of death and fear and coercion! We must listen to the voices around us who continually call for the Living Word to really bring on the new life.

Connection: Listen for the offer of new life...listen for the voices that try to dismantle it. It is a discipline that is greatly needed among us.

Come, O Lord, and stir us up so that as we walk through this day we will come to know your voice as times change and your loving presence seeks to persist among us. Amen.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Today we continue with how the African American slaves insisted on a living Word - from "The Last Word on Biblical Authority" by Brian Blount.

And then there was the group of slaves in Georgia, in 1833, who listened to a white preacher go on and on about Paul's text on Philemon: "...According to the report...half of the Negro group walked out with the point of the sermon became clear, and the rest stayed mostly for the purpose of telling that they were sure there was no such passage in the Bible."

Of course, it is in the Bible. It's your bible and my Bible, and it was in the slaves' Bible. but they contested it! They walked out on it! Why? Because theirs was the living Bible.

For those who long for the word of life that is a promise for new life, you cannot sell them or offer them a dead word. After awhile, they will leave...and so should any of us. It is quite common for me to talk on the phone to someone who cannot go back to church...or cannot go to churches where the preacher is so stuck in a context 'from of old,' that they will not and cannot begin to see and hear the word as a living and breathing reality from which communities are brought to this new life in Christ. When a community that gathers around the word is unwilling to listen again to the word that offers life to all, and they insist on reading for their own benefit and against others, it is time to walk out. Blessed are they who have been able to stay and have, because of their persistent faithfulness, transformed a congregation and helped them see the joyous life of a word alive for all.

Connection: We put our GLBT brothers and sisters through this kind of single-minded reading of the Bible. So few passages become such a focus to the life of a community that the doors are more likely to be shut than open. Imagine what would happen if we took the rich to task for our wealth as being quite contrary to following Jesus. Hmmm?

Your Word, O Life Giving Lord, continues to interrupt our world and pull us into new places so that as we engage our world we will be a part of a living word that really has the power to create new life. To you we give our thanks and praise and ask for your ongoing presence among us. Amen.

Monday 3 December 2007

Brian Blount continues to write about the last word on Biblical authority with a look at interpretation within the community of the African American Slave.

...they realized that human beings interpreted (God's) story and put God's holy Word into their own contextually influenced human words. So when the slave owners talked about the Bible saying that slaves ought to obey their masters, the slaves resisted not just the slave owners but the biblical words and the biblical authors themselves.

Here's a wonderful piece by Howard Thurman about his grandmother's outlook on scripture.

"My regular chore was to do all the reading for my grandmother - she could neither read nor write... With a feeling of great temerity I asked her one day why it was that she would not let me read any of the Pauline letters... 'During the days of slavery," she said, "the master's minister would occasionally hold services for the slaves....Always the white minister used as his text something from Paul. At least three or four times a year he used as a text: 'Slaves be obedient to them that are your masters..., as unto Christ.' Then he would go on to show how, if we were good and happy slaves, God would bless us. I promised my Make that if I ever learned to read and if freedom ever came, I would not read that part of the Bible."

Here is an illiterate woman who knows instinctively that a last word is too dead a word to keep living for her.

It seems as though we can come to the point when the word is not a living word. It is dead. It is meaningless. It is offensive. It is offensive not merely to the hearer, but to the essence of the Scripture. I would offer the comment that the Good News is not able to be heard because something other than the Good News is being offered up to the people. People can hear the absence of Good News. It is lifeless and it reflects the present life context rather than the expansiveness of the Reign of God. When this kind of word is given power over any of us, it does not create life. I would say that it resists new life - if not trying to completely kill it off. What is particularly powerful about the story of Thurman's grandmother is that the "word" served as a prostitute that could be owned by the master and therefore serve the master rather than create a community of the true Master of the Reign of God that continues to cause life - new life - to spring up even when the status quo attempts to rest on last words.

Connection: We have all heard these "last words" and we know how they halt life. We probably all have friends or relatives who have been slammed by such a word and have, like Thurman's grandmother, resisted its perpetuation. May we be so bold to walk through the day within such an empowering freedom.

By your Word, O God, we come to face our own lives with an openness that invites us to question what is being said. Within those questions, our conversations with you are allowed to blossom and grown because we are not merely individuals reciting the word rather than living it. For you Word, we give you thanks and ask for your encouraging Spirit to open our minds and hearts to you alone. Amen.