Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday 30 November 2009

This first week of the Advent season will be filled with more about Ubuntu by Michael Battle.

Ubuntu is the interdependence of persons for the exercise, development, and fulfillment of their potential to be both individuals and community. This is why extended family is so important in African societies. Through extended family, an individual becomes capable of living a larger life, not only through those related by blood, kinship, or marriage but through humanity itself, conceived as a family one joins at birth and in which no one is a stranger.

What a good image of community. Then again, this could be also the worst part of community. What if the larger life that is connected with others is only a connection to some. It may be a village. It may be a tribe....a extended family. If we do not have the ability to extend ourselves beyond our group or larger extended family, it seems to me that it can become quite demonic. On community of close-knit people can become the ones who threaten and go to war with another community. Ubuntu seems to rest on the understanding that this connectedness is to run throughout humanity. No one is outside. No one is beyond our relationships. We can and must be one and refuse to have any issue or cause or action separate us or call us stranger. When we cannot be that expansive, we will become like a cult - speaking good words about community but speaking them with little respect toward those not "with us."

Connection: There are simply too many ways to come up with reasons to divide. It takes courage to reach across the lines of our own separation.

Lord of Creation, when you make us in your image, it is within the beauty of our differences that you see this image and it is handed to us as our own. Continue to make us bold and uncover the many facets of our humanity that help to build bridges to new life. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Have a blessed Thanksgiving - more on Ubuntu.

...relying only on a literal interpretation of the word as human being does not satisfy Ubuntu's deeper meanings. To the Bantu-speaking peoples, a phrase, such as "Mary has Ubuntu," would mean Mary is known to be a caring, concerned person who abides faithfully in all social obligations. Mary is conscious not only of her personal rights but also of her duties to her neighbor. In fact, Mary is conscious of her personal rights only in relationship with the rights of others. Mary does not know she is beautiful, or intelligent, or humorous, without Ubuntu. Mary has come to understand her own identity only in relationship to other persons.

I find this to be scary stuff - in a way. It demands that the community is always looking after the welfare of the other. Imagine counting on your self-perception in a community that ridiculed you...or degraded you...or abused you...or counted you as nothing at all. That, from what I have read here would be a demonic community - one not able to be truly human. But, when others can be a blessing - a word of encouragement and truthfulness - a wellspring of honor and respect, then this communal humanity can be the very ground beneath the lives of everyone. The character of each would then begin to reflect the character of the whole and we would see dramatic expressions of humanity at its best.

Connection: Can we be so afraid of others that we will not allow ourselves to be in communion with them? And yet, at the very center of our life together as Christians is the common meal that shapes our identity.

Knit us together, O God. Help us to see how our humanity is so enriched by our contact with others and the way we mix together to see the beauty of the whole. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday 24 November 2009

As noted yesterday, Ubuntu by Michael Battle.

Tutu's more specific connotation of the term (Ubuntu)...derives from a Xhosa concept. Generally, this proverbial expression means that each individual's humanity is ideally expressed in relationship with others, and, in turn, individuality is truly expressed. A person depends on other persons to be a person. This is certainly the understanding Christians have of God as Trinity in which the three persons of God are so interdependent that all three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have one nature.

I like where he is going. The whole matrix of God and humanity is creatively nourished within relationship. In fact, God, in whose image we are created, is just as we would be - a community with many faces that expresses the very center of being that makes us whole. We are wholly human and in that mix of being communal, we find our individuality and we find that we are not ever without brother and sisters. We are never alone. We are never abandoned. We are forever laced together with other and in that reality we continue to evolved into the wonder of our humanity.

Connection: Is this why Hindus bow to acknowledge the God that is present in the other? Just wondering. We would do well to consider such a thought as we face those around us.

Liberating Lord, you free us to be vulnerable with one another so that we may find ourselves within the wide embrace of your love that creates new life among us from day to day. Continue to liberate our lives and expand our vision of our own humanity. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday 23 November 2009

For the three days prior to Thanksgiving, we are returning to Ubuntu by Michael Battle.

The word Ubuntu comes from the linguistic group of Sub-Saharan languages known as Bantu. Both words Ubuntu and Bantu can be recognized by the common root of -ntu (human). the prefix ba- denotes the plural form for humanity. In short, Ubuntu means personhood. A further etymological foundation for -ntu can be translated as being, that is, human being. In the spirituality common to Sub-Sarharan Africa, there is a direct relationship between human being and God's being. Ubuntu, therefore, also includes a theological understanding in which all beings are known through the category of personhood.

All are see as persons. If that were the case, then there would be no reason to treat men or women differently. Nor would there be any reason to treat any human differently simply based on who they are. Actually, we would need to assume that I am only more human as I treat the other as human. It is in that time of sharing that we begin to experience the great wonder about our humanity. Thus, we begin to see the fullness of humanity that we often limit. We honor the human being. In that way we begin the daily journey of following the truly human one. Some may say that is the Christ of God, Jesus. Others may call this the "son of Man." In either case, it presses us to see the fullness of who we can be and by seeing the expansiveness of our being, we are also exposed to how limited we really let ourselves become.

Connection: Can you see in the other person the humanity that will allow you to stretch your understanding of what it is to be human? Then can you see where that might lead us?

Lord of Creation, in your image we are created. Humanity - the whole of our being - the wideness of our experience - the mystery of our being, is created by you. It is in this created form that the simple 'me' comes to see how life is really brought to it defining moments when we see in the communal 'we' the life of humanity created in your image. We bless you for moments of insight and the grand texture of your being that becomes us. Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday 20 November 2009

Today will be a longer piece by Michael Battle in order to further define Ubuntu.

Ubuntu is an African concept of personhood in which the identity of the self is understood to be formed interdependently through community. This is a difficult worldview for many Westerners who tend to understand self as over and against others - or as in competition with others. In a Western world-view, interdependence may be easily confused with codependence, a pathological condition in which people share a dependence on something that is not life-giving, such as alcohol or drugs. Ubuntu, however, is about symbiotic and cooperative relationships - neither the parasitic and destructive relationship of codependence nor the draining and alienating relationships of competition. Perhaps Desmond Tutu...but it best when he said:
"A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

I wanted to include the piece by Bishop Tutu because it shows that not everyone has this character of Ubuntu. It is a character that is treasured and pointed to within Africa. I would have to submit though, that it is a positive and wonderful community character, it must not be assumed to be universal. If it was, there would not be, like in the west, the senseless bloodshed and misery that goes along with so many people living together. I would argue that this notion of Ubuntu is a gift. It is one that we can nurture and one that must be nurtured communally - that merely fits with the definition of the word. Can we say that one country or continent knows more about this experience? Or must we remember that we are all saint-sinners who will quite easily reject such a creative and loving way to live together. It would be good to look at other concepts from other places that attempt to hold the same values as primary.

Connection: Without being connected, we lose a sense of who we are and who we can become. What makes us utterly human in the best way possible today!

Creating God, you knit us together as your beloved people. You continue to call us into relationship with one another and your love becomes the power that bridges the gaps between us. Continue to open our eyes to see the wealth of life that comes to everyone when we love one another and that love becomes the foundation of our life together. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday 19 November 2009

I have neglected to send out devotions this week due to a bad back. Strange how such a thing as that can alter how things get done and when things get done and if things get done. Sorry about that. I would like to make a switch to a book by Michael Battle "Ubuntu." Several years ago I used one of his writings and find him to be a real lift.

Westerners may find Ubunto - an African concept of personhood - a strange word with perhaps an even stranger meaning. Emphasizing the communal and spiritual dimensions of human identity, the concept of Ubuntu (oo-BOON-too) of necessity poses a challenge to persons accustomed to thinking of themselves as individuals. Imagine a fish trying to understand what it means to be wet, when all it has ever known is life in the water. Or imagine the desperation of an earthling landing on Mars without an oxygen tank. Becoming conscious of what we take for granted can be a strange, difficult - even painful - experience. Yet the winds of change that greet us as we begin the twenty-first century guarantee that Westerners will encounter non-Western assumptions about what it means to be human. The interconnection of identity on the personal, communal, and global levels is inescapable.

Just last evening in bible study we touched briefly on this notion of the individual. We often read scripture as though it is about and and God. And yet, it is about the whole of us - all of us together. It is about the Reign of God that is the radical new way of being humanity. The vision of that humanity is as old as the bible - and yet it is as new as the shaping of the church today. We are human. Yes, I am one of those human beings - but I am on the one and only one. When we are blessed to see that we are one of of a whole that has been created in God's image, the borders we put up to separate and divide really have not power and no reason. The Reign of God is about the interconnection that does not abide by borders and wall and boundaries. Rather, we are a part of the beginning of becoming the one humanity in God's image. That will change everything about us. It will mean listening and speaking and arguing and tossing around possibilities and using our imaginations much more than we have ever let ourselves do that before now.

Connection: Imagine what being interconnected means as the day begins to unfold before us. Sometimes it really does take a great imagination.

When you invite us to love our enemies, O God, you are inviting us to be the humanity you created. Without that love and connection to others, we are not the people you intended us to become. You insist on peace - you insist on our whole humanity. Blessed are you. Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday 13 November 2009

With love comes accountability - so Willimon continues.

love is not love that is irresponsible. Unresponsiveness is the death of a relationship. Love is not love that is unwilling to take time with the beloved. A lover who expects nothing of the the beloved, who does not want the best for the beloved is not really in love. Once again the story that Jesus told of extravagant beneficence (Matthew 25:14-30), his so-called parable of the talents: A man summoned his slaves and gave them everything he had, lavishing huge sums of money upon them in varying degrees. the master leaves them holding everything he owns, every cent, with no instructions on how they are to invest in so much treasure. "After a long time" he returns and "settled accounts with them" (v.19). There is graciousness and lavish gift, but there is also definitive accounting.

So what are we doing with this love that has been wrapped around us as an unending promise? Is it alive among it something that is visible in our individual lives...has it become us? I immediately thought of the hymn "this little light of mine" and the refrain "let it shine, let it shine, let it shine." A good question in our make-believe judgment day scenario would be the simple question that all the beloved are asked: "did you let it shine?" Or maybe God would simply say, "tell me what my love did in your life - how was it made into you?" Great gift - great opportunity...gracious gift - gracious life.

Connection: At the end of the day ask what took place that day that brought the loving and gracious face of God alive through us...just one little thing would be enough.

You make us a gift to the world, O God, by your love for us. When we are loved by you, we are a part of life that is shaped by you. We give you thanks for turning us loose on the world as recipients of your love. Amen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday 12 November 2009

Thinking some more about judgment - Willimon.

To be made to stand before the mirror of truth, even though it may take an eternity to face the facts about ourselves, is an aspect of God's faith in us. Though we don't believe that we have the resources to live truthfully, God believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. God is willing to take time with us. And if anyone is ever able to stand before that judging, redeeming mirror and face the facts, it is only in response to something that God enacts, not at the product of our own will or intellect. If we are able to love, it is because we have first been loved (1 John 4:19). We did not choose God, God in Christ chose us (John 15:16). Grace alone separates the lost from the found, the redeemed from those yet awaiting the full communion that God desires for all.

Facing the mirror of truth and facing the facts about ourselves is enough to make anyone want to turn away. It is not a pleasant task. That is why we are constantly trying to build our own world in which we are just fine and we have things under control. But our God waits. Even when the world we try to create and the images we attempt to make build begin to fall apart - God waits. The whole time - through all of our ego-building and life-managing "expertise" - God waits. The mirror is always there - the truth. Our God in Christ is not concerned with what we see and how we would judge what we see. We are already embraced. In some ways I have the image of our Lord standing with us as we look at that mirror "bracing" us as we take each blow of truthfulness. Bracing us with a love that is able to heal all that is revealed so that our lives will be ready to live from a new sense of being.....being the beloved of God.

Connection: It is good to have clear and honest mirrors. It is the way we come to realize the power that is greater than our own judgments and rules.

Embrace us again this day, O God. As long as we continue to run from you, we will not allow ourselves to rest in your promises. Inspire our peace brought to us by your eternal presence. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Again salvation is looked at as taking time - Willimon.

Is Christ's judgment of us a sign of Christ's faith in us? The parable of the talents - in which the master lavishes such great sums upon the servants - is not only a story of God's judgment but also of God's incredible faith in the servants. The one who judges Israel is first the one who has elected Israel. From this perspective our "damnation" is not so much a work of God but rather our arrogant refusal, our steadfast determination not to be engaged by the work of God in our salvation.

First there is that incredible faith in us. Amazing grace! It is not easy to remember that. Too often we see ourselves and others at a distance from God. And yet, God is the power for life before we even begin to make bets on what we can or cannot do. God calls Israel and the Church - to be the beloved that God has already called us. Unfortunately, we participate in a history of running in the opposite direction in an attempt to be what we would be - damn it! So...the judgment is one we make against the reality in which God places us. It then becomes the way we look at the world around us. We attempt to be judge and refuse to hear the word of God speaking to the world with words of endearment meant to bring us into a life we so often resist.

Connection: Live it. Live within the reality that God see around us and in us.

Your faith in us, O God, is like the manna that keeps alive those who cannot trust but are in great need of being fed. You continue to provide for your love endures forever. We thank you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday 10 November 2009

More about salvation taking time - William Willimon.

In another parable, when the servants propose uprooting the weeds from the wheat, the master again postpones justifiable judgment, saying that he will sort it all out, but in his own good time (Matthew 13:25). Judgment is promised, but not now. How long will the forbearing master wait? And what might we, just recipients of judgment, do in the meantime?

In God's own time. We don't even know the timeline and it is none of our business. In fact, we don't even know much about the judgment - except that our God in Christ, Jesus, will judge in favor of us. That favor will be life changing and creative and cleansing - and still called judging. I like to remember that it is the promise of this judgment that is meant to bring us alive...bring us into new life...set us on us up to the future of our God without having to have a controlling say in what will be. This is already God's own time...but it is God's time to move us and shape us and send us and deliver us and make surprising news among us.

Connection: When we wait, we give ourselves the opportunity to listen and look out at the world and our own lives with new eyes. That can become a great gift.

In the meantime, O God, save us all and make us into a saving people who rest in you alone. Amen.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday 9 November 2009

Today we will be moving into a section of "Who will be Saved?" called - Salvation takes time - from William Willimon.

Jesus told the one about the unproductive fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). Three years, no figs. The master orders the servant, "Cut it down" (vs.7). Time's up. But the servant pleads with the master's justifiable judgment, saying "[allow me] to dig around it and put manure on it [and see what happens]" (v.8). The master mercifully relents and the unproductive tree is given more time to bear fruit. Are we hearing a conversation in the heart of the Trinity between the justifiable judgments of God the Father with the pleading mercy of God the Son? God judges but does so in the mercy of God's own good time. (There's no way any self-respecting farmer would leave alone an unproductive tree for three years. The farmer in Jesus' parable is remarkable for his disinterest in productivity.)

I know I like to know the timeline. I like to know when the ax will fall or when the "get out of jail free" card will be used. That's me...doing any little thing that will help me have a bit of control - even if it is only an illusion. But in all the waiting and watching and attempting to put an end to the story in a way that might fit the way I would have the story end, God does not let my notion of waiting and timing rule. God rules. God allows for time....foolish amounts of time....awkward amounts of time....time that would draw criticism - even rejection. In the meantime, the manure is piled on for our benefit. We are given the simple task of simply flourishing...coming to life...being who we were meant to be...a fig tree...or you....or me.

Connection: We need not waste the day wondering about what we will become. It is enough to be the beloved ones God sees in us. That is the foundation that makes life spring forth in all its fullness.

Patient God, as you call us to enter into your living Reign, it is as though you are able to wait for us as we go about everything else in our world we think will be a better way. And yet, you wait as we come to see how we stray and leave again and resist all that your are. And then, you are with us no matter where we have wandered. Praise to you, O God. Amen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday 6 November 2009

Here is an interesting difference Willimon sees between Christianity and Islam in regard to heaven and hell.

One of the ways that Christian Scripture differs from that of Islam is that we are not permitted to know as much as Islam knows about heaven or hell. Christ's judgment is not his judgment if we presume to know the outcome beforehand. We must resist premature conclusion or synthesis. We are not permitted too despair, nor are we permitted to be presumptuous; that which we presume is not a gift, and despair doubts that Christ is able to accomplish his purposes. Humility is required.

To be quite honest, I'm sure this is an accurate portrayal of Islam. Having said that, I thought it best to comment on our side of this discussion. Often I will use language like "we know the end of the story" or "the judgment is for us by the Lord who is for us." Is that being presumptuous? I don't think so. We say such things as a way of saying "now what"...." what is life to be now"...."how do we begin to live the gift of life God has given us in Christ, Jesus" - as though it is raining down upon us already. In such a way, we are not "betting on what will be" or holding onto it as a prize we can rub in the faces of others. Rather, it becomes part of the promise that is to empower us to serve others more fully - even to the point of risking our lives for them the their welfare.

Connection: Living within the realm of the humility of the Reign of God can be a risky life. And yet, with us each step of the way is the Lord of Life who promises to always be our guide and strength.

Lord lift us up this day and continue to let your promises feed us and send us. Amen.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday 5 November 2009

Willimon again brings a curious look at this whole notion of damned and saved.

Confidence is not necessarily untroubling certainty. After all, the more closely we grow toward Christ, and the more we know of Christ (and by implication the more we know of ourselves) usually the more convinced we become of how far we are from Christ, how little we know of Christ, and how poorly we fulfill his will. Sometimes to be close to Jesus increases our uneasiness with Jesus. We know not only the one who is able to say "depart from me into the eternal fire...into eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:41-46) and, "I never knew you (Matt. 7:23). We also know the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:1-6), the one who promised that he would "draw all people to [him]self" (John 12:32). We know that in Adam all have sinned, but now we know that the grace of Christ takes precedence over the sin of Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Or, as Barth preached so eloquently, "God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that he may be merciful to all" (Rom. 11:32). All.

Yesterday as I was preparing for the weekly bible study that features a video with John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, I realized that the journey with Jesus within the Reign of God never stops unfolding and presenting new ways of seeing and understanding alongside that which was already seen. Right now, it is all living together quite well. And yet, I know that I have been moved to a new place. I know less now about this Reign of God and the mercy that weaves its way into our hearts to turn us into a merciful people who reflect the glory of this Reign even as we go about the things at hand. To be quite frank, I look out at the divisions within the ELCA in regard to human sexuality (though some will say it is about Scripture - which I too can buy), and I wonder about the outrageous "all" that is to ring like a bell to remind us all to come and eat and drink and walk within the ways of God's Reign that turns over the powers of the world. I really do think we have lost some of the dynamic vision of Christ, Jesus - vision that is also about the day-in and day-out life of all God's people....not some...not only within certain conditions...but all. Yes, we are all standing in the room together with the Judge taking in all of us with a mercy that we cannot "get." So in the meantime, we all attempt to send some to a life of less...because that is the way broken people live within the world of power and empires and sin. Rather than opening our doors and standing together and dreaming about what God will do with us all...we too often never let that scene open.

Connection: What image of God will win the day for you and those around you.

Within the wide reach of your mercy, O God, you begin the day for us. Remind us again of your presence and your rule. Amen.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Another short one for hump-day...Willimon.

Even though we know we shall be judged and even though we do not know with certainty the outcome of that judgment, we can have confidence and hope, because we know the Judge. If we "abide in him" we will have confidence at the day of his coming (1 John 2:28). In him "we have boldness before God" (1 John 3:21). The judge is the Christ who has gone to such extraordinary lengths to seek us and to bear the sins of all.

So we go forward in confidence. Living in the confidence that God seeks us and bears all things with us and therefore is the power for life - our lives - to be changed and made into new life. We also go forward in confidence to face that which is beyond the events of this day. When we know this Judge who is eternally for us, we need not fear...we can enter with a sense of being drawn into a healing wholeness that remains creative beyond our expectations.

Connection: It is not always to see ourselves "abiding in Christ." We have so many other ways pulling at us and promising is too...too easy to long to abide among other powers. And yet, through our baptism, we abide in this grand vision and life.

Come, take us within your grasp, O God, and continue to speak you words of truthfulness that will eternally remind us of whose we are and the power of your word of truth. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday 3 November 2009

A brief note from "Who will be Saved."

We affirm the Creed, "He shall come to judge the quick (the living) and the dead." All. The judge is Christ, and none of us is above his assize. And none of us has advanced knowledge of the outcome. As Paul told a contentious congregation that tried to judge his worthiness as an apostle, "It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Corinthians 4:4).

The use of the word "all" is amazing. Too...too often, it seems to give Christians the notion that everyone who is not one of us is "going to get it." Too often, we want to have a hand in that final outcome - or at least claim to know what it will be so that we can move people to live in the world as we would have them live. What an odd need for power and influence! Christ will judge as Christ would judge - no like me or anyone who tries to convince you that they somehow know who will or will not be within God's embrace. Having said that, I'm willing to say God will embrace all. In the midst of that embrace will be a judgment that carries the blessing of new life - promise - all hopefulness.

Connection: Hold off on the need to be judge. It is not always easy. Therefore we are given the moment at hand to begin to see things with new eyes...not always easy.

Within your loving embrace, O God, we find our place and are encouraged to be the ones you have placed within the time and place as your sons and daughters. This is therefore, an amazing time. Thanks be to you, O God. Amen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monday 2 November 2009

Here's the first piece to start the week - William Willimon.

...Barth believed that salvation is not the removal of the threat of judgment but the accentuation and fulfillment of divine judgment. Salvation is to be face-to-face with the loving God whom we have so grievously wronged, which begins to sound somewhat like hell. I'm thinking here of Jesus' parable of the talents in which the master returns and simply asks, "What have you done with what you have been given?" (Matthew 25:14-30). The thought of that question being put to me by Jesus sends shivers down my spine.

Oh my. It would not be just another person asking this question. It would now be Jesus - the one we say we follow. He is asking about our journey and who we have been along the way. Well, what do we say..? We've been stumbling quite a bit...we've been turning this way and that way....we've seen opportunities to serve but had other things get in the way. Now what!?! After writing this I wondered about how important it is to be truthful. We do not make excuses - we tell the truth. That shows that we know a bit of the Reign of God and how we fall short. I also wonder about the Judge. The Judge is the one with us even when we are not with the Lord...even when we turn and walk away. So there when asked that question we are not there to save ourselves...we are there to be the ones Jesus saves and the ones unafraid of truthfulness - no matter what it might say about us.

Connection: In each of our lives, we are handed times in which we become judge. It would be good if we too made sure that truthfulness would be respected and honored even as we had to correct and re-train or re-envision the path.

When you promise to judge all, O God, it is different from the ways we would judge one another. Therefore it is easy to try to come up with ways to justify ourselves. And yet, you long for truthfulness for in that action by your community the day may open up in new ways. Amen.