Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Well, on this Fat Tuesday, I'm taking a break from Michael Battle and Desmond Tutu but not from the spirit of their work.

In a video course a few weeks ago, one of the presenters spoke briefly about that which is natural and unnatural and how we use those words to restrict full inclusion in the Church. This was particularly pertaining to GLBT saints...but it is most powerful in its original sense. When we talk about what is natural and what is unnatural we need only look at one very powerful image of the body of Christ. It is the image of branches grafted onto another tree or vine. The church becomes one body through an unnatural means. The original plant and the branch are bound together. It is not something that happens in nature. Rather, we are enriched by a "hybrid" plant because that which was not the same becomes the same - one body. There is no talk of rejection here. The graft takes...that is the storyline. All are grafted onto the vine...all. It is quite unnatural for any of us to be a part of the body of Christ. It is a complete gift that often brings about a wonderful display of new growth and production of fine fruit. Ha! And yet, many clang their pots and pans in utter disgust when we call for full inclusion. Such a movement is considered heresy by some in our church. Good grief, are we going to enter another Lent with many unwilling to trust that God makes of us what God makes of us. The waters of baptism determine our place within the body of Christ. I think it is quite unnatural that the church welcomes me and allows me to be a called and ordained pastor in our church. And yet, even me - knothead as I was and still can be - has been invited to share in the full ministry and mission of the church. The dividing lines have been and continue to be nothing more than a way to knock us all off course and limit the power of God's unnatural way of making a holy people at whom the world will look with wonder and - possibly even disgust. I add disgust because each time the church tries to include "those" of different stripes, we hear words of disgust that burn "like hell." For within our own natural ways of calling the shots, we too often cannot and will not accept anything but our own hell that we have created so well - even against the will of our God.

Connection: Never stop welcoming and bring on board all of God's Beloved...all of us.

In the midst of your people raise up a vision of your Reign that will not fall for the weak promises of special interests and unfounded fears. We need your Spirit, O God. amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday 15 February 2010

Bishop Tutu writes of black theology and black consciousness.

Black theology merely incarnates the Christian faith for blacks, just German, Scandinavian and other types of theology incarnate the Christian faith for their various peoples. Black theology is firmly biblical. I am ready to demonstrate this to anyone who is willing to listen.
Black consciousness is of God. Our Lord said the two major laws are "Love God and thy neighbor as thyself." A proper self-love is an indispensable ingredient to love of others. Black consciousness seeks to awake in the black person an awareness of their worth as a child of God. Apartheid, oppression, and injustice are blasphemous and evil because they have made God's children doubt that they are God's children.

It is this ending statement that is so powerful for me today. We have enough trouble accepting the outrageous and gracious love of God to have any voice...any voice - deny that there are any of God's beloved who are not children of God. One odd argument I hear about full-inclusion of glbt sisters and brother in the ELCA is that no one denies that they are children of God. The argument goes on to say that we must love them as brothers and sisters but we must stir them from their ways. Odd. How can one trust that they are God's children if they are limited as to how they can be within the household of God when the rest of us can be there under any condition. Odd. Some try to say that we must love our glbt brothers and sisters so much that we will prayerfully attempt to help them correct their "unnatural ways." Odd. In the name of the risen Christ, Jesus, our worth - the worth of all of us - is set in place and cannot be downgraded or limited. It is only through being a full child of God that the whole community begins to see the gift and marvel of each and every one of us. No limits. No controls. Freely liberated and freely loved - all. Some may call that odd. I call it the glory of God.

Connection: It is always a bit amusing to me that the those in power or those who seem to want to control how the world turns and how the Reign of God is established among us are rarely called blasphemous. And yet, the limits...the rejection...the fear...the anxiety...the half-truths - all seem to develop a world of blasphemy instead of a sacred rule of grace.

Be the God who is maker of all. We long for your presence daily and we long for you ways to become our ways. As the world turns, turn us around again and again until we are not quite sure where we are going. For then, we may just run into someone we have been trying to remove from among us and we will be handed the opportunity to see them with new eyes. Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Friday 12 February 2010

Let's end the week with this sturdy piece.

Tutu's model of Ubuntu seeks to be a conduit of this holiness in the midst of a society's unholy alliance with apartheid. In this context, Ubuntu is a vital concept by which Tutu aims to move his society toward reconciliation in which racial and cultural differences are no longer placed in hierarchical forms of power. Tutu's theological model exposes the fragility of human identity through the means of God's kenotic (uniting) entry into creation.... "As the image of God, as mirror, we must learn to know that our kenosis (think union with Christ/God) is our potency." Like God, and in God's image, human beings are to be persons who no longer claim power of hegemonic identities as they move toward being born anew into a society capable of containing difference without such difference destroying itself.

We are not stuck with the way things have been and the way the powers have handed us life. We are the beloved of God who reveal that love by being just who we are - people in union with God. Don't be afraid of the language. Rather, be the words...made flesh...reconciliation alive...mercy on display. In the face of the brutalities of our world, we come with another face - that of our God who will not call others unholy or despised or dirty or less. This is the disarming aspect of the beloved community - it longs to love enemy as though enemy is beloved and therefore part of the unfolding of God's liberating power that is meant to be as real as our presence.

Connection: We need not destroy that which is different. I may be in that difference we are handed a gift that turns our world upside down and offers life as we never anticipated it.

In your image, O God, we move out into this day. We are not always sure of how your way will become our way because we are so pulled by the ways of this world. So pull us with you and show us - again - your life that is light for the world. Amen.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Here is a follow up on yesterday' piece from Battle - it is in Tutu's words.

God loves those who do not love, not because they were good but because he is that kind of God - just as light cannot help seeking to dispel darkness....And so when God had formed the Israelite slaves into a people, his peculiar people, his holy nation, his royal priesthood, God demanded that they reflect his character. By holy as God was holy - remarkably a holiness that had little to do with natural purity as if a static attribute, but it was dynamic having to do with how they ordered their socio-political, economic life and ultimately tested by how they treated the widow, the orphan and the alien (Leviticus 19).

A community that reflects God's character is the beloved community - as M.L.King would put it. It is a community that comes into the world and sets up operations that serve the world. In so doing, the world turns around and takes a look at what is new and different...and the world is amazed. So amazed will the world be that it will begin to follow this community of amazing grace and love where justice and mercy and loving kindness become the routine - the ordinary - the necessary. When the beloved community (be that Israel or the Church) loses its character, it will look and act like the rest of the world. This does not mean that the beloved community must separate itself from others - as though they are the right ones with lives that are pure and holy as opposed to others. Rather, the beloved community becomes the beloved community as it gives itself away to the world for the sake of the world. This kind of witness present us with the awe of God's living Reign. I have never been in a state of awe when the Church has been an institution of rules and patterns that some say must be forever and ever because they somehow are more natural than other ways of life. I am in awe each time I see walls come down, people befriending enemies, arms embracing the outcasts and outcasts knowing that that are home.

Connection: What does the character of God's Reign bring to your day and when you long to see that character where do you go to witness its glory?

Let your Reign come down upon us and make us wet with the waters of new life that comes in our baptism. As we are brought into your beloved community, strengthen us and guide us along the path of our Lord, Jesus. In that way...there is life we have yet to see fully. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday 10 February 2010

I love it when someone ties together a variety of theological ideas in order to help many folks "catch it" - again from Michael Battle.

In Tutu's hands, Ubuntu represents the claim that human identities are uniquely made to be cooperative more than competitive. In our God-given differences we are called to realize our need of one another. For Tutu then, racial distinctions matter only in so far as they demonstrate God's phenomenal creation in which there is the telos of interdependency. Instead of a theology of separation or election, God's creation is seen both through the lens of Ubuntu, and African influence, and kenosis, a Christian influence, enabling Tutu to think in terms of how God's image encourages diversity in a hostile world.

God's phenomenal creation is one in which we can truly see God among us and with us and in us and through us. The Eastern Rite has long held onto the theological notion of kenosis - union with Christ. Several years ago I shared a long series that included the work of Finnish scholars who interpret Luther as one who also included this theme of union with Christ in their reading of Luther. Back then as now with Tutu's take on Ubuntu, I find myself more and more willing to find peace and inspiration within the interconnection among God's many people and with God as that all takes place. We work so hard sometimes to divide - it can be quite disheartening. And yet, when we are handed the vision of a people united as one within the body of Christ the notion of divisions become more and more nonsensical.

Connection: How will the differences among us become gifts that we cherish rather than demons that we attempt to exorcise?

When we are taking part in the hostility of the world, O God, settle our hearts so that we will see in the other a gift from you. In those moments, we may then become the beloved community and a part of your peaceable Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit - new possibilities for living become ours - again, Michael Battle.

Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit makes possible the constant redefinition of human identity, but such identity must be willing to die in order for a new identity to live (John 14:15-21; Romans 6:1-11). For the Christian, baptism is this act of dying to the old identity to be born again in Christ. It is from such a Christology that Tutu makes sense of epistemological ruptures between African philosophy and Christian theological discourse.

Through baptism, the who am I becomes who are we...who are we in this time of life after being put to death and now alive again - anew. I am no longer alone. I am no longer living behind walls to keep myself safe from others and I am no longer living behind walls to keep others out. Now, as a follower of Jesus, the walls do not contain us or define us anymore. We gain this identity that is recognizable to all - even those who do not like this new identity. For them the body of Christ is an alien bunch of folk. We must remember that we are not the ones who guarantee the welfare of the systems of this world - for those systems, those powers, cannot serve all people and will not let go of a thing in order to rescue brothers and sisters who are not on the side of the powers. Sometimes it is so easy to see our journey as followers of Jesus as a "spiritual" journey that is of another plain. And yet...the journey is spiritual as it is fully one that participates in the redemption of all the powers and the daily bits and pieces of life that make us whole.

Connection: Do not be afraid to step beyond the walls we so often find throughout the door. There is usually a great gift awaiting us.

Spirit of the Living God, send us again back into this day as your beloved who are drawn to do one thing - love others so that your presence may be known - in fact. Amen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday 8 February 2010

More on Jesus' Ubuntu with Michael Battle.

Some two thousand years later, Jesus' comforting presence, the Holy Spirit, enables us to move through the bondage of oppressive identities into reconciling ones. The Holy Spirit continues to cause Pentecost and reorients those who follow Jesus, the church, outward and against cultural boundaries, even the boundary of death (Matthew 28:16). It is the presence of the Spirit who raises Jesus from the dead that makes possible the moving out to other cultures.

As I started reading this passage, I was listening to Queen's "Another one bites the dust." How true when we are in the life of the Holy Spirit. The old oppressive powers fall and bite the dust. In the presence of Jesus, there is no other power that can overrule what we hear and see as the Spirit of our Lord is dismantling all the powers that attempt to rule us and contain us. This is an endless reality. Each day and every moment, we must listen to voices that attempt to oppress and change us into something less than the gift we are as people who reside in the Reign of God that is already breaking into the day and breaking down the dividing lines. Another one bites the dust and we are invited to step through the dust...again and again.

Connection: I find that it is important to hear all the coercive voices around us. But then...turn them upside down. Take the power from them. That is what the Spirit enables us to do in the midst of the ordinary voices that are always trying to oppress us - God's beloved.

Lord of Love, again we ask that you lead us through all the debris that is left by the powers of darkness that are always willing to fed us their lies even as we sit at your table full of all that is needed for life abundant. Amen.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday 5 February 2010

I find this to be a good piece by which to end the week.

The human and divine dependence of Jesus assures the church of a new identity in which the individual and community exist in dependence. Jesus causes a new cultural politics in which social and economic agendas are based on the life of the triune God and defined by relationships with new sisters and brothers. In short, Jesus makes the other more important that self in order to understand self-identity.

When the trinity is seen as a "communal life" that is necessary for each part to be whole, it make sense that we too must be a part of a communal life. In that relationship, we are made holy whole when we are in communication with one another and share a living reality in which we are no longer separated but quite eternally connected. The connection can be painful and lead us beyond any one way. It makes me think of Jesus in Luke's gospel. He is always being pulled...from here to there. He is always being placed into moments in which relationships break wide open the vision of God's Reign so that people begin to see it all - alive and up close.

Connection: Just like it is next to impossible to define the trinity, so too is it next to impossible to explain how we are changed through dialogue and crossing over the divisions of life. And yet, we know that we are changed...we know something happened and continues to move us. What was it? Not sure...but it is happening.

Gather us into your Reign, O God. It is so easy to be scattered and then become comfortable within a reality that breeds separation and isolation. Gather us into your living Reign and pull us into the wide open spaces of your love that embraces more than what we can ever imagine. Amen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thursday 4 February 2010

I seem to not be able to skip a paragraph of Michael Battles work as I move along this week.

Jesus is the mediator of a new identity of interdependent relationship which reorders the distorted ways in which identity is formed. He fulfills the church's identity of modeling interdependent relationships to the world.

Jesus will draw all people to him...all people will come into the way of Jesus walk through barriers and into relationships that seemed outside the bounds of the prevailing culture. Well, they were outside the bounds of the prevailing culture. But the prevailing culture is never the Reign of God. Therefore when Jesus lives contrary to the religious culture and contrary to imperial culture, he appears to be someone who must be cut off - let go - put under - hung out to dry. Culture wants to stay a part of what is - a divided humanity living without the power to become fully human. But when the 'truly human one' comes among us the culture freaks out and resists the power of reconciliation and forgiveness and boundless community. This past Sunday I said "All are welcome to the Meal" during the Lord's Supper. That is posted in our bulletin but there were a bunch of visitors (baptisms do that) and I wanted to simply make sure it was announced without qualification. I know that some well-trained theological thinkers would want to hold back that announcement...or at least qualify it. To tell you the truth, I felt relieved. I was so overwhelmed with a peacefulness in those moments when the meal was beginning to be distributed - I thought I would be speechless. What a gift we are given when our Lord, Jesus shapes us.

Connection: There's a whole lot of changing going on around us and it is only a gift to us when stumble in there amid all the change and the Holy Spirit gets the opportunity to open our eyes and our lives so we can be fed with new life...again and again.

We are linked to you, O God, as we are linked to all who touch us throughout the day. We do not always want to be connected to others. And yet, when we are and when we take note of who we become through those connections we find that you surprise us with life - unanticipated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wednesday 3 February 2010

We keep pushing on....

Jesus, as Son of Man, is called to live the promise of new identity, to transcend cultural boundaries and conventions, to bring into view the power to redefine cultural constructions, and to establish a new identity. This vocation comes from the relationship of the imminent Trinity which demonstrates through Jesus that no longer can biological identities, nurtured in human families, simply identify the Christian (Matthew 12:46-49). A new cultural logic is produced through Jesus who requires of humanity obedience to the transcendent identity of baptism.

"Live the promise of new identity" - this is a bumper sticker that would turn heads and make folks want to hear more. And yet, it is an old promise we have heard through the prophets of old and the prophets would are willing to speak up today. It is within this promise that we no longer linger in the arena of fear and doubt and anxiety. Rather we can step up and meet the "other" who is our sister and brother - even though we would not admit it previously or were unaware that they help us be more of who we have been blessed to be. We have a cosmic identity. I used that term simply to move us out of our space that we like to call our own. If we have a cosmic identity, we are still finding out what make us who we are and who we will be. In this scenario, even the evil around us - the enemy we hold out at arms length with fine-tuned weapons - can be the unfolding of moments of grace that simply turn all of our worlds upside down. This is no easy adventure - this is a journey we must learn...and we learn it by watching the one we call Lord, Jesus...and then following along that way.

Connection: What is the word we hear so often in Scripture: Fear not. In other words, do not let the fear we hold so close keep us from seeing God's unfolding Reign and the gift of new life that awaits us within this day.

Carry us into your Reign, O God. Sometimes, we are not willing to go there. Sometimes we think we are run down and unable to walk your way. Sometimes it is too easy to stay put and be a part of all the rest of the powers that keep us divided. Carry us into your Reign where we will come alive in your image. Amen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday 2 February

We move onward with Jesus' Ubuntu.

Jesus becomes a paradigm for how we deal with race and culture in that through him Tutu makes sense of how the many become one. Jesus ultimately becomes Ubuntu and invites all racial and cultural identities to live out the call given first to Israel to be the people of God. Therefore, this reality of Ubuntu is bound up in Jesus who creates new relationships in the world.

I find this to be very similar to how we pass on the idea of who God is. We look to Jesus. We listen to all with words and all the visions and all of the notions of who God is...and then...we look to Jesus to see a living and breathing image of God among us. So...this is the God who liberates and sets free and changes the face of our humanity!! I love to hear all the arguments that are used to say why we are not able to be one people who find in the "other" a bit more of ourselves. In fact, too often in the church we point at folk in order to remind ourselves that those "others" are not what we want as a part of us. Ha. Since when do we have the ability to tell the Spirit what is not going to be among us! The Spirit of Scripture is still a wind that does not allow God's people to lead the way. Rather, the Spirit pulls us and will not hesitate to move us way beyond our comfort zone and way beyond any of our fine theological thoughts that we have come to believe will save us. Like other days, the divisions at hand stand in the way of becoming the blessed humanity we are told we are - since the creation of all things....a creation that will not stop reconciling itself.

Connection: What did Jesus do? How do we translate those actions into actions within this day that involve us carrying on that purposeful way of life.

Breath of Life, when you move us, we are no longer merely who we have been. You move us into relationship. In relationships we find out more and more of how your glory is spread out among all your people and making every day an adventure in joy and liberation. We give you thanks and call on your breath of life to keep us moving toward one another. Amen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday 1 February 2010

Today we continue with words from Desmond Tutu that started on Friday.

Theology is not neutral. In a sense all theology is committed, conditioned notably by the socio-cultural context in which it is developed. The Christian theological task in our countries is to be "self-critical of theologians" conditioned by the value system of their environment. It has to be seen in relation to the need to live and work with those who cannot help themselves and to be with them in their struggle for liberation.

It is unfortunate that our theology will be conditioned by our socio-cultural context. In some ways it means that we must always question what it is that we are saying when we attempt to draw the wonderful notions of God's Reign and share them with others. I really don't think we can completely stand separate from our culture. Then again, we can make it a life task to keep questioning and having others help us question. This makes me think of the book "The Family." It is an interesting and frightening look at an Imperial theology that is built around the advancement of the powers that be so that they can build the righteous reign. Unfortunately, it is nothing more than a mirror that reflects the interests of the powers. They use religious language and speak of what is good and just...but they have no contact with the real world as ones who embrace. Rather, the world is something they are to rule and they are to invite others of power into that culture of religious domination. There is no liberation here. Only welfare for those who already have more than enough.

Connection: We must always ask who benefits from the words we use about our God. We will quickly see what power is behind the words.

When you speak, O God, your words begin the liberation of all your people. Your words become life that is new for all who hear them. Your words free us to engage all your beloved even when they are not like me. Continue to speak and nurture us in your way. Amen.