From the section 'Jewish Probes of the Dialogical,' Brueggemann now lists three people who made contributions to this way of seeing and reading. Today is the second person: Franz Rosenzweiz.
The creator God enacted creation as a monologue. The monologue is transposed into dialogue when the "I" of creation answers back. The "I" who answers back to the "Thou" of God does not do so willingly, however, but prefers to hide. Rosenweig clearly alludes to the narrative of Genesis 2 and 3 in this judgment, though the text is not cited: 'To God's 'Where art Thou?' the man had still kept silence as defiant and blocked Self. Now, called by his name, twice, in a supreme definiteness that could not but be heard, now he answers, all unlocked, all spread apart, all ready, all-soul: 'Here I am." It is when the answering "I" hears that dialogue ensues, that dialogue is on God's terms. And when one asks about hearing and obeying, the focus us upon commandment.
God pulls humanity into a dialogue. The creating voice of God that brings all things into being by simply lifting up God's voice is also the voice that begins conversation - dialogue. It is then here that we begin to find out a bit more of who we are to be and the life of conversation we are to enter with our God. It will be an endless conversation that is a necessary part of the ongoing action within creation. God commands and in that command, calls us into action and that action is a part of an ongoing back-and-forth that leads us all away from isolation and into the creative of community that is shaped by God's words. The commanding voice invites us to discuss and wrestle and attempt to deal with the day at hand and who we are becoming. We are not to be a 'defiant and blocked Self' even when we do such things that make us want to hide in silence. It is within the dialogue that light shines and new life can unfold.
Connection: As the day continues it is good to face the day and enter in with a simple: Here I am. Link with the commanding voice of our God life now has a creative direction.
O God, whose Word lifts us into new life - when you engage us you pull us into life we often try to avoid. Continue to engage us when we are being defiant. Amen.
From the section 'Jewish Probes of the Dialogical,' Brueggemann now lists three people who made contributions to this way of seeing and reading.
Foremost is Martin Buber, whose dialogic understandings are at the center of his philosophic thought. This concern is evident in the most popular work, I and Thou.... In his daring insistence upon religious (as distinct from philosophic) categories, Buber proposes that there is an "ontology of the between" in which subjective agents have an encounter marked by and intense immediacy. While Buber's rhetoric tilts in the direction of mystical encounter, there is no doubt that he is primally informed by the deepest claims of the Hebrew Bible in which the meeting of the subjective agents is given a historical casting. From the initial encounter of the burning bush in which YHWH gave (and did not give!) the divine name, YHWH has been a confrontive, engaged agent in the life of Israel and in the life of the world.
That which happens between the I and Thou is a whole new creation. One teacher once said that this was the power of the Holy Spirit - that which takes place between us. It is there that we are pulled outside of ourselves (sharing) and bring into ourselves the words of the other. In that back and forth is the power of life that can change the world. It is the power to help people change direction and begin life in a new way. It is the power that seeks to reunite the broken and find new meaning in the life that will begin now. Our God is a "confrontative, engaged agent" not only in the life of Israel, but also in our lives. The church can be a walled-in city that closes its doors at any sign of other ideas or notions or even - the Spirit's wind of life. We are invited to open the doors of our individual lives and our corporate live and enter into a wrestling match with our God who longs to shape us and stretch us and bring us into God's Reign. The dialogue is where we begin to feel the wind of the Spirit brushing by us.
Connection: There may be something to simple posture when we listen to others. Do you lean into new ideas - or do you pull back? I don't know if I am consistent. I need to self-observe. Maybe that is how we can help one another engage the wind of life that blows among us.
O God, whose Word lifts us into new life - continue to fill us with what is not yet visible and not yet in hand. Amen.
I promised a new section from Brueggemann's book "An Unsettling God" and it will be a from 'Jewish Probes of the Dialogical.'
Entry into the Old Testament does not require Christian readers to deny their Christian confession. It does, however, require them to recognize the complexity of reading the Old Testament as Christians, and an attempt to take the text, as much as possible, without imposing Christian readings. Beyond that, however, I suggest that a Christian reading of the Old Testament requires, in the present time, a recovery of the Jewishness of our ways of reading the text. Whereas a recurring Christian propensity is to give closure to our readings and interpretations, it is recurringly Jewish to recognize that our readings are always provisional, because there is always another text, always another commentary, always another rabbinic midrash that moves beyond any particular reading. Jewish reading knows that "final readings' are toxic and eventually lead to "final solutions." Reading in ways that refuse finality causes our dialogic way with the text to be commensurate with the substance of the text, namely, YHWH's dialogic transaction with YHWH's several partners.
I have found these kinds of comments about how to read the Old Testament ( and the new) to be invigorating. It really makes the Word - a living word that keeps pushing us and moving us and unfolding more and more of what it is to be a called people who trust our God to set up shop here and now - right in the midst of us. It is very important to keep the notion of "toxic" reading fresh in our minds. We too often grab hold of one way to see a text. At that point, we can become and we do become frozen. We lose the Spirit of the life that is in any text that is attempting to unveil the God who is the story. It sure sounds like Brueggemann is pointing to the kind of toxic reading that led so many folks to seek out the Jews and attempt to put an end to them. I also see how toxic reading of texts has led to the way many folks have made war against gay and lesbian people. There seems to be no willingness to open up the reading and allow it to be something more - filled with voices that bring forth new insights and directions and a bit of hopefulness. Recently I talked with a pastor who will be leading his congregation out of the ELCA. He is close to my age and therefore had many of the professors I had in seminary. With all his talk about reading the bible and getting back to the bible and reading right - he shows no ability to listen to the Word break into the time at hand. Even the tools were were given some 30 years ago - tools to help us crack open the wideness of a text - seem to have been tossed for something 'easier.'
Connection: There is always a door waiting to be opened in a text. Too often we don't go there. Unfortunately, if it not opened, the community never gets the opportunity to re-view the text and the Word that is pressing into our day.
O God, whose Word lifts us into new life - continue to lift us. We need more room to see what it is that you call life eternal - life abundant. Amen.
Next week we will enter into a new section of Brueggemann's book. Today I would like to end with a simple word from God through the prophet Amos - a lesson for this coming Sunday.
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria! Alas for those who life on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; "who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
The voice of God through a prophet. A voice that wants to engage a people who want life as they have it and want it. It is an old text. It is a voice we like to hear - but we also like to silence it. That is part of the dialogue. This Word will not go away - it will pull us into conversation with the depths of our lives and it will not let us rest. When we rest and pull away, we do not hear its call to new life. Too often in our comfortable worlds we find many ways to silence this voice and turn the conversation to other matters. And yet, God speaks and will not stop. The call for God's people to see the grand divide we create between one another is a call that must continue and it is a call that will be shaped by how we create the great divides within the contexts of our own lives. In words like these from the mouth of Amos, I hear conviction and I hear a plea. One is that I am too often in this comfortable group. And yet, the word from God has to do with how we are in this group. Those in Amos' day did not remain in the conversation. They turned their backs. I find that this same voice of God is pleading with us to turn around and face the truth that is being spoken. It is not easy to hear it. It is even more difficult to hear it and have it be the power for new life - in me and also in the world around me.
Connection: When you hear this kind of voice - how do you deal with it - what goes on in your heart - your gut? It is good to know how it hits us.
O God, who was and is and is to be, speak to us that we may hear the way of life that is now on the table ready for all your people to share for the welfare of all. Amen.
Today we will continue with this God who is relationship with us.
This God is fully engaged in interaction with several partners and is variously impinged upon and evoked to new responses and - we may believe - to new dimensions of awareness and resolve. Because so much of the faith of Israel is "talking faith' in liturgy, oracle, and narrative, we may say that YHWH is a party to a dialogic exchange what never reaches closure. Rather, like any good dialogue, YHWH is engaged in an interaction with YHWH's partners that always pushes to a new possibility, that makes demands upon both parties, and that opens up fresh possibilities for the relationship. To be sure, in any particular utterance from YHWH's side, there may be an accent of finality. The wonder, however, is that after any such cadence of finality, there is always another text, another utterance, and another engagement.
I found this piece to be so good to read. I need to be reminded that our God is a God who speaks to us. It is never over. There may be one voice in one time and place, but God does not then shut up and say "that's it folks." God go on with us. The "with us" is vital to the vision of God's Reign. For as the voice stays with us and we stay within the conversation, more is heard. What was said once may be matched by a voice that is quite at odds with what we want to be the final word. Even the final word that we are beloved is open to more. It is the alpha and the omega of news to us, but there are plenty of words that help us to see what it means to be the beloved. So, we keep listening and never settle for one conversation. We are always being "pushed to a new possibility." To often, religious folks want a God who is set in time and nothing is to change. Unfortunately, that is only the 'boiler plate' of God's many unfolding gifts to us as God's Word challenges us and takes us beyond any simple world view. More and more I love this God who is willing to play with us so that we are all carried into a new dimension of joy in God's Reign.
Connection: What are some 'boiler plate' ideas of God that have been expanded as times has passed and you have come to see and hear God in new ways.
O God, who was and is and is to be, keep talking. Amen.
Today Brueggemann take a look at covenant as a part of the relation we have with God and what a covenant does to that relationship.
The overriding indicator of God in relationship is covenant, which sometimes is understood as a unilateral imposition on the part of YHWH and at other times as a bilateral agreement. It is precisely because the covenant is articulated in so many variations that we are able to conclude that covenantal relatedness makes it impossible for this God to be settled, static, or fixed. This God is always emerging in new ways in response to the requirements of the relationship at hand.
It is as though there is a contextual agreement that is meant to last - as promise do. And yet, things change through time. As is noted above, as relationships change, the requirements for relationship must also change. I think part of that is so that there can be communication that fits the contexts and addresses the needs of both parties. Is God changing? I suppose that is one way to put it. Then again, just a relationship is always jumping into situations that were not anticipated, so would this covenantal relationship find itself in a place not articulated in a way that covers this new place. So, as one writer noted, there is the need for the 'miracle of dialogue' even within the relationship of God and God's people. We are always called to listen to the way God entered into relationship with God's people and that is to help us keep awake and listen to the way the conversation might take place among us - today. I don't think God has ever stopped talking to us.
Connection: How is it that you hear the voice of God addressing you - how do you respond?!
O God, who was and is and is to be, keep talking. Keep letting your Word of life address us and then help us to wrestle within a conversation of hopeful and joy as we move along through this time that your have given us. Amen.
If God is relationship with God's people - something we hold at the center of our faithfulness - then things change and move and continue to unfold so that even that which is set in stone can be seen and heard and lived in new ways.
.... we may judge that the distinctiveness of "God" in Old Testament tradition concerns YHWH's deep resolve to be a God in relation - in relation to Israel, in relation to creation, in relation to members of Israelite society and of the human community more generally. The power and sovereignty of YHWH is given in the Old Testament that is rarely called into question. What is readily and often called into question in the text is the character of this God in relation, a defining mark of YHWH that requires a radical revision of our notion of God.
To be in relation means that we give of ourselves and we receive from others. It also means that we do and will change as the context changes and the needs of those in relation change and are transformed. Our God is always calling us into the depths of our covenant with God. For the followers of Jesus, that is a call into the depths of our baptism. How that character of baptism shows forth through us will demand that we remain engaged with our world and with the covenant that makes us into God's holy people. Being a holy people from one time to another will mean that there will be a consistent character about us - but that character needs interpretation when we find ourselves standing in a place we had not known. The wonder of our baptismal covenant is that we are always invited to wrestle with who we are in the eyes of God and what that offers us for the carrying on of life in the contexts in which we find ourselves. We must always use the lens of God's saving grace to help us deal with who we will be here and there. Not always easy to do.
Connection: So how do we continue to be in dialogue with our God so that we continue in the eternal relationship?
O God, who was and is and is to be, continue to talk to us and shape us and lead us beyond our ways and into the ways of your unfolding Reign within this day. Amen.
Today we will follow up on all those convictions about the "high God."
The accent in this common tradition is upon the sovereignty of God. There is no doubt, moreover, that Israel's doxological tradition - in turn taken up by the prophets - fully affirms the singular sovereignty of YHWH. And while that sovereignty is primally directed toward Israel, there is no doubt that YHWH's rule and purpose extends beyond Israel to all reality.
I think we see this in that stories that remind Israel that they are to be a light to the nations. That is a light to a life that will give direction to all the others (who have gods) so as to build a new humanity where justice and mercy and forgiveness and loving kindness abounds. And yet as we know, the story of Israel is a story of a people who would not be that people - that light. Rather, they so often become nothing more than the rest of humanity - brutal, aggressive, self-centered, broken people who break the backs of other people. But, the prophets continue to call them to this sovereignty of God. This is the God who will make all things new for all people. It is the God who will not and cannot be contained by any notion of ethnicity. For what happens as one group attempts to control God, is that that we end up with the loss of the vision of how God make things new. We are left with the same-old, same-old.
Connection: So when and how does this humanity under the sovereign Reign of God show itself. Well, it is meant to available and real - every day. That's part of our ongoing storytelling about this God.
O God, who was and is and is to be, help the light of your Reign shine among us for the welfare of the whole world. Amen.
Here is a look at that God that was known in the ancient Near East. Brueggemann uses material by Morton Smith. The paradigm operates with these convictions:
1. There is a "High God" who is the generative power behind all natural and human phenomena.
2. That High God is active in the world, in nature, in history, and in society. This activity eventuates in a moral order in worldly reality, a moral order sanctioned through the legal and administrative organs of society.
3. That High God is presented in terms of natural and human analogues, so that "anthropomorphic" articulation is already present in the "common theology."
4. The High God is known to be powerful, just, and merciful. The divine power is in the service of justice. It is evident that the crisis of theodicy is inchoately present from the outset in this common theology.
5. This High God is peculiarly and definitively connected to a particular people or region. Thus the ambiguity of "universal" and "particular" is present from the outset. this also means that some contractual notionof covenant is definitional for the common tradition.
6. The High God is interpreted and represented by human agents who claim authority to voice divine purpose and will.
Do you know this God? I find this to be good to see all lined up as it is here. When we begin to use exclusive language about 'our' God, we would do well to stand still and listen to these ideas that have been handed down to us through time - not all from one 'pure line' of tradition. Rather, things are gathered together. It is as though a part of our humanity longs for such a being - such an existence - such a reality. What we see everyday is not this reality of the High God. Often in our Eucharistic Prayer, I begin with one of the traditional ways to call on God. It is "Most High God" or "God Most High". I recently read that this is used within the Hebrew and Christian scriptures to show that in the midst of the language and visions of "High God" there is this "Most" that is a new story.
Connection: Our words can be such division makers. Even before we talk to one another, we are setting up a pecking order of who is best - biggest - most.
O God, who was and is and is to be, be with us now and open our hearts to your way. Amen.
The place and time of the storytelling of our God is quite important to how we see who God is to us - even today. This is often unsettling.
YHWH as the God of Israel did not emerge in a vacuum, but in the old, rich theological tradition of the ancient Near East. It is clear that in its articulation of Israel, Israel both appropriated from that ancient Near Eastern tradition and transposed what it appropriated into its own distinctive articulation. The extent to which this was a process of borrowing or transporting depends upon one's view of the commonality of Israel's religion to its cultural context of one's conviction about the uniqueness of Israel's faith. While the data are not completely supple, the decisions about commonality or distinctiveness to some great extent depends upon the impulse of the interpretive and the milieu in which the interpreter works.
In some ways this reminds me of the personal work all of must do during our lives. We must be willing to look at the baggage we carry. That is not always the easiest thing to go. Some things that are very near and dear to us - do us no good - and need to be tossed. That can be very formally or simply "bye!" Even when we say "bye" to that stuff, we learn something when we discard it. We learn who we are and how we came this way and how that 'way' is not always as wholesome and righteous and true as we thought it was. So it is with the stories of our God that we have from scripture. There is much baggage around the texts. There was a context in which the stories were told. The best way to tell a new story is to make a connection to that which is already known and understood and expected. Discussions of God - whatever that may have meant in the ancient Near East - included what we have in our 'books' and the images that were left behind but maintained as they were transposed (morphed) into the next story. In many ways, we must be willing to let go of material that had a place - once - and now must not be the parts that hold onto us. What is our God like when we are able to do that?
Connection: It is fun to listen to what people bring to the table when talking about God. The images are ones we must be willing to call into question. The God who was and is and will be - is just that God. But the wrapping paper we put around that God may be - at times - stuff we can peel back and remove for the sake of viewing this Eternal One.
O God, who was and is and is to be, draw us into your Reign - again. Amen.
But of course, "God" as rendered in the Bible - and most particularly in the Christian Old Testament - does not conform to either the temptation of vagueness or the temptation of settledness. In contrast to both of these interpretive alternatives "God" as rendered in the Old Testament is a fully articulated personal agent, with all the particularities of personhood and with a full repertoire of traits and actions that belong to a fully formed and actualized person. Such a particular person cannot settle for vagueness because the particularity has a history and an identity that remain constant over time. Such a particular person cannot accept a fixity as reflected in some forms of classical tradition, because this particular person possesses all of the dimensions of freedom and possibility that rightly belong to a personal agent. To be sure, such a rendering of God suffers all of the problematic of the scandal of particularity, as this God is embedded in the interpretive memory of ancient Israel.
This God of ours has a personality. At least that's what I'm catching here. It is not a static character who knows nothing about the changes of life and the demands of the day and the way freedom can change the tide of where things are going. Our God mixes it up with us - and the community of Israel. In the mix, God takes on a character and we begin to see in this God a face - a history that 'comes to mind' as we reflect back on who our God is. God is active in life - not separate from and not willing or able to be separate from. This is a God who become intimately involved in what it is to be a part of a community.
Connection: Could this be why we speak of the face of God being on the face of God's people. If we want to see how God looks, we look around at life - especially the life of Jesus.
O God, who was and is and is to be, we continue to long for your living presence among us. It is in the midst of you life among us that we come to a better understanding of the gift of life we all hold in your name. Amen.
I'm switching the resource book again. Today we will be diving into "An Unsettling God" - The Heart of the Hebrew Bible, by Walter Brueggemann.
The word God is of course generic so that it can be (and has been) construed in any number of directions. In one direction, that of popularity, "God" can be rendered as a vague force or impulse that tilts toward goodness. This direction is as ancient as Gnosticism and , in contemporary thought, can readily drift toward New Age religion. In the opposite direction, that of much classical Christian theology (of a scholastic bent or of a popular understanding of classical theology), "God" can be understood in terms of quite settled categories that are, for the most part, inimical to the biblical tradition. The casting of the classical tradition in a more scholastic category is primarily informed by the Unmoved Mover of Hellenistic through and affirms, as the catechisms reflect, a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, a Being completely apart from and unaffected by the reality of the world. There clearly are a variety of other options for the articulation of "God" on a spectrum that runs from New Age vagueness to classic settledness.
This is a groundwork piece as we move into this look at God. One thing it does do for me is remind me again about how we use the notion of "God." We seem to live in a "God" crazy world. Everyone wants to have "God" plastered here and there. Even in conversations, it is as though if a person throws in the word "God" others may think more highly of their view (or - maybe less). I always want people to explain what "God" they are so eager for all of us to embrace. What "God" wants us to put on our money that we trust God - or that we are a people who want to put into our pledge to a power of the world that we are under "God." What is that "God" we are under? Yes, there is a degree of 'goodness' that is associated with any of the uses of "God," but good for what? Sunday we sang "immortal, invincible, God only wise...." But even that God eventually become defined for us (in our tradition) within the context of Jesus. This same God is one that is also defined within the storytelling of Israel. We will be looking at this God who defined in our Scriptures - a dialogical God. So, don't be afraid to hear about how God changes along with the people as time move on.
Connection: So, listen for the way this word is used. How it is 'hung out there' and who is doing the hanging and what are the expectations around the "God" use.
O God, who was and is and is to be, continue to talk and help us talk back and to listen and to wrestle with your unfolding nature. Amen.
This being the day prior to our national remembrance of 9/11, the commotion over the Islamic Cultural Center in Manhattan near the Twin Tower site, and the bad behavior of a Florida pastor, I cannot simple ignore this stuff as we talk of death and resurrection from James Alison's book "The Joy of Being Wrong."
We might put this more simply by saying that the presence of the crucified and risen Lord to the disciples revealed that humans are wrong about God and about humanity, not simply wrong as mistaken, but wrong as actively involved in death. And this being wrong does not matter any longer, because we can now receive the truth, and thus life, from the forgiving victim. This then might be said to be a first approximation to original sin: that the doctrine of original sin is the doctrine according to which divine forgiveness makes known the accidental nature of human mortality, thus permitting an entirely new anthropological understanding.
We are a people stuck in the whirlwind of unforgiveness and it is something that never stops. It may slow down and we may begin to see things a bit more clearly but when there is just a drop of the blood or bad air of something that has gone wrong, the wind of terror and death and pain and revenge seems to have its way with us. Our faith story tells us that this deadly wind is not one that can overcome the wind of the Spirit of forgiveness and new life and eternal healing. And yet, we so easily breath in the foul air of hatred and brokenness and death as though it will keep us safe. In reality, it only makes us produce more of the same foul air into the world as it is. The power of resurrection is one that creates a new reality and moves us out of the spinning whirlwind of death. It is not a story we finally cling to. Rather we are taken up by odd balls whose need for attention is so great that forgiveness, reconciliation, open-hearted love is just left out and crazy actions follow. I am firmly in support of the Cultural Center being erected in NYC. I think it is an action that makes us step into a new way of being the liberated and free people we are. That is both as followers of Jesus but then also as citizens of this very free country. Note that I did not associated being a follower of Jesus with being a citizen of the U.S. They are not the same and never will be. In the meantime, though, followers of Jesus have an opportunity to witness to the power and reality of resurrection in a world that still spins death and brokenness. We can understand ourselves in a new light that gives us a new step to take in the lives ahead of us.
Connection: There is such a opportunity for the followers of Jesus to make an impression on the rest of the world. If we can stop being led by the spirit of death.
Lord of the Resurrection, come upon us and make us bold. Amen.
Today I am simply continuing on in this paragraph by James Alison - in "The Joy of Being Wrong."
This is an anthropological discovery of unimaginable proportions. At exactly the same moment as God is revealed as quite beyond any human understanding marked by death, entirely gratuitous love, so also it is revealed that the human understanding marked by death is something accidental to being human, not something essential. Here we have the linchpin of any understanding of original sin: that what we are as beings-toward-death is itself something capable of forgiveness. Furthermore we can see that the only way we are able to appreciate our true condition as humans-marked-by-death is precisely as it is revealed to us that that condition is unnecessary. It is in this way that the doctrine of original sin is the culmination of the revealed understanding of being human: the shape of divine forgiveness revealed in the resurrection of Jesus shows itself to stretch into our congenital involvement with death. The doctrine of original sin is the doctrine of the un-necessity of death.
We are no longer prisoners to this sin. It has been wiped out - destroyed. The power of death that is manifest in so many ways within our world is truly at a loss. We therefore, are invited to live as though it is true - death has no power. Alison's claim is even more powerful death is un-necessary. We need not let it be the power that pulls our chain and shortens or depletes our lives. I'm at a conference on Palestinian and Israeli relations in the Middle East. The power of death thrives around this issue. We are people of life - life eternal. And yet, we - as followers of Jesus - go along with the power of death. There are not enough of us who stand up within the power of the resurrection to say no to the many ways death keeps the world spinning within that web of fear, hatred, retribution, and war. As this power of life dwells among us, our voices and our actions must come alive to pierce the veil of death's control.
Connection: When we continue to stress original sin - we tend to willingly stay within its power and forget that it has no power anymore - among us.
Lord of the Resurrection, raise us up to new life. Amen.