Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 31, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

More on disposition and the Christian community -"Let the Bones Dance" by Marcia W. Mount Shoop.
Dispositions mark our particularity, our inheritance, and our hopes for who we are and for who we can be. Our habits and our decisions partner with our dispositions to condition  and characterize us. Our practices are the friends of our dispositions - companionable and challenging.
Christian communities and believers are the Body of Christ in the world. We flesh out God's love for the world, the hope that defeats all despair, the healing that outlasts all suffering, and the mystery of "God with us." WE flesh out this state of redemption as it already exists and as it is yet to be. Redemption helps to in-form our dispositions in this new embodied situation of grace and to work to be better than who we are. But it can be profoundly difficult to really know ourselves and our distortions, especially when they become a way of life. Fear, polarizing stances on social issues, unapologetic individualism and materialism, comfortable homogeneity, valorized guilt, stasis, rigidity, and quest for someone to blame for our problems are just some of the distortions that  find a home to the disembodied ethos that characterizes much of mainline Protestantism. 


 "Redemption helps to inform our dispositions" - it is literally the power that can make the day into something quite different from how we would go about the things we must do. On first reading of this piece it reminded me of 'having my eyes lifted up' to see things again. That is a vitally important way to think of redemption. It is already the power of life that takes us on a ride that we would not necessarily take on our own. There are so many things that attempt to rob us of this truth about our God who takes our lives and breathes into them a life that is contrary to the prevailing power and winds of the day. When we do not embody this breath, we become less than we can be as the community of the followers of Jesus. Too many forces and themes of the day can win us over and direct us in ways that are not informed by the power of life that is our redemption.


Connection: It would be a good exercise to try to name or at least describe the forces and powers that have the power to move us away having redemption help to shape our dispositions in life. I'm sure we each could come up with few. Add onto that, the ones that others can help us see. At least then, we might be able to see the difference between being shaped by the culture and being shaped by the grace of our God.


Gather us as one, O God. Help us to know the power of life that is leading us and help us to return to you alone when we find it so easy to follow other powers of the day. Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 27, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today in a section called "the body and disposition" Mount Shoop fills in some of the reason she uses the word disposition in her writing on embodying redemption.
I use the word "disposition" because it communicates body language. A disposition is a characteristic; it is an inclination that includes outlook, attitude and tendencies toward certain behaviors. Dispositions have blurred distinctions among mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual characteristics of the body. They integrate all layers of embodied experience. They are not only ethical, but also existential and deeply embedded beyond the reach of conscious decision. Bodies feel and fashion inclinations, behaviors, outlooks, and character out of the constellations of feeling's flow.
Dispositions also embody that which enjoys prevalence and consistency. Over the long haul, dispositions are indications of the kind of people we are. Some say they are our "natural" inclinations; but they also embody our intentions. We are in-formed and con-formed by our dispositions. We also in-form them and con-form them in turn. We are not passive, but powerful players in how dispositions take hold in us. When we dispose of something, for example, we make a decision as to how something should be placed or arranged. We give it direction. We regulate it. We dispense it.... Dispositions are creative and wise to the texture of reality. Dispositions function ethically, but they are more than that. Dispositions are both the mothers and the children of our moral decisions and actions.

 What we come to be as ones who are beloved of God are people who are offered a gift for life that begins to make up who we are - how we lean into the future and how we interact in the moment at hand. Our disposition - that which is often very visible to the world around us takes shape as this love of God becomes a part of our flesh and blood. We not only learn about our God who loves us, this love makes its way into the fiber of our being. We are not only pulled into God's presence, we - on our part - lean with our lives. Therefore, our lives - how the Word become embodied - shows it hand to the world. Is this disposition what can be called a witness - a witness to the power that brings us to life?


Connection: Growing up I remember hearing that people sometimes 'got up on the wrong side of the bed.' Their disposition was usually nasty - or simply out of sorts. Maybe 'getting out of bed on the right side' is like having our day shaped by God's love right from the moment we turn over to roll out of the bed. The word of God's love remind us of life that is ours. It is a gift and it is way


Gather us as one, O God. Hold us that we will take the form of your beloved body as this day unfolds. As we become that body - again - let it shine. Amen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 26, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

As she continues with this 'body' from "Let the Bones Dance" - Marcia W. Mount Shoop - there are a few image I will address.
Living into these embodied gifts of God takes practice. Like a creek bed slowly changing course, practice is the trickling current that creates transformation in time. Practice is the wind, the push in the current. Practice nourishes our embodied competency for redemption. The body can become more and more available for redemption by nurturing itself in what I a calling "dispositions of redemption." Because of God's unique power and our divine spark, dispositions of redemption are both gifts of grace and fruits of spiritual practices. When nourished and nurtured, our imago Dei  revives as the fuel of who we are, instead of just surviving as a flicker of who we were supposed to be. We can function as partners in the transformational promise of Jesus Christ in our lives.


I was liking what I was reading and then she threw in a 'trigger' term - divine spark. Historically, that language had to do with some of the great heresies of the past. The way it goes is that there is this 'divine spark' that enters humanity - but never really becomes a part of it all - that earthiness - that physical reality - that mortality. If this is where she was going, I was going to dump the reflections. If she was going there, all the "word made flesh" stuff from John's gospel could be thrown out - and that is not going to happen. Then I realized she is very committed to embodiment - very drawn to the body of Christ as real and present.  This 'spark' now sounds more like the 'word' that settles us and abides with us and becomes us. That - is something that makes sure that we never let our adventure with Jesus become a whirlwind without substance - everyday stuff - all of it.

Connection: We are called to settle in and live as people fully human and fully available to the world - all of it - no buffers - no limits - Fully Human. That is where our story begins this day and this is right where it will end - as one of God's beloved living as though that is the truth.


Gather us as one, O God. Direct us and nurture us along the way of your Son. Let you Spirit of life take us and move us and hand us the day as one full of your presence. Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 25, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

More about this 'body' from "Let the Bones Dance" - Marcia W. Mount Shoop
Jesus says, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I our them" (John 6:56) Transformation is the core promise of Christian life. And transformation is an actual change in form, not simply a new outlook on life or a welcomed assurance of an eternal reward. Our bodies change in an incarnational faith - our individual bodies and our corporate bodies. Jesus is asking to be ingested so that he can dwell in us; and we are changed in form when Deity inhabits us this way. Where sin and suffering distorts us , that affliction is healed in a deep and profound way. A path is cleared for us to learn to function and feel anew. The change of the 'already' and the pull of the 'not yet' take hold in our thinking and doing, and in our very being. Ingesting God like food and drink means that,  our very cells, tissues, and sinews get nourished. We are transformed bodies, not simply transformed minds and hearts.


Our weekly bible study group has ventured through John's Revelation and those short letters of John and then some of the John texts during this Easter season. It has meant that we are dealing with this reality of being transformed - becoming new - living as though Christ lives in us. We all agreed that this is a very physical indwelling - not some meditative state. It is the Word becoming flesh so that the life of that Word will not merely tickle us. Rather, it will become us. Just and Jesus is one with God - so are we a part of the wonder-filled presence of God that really does make things new. Of course, the newness is not always so evident. And yet, it rains down upon us each time we gather as a community of the body of Christ and take part in that meal that is our shape - our substance - our transformation. Maybe the meaning of mystical union with Christ is about a very concrete - very much alive and physical coming of Lord, Jesus, in, with, and under all that we are becoming. 

Connection: There is something just plain, old, everyday about the real presence of Jesus within our lives. No need to go here or there. God comes to us -for us - to be a part of all that we are. That means we have no forbidden side - we have only lives that are continuously being brought to life - life abundant.


Gather us as one, O God. Bring us the life that shines - the life that is full of the living presence of our Lord, Jesus - a life so real and engaged that we often miss that you are already at work among us.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 24, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

More from "Let the Bones Dance" - Marcia W. Mount Shoop
Redemption is both present reality and future possibility in Christianity. We feel this 'already' and 'not yet' in all layers of our lives; the body holds this gift and potential in its cells, muscle twitched, and habits. These redeemed and redeemable layers of embodied existence are both given and open to (re)formation. Seeing ourselves clearly is a gift of Christian witness. Our capacity to be up close to "God with us" is our good news.  We are sinful, and we are children of God. We fall short, and we are accepted and embraced by God. We are distorted, and God instills wisdom and vision. But grace and conversion are not all there is to our gospel.


This is a very physical image of redemption. She writes with a nod to the wholeness of our being. God is with us - every layer of life - every bit of what it is to be human. This means from the depths of our dirt to all that we hold up as gifts. It is this kind of humanity that is the shape of God life among us. A simple view like this is one that keeps us aware of our need for what is labeled as (re)formation.  We are always being drawn into a life that is not yet what we are and it is may just be more than we ever anticipated. I like to use the image of God pulling us into God's future possibilities. God is pulling so that our whole being will rise up to new life - not just our intellect - not just some notion of our spirit. Rather the whole beloved mess - all of it - every layer - every bit of every bit. For now, this is where we are. We are so close to God because God is so close to us in and through all things.  We are always within the presence of the promise of God's saving power that brings life even as we see no life - no possibilities. The change - the (re)forming begins even when we cannot see it taking place.

Connection: There is nothing that is not a part of what is being transformed by our God. Even when we think we are the most holy of people because of what we do or if we think we are the worst that can be because of what we do - the power of God's transforming word is taking hold and taking care.


Gather us as one, O God. The broken - the forgotten - the whole - the strong - the weak, all long for your power of life that continues to restore us within the shalom of your Holy name. Amen. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 23, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today is a shift from our primary resource. We are entering work by Marcia W. Mount Shoop in her book Let the Bones Dance. What will follow in the next weeks is from part two of that book and it is called 'the (em)Body(ment) of Christ."
Whoever tries to gain his/her life will lose it; but whoever loses his/her life for my sake will gain it. (Matthew 10:39)
Being uncomfortable in our own skin has consequences. We are hard of hearing when it comes to body language. We are out of shape when it comes to embodied practice. And we are disabled when it comes to living with ambiguity. What we may hear of our body's language is hard for us to translate and even harder for us to trust. For many Christians, embodied life is distorted, contorted, or, worse yet, ignored.
Feeling helps us tune in, pay attention, and surrender our need to understand completely. Feeling is the translator and the teacher of a new kind of language - a language that can speak a theological word about our embodied condition at the same time that it clears a space for what words cannot articulate. Cellular stories of trauma, pregnant poetics, and muddled metaphors of motherhood tell of the tragic, relational, and ambiguous layers of embodied experience. these experiences in-form us and our communities; and our resistance to these facts of who we are also in-form us and our communities.


One of the items missing here are the many pages of how she develops this embodiment.  But I found in these introductory words a bit of a change in language that I kept mis-reading.  She writes: "feeling helps us tune in....."  She did not say feelings.  Feeling has much to do with being in touch - sensing that which is around us. It even carries with it a bit of anticipation. Some dance groups look as though they know how close they are and how far they can lean and how an outstretched hand will be grasped by another - do not worry. They can feel what is present - the energy, the community, the vitality that comes within a shared mission. When think about feelings, I am often caught up in myself. This can be such a turned-in way of living that I am unaware of how dramatic and dynamic life can be when we feel within the presence of others. This is not to belittle feeling - at all. Feelings often help us catch the 'feeling' of a group. Unfortunately, too often some people allow the feeling to be the ending point. "Getting in touch with my feelings" can turn into nothing more than a journey inward without the wonder-filled journey into the expansiveness of the greater body of our humanity.

Connection: How do you stay in tune with others or the groups in which you move? What helps you pay attention to how things are going rather than trying to find answers to questions you think will solve life's problems? When we are feeling our way through the day, how does that differ from just 'getting through' or simply watching out for self?


Gather us as one, O God. And when we gather together as you body in the world help us to be watchful of the well-being of all who gather that our gathering will be a sign of wholeness and wellness to the world. Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 20, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

As the context changes - the faithful change their words and ways. Here is more on the switch from Babylon to Persia.
Thus the changed attitude toward empire arose partly from the empire's altered policy and partly from the Jewish leadership's calculated stance that sought to get what it could from the empire. For reasons that are quite complex, we can in any case note that the sharp metaphor "Babylon" is no longer directly in play. The long generative period of Persian hegemony produces no such compelling image, and so the rhetoric is not nearly as sharp as under the previous regime. For all of these reasons it seems right to judge that the militant model of exile-restoration  is displaced by the more cagey, fluid model of accommodation and resistance, a model that required a great deal more agility.


One of the words that describes the early church in Acts is not 'cagey.' We see in Acts a contrary community that is - from the storytellers perspective - quite new - odd -liberated - alien. Here we see that during the time of the Persian empire, the faithful found ways to continue along their 'religious' ways of life and do that within the power of empire that was overwhelming the world (the Persians really were - like the Greeks and Romans would). This had me wondering how the faithful today appear in the middle of the empires of the day. For the most part, there is accommodation.  In fact, I would argue that there is something else taking place. It would be nice to simply say accommodation, but that is not the case. We buy what is and sell it in packaging that fits our words. In fact, we often use our words to bless and promote the empire. I once read that such use of 'sacred' words for purposes that were not sacred is blasphemy. This can be anything from singing about God's blessing of one country over another ( in Evangelical Lutheran Worship the first hymn in the 'national' section is a brilliantly worded hymn that takes us out of the realm of empire blessing) to holding "national prayer breakfasts"
or a  'national day of prayer.'

Connection: So we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave - I really love that line of national anthem. Yet, as a follower of Jesus, to be courageous is to be faithful to the God who shapes us - calls us - makes us God's own. It is as a faithful follower of Jesus that I can then become the kind of citizen I can be. I think that is an interesting tension.


Blessed are you, O God, who gives us life that reflects your image. Be our light again as we face this day. Be our light and lead us into the way of faithfulness to you alone so that we can then become a part of the world around us as your children. Amen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 19, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Brueggemann writes that the prophetic rhetoric against the Israelite dynasty and power elite (9th century) was the same rhetoric turned against on the empire of Babylon (6th century) - both had a sense of war and destruction. But things changed with the introduction of Persian rule.
The Persian Empire displaced the Babylonian Empire in short order and brought what may have been a new stance to imperial practice, even thought the Persian Empire was still an empire and still acted like one. The different posture of Old Testament texts toward Babylon and toward Persian could hardly be more pronounced, even if the empires were in fact not that different. The dismissive polemics against Babylon have already been noted. Remarkably there are no such explicit polemics against Persian rule in the Old Testament, not one....Cyrus is reported to have permitted the deported Jews to return home (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). The Persians, moreover, were committed to funding the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. At the same time, these policies were especially favorable to an elite local leadership of Jews who knew how to curry the favor of the imperial government and how to take advantage of new policies for their own advancement. It is the case, moreover, that the formation of the textual tradition in the sixth century was likely the work of those who were most closely allied with imperial power and had the most to gain from it.


I must say that as I read this I kept thinking about the tax-exempt status given to religious institutions in the U.S. Here we have empire being empire - and yet, giving something to the church as a way of winning over allegiance or shared responsibility in the work of empire. It gives religious institutions some great benefits. It also ties those same faithful people into a dual allegiance that cannot always be separated when it needs to be. We are more unlikely to speak prophetically to the empire and to ourselves within empire when we are handed such a nice benefit for working within the bounds of the empire's rule. We can still raise a prophetic voice - but the shape of what is said must be in within a pattern that will go along with the system.  Could this be a part of the accommodation that must take place for faithful people to remain as aliens and yet fit in enough that we are not eliminated? I wonder. It was the sturdy and strident faithful Jews who help see their people through this period of Persian rule. More and more, Judaism took shape as a culture in contrast to the empire - still within it but also apart from it.

Connection: It is not easy to be alien and citizen within the same place. And yet, we must know where the lines are and when we are staying within them and when we step beyond them - and why.


Blessed are you, O God, who gives us life that reflects your image. Show us how to be the light that is the reflection of your image in our day - and then - inspire us to live as that light. Amen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 18, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Sorry for the late post - a bit more from Doin' Time in Persia
it is my thought -- that the faithful church amid the U.S. empire now needs not a model of "exile and homecoming" because the U.S. empire is everywhere. Rather, it requires the agility of "accommodation and resistance" that places a premium on shrewd intentionality. After the Persians issued the decree of homecoming, there was still oppressive, enslaving imperial service that required an alternative strategy. Current accent in Old Testament studies, I suggest, points to resources that only now have come into our purview. These texts offer a model of faithful agility, a model that may enliven and empower our own faithful intentionality. 


The 'agility of accommodation and resistance' is a great way to put some words behind the experience of being faithful to our God and the life of God's Reign and life within the empire. This is not to bring to mind some kind of 'wishy-washy' ways. Rather it is to note how much energy must go into living in the way of our God as we see that revealed in Jesus. There is always that 'what would Jesus do' tied to how we can be a part of this Jesus life in the midst of our everyday lives. The day must have a plan to it - a way we will turn here and there in order to be standing with our lives actively engaged in the empire and the life of the empire. It must be a constant 'give and take' in which we can find rest and in which we will find ourselves engaged up to the point of death.

Connection: I am not always very agile when it comes to such a life as this. I find that it can be so easy to lose our way as followers of Jesus when we are so tied to the ways of the empire - and yet, we must.


Blessed are you, O God, who gives us life that reflects your image. Help us be that image in the world around us and to be so present with others that we never let our status before you come across as a 'better than thou' presence that alienates others rather than bring us all together. Amen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 17, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

 Welcome to life in the Persian empire - or something like that.
As a consequence of this shift from Babylon to Persia, faith had to find other ways of being Jewish. In the Persian Empire, the exile homecoming paradigm did not work well. In its place, the local tradition vis-a-vis the empire had to be one of accommodation and resistance; accommodation enough to survive and prosper, resistance enough to maintain a distinctive identity and ethic. This latter model required a kind of ability for the practice of the "Weapons of the Weak."  
I find this to be quite helpful. There is a ground on which we can stand and be faithful even as we live within a land that is our own and yet is not ruled by the ways of peace into which we are called by the Lord of Life. This is not a way of revolution. Revolutionaries are too often eliminated. But also, we do not need a revolution. We are not a people who have been called to rule anyone. We are a people - a people called by our God to exhibit to the world the image of this God. So, we live in the middle of things as they are. We do what is necessary to be at home here. And then, we act out. That is, we live within the image of God's Reign. We serve others - we practice radical hospitality - we become peacemakers - we love our enemies - we make sure that we are a voice lifted high for those who are the least and lowest within the empire. That is all called resistance - or faithful living. Accommodation - on the other hand - does not mean we go along with the ways of empire. Rather we walk alongside - within the acceptable bounds of empire life - but we do not take on the character of the powers around us. We continue to be aliens.

Connection: This is a walk on a tightrope. It is life that goes for it - and yet - we go for it within certain bounds. Once again, it is the whole community that keeps us living the life of God's people and also keeps us aware of the pressures around us - pressures to simply become like the world.


Blessed are you, O God, who gives us life that reflects your image. It is not easy to be such a people - we long for your Spirit's power to stand firm and yet know how and when to bow and bend as part of your way. Nurture us, O God. Amen.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 16, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Today we will begin looking at the last chapter of Walter Brueggemann's book "Out of Babylon" - called "Doin' Time in Persia." A week or two more and we are finished (I just heard a sigh of relief) with Brueggemann.
Here we are, slaves to this day - slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. (Nehemiah 9:26)
The promise of the great prophets came true! Babylon did disappear as a world power. Some of the Babylonian Jews did return to Jerusalem - enough to confirm the promises. The Babylonian environment that permitted Jews to contemplate homecoming was soon replaced by the long-lasting Persian Empire. The Persians did offer a more benign policy of permitting a Jewish homecoming. But in fact the reach of Persia was farther and longer-lasting than was that of Babylon. There would be no "going home" from Persia, for everywhere Jews went, including back to Jerusalem, it was still Persia!
What do you do when you are in the middle of something and you really cannot leave - when you are stuck within a system that seems to be forever - when you are already home where you are to be and yet, not a home at all? At times I hear people say that they are thinking about leaving the US - leaving to escape our imperialism - leaving to escape from being overrun by corporations. But, I really love to be in this country. How do we remain in a place that is called home when home is being controlled by powers with whom we do not want to associate? The vision of God's Reign is not the vision of  any empire - not even our own. And yet, this is my home. This is not a foreign land. Do I simple go along with the prevailing values of the status quo or do I resist? And if I resist, what does that mean - what shape will it be - what will be the consequences? For the Jews, the Persian empire was a time in which they made sure their identity would strengthened and they would come to a greater understanding of what it meant to be a Jew in their own land even when the land was occupied. No longer praying to 'go home' or 'be rescued' - it was now a plea to be shaped as a people who would take on a contrary nature to the powers that be.

Connection:   It is too - too easy for me to simply become another expression of the empire in which I live. I find that an undisciplined person like me must search out ways to be disciplined in regard to seeing and walking in God's vision of shalom. It does not always work. It is not a thing to do, it is a life that is to be lived.


Blessed are you, O God, who gives us life that reflects your image. Remind us - even as we sit in comfort  - that you continue to call us to be your people even when we must do so as an act of resistance. We do not do this well - it is you alone who will carry us along the way. Amen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 13, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

This chapter 'A Durable Metaphor - Now Contemporary' is brought to an end with reference to New Testament language that will make us consider what we see around us - fruits. This is a bit longer than usual and it is the end of this chapter.
It is an enormous leap to the New Testament, but the Epistles' reconsideration of "fruits" falls within the midst of our topic. The Epistles delight to make contrasts between the old life and the new life in Christ:
(Brueggemann notes several examples - here I will put in only one)
The works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these....By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:19-23 emphasis added)
It is an enormous transposition to consider these inventories of the Epistles and to move them toward present-day questions of empire. Certainly an empire cannot be expected to replicate the marks of a faith community. I believe, nonetheless, that the transposition is compellingly illuminating. There is no suggestion that the empire is satanic or demonic simply because it cannot make such a replication. But empires do thrive on practices that are inimical to covenantal righteousness. It is not difficult to see that the 'fruits of empire' are indeed 'greed (which is idolatry).  The combination of military power, economic exploitation, indifference to environment, and a theology of entitlement generates antihuman values, policies, and practices. The community of faith, in the midst of empire, is called to a 'more excellent way' (1 Corinthians 12:31), a way that consists in hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness. The empire is an odd and hostile environment for such practice.
The language of the faith is one that is very vocal about fruits - what is seen - what is produced - almost what one expects to see from ones who use language as we do. Empires show their fruits also. Some are dynamic and good for all. But too often, the world sees more of the other qualities - works of the flesh. We plug into the empire by consistently working for the welfare of all - this must take place among us (as a light and reminder of what is necessary and good) and a voice to the world in which we find ourselves - a prophetic edge that lifts high the banner of God's Reign so that the world may 'catch a glimpse' of that which is not consumed in self-satisfaction.

Connection:   How do we do this - we love one another - we seek the welfare of one another - we step in and uphold the honor of the other - we protect the other - we speak well of the other. That is no simple journey - and yet, it is vital for the faithful and for the empires in which we live. The work always begins now and the fruit will blossom and grow.


O God who bids us to follow the way of the Christ, show us the daily ways of your life and inspire us to enter that way in, with, and under the ordinary things of the day that the fruit of your Reign may be seen by within the world. Amen.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 12, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

As Brueggemann does throughout this book, he makes us look at ourselves- our country with an eye that knows about empire.

A final thought on this durable metaphor for our contemporary time. It may be that the United States as empire is a disputed point and not all will be persuaded. But here I suggest a test case: "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:20). The proposition invites us to assess the fruits of U.S. empire, to see whether it is indeed an authentic empire. The fruits we might list that are positive include the maintenance of global stability and investment of new wealth in developing cultures. These matters seem to depend directly upon the United States. But the ledger is not in balance if we consider the fruits of U.S. policy and conduct. The United States, in many important ways, is a predator economy that seizes resources, imports a certain culture, does immense damage to the environment, and leaves many societies in poor shape by a pattern of intrusion and departure.

It is very unfortunate that countries are not able to let go. Rather, we make sure we are heard or even felt. You hit me - I hit you. It is a cycle that is endlessly making us less willing to move in a new direction. So the empire takes what it says it needs to continue living at the rate it is living and those lesser people find their resources moving away for the benefit of the empire. With all the good the U.S. does, we are still seen by many as an imperial power that will do what we want to do. We get hit on 9/11 and we go off to settle the score. But the score is not settled. We use our imperial strength and influence to turn from justice to a war with an agenda that is foolish and imperial in the way it is carried out. The 9/11 event was horrible. It was a declaration of war against us by a stream of people without a homeland that would have given us a way to declare war. Instead, we pick and choose our enemies in order to take some of the need for retribution to burned off for a while. The cost is beyond our imagination in regard to U.S. finances. The cost is beyond our imagination in regard to the loss of human life on many fronts. The latest strike into Pakistan - even though we ended the decade long pursuit of the mastermind of the 9/11 massacre - must be the beginning of our return home from being the invaders and occupying force. Otherwise, we are like all the empires of the past that were so self-absorbed, they could not see the worth of others beyond their worth to the empire.


Connection:   How do we celebrate victory - how do we turn history upside down and make something new out of old ways of needed to be in control of the world as we know it? How do we go on as faithful people knowing that we are a part of an empire that will now face retribution for our actions  - and it may be as justified to the other side as our raid on that Pakistani compound?  First, we must understand that the country is not the Church - it is not the people of God as our biblical storytelling goes. We are a faithful people who live in empire - but how - really, how?


O God who bids us to follow the way of the Christ, help us to see more of that way in the midst of the ways of the world that attempt to use us as a support for that which is not at all the Reign into which you call us. Amen

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 11, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

And then today - more about remembering - again, Walter Brueggemann.
The matter is recognized in Isaiah to be dialectical. On the one hand, there is an urgency to remembering, to cherish the rootage that is deepest:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many. (Isaiah 51:1-2)
On the other hand, there is an urgency to forgetting in order to notice the newness:
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Empires specialize in one-dimensional scripts. But the dissenting tradition is more supple than that. Such suppleness makes doin' time doable; empire becomes a context for generativity.

We are not like the empire because we have a way of bending and bowing that does not destroy us. That is one of the fears of empire. If we bend and bow to others, they will destroy us. When we are in the role of empire, we must never bow or bend - we must be ready, at all times, to fight to keep what we have and who we think we are. And so, how do we maintain that suppleness - that ability to listen anew and see new ways of life and resist the temptation to fight and dishonor and secure ourselves at all costs? In some way we must keep inn mind these 'opposite' opinions that we hear in the above passages from Isaiah. We need to remember that there are always different ways to see what is at hand. From there, we have a way to move out from the control of empire.


Connection:   We can become a part of something new even when the system is closed down and acting only from one perspective. It takes time and deliberate action and patience. Not easy - but necessary.
O God who bids us to follow the way of the Christ, inspire us again to re-view and re-hear all things that we might step back and keep ourselves open to the healing presence of your Reigning will.    Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 10, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

More about remembering - again, Walter Brueggemann.
...remembering also is not without its hazards. Indeed, the very psalm that exhibits the most resolved remembering is also the psalm that most craves vengeance:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones 
and dash them against the rock! (Psalm 137:8-9)
These militant rememberers summon God also to remember, assuming that divine remembrance will lead to divine retaliation that takes the form of divine violence. Having done ample time in Babylon, Miroslav Volf ponders the cost and danger of remembering too  much too long. He offers a compelling riff on the fact that forgiveness is linked to forgetting, just as vengeance is linked to remembering too long. In the first instance, makers of empire forget and practitioners of local tradition remember, for how else to maintain local tradition? In the elongated process, however, the matter is reversed. Empires remember everything; witness the oceans of records left by totalitarian regimes in which eery affront and every enemy on the enemy's list is preserved to perpetuity. Given such institutional, bureaucratic remembering, the local tradition of faith refuses the imperial practice: keep no police records in its heart. While Volf does not use our particular images, surely he would say that forgetting is the condition of refusing empire.  


Witness the experience of South Africa. The imperial practice of keeping records was discarded so that a new life would begin. The horror of the past would be faced and acknowledged - but then - there would be movement forward without the baggage of the past that can eat at our hearts and cause people to rise up to be the perpetrators of violence that was once done at the hand of the empire. They were able - to a point - to remember just enough and then to let go for the sake of something greater than vengeance. I find that incredible.  As Volf notes though 'forgetting is the condition of refusing empire.' Even with how hard it is to forget and to forgive, there is no way out of the cycle of violence than just that. Holding on to that which breaks our hearts and our lives will merely break down our spirit of peace and joy and love that is a part of God' beloved people. So, we give up what is to be a gift of new life for life that hangs on to a hell of a life. Unfortunate, but real for all of us. Together, the local tradition - the church let's say, must be encouragement to refuse empire.


Connection:   I often understand this 'after the fact.' That is, after I have acted in the same manner as the empire - after I have pursued vengeance.  It is then, that I hear a word from someone else who reminds me of the way I am to live. At that point, all is not lost. There is a moment there when I can turn around and let go of my vengeful ways and begin to list to the way of peace and reconciliation.
O God who bids us to follow the way of the Christ, hold us close - again.  Amen.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Redeemer Devotions - May 9, 2011

Adventures... in Hope - Redeemer Devotions 

Staying with the song from last week can really become disjointed so I will continue on with more about "doin' time" - in Babylon.
What might we do while "doing time"?
We might spend time in prayer for the city: "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7).
We might confront and instruct the empire about the truth of governance: "May my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity ay be prolonged" (Daniel 4:27).
We might spend time remembering our true place:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not embrace you,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. (Psalm 137:5-6)
The reason for the urgency of remembering is because the empire specializes in forgetting.  The empire intends to erase all local tradition and all local belonging and all local gospel. The most passionate of those doin' time in Babylon will refuse the amnesia that comes with wealth, power, and control.

In the middle of empire, we do what we need to do to stay tuned into the life that is set before God's people - no matter where we might be. That always has taken on different forms that have served God's people well through the days of empire. And yet, it is a variety of ways to remember that God's people are able to see the empire and its ways of pulling our lives into the very routine of imperial rule. Our task is one in which we keep turning to the story of those who have gone before us - those who endured and those who stumbled. It is within that storytelling that we find that we are not cut off and isolated. Rather, we have a history that is more rich than than of the greatest empires - a history that lasts through them all.  We need faithful responses to empire to be varied. That is quite important because when I attempt to remember the stories of new life, the way I do that may not work.  It is then that I need you who has been walking a different path - to be a shining light of truth when I am all but spent.


Connection:   When we remember our identity (as the beloved of God) in the middle of the empire's rules and patterns, we are given a lens through which we can keep a watchful eye on all the powers that attempt to make us something else. Baptized in Christ, Jesus, is to be brought into a vision for life that does not and will not settle on the popular rendition of empire ways.
O God who bids us to follow the way of the Christ, keep by our side for we do not last long when the world  tugs at our lives expecting us to fit in. By the power of your Spirit, take our hearts in hand and hold us close for we so easily and so quickly can slide away from you. Amen.