“Sit with God as you might with the ocean. You bring nothing to the ocean, yet it changes you.” –Sean Caulfield, from The Experience of Praying
“Without solitude, it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.” –Henri J.M. Nouwen
Thus, “Jesus died for our sins” was originally a subversive metaphor, (in that it challenged the temple claim of monopoly over grace and access to God) not a literal description of either God’s purpose of Jesus’ vocation. It was a metaphorical proclamation of radical grace; and properly understood, it still is. It is therefore ironic to realize that the religion that formed around Jesus would within four hundred years begin to claim for itself an institutional monopoly on grace and access to God. (emphasis mine)
“In the examen of consciousness we prayerfully reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of our days to see how God has been at work among us and how we responded. We consider, for example, whether the boisterous neighbor of last night was more than just a rude interruption of a quiet evening. Maybe just maybe, he was the voice of God urging us to be attentive to the pain and loneliness of those around us. Perhaps in the glorious sunrise of this morning God was shouting out to us his love of beauty and inviting us to share in it, but we were too sleepy or distracted to participate. Maybe we responded to the Divine Whisper to write a letter or call a friend on the telephone, and the results of our simple obedience were nothing short of startling,” -says Richard J. Foster in his book on Prayer, which is ultra relevant even 20 years after it was written.
Love Wins is not a book about who is in or out. That sort of talk is too small. It is a book that invites people to remember the life God is offering them and this encourages them to thrive as they joyously participate in that life. Bell challenges theologies that seem to have forgotten what it means to live this life and moves the conversation back to a placed where Christians have the freedom to say yes to the gift God continually offers. Christianity isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s about living joyously and transformativly for Jesus — and this is a message we can all benefit from being reminded of.
“The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, ‘What would Jesus have me do?’ The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semidivine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.”
-the late, great Rev. Peter J. Gomes
Religious fundamentalism is dangerous because it cannot accept ambiguity and diversity and is therefore inherently intolerant. Such intolerance, in the name of virtue, is ruthless and uses political power to destroy what it cannot convert. It is dangerous, especially in America, because it is anti-democratic and is suspicious of ‘the other,’ in whatever form that ‘other’ might appear. To maintain itself, fundamentalism must always define ‘the other’ as deviant.
This new generation isn’t interested in ideology, their slogans are all pragmatic and congrete; they don’t speak of Islam the way their predecessors did in Algeria in the late 1980s. Above all they reject corrupt dictators and demand democracy. That’s not to say that the demonstrators are secular, but simply that they don’t see Islam as a political ideology to be used to create a better order, they’re well inside a secular political space.
This is a continuation of Roy’s work over the past several years on “the failure of political Islam.” The basic idea here is that in part thanks to the example of Iran, you just don’t have a mass constituency that’s prepared to believe that Islam or Islamic rule offers answers to the concrete problems of poverty, corruption, and slow economic growth. People may be religiously observant or culturally conservative in ways that western liberals (or even western cultural conservatives) would find alarming, but the Egyptian people are asking “where are the jobs?” and don’t think the answer is going to be found in the Koran.
Ryan Hamm, the associate editor of Relevant Magazine, reflects on his experience with Advent:
There’s something comforting to me that things don’t happen immediately with the church calendar. Because things don’t happen immediately in life. We don’t turn off the light on Thanksgiving evening and then wake up on the day after suddenly celebrating Christmas just like we don’t go though a traumatic experience and get healed in a day, or fall in love in a day, or make friends in a day. There is value in truly being in the present, preparing for the future with what you’re given. When we adjust ourselves to the timing of God, we find a breathtaking, faith-giving depth in the booming quiet.
One of yesterday’s readings in churches around the world was Romans 13:11-14. Part of that passage reads “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” It’s a reminder that the light is just on the horizon—but it’s not yet here. We wait and yearn for the light. In the meantime, we’re in the darkness but we live as if we’re in the light. We spend our time preparing ourselves for the joy of Christ’s birth and second coming. We wait, but we don’t spend our time doing nothing. We wait expectantly, like those virgins who trimmed the wicks of their lamps. We wait like Simeon. And in the waiting, God moves.
The liturgy and church calendar were not been a big part of my life until about a year ago. Working at a Presbyterian church immersed me into the calendar and dating a girl with a religion major who happens to love spiritual formation and ancient practices of being got me into the lectionary.
As I woke up this morning at 5:30am and made my way to our desk and cracked open my Bible, lectionary, and journal, moving to a new week is exciting as it follows a path countless others are (and have) personally and corporately following.
Kyle Strobel sees the labeling of “this” or “that” as biblical as more influenced by our backgrounds than being solely Biblical:
When I hear people use the word “biblical” today, more often than not it is a placeholder for: “what I find comfortable in light of my background.”
It is usually easy to point this out, in light of the fact that these people’s claim to “be biblical in all things” is, itself, extra-biblical. The call to be biblical itself is based on theologizing. That is not to say that the inclination is somehow unbiblical, but that the content of what it means to be biblical is based on a theological development (the Bible never states, for instance, sola scriptura – Scripture alone). I say this because I find that the term biblical is usually used in an unbiblical manner. It is an elitist tendency to write off other people who stand under God’s word and to, instead, apply God’s sovereignty to themselves. Rather than standing under the judgment of Christ, they stand at his side, pointing out people they think deserve his wrath. They often mimic, in other terms, the Pharisees.
Sadly, this happens in many contemporary cases. Judging others based off a bullshit bravado that “you aren’t a Christian unless you put it out in the public and subsequently make it divisive” or believing in a conservative God and country narrative is in some circles growing more common. I can’t tell you how tired I am of American hubris. This American exceptionalism is a nationalism that doesn’t imbue a sense of humbleness, as many Christians wish to gravitate towards, but rather conflates superiority and the American flag.
For a timeless example of Biblical values being rooted in one’s American values, look no further.
Sojo collects some commentary by biblical scholars:
Joel Green finds, “Unlike the rich ruler, Zacchaeus does not employ his wealth so as to procure honor and friends; rather, he is a social outcast who puts his possessions in the service of the needy and of justice. Such a person would indeed be eager to welcome Jesus, anointed by the spirit to bring “good news to the poor (Luke 4:18-19), with joy!” (The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1997, p. 672).
“Not too long ago, a priest told me that he cancelled his subscription to the New York Times because he felt that the endless stories about war, crime, power games, and political manipulation only disturbed his mind and heart and prevented him from meditation and prayer.
That is a very sad story because it suggests that only by denying the world can you live in it, that only by surrounding yourself by an artificial, self induced quietude can you live in a spiritual life. A real spiritual life does exactly the opposite: it makes us so alert of the world around us, that all that is and happens becomes part of our contemplation and meditation and invites us to a free and fearless response.”
-Henri J.M. Nouwen in Reaching Out
Think about this one as you enter your new week.
Michael Coogan sees love as the core Bible value:
When talking about so-called family values, pastors, popes, and politicians routinely quote the Bible as if it were an unassailable divine authority — after all, they assume, God wrote the Bible, and therefore it is absolutely and literally true.
Although Jews and Christians, individually and collectively, have for the last 2,000 years accepted the Bible as authoritative in principle, in practice many of its values have been rejected. On issues such as slavery, no one today would maintain that slavery is acceptable, even though, according to the Bible, it was a divinely sanctioned institution. In the debates about slavery in the 19th century those opposed to its abolition cited the Bible in support of their position, but despite such biblical warrant, their views were renounced.
Individual biblical texts should not be appealed to selectively: Such cherry-picking is all too easy because of the nature of the Bible as a multi-authored book. Rather, as with another formative text, the Constitution, one needs first to understand it historically — what did its words mean when they were written — and then attempt to determine what its underlying values are, not just what it says in a specific passage. Only in this sense can the Bible be considered to have timeless relevance that transcends the historical particularities of its authors.
The broad brush approach of “supporting a Biblical family value system” is so vague when thrown around, it needs to be clarified and not kept in vague terms. Are we talking about the family lifestyle of the male having sex with his female servants, the man having concubines, or the more recent monogamous, heterosexual relationship?
As for the cherry picking approach, it indeed does strip any sort of context and is more often used in a controlling instance. Let’s try a reverse, or a top down, approach to scripture: look at the topic from the OT or NT perspective, then category (law, prophet, gospel, letter), then book (author? time?), then chapter, then verse grouping.
I am always confused when I listen/watch Glenn Beck. However, over the last few weeks, I have been wondering something. This may be a silly theological detail that I missed out on, but why does Glenn Beck go on and on about Jesus Christ and the God of Christianity? He rambles on and on about this political influence on the “spiritual” lives of Americans and went into deeper detail over liberation theology not too long ago. Doesn’t he not believe the same God but the one revealed through Joseph Smith?
Update: This website helped me out, duh. This post was good for me though because I have been struggling with writers block a bit.
I myself have never felt overly restless. I have had the luxury of being able to sleep at night, the ability to let go of things until the next day, and have had a life that hasn’t itched from within, beckoning for a differing path to take up. That may still not fully describe the state of restlessness for the closest person I know. Only they could attempt to explain it and its day to day journey, but we all know life can take us to a point where words cannot bridge the gap past a certain point. Only a look in the eyes, a walk with a friend, a hand written letter, or the continual reminder that you are not alone grants a sliver of the pie known as life fully alive and not alone.
MJ and I visited a nearby seminary as prospective students. We looked into their Masters of Divinity and Religion programs, toured the campus, talked to some commuters, had some pizza, sat in on chapel and afternoon small group class on the epistles. At chapel, it was commemorating Saint Theresa of Avila and focused on Psalm 42.
I had never heard a sermon that dove into such a deep subject and came away with a sense of not fully comprehending the topic. That wasn’t solely from my interpretation of the sermon but the topic in itself: restlessly seeking after God.
The worship leader connected through worship, prayer, and song the scriptures Psalms 42 and Romans 8:22-27. He played this video, showing the Hebrew and had everyone listen to the chant. The ELW hymn 698, titled ‘How Long, O God’, is copyrighted so I was not able to find the lyrics online. It was the most touching and to the point hymn I have ever sang. I felt it connected to my thoughts and feelings in no way a hymn has before all while being only 4 lines.
Many of the translations of Psalm 42 begin by describing the deer panting for water. The King James Version labels the deer as a hart, an adult deer. I can imagine that being mixed up with the heart but I believe it may take us to the same point even if we mix up a deer with an organ. Our hearts long for the water than nourishes and grants us life.
The Romans passage ties in to longing and hope and forms a good companion passage with Psalm 42. We “long for what we cannot see” as we seek after God. As was next said in the sermon, those seeking God may be restless simply because they are seeking God. Who can truly sit back and be rest assured that they have fully pursued and seen all of God? Not only is God infinitely pursue-able but we ourselves are quite deep creatures.
In the moments where there is no rest, no easy feelings, or an uneasiness about where one is in life, there is the eternal hope that we are on a journey. Often journeys are focused on the end point or where one is arriving. I have come to see lately that it is not about where one arrives but about the journey, not fully focusing on the endpoint in mind but the step by step path each day. Is it crazy to think of it as being more important to see who we are becoming than what we are working for, or does that go hand in hand?
(Pictured: Georgetown, which I was in today, at night).
LOPEZ: I’ve seen City of Man described as an evangelical book, but you sure do quote a lot of Catholics. To what extent is it a book for anyone who takes religion seriously?
WEHNER: We sure do quote a lot of Catholics, and that’s not accidental. There are obviously important theological differences between Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. But the Catholic Church has a great deal to teach evangelicals when it comes to how to engage politics and the culture — to do so in a way that’s both effective and faithful.
Among the things evangelicals can learn from Catholics is that instead of serially reacting to issues as they arise, it’s crucial to stand back and analyze how we should approach politics based on a cohesive Christian worldview. Catholicism has helped deepen our nation’s understanding about the proper role of government based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity with the poor. The encyclicals of John Paul II were extraordinarily impressive documents, both theologically and politically. They had a formative influence on Mike and on me. Our view is that the Catholic Church, while a flawed institution, has shown an impressive understanding of the proper role of government and the relationship between Christianity and politics.
Dave True has some suggestions for the comfort driven church:
It is less clear, however, that congregations are nurtured to think about the church’s identity in relation to God. Without a clear theological identity, the church is left to battle over conflicting agendas, ideals, and aspirations. Too often, congregations seem like split personalities, lurching back and forth from one extreme to the other, a spa for spiritual clients versus a gymnasium for spiritual athletes.
Whatever one’s vision of the church, the question remains whether the pastor can lead his or her congregation to embrace this same vision as their own. Unlike Moses, American pastors long ago ceased being able to command their parishioners. They operate instead by consensus, more like politicans than prophets. No one wants to return to the days of compulsion, but building and maintaining consensus is no picnic either, especially when a congregation lacks a unifying vision of what the church is. The question, then, is what is the church to be, a hospital for sinners, a gymnasium for saints, or some third thing?
Dave emphasizes the long process this way of being requires. “It can’t be checked off at the end of the week” but in my opinion is a lifestyle that in a community helps if we come authentically yet as ourselves. So we are left to wonder, and to look at our church and or the ones around, if they are acting as gymnasiums for play, growth, and recreation, or as hospitals to heal, mend, and care for all?
I have the next two days off from teaching so that leaves me with time to pay some bills, work on some side paper work, organize my schedule, vacuum our room, and some blogging.
Look for some posts related to our gigantic national defense budget, a part two to my theology and homosexuality piece, and some thoughts on how Glenn Beck and his followers may not be that crazy after all.