Friday, August 16, 2002

Prayer

Why do I pray?

To draw closer to God, to know God better, especially in terms of discerning God's plans for my life; to know myself better and therefore to know others better – "Out of a sense of self, a sense of the other." And I pray to remember and to allow God to remind me of the mighty and gracious acts of God in my own life, as well as within the history of God's people.

Baptism

Baptism is a might act of God that incorporates the person into the whole Body of Christ; the witnessing congregation agrees to support and affirm the "wet behind the ears" newly baptized person; baptism is a liturgical act, a work of the people, and so baptism never ought to be "private" except in case of real emergency and, in those cases, the person and/or parents/sponsors of the person usually participate in a rite within the congregation's regularly scheduled worship that affirms the baptismal covenant, and also lets the congregation respond in covenantal affirmation and agreement.

As we live baptized we live both in slavery/bondage (to God} and in freedom (from self); we're both dead (to sin, death and the devil) and we're alive (to new life in the Spirit). We're baptized into Good Friday and into Easter Dawn. You asked if I was "ready for a miracle?!" But I'm living a miracle, I live in grace, I am baptized!!!

Promises, Covenants, Reconciliation...

But I still insist the promises, the covenants and the reconciliation of the world in the Christ Event very definitely are for everyone, whether or not everyone consciously affirms them. The obliteration of death is a done deed. And, our God has no trouble with anonymity – it's us humans who like to get credit for everything we do. OK, it's we humans who insist on getting credit for everything we do!

You said, "I think we are meant to learn from this very public death of [Jesus'] body that we survive death of the body, that no matter what happens to our bodies, nothing happens…" But Jesus did die; he died forsaken by his friends and he died feeling completely forsaken by the Father. And he was raised from death on the third day ["day" in Semitic thought and languages means an entire day or part of a day; you told me "3" is the number for birth in Gematria!]. It so strikes me that he wasn't raised immediately! In wisdom God realizes we need time to grieve and in many ways to not feel the pain and the betrayal. When you’re dead you don't know you’re dead…trust me, I know that from experience! True, and also very probable that Rome didn't officially record Jesus' death, as he simply was just one more incidental Jew. I've written before about early Christianity's editing, troping and glossing of scripture, though I don't use those words in a negative or depreciatory or derogatory sense. Those people just needed to make their point about Jesus; they wanted to convince us!

You wrote about the Holy Spirit: "Mostly it's a memory." I challenge your word, "Mostly!" Because I trust the HS is a lively, active, generative and regenerative – re-forming – force of being that includes memory, as memory's one of the ways we recognize the presence and action of the HS, but which is really present in a way that plain memory simply is not. The whole discussion of the Risen Christ's "Real Presence" in the Eucharist…

Later you said, "For me, the Holy Spirit is the remembrance of Love that God has gifted all of His separated children with, that need of remembrance, saved for us in our minds for that day when we choose to remember. We don't need to accept it or acknowledge it for the Holy Spirit to exist in our mind." Yes, with some reservation. Memory is critical to our lives in the Spirit; you know how often Israel forgot and how completely Israel forgot; you remember the consequences! I believe our memories are part of the Spirit's gifts to us. However, I also trust the Spirit of Life indwells each of us, indwells all creation, and this Lively Spirit has a force and a will of its own.

Spirit, Church

The Holy Spirit calls the Church to proclamation in word and in deed—proclamation by its very presence in the world. This kerygma is the announcement of the death of the old order, the resurrection of the new order from the ashes of the old, in the Person and Work of Jesus the Christ, most definitively in his death and resurrection. The Church is the Spirit-indwelt Body of Christ, the baptized People of God, marked with the Sign of the Cross and the Sign of the Empty Tomb, surrendered by human family, embraced by God, set free from sin, death and the devil, and fully incorporated into a new family, the whole people of God. The Spirit calls Christians to be a servant people. In serving others, we serve the Christ, the Christ whose presence – like the presence of both the Spirit and the Creator – is both hidden and manifest in all of physical creation, in all of human life and human history.

A paraphrase from I And Thou:"Once upon a time," tells the Brahmana of a thousand paths, "the gods and the demons were at strife. They asked, 'To whom shall we bring our gifts?' The demons set their gifts in their own mouths. The gods set their gifts in each other's mouths. Then Prajapati, the Primal Spirit, gave himself to the gods."

Like Israel, the Church has sociological, economic, psychological, religious, spiritual and political implications, as well as a few more I can’t think of right here and now.

I didn't suggest, imply or claim that everyone was a Christian! Only that the reconciliation of the world, of all creation, in the Christ Event was for everyone, whether or not they "accepted" it or were consciously aware of it. It’s so telling that in Acts 7 Stephen proclaims universal salvation in the context of the history of God;s people, Israel. And the prophets whose words we have in the Hebrew Bible also proclaimed Israel's God as God of all.

Nor did I say there was "nothing beyond the received tradition of Christianity." Although I'm convinced there is no "beyond the received tradition," I tried to say I consider Christianity ultimate but I also said other traditions, styles, experiences and understandings can enhance, compliment and complement Christianity. I'd especially encourage learning about and experiencing other world religions or some of the more local, indigenous ones. Our received tradition is about Israel's God, the Bible's God and Jesus' God. It’s about "this baby named 'Save'" [Walter Brueggemann]. It's about promise, covenant, Word and history. Grace, love, fidelity and freedom. About the God Who chooses a people, calls out a people and sojourned with his people, ultimately living among the people as one of the people. About the God Who demands to be our only God, the only God worthy of being our only God. God of Good Friday and God of Easter.

Rise, Shine!

Rise, shine, you people!
Christ the Lord has entered
Our human story;
God in him is centered.
He comes to us by sin and death surrounded.
With grace unbounded.

by Ron Klug

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Christians, Christianity

Our God is the One Who is and Who was and Who is to come most definitely revealed by the at once crucified and risen One, Jesus Christ.

Christians and Christianity make highly specific claims, which include assertions about God, creation, Jesus and the Christ and about the Church as the Body of Christ. Furthermore, Christianity affirms God’s definitive self-revelation in the ongoing events of human history as One Who is hidden yet apparent, in, with and under these events. So if a worldview or interpretation of life isn’t consonant with these claims, it’s not “Christian.” And this doesn’t mean it’s mistaken or incorrect – it may be a different or an alternative explanation of the same Truth. There is only One True God, though each and every revelation or manifestation of the Holy One necessarily is limited and partial. So when we contemplate God, meditate upon God, that God, logically and necessarily must be the Bible’s God, even when described using different words. I agree that written and spoken languages are limited and often confusing.

When I claim creation as separate and distinct from God but also the impossibility of separating creation from the Source of Life I don’t see any contradiction. Creation is fallen (yet at the same time redeemed) as the Holy One, in absolute perfection, is not, cannot be. I continue to see much of physical existence, as well as spiritual existence, as fallen and still in the control of both past and current agents of bondage and alienation and demonization. The sins, separations, asundernesses that hold creation in bondage and slavery demonstrate not only spiritual separation but also an extremely physical separation.

I may agree with you that in a sense salvation may always have been complete…though still, Jesus lived and died and was raised to new, resurrected life not only in the shadow and thrall of “powers and principalities” of all kinds and dimensions but those same forces still engage and all too often continue to shape and to define us as individuals and as a society. “And so he got rid of the Sovereignties and the Powers, and paraded them in public, behinds him in his triumphal procession.” –Colossians 2:15

And then from:

But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” –Genesis 3:9

To the last page of the Bible:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, LORD Jesus! –Revelation 22:20

“Please, Aslan,…what do you call soon? “I call all times soon,” said Aslan. –C.S. Lewis, …Dawntreader, page 138

When you wrote, “In truth, we cannot be separated from the Source of Life,” you reminded me of Paul Tillich’s saying, “We’re separated and yet bound.” You said, “What is needed is unlearning, removing obstacles to knowing God.” Supremely in the Christ Event, the Christ Experience, God Himself actively and actually removes the obstacles. And then Jesus comes to us again and again to help us unlearn and remove ALL obstacles to knowing God. With the Creator, Jesus indwells all creation as Holy Spirit, in order to help us become and to be the Christ.

“God changes his mind” is such a wonderful understanding of the God with such a wild passion for creation he incessantly response to human need – our God who not only continues condescending to humanity but who even “repents,” turns around ins response to our need. God always, always begins where WE say!

Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." –Exodus 33:21-23

In other words, “You only can be aware of My Presence after I’ve been there!!! Because when I’m there, my people and I are such an indistinguishable unity, one of us looks like the other—you can’t tell us apart! In Jesus, we don’t need to wait until after the experience to be aware of the Presence, we’re immersed in God’s Presence in the ongoing activities of everyday, earthly life. And now, we’re called to recognize The Presence not in spiritual things, but in the “stuff” of common and ordinary life. In “earthen vessels,” of course!

Jesus’ physical existence is important to me because I live in a physical world. My Friend, Savior, God-Revealer, Avatar and Rabbi needs to be a Real Presence in my world. Without relating to space, time and history I’m disoriented and disrelated. I can’t find others or myself, I don’t clearly remember people or events. I’m unable to plan tomorrow Jesus asked us to remember him as he revealed the God of History the One Who creates, redeems and sanctifies in spite of time/space limitations. This doesn’t mean God is limited, only that God condescends to our human limitations. It’s not only the tensions and temptations of culture and society that drive us away from at-homeness, at-oneness in God. We also simply keep forgetting who we are, and Jesus keeps showing us the way back to our Creator, the Source of All Life and, when we are reconciled and freed from the bondage and the pain of living as a stranger, we and all those we touch become the Christ. But then we forget once again…though someday this seemingly endless cycle will end. The Gospel of the Father’s self-revelation – and self-giving – in the human son is worldly and earthbound and shows us that some day. Within history, every one of us will journey to and then arrive home in a world and a life transcending this current world and its existence.

I’m struck by God’s promise to bring this people into the land, to give them land, or the stewardship of the land on which in a sense they still remain strangers and sojourners. Slaves don’t own land. “Real” property, or at least its stewardship, is a gift of freedom, of liberation. “Land” is an ongoing and persistent scriptural theme. But when Israel became landed, settled in space, they forgot their total dependence on the God of the Exodus, the God of History, Whose supreme self-revelation is in time.

Cornel West says, “We are people of hope. Why do we party on Friday night [pay day in the working-class community]? Why do we go to church on Sunday mornings?” Because of Jesus, of course!

Condescension?

“Tell me more about ‘condescension.’”

Oh, one of my favorite topics! To begin, our God is a God of majesty, glory and sovereignty whose supreme self-revelation is as a God Who willingly abrogates His majesty, glory and sovereignty in order to become small for us a human, in Jesus Christ. Small enough to die. For us. Our God is God of the Covenants Who tabernacles with His people (condescension again: the transcendent become immanent – visible, touchable, audible…).

A Holy God who risks His very self…to create and then to reconcile creation…Relationship is risk! Above all, the Bible witnesses to God’s passion for relationship:
And God said: I’m lonely still…
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled
him down
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun…
Who flung the stars…
This great God…
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life.
Amen. Amen.

by James Weldon Johnson, from The Creation
Because, as you’ve implied, the Trinity isn’t three persons who have lunch together.

I love the section of Exodus [24:7-8] when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai, reads the Book of the Covenant within the hearing of the gathered people, throws the Blood of the Covenant on the people…and then, in the very next chapter God says, “Hey Moses! Tell my people to build me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in the midst of my people!” [Exodus 25:8] That’s what it’s all about: Emmanu-El, “God With Us.” So we can do the Word…

Creation itself may be the most outrageous and radical act of God’s condescension: to create in the image of the Holy One of Being. A Transcendent Other Who tabernacles with and indwells all creation. According to God’s promise we wait for and hope for not only new heavens but also for a new earth in which righteousness dwells [2 Peter 3:13]: before the Christ Event righteousness was an attribute of God alone, but in Jesus the Christ all creation is made righteous.

Again and over again Scripture testifies to God’s ongoing, decisive and unique action in human history. Isn’t humanity’s never-ending (and eternal!) search the search for the transcendent? We don’t need to seek, because the Transcendent has sought us out and met us, revealed Herself to us, most tellingly and most definitely in a human, in one of us – in Jesus of Nazareth. In the tension and on the edge of this historical ethos we’re born, live, love, suffer, give birth of all kinds, suffer, die and are reborn. Again! And isn’t this also the “in spite of” of grace in our own lives? “Treasures in earthen vessels,” not in “religious” things. God’s love is an everyday, common, ordinary and extravagant love that continues responding to our everyday and ongoing needs.

The artist and the poet both observe, evaluate and reshape their creations, just as God does. Creation is every artist’s, every poet’s, every parent’s passion. Every creation is its creator’s dream, imagined and imaged before eternity was breathed into being, imagined forever. In God’s ongoing condescension to us the God Far Off becomes Near to us in order to reshape us into the creation we were created to be and to become. I see our creation in God’s image as giving us the spectacular gifts of freedom and choice. Radical condescension! When humanity first claimed that unspeakably awesome gift in the paradise of Eden God rejoiced in A-dam’s “disobedience” as it meant humanity freely had chosen to walk in the Holy Way rather than remain at the childish state of unquestioned obedience. In this sometimes-called “fall” into “sin” or “separation” A-dam claimed humanity’s birthright of the freedom of God’s children created in the Image of the Holy One. The tempter told our progenitors “you will be as gods” if you eat the “forbidden fruit.” And the tempter was absolutely right-on! We reclaimed the Image of the God in Whose Image we were created to be and to live.

If creation weren’t “fallen” (we’ve talked about this) – actually a pre-redemptive state/situation as creation’s fallen-ness enables creations’ return in freedom to its Creator – there would be nor need for redemption or sanctification. The Word at once judges (evaluates), holds in hope and gives itself again in promise to shatter the separation between the Word and the Word’s creation in what Bonhoeffer calls God’s “unfathomable condescension.” Although eternity is divine, time as we know time is a human construct – one of God’s gifts to human need. In Jesus the Christ eternity and time both collide and actually become indissolubly united.

And many will come from east and west and north and south, and sit at the feast in the kingdom of God. ~ Luke 13:29

The eschatological feast is both sustenance and celebration, as is the empty tomb of Easter dawn. They’re both God’s “Surprise! You haven’t been annihilated!” and they’re also an entirely new Dance of Life. William Stringfellow says (paraphrased, as I haven’t read An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land for a long time) the Bread and Cup are “tokens of the Resurrection” and these “tokens…are discerned as the Word of God indwelling all creation and transfiguring human history.” All creation is redeemed and now the transcendent Holy One is present in our very midst, in, with and under the redeemed creation (endless and eternal condescension now!). Since we are both spirit and flesh, God enters our own individual and corporate lives as both Spirit and Flesh. Everything is God’s Word and Activity, always sacramentally present in, with and under all of creation. Jesus Christ, the LORD of Chalcedon, is both Body and Spirit, just as we Christians, “little Christs,” are both body and spirit. The Risen LORD’s presence in this redeemed creation makes transcendent common, everyday stuff like water, bread and wine. Just as the empty cross and the empty grave reveal God’s presence in the world, so now does all of creation. God continues to condescend to his beloved creation as Spirit, indwelling all and enabling us to see the Face of God and live not only in Jesus, in Jesus’ People the Church – the Body of the Risen Christ – but in all people!

Like the father in the dream you wrote about, the Creator awakens and re-enters (re-minds?) creation with a new name, with a new and this time unforgettable Dance of Life (I referred to the Eucharist as a new “Dance of Life”) in which we encounter the at once Crucified and Risen One in the substance of common, ordinary, everyday existence. Now all life is Holy. Now our home is the heaven, the paradise, the Eden of the created earth that previously had been a place of alienation, bondage and disconnectedness.

Jacob/Israel

· Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your first-born…that you may give me your blessing." "Are you really my son Esau?" [Isaac] asked. "I am," he replied. Genesis 27:19, 24

· ...But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Genesis 32:26b-28

This so strikes me at this point in my life – in the earlier text (both are from the "J" or Yahwist) Jacob pretends to be other than the person God created him to be and all kinds of troubles result; in the second passage Jacob publicly claims the real identity God already has blessed him with and God gives him a new name with which to engage the world…interesting. Similar to God's speech to Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of this earth…when all the morning stars sang together and the children of God shouted for joy?" i.e., "Whose creation are you? Who has planned your life?" Only God creates life and gifts creation with life; only God can be trusted to fulfill life. After wrestling down by the riverside with the messenger of the LORD, Jacob is so changed he no longer imagines he can do anything on his own. Now Jacob trusts God, now Jacob trusts life is gift, life is grace! And both Jacob/Israel and God "win!" Our own home is in the fallen-ness as well as in the bounty of this created world. From our own struggles in the world, from our wrestlings with our own demons and with ourselves, our debilitating struggles with others' demands, expectations and definitions of us, just like Israel we finally signify our inability to sustain ourselves and are overwhelmed by grace. Like Jacob, we're disimagined of our own self-sufficiency, of imagining – imaging – we can be self-generated. The judgment, and the hope of the creative, redemptive, sanctifying Word is that we are not alone. That Word points us in the direction of Christ alone, the at Once risen and Crucified Once. Jesus shows us that our Creator makes Shekinah, dwelling-place with us. Jesus shows us that the Kingdom, Heaven, Salvation, Wholeness is within us and among us.

This is about Baptism!!!!!

Also, "The Ark," from Gerry Rafferty’s City to City, (1978)

See, the dark night has come down on us,
The world is living in its dream,
But now we know that we can wake up from this sleep,
And set out on the journey…
We’ll take the road that leads down to the waterside…
We’ll meet out on the water,
Where all strangers are known
The truth is there to set you free…

"River" so often in Scripture is boundary, border or barrier – for Israel, the Jordan was all three. As it was for Jesus, as it is for us. The early Church always baptized in the flowing water of a river. River of Life. The River of Life flowing from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. And what is the Throne of God? The Cross is God's Throne! As Christians we consider baptism so much more than a "little ritual." For Christians, baptism is a mighty Act of God. Maybe I've paraphrased J├╝rgen Moltmann's describing baptism as "sign, witness, representation and illumination of the Christ Event?" Paul says we’re baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection, marked with the sign of the cross and the sign of the empty tomb. Baptized we wear the marks of crucifixion and of resurrection. But paradox – the Christ Event is both finished and not yet. I wrote about the Eucharist as commemoration, realization and anticipation. Baptism is the same. Baptized into Christ, into Jesus' death and resurrection, which also is our own first death and second birth, we again experience the freedom and choice A-dam claimed as his birthright as the Creator's creation when he left the paradisiacal Eden. We are home where we always can be the persons God created us to be, connected with the Source of Life. Anew God names us, sharing our new name in common with our sisters and brothers. We baptize within the context of the gathered community, which represents the whole People of God. Baptism is the gift of life for which the recipients needs do nothing, though both sacraments demand human participation. Our new family: no longer strangers as the waters of the baptismal river embrace us all. Now we claim all the separations, distinctions and distractions that once were barriers as the boundary and border of our new life together!

Just as in baptism, in the unity and commonality of the eschatological Eucharistic feast, Jesus, as God's representative, gathers everyone. If Jesus, the host at the table, invites everyone without prejudice, who can be excluded? Only those who choose to exclude themselves. Jesus truly is present at the table, both as host and within and among his gathered people. Who are Jesus' people? Everyone. Not a single exception. Only those who choose to exclude themselves are excluded but I trust that ultimately, the free and gracious gifts of the Christ who promises to draw all to himself will prove irresistible.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

ideas.

You asked for some of my ideas: 'theological, emotional, experiential and spiritual?' I've already written 'theological,' and for me – to an extent – those other parameters are similar to the theological. And I've apologized for nearly always thinking biblically and theologically! The confessions ramble through my mind, too ... but back to your question. Emotional and experiential memories raise a firestorm with me! Jesus: 'this [bread] is my body, take and eat; this cup is the new covenant in my blood.' Then Paul, of course! 'As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until his coming again.' Because for Paul, Christ Jesus always is at one and the same time both Crucified and Risen, when we proclaim the Lord's death we also proclaim his rising. The Bible's God is, above all, God of Life and God of the Living. As central as the cross is to Christianity, isn't the empty tomb as definitive for us – and at times far more challenging – for our response and witness as the baptized People of God? Even more decisive than our sometimes less-than-willingness to embrace our own deaths? As the people of God our faithfulness is in our spoken kerygma and, especially, in the acted kerygma of our lives, in our bodily and lively, 'life-ly' proclamation.

Here are some ideas:

• bread = body

• Body that is raised

• Christ's body = revealed in the breaking of bread / body

• Church = Body of the risen Christ

• Bread / Body = nourishing

• Body / Church = nourishing the world, especially the stranger, the outcast and the ‘other’

• Church / reveals Christ’s crucified body = in its redeeming brokenness

• Church / reveals the Christ's risen body = in its liberating wholeness


That's not very emotional or experiential yet, but it's a beginning!