Monday, May 31, 2004

Living in Mission 6

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh on Amazon

Missionary Congregation Chapter 3

Chapter 3: Toward a Missionary Ecclesiology

missionary congregation cover
In this concluding chapter Pastor Roxburgh considers the leadership of the church in a time of liminality, which requires leaders whose identity is formed by the tradition rather than the culture. It also requires leaders who listen to the voices from the edge. This is where the apostle, the prophet, and the poet are found.
Pastor Roxburgh definitely is not talking about business models and parallels in this chapter!

I love this chapter, too! :) I'd like to mention a few of Pastor Roxburgh's ideas:

"...marginality is the church's reality." "...leaders whose identity is formed by the tradition rather than the culture." But he doesn't explain how the tradition has formed the identity of those leaders. "Poets are the articulators of experience and the rememberers of tradition." Imaging and symbolizing! I also need to quote, "...they are cries that long to be connected to a Word that calls them beyond themselves into a place of belonging that God gives within a people." "The alternative community...is formed as the prophetic word addresses the pained recognition of our liminality."

Regarding pastor as prophet, Pastor Alan says, "Without this other Word, the community turns its pain into the ghetto experience of marginalization rather than the recognition that it exists for the life of the world."

Regarding Bible study, he perceptively observes, "...we are a culture that believes that if something has been studied, then it has been done." Oh, how true! :(

Living in Mission 5

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh on Amazon

Chapter 2c, Liminality: A Model for Engagement (pp. 43-56)

missionary congregation coverIn this section Pastor Roxburgh claims The authenticity of the gospel and the church is recovered by those who, rather than being at the center, are functioning on the periphery. And, The continued assumption of cultural symbols of power and success will only produce an inauthentic church with little gospel, much religion, and no mission.
The new pastoral symbols of "credibility and identity in a society that has declassified the pastoral identity." On page 47 Pastor R reminds us, "The biblical tradition emphasizes God's dealings with us from the underside." Amen!!!!! Liminal assumes the re-assumption of the situation of prior "normalcy"; liminoid means there will be no returning to the normal we used to have, the normal that once was our "possession" to engage and exploit. There's massive loss of meaning with the liminoid, as well :( :( :( Liminal is collective; liminoid is individual. Hearing God from a place of strangeness. But that no one that no one can live as a stranger, no one can live without a home for very long without disintegration of their total place - social, cultural, familial, economic, whatever - is such a certainty. This is fascinating, and again resonates so completely with my own "individual" experience of loss and what felt like disintegration some years ago a I wrote about on this in section 4 regarding chapter 2b. BTW, again I finally experienced the faithfulness of our God Whose answer to dyings and death always is resurrection! :) Emerging from those years I finally realized how very changed I was and how I'd never be able to return to anything resembling my former place and "status," since in the process God had changed me in a multitude of ways.

"Communitas suggests the formation of a new peoplehood, the constitution of a new vision for being a group." And, Pastor Alan describes early Christianity as, "...a distinct and peculiar people with a strong sense of belonging to one another." Wow, would that we could be described that way! But then again, both communitas and liminality can lead to over-spiritualizing the church's life and mission, which definitely is one of the things I most constantly decry :( Pastor R says, "The captivity of the church is so deep and pervasive, the church's own symbols so fundamentally co-opted, that at present it is difficult to imagine how these symbols can engage our culture in a way similar to the early church." Earlier we discussed the migration of our central symbol, the cross, and in this section we've read how the symbol of "pastor" has become disengaged from its former "place." We know how fundamentalist Christianity has co-opted the Spirit-breathed dynamism of the biblical witness and turned its words that point to Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, into lists of dry propositions...and the examples are endless.

"...in both liminal and liminoid places the group is removed from prior sets of symbols and relationships." And, "...prior sets of symbols and...classification...no longer hold." Significantly, Victor Turner says play no longer is possible with the corporate organizational forms our denominational judicatories have been employing - it's all been completely rationalized and bureaucratized, even when we run with local polity? Yes, even then. :(

It seems to me a lot of that society out there and too much of the churches in here have become designerized, as well, and I believe we can connect the local, regional and national church's preoccupation with business models as part of this designerization. Here I'm mainly referring to those church bodies that identify themselves as being of somewhat mainline persuasion. I don't remember where, but recently I read that combining the terms "Church" and "mainline" is a total contradiction. :(

Living in Mission 4

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh on Amazon

Chapter 2b, Liminality, A Model for Engagement (pp. 33-42)

missionary congregation coverI didn't remember what "symbol migration" was, and I believe the example of the cross becoming cutesy jewelry is apt: the salvific and reconciling Christ event has become so much about "me" and "my" rather than being about the called-out covenanted community. I know several people who always wear a cross but, so far as I'm aware, never, ever attend church. Symbol migration, and in the migration eventually the original meaning gets completely lost, but then the symbol often assumes a new meaning.

For another personal example, some time ago I unwillingly left my "tried and true" – literally my identity – and spend a very long time indeed in what at first I knew must be a liminal situation in which God would act mightily in my life and world to renew and reshape me, but then after far too much time had passed, not only did none of the old explanations work: no new ones that made a modicum of sense came to me. By now it's become close to clear to me that I may never have a reasonable explanation for those years.

Pastor Roxburgh strikingly observes (page 38): "...it is not marginalization that shapes our context but a liminality without center points from which to gain perspective or meaning." He also claims, "The church's understanding of its changed social location will determine its praxis." Back to structure as a conscious awareness and recognition.

Pastor R reminds us the church building – the church structure – was a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary. It used to be known that God's "social location" was inside the culture; in covenantal theology we affirm wherever God meets the people is holy, sacred ground, "sanctuary." In biblical – in covenantal – terms, it is God indwelling the people, it is God's encounters with the creation to which Godself so passionately has "attached" Godself (remember Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama?) that sanctifies life.

New inside: the secular; new outside: the religious. Interesting!

Finally, the "resymbolization" and professionalization of church leadership, as it became and continues becoming yet another priesthood with all of the occultisms, rituals, secrets, insignia, gnoses - and bureaucracies - associated with all of those other royal priesthoods...remember the Jerusalem Temple? 2c is about "Pastoral Identity and Liminality!" Is that :) or is that :( ?

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Living in Mission 3

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh

Missionary Congregation Chapter 2

Ch. 2a: Liminality, a Model for Engagement (pp. 23-33)

missionary congregation coverIn chapter 2 Pastor Roxburgh explores Victor Turner's book-length essay on liminality, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, (Cornell University Press, 1969) as a framework to help us understand the church's experience.
The concept of liminality usually is applied to rites of passage and involves the stages of dissolving the old status and structure or identity, experiencing a ritual than changes one’s identity and then reintegrating into the group in a new status.
Pastor Roxburgh uses the Mertonian concept of structure as a conscious awareness and recognition: important for this chapter. In a liminal state the group - and I'd add the individual - has been removed from its former identity, from its embeddedness in social structures. He observed how in preindustrial societies the liturgical rites of passage "channel the anxiety and ambiguity" and the outcome of a formal and foreordained rite of passage is predictable and foreseeable, that in itself mitigating a lot of anxiety; we have no such liturgies to compensate for our own anxieties about the liminalities in our own individual lives and in our churches! Page 31: "The margins, therefore, become the place most characterized by the sacred." In the desert Israel first rendezvoused with Yahweh, and the desert frequently becomes the place of our meeting God and of self-encounter, as well. For us as Christians, baptism is our primal liminal experience. As we enter the waters, should we be prepared to drown? Yes! And equally prepared to be surprisingly raised from that death by drowning!

On a somewhat different subject, for some time "The Church" was simply CHURCH in a generic, more-or-less comfortably socially expected and validated way, but during those years it wasn't truly manifest as the Church of Jesus Christ. These days "Church" often seems to be equated with Religious as opposed to Worldly…or whatever, but your describing "The Secular World" as buzztalk for some kind of, any kind of "fluid, ever-changing" experience fits well: IOW, if it's not religious it's secular?

Our discussion moderator asked,

do you remember - really remember - your own experience of puberty? Did you have anything like a rite of passage during those tumultuous years?
Yes, sometimes clearly and sometimes in a haze I remember...I could write about a lot of people, places and events, but for me the primary adult-ing experience in my life definitely was getting my first job and earning my own $$$! Surprisingly, I don't remember the first time I drove alone, but my first car was important, too, and the financial responsibility so freaked me out I paid it off in a little over half the term of the loan :( :) Also regarding the car, the first time I passed another vehicle on the freeway was a tremendous high that really made me feel adult! First steady BF (though I don't recall my first date), first solo piano recital I played. Regarding the exterior and interior changes that happened to me as a result, I need to think this through.

Living in Mission 2

The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh

Ch. 1b, Marginalization, Modernity and Loss of Center (pp. 12-22)

missionary congregation coverChapter 1b almost totally has blown some of my old answers and assumptions sky-high! Jeremiah's charge to "seek the welfare…" long has been a favorite for me in terms of my own propensity to feel unsettled by change and uncertainty, my own frequent longings for the glories (indeterminate and specious comforts?) of Egypts past and most of all in my need to engage the people I'm currently serving in exploring visions of an open future rather than reverting to a desiccated past.

Pastor Roxburgh begins this section with, "The church's lived experience is marginalization," but then he says center-margin language is obsolete and also cites the contemporary Spirituality Smorgasbord. And then he says a possible center-periphery relationship may exist between urban and non-urban, though he claims that [urban] center itself has no margins. This is fascinating and highly thought-provoking! :) and brings us back to the tendency to equate modernization with urbanization. Remembering Max Weber and "rationalization," too. Once again, the "new social location" where the churches find themselves and maybe can be found; I assume he'll be saying more about that and helping us to learn about it.

The symbol of "pastor!" Those old-timer church folks for whom the person they address simply as "Pastor" actually is a completely interchangeable anonymous entity and, truth to tell, is a "symbol!" rather than a real person.

Oh, yes…even baptized into "one's own kind," (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, whatever) rather than into a wholly inclusive eucharistic commonality with no barriers to fully belonging. "Privatized and personalized" keeps surfacing! :(

On page 20 Pastor Roxburgh mentions "growth, marketing and entrepreneurial leadership" models. That passage brought back vivid memories of the senior pastor I served with in the inner city reproving me often and telling me time after time I could not "afford" to spend so much time with people who wouldn't become part of our parochial report: he'd forever remind me "Cleveland looks for numbers." :( His words annoyed me mightily, but since my call (=livelihood, what I imagined was my very physical existence) was externally funded (I could trace back most of the $$$ I got to Cleveland as their origin), I'd heed his words for at least a few days, until the next incident. In addition, the senior pastor I was serving with informed me more than once :( "The Church must emulate business, [and business does the following...]" :(

Living in Mission

During late summer and early fall 2003, I took part in an online discussion of Alan Roxburgh's book, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh. Pastor Roxburgh is a working pastor, and the book was replete with thought- and action-provoking ideas, so I'd like to post a few of the author's ideas here on my blog plus some of the ideas I had in response to this book. It's a thin, trim volume with three short chapters, so I'll write separately on each chapter. Since today we're celebrating the Feast of the Spirit, Pentecost, I'll start right now.

Missionary Congregation Intro and Chapter 1

missionary congregation coverChapter 1a page 12): "Marginalization, Modernity, and Loss of Center"

Oh, I love Pastor Roxburgh's saying "...we are faithfully to indwell the gospel in a culture that has disembedded itself from that tradition." To incarnate the gospel! At first I wasn't clear on what he meant by the locale of the church, but a couple of sentences later he says "social location," so that's probably what he means; I'd also point out the day of the big downtown First Church buildings and congregations in their early-to mid 20th century form is over and the real church, large, small and medium-sized, has different social, cultural and physical loci and foci these days.

Marginalization presupposes a center and a periphery. So true, and the reminder's helpful to me. The church's marginalization essentially was its "separation from the public sphere." "Christendom" had a "specific kind of theology..." Well, I am so glad the "Christendom church" no longer exists! :) In many ways, those big downtown First Churches were manifestations of a Christendom, the kind of socially established religion you were expected to "learn" if you were growing up in the mid-20th century. Pastor Roxburgh cites Christianity's shift to a "private, individualistic center."

Colin Gunton says, "Modernism…has displaced God as the focus for the unity and meaning of being…" To paraphrase Abram Joshua Heschel's words: God, the Shekhinah, is an outcast, God is in exile...we all conspire to blur all signs of God's presence.
  • marginalization of the church;
  • humiliation of the church
  • disestablishment of the church
What's happening, or, what I hope has been happening, is that Jesus Christ truly is becoming the center of the churches: Christ Jesus, the Human One, with no place to lay his head, who "pitches a tent" among the people and who is the manifestation of the God who declares Godself a stranger and a sojourner with the people, traveling with the people wherever the Spirit leads, rather than in a remote house of brick and mortar. Since the church is the body of the risen Christ (esp in its expression as a local church), that church needs to live with the insecurity (in human terms) of a somewhat peripatetic life and mission, "locating" itself in the location of the need. The church's verbal proclamation and its lifestyle will remain markedly different from the established society's mainstream, thereby implicitly identifying it as a marginal "not-like-us!" However, the biblical witness is an extremely earthy and earthbound one, and we who are created of both spirit *and* of flesh need a physical place to call home! I've previously mentioned First Mariners, my first church home. The congregation was part of an American Baptist city mission endeavor, with the entire diverse project housed in a sizable brick building. But we had a sanctuary room where we typically worshiped, with old-fashioned, lined-up pews, a l-o-o-o-n-g and welcoming communion table featuring a cross, a somewhat out-of-commission 2-manual tracker organ and the grand piano we generally used for leading the music for our worship events.

Another digression: in one of my classes we had an assignment to design the absolutely essential physical structure for a local church, any local church, and my solution was by far the most minimalist: I said the church needs a gathering place, which needs to include a table, a font and a place of the Word. And, I said the community needed a distinctive name...I do not care for all those "First Church" designations at all! Since these days whenever possible I like to preach from the aisle, I might say an ambo is optional, though I still appreciate its symbolic value, and some lectors are uncomfortable if they don't have something to hide behind when they're reading.

Blog note: a while ago I posted about these worship essentials but neglected to explain the ambo was more symbolic for me than it was anything else. Now I'd insist on windows open to the world (ok, in a cold or rainy climate looking out at the world which could be looking in on the gathered assembly) and I might even be OK with a cross as well.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Regarding the Left Behind Series


On the United Church of Christ online forums someone started a thread on the Left Behind book series. So I decided it might (or might not!) be expedient for me to post my ideas on the books here on my blog; here's what I wrote on the message boards:

[Last night] I wrote a post about this series but then thought better and cancelled it, since for some obscure reason I feared being de-posted, but now, in the wake of Mark's saying theological pornography I'll go for it.

To echo another post, I'd written "the whole series is based on..." a completely de-formed theology and horrifically unscriptural and non-Pentecostal, in the broadest sense of Pentecostal, ecclesiology. Un-sacramental, as well.

God calls us to live out our baptism into Christ Jesus' death and resurrection as crucified and risen people, within the created order, and to imagine the church would be spirited away and out from the world when the world is going through the time of its greatest tribulation is, indeed, ob-scene to the utmost.

Not only is the Left Behind reading of Revelation horrendous theology; it wrecks the symbolism, as well, by placing it in whatever *our* own day and time is rather than in the reign of Rome's Domitian. But in general my biggest problem with the theology of the series is its portrayal of a triumphant and out-of-this-world church rather than one suffering in-this-world, which is a church that claims the cross and one in which our free and elusive God in Christ is both hidden and revealed, just as in the cross of Calvary's Good Friday. I agree that all creation is elect, but God elects us to be servants to one another and to the world, and to respond to God's call sometimes carries a high price in terms of what might be our own personal preferences and "druthers."

On another note, in Revelation I so love the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, the new city or *civilization* of God, with its images of the River of Life and the Tree of Life with its leaves that heal the nations, the peoples.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Biblical Authority

This time Anita van Ingen emailed me:
Hi. I'm a reader of your blog, but let me qualify that. I have not been reading many blogs lately because of a retreat from my spiritual journey, and now, I have many unanswered questions.

If you would, blog or think about what it means when we say the Bible is inerrant.


First, although I have a high view of scriptural authority, I don't consider the Bible inerrant or error-free either in terms of the actual text or as to the text's explicit or even implicit meaning. These days I usually tell people,

"I have a very high view of the Bible as a Divine Word (=a Word from Heaven) and I have an equally high view of the church's scriptures as a human word (=from this created earth), with all the ambiguity that implies."

With Martin Luther I agree although the biblical witness informs us and transforms us as individuals and as a church, with Luther I also agree all parts of scripture definitely aren't equal in value, and we need to discern the *GOSPEL* - "what preaches Christ" - in both the Old and New Covenant scriptures, and we need to separate out a whole lot of not-essentials and un-essentials from that Christocentric core. To say the same thing in slightly different words, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, is the supreme interpreter of the written, recorded word of God.

Despite my high view of the Bible's authority...

I'll again insist, not the Bible, but Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, is our final authority, the ultimate interpreter of the written word of scripture, so in Christ our biblical authority is dynamic: still-living and still-speaking!

Since you've been reading my theology blog and maybe my other blogs too, you realize I'm a theologian so I think like a theologian, meaning (for me!) I think theologically 24/7! But because I'm a practicing, committed Christian as well, baptized into Good Friday and into Easter Dawn, when I'm reading scripture devotionally or practically, I need to get beyond "What did this mean then?" and ask "What does this mean now," and, "is this passage a Word from Heaven for me and my world? Does it summon me to action? Or maybe not?" And of course I need to ask that responsible and sometimes even a bit over-responsible human, "WHY? . . . is this my answer?!"

Anita, thanks so much for asking this question!

Friday, May 21, 2004

Living Baptized

Living baptized: a few more notes

At all times God yearns for us to live in faithful and non-exploitative relationships with everyone we encounter and every person and creature with whom we live out our lives in ministry (by "lives in ministry" I'm referring to all baptized persons). And again, God doesn't seek for people to assume material poverty but just distribution and faithful use of all of creation's bounty is God's call to each of us. The connotation of Shalom, that fullness of salvation we yearn for and aspire to help make transpire in this world, essentially means everyone will have enough and no one will have excess of anything.

Obedience in a liberated world, or more accurately, a world that imagines it's liberated because any world or any person truly is unfree if not in Christ. For now I'll simply say I agree about following Jesus' examples of obedience-modeling by modeling obedience rather than attempting to define it for others. It's too easy to be judgmental and critical and too many times I've heard other people (Christians and non-, people who know me or whomever they're talking about) doing their most intrusive best to tell others where God is leading them and what they're supposed to do...

Do we not all agree theologically when we all claim Jesus' sovereignty? Do I believe Christ Jesus is the only "Way?" Absolutely! But at the same time, as I said a week or so ago, I trust all creation is born, lives, dies and rises in the overwhelmingly inclusive Christ Event, so ultimately not only every human one but every single aspect and every bit of every creature created ultimately will be included in the complete, finished redemption and liberation of all.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Thursday

First, evangelism as sacrament. We know it's not about the signs and the wonders (after all, even the gods of the Egyptians were highly adept at doing signs and wonders and even some of us ordinary, average human types are pretty good at fabricating illusions) but our scriptures - and Jesus! - are clear it's ultimately about the sacrament, about the constant, unmediated, unqualified presence of God and the evidence thereof, absolutely everywhere, absolutely all the time. And since we're Christians, "little Christs" we're called to be part of that sacramental evidence of God-among-us and God-with-us.

"All Nations," since Jesus commanded us to evangelize the world: we have the complete "7" in the 7 Pauline churches, the 7 churches in Revelation: the whole, entire, known inhabited world! So we need to be "ecumenical" in the broadest and best sense of the word! Every single church of whatever denomination literally is supposed to be a "church of God in Christ" and each of us essential members of that church.

Of course, those baptizers-among-the crocodiles in The Poisonwood Bible probably didn't realize baptism really isn't effective fire insurance; it's a *sign* and symbol of God's salvific action in Christ.

"...in the context of the Great Commission," baptizing *them* in he name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost...though I'll be thinking about it, right now I'll say it means incorporating them into the history, the covenants and the reality of earthbound living that's also life in the Spirit right here and now, Pentecostal living. Baptism calls us to creativity, to mercy, love and justice and to freedom and re-creation, a three-fold expression of the sacramental (communion-like, as in Holy Communion) our living baptized into Good Friday and Easter Dawn! I've mentioned somewhere that Walter Brueggemann says Holy Communion is "pre-Eucharist," sometimes with a greater sense of really and truly actual presence.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Romans 8 again!

This past week I reread (one of) Krister Stendahl's classics, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, in which he primarily argues that in writing to the church at Rome, Paul wasn't concerned with that assumed protestant works/faith dichotomy, but instead Paul's emphasis on justification by faith alone - sola fide - "...was...for the very specific and limited purpose of defending the right of Gentile converts to be full and genuine heirs of the promises of God to Israel." (page 2) Having noted that, this time I want to post another note on Romans 8, not part of the more general overview but regarding Stendahl's interpreting/translating Romans 8:26-27
8:26In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don't know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can't be uttered. 8:27He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit's mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God. NIV
26. Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don't know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. And he who X-rays our hearts understands the Spirit's approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God. from The Cotton Patch Version of Paul's Epistles

...as evidence of glossolalia! I'll quote Pastor Kris a few more times regarding Romans 8. First from page 111, "He [Paul] has spoken of how in the cultic cry of 'Abba! Father!' the Spirit bears 'witness with our spirit that we are children of God' (8:16)" Then, "He speaks of how we groan with the whole of creation as we wait for the redemption to take place...This groaning...places us in a position of weakness. But now the groaning takes on another connotation. There is an unspeakable sound in the church that is not human pain and longing but of the Spirit. The unspeakable groan of glossolalia is that of the Spirit interceding for the saints." Continuing, "Thus...the gift of glossolalia is not a sign of spiritual accomplishment [but] the gift that fits into his experience of weakness. Further on in this section, which is almost at the end of the book, Dr. Stendahl discusses the famous 1 Corinthians 12 passage and then later on Acts 2, which he explains as a different type of glossolalia, a different expression and exploitation of speaking in tongues: intelligible glossolalia versus the tongues-speaking referred to elsewhere and that required interpretation to be understood.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Romans 8 notes


Life in the Spirit, Part I Romans 8:1-17

from Romans 8, Cotton Patch Version:*

"...no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!"

1. There is, then, no charge outstanding against those who are in (wedlock to) Jesus Christ. For the Spirit's law of new life in Christ Jesus released you from the chains of the law of sin and destruction.

"...the glorious liberty of the children of God!"

16-21. The Spirit himself sings out with our spirit that "WE ARE GOD'S CHILDREN." And if we are his children, we are also his heirs. If, indeed, we are his heirs, then we are Christ's fellow heirs--provided, of course, that we identify with his suffering in order to join in his reward. For I figure that the sufferings we are enduring can't hold a candle to the splendor that's going to become evident in us. In fact, the fondest dream of the universe is to catch a glimpse of real live sons of God. For the universe is in the grip of futility--not voluntarily, but because someone got control of it—and it is hoping against hope that it will be emancipated from the slavery of corruptness into the marvelous freedom of being the children of God.

*Clarence Jordan, The Cotton Patch Version of Paul's Epistles: A colloquial modern translation with a Southern accent, vigorous and fervent for the gospel...A Koinonia Publication. New York, Association Press, 1968

Here's some of Scott's stuff:
  • CE 49: Claudius (of Masterpiece Theatre's I, Claudius, not Sesame Street's Me Claudius) ordered all the Jews out of Rome, so the Roman Church became exclusively gentile; later on, Jews going into Rome experience an all-gentile church. Paul wanted to disimagine those gentiles of some of their arrogance! As contrasted with his letter to the Galatians, which Paul wrote to the gentile judaizers, he wrote Romans to Jews.
  • Backtracking to Earl Palmer's ideas about Romans 3:
    our lives are filled with a "turbulent line" and we spend our lives trying to fill that turbulent line with meaning. Yes!
According to Palmer, Paul's solution of life in the Spirit has 3 points:
1. In Christ, we've bowed twice:
1. in admission of sin – humility;

2. in gratitude for life in Christ Jesus

2. We have God's assurances - this is absolutely, entirely and completely anti-despair: Jesus Christ is enough, and God's activity in our lives always will be age appropriate and journey appropriate.
3. We are bonded to Christ and (therefore) free: "bound yet free!" A person set free (John 8:36) to serve as a bondservant of Christ the Servant.

***To illustrate the boundaries interrelationship, Earl Palmer uses kite imagery***

From one of the poems Scott read:

Bruce Barton Bailey, "I Am The Kite"

I am the kite …
But my mistake was not to take the wind for granted
But the cord that tensioned me to the one I did not see so far below
The flyer is not me
Lord give me an anchor, give me pause.
Let me know in freedom's limited flight, the kite's first cause.
Here's a spinoff version "The Truth of the Kite," by the illustrious anonymous:
The other kites are flying free, but I am tangled in a tree.
My heart crying with despair, will I ever be up there ...
The future for me seems so dim.
God has been healing, but it takes so long
And the gale wind forces seem so strong. ..
Will I, will I ever be up there with the other kites flying free.
Able to trust the breeze and string, able to trust God in everything.
Life in the Spirit, Part II Romans 8:18-27

A couple more verses from the Cotton Patch Version:

26. Similarly, the spirit also helps us out in our weakness. For example, we don't know beans about praying, but the Spirit himself speaks up for our unexpressed concerns. 27. And he who X-rays our hearts understands the Spirit's approach, since the Spirit represents Christians before God.

justified / righteousness

God is holy; we are unholy

Life lived in the Holy Spirit is the answer to this total crisis of humanity; here are Earl Palmer's points 4, 5 and 6:

4. Destiny boundaried by hope with the com-panionship of the HS, literally "with bread," as intimate as sharing a meal!: death is not the ultimate boundary!
5. We live in God's pre decision of Jesus Christ
6. We live in God's unshakable love

* All creation will be set free - exactly what I've recently been thinking and writing about
* Teilhard de Chardin hoped to continue his research in heaven (sounds like me, as well)

Romans 8:26-27 Holy Spirit is our com-panion, therefore we can live as real, authentic Christians:
  • constant companionship
  • constant translation of our prayers
  1. In Christ Jesus God has acted to save the world: Jesus is God's great predecision
  2. God will do something good, in my favor, in my life: God "recycles" the bad into the good: Scott said, "God picks clean the bones of our experience…to build up our lives and the lives of others, a work of art." Everything is "grist for God's plan."
We live in the unshakable love of God:
  • God is for us!
  • God is for us!
  • God is for us!
  • God is for us!
Therefore, it is well with our souls. What is separating me from God? Tether myself to the HS! Recalling Harold Friedell's hymn, "Draw us in the Spirit's tether."



A long time ago I preached on Romans 8:18-27, and called my sermon "Play and Creation." Here are a few of my ideas:
The games, toys, rituals - and worship - of people reveal a lot about them. Whether it's an adjacent neighborhood or someplace far away, by observing and participating people's rituals and games we can learn about people's values and their social structures, and about their dreams and fantasies. Rather than being "just pretend," a lot of children's play and much of adult play actually and actively creates a new and different world from our everyday one, a world that is self-contained but that still coexists with and within the "real" world. ...

When we play, we live almost entirely within the present. The content of play and of games helps us forget guilt, sorrows, and disappointments from the past, as well as anxiety about the future. When we're playing we're probably most ourselves, because we're living most fully in the present, just as God created us to live.

In Hebrew history past events were remembered and talked about as if they were still in the present, and the past acts of God gave Israel confidence about the future and willingness to continue in covenantal partnership with God, open and responsive to the present; because they knew about the past and faced the future with a living hope. We know Israel didn't live that way all of the time, any more than we do. But they're a useful example for us because of the vivid contrast between the times they lived as God's people and the times they didn't.

One way Israel kept remembering the past so it would remain present was with rituals, celebrations and liturgies. Within a context that was play more than it was anything else, Israel told and retold the story of the people's experience with the God of the covenants. ... Like Israel, when we worship we remember who God is, who we are, how God has acted. We affirm our dreams and we announce our hopes for the future. Not only is much of our liturgy in the present, like play - it also creates a new and different self contained world existing with and within our everyday world.

Like play, and like our dreams, our worship ends the division between material and spiritual that we so often make. In worship, dreams begin to become reality. Just as Jesus resembles, represents, and reveals God, we become images of God when we play, when we dream, when we worship. We become people who live fully in the present; we become creative, responsive, and responsible. ... Being a Christian means living in the interplay between two worlds, just as Jesus lived. What we are now is far from our potential, but as God's children we will be completely free and alive without constraints some day, and our playful attitudes and our liturgies are the first fruit, the guarantee that finally we will end up in God's image, since it is God's indwelling Spirit that makes possible our play, our dreams, our celebrations.

A highly familiar idea from the Good Book: the image of humans created in God's image. And still further, one of our God's becoming human in Jesus Christ. God in Jesus Christ gave us a dream of a whole, healed, reconciled world, a world at peace and at play, and challenged us to make it our dream, to set the dream in motion and make the new heaven and new earth reality.

Finally, it is not only we who will be free, but all of creation will be liberated and whole, because God includes all creation everything - in the plan of redemption. So each of us and all of us can wait expectantly for that time in which all of life becomes play for every one of us!

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Authority

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Marian exclaimed:

ALL authority in heaven and on earth? yikes! what happened to checks and balances??? ...

Yes, ALL authority because Christ Jesus is the creative Word through which everything in existence was made, the redemptive Word and the ascended, sovereign Word from which the Spirit proceeds. Checks and balances? There are none, at least not in the way we humans imagine them, as in the kind of earned justice and just desserts we like to deal in. For many people a lot of the time it's not about human dignity, need and worth but more about earning points vis-à-vis that person's behavior's effect on me! Regarding the authority of the incarnate, risen and ascended Word, we're sometimes not willing to yield to its claim, demands and authority when it dawns on us we're called to lives as crucified and resurrected people: to die and then to let ourselves be raised according to God's design rather than ours...

Jesus' authority...kinda like the law of gravity?!

Well, no, not quite, since Jesus' authority needs to be obeyed to become effective: although I'm not remotely a scientist, I think gravity's in effect here on earth no matter what we do?

Daniel 7:14

13 I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.

14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. NKJV

This passage evokes the Christus Pantocratur ascription from Revelation 11:17:

"We give Thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast, because Thou hast taken Thy great power and hast begun to reign. ..."

But to begin answering:

And I'm still wondering about...how on earth do we obey the authority of Jesus in a corporate way? How do we obey as church? ...IS there any such thing as institutional obedience?

So much to consider! The PC(USA), says the Church is the "provisional demonstration of what God intends for humanity." (Paraphrased, but I think I've got the essence.) They don't say each individual Christian is that "provisional demonstration," but rather they're talking about all of us in our called-together and sent-out bodily corporateness, as local churches, local denominational and ecumenical ministeriums and regional judicatories, trans-national church bodies, too - such as the Lutheran World Federation and the World Communion of Reformed Churches. And this more than just touches on polity issues and questions. What polity is best where and for whom? There's such a plethora of variant answers and opinions to that question, I don't know.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Good Works and Other Good Ideas

Matthew 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

That classic faith/doubt dichotomy in which faith ain't faith except over and against doubt. And the classic about catching fewer flies with vinegar than with honey! Telling each of our individual stories and maybe even surprising the listener with discovering all Christians aren't always all that self-righteous!? It does work well, and even if it doesn't lead to getting another Bible study participant or church member, if usually does lead to dispelling stereotypes and other imaginings about Christians being too good and very out-of-this-worldly.

Back to Back Door Evangelism, with the for instance of inviting people to help with a Habitat house or similar enterprise: that's generally a workable approach and also one that surprises lots of non-church people. Among the stereotypes of Christians and church-goers outsiders frequently hold, one of the most abysmal is Christians aren't interested in anything tangible, physical and truly applicable to an average person's average daily living. A somewhat different aspect of Habitat-type activism (as opposed to more politically-based or more "liberal" social projects) is the way they can be opportunities for cooperative ministry both with ecumenical partners with whom we already do a fair amount of feeding, clothing and housing the hungry and also sometimes worship together (as least on special occasions) but with other groups, as well. When I lived and served in Salt Lake City many Latter-Day Saint wards (local churches) did Habitat, and several CROP-walked with us mostly mainline Christian types. A major highlight was the Adopt an Apartment endeavor. My congregation helped clean, rehab and furnish one of the floors in a 3-story, 3-unit apartment building, while an nearby LDS ward did one of the other floors and a Roman Catholic group the other, and while we were involved in the project we talked together and ate together. It's great to hear people being amazed we're not just into "soul-saving" but into redeeming and reconciling whole lives...

But returning to:

"Does Jesus even *care* how we vote on resolutions that probably won't necessarily be implemented?" I'm so very exhausted by all the talk-filled meetings. The GATT treaty often got called "General Resolution to Talk and Talk!" Talk and more talk is the way of far too many church meetings and I'm tired of having to hear everyone, needing to take the pulse of the group, not offending anyone but not caring whether or not Jesus cares. Maybe you know the prologue of John's Gospel in Spanish?

En el principio existía El Verbo y El Verbo estaba junto a Díos y El Verbo era Díos.

God is a verb, not a noun! However, returning to church meetings, this question is all about how we obey Jesus' authority "in a corporate way." Yes, it is important, because the church is synergistic, as in the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Does "institutional obedience" even exist? Previously I've cited Walter Wink's Powers trilogy and Wink's assertion each institution, each organization, each local church and every judicatory, etc., has its own quasi-independent spirit or "angel," which lives and breathes with a life of its own external of the life of any of its constituent parts.

In *doing* ecology, we're talking about the E-word, *Evangelism* besides, since ecology profoundly is about claiming the Divine image God created us in, and because stewardship of creation is so deeply about the co-creation and re-creation God calls us to as part of our Divinely imaged lives. Ecology's also about seizing the fullness of our humanness, just as Jesus demonstrated and as the Spirit enables. We totally depend on earth's bounty (and on the wellbeing of all of our water supplies) for the existence of the sacraments! All this is about our being Christians, Christ-like, truly "little Christs."

Monday, May 03, 2004

Mission and Evangelism

Matthew 28:19a Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...

Doesn't the Matthew 28:19a "Go!" text belong in the do first, believe as a result category?! Re: "whether we think disciple-making or evangelism is a good idea or not" ...that sometimes belongs in that realm of God's way being different than human ones, though in Jesus, the Risen One who gives us the "Go" command, we see and begin perceiving divine and human thoughts and activities completely in concord. Jesus' authority to tell us what to do comes from One with full knowledge of the heart of God and he knows we'll learn God's heart, too, by acting as God commands us.

We need to view everything about all creation through a sacramental lens. We're baptized into the "corporate" Body of the at once crucified and risen Christ; we meet and recognize the Risen Christ as together we break the whole loaf representing the One born in the Little Town of House of Bread, and it's together we share Christ's presence in the Festival of the Inclusive (ya'll coe now!) Welcome Table as it brings together the labors of many and the produce of the now-redeemed earth:

Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again, pass the Word around: loaves abound! (Fred Kaan, "Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ," New Century Hymnal 347), so our very corporate bodily-ness far outstretches the 6, 25, 50 125 or 500 gathered at that discrete timebound and spacebound eschatological feast. Like everyone I'm often tempted but in no way can any Christian go it alone. Not only can you not baptize yourself: even God, the baptismal actor insists on a representative!

Returning to the called/sent dyad, I'll agree it's never simply called, it's always called and sent, and since without the Spirit there is no witness, in Word, sacrament or action (each being a different expression of the other) both "called" and "sent" are the work of the Spirit; the response is ours, but always in the power of the HS. I completely agree the sacraments are highly political and they're about as subversive as any activity can get. ...This gets back to a few months ago when we said evangelism is one of God's attributes! ...Rick, now the mission field "begins at the church's front door!" Yes, amen! Meaning we need to learn a lot from those we're evangelizing, and not (again) fall into the horror of cultural imperialism guised as Good (not!) News. Beyond each of our various ecclesiastical traditions we need sensitivity to current as well as slowly (and fastly) encroaching local cultural and social concerns and expectations without selling out to them or selling Jesus short.

I trust Jesus sends everyone "out [into the world, whether to their very local neighbors or to a wider geographic area] to preach the good news." With God, word and action are one and the same, and though the HS doesn't call everyone to an officially-authorized and sanctioned (made "holy" by that denominational decision!) ministry of Word and Sacrament in terms of administering the sacraments, writing and preaching sermons or teaching theology, God does call everyone to proclaim the Gospel by living the good news daily with compassion, love and mercy, and God calls some of us to social and political activism and witness, too. You remember Paul called himself an "apostle" because he'd seen the Risen One: prior to that he was *only* a disciple, he explained. With Paul I agree: since we've met the Risen Christ, in whatever outward guise or disguise, people can call us apostles because we are apostles. As Jürgen Moltmann explains Paul, "It's not simply about the discipleship of the earthly Jesus, but also about the apostleship of the risen Christ." To that I'll add we've met the Crucified One, because once again, for Paul, the Gospel is death and resurrection, and for us, as for Paul, Christ Jesus always is both crucified and risen at one and the same time.

Christians cannot be ethnocentric, terracentric or claim any other kind of centricity because God, the Wholly and Holy Other, has crashed all the divisions and boundaries and stereotypes of God-ness by invading human history, living and dying as one of us: not remaining God-centric as the popular image of "God" would have it. God loved creation so and deemed creation to be of such immense magnitude and importance to create humans in the Divine Image and to reconcile all creation (rivers, mountains, prairies, deserts, oceans, cats, turtles, crawly critters (remember the *type* of creation's redemption we find in the covenant with Noah?). You get the idea!

Just as Matthew's saying the nations – the ethnos, "peoples" – will be judged, I believe 19a means we're called and sent to disciple-ize those same peoples who are called to service and compassion for the Christ they meet during their daily walks in the world. But the "make disciples" part of this mandate is more obscure than the "whom." Since I'm convinced all creation is born, lives, dies and is raised to new life in the overwhelmingly inclusive Christ Event, my idea of discipling isn't quite the same as that of some of our more theologically conservative sistern and brethren, but for me it's also about the way of life of all those "nations." How frequently our stewardship of "the mysteries of God" means not explaining what always will remain mystery to us humans but simply proclaiming the Gospel of God-with-us, God-for-us and God-among-us!!!

Freedom Again!

Rick, yes, thank you! Re:

"True freedom needs the confines of healthy boundaries, otherwise it dissolves into nothingness,"

central to the Exodus/Freedom narrative is the Sinai Covenant with its instructive demands about *how* one lives in covenantal community, *how* one lives and worships as the people of God. Not given when Israel existed in Egypt's bondage nor after crossing the River, but during dependence on manna from heaven and water from the rock: despite the seeming wildness, Israel received the law and learned to live fully and worship with integrity on the way to Promised Land freedom. No, law doesn't redeem, law won't *buy back* because it can't, not God’s behavioral (right now I can't think of a better modifier) law, humanly imagined sacrificial law nor our local motor vehicle or real estate regulations or minimum wage...or whatevers. But those laws, codes, policies, regulations, or just plain unwritten "conventions," provide structures within which society can live and function with freedom. And because of that freedom, therefore receive grace. Of course, the *laws* tend to become freighted with senseless addendums, exclusions...