Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cross Pieces

After spending more time with Water Buffalo Theology by Kosuke Koyama to prepare for the Theology of the Cross series, I finally decided to blog about the book, so here it is—but only sort of!

This noontime was the 5th Theology of the Cross class of 6; the discussions have been wonderful, and my only real regret is that I started out with close to 20 pages of notes and found the amount of information so overwhelming that in the end I just "did something" related to the original outline for each class handout. For the blog at hand I'm using some of my Water Buffalo Theology notes and a few notes from the class handouts I prepared. Actually, I'd figured this would be a good opportunity to prepare for Sunday, because it would be the first of the pair of classes in which we try putting together some of the concepts we've discussed; originally I'd thought to post Saturday evening, but it's now Sunday afternoon! Disclaimer: as I revisit and assess my blogs - and my sermons - I've found the best ones, meaning those I'd "get the most from" if someone else had written them, almost always are those that aren't too tightly argued, leaving space for the HS to insinuate and make inroads. I've been thinking about this blog for too long now, so despite its needing lots of further developing, here it is.

Way back then at UMassBoston in my cultural anthro classes we learned about the concept of the liminal, which can be applied to formal, liturgical rites of passage as well as to a wide range of other social and psychological situations and encounters. Just like when you're on the limen or threshold of a building or room, in life passages and other circumstances there is a stage in space and time you're no longer where you started but not yet at your destination, either. Needless to say, just as with the pictogram depicting crisis as both danger and opportunity, when you're on the limen, there's a possibility of staying stuck neither here nor there and besides, although you have a clue as to what was in your past, you only can imagine what the future holds, making it unsettling at minimum and scary plus at maximum.

Our primary liminality text for anthro of religion was The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure by Victor Turner; one of the books about missiology we discussed on the old UCC forums was The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality by Alan J. Roxburgh.

Regarding the geographically liminal, shorelines, the forest's edge and river's edge, a city's suburbs, the rim of the Central Business District come to mind; try the gates of a gated residential community, too, or for a more optimistic example, the door – or maybe the narthex (in some traditions termed "foyer") – of a cathedral or your local church building. Summer and winter solstice, vernal and autumnal equinox, dusk and dawn are ambiguous times neither here nor there, neither this nor that. We've particularly discussed and I've blogged almost incessantly about baptism as border and boundary between life, death and life, as well as bounded border between the world in the thrall of death and its agents and the resurrected community that in the sovereignty of life serves in the image of its Servant Lord, Jesus Christ. We've talked about the cross of Calvary as "more than atonement; more than God's definitive self-revelation; more than the ultimate example for us to follow" but a transformative reality, the way God initiates the New Creation, City of God and The Way Christ Jesus in the Spirit calls and enables us to follow. Related to this blog title, I'm now imagining the cross as a liminal place. Last week for Class 4 we talked some about God’s action and presence in the sacraments – considered a means of grace – and began imagining ways we can be means of grace in the world around us!

It's common to view the vertical piece of the cross as reaching up to heaven, while the horizontal reaches out to connect us with others--with all creation. Transformative as it ultimately can prove, for sure relationship of every kind is fragile and breaks all too easily. But in any case, at any stage, relating is an inevitably here and now aligned with an invariably not quite yet: on the limen, on the threshold of something different, some new creation, something synergistic: more than you started with and more than simply the predictable sum of the discrete parts!

This noon we specifically asked,

What does the cross mean for each of us as individuals, for this church community, for our nearby neighbors? Contextualizing the sacraments!

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann describes baptism as "sign, witness, representation and illumination of the Christ Event, and" we can claim the same about the Eucharist. We know Jesus Christ as sovereign, prophet and priest; baptized, we participate in that royal, prophetic priesthood. Especially related to those roles, how can our lives signify, witness to, represent and illuminate the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ?

Contextualizing Eucharist

I really like this from today's handout, so here it is again:
Jesus said, "Do this!" Do this liturgical action? Recall Israel and desert manna, enabling God's people to live precariously in the [liminal] wilderness:
  • Bread = nourishing = body that is broken unto death and raised to new life
  • Christ's body = revealed in the breaking of bread/body
  • Church = Body of the risen Christ = nourishing the world, especially the stranger, the outcast and the "other"
  • Church / reveals Jesus' crucified body in its redeeming brokenness
  • Church / reveals Christ's risen body in its liberating wholeness

Water Buffalo Theology—a few notes on a few chapters, with a suggested new version of each chapter title.

Chapter 1: Theological Situations in Asia and the Mission of the Church | theological situations in Southern California and the mission of the church
Jeremiah 4-7

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, "Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce...Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare."

This passage is both the original source of "where you're planted!" and practical, down-to-earth direction for living shalom-ly with self, with neighbor and with stranger.

Paraphrased from my earlier comment: I think all of us will be able together to celebrate a thanksgiving homecoming (after all, isn't homecoming the ultimate thanksgiving?) liturgy within a community gathered not only to perfunctorily and ritually evoke the presence of the risen Christ in Word and Sacrament, but when that gathered people attests to the presence of the Christ in each another: having gone slowly enough to know and to call each others' names, having gotten sufficiently grounded to ignore at least some of the babble of commerce and consumerism, having decided to "seek the welfare of the city" where they are rather than seeking the well-being of their purses and properties: looking outward to the other's interests and inward to an authentic, relational and re-creative self. The "crucified mind" can be as basic as looking to others' interests rather than our own...

Our Christian kerygma tells about our holy God's incarnation into the longitude, latitude and linear time of human history and of a particular culture and the ensuing reality of the death of death itself in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the One we know as the Christ of God. And the same God whose passion from the beginning has been to journey with the people, continues incarnate in the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, and still accompanies the people on their journey in the longitudes, latitudes and linear time of human history and now within many diverse cultures. We proclaim God Among Us in the spatial and temporal liminality of human life and endeavor! At the beginning of class this noon I referred to the book of Acts in passing, and as we left for home, I suggested everyone read Acts during this coming week, or at least turn the pages to remind themselves of the content.

From WBT: Jakarta is as central as Jerusalem and London in the mission of the Risen Lord. Though initially it may sound astounding to make Jakarta or anywhere else "as central as Jerusalem," if the person and work of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ is not for Jakarta just as much as it is for Jerusalem, he truly is not and cannot be Lord of all. One of the class participants, who always is full of great ideas, said he believes that for us, Jerusalem is right here and now.

Chapter 4: The "Efficiency" of the Crucified One in the World of Technological Efficiency | the efficiency of our witness in this world of technology

Rooting the Gospel: the Bible reveals God's attachment to the world of creation to the point of totally identifying with us to the extent of living and dying as one of us: learning and knowing us, creation – God's beloved – so completely as to walk in our sandals. Tevas or flip-flops or thongs or what kind of footgear, these days? Neighborology: our attachment to our neighbors to the extent of walking a while in their shoes, eating the same food or cuisine, working at the same job, being unemployed in the same manner. My identity needs to become translucent and transparent so "I" can get out of the way and see and feel the other. We're talking neighborology, the word about the neighbor!

Chapter 6: Aristotelian Pepper and Buddhist Salt | liturgical excess and low church blandness

Kitchen imagery is exceptionally apt in discussing Christianity, as the Bible is full of references and analogies to common, ordinary, everyday things (material, physical "possessions") and activities. As the author observes and as we all know, real theology is done in the venues and locales where actually people live--we need to begin practicing more and more neighborology! My blog readers know all about my "liturgical excess - low church" subtitle for this chapter, so I'll say no more.

Chapter 12: Cool Arhat and Hot God | Cool Dudes and Hot Jalapeños

This is southern California, where a few days ago I overheard a couple of young guys talking, one saying to the other about 12301298 times worth, "Dude, man, cool, dude!" Funny! God creates in order to have a creation to become passionately - hotly - attached to, so God and God's people live in particularly close attachment to each other. The God we meet in the Bible and in Jesus Christ loves creation enough literally to die for it!

Chapter 18: Three Modes of Christian Presence | Two Versions of the Gospel

WBT's author, Kosuke Koyama, mentions suffering because we're involved with others, involved with the other; suffering because we're involved in neighborology! Participating in the "glory of the crucified Lord"--the same Paul of Tarsus also talks about "the glory of the children of God!" And isn't our glory as God’s offspring also a crucified glory and a risen glory? Exactly what our discussion today was all about!

Possible modes of Christian presence: the geographically, socially, culturally, chronologically, theologically and/or spiritually liminal? Can our presence in the world and in our neighborhoods be a liminal, in the process of becoming, though not-quite-yet one? Partly in our own world and way, partly in theirs, and wholly in the sovereignty of heaven? Encountering each other in the church and our neighbors as Jesus Christ's representatives has got to be crisis-time, in terms of danger and amazing opportunity! About those Gospel Versions--for Paul, the Gospel is death and resurrection!


  1. "...a stage in space and time you're no longer where you started but not yet at your destination, either."

    I like this! It is appropo in regards to Immersion, with the limens being the water's surface! Your WBT notes/comments bring back to mind the "old forums" discussion. I didn't actively participate but lurked along for the ride! Thanks for your sharing your insights friend! --K

  2. +Leah,

    Nice material. Like +Karla, I remember some of this from the old forums.


  3. I have heard a lot about Water Buffalo Theology and am looking forward to reading it...


  4. I love this- so much to take in though I probably need to read it a few times before I can really comment.
    Love the Eucharistic thoughts.

  5. Thanks, everyone! As much as I love to preach, in some ways I enjoy teaching even more, with all its interactive giving and taking and resulting loose ends (or is that "loose ending"?).


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