Monday, March 01, 2010

Beyond Guilt

I'm continuing my series of book blogs with Beyond Guilt: Christian Response to Suffering, Expanded and Revised - this edition is © 2000; the previous one was © 1989.

A couple weeks before he left a part-time interim pastorate at a very nearby church, Pastor George Johnson gifted me with a copy of this book; inscription to me was Isaiah 58:10-11:
10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Here's the context: Isaiah 58

beyond guilt coverAlthough the book essentially is about ways to move beyond guilt to scripturally informed, effective social and political action, the insights and techniques are highly applicable to anyone's life as an individual, too. Altogether this is a wonderful resource for almost any kind of church - or synagogue - study group, social action, mission, stewardship or evangelism committee! An individual or group could spend a year or more praying, thinking and working through the two dozen chapters or they could focus on an emphasis that matched their particular interests and needs and run with it for a month or so. Beyond Guilt also would be a wonderful community resource for involving people who don't necessarily identify with a faith tradition but are concerned about the environment and would like to help make changes in effective and lasting ways.

Just as with my other book blogs, I'm including some content I found particularly helpful, hoping my readers may benefit without actually reading the book at this time.

Including afterward and credits, Pastor George divides the book into 5 sections, each with a subjective both/and header:
  • chapters 1-6 Discipleship and Celebration
  • chapters 7-12 Reflection and Discovery
  • chapters 13-18 Feelings and Frustration
  • chapters 19-24 Courage and Action
Each chapter - both title and content - represents a continuum of attitudes and behaviors that aren't necessarily mutually exclusive such as (chapter 3) From Silence to Speech; (chapter 7) From Charity to Justice; (chapter 16), From Certainty to Ambiguity; (chapter 23) From Peace to Peacemaker. George's own reflections open each chapter followed by "Other Voices" from well-known and not so famous people; each Other Voices concludes with a scripture quote sandwiched between concluding ideas for Reflection and Action. I especially appreciate how they range from reading suggestions, group activities and possible political actions. The outstanding bibliography includes about 100 items, mostly books.

On page 27, extracted from Desire of the Everlasting Hills - the World Before and After Jesus by Thomas Cahill, the book reminds us how Christianity's assimilation into Roman imperial power structures "seriously compromised" it, but three other early historical developments were far worse:
  1. its alienation from Judaism
  2. its division into classes structures of clergy and laity
  3. its fragmentation into "three feuding branches"" - Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant
The quote on page 30 from Edvard Hambro, "Politics is the art of making possible tomorrow what seems impossible today" reminds me how all of us need to get out their and learn to artfully, forcefully and also even subtly influence everyone from our nearby neighbors to our selectmen... – select persons – (if we live in New England), local town or city council members to the State House to Capitol Hill in D.C.

Since I'm such a Brueggemaniac, I loved the block of text in the intro to Chapter 6 "From Weeping to Singing"; it comes from Prophetic Voices in Exile by Walter Brueggemann:
Only grief permits newness. ... The very structure of the gospel is an argument that pain felt and articulated in God's heart permits new possibilities in the historical process - the good news concerns God's transformed heart.
On pages 42 - 43 - 44, in chapter 7, "From Charity to Justice", among the commonly understood causes of "poverty, hunger and oppression" Pastor George includes "neo-colonialism, militarism, transnational corporations and especially in the church factors include ten "neglect of" items such as neglect of scriptures, neglect of community, neglect of the prophetic, of economics and neglect of the poor.

On page 68 in chapter 12, "From Caring for Humans to Caring for Creation," there's another truly essential list of mainly misconceptions and untruths that have happened as a result of human(!) anthropocentrism; some examples are imagining natural resources as limitless; the lie that greater "material abundance" improves the quality of life and the idiocy that humans are supposed to use and control nature rather than live as stewards.

How about the very idea of asking good questions, Augustana College professor Murray Haar had learned from his father that "questions are holy." He [Murray Haar] suggested "Send the people home [from church] with a question." Would that work for you as preacher or as listener? (in pages 73-74, in chapter 13, "From Answers to Questions")

In the same chapter on page 77 a Pontius' Puddle cartoon: "Sometimes I'd like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice when he could do something about it." "What's stopping you?" "I'm afraid God might ask me the same question." Let's admit God does keep asking us those same questions... (although I've added the cartoon I've also described it for people who have turned off images or "other" concerns).

the same question

in chapter 14, "From Wealth to Partnership" on page 79, check out this idea and give it a spin:
One can begin with the scriptures. But we must remember that we always bring with us to the scriptures our own situation in life, our attitudes, our experiences and our traditions. So why not begin with the context of the world we live in and the history of where we have come from? It will make a difference in the questions we ask as we study the Bible.
As Pastor George reminds us, the early Christians of Acts 2 did not have a Book of Order or a Small Catechism. I'll add they didn't *even* have the Definition of Chalcedon, the Articles of Faith or the Belhar Confession—not to mention, no Canons of Dort whatsoever! What did the early Christians possess? Memories of Jesus and experiences of God's action and presence in their lives and in the world around them possessed them and drove them to faithful action.

On page 84, chapter 15, "From Despair to Hope," Pastor George suggests that exactly like the exiles in Babylon reading, pondering, reciting, chanting or singing Psalm 137 many of us also can ask "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" (verse 4) millions find themselves exiles in their own country in the midst of "their traditional and familiar people and churches."

Still in chapter 15, on page 85 a list of 7 Hope is possibilities including:
  • Hope is found in the willingness to embrace pain and to express it.
  • Hope is rooted in community and grows as we are present to one another.
  • Hope is found in remaining close to nature and celebrating God's creation.
  • Hope is nurtured through music and the arts.
Amen? Amen!!!

Reflecting on this book, I especially love Pastor George's emphasis on the integrity and redemption of all creation. In the sovereignty of heaven to be faithful means to keep covenant, which means non-exploitive, "I-Thou" relationships with all creation. In many cases keeping covenant usually means staying put for a while, even when the conversations are pointless, the plans are wonky, the behaviors are wacky and the dreams does not cohere. But staying put for how long?

"a wonderful resource for activism and change": my amazon review

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