Saturday, January 30, 2010

biblical perspectives on evangelism

by Walter Brueggemann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe on Amazon.
biblical perspectives coverAfter my recent 4th reading of this tightly focused book, I knew it was time for a blog. Did you know the colonial Americans - some of the antecedents of today's United Church of Christ insisted God acts in history only by covenanting? In scripture we can trace a series of significant covenants from Adam through Jesus, but was not the Divine passion for relationship that engendered creation in itself a covenantal act? Throughout the author emphasizes obedience along with explaining why we need to remember... after all, when we forget the possibility of a free future is all over. (Therefore, I'm making a conscious attempt to remember more clearly, even to revisit the past I've often almost choked on in order to start claiming a freer future for myself and those around me, too.)

Rooted firmly in the Hebrew Bible, in God's loving grace and the possibility of human response, reminding us about ways to be and ways to live as the people of God (=as the Church), just as in many of his other books, Walter Brueggemann emphasizes the importance of the commandments. On page 31 he describes the ten commandments as "the working documents for covenanted community..." on page 68 "covenant is ... a relation which frees each in vulnerability to receive life from the other, to be postured in mutual dependence." The commandments are "...boundaries and limits which define the horizon of covenantal humanity." On page 115: just as earthly parents teach their offspring that which concerns them most, our heavenly parents do exactly the same. "I do suggest, however, that the ten commands turn out to be God's most 'cared for matters.'" And he includes references to his other two non-negotiables: the tithe and the sabbath.

The world is about a multi-faceted "3-stories" of architectural floors or tiers and narrative tales about the lives of people: long-time insiders to the gospel, typical outsiders, and the next generation coming up. In addition, there are three central narrative stories in the salvation story (Heilsgeschichte) that in turn opens us to 3 scenes to the evangelism drama:
  1. God's victory over chaos and death
  2. the announcement of that victory—"gospel"
  3. its appropriation by those who hear the announcement
3 stories are focal and normative and definitive:
  1. the promise made to the [Israel's] ancestors
  2. deliverance from slavery
  3. the gift of the land
WB offers a pair of concrete definitions of evangelism, an activity impacting every aspect of life—personal, public, economic, political... first on page 10 "Evangelism ... is the invitation to re-imagine our lives in these narrative modes." And last, in the conclusion on page 129 "Evangelism ... is an activity of transformed consciousness that results in an altered perception of world, neighbor and self, and an authorization to live differently in that world."

WB brings us a trilogy to illustrate the 3 stories:

1. Joshua 24 "a meeting at Shechem whereby outsiders become insiders"

2. in Nehemiah 8 forgetful at least one-time insider members are "re-tented into the passionate vision of risk and vulnerability that is decisive for the community."

3. ongoing conversation with the offspring of believers/insiders = "children becoming adults." In this [hopefully] dialogue, [page 55]"It is always 'them' and it is always 'us,' always then and now, always there and here, concerning all of this community of telling and listening through time."

That continuing, continuous conversation is because "...in Jesus Christ, God has overcome the power, threat, and attraction of the power of death" and [pages 37-38]"...the continued re-enaction of this dangerous [page 38] news ... is the definitional account of [the church's] life in the world." But what news, news for what? [page 43] "...news for alternative obedience in the world" as we [page 46] "...recover the focal drama of baptism, which is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace" and are summoned [page 47] "From our several enslavements ... to a common, liberated obedience."

Regarding our ongoing need to live faithfully in the twenty-first century, yet possibly concerned that the texts we rely on were transmitted and recorded thousands of years ago, WB reminds us "...all through the Bible the gospel has been exactly and precisely concerned with social relations related to power, goods, and access. Indeed, there is almost no aspect of the biblical presentation of the gospel that is otherwise." [pages 40-41] "The victory of God in our time over this deathly idolatry is hidden from us. ... It is hidden in the cross where it is always hidden, and in all subsequent manifestations of the power of the cross." In his marvelous book The Land, WB explains how the Church has concentrated on covenant to the near-exclusion of the centrality of land in the biblical witness and, without a doubt, in current twenty-first century politics and economics.

Some reasons for us to remember, remember, remember...include
page 78 "If Israel, birthed in liberation [Exodus] and situated in covenant [Sinai], forgets these memories, it will very soon start playing the old power games of Egypt, and start practicing brick quotas again in order to get ahead by the standards of the empire."

page 78 "Everything depends on a live memory. Everything is jeopardized by careless forgetting. Everything ride on remembering and forgetting."

page 79 Jeremiah 2:1-13 Israel did not say, did not proclaim, announce or confess their history with the God who liberated them because they had forgotten the story, the history...

page 82 parallels Deuteronomy 8 || Jeremiah 2

page 82 "And when they forget, they forget the past, they forget Yahweh, they forget themselves, their history, their identity, their faith, their vocation, their raison d'etre."

page 83 "... the Bible is constant in asserting that this terrible ending ... is rooted in the loss of [torah] memory."

page 84 "Remembering is the hard choosing of an alternative present, authorized by a subversive past. When that subversive past is given up, an alternative present is rendered completely unavailable."

page 72: by the time of Nehemiah 8, Israel is a "people of the book." But in the re-texting of Israel in the Festival of Booths "Israel must bodily re-experience and re-enact the memory, recovering its vulnerability in bodily exposure."

parallel to his words on page 75, "This old [torah] text of Israel's memory never exists as authoritative for the community without imaginative interpretation." "people of the interpreted book", on page 97 WB tells us conversation with youth "in a context of unconditional advocacy ... that mediates free grace." [page 98] "The conversation with our young must be persistently interpretive."
Closely related to the near-plethora of existential and situation insecurities in which almost everyone currently finds themselves, I love WB explaining [page 87] how in Nehemiah 8:13-18 "olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm and other leafy trees" make the temporary shelters for Succoth, the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles, granting participants both "exposed homelessness" and "true homefulness". Interesting too, was the experience of the newly-borning people of God with a God who traveled alongside them in a tabernacle, a portable shelter and gospel-writer John (1:14) tells us how incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, God pitches a tent, a tabernacle.

Amidst all this talk about following and keeping the commandments in gracious response to the God Who in Jesus Christ calls us, saves us and sanctifies us by grace, [page 114] Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism, traditional preparation for First Communion with the Ten Commandments, "...for the one with whom the church communes is Lord of the commands. Finally it comes down to that, but it does not come down to that quickly or simply."

The church charges parents and sponsors of a child or children to be baptized to teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed and the Commandments; to bring them to the Services of God's House and Place the Scriptures in their hands. Why? These are some of the ways they can learn, hear and live the story and the stories, make them their stories and remember the stories of the covenanted people of God as they learn the place of their own individual story in the journey of the community. At the services of God's House they celebrate and participate in the Eucharist, God's feast of justice, reconciliation, forgiveness and inclusion for all creation. This is God's manner of making new beginnings that's also a living sign of God's promised end, the eschatological feast of justice and equality, the table of "go and do likewise." They learn to be prepared to forgive and to be forgiven... learning to live every moment "wet behind the ears" again with baptismal water, committed again to Good Friday and to Easter, constantly recovering "...the focal drama of baptism, which is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace" summoning us [page 47] "From our several enslavements ... to a common, liberated obedience."

In his conclusion, WB insists evangelism isn't an ecclesial, a church thing, nor a church agenda—"It is rather an offer that we might be on the receiving end of 'all things new.'"


my amazon review: grace, memory, faithfulness and life

Friday, January 15, 2010

welcoming the stranger

Welcoming the Stranger: a public theology of worship and evangelism, by Patrick R. Keifert.

Welcoming the Stranger is © 1992 Patrick Keifert is professor of systematics at Luther Seminary; this book demonstrates some of his knowledge, insight, experience, and organizational abilities.

welcoming the strangerThe title of the book references "public," and throughout author talks about hospitality. Hospitality is a central biblical theme! Reminders of Israel's and the Church's essential call to welcome the stranger, to make a place for the sojourner at table and at worship weave throughout the book's chapters. Especially for any contemporary congregation wondering how to grow in depth and in numbers, hospitality, welcoming people into our midst, particularly strangers, those apparently not like us or simply people we don't know who outwardly do look a lot like us is a very contemporary topic. Despite our baptismal identity as brothers and sisters in Christ and as siblings of Jesus Christ, church as "family" in terms of everyday interaction, comprehensive knowledge of the other person, and routine, casual, supportive interactions doesn't really apply.

But the book title also pairs up worship and evangelism, and though the copyright date is 1992, one of the typical church stereotypes remains that structured, liturgical worship is un-evangelical, not good news to strangers and newcomers who might wander into worship or think about attending a nearby church. Chapter 3 opens by asserting,"Good liturgical worship and effective evangelism belong together, despite the commonsense idea that they are incompatible." [page 37]

Title of Intro: Public Worship and the Stranger

Talk about intimacy, safety and freedom also is prominent throughout Patrick Keifert's argument that also includes a fair amount of "how to be" and "how to do" suggestions for any local church in almost any geographic setting. The so-called intimate society in which people may attempt to interact with strangers as they do with biological family and other long-time associates whilst expecting an institution like the church to function as the type of family started disappearing a century ago and has receded even further into the background. Back in sociology, in history, and anthropology classes we often discussed the chaos, anomie, confusion, and disorientation that resulted from the industrial revolution and the onset of modernization.

Patrick articulates clearly the danger and threat of strangers and strangeness in our midst, whether it's our locally familiar First Fifth Church on the nearby corner, or halfway across the world. On page 88 he reminds us strangers can be threatening, dangerous, and challenging on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. He also is sensitive to and knowledgeable about the strangeness of worship settings and liturgical practices to people not conversant with Church.

A theme of intimacy versus sociability also weaves through the book. Page 70: "The biblical vision stands in sharp contrast to the ideology of intimacy at this social and psychological level. Rather than projecting the private onto the public, it opens the door for the stranger. The biblical vision affirms impersonal public interactions through the command of hospitality to the stranger.

Israel remembered itself as the stranger hosted by God just as the church knows itself—read page 59 with the heading "Israel's Worship and the Stranger." Page 60: "Though God was free to be present everywhere, God promised to be present in Israel's worship." —just as the Church knows God's promised presence in the means of grace... page 61: "If God's gift of self-presence is understood as substance, it is easy to imagine God presenting grace wrapped in a box—the liturgy—with our job to pry the box open in order to get the gift." Not only a new humanity, but also a new creation arose from Jesus the Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Early on Patrick reminds us that creating, not redeeming, is God's primal work and, in fact, we are redeemed in order to continue as co-creators and co-stewards with God in the Spirit.

Page 113, "I call for recognition that the presence of God is embodied in the stranger and in Christian hospitality to the stranger." Page 129: "...God's presence ... on behalf of and through the stranger." The worship space is God's house, the house, the home where God is host and offers hospitality of Word and Sacrament.

Analogous to style, training and expectations of sports teams for games played at home versus games played away from home, Patrick describes possibilities for Home Worship and Away from Home Worship, both of which are opps for evangelism, for sharing and further incarnating, embodying the gospeled good news. Page 120: "Probably because the situation in general is characterized by a distrust of ritual and a broken ritual tradition within and without the church, both ritual competence and ritual resourcefulness are so urgent." Like any social scientist, Pat recognizes that rituals of every kind have logical structure and relations that actually make public life possible. Ritual actions and structures possess power to bind people together, to create community among unlikes and unequals.

Despite the copyright date of 1992, I recommend studying this book as a resources for living out our baptism "on behalf of the world, with the world as horizon." on behalf of the world, with the world as horizon... but how else do we, that corporate "we," live out our baptism?

One more thing: I don't recall when or how I acquired this book, but by the time I began reading the perfect (not!) binding had started to become unglued and as I turned each page it disconnected itself from the others. I am amazed at Fortress Press, historically one of THE publishers of high-end theology and, in fact, Augsburg-Fortress has retained the Fortress imprint for its more majorly theological publications.


my amazon review: hospitable, vulnerable and redemptive

friday 5: if

Rev Gal Blog Pals Friday 5 for today is about "IF" Friday 5

I'm lovin' this one from Jan...

dandelion1. If I were a color, most days I'd be medium golden yellow (Crayola dandelion, which is much more mellow than dandelions in nature), indigothough some days I'd be Crayola indigo.

2. As a flower (or plant), most days I'd be something bright and noticeable yet adaptable around others—maybe a zinnia. On the other hand, I frequently claim to be a weed; in the words of Charlie Brown (I think) courtesy of Charles Schultz, "Weeds have a wide tolerance for environmental conditions and the rare ability to exploit recently disturbed terrain..." What does that mean? I can "roll with the punches!" (and have done so with far too many...)

boopee3. For today's animal I'm a filly who's sometimes tamed with a slight nudge of the reins and at other times prefers to run wild and will run wild no matter what anyone says or does.

4. If I were a shoe I'd be flip-flops: most days naturally tan flats, other days, low platform black.

5.In my current identity as a typeface, my font would be Boopee... it's funky and full of expression and I've been using it lots lately.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

give me a word!

"give me a word" and abbey of the arts giveaway

I've already won one of Christine's prizes, but it's never only about awards and rewards but about the opportunities for becoming more fully alive Abbey of the Arts offers. As Christine explains:
In ancient times, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to God and to their own inner struggles at work within them. ... Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. One tradition was to ask for a word – this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. ... what is your word for the year ahead? A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold? ...
My word for this new year 2010 and probably one of my words for the emerging new decade is open..."open the verb" and "open the adjective" and both in more than one direction. Openness to the people, events, circumstances, ideas and opportunities around me and openness to new things Spirit is enacting within me. Maybe even more challenging than those aspects of being open, by grace I hope to start claiming and making the huge risk of being open to others about my needs, experiences, expectations and pain so I'm writing this in green as a symbol of growth. I've observed how I love that green is the liturgical color for Ordinary Time and that during seemingly repetitive, apparently circular times and endeavors are exactly when our lives and our perceptions of our environment change and transform the most.

Christine cites The Desert; I named this blog "desert spirit's fire!" because of the gift the desert has been to me—the hot desert, the cold high desert and the coastal desert where I currently live. Regarding openness although God leads us with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, along the way gifting us with water from the rock and manna from the sky, we still need carefully to look carefully in order to find them and we need openness to surprise. You cannot survive in a sparse, deserted habitat without ongoing cooperation with one another so you not only need to "talk to each other" you need to interact with each other...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

velvet elvis review

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell on Amazon

repainting into a new reformation?

This book gives me a kick in the butt while affirming what I've been trying to tell other people and trying to convince myself for the past few years so I'm writing this review out of my head (literally, most likely) and heart.

Velvet ElvisIn most ways Velvet Elvis is a book for outsiders. Just as a Velvetized Version of Elvis is an interpretive repainting, repainting the Church into a new look and new vision forms the basic idea behind this book. On page 11 Rob Bell mentions the picture the church of Martin Luther's day had been painting and presenting. Regarding these 21st century days, I know a lot about the picture the church has painted of itself and maybe even more so, the way outsiders to the church have viewed and interpreted that picture. Page 14: "What I do know is that this pursuit of Jesus is leading us backward as much as forward," evokes the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

Maybe more than anything about this book, I love reading the same theological vision and scriptural interpretations as I hold (humility from humble moi) from Rob Bell, someone I'd consider a relative theological conservative.

Hospitality is God's first call to the people of God and fundamentally defines them. From the beginning, the uniqueness of the nascent church as it moved outward from Jerusalem was its radical inclusiveness and "see how they love one another." No one lacked anything; everyone had everything in common, a true common-wealth, as the New England Puritans initially believed they'd be able to live. But it was not only about embrace and provision for the already-insiders; the first Christians embraced and provided for everyone, making no distinctions whatsoever. The outsider became incarnate, enfleshed as one of them, becoming an insider.

As we've often observed, the old mainline now longer is the central or most prominent expression of Christianity in this country, and being a mainline protestant no longer is a given part of being American. Then there's that other use of mainline, to shoot a drug into your veins. Mainline a hit of Jesus straight into your veins, so the blood of Jesus courses through your entire being? Think about it!

repainting into a new reformation?my amazon review

Friday, January 01, 2010

missionary congregation review

"...we are faithfully to indwell the gospel in a culture that has disembedded itself from that tradition."

missionary congregation coverIn The Missionary Congregation: leadership and liminality, a handbook for doing mission that you can read through in very little time and that'll take several readings and considerable pondering to understand and appropriate, Pastor Alan 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 historical, contemporary and maybe even future call of the church. The experience of liminality, of being on the threshold between old and new, neither back where we were nor yet where we think we're heading typically applies to ritualized liturgical rites of passage that dissolve and dis-embed aspects of an individual's or a group's old identity and are at least the beginning of incorporation into a new group or community along with a new status. For Christians, baptism is our primal liminal experience. As we enter the waters, should we be prepared to drown? Yes! And we should be equally prepared to be surprisingly raised from that death by drowning! And then there's also the desert...

Although Pastor Roxburgh insists "The church's lived experience is marginalization," 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 the 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 as it evokes Max Weber and rationalization, too. 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." Continuing both/and, neither/nor language, marginalization presupposes a center and a periphery. Amidst all the talk about community, Pastor Roxburgh cites Christianity's shift to a "private, individualistic center." We still keep hearing far too much about a proprietary Jesus...

Pastor Alan reminds us historically the church building - the physical church structure - was a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary. As people of the Good Book 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 that sanctifies life.

Pastor Roxburgh definitely is not talking about business models and parallels as he 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 and leaders who listen to the voices from the edges where the apostle, the prophet, and the poet are found.

"...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. 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." For Christians, baptism into the alternative, counter-cultural community that daily walks the way of the cross and lives the reality of resurrection is our primal liminal experience. And then there's also the desert...

Finally, we can consider the re-symbolization and professionalization of church leadership, as it has become and continues becoming yet another clubby priesthood with all of the occultisms, rituals, secrets, insignia, gnoses - and bureaucracies - associated with all of those other royal priesthoods...remember the Jerusalem Temple? I hope this short selection of ideas from The Missionary Congregation Leadership and Liminality will encourage you to read the book, which would be an excellent choice for study by a parish mission or outreach committee, council, session or vestry. There's enough material in its less than 100 pages (71, actually) for at least 5 or 6 serious discussions.

edges, centers, culture and counter-culture...my amazon review