Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Florida School Shooting, the American Empire & Lent

What America needs following the Florida shooting is an authentic and deep Lenton season. We are instead witnessing the usual back-and-forth diatribes about whether our response to the shootings of innocent children and adults should be action or mourning. Obviously, it needs to be both but not in a way usually thought of.

America has gone through significant changes in my lifetime, many of which are incredibly good. Some, not so much. 

When I was a child I could get on my 10 speed bike and roam all over the city of Boise Idaho and not give a second thought to anything other than traffic. My parents were secure in the knowledge that there would be no one who would seek to hurt me.

It needs to be said, however, that my parents also would not have been concerned with the significant differences in schools attended by African-Americans and white kids; both safe, just separate and unequal. 

While I would not want to go back to the safety I felt in the 1950s if it were at the cost of social progressstill very much neededI also should not be blind to the subtle and significant attacks upon the American family and the value of each human.

There is a link between the U.S. Senate's recent and fairly close vote margin refusing to recognize and protect the life of the unborn (when viable up until seconds before birth) and what happened in the troubled heart of the young man carrying an AR 15 rifle. As a Christian I believe life is sacred from conception. I recognize, however, there is legitimate debate up to a point; that being when a mother feels the kick of the child within the womb and draws her partners hand in excitement and says "feel the baby". She never says "feel the fetus."1 What the Senate did was affirm choice over the value of human life.

It is the second amendment of the Constitution that is used by conservatives and some liberals to refuse to embrace reasonable laws limiting access to guns for children or those identified as mentally unstable or limit the automation of weaponry. Again, choice trumps (no pun intended) human life.

Our culture is pervaded by pornography and it's insidious grip on mostly men across this culture. Unlike heroin or crack there is no need of veins to increase the endorphins as the eyes give immediate access to 1,000,000,000 explosions within the mind. What is at the core of this cultural addiction is the devaluing of human life, objectifying women. We as a culture choose the First Amendment rather than protect ourselves from this insidious disease within millions.

The same is true for games of violence where victims are  indiscriminately raped and killed only to rise again in the next game. Not so in Florida.

Each of these freedoms intended to protect the dignity of each and every human, also serve as a gateway to that which is the worst in us and between us. So, herein lies the real tension; the same freedom which ushers in social  progress in matters of race and immigration and education also exposes us to the risk of what it is to be human.

John Adam, our country's second President, tells us that a free society can only exist so long as those who govern themselves, 'govern themselves'; that is, live lives of integrity. 

In this age where experience is everything that is, all life being an emergent process of atoms (and their sub-atomic particles) enveloped in ever more complex relations, random association, like random sex is ultimately meaningless. If that be true, then Nikolas Cruz's resolution may seem to him as rational as the rush he felt in his last video game or target practice. Who is to say?

Therein lies the deceptive intrigue of humanity lost to purpose beyond the random needs of the self or the mob. Being human demands more than choice driven by rights; for while we are made of the dust of the stars from which creative evolution forms us, we become more than the sum of our communal experience. We become daughters and sons of the Living God, who before time dreamed of the possibilities of love. 

It is The Trinity of God, Three  Persons so united in love as to be One in essence, that calls us into being, that defines humanism. It is this fundamental world view that, more than any single mental health or gun control legislation, would challenge the attraction of random violence; because it is the randomness that de-humanizes. 

The response2 of the young women and men whose lives were spared on February 14 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and who are now calling others to join in a march on Washington DC represents what is most hopeful, though naive. It is a God thing to create from within the hopelessness of violence a world free of such threats. To that end a political awakening which addresses access to semi-automatic weapons and redresses a culture that defunded and turned away from those who are vulnerable in terms of mental health is hopeful. It will be short-lived however, if there is not within our culture a Renaissance of valuing human life from within the womb until our final breath! 

In this season of Lent we reflect upon and walk in the steps of the Creator of the universe, who in becoming human faced the power of empire, choosing to identify with the most vulnerable among us; including the wounded spaces within each of our souls that so easily absorbs lust or fear or shame instead of love. That is why the crushing power of Romes mightthe cross upon which Jesus diedremains the only sign of comfort inside such tragedies. 

It is the hope that John the Apostle sees in the Apocalypse of Revelation, chapters 5 and 6. Before him is a scroll containing the plans of the Creator for restoration of the earth, for the coming shalom of God. John weeps because there was no one on earth who is worthy to break the seals that bind the scroll, preventing God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. In chapter 6 John reveals the reason; All Creation represented by the four living creatures welcomes the Prince riding the White horse, Rome, Who promises 'peace (Shalom) through strength' but delivers war, economies where the poor cannot afford basic goods and disease, sickness and death.3  

John hears a voice from heaven that he should not weep because the root of David, the Lion, is worthy. But when John looks he does not see the Lion of David, which emerges from within the violence of the sword. Instead he sees the "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders" (Revelation 5:6)

The cross of Jesus is God surrendering love to power. Sacrificial love is the only resolution for a country such as ours; the latest and generally benevolent empire of the world. We in the church, especially in this season, are reminded that creating schools and communities of safety, where humans thrive, is the gift of deep sacrifice, not political power. It has more to do with humans thriving than safety. If we are seeing among the survivors of this horrific act the beginnings of a renewal movement, it will be because this generation does more than march. It will be because this generation extends the Lamb of God into the human community.

Terry :)

1Note: This illustration and the larger narrative point is significantly drawn from an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan, dated 02/15/18 and titled: "The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breath". You can read her perspective at: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/the-parkland-massacre-and-the-air-we-breathe-1518739880

2Note: The following video highlights the action students from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High are taking, asking America to  take steps toward a safer future. http://video.foxnews.com/v/5736746461001/?

3Note: The exegesis of Revelation four, five, six is reflected in multiple sermons given by the pastoral staff of our church. Starting this coming Sunday, you can hear/see at: West Seattle Nazarene Media

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lent & the Invitation to Godly Sorrow

The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He did not go to Jerusalem in the year 33 A.D. to die; though being thoroughly immersed in the Psalms and the hope of a King like David, misplaced as it was in the ancient search for a Conquering King who would come and deliver the world from its constant violence and the economic and political injustice that follows, Jesus knew that his heavenly Father's vision was very different. 

As Jesus at last looked upon the city he had grown to love, from childhood, even as a boy of twelve teaching the elders in the Holy Temple, a deep sense of sorrow overcame him; as if from ancient times, 'perhaps even when the good King and Priest Melchizedek walked into the sun drenched golden hill of Zion,'  he wondered. Jesus always sensed within him the voice of eternity, this one not like his heavenly Papa's voice. 'No,' his thoughts searching the feeling, 'this voice felt like his own thoughts but from a place deeper in, an ancient/future place' very much like the Kingdom of God that had become his Word to his people. 

For a moment Jesus thoughts were captured by the sudden noise of a gathering throng, raising their palm branches, as if on cue, which had likely been purchased in Jericho. Looking around he saw his disciples caught up, even now nurturing and organizing this crowd as they had been trained to do, but now to take him and parade him before all Jerusalem as the very son of David. 'No! Not like this.' His heart was exploding within. 'Do you not see the perfect colt of a donkey that he had chosen'? 

They did not, of course. They knew the mythology surrounding a donkey, a sign of the peaceful intent of the King who is to be received, just as Julius Caesar was often received, a man of benevolence and mercy, giving love for betrayal and thus winning all to what became Pax-Romana. 

A tear of profound anguish formed like a mist blurring his vision as Jesus was being lifted, ever so gently, upon this beast of burden. 

As they made their way slowly down the hill of the olive groves and deeper into the Kidron valley Jesus thoughts turned to the Words of the prophet Isaiah when thinking of Israel as a beautiful garden of the choicest wines. A young prince had purchased a land of good soil from which he intended to raise a harvest of sweet wine for he and his beloved's approaching wedding. Jesus thoughts, now from memory, filled in the details. 'The prince "dug it up and cleared it of stone and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit" ' (Isaiah 5: 2)

The anguish felt within Jesus soul formed a kind of creative tension, not unlike the horrifying cross beams of Roman scaffolding at the place at the Skull, just outside the city. Jesus felt again his body shutter as if from the depths of Sheol; From someplace before time his lips found words that shaped the contradiction he was experiencing in the adulation of the crowd. The love of The Father was with him, 'no in him', his mind corrected as his lips formed a prophecy, as from of old. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing"  (Matthew 23:37).

Jesus caught his beloved disciple John's eyes and noted from the contour of his face, John was aware of his own tears now gently falling on his cheeks. Looking away and down toward the garden of crushing, of Gethsemane, a smile subtly captures Jesus face, the irony that their favorite gathering place in Jerusalem was named after the process of crushing grapes or olives following harvest hit him for the very first time. 'He would be crushed, as would the twelve,' occurred to him.

The chaos of the crowds filled with nationalist pride, the soldiers of Rome on the horizon like Eagles ready to swoop down and gather it's prey, the Temple rising before him like the very throne of God moved Jesus deeply and with him, The Father and the Spirit. 
No, Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to die, but he knew the Scriptures and what was in the hearts of people and had taught his disciples well, in these last weeks, that the cup of suffering death would have to be drunk by him, if things were ever going to be different. Looking up on Judas and that childish delight in his eyes, Jesus wondered, 'Father, if it be possible…'

Reflections on Lent as Godly Sorrow:

In Jesus of Nazareth, his life, passion, death, resurrection, ascencion and priestly office; the Father-Eternal Son and the Holy Spirit forever changed. The Trinity of God, Who from before time had known communal love and joy and creativity, in coming nearentering fully into the life experience of sentient creationtook in the death (jealousies, anger, shame, judgment, license) inside our sin in order that we might receive from Communal relation the Love and Holiness that is God. 

An eternal sacrifice of Love continues as Jesus ever speaks within the Trinity of our wounded experience and in us, by The Holy Spirit, of grace.

Lent is the unique season where we ask God to help us to share in the Godly Sorrow that is the transformation of us all. There is no condemnation or guilt in this gift from God; just an ability to see the depth of our wound, its cost to ourselves and one another and especially God. It is a Godly Sorrow, given only by invitation and for those who are prepared to 'walk in the steps of Jesus'. 

May God give you, and I pray me, renewal in the life and death of Jesus in this season.  


In this Lenton Season consider reading one of two books I've written, both at Amazon.com

Who Am I? From Galilee to Jerusalem

Video: "Who Am I? A Devotional & Narrative for Lent"

Cross Purposes: Incarnational Atonement, Renewal & Communal Salvation

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Bible is Compelling... Fundamentalism isn't

I was in the third grade and living in southern Idaho on a 500 acre farm when I was first told by my cousin that Santa Claus is not real. My heart sank and for the next days I began to wonder if anything my parents had told me was true? Then, in the kindness of time and enfolded by God's surrounding Grace, I discovered the real story of Saint Nickolaus and in it the magic of humans given over to the love of God.

I've been making some new friends on a pastors site filled with those who want to courageously hold onto the magic of a God narrative, larger than life; indeed the human face of revelation, where the real, powerful, moving and human story unfolds is traded in to 'keep the Santa Story' alive.

Yesterday's debate was around Genesis 1:-2:4. Is it a scientific account or ancient poetry expressed in liturgy?

Those who held it as science were convinced that to re-frame any part of Genesis pre-historic (before Abraham) narrative as anything other than actual history is demonically inspired, the fruit of false teachers.  The sad thing is that it is those who want to frame it in terms of science is the real re-framing of it.  But i digress.

My response:

The vast majority of Spirit filled pastors and theologians of every Christian tribeincluding the Church of the Nazarene (CoTN)have long moved away from the very wrong perception of Genesis 1-2:4 as a scientific account of Creation. (Now admittedly, it is the 1st thing that comes to mind in a modern world view (17th-21st century) that thinks in terms of cause and effect and so looks to Divine Words of origin to lay it out. Never mind the impossibility of creating the earth, stratosphere, seas, plants on days 1-3, before the creation of the stars and galaxies, including our own sun on the 4th day. 

One of the pesky little things that science has given the Church in the last hundred years is higher/lower criticism; the ability to see and trace what God clearly did in allowing very real human writers, worshippers, priests and shepherds to take the 'Story of God with us' (with our ancestors) and tell it orally over hundreds of years, write it down (1st Hebrew, Semitic alphabet around Joseph's time and discovered in caves of the Sinai)1 as poetic/liturgy to finally be gathered in its current form during or just after the exile. In other words the knowledge of the Divine Presence has been handed down over centuries and written as literature by humans, inspired of God.

So what do we have in our hands in Genesis 1-2? The revelation, radical in its time, of a Creator whom from within the ancient primordial fear of water and darkness (the place of demons and the lust filled, jealous warrior gods creating chaos) brings life. This God's very Spirit breathes over and shapes chaos into order with ever increasing goodness until this God forms humans (male and female), declaring us very good.

Now I suppose God could have dictated the science of Creation to humankind (in HebrewAdam), but it would be about as interesting (not to mention understandable) as if I were given a textbook on Einsteinium physics. 

Instead God incarnated His Story within the questions, fears, chaos that all ancient peoples would get, including we 21st century humans who wrestle with many of the same fears. Look at our movies.

When the final gathering of the O.T. Books into one Bible was completed by the priestly class they started with a bookend liturgical poem (probably emerging from within David or Solomon's Temple worship) as an introduction. Then they take the far more ancient oral Story of Creation (Genesis 2:5-25) as narrative; where this incredible God walks with Adam (humankind) in fellowship and says 'something is not good'Adam was lonely. God reaches down and gets dirty (won't be the last time in this incredible narrative) in order to make Eve from within Adam to allow both to be more fully human. Chaos replaced by Shalom.

But then... Chapter 3.

So, all the questions that ask if I believe Adam was a real person or if creation happened in six 24 hours days are boring and irrelevant compared to the ones asked by an ancient tribe called Israel, whom God formed and raised up; inspired in the original events, the Story that emerged, as it was gathered into its final form that we hold and  again in the reading, each Sunday, as the People of God gather.

The Bible is compelling. Fundamentalism isn't. 

Terry :)

1Note: "WalkingThe Bible" by Bruice Feiler, pg #211-213

See my video introducing my devotional books built around the liturgical Calendar of the Church: The Narrative of God in the Liturgical Calendar of the Church

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Hopeful about Jesus & Nazarenes into the 21st & 22nd Centuries

I'm hopeful about the CoTN in terms of our big tent saving us.

On one of many Naz sites i visit someone whom I respect asked: "Does the Nazarene BGS (Board of General Superintendants) approve of the eclectic sort of hodgepodge big tent that has different faces in different places?" As usual this elder (a woman) cut through to a central question. I'm not sure  about the BGS, but here are my thoughts about emerging solutions.

Are we Eclectic? Yes. Hodgepodge? No. Big tent? Absolutely! 

Of all the denominations which emerged from the American holiness movement, the CoTN was unique in always envisioning itself as inclusive and with an ever expanding tent. I was told once by a Nazarene sociologist that the Nazarene church is the only denomination other than the Roman Catholic Church, obviously on a much smaller scale, to retain one organic and institutional church in the world. All other denominations have broken up into 100+ national churches that are associated together in a formal & institutional manner.

I used to listen to GS's saying that Nazarene's are very much alike all over the world and wondered if that was even a good thing; probably never really true.

It is my understanding that from the very beginning we were very different even in the United States. On the West Coast (southern California and urban) revivalism was reinforced with an afternoon love feast and on summer Sunday's often going to the beach or streets for evangelism. Engagement with local community events such as parades, city concerns and seeking social justice by helping the poor was thematic. All that reflected Dr. Bresee's emphasis as he focused on establishing Churches up and down the west coast. 

On the East Coast, facing the expansive empire of European nations, the emphasis was upon international presence and missions; of nurturing the flame world wide. 

With roots deep within the American heartland, Middle America was focused primarily on revivalism reflecting an emphasis on integrity of life and commitment of heart and the disciplines of the manual reinforcing. 

Still, the glue that held the early Nazarene's together was a happy revivalism, an optimism that this expressive movement of the Holy Spirit would infect the whole of Christendom eventually ushering in the millennial kingdom, the 20th century being the Christian century for the world.

The war between the States had finished and the demonstrative social advocacy for women's place in the pulpit, for temperance in the face of alcoholism only reinforced the rhythms of hope on the edge a new century. 

Early Nazarenes were inclusive believing our emphasis upon the Holy Spirit would bring renewal to our brothers and sisters of faith; Baptists, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Lutherans.

Then something happened, reality: two world wars, the depression, the Calvinist driven fundamentalism which captured the heart of American evangelicalism, the scopes trial, Vietnam. In all these cultural influences and the always diminished sense of loss when the organic movement becomes an institution we Nazarene's in the U.S. turned inward and defensive, legalistic and afraid.

Holiness driven by purity at center instead of love inevitably dies; for it is love that seeks to heal impurities and wounds and clear the heart of its addictions that keep us from loving God, first, as no other and the prejiduces that prevent us from loving our neighbor.

Internationally, the Church is running into cultures that do not frame holiness in terms of individual guilt, a western value. When our Samoan young men find themselves caught up in the inevitable entanglement that sin brings, I rarely see them struggle with guilt, as an offense against God's law. What I see is shame. How could I bring dishonor to my family, to my God? European Wesleyan emphasis upon community and social worship and accountability is what nurtures repentance and transformation. With Native Americans one can talk about sin all you want, but it is the language of Creation and healing that encourages holiness of heart and life; again in the context of community. 

In the article which prompted these thoughts, she correctly references "Holiness unto the Lord" as expressive of a hunger for common experience, the heart of revivalism. In many places, especially Africa and parts of South America, Nazarene's retain a joy and demonstrative faith that for me is a childhood memory limited to the camp meetings or General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. I met Jesus under the powerful preaching of with Fairy Chism.

For me it was the stark difference between the excitement and optimism and felt presence of the Holy Spirit in the Campmeeting experience, especially in the confessions after the altar call, that captured my heart. However, it never seemed to transfer to my home churches. Part of that is because at the critical age around 12 my pastor was an evangelist in gifting and fundamentalist really. After every service I would feel guilty and make my way to the altar for the thousandth attempt at entire sanctification; lest a fire other than the Holy Spirit would capture me in eternity.

What kept me in the church was in interviewing Dr. William Greathouse; providentially provided to me by the NNC student newspaper. I turned it into an hour of probing every question that haunted my heart. I walked away and said to myself; "if that is really what the Church of the Nazarene believes, I could live there." Second was Dr. Wynkoops "Theology of Love" which finally gave language to my own experience of holiness as fundamentally progressive and relational, "entire" a qualifier of me, not holiness. So my pursuit changed from seeking perfection in my experience to asking God to cleanse/heal me that I might love God first as no other and thus be fully given over to the sanctifying Presence of The Holy Spirit. 

It has been a European Weslyan experience of confessional small groups and the writings of Catholic mystics and Benedictine and Franciscan practitioners that have deepened the work of the Holy Spirit within (Nouwen & Merton among them).

I know, there are those who believe the Holy Spirit no longer works within the Catholic faith, so that when the Eucharist is given and received in authentic faith, the Holy Spirit is not Active and present. That was not John Wesley's position re: Holy Communion. After all, he was an Anglican priest to his death and understood the mystery of God's presence given by the Holy Spirit through the church. His purpose was to bring an awareness of this gift of the Holy Spirit into all of life; ours and the community. He was also deeply influenced by the Greek Orthodox fathers and we all know when they jumped off the cliff of Christendom (not!). 

These two streams (revivalism & European Wesleyan confession) remain incredibly active within the Church of the Nazarene. Revivalism permeates much of Africa and South America, less so in the Asia-Pacific region and even less the North American continent. Now, I'm not a fan of Bohi, but he is doing the work of an evangelist hoping to keep that flame alive.

In my opinion, false as it may seem to some, The 21st-century and 22nd century, if God tarries, will be good to the CoTN; primarily because we retain healthy tensions in the following areas:

1.     Emphasis upon pursuit of love for God as no other and our neighbors as ourselves.
2.     Emphasis on social Holiness as salvific, meaning not simply a witness to what God has done but a transformation of our lives and hearts and communities oriented towards the Kingdom of God that is present and coming.
3.     An international communion that increasingly, though much too slowly, is sharing political and institutional presence with emerging leaders from the whole world.
4.     A deeply held faith in the Holy Word of God as the memory of the People of God, a story now breaking into the earth through the church.
5.     Educational institutions that keep us relevant culturally and unafraid of scientific discovery.
6.     The Wesleyan doctrine of  'Prevenient Grace', which allows us to see where Jesus is at work in other faith traditions and even secular places where love is breaking in.

I'm excited about the faith we are passing on to my son and daughter. It is not exactly like the one I grew up in, but I am not afraid. I want only for this generation to know a Holiness that emerges from love for God and people!

For those who want to explore these ideas I'd recommend the following books: 

1.     My own: "7 Faces of Jesus" ...a devotional view of how we as Wesleyans hold Jesus in common (even in our differences with each) in 7 traditions: Native American, Conservative Protestant, Revivalist-Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Liberal Protestant, Revolutionary (Pietists, Ana-baptist, Emergent), Eastern Orthodox.

2.     "Phineas Bresee: Pastor to the People" by Carl O Bangs

3.     "A Century of Holiness Theology: The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene" by Mark Quanstrom 

4.     "Revivalism & Social Reform" by Timothy L Smith

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Of What are we Christians so Afraid?

We, who are in Christ, have a unique place from which to view the kingdom of God already present and breaking into our world. Sometimes we emphasize our place, instead of our unique view within the Story of God and so miss our entire purpose for being.

We see our place set apart, different and in tension with the culture in which God has made us human. We forget that it is not only our shared place in Christ that we are to draw people too, but the radical and loving view we have of the Kingdom of God that is breaking into this world in 100 different places, each unique.

I ran  across a good pastor asking an important question of "South African Christians who practice the 'forty-day thanksgiving service' as an after burial/death rite. May I ask," this pastor wrote, "what scriptural premise do you reference for establishing this practice as a Christian rite/ritual?"

The responses were thoughtful with the greatest concern being syncretism or the blending of the Christian faith with other culturally honored gods. Now,  that is a valid concern for such blending can result in simply putting a Christian garment over what, in essence, remains a fear or a power driven religion trying to appease or manipulate a chaotic god; Jesus becoming the replacement power.

May I suggest that there is an equal danger in failing to honor or incorporate culturally based rituals centered on a communities pre-Christian worldview.

I think the phrase was given that 'the Bible is from God and culture is from humankind'. That is an incredible misunderstanding of the nature of the Word of God, whose narrative and teachings always flow from within culture; often as exiles within cultures who in ignorance worship the gods. The Biblical writers, inspired by God, we're creatively gifted in writing from within their worldview but adapting it to teach about the God Who Is, or more accurately, I AM.

The two Creation accounts are examples: Genesis one and up to 2:4 is the liturgical account that was finally gathered in and around the exile in Babylon and reflects the ancient understandings of creation, but with a radically different view of the Creator. The ancient gods were often lust driven, jealous of each other; their anger pouring out on humankind. YHWH in this poem is seen as moving from within chaos to order, as a creator who makes only what is good and humans "very good".

In the narrative account in Genesis two we see Elohim, Who responds to the loneliness of human kind or Adam and humans become co-creators with God, stewards of God's creation. Again, a radical redefining of who God is; personal, knowable and deeply concerned with human well-being.

In chapter six we have the narrative about the flood, common to almost all ancient traditions, including many Native American traditions. The difference in the story is not in the destruction, but in a radically different God who grieves over the cultural sins, lust and violence; then warns for 300 years and finally creates a way out for Noah and his family and Who repents over the cost of redemption and finally hangs up his "bow and arrow" in the sky, we see as the rainbow.

Paul is constantly using references from within Greek poetry and culture and rituals to reveal Jesus Christ. In Philippians chapter 2: 17 Paul talks about his life being "poured out like a drink offering upon the altar of service." He is using a pagan ritual in the offering of wine to the gods before the family meal.

The truth is, a great deal of how we Europeans read the Bible, including our over individualistic interpretations of salvation, come straight out of our culture. We need to be very careful when we talk about a given ritual being "Biblical" and make sure we are not really meaning, "Western". 

Biblical salvation is always communicated in the context of community, though it is profoundly Personal as well. Our American revivalist tradition centered on salvation as a transactional agreement between an individual and God is an adaptation of European Holiness that focused more on process and small group dynamics. Neither is Biblical in the sense that it jumps off the pages of the Book, nor is it anti-Biblical as it picks up numerous moments and reshapes them to our culture. Elijah may be a proto-type of the American holiness movement and Ezra a pre-curser to the renewal of the Wesley's. Yet, both have been very effective in bringing many to Jesus Christ. 

The idea of a 40 day fast, whatever its roots, could easily be adapted, based on Jesus in the wilderness or the forty years of Moses in Exodus or any number of other the Biblical narratives.

Samoans take two to four weeks in the burial process, and multiple family visits and times of worship and a celebration of music just before the funeral, often incorporating several Christian traditions–and then the funeral. Following, the deceased is not talked about for sometime.

Is that biblical?  No, it's human and God's creation of humans is "very good". Culture is what we do as humans and will always do. The whole idea of God becoming incarnate first in Israel and more intimately in Jesus of Nazareth is to contextualize this incredible grace of God within the human community.

The only question that should be asked; is it against the narrative or does the ritual contradict the story of God? If it doesn't and can be used to explain the story, then use it for Christ's sake. Richard Twist, an Evangelical Native American Christian, admonishes Evangelicals, mostly white, to give Native Americans The Word of God and let them grow up into Christ in their own skin and within their own culture. 

Much of what we reject is based on fear; the fear that if 'they' didn't receive Christ in the way 'we' did, perhaps they received 'another gospel'.  That fear has taught Samoans (whose dances are the center of cultural story telling) to not dance or Native Americans to put away their drums and feathers, their cleansing rituals using incense or their baptismal rituals in the sweat lodges. All of these can and have been used, in some instances in the worship of The Great Spirit; why not YHWH? In that spirit Richard Twiss asks: "We know God loves us, but cannot understand why he does not like us."1

John the Apostle tells us that "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also" (I John 4: 18-21).

Terry :)

1 From: "Dancing Our Prayers: Perspectives on Syncretism, Critical Contextualization and Cultural Practices in First Nations Ministry" by Richard Twiss and requoted in "7 Faces of Jesus in the North American Church", page 47, by Terry Mattson

You can find Richard Twiss's "One Church Many Tribes" here: One Church Many Tribes

You can find my "7 Faces of Jesus" here: 7 Faces of Jesus

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

So What's this Human Thing ReallyAbout?

Thoughts early Tuesday, the day following Dr. Martin Luther King's Day of Remembrance

I used to think of salvation only in personal terms and having to with sin management or resolution. 

Growing up Wesleyan, even within the growing fundamentalism of the 1940-1960s of our faith tradition, I never focused too much on salvation as hell avoidance (though that was a fear always present) but upon character formation; being a human in love with God. In fact my first public sermon, around 12, was on I John 4:18 wrestling with my own fears and John's affirmation that: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." I remember, even at such an innocent time, giving assurance to those gathered that fear is part of being human, but we can come to a place where we are not afraid of God.

At twenty six, in youth ministry, I was diagnosed with anxiety neurosis. Now youth ministry, which is largely about creative mentoring should give pause to any sane practitioner; though it is beyond meaningful, indeed fun.

At 64 and following the most love filled, fun and emotionally draining of pastorates I once again live inside of professional bi-monthly therapy, a weekly Wesleyan confessional group, Sunday Eucharist and another weekly support group each Monday at 6 a.m. The diagnosis of my current therapist is anxiety and depression.

So what does all this have to do with salvation? Everything! Where one begins this human salvation narrative and who is included frames its meaning!

First, salvation is about Creation and restoration of everything and everyone in the universe. It is communal/personal. I now start with the ancient Creational Poem (Liturgy) of Genesis 1 and the even more Primal Narrative of Creation found in Genesis 2, instead of the sin chapter of Genesis 3.

Second, for humanity (me included), salvation is simply about being 'fully human' and walking with God as Adam and Eve did; in a co-creative, but fully dependent relation. Jesus life and teachings are salvational as they are breathed inside me by God's Holy Spirit forming from within the chaos of my human emotions the 'very good' of God's affirmation announced in Genesis 1:31 and reaffirmed in the humanity of Jesus by the baptist at his own baptism; "You are my son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness."(Mark 1:11).

Third, all of the sin and wounds that attend, are fully captured into the very center of Love that is the Trinity of God in the temptations, passion, death, resurrection, ascension and continuing high priestly ministry of Jesus the human/Eternal Son of God. Every day, but especially on Sunday. Whether the worship is done well or poorly, the hymns, psalms and spiritual songs are sung beautifully or weakly, the sermon gifted or muddled, I receive (especially in the Eucharist) God's renewing and humanizing renewal, because ancient/future gather around and in me. 

Finally the hope of salvation (being human; co-partnering with God in restoration of the earth and all who live within its sphere) is mine as I hear my pastors 'blessing' and leave to serve. Then Monday morning at 6 a.m. my alarm rings and I rise to confess and receive the confessions of four to eight other men with similar broken spaces; some who know God consciously and others who sense God at work inside the human to human contact, but haven't yet understood that it is all because the Trinity of God "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).

So how is this very human/Divine Story going to work its way out? When and how will the wounds of anxiety finally release me? If I only knew. One thing I do know: "What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:4).

On this early Tuesday following Martin Luther King's Day, that is enough; "for my eyes have seen the glory of the Lord."1

Terry :)

1Note: A re-quote of the Battle Hymn of the Republic in Martin Luther King's last words of his last speech before his life was so tragically taken. See at: Excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King's Last Speech

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Virgin Birth & Imagination's Limits

Is the objection to the Virgin Birth a Lack of Creative Imagination?

I have conversed with those who are absolutely convinced that to fail to believe in the virgin birth is a failure in devotion to Jesus; a theological step too far. The problem with that is that some of the most loving, committed Jesus followers I know of, including those who have lived before me, deeply question the virgin birth of Jesus.

Still, for me, I think The Spirit's over-shadowing of Mary and subsequent insemination is necessary to the narrative and to our understanding of God who is above, underneath, before and beyond the universe and yet imminent within every emerging experience where time and matter intersect. 

Jesus of Nazareth is not the first advent of God. As the first poem of our Genesis proclaims the Holy Spirit hovered over the chaos of the deep and gave shape to the first crystalline particles of light and water from which all life emerged.

John tells us that through Jesus, The Wordthe Eternal Son of the Father"all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:2).

What about Science based Process Theology? 

It strikes me that if God resides only in the universe, co-eternalas Process Theologians believeand not before and beyond, it really does not matter if Mary as a virgin gets pregnant; as the God-Presence exists whenever chaos generates love. In fact if God's power to function is limited to Divine influence inside every experience in the universe perhaps is impossible for God to act outside of Mary and Joseph's love for one another. Mary and Joseph's intimacy was not considered a sin given their betrothal, just an indiscretion giving rise to One who would. become the face of God.  Here's why: to Process theologians the universe is like an enclosed system outside of which no other realities exist. The universe is all there is and God is the most powerful emerging presence, co-eternal with it, a Spirit, having no form or matter and living within the explosion of every atom that circles a nucleus; experience being what is really real. 

This love, intrinsic to God and existing within time and matter (but as Spirit alone) is not chosen in the strictest sense, as God can do no other but move all creative moments, every sentient person, toward wholeness; toward love. God cannot act by power moving rocks, but can shape and influence their outcomes within the limits of love and Presence without material form. It is the same with us. So Mary and Joseph's loving purity become the creative event from which God becomes a material person shaping the human narrative.

A More Classical View:

Now, I do believe that it is at least true that God is fully present, within and among us whenever wholeness takes place; chaos producing love. But I also believe that the deepest reality is a Communal Person we know as the Trinity of God and not the quad-trillions of individual experiences of matter becoming ever more complex and inter-related. Hence, God and the universe are distinct, seperatethough deeply inter-active. The Trinity of God, existing in timeless eternity chose freely to create the material universe (matter and time) from which we emerge. God chose to place the rainbow in the sky; responding to human chaos by choosing to lay down the bow and arrow (violence), a choice ultimately leading to laying down The Eternal Son and thereby fully experience all human suffering, the death inside our sin. Further, it is a continuing choice God makes from beyond the universe, as Jesus of Nazareth/Jesus the Eternal Son now communicate a Living Word: 
     1)  To The Father in The Spirit every personal and 
           communal wound, sorrow, hate and fear in us and
           among us, and;
      2)  In us from the Father in the Spirit. 

It is an eternal exchange of our un-holiness for God's holiness, of our brokenness for God's wholeness, of our fear for God's love. Per the Revelator, it is a choice made before time as he saw "the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev 3:8c).

The significance of the virgin birth then, is framed by these questions: 
     1) Was it only the human conception in which God
         directs and breeds life to incarnate in flesh a living
         picture of who God is and what God is like?  ...or; 
     2) Is the Eternal Son, the second person of Triune God,
         becoming in Time the Son of man; in whom both
         God and we are forever changed? That, in short, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5: 23).  If it is the latter, as I believe it is, I cannot see how Mary's birthing of Jesus can be only human and still be from Beyond this time and place.
I trust yours was a Merry Christmas, a God-Presence that will envelope this coming New Year!

Terry :)

For more on the Jesus event as reconciling and healing for God and us see my book: Cross Purposes: Incarnational Atonement, Renewal & Communal Salvation