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blind man walking

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imagesGround zero of all good theology is humility.
It is the recognition that I am blind.
Which simply means that we recognize our common ground with Paul – who saw more in the three days during which he was completely blind than he did in as many seeing decades sitting under the best theologians of his generation.

Richard Steele draws the parallel between our situation and that of the blind man healed by Jesus in Mark 8 – healed not all at once, but in stages. He sees nothing until that first saliva-smearing touch of Jesus on his eyes. Then his vision was distorted (perhaps a no-brainer considering it was a saliva-smearing touch!) as he now saw “men walking as trees” (aka “ents”).

Steele observes:51Xk9QlNK5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The situation of the theologian is like that of the blind man during that strange moment between the first touch of Jesus and the second: more able to see than before, but only well enough to know that his sight is still blurry and out of focus. And like it or not, the theologian soon learns that he is permanently in that condition, at least on this side of heaven. The one thing he learns to see with absolute clarity is how badly he and everyone else needs the divine ophthalmology.

Good theologians remember they ever labor in the space between the two touches.

And when you realize your vision is distorted, if you are wise, there will be a certain tentativeness in your steps, particularly the farther ahead you attempt to look, the more sweeping the gaze. We can only be certain of the step immediately before us – unless we have attempted to memorize the path like Blythe “The Forger” in The Great Escape who tried to dupe his comrades into believing that he could see by memorizing his moves.

Bad theologians try to memorize their moves as they try to convince others (and themselves!) that they can see better than they really do.

Good theologians don’t memorize moves, nor do they try to kid anyone that they can ever do more than “see through a glass darkly.”

Nothing is more absurd than a theologian who pretends to be an “expert” or “authority” on God – as if God weren’t high and lifted up above all human knowing, as if God weren’t elusive, mysterious, transcendent, and incomprehensible. (Steele, again).

Or, as Augustine of Hippo observed, “Si comprehenderis non est Deus.”

If you can understand it, it’s not God.

Such a perspective continually reawakens a humble yieldedness in our arguments and conclusions in which we hold more with an open hand than closed – in fact, when walking with distorted vision between the two touches, wisdom would dictate primarily an open-handed approach as we move forward over uncertain terrain, ready to grapple with whatever reality we encounter along the way.

And moving with such yielding gait, it will not be a bold, assuming “I have this under control” YAWP that will be heard coming from our throats (theologians? control issues? naaaaaaah), but one that resembles more a continual appeal for assistance.

And, of course, before she does much audible “yawping” at all, she’ll be standing still in silence, listening first, always…

TOHIYAS (65)

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2015 in haverings, theology

 

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Theology? YAWP!

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 8.20.14 AM My favorite definition of theology ever. 51Xk9QlNK5L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_It’s from I’ve Been Wondering: Conversations with Young Theologians by Richard B. Steele, a book I stumbled upon years ago and was reminded of this past week (it was published in 2007 and is out of print now, but you can still find copies on Amazon for about $5). The author is Professor of Moral and Historical Theology and Associate Dean of the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University in, well, Seattle, of course. The books focuses on the questions – and his posited answers – to the questions his undergrads are actually asking him. It’s a good read – largely if not entirely because of how he frames his answers with this definition of the game of theology.

Theology is a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat that isn’t there – and finding it.

Yes.

Unpacking this definition, Steele highlights four characteristics of healthy theology:

  1. Yielding
  2. Attention
  3. Wariness
  4. Praise

Actually, he lists the first one as “humility,” but I’m totally taking the creative license to change it to “yielding” so that the resulting acrostic is YAWP, which, of course, makes a theologian one who yells his or her “barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the world.”

Oh yes, there is something barbaros in all good theology.
Unrefined.
Uncultured.
Something foreign. Something rude. Something rough. Something harsh.

As foreign as the Beatitudes.
As rude as Christ eating with sinners.
As rough as Christ rubbing mud made with his own spit in a blind man’s eyes.
As harsh as Christ telling his followers, “You know not what spirit you are of!” when they wanted to incinerate unwelcoming Samaritans.

And, of course, such a barbaric theological YAWP has full prophetic support:

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Those are mimicking, babbling words, as Peterson in the Message so eloquently puts it, “Da, da, da, da; blah, blah, blah, blah.” Originally it was a mocking response to Isaiah’s preaching; then it became the language of judgment as foreign Babylonians with raised swords delivered “the Word” to hapless Judeans in 586 BC; then it became, via Pauline twist, the proclamation of Christ in “tongues” in the first century; and by further extension, I would wrap this babbling sheet over all healthy theology, just because, well, because this is my blog and I can.

We evangelicals tend to like our theology thick with erudite diction. But healthy theology is but a yawp, people. Or, to use another word, healthy theology is havering.

And havering begins with a yielding, unassuming, surrendering, humble heart that knows first and foremost one key truth:

I am blind

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2015 in haverings, theology

 

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alternative medicine

Brought this in for a friend.alternative medicine
Can’t carry it in the bookstore.
Language issues, among other things,
the kind you hear in hospital corridors
and church parking lots
or wherever else
I find people leaking
pain.

Alternative Medicine by “celebrated physician-poet” Rafael Campo.
His sixth collection of poetry.
Examining the primal relationship between language, empathy
and healing;
the balm of song
the salve of imagination.

Good medicine. Hard medicine.
Who would have thought:
Poetry can hurt and heal at the same time.

Primary Care

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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Books, Poetry

 

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non-verbal God

My friend Jessie painted the cover of her Bible.
Epic. Cover.

Jessie's Tree It immediately took me to the story of Brother Lawrence…

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman in the Lorraine region of France in 1611. At age eighteen, he experienced a profound conversion, that is, a radical change of mind and heart, when he saw a bear tree in the middle of winter standing gaunt and leafless against the snow. Anticipating the miracle of this same tree burgeoning with new life the following spring, Nicholas was overwhelmed by “a high view of the providence and power of God,” which never left him and which kindled in him an intense love for God.
~ Mother Tessa Bielecki, in the Foreward to The Practice of the Presence of God

My mind immediately leapt to another text I encountered last year in Carl R. Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative (I enjoyed the read, as I recall). In fact, reading the one after the other gives me some significant mental whiplash:

Merely looking at a tattered and broken piece of humanity hanging on a piece of wood, or imagining such with the mind’s eye, is of no use whatsoever. It is the cross set within its context of the biblical story of humanity’s creation and fall that has significance; and this requires verbal communication. One might add that since there is no other way of communicating this message that can bypass the use of words. Neither painting nor mime nor dance is remotely adequate for the message. Only clear, verbal statement of the matter can bring the message home and frame the matter in such a way that the response can then be either those of faith or of unbelief.

I love this statement for the wonderful job security it gives me as a speaking and writing Pastor. And there is truth in it, to be sure. I’m sure Brother Lawrence had a context of homiletical verbal statements from many a mass. So, perhaps you’re right, Mr. Trueman. Merely looking at a tattered and broken piece of humanity hanging on a piece of wood is of no use whatsoever.

But evidently sometimes all it takes is the sight of a bare tree in winter.

Our verbal God is so wondrously non-verbal in his communication too.
Which is really good news for all us non-verbal learning types.

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Hey. Pie charts don’t lie.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in haverings, Quotes

 

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forgiving God

I get questions.
I do.

Answering them is one of the more enjoyable things I get to do. Loved this one, and the asker –
especially in this season so focused on God forgiving us:

Rob ministered to a woman last Monday. Towards the end he became aware that she was harboring unforgiveness towards God for not rescuing her when she was being abused as a child. A woman in our group asked ” where in scripture can you find that God needs forgiving.” It was rattling because that is not what Rob said. So question. Are Rob and I unbiblical because of our belief that she was holding onto “unforgiveness” against God? anger-shared-with-god2

Great question.
Answer (at least this week):

I think what is being overlooked in this matter of forgiveness is who the forgiveness is really for. Does God “need” to be forgiven? I don’t suppose so. But most of us feel that way when we fill abandoned/ignored/ dumped etc by him! Hence we have wonderfully dark Psalms of complaint like Psalm 88…or try Psalm 73 on for size. “God is good…but BOY did I ever have a beef with him…until I finally saw things more clearly.” Watch the journey revealed there. Psychologically and spiritually we have to navigate our gripes with God through complaint and lament – which is what those Psalms are for. To stifle that by saying, “God doesn’t need forgiveness – he doesn’t have to answer to you and you have no right to speak to him about your ‘issues'” shuts down the healing process and denies the Psalms (the Word!) their God designed purpose in helping us through our hurts.

Does God need forgiveness? Perhaps not. But do we ever need to go through the process of forgiving him!
Oh yes we do.

Which reminds me of a story told by Lawrence Kushner. One of my all time favs.

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Now THAT’S a title…

THE STORY IS TOLD OF RABBI LEVI YITZHAK OF BERDITCHEV that once on Kol Nidre, the holiest night of the year when all sins are confessed, the tailor, one of the most devout members of the community, was absent. Concerned, the rabbi left the synagogue and went to the tailor’s home. To his surprise he found the tailor looking at a piece of paper before him on the table.

“What’s the matter?” asked Levi Yitzhak.”

“Oh, everything’s fine,” replied the tailor. “As I was getting ready to attend the service I made a list with two columns. At the top of one I wrote my name and at the top of the other I wrote, ‘God of all the Universe.’ Then, one by one, I began to list my sins. ‘Cheated Goldman out of a pair of trousers.’ And in God’s column I noted God’s omission: ‘Little girl died of diphtheria.’ Then the next sin, ‘Lost my temper with my children,’ and in God’s column, ‘I heard there was famine in another country.’” And so it went. The tailor showed the rabbi the completed list. “And for every sin I had committed during the past year, God had done one too. So I said to God, ‘Look, we each have the same number of sins. If you let me off, I’ll let You off!’”

But the story doesn’t end there. When the rabbi looked at the paper his face grew red and he scolded his friend: “You fool! You had Him and you let Him go!”

Lesson: Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty to let God go.
We may not be ready yet.

God, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do…

tradition

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2015 in haverings

 

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reading is powerful

Behold, the power of reading.
A wee snippet from a great blog post by Orange Marmalade.

Reading is powerful.

Reading aloud together forges enduring, companionable bonds as we journey together to new places and into new relationships, Jesse Wilcox Smith reading girlsexperience the emotions of a story together, make sense of stories together, create memories and build associations through story. We build a Secret Club, as it were, with passwords of just the odd word or phrase from countless stories that trigger curiously sweet camaraderie.  As we read, we join a larger community with all those who love sorting hats or Frogs and Toads or a red-haired girl who hates being called Carrots. Connection happens through reading, and connection makes the world a better place…

Reading heals.

how-to-write-a-book-report

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2015 in Books, Quotes, Reading

 

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awaken me

Son of Man,
rekindle my own humanity as you restore MA026
my faith
in humanity
as something good
you created in
your image.

Come divine breath!

Awaken me
from the dust of my sleep
to the divine possibilities
waiting
to be seized through
your mercies
this day.

Through Christ.

Just came across this prayer I wrote for those daily devotions I throw together each week.

Good prayer.
Needed prayer.
I love how my own words can sneak up on me,
put their hands over my eyes
and surprise me
as though I had never met them before.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Prayer

 

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