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dangerous preachers

 

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How’s that as a test for one’s true orthodoxy?
Not your letters.
Not your grasp of languages.
Not your mastery of classic works of systematic theology.
Not your memorization and recitation of vast tracts of Biblical text.

But your appreciation of beauty.
Your ability to say with Christ, “Behold the lilies of the field” or “Consider the ravens.”

Rohr observes this about St. Francis in his most recent book Eager to Love:

Those who have analyzed the writings of Francis have noted that…

…he uses the word doing rather than understanding at a ratio of 175 times to five;
heart is used 42 times to one use of mind;
love is used 23 times as opposed to 12 uses of truth;
Mercy is used 26 times while intellect is used only one time.

This is a very new perspective that is clearly different from (and an antidote to) the verbally argumentative Christianity of his time, and from the highly academic theology that would hold sway for the next thousand years. He took prayer on the road and into the activity of life itself.

May we all be such dangerous preachers with our path as our pulpit, the wide world our sanctuary, and our Sacred Text writ large across heaven and earth…

 

the-word-beauty

 

 

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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in haverings, Pastoring, Quotations, Religion

 

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third law of theology

Third-Law-of-Theology-Brunner-Barth

Yes. It’s a rule.

And it reminds me of my favorite statement ever by a theologian about theologians.

Theology – an enterprise that, despite the oftentimes homicidal urgency Christians attach to it, has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus, and the way we lay hold of that salvation is by faith. And faith is something that, throughout this book, I shall resolutely refuse to let mean anything other than trusting Jesus. It is simply saying yes to him rather than no. It is, at its root, a mere “uh-huh” to him personally.
It does not necessarily involve any particular theological structure or formulation; it does not entail any particular degree of emotional fervor; and above all, it does not depend on any specific repertoire of good works – physical, mental, or moral. It’s Just “Yes, Jesus,” till we die – just letting the power of his resurrection do, in our deaths, what it has already done in his.

My purpose in saying this so strongly, however, is not simply to alert you to some little band of intellectuals called theologians who may try to talk you into thinking otherwise. Such types exist, of course, but they are usually such bores that all they do is talk you out of wanting even to breathe. No, the reason for my vehemence is that all of us are theologians. Every one of us would rather choose the right-handed logicalities of theology over the left-handed mystery of faith. Any day of the week – and twice on Sundays, often enough – we will labor with might and main to take the only thing that can save anyone and reduce it to a set of theological club rules designed to exclude almost everyone.

Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly – or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up. Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making fools of themselves. Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want.

Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.

Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

a watershed read for me

a watershed read for me

 

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2014 in Quotations, Religion

 

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religious ruckus

This week’s installment of the MAV…John 7:53-8:11…a religious ruckus involving a disreputable woman in a disputed passage...

Meanwhile, Jesus made his way to the Mount of Olives outside the city.

But not for long.

Early the next morning he was right back at it in the temple. All the crowd flocked to him looking for more, and he obliged them. Having taken his seat, he began teaching them – until a major religious ruckus broke out, Scripture pundits and strict sect types showing up, a woman in tow, a woman caught red-handed in the act of adultery.

They sought no private audience with Jesus, they pushed her right into the center where Jesus was teaching, challenging him,

“Rabbi, this woman was caught red-handed in the very act of adultery! We know what Moses in the law says must be done to such a woman – death by stoning. But what do you say?”

And in case you hadn’t figured it out, this whole thing was a set up; they were just looking for ammunition to nail writingindirtJesus to the wall.

But Jesus didn’t bite or budge.

He just stooped down and started doodling in the dirt with his finger.

The religious lynch mob didn’t budge either.
They stood there and kept prodding him with their own pointed fingers of accusation.

Jesus finally looked up at them and said,

“The only one with a rock in his hand is the one with no sin in his heart.”

And then he was back to finger doodling in the dirt.

Stunned by what they heard, they began to clear out, one by one, from the oldest to the youngest of them, until she was left
all
alone –
just the woman,
right there in the center.

Looking up again, Jesus spoke to her.

“Woman, where did they all go?
What, no judge and jury to condemn you?”

She said, sheepishly, “Lord, none at all.”

“Well then, you won’t hear any condemnation from me either.
On your way – only, from now on,
how about avoiding the ruts of sin
and aiming higher.”

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Gospel of John, MAV, Mercy, Religion

 

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zealot…it bothers me

Just finished reading Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.zealot

It made a bit of a splash when it came out, as I recall. The bottom line from the evangelical scholarly corner seemed to be that Aslan doesn’t add much new to the conversation. But I was intrigued to read what a professor who hails from Persia, who became a believer after coming to America and then, after entering the realm of higher education, ceased being a follower of Christ and pursued knowing and following Jesus of Nazareth.

I loved his dance through the milieu of first century history leading up to Jesus through the Jewish War and its aftermath. It was like reading a novelized version of Josephus.

I didn’t feel hostility towards Christianity as traditionally received and understood in the West, just honesty as to how he sees things. If you can’t handle listening to another perspective on Jesus and early Christian history (I know I couldn’t in my college years! I did more talking back than listening then; perhaps a common affliction of youth – and of those who never grow up) then this is one to skip.

Otherwise the walk through history is worth it, and the alternative take on early Christian history stretching – hopefully in a good way.

one of the better portraits of Jesus I've seen...

one of the better portraits of Jesus I’ve seen…

For me it underlined just what a venture of faith this whole God business is.

And how essential it is to hold that faith with deep humility.

We like to think that Christ and Christianity is all black and white, the verdict in, it’s all just looking at the facts; that Christianity is not so much a matter of trust as of proof and instead of a venturesome, outlandish, upside down faith, there is only a clear-cut factual equation leading to a response that is more “well, duh” than “WTH?”

If it’s God, we must be left shaking our heads, wondering “What just happened?” or even “Did that just happen?” The religious and irreligious both traffic in assembled factual certitudes vigourously defended; this business of God and life is much more slippery stuff. The clearest revelations of God are always delivered in envelopes of doubt sealed with uncertainties and second guessing launching us into the struggle that is faith, the struggle that is God.

And that is one of the gifts that Aslan gave me in this book.

He bothered me.

And that is a good thing.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Books, Faith, haverings, Religion

 

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the right position on everything

It may be difficult to imagine a religious phenomenon more diverse than modern-day lost-christianitiesChristianity. There are Roman Catholic missionaries in developing countries who devote themselves to voluntary poverty for the sake of others, and evangelical televangelists who run twelve-step programs to ensure financial success. There are New England Presbyterians and Appalachian snake handlers. There are Greek Orthodox priests committed to the liturgical service of God, replete with set prayers, incantations, and incense, and fundamentalist preachers who view high-church liturgy as a demonic invention. There are liberal Methodist political activists intent of transforming society, and Pentecostals who think that society will soon come to a crashing halt with the return of Jesus. And there are followers of David Koresh – still today – who think the world has already started to end, beginning with the events at Waco, a fulfillment of prophecies from Revelation. Many of these Christian groups, of course, refuse to consider other such groups Christian.

All of this diversity of belief and practice, the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities.

What could be more diverse than this variegated phenomenon, Christianity in the modern world? In fact there may be an answer: Christianity in the ancient world. As historians have come to realize, during the first three Christian centuries, the practices and beliefs found among people who called themselves Christian were so varied that the differences between Roman Catholics, Primitive Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists pale by comparison.

Reading these opening words from Ehrman’s Lost Christianities one day I was then met by this contemplation from Richard Rohr the next:

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical traditionalism of T.S. Eliot: “You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel . . . ” (Little Gidding)

quite a view

quite a view

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is non-dual consciousness.

Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us each from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action.

Significant bookends.

Between them came the reading of a current skirmish (one of many!) in the blogosphere involving Tony Jones and a recent post of his about declaring a clear schism in the body of Christ over the issue of women in ministry (if interested see here and here).

So much heat generated by words! Which is the way it has always been, and the way it will always be – at least as long as we are human beings. It does little good to lament or wring our hands and heart over verbal skirmishing and tussling. It’s what we have done whether Christian or not. It’s what we do. It’s a human being thing.

a really bad version of "onward christian soldiers"

a really bad version of “onward christian soldiers”

Right or left or wherever in between we are people obsessed with being right.
We are all the “Strict Sect” man (traditionally called “Pharisee”) “confident in himself and despising all others.” Embrace one brief moment of complete honesty and admit it. It’s why the story Jesus tells there still works. It’s another pivotal reality check.

Christianity (Christianities!) unfortunately just channels that human energy in many new directions to many new religious outlets and expressions and gives us fresh ways and reasons to fight (oh goody!).

Reading Rohr’s diagnosis and prescription, I am reminded that Jesus didn’t come to make us all one species, one homogeneous society, any more than the Doctor wants all to be alternately upgraded or deleted.

He came to teach us to kneel.

actually this position works too

actually this position works too

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2013 in haverings, Religion, Unity

 

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Gatsby God

Old story. Familiar story.

So easy to go into blah blah blah mode. Yes. Even with Scripture. Sometimes especially with Scripture. So it was nice when this old story popped at me (thanks, again, John Henson and your Good as New translation):

This is what it’s like in the Bright New World. There was once a head of state whose son was getting married. Good As NewThe head of state was making plans for the wedding reception and sent details of the time and place to those on the invitation list. But nobody replied to say they were coming. So the head of state sent another set of messengers with a note saying, ‘Everything is ready. The food has been prepared and the table decorations have been made. Please let us know if you intend to come to the wedding reception.’ But nobody could be bothered to reply. One booked a holiday for the same date, another went off to a cottage in the country, and another arranged a business trip. Some gave the messengers a hostile reception. The head of state was very put out. Those who had treated the invitation with contempt were deprived of their offices of state and all their privileges. The head of state said to the messengers, ‘It will all go ahead as planned, but those on the official invitation list don’t deserve to be there. Go into the street and invite everybody you meet to the wedding reception.’ The messengers went up and down the high street and invited everybody, good and bad. As you can imagine, the place was heaving. But when the head of state came in to chat with the guests he noticed someone wearing a disapproving frown. The head of state said, ‘Friend, how did you get in here with a face like that?’ The person with the angry look couldn’t think of an answer. So the bouncers were called to do their duty. The head of state said, ‘Outside is the place for those who choose to be miserable.’” (God’s party is for everybody, but not everybody displays the party spirit!)

This is traditionally called the “parable of the wedding feast” (found in Matthew 22:1-14).

yeah, pretty much this... and this would be his idea of a party game

yeah, pretty much this… and this would be his idea of a party game

For some reason, I always saw the king as grumpy. I mean, when the party is finally pulled off, he goes in evidently to inspect the guests, and finding one dressed inappropriately has him thrown to hell.

I can’t tell how many times in the old days I heard this story cited as undeniable proof for dressing in your Sunday best at church. Even though I haven’t seen this story in such a negative light for some time, it still had that aura of “I hope I get this right because he’s coming for an inspection” performance feel to it.

 

Until I read it in Good as New.

What a different take on this “head of state”! And it’s there in the text the whole time.

His heart is bursting for the party. He simply won’t be denied his exuberant, extravagant, over-the-top celebration. Even a boatload of unresponsive, apathetic yawners who won’t even bother to hit “reply” won’t dampen his spirits. Nor will those who go beyond apathy to actively unfriending him and his messengers. Sure, he cashiers them, but he’s still going to throw the party. So all the nobodies, the riff raff, the undesirables flood the house, and he comes in, not to inspect, but to join in the fun. This has been the whole point, after all! If anything, he wants to make sure everyone is having a good time. Think Gatsby, only for losers instead of highbrows.

And then, like the proverbial fly in the ointment, he sees someone who totally ticks him off.

Not because they weren’t dressed well enough.

Not because they weren’t good enough or bad enough.

some days this could come in handy...

some days this could come in handy…

It was the disapproving, scowling frown.

“Friend, how did you get in here with a face like that? Outside is the place for those who choose to be miserable.” And out he goes.

And how about the rendering of “many are called but few chosen” (which to me signals exclusivity, high performance or status levels, and a “gee I hope I’m good enough” ‘party’ mood) with “God’s party is for everyone, but not everyone displays the party spirit.” So joy is the qualification here as in “love, joy, peace,” etc.

ah, the missing key...

ah, the missing key…

We’ve seen it. We’ve all done it. God is throwing the ultimate party and all we can do is gossip about the guest list, critique the catering, despise the cake, ridicule the best man’s toast and spread a toxic, carping, caviling, critical spirit everywhere. God has a very simple response: He unfriends you. And then out you go where those who choose to be miserable can enjoy each other’s miserable company, and then maybe you’ll think better of it. Maybe.

The same day I read this I came across this from Richard Rohr in a reflection he entitled “Smiling is a Form of Salvation”:

That’s why the holy old man can laugh and the holy old woman can smile. I heard recently that a typical small child smiles three hundred times a day and typical old men smile three times a day in our culture. What has happened between six and sixty? Whatever it is, it tells me that religion is not doing its job very well.

All of this makes me wonder about my own spontaneous smile quotient is – where am I in that 3 to 300 smile range on a typical day?

some days this is what it would take...

some days this is what it would take…

This isn’t a post to guilt you or me into forcing a smile, wearing a mask when your heart is broken, or faking it until you make it. That’s called business as usual, especially in church life.

It’s more like an invitation I just received when reading this story through fresh eyes. An invitation to embrace a totally different party spirit than the one most of our religion and politics encourage and stir.

I’m just choosing to hit “reply”, to click “like”, and to step into the party of life leaving the cynical frown and caustic remarks at the door, not because I want to please and impress, but because I’ve just been exposed to contagious Joy Personified.

Thought I’d share the invitation.

The party is for everyone…

smiles 1

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2013 in Church, Gospel of Matthew, haverings, Religion

 

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project 89

The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold pastrixup to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

His name is Carl. At least that’s what I’ll call him.

We sat in what I call the “Nook” in the Vineyard bookstore (BookCellar) which essentially functions as my “office” for at least half of each work week. It’s a place of words, either written, read, or spoken. In this case spoken as Carl tells me his story.

Raised LDS. Married in the Temple. Missionary. Divorced. Disillusioned. Searching.
And now perhaps on to something, but what?

Carl found himself being dunked in the Boise River at our annual river baptism in August. Now he seems to be asking “What the hell happened in that river?” What does he do now? What does this mean? He’s done the religion thing, and that has no appeal. He’s done the irreligion thing. Just as flat. Is there a third option? And if so, what does it look like?

I listen and then I share my experience. Fifteen-year-old youth devouring the 1189 chapters that make up what we know as the Bible. Said boy counting up the number of chapters in the New Testament (since there was no Google to Google in 1975 – and the answer is 265 chapters) and then calculating how many chapters a day he would have to read to get through the New Testament in a week, two weeks, a month, and then doing that at about that pace (take your pick) for at least the next decade, with the Old Testament thrown in for good measure with a read through every six months.

Ferocious appetite, and one that ultimately landed me in the New Testament Epistles. And there I camped. In fact, I memorized them all over the next twenty years.

stained-glass image... because I was afraid to search for "St. Francis stripping naked"

stained-glass image… because I was afraid to search for “St. Francis stripping naked”

And then I told Carl the story of St. Francis – at least as best I could remember it at the moment.

Stripping himself naked.

Taking hold of the Gospels.

A simple devotion: read the Gospels; do what you find there.

I tell Carl I wish I had been told that story when I was fifteen, as I was telling him right now. I tell him I wish I had put all that reading and memorizing energy into the four Gospels.

 

“How many chapters are in the four Gospels?” I blurt out.

A quick verbal tally.

Matthew – 28
Mark – 16
Luke – 24
John – 21

That’s 89. Jesus. In 89 chapters. I laugh. And I was pouring so much effort into mastering 265 or actually all 1189…

Jesus.

Carl, I can’t tell you what to do, nor would I presume to provide you with a formula to spiritual growth and maturity. There are plenty of books in here that will do that for you. Just pick one. “But if you would be perfect,” go, strip naked, and take the four Gospels. Three chapters a day. Day after day, week after week, month after month, for the next year. Then I would like to see you this time next year so you can tell me just how badly Jesus has screwed up your life – because he will. This journey will ruin you, undo you, redo you, reshape you. And you will hate much of it.

Just the Gospels. One year. Every month. Leave the other 1100 chapters alone. They will come later. And when they do they will screw you over again, big time. By your own admission, in your former religious life you had at least one too many books. Welcome to the club.

So.

Strip naked.
Take the Gospels.
Read.
Do what you find there.

And I did such a good sales job that I sold myself.

The hardest part? Easily it’s the stripping naked part. I’ll be working on that one for a while.

But in the meantime, as I strip, I’m just taking the four gospels.

Three chapters a day.
Even in Greek that’s a piece of cake.

Ahh, but now the doing what I find there. Yes, now that will take some doing.

if I'm stripping, I guess I'll have to skip the shirt

if I’m stripping, I guess I’ll have to skip the shirt

 

 

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