Tuesday, January 23, 2007

big-talking golden rulers

"Now I know a lot of this doesn't jive with the way many ministries are run today.In most cases we (the church) have given the impression that you must convert, or at least listen to our preaching, to benefit from our charity."

to which hineini responded with a whole nother blog:
I think this is a really interesting idea and one I'd like to speak with you all about a little more. Much has been made in previous posts about how easy it is to criticize the church, maybe more so in terms of its service to those "outside". I have been curious why this is so for quite some time. What I was thinking of offering here was maybe a form of question as to why this is. The simplistic version of the question is "Why doesn't the church do what it says" (as a nod to jollybeggar I will concede that this question already assumes the church guilty as charged) but I want to encourage anyone to pose that question anyway they'd like and offer any thoughts they have.

On my own behalf, I'd like to speak briefly about a distinction that I think offers very hopeful possibilities for a turn around for the church, or, the church's repentance if you will. I want to start by returning to the quote above, specifically the second sentence;

"In most cases we (the church) have given the impression that you must convert, or at least listen to our preaching, to benefit from our charity" (brotherken)

The problem I see here, and of course this problem offers a hopeful possibility, is the concept of charity. Now it may look like I'm playing semantics here, and to be fair I may have asked brotherken to clarify what he means (and I hope he will) but I think many of the difficulties the church faces currently in regards to "the least" is the church's inabilty to transcend charity, to move beyond charity to charity's better, solidarity.

Let me explain. As mentioned above in the conversation regarding the "golden rule" I mentioned that although the golden rule offers a helpful tool for generally peacable and charitable conduct towards those who surround me, it still uses my desires, how I would like to be treated, as a rule in determining how I should treat others. I must first decide what I want before I act and in acting, I in a sense, impose myself on the other, assuming they will want what I want. With charity the giver is never at risk, their position, their beliefs, their life are held in reserve from the other. They are giver, and the other is receiver. A one-way transaction, that in this world's economy cannot but create a debt in the receiver.

In order that this doesn't drag out I will get to what I see as the hopeful possibility. The step beyond charity (which is actually a step back for the "I") is solidarity. Now what do I mean by solidarity. Well, solidarity is the radical humilty of the self that seeks to empty itself (kenosis) of itself and instead privilage the other. The self keeps no interior fortress of unassailable beliefs or doctrines but seeks to move beyond the distinction between I and they. As an important side note, this rejection of the "us" and "them" distinction is not a collaspe into a collective "we" instead its a privilaging of the other. It is the embrace and pursuit of St Paul's words to "count others better than yourself".

Obviously there is much more to say but I'd like to hear what others have to say. (hineini)

...by the way, jollybeggar says 'thanks for the nod!'

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

the mask of oz

remembering how at bible school, one prof was notorious for tearing apart the presuppositions that these prairie kids fresh out of youth group and high school ISCF groups brought with them to their study of the scriptures...

by the end of the first term, there were always fewer Christians on campus! ha ha.

although at the time i found this incredibly challenging, i came to understand, over the years that followed, what this guy was doing... he was trying to coax us out of our warm, cozy caccoons where the inside walls were lovingly papered with old sunday-school papers from the 70's and pages from the comic-book version of the bible published by david c. cook in 1973. outside of that happy place was the real world. a place where real people had real questions arising from troubling everyday experiences- a place where a theological bumper-sticker bandaid just wouldn't stop the bleeding.

however, the thing that i still wrestle with today, just like then, is balance. on the one hand, i subscribe to a faith that, because all of the facts are not yet in, does not need to completely reason and qualify all ideas in order to exist; yet on the other hand, i cannot let myself become so accomodating that pretty much anything goes. steve taylor, a singer in the 80's described it well when he said 'you're so open-minded that your brain leaked out.'

i know that i'm not qualified to speak of higher criticism except as an observer. i work hard to qualify the things i teach, sure, but i recognize that this is simply my responsibility as a preacher... it has not been my life'swork. On any theologian's bookshelf there are whole books written by people who can read the ancient languages, who are well-versed in the ancient traditions, and have sat under the teaching of people who have entire wings in seminaries named after them. me? i have books written by people who have read books written by people who attended those seminaries. i understand this.

however, from my acknowledged place as an interactive observer, i have also seen how higher criticism has done much to strip the Bible of its authority among common people and scholars alike... it bothers me that we are so good at talking ourselves out of belief; so ready to be cynical; so eager to take the side of the sceptic rather than the mystic.

why is that? i have an opinion- but it's probably wrong because it oversimplifies things. here goes: i think that most of us are just not interested enough to actively pursue God's truth. it takes too much time and effort. too much reading. too much listening. too much praying. pick any spiritual discipline and you will probably find that it requires too much of us who are kinda comfortable where we are.

so 'when the weight of this world crashes down on you' (mark heard, circa '82) we are ill-equipped to face the barrage- defaulting instead to the sceptic's view, sitting with our face in our drink concluding 'there is no truth.'

actually, there is. the problem is that we are so unfamiliar with his revelation due to our lack of discipline that it is easier to speak of the mask of oz than to seek the face of God.

i realize that this post is incomplete-
but that is, after all, the freedom of a whole nother blog...

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Friday, January 12, 2007

rabbinical yoke?

recently in another conversation, a friend of mine figuratively mentioned "following the advice of a rabbi..."

which reminded me of an msn convo i had awhile back with societyVS about the people to whose teaching we subscribe and are most likely to readily cite. i know that, apart from musicians and poets who package human interpersonal and intrapersonal insights into soundbites that i can subliminally feed upon while driving in my car, there are a couple of writers whom i regularly go to for a word of truth. i'm sure many of us have these: it is probably telling to simply click on one's online profile for further details there...

anyway, something i read recently in velvet elvis by rob bell...

(discussed briefly and cross-linked in one of my favourite websites:

... about the traditional role of the rabbi seems to be relevant:

Now the ancient rabbis understood that the Bible is open-ended and has to be interpreted. And they understood that their role in the community was to study and mediate and discuss and pray and then make those decisions. Rabbis are like interpreters, helping people understand what God is saying to them through the text and what it means to live out the text...

Different rabbis had different sets of rules, which were really different lists of what they forbade and what they permitted. A rabbi's set of rules and lists, which was really that rabbi's interpretation of how to live the Torah, was called that rabbi's yoke. When you followed a certain rabbi, you were following him because you believed that rabbi's set of interpretations were the closest to what God intended through the Scriptures. And when you followed that rabbi, you were taking up that rabbi's yoke.

One rabbi even said his yoke was easy.

The intent then of a rabbi having a yoke wasn't just to interpret the words correctly; it was to live them out. In the jewish context, action was always the goal. It still is.

Rabbis would spend hours discussing with their students what it meant to live out a certain text. If a student made a suggestion about what a certain text meant and the rabbi thought that the student had totally missed the point, the rabbi would say, "You have abolished the Torah," which meant that in the rabbi's opinion, the student wasn't anywhere near what God wanted. But if the student got it right, if the rabbi thought the student had grasped God's intention in the text, the rabbi would say, "You have fulfilled the Torah."

Notice what Jesus says in one of his first messages: "I have not come to abolish [the Torah] but to fulfill [it]. He was essentially saying, "I didn't come to do away with the words of God; I came to show people what it looks like when the Torah is lived out perfectly, right down to the smallest punctuation marks."

"I'm here to put flesh and blood on the words."

Most rabbis taught the yoke of a well respected rabbi who had come before them. So if you visited a synogogue and the local rabbi (Torah teacher) was going to teach, you might hear that this rabbi teaches in the name of Rabbi So-and-So. If you were familiar with the yoke of Rabbi So-and-So, then you would know what to expect from this rabbi.

Every once in a while, a rabbi would come along who was teaching a new yoke, a new way of interpreting the Torah. This was rare and extraordinary.

Bell goes on to point out that, contained in all the talk about binding and loosing and keys to the kingdom, the yoke of Christ is to give his followers permission and the authority to debate and interpret scripture responsibly...

And not only is he giving them authority, but he is saying that when they do debate and discuss and pray and wrestle and then make decisions about the Bible, somehow God in heaven will be involved...
(rob bell, velvet elvis, exerpted pp 46-48, 2005)

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

crime and punishment?

"we must allow the worldly court system to do punish as it sees fit." (brotherken)

Why? This was the whole point of the post, to question this assumption. Can you give at least some reasons to support this? If you'll read above, I ask whether Jesus' words don't offer a way to seperate justice from punishment (and especially violence) and with the immensity of violence surrounding us today I am looking for every possible hope offered. (hineini)

is 'justice' an objective concept... or is it cultural, circumstancial, situational, and personal?

another question might be how lady justice can wield a sword faithfully while blindfolded?

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

sanctimony baloney

okay, i've been thinking about this for awhile...
especially since we hit the 40-somethingth comment on the 'cruel God' post...
this dialogue is just too rich to shut down.

although i was trying to close off this blog, the conversation kept moving forward. it didn't even surrender to redundency and circle logic... it just kept progressing.

what kind of an idiot would pull the plug on that?
not this kind, anyway.

the challenge has been to either come up with something new to post or change the whole blog. the e-pistles idea was certainly dialogue based, but originally it was a place to put long-winded explorations of things that had sprung from other emails, comment boxes etc. after awhile, the phrase 'but that's a whole nother blog' started to appear whenever it felt like a tangent was developing. the idea of starting a blog that entertained only the tangents started around then...
a blog that allowed ideas to flow like sweet wine.
an oasis that might have five or six posts all going simultaneously in different directions... something for those of us with attention deficits... those of us who are currently reading four or five books at a time and seem to never be finishing any of them in chronological order.

lately, this has been that blog in a way. it's been a great place to talk, and has been, in the comment boxes of the last two official 'posts' changed direction and focus numerous times. it's been awesome in that it has both challenged and affirmed.

so here's what we can do...
every (or most) time(s) a comment takes us in a different direction, i will just copy and paste it as a new post so that we can continue the one thread while recognizing and embracing the new 'tangents' along the way too. this way the blog will grow naturally out of ongoing dialogue like the many tributaries of a morris louis painting, except that instead of convergent streams of paint these are divergent streams of ideas.
that's why the new name and that's why the new look. the same idea stream with a key difference: the topical flow is less restricted and less reliant upon whether yours truly has anything on his mind these days.
what follows is what prompted the last post, and probably the reason why this blog has stalled for so long. see it as a confessional.
i remember a conversation that i had with a friend of mine long ago. we were going through a rather 'rocky' period in our relationship, and one day he asked me why we were always fighting. i didn't even have to think... it just came out:

"because we both know we're right."

okay, so i think i'm still figuring some things out.

a few weeks back, on the same listserve that brought us that controversial piece of wisdom from charles spurgeon (don't think i've ever heard spurgeon refered to as controversial! ha ha) about what debates to enter into, there was a post by someone else who holds a very critical and exclusive (dareisay exclusionary?) perspective on postmodernity and the emerging church.

the good thing about a list like this is that it is run essentially by the people who read it (as opposed to being an 'official' company line on anything.) the bad thing is that it features mainly the cerebral meanderings of many people who should probably just start their own blogs and send the address out to the crowd one time. you can hardly even read the 'del' on my delete key anymore.

now at the risk of sounding disunitive (and amidst a fair bit of sanctimony baloney of my own) i have found the sanctimonious nature of the posts by this one writer on this one email list a bit annoying. at my darkest, i read them so that i can be annoyed, but at my brightest, i choose to not read them because they annoy me... not much of a gap there. not much grace.
so much for being mr free-exchange-of-ideas.

anyway, in his post, this guy was extolling the virtues of a certain book that, in his view, all postmoderns and all emergent pastors should read. in the same post, he shared a few tidbits as anticipatory teasers to ready the soil for the seeds of wisdom that he would be sharing in a forthcoming synopsis and review of the book.

reading the teasers caused me to wonder by whom and for whom such a book is written.

it is the same thing. no big deal, the writer just believes he's right. he's found intellectual acquiesence among many, like the fellow posting the review, who subscribe to the same views. i am reminded of the episode of the simpsons where bart gets kicked out of school and, before finally settling on home-schooling, he is briefly enroled by marge in a school that proudly but falsely promises to put "the fun in fundamentalist dogma."

you see, from within rich personal tradition and its ugly twin, ethnocentricity, people who write often write at everyone else who, in this view, is obviously wrong and misguided... not to them.

from this place, a person often thinks that he/she is helping when he/she presumes to advise others... but in trying to acknowledge societal, philosophical, theological or doctrinal change from an unchanging (although not immutable- simply subjected to and strengthened in its resolve by opposing worldviews and new traditions) vantage point, one risks mispresumption on a number of levels. i wonder how often i wear that hat? i'm pretty sure i'm wearing it now, but i'm going to stand in front of the mirror for a few minutes and just see what i look and feel like with it on.

yep- i look and feel like an ass. call me not-so-jolly-beggar- jollybeggar's ugly twin.

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