29 March 2010

Reflection: 03-10

Since my latest purchase has yet to arrive, I had to decide on a book for this month’s reflection. I didn’t really know what to do. There wouldn’t be any time to order another and have it show up in time. It was about this time that Carl McColman posted a review of Brian McLaren’s latest book, A New Kind of Christianity. I have read some of McLaren’s stuff before and had already determined that I might purchase this book and just read it for my own enjoyment. I was still up in the air about it – until Carl’s review. And, I had a coupon for 30% off at Border’s! So, it was an easy sell.

Well, I’m so glad I purchased this book! Once more, McLaren puts voice to my inner struggles. A few years ago, I was going through a dark place in my walk. I wrote about this in a story in my first few reflections. It was dark and I knew that there was something missing. Something real. And that’s how McLaren starts his book, too - ‘Between Something Real and Something Wrong’. I knew, like McLaren, that Jesus was real. I experience him daily. But something was very wrong. I didn’t seem to fit anymore. The stories I had grown up with and the ones I embraced as I got older just weren’t making sense any more. And I didn’t really know how to handle it or to whom to turn. I remember sitting at the administrative assistance desk where I used to work working on her computer when a co-worker suggested I read one of McLaren’s books, A New Kind of Christian (It’s a semi-autobiographical work of fiction about his struggles). ‘It will really address some of your questions,’ he said to me. I began to cry. ‘I sure hope so,’ I choked. ‘I can’t do this any more.’

In A New Kind of Christianity McLaren poses ten questions, divided into two ‘books’, facing the followers of Jesus today. He gathered these from his various travels and Q&R sessions (these are question and response session since, he states, answers end the conversation while responses encourage it to continue). These are:

   Book One, Unlocking and Opening:
         01. The Narrative Question
         02. The Authority Question
         03. The God Question
         04. The Jesus Question
         05. The Gospel Question
   Book Two, Emerging and Exploring
         06. The Church Question
         07. The Sex Question
         08. The Future Question
         09. The Pluralism Question
         10. The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question

Obviously I won’t be reflecting on each chapter, but I hope to hit some of the high points that really struck a cord within me. The first one I want to write about is the first question – the narrative question. It is ‘What is the Overarching Story Line of the Bible?’

McLaren uses the following diagram to explain the story line that we – in the West at least – have been taught, whether explicitly or implicitly:





‘We do not for a second say, “These six lines present the true shape of the biblical narrative, but we reject it.” Rather, we stare at this narrative, scratch our heads, and with a bewildered look ask, “How in the world, how in God’s name, could anyone ever think that this is the narrative of the Bible?’ (pg. 35) When responding to a question about the shape of the biblical narrative, McLaren realized that there are two ways of reading the Bible – frontwards and backwards. He holds that what we have been told is a backwards reading. ‘When looking backwards to Jesus . . . , we aren’t directly seeing Jesus. We’re seeing Paul’s view of Jesus, then Augustine’s view of Paul’s view of Jesus, and then Aquinas’s view of Augustine’s view of Paul’s view of Jesus, and so on’ (pg 36). He then suggested that another way of seeing Jesus is by looking at him in the unfolding story of the Bible – staring with Adam, then Abraham, then Moses, then David, then the prophets, then John the Baptist, then finally Jesus.

‘Once I acknowledged . . . these two very different ways of understanding Jesus, and once I acknowledged that nobody in the Hebrew Scriptures ever talked about original sin, total depravity, “the Fall”, or eternal conscious torment in hell, a suspicion began to grow in me about where the six-lined narrative might possible have come from. I was able to articulate it a few months later in a conversation with a friend, as I recounted my little exercise in setting up the backward and forward lines of sight to see Jesus: “What we call the biblical story line isn’t the shape of the story of Adam, Abraham, and their Jewish descendants. It’s the shape of the Greek philosophical narrative that Plato taught! That’s the descent into Plato’s cave of illusion and the ascent into philosophical enlightenment.” Some time after that, in a conversation with another friend, I realized it was also the social and political narrative of the Roman Empire, and so I began calling it the Greco-Roman narrative’ (pg 37).

He goes on to state that the Greco-Roman view is ‘habitually dualistic’. I can completely attest to this. It seems more often than not in Western Christian circles, people are so gripped by this view. It is a very hard view to break from. Things just are never ‘simply’ black or white. Life is much more complex than that. We are so ingrained with this from a very young age – winners or losers, right answer or wrong answer, conservative or liberal, left or right, etc. But as we mature, thankfully, some of us see that this dualism is just flat out wrong (I write with a smirk).

Or is it? As McLaren explains towards the end of the book, dualism can be seen as just an early stage in human development as the only way things could be seen. That is, people are all at different places on this odyssey. To claim that we are somehow better than they it to replicate the problems of the past. But we need to understand that ‘people in a certain zone of a religion or denomination are seeing God in the only way they can see God, and as only they can see God’ (pg 235). The point then is to recognize that some ways of seeing are actually helpful in human theological development. People have to first grasp the simple things before they can grasp the loftier things.

For example, McLaren uses math text books to show what he means. On a desk there are a series of school math books, from first-grade to sixth-grade. Picking up the second-grade text book, one reads, ‘You can not subtract a larger number from a smaller number’. Then, you pick up the sixth-grade math book and read, ‘Today we will learn about negative numbers. You will learn how to subtract a larger number from a smaller number’. Now, if we looked at the world in a straight dualistic way, we would say that these things are contradictions. The two statements can’t both be accurate (or ‘true’ if we were really living in that dualistic world). But if we saw that one helps to understand the concept of subtraction – as a stepping stone for what is coming later – one can see that the two texts are indeed completely compatible. This is how McLaren answers the God and Jesus questions, i.e., the supposedly contradictory views of the Old Testament God and the New Testament God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, it must be stated, if one keeps the Greco-Roman view of God, then the two views of God are indeed contradictory. You can’t get around it. The Bible is full of holes when reading it with those glasses on. The Greco-Roman view depicts God as the violent ‘Theos’ (McLaren’s term) who is all about perfection and people screwed it up. Therefore, the true nature of ‘Theos’ comes out and ‘He’ (in this view ‘Theos’ is most definitely a male god) is all about slaughtering and destroying everything that is not perfect. There might be some people that make it to the new place ‘Theos’ is creating because of their ‘right’ beliefs about Jesus, but the majority of people and the whole cosmos will be completely wiped out. At least the created world will be annihilated. Humans will have to suffer forever in conscious eternal torment in hell. I submit that this is where a lot of people today have problems with the ‘traditional’ view of God and the Bible. But, what if we start off by using a different over-arching story? What if we humbly admit that we have gotten it wrong and that we need to start over? What if we acknowledge that we have should have taken ‘that left toin at Albecoiky’ (in my best Bugs Bunny voice)? But what story would that be? What would it look like? What do those glasses reveal?

Ah, those are the questions. And McLaren does a great job at showing the love and mercy of God, the God whom Jesus knew as Father. McLaren starts with the Genesis story and gets to the part about warning Adam and Eve that they would ‘die’ – not spiritual death, not covenantal death, not death some day – the day they eat of the tree. That day comes and God starts searching for them. Like children who know they have done something they were not supposed to, Adam and Eve ran and hid! They hid from God. But what happens when God finds them? Does God wipe them out? Does God rip them to pieces? No. We read about God’s mercy. God, knowing that they have made a mess of things, covers their shame and sends them away. In other words, they don’t die that very day. God curtailed wrath with Love. That’s because God is Love. Just like a parent who tells her son not to ride his bike down that large hill and then discovers that he did and wrecked his bike and is in the emergency room, she isn’t really concerned with how badly the bike is damaged or what the hospital bill will be. Her only concern is the safety of her son. That is the image that McLaren paints of the God Genesis 1-3. He then continues the book by using images of creation and reconciliation (Genesis), liberation and formation (Exodus), and new creation and the peace-making reign (Isaiah) to shape our understanding of God in the Jewish Scriptures. When this is done, McLaren claims, we see Jesus in a whole new light. We see in him the goal to where that whole story was going.

What we find, when seeking Jesus in this light, though these glasses, is a Jesus for people of any faith tradition or no faith tradition. We see a Jesus embodies the very image of the invisible God. One how loves even to death. One who becomes a servant to all people. One who no longer calls people slaves, but calls them friends. One who shows us not only the face of God but what true humanity looks like. What true humanity can become. Now that, that is really ‘good news’. Not just for Christians. But for Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and so on.

But what about John 14.6? What about, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me’? What about that verse? Well, he addresses that (and very well, I might add). To get the full force of his exegesis, you have to read the book. But the summary is this: When Jesus made that statement, he was not talking about people of other religions or of no religion! He was answering a question that had nothing to do with Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, or so on. Therefore, to use that type of ‘in or out’ thinking is to force that Greco-Roman understanding upon the text. And that is not the story of the God of the Bible. Over and over again, the story of the God of the Bible is one of reconciling all of creation; of blessing all peoples; of bringing together a new humanity in Christ. Not starting a new religion. But bringing Jesus, a true humanity, to all people. That is what a new kind of Christianity is all about.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack

28 March 2010

Collect for Palm Sunday

All loving and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Child our Savior Jesus Christ to take our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us th example of that great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of Christ's suffering, and also share in the resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

22 March 2010

Collect for the Last Sunday in Lent

Loving God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinner: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen

14 March 2010

Really?

My darling wife and I were at Border's this evening.  As usual, I perused the 'Religion' section.  I'm always looking for some new book by Bishop Tom or Thomas Merton or some Orthodox books.  Tonight, while I was reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Merton when I glanced up.  There, amidst the Bibles was a new study Bible - The Case for Christ Study Bible.  Really?  First of all, do we really need a new study Bible?  I mean, dang!  We have, like, a gizzillion Bibles!  Second, isn't the idea of the New Testament to begin with a 'case for Christ'?  This, to me, stunk of greed.  And then I looked at the whole section and became nauseated.  What are we doing, family?  I can understand different translations (albeit, those, too, are becoming a bit much).  But a 'study' Bible for every new thing under the sun?  And the idea of a 'case for Christ' study Bible is just plain silly.  There is absolutely no reason for it.  No reason other than to feed our need for cosumption!  To line the pockets of the publishing company.  Give me a good translation with some good guidance, and we're good.  We don't need another stupid (yeah, I said it) 'study' Bible - especially one geared to convince someone through our modern understanding of 'facts' that Jesus was the Christ.  That is what the New Testament is all about!

Sorry.  Rant's over.  Now on to your regularly scheduled programming.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack

Have we committed idolatry?

Have we committed idolatry?

That is, Jesus never intended on starting a new religion.  He came to inagurate the highly anticipated 'Reign (or Kingdom) of God'.  He came to show us a Way of living that could be incorporated into all religious traditions or non-religious ones.

Look at this passage from the Gospel of John 4:

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.  But the time is coming — indeed it’s here now — when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming — the one who is called Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

We are familiar with this story, so I'm just going to point out a couple of things (but not the (so-called) rudeness of Jesus' statement in verse 22!).  First, Jesus said that it will no longer matter where one worships God.  The point is that you worship.  It can be on a mountain or in a temple or at your home.  It no longer will matter.

Next is when this it to be.  Jesus told her, 'The time is coming - indeed, it is here now...'  This is not something coming in the far distant future.  It was started when Jesus walked the earth!  The time is now.

This is reminiscent of other statements of Jesus.  In Luke 4, we read:

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.  The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

   “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
      for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
      that the blind will see,
   that the oppressed will be set free,
      and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down.  All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently.  Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

That is, the long awaited Reign of God was finally upon them and it was finding it's genesis in Jesus.  Now we all want oppression to cease some day.  We all want justice to be served some day.  We all want world peace some day.  We all want equality of all peoples some day.  But the astonishing thing is that Jesus stated that the wait is over!  Now is the time for all of this!  Not some day, but right now.  Are we working to implement those things?  Are we living each moment of every day in the complete conviction that this is true?

But, we in all of our great wisdom (that was sarcasm, if you couldn't tell), found out that it was too difficult to live the Way.  It was far easier to start a new religion with our own set of rules and procedures and policies and hierarchy.  Oh, we still believe that Jesus came to establish those things, but we have put them off until the very end.  'Those things will happen eventually, at the end, when God starts all over.'  But that is not what Jesus said.  That is not what the whole mission of the infant church was.  When we read some of the New Testament, we are reading about the expansion of that vision - of what it looks like in day to day life.  Those great women and men of old lived that every day.  They worked to implement the Way of living in all of life.  It wasn't until later that we determined that it would be far easier to just create our own place in the world.  But then, we 'cop[ied] the behavior and customs of this world' (Romans 12.2).  We started thinking that our rules and regulations - our religion - was better than all others.  We have become just like the people of Jesus' day.  We have stopped worshipping God in spirit and truth and have turned it into the rules and regulations of men.  We have become idolators.  To paraphrase the Jesus Prayer offered by our Orthodox family:

Lord Jesus Christ, Child of God, have mercy on us sinners.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack

Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father-Mother, whose blessed Child Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that Christ may live in us, and we in Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

13 March 2010

Antisemitism and the New Testament

I had a conversation a fellow bus friend yesterday.  During our conversation, he asked about the New Testament's antisemitism.  My first response was that it could be conceived as a response to the Jewish persecution of the infant church.  That is, the first followers of Jesus were persecuted by the Jews.  The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Saul (whom later becomes Paul) had letters from the Jewish authorities to go and find people of 'The Way' and bring them back for trial.

Upon reflection this morning, however, I pose a question: Can someone be labeled 'antisemitic' if they are Jewish?  That is, the writers of the New Testament make it clear that the first converts to 'The Way' were Jewish people.  Jesus, himself, was a Jew.  His execution was not at the instigation of the Romans but his fellow Jews.  The imprisonment, torture, and execution of those first followers of Jesus was brought about by Jewish people.  Granted, those things were carried out by the Romans, but the genesis of the persecution was from the Jews.

Now, if these persecution were started by the Romans or some other Gentile group, or if the writing of the New Testament were strictly written by Gentiles, then I could see the accuracy of the antisemitic claim.  Just like if I, being 'white' make derogatory remarks about African Americans, I would be called a racist.  Or if I, being male, made degrading remarks about women, I would be labeled a sexist.  But, a black person can use the 'n' word and a woman comedian can talk, very frankly and disrespectfully, about women.  And those things are consider alright.  But someone on the outside can't talk like that.

Furthermore, people don't seem to mind the 'antisemitism' found in the Jewish Scriptures.  We have prophets coming forward time and again stating the their fellow Jews are just as bad as the surrounding Gentiles (read Amos for an example of this).  Jewish people don't seem to have any problems with this found in their own scriptures.  Why?  I submit it's because it is coming from inside their tradition.

Likewise, look at what St Paul wrote in Romans:

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness.  My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.  My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters.  I would be willing to be forever cursed — cut off from Christ! — if that would save them.  They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children.  God revealed his glory to them.  He made covenants with them and gave them his law.  He gave them the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are their ancestors, and Christ himself was an Israelite as far as his human nature is concerned.  And he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise!  Amen.
Does that sound like the heart of an antisemitic person?  Absolutely not!  Therefore, I believe that the charge of antisemitism in the New Testament is unfounded.  Precisely because it was written from those within that tradition. Jewish people were making comments about their fellow Jews.  They were pointing out the glaring problems within their own tradition.  This is not antisemitism.  These are a prophets trying to bring their people back to the foundations of their faith.


~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,


Jack

07 March 2010

Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent

Loving God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

06 March 2010

Didache - Chapter 2

2 The Second Commandment

2:1 The second commandment of the teaching is this:

2:2 Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys; do not have illicit sex; do not steal; do not practice magic; do not practice witchcraft; you shall not murder a child, whether it be born or unborn. Do not covet the things of your neighbor.

2:3 Do not swear or bear false witness. Do not speak evil of others; do not bear grudges.

2:4 You should not be double-minded or double-tongued, for a double-tongue is a deadly snare.

2:5 Your speech should not be false nor empty, but fulfilled by action.

2:6 Do not be covetous, or greedy, or hypocritical, or malicious, or arrogant. Do not have designs against your neighbor.

2:7 Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life.