30 August 2010

Reflection: 08-10

‘God is love’.

With those words in 1John 4, St John emphatically ‘changed’ the ultimate attribute and nature of God. Perhaps not ‘changed’ but ‘solidified’ would be a better term for how we should understand God. We have heard it used time and time again. But I don’t think we actually know what it means. I recently had dinner with a friend and we were discussing God’s ‘ultimate’ attribute. He stated that it was holiness and that all other attributes of God came from that. I countered that God’s ‘ultimate’ attribute was Love and cited that verse (1John 4.8 - like one verse trumps another verse). We went back and forth for a while and finally had to agree to disagree. Unbeknownst to me, this theme would keep coming up again and again.

With the month of August being full of activity (my daughter moving off to college, my wife beginning to teach a yoga class, a number of birthdays including my own), I thought I would settle on some ‘light’ reading. So this month, I selected The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God by J├╝rgen Moltmann (you can also get the digital version here). I don’t know if it’s just me or what but German theologians seem to be deeper thinkers than most people! When I started reading Bonhoeffer's Life Together, I remember thinking, ‘This is such a small book, it’ll be a quick read.’ Boy, was I mistaken! The same can be said for this month’s selection. I knew I was in trouble when I read, ‘As the transcendent ground of our sense of absolute dependence, God is one’. And that was on page three!

But this book startled me in a way I wasn’t expecting. So much so, that I couldn’t read further. I had to stop and just reflect on that section. Oh, I tried to go on, but I wasn’t really soaking it up. I was just reading the words on the page and not really ‘hearing’ what was being communicated. So I stopped trying and went back to that little section that has really been the only deep thing on my mind of late. For me, it’s a ‘game changer’ as the saying goes. It’s one of those things that we have missed in reading and studying and thinking and worshiping.

In chapter two, ‘The Passion of God’, section three is titled, ‘The Eternal Sacrifice of Love’. This section is roughly five pages in length and, if it gets in deeply, will (and should) change our understanding of God. The idea is that Love is about suffering. When we love someone, we open ourselves up to be hurt and hurt deeply. As another saying goes, ‘We are hurt the most by the ones we love’. So it is with God. But I never saw God that way. In my mind, and I think this is true with a lot of Christians, God the ‘Father’ is an all-powerful being (almost) without emotion. A very stern, but not strict or cruel (if you happen to be in the family), caring, but not really affectionate, commander in chief. A military type leader who doesn’t show a lot of mercy toward others. Now, I know that we all know the other stories of God where God is full of love and mercy. But, for some reason, we seem to think that those only pertain to ‘us’ - although we may have our doubts about this too, if we are really honest with ourselves.

But what Moltmann stated is just the opposite. In discussing C. E. Rolt’s book, The World’s Redemption, Moltmann wrote,

The sole omnipotence which God possesses is the almighty power of suffering love. It is this that he reveals in Christ. What was Christ’s essential power? It was love, which was perfected through voluntary suffering; it was love, which died in meekness and humility on the cross and so redeemed the world. This is the essence of the divine sovereignty . . . What Christ, the incarnate God, did in time, God, the heavenly Father, does and must do in eternity. If Christ is weak and humble on earth, then God is weak and humble in heaven (pg 31).

This . . . this is almost more than one can comprehend. And yet, it got me thinking about a conversation Jesus had with the disciples. In John 14, we read:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.

In other words, the life of Jesus was a reflection of the life of God. That is, in this part of the story, Jesus is stating that Israel has misunderstood what and how God is. Even after the disciples had walked with Jesus for (at least) three years, they still didn’t get it. They still saw ‘the Father’ as something other than Jesus. They envisioned God as that same omnipotent, all-powerful military leader or extremely stern parent. But Jesus said that his life, his very existence,  is a true reflection of who God is. And this is where the vertigo starts.

I have read N. T. Wright state that, ‘The writers of the New Testament and early Christians didn’t take the Old Testament view of God (the military king/stern parent) and try to force Jesus into that understanding. They started with Jesus and had to re-define God based on their experience with Jesus’ (paraphrased). This is what Moltmann, through Rolt, is stating. We have gotten it wrong. Again. Or, perhaps, still.

‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father-Mother.’ What do we see when we look at Jesus? Do we not see someone who exemplifies service? Didn’t he continually put others before himself? Do we not see someone who constantly gave completely to others? Every where he went, Jesus was mobbed much like a modern movie star or rock star gets mobbed by paparazzi or fans. Did he gripe and demand his way? No. He gave. He continually emptied himself (Philippians 2.6-11). Like a good shepherd, he always put himself in harms way to protect those he loved (John 10.1-16). And Jesus said if we have seen him, we have seen the Father-Mother. So the question is, ‘Have we seen Jesus’? Or, perhaps, have we seen him as he is? Too often we create God in our own imagination - what we think God must be. What we think we want or need God to be. When we are wronged, we want God to punish the evil doers. When we are poor, we think we want God to make us rich (and this usually means that we can have lots of money and buy more stuff). When we’re rich, we think we want God to help us keep our wealth and not give too much of it away or let it get taxed too badly. So, we create all of these things that we think we want God to be; that we think we need God to be. Therefore, we have not seen God because we have not seen Jesus because Jesus shows us what God is like. Over and over, Jesus showed the rich that they are held to a higher standard because they should be sharing their wealth to those without. He showed us over and over to put the needs of others above our own needs. He showed us not to be violent people. That the road of violence only leads to more violence for all of creation, not just people. But we don’t want to see that. We want God to be far away so we can act the way we want. And, in the very act of doing that, God suffers. Continually.

This is such a profound thing. To think that God’s sovereign rule, God’s omnipotence is revealed in the suffering of Christ. That the image of the cross is the truest image of God.

Back to the conversation with my friend. We were both right, obviously. But we were both looking at it from different angles. God can not be understood completely by us. We can recognize God in all of life, but life is not God. Granted, ‘in God we live and move and exist’ (Acts 17.28). But ‘life’ as we know it only reflects God’s Life, albeit in a broken sort of way. Likewise the attributes of God that we, mere human beings, categorize are there to help us try to come to terms with this thing, energy, emotion, divine person, we call ‘God’. This ‘Other’ that is so utterly ‘other’ than ourselves. And yet, at the same time, we glimpse ‘It’ in each other and all around us. The problem comes when we try to pit our favorite attribute as the ultimate attribute over against someone else’s favorite attribute. All of them are needed for us to grasp God. Without any of them, we will miss something.

‘But’, St Paul wrote, ‘the greatest of these is love’ (1Corinthians 13.13). Why is that? Because, over and over again, the New Testament writers stated that love, not holiness, nor wrath, nor justice, nor any other attribute of God, is the foundation of what makes God god. Love is what defines God. And, by extension, love, God’s love working in and through us, is what defines us as God’s children (1John 3). St John wrote that it was love that ‘caused’ God to become a human being (John 3.16). It was love that Christ showed to his followers and ‘showed them the full extent’ of that love (John 13.1, footnote) - even when they betrayed him (Luke 23.34).

So, while I am still trying to wrap my mind around this image - the image of God suffering - I am reminded of something I did a few months ago. In wrestling with this concept of God being love and what that may look like, I read 1Corinthians 13 and substituted God for Love. I found it very moving and profound.  When we take what St John wrote and combine it with what St Paul wrote, we get this:

God is patient and kind. God is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. God does not demand her own way. God is not irritable, and keeps no record of being wronged. God does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. God never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

It’s amazing to me how we have no problem with substituting ‘Jesus’ in that passage. We read that on every page of the Gospels. That is they way Jesus is portrayed. That is what the New Testament writers were wanting us to grasp. But Jesus said ‘The Father-Mother and I are one’ (John 10.30) and ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father-Mother’ (John 14.9). What we see in Jesus, what we know about Jesus, we also see and know about God the Father-Mother.

I think that this is a revolutionary concept. One that has not been given enough ‘air-time’. I know that, for myself, I have a long way to go before this image of God ‘over-throws’ the prevailing image I have. My prayer is that this image of God, that God is Love and that God suffers with us and for us, will change our thoughts and prayers and lives.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

29 August 2010

Collect for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

God of all power and love, the author and giver of all good things: Grant in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

22 August 2010

Collect for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

15 August 2010

Collect for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

Loving God, you have given your only Child to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of this redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of a most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Child our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

08 August 2010

Collect for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Grant to us, O God, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may be enabled by you to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

06 August 2010

Suffering Love

We (or I should probably say 'I' but I think a lot of us do this too), for whatever reason, divide 'God' into different concepts.  That is, the one called 'Father-Mother' is seen as different or other than Jesus.  And the Spirit is different still.

But Jesus said, 'If you have seen me, you have seen the Father-Mother.' So, who was Jesus? Was he not the 'suffering servant'? Was he not the self-sacrificing Love? Was he not meek and humble? Was he not always putting others before himself? Yes to all of this. Likewise the Father-Mother and the Spirit.

If we think God as something other than this, then, at the very least, we have misunderstood. At the very worst, we have become idolaters for we have made an image of our own imagining and called it 'God'.

05 August 2010

Importing and closing...

You might find some weird stuff on here soon.  I will be importing and closing my other blog site.  It make take some time and I'm not sure what will happen.  I just wanted those who venture here to know that what was happening.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

01 August 2010

Reflection: 07-10

This month’s reflection is on the book, Paul’s Idea of Community, by Robert J. Banks.  I found the book rather intriguing in that it wasn’t what I was expecting.  In each chapter, Banks set the stage by showing what the cultural setting was for Paul.  He compares the main influences – Jewish, Greek, Roman, Hellenistic (Jewish culture influenced by the Greco-Roman culture), and ‘mystery’ (pagan) cults – with those of the small communities that Paul was starting.  For example, in chapter 3, ‘Churches as Household Gatherings’, Banks wrote,
[The] Greek term for a Jewish community, sunagoge, is never used of a Christian gathering in the NT . . . The three usual terms that describe the Hellenistic cults (sunados, thiasos, and koinon) do not occur at all.  The reason for the absence of these terms is probably as follows: the synagogue was so centered around the Law and the mysteries so focused on a cult, that use of either word would have resulted in a misunderstanding of what ekklesia was all about (pg 29).
He goes on to state that, ‘This suggests that the term (ekklesia, assembly - JG) is applied only to an actual gathering of people or to the group that gathers as a regularly constituted meeting and not, as in today’s usage, to a number of local assemblies conceived as part of a larger unit’ (pg 30).  I find this interesting in that over and over Banks states that the idea of a ‘universal church’ is completely foreign to Paul.
In the greeting at the beginning of Galatians (1.2), throughout the following two letters to the Corinthians, and at the end of Romans (16.4, 16), we always find the plural form when more than one church is in view . . . The plural references to ‘the churches in Galatia’ (Gal 1.2; 1Cor 16.1), ‘the churches of Asia’ (1Cor 16.19), ‘the churches of Macedonia’ (2Cor 8.1), and ‘the churches of Judaea’ (Gal 1.22) demonstrate that the idea of a unified provincial or national church is as foreign to Paul's thinking as the notion of a universal church (pg 30).
So, for me, the questions that come rushing to the fore are, ‘What do we do with these statements?  Would Paul’s understanding of ekklesia change to grasp a universal church in the way we understand it?  Or was the whole idea of a ‘one, holy, and apostolic church’ imposed upon the text to reflect a need (want) for uniformity and perhaps even control?’  I don’t think that Paul would have adopted this idea.  That is, the idea of ‘one church’ seems to stem from the idea of power and control.  Though, I’m not so cynical to believe that the motives were solely for this purpose (but I’ve been wrong before).  I can see a great need for a uniformity of things like understanding and beliefs and whatnot.  But, what if that was basically the need for control?  I am thinking of the Synod of Whitby here.  What was the purpose of this synod?  Was is to bring the Celtic church into the ‘proper understanding’ as dictated by Rome church?  It seems to me that this was the point.  The Roman church seemed to be set on dictating everything, even down to how one was to wear their tonsure (monastic haircut)!  Regarding this type of control, Banks states, ‘ . . . there is no sense in which [Paul’s] churches are subservient to the original Christian community or organizationally controlled by it’ (pg 43).  The Celtic church, however, seemed to be able to live within the tension of different expressions.  But what about before that?  There seems to be several different expressions of the Christian faith all flourishing together in their own communities.  As Banks alludes in his book, a careful reading of the letters of Paul shows the each church had its own way of doing things.  Some churches would have more influence from the Jewish community (the church in Jerusalem for example).  Others a more Gentile influence (the churches at Galatia or Ephesus, for example).  And in each case, Paul seems to be instructing them specifically about their issues (there were times when he would ask the churches to swap letters - Col 4.16 - but this wasn’t always the case).

Do we have an example of this now?  I think so.  This reminds me of the different denominational churches today.  One church has a praise band and light shows and big digital screens.  Another church meets in a store front and just has a keyboard.  Still another one has their service in Latin.  Each church has to change and adapt to is culture and communities.  But sometimes they don’t.  And maybe that’s just the point of Banks’ book.  It seems that the early house churches adapted to their communities.
Although in his writings Paul goes on to formulate broad principles of conduct that arise from these attitudes (Col 3.8 - 4.5; Eph 5.21 - 6.9) as well as to give on occasion very specific injunctions to particular individuals or churches, these principles often require fresh application ‘in the Spirit’ to fit the changing contexts that the people are involved in.  The specific injunctions are not always able to be generalized into universal rules. . .
On the contrary, today people are expected to adapt to the church.  That is, if you don’t like the church that has a praise band and light show, go somewhere else.  It doesn’t really seem to matter if people are not getting their needs met.

So how can we change this model?  I think Banks does a good job at showing us that the house churches were crucial to the rapid growth of the faith.  And because those churches met in peoples homes, ‘[the] average membership was around thirty to thirty-five people’ (pg 35).  What is significant about this?  It points to a tighter, closer group of people who are actively and genuinely concerned about the issues of the others within the church.

This is one of the things I like about the Lindisfarne Community.  We have this idea of going back to a different way of ‘doing church’.  The idea of small, close nit groups of people who genuinely care for and about each other is very appealing, especially in today’s every increasing segregation.  While more and more of us are ‘going to work’, we have less and less time for growing important, long-term relationships.  Especially in the West, we seem to have bought into the idea that we are our own islands; that we don’t need each other.  For a long time, we have bought into this idea.  And the churches have done the same thing.  In an ever increasing fashion some are trying to create just ‘positive’ replacements for what the ‘world’ is offering instead of implementing the realm of God in our communities.  Some places will have ‘small groups’ but these are not looked at as ‘true’ or ‘real’ churches but (inferior) extensions from the ‘real’ church.

But it has been my experience that more and more people are questioning this type of ‘church’ (that is, large groups of people meeting together).  I hear it time and time again, ‘I get so much more out my home group than I do at church’.  I had one person tell me that he got more from his twelve-step group than he did from his church.  To me, it seems that the leaders in the church are not listening to their parishioners.  Here we have people who are telling the leaders that they are missing something in the main worship service.  Most of the time, those feelings, as well as the people, are brushed aside.  But what would happen if we took to heart what they were saying?  I’m not suggesting that we stop doing ‘regular worship’.  I am saying that we need to tweak our regular worship to be like those small groups.

On Wednesday evening at St Michael’s, there is just a small group of us who meet.  When I first starting going, we met in the chapel area and had a discussion about the reading.  I found this very helpful.  If we listen, we can sense where people are at; we get to know them a little better.  For some people, there is a qualitative difference between what they say in that type of small group setting compared to what they say in large ‘worship service’ or at a pot luck.  We have since stopped doing this and I’m not entirely sure why.  I will have to talk to Fr Alan about it.

But, what would happen if we look intently to what Banks wrote and tried to implement that into our communities?  That is, what if the ‘church on the corner’ went away and all that was left were small groups that met in peoples homes?  What type of dynamic expression of Christ would we find?  I would venture to say that we would possible find some similarities and some differences from church to church.  Considering how each group would have to mold their meetings to the people instead of the people to the meetings, these meetings would be interesting to say the least!

Some practical thoughts on this.  I guess my thought would be to take the Daily Office and make that the basic structure of the service.  I would want to add the Eucharist and discussion over the reading.  Further, I would like to try what I’ve tried to do with the men’s group I was involved with - have others do some of the leading!  If we take a clue from what St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, everyone could be an active participant:
Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize.  When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said.  But everything that is done must strengthen all of you (1Corinthians 14.26).
To often in the men’s group, if I wasn’t there, the meeting would not go very well.  One guy even sent me a text complaining about it.  Since it’s not ‘my’ group, I didn’t feel like I should say anything.  But it shows that there is this unspoken rule that there are ‘leaders’ and if the ‘leader’ isn’t present, then people don’t know what to do.  More often than not, I tried to get the other men to lead, I wanted this to be a journey for all of us and not just for me.  But no one would participate in that way.

I think what Banks and Paul are stating is that there is a need for equal participation and value.  Sometimes people don’t feel valued because they can’t participate.  They don’t ‘meet the requirements’.  Again, this is something I like about the Lindisfarne Community.  We are trying to ‘redefine’ things like priesthood and vocation.  We are dipping back into the ‘old ways’ of the monastic tradition by having a Bishop’s School.  I saw this difference at our retreat this year.  After Sue and I were ordained into the diaconate, we got to help with the Eucharist the next morning.  The one thing that stood out to me was that I was allowed to serve the bread.  I have never seen anyone other than a priest offer the bread in a ‘main’ service.  Now, at the evening service at some places, the bread and wine was served one to the other.  I think that this is something that could be incorporated into the (small) church group.  This gives the sense that we are all connected and we are all to serve each other.  I think that this speaks to the value of each other.  To quote from the first understanding of the Lindisfarne Community, ‘to be as Christ to those we meet; to find Christ within them’.  What greater example of this than service one another in the Eucharist?

I really like this book and there was plenty here to chew on.  I think I will be coming back to it from time to time for some insight and direction.  I think it is one of those books that could have a major impact on ‘how we do church’ in an ancient-future type of way as we move forward, guided by the Spirit, into what God is leading us.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Jack+, LC

Collect for the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Let your continual mercy, O God, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.