Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who's Your Lord and Savior, Baby?


(Conversations with Bob! More depth than a root canal! My turn!)



Thanks Bob for your last post! I appreciate you gettin' into the Greek.

One of the problems progressive Christians have (or at least I have) with titles such as lord and savior is that they come with a great deal of theological baggage. They also have the baggage of the English language. Furthermore, they have the baggage of conquest, feudalism, and dis-empowerment. I do not think that the historical Jesus set himself up as lord or savior.

There were enough lords and saviors to go around in Jesus's time and in ours. Caesar was lord and savior. He called himself that. Roman Imperial Theology consistently reaffirmed that. While I think the gospel writers, and perhaps Paul, used Caesar language for Jesus in order to spoof Empire, this, like all good spoofs, was forgotten as a spoof and crystallized into a Christian Imperial Theology. In other words, the church simply substituted Jesus for Caesar and Christendom became as oppressive as Rome. After Constantine, The Roman Empire became the
Holy Roman Empire. Different god but the same thing. Good for a few, bad for most.

From my study and reflection, I find that Christianity from the earliest times, turned Jesus into something he never claimed to be. Jesus was about empowering people who had no power. To paraphrase: "You don't need any
Lord. The kingdom of God is in you!" Jesus would say odd things like, "Your faith has saved you (made you well)." The same word for "save" is translated in English as becoming well or whole.

I personally affirm individuals who use their own titles for Jesus or who use none. Since as you pointed out Bob, in a previous post, and I echoed here, these two English words, lord and savior, have gained prominence and we have to deal with them in some way. For those who feel wedded to the words, but do not like what they have come to mean, here is an option, for what it is worth.

If the earliest communities followed Jesus as one who denounced Roman Imperial Theology (and the theology of Empire in general), then to follow Jesus means to move against Imperial Theology and its values.

As John Dominic Crossan wrote:

If Jesus was executed by Empire and we live in Empire, what does it mean for us to follow Jesus?
To claim Jesus as Lord, is in effect, to follow Jesus as anti-lord, against lordship, domination, and all it entails. Similarly, Jesus changes the meaning of savior. Caesar claimed to be the savior of the people. Caesar as lord and savior meant celebrating as divine revelation peace through violence.

To paraphrase Caesar's theology: Roman leadership is good for Rome and for the world.

The Project for the New American Century knows this theology quite well.

American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.
That could have come from the mouth of Octavian himself.

If we understand salvation as wholeness or peace with justice, then to claim Jesus as savior is to claim the way of Jesus as the way to a just peace. It begins with trust. "Your trust has made you whole." It is to live in a way opposed to peace through violence and for peace through justice.

To summarize: To say Jesus is my Lord and Savior, could be understood as committing my life to the way of Jesus, a way of opposition to domination and a way of empowerment and wholeness for all creation.


Lord and Savior


(Conversations with Bob! More fun than a trip to the dentist! It's Bob's Turn!)



There are all kinds of topics that should be discussed before these, but here we are so here we go.

I think we need to start with the appropriate translations of the words. I’m going to stick to the Greek since we are talking about Jesus. The problem is that each of these words can mean a variety of things depending on the context. Thus kurios, the Greek word we translate as lord can mean, in context, God, a ruler of some sort, a master to a slave or a servant or even just one’s social superior. So let’s take a look at the context from which the Church has normally taken the basic meaning for this word: Romans 10:5-13;

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?

“The word is near you,

on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because£ if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (NRSV)

The specific context here the question of whether Israel, that is the physical descendants of Abraham, will be saved or not and if so how will they be saved. Paul, as he has throughout Romans, argues that all are saved by faith and not by works. The key verses are 9 and 10. They suggest that one must confess with one’s lips that Jesus is Lord to be saved. The problem is what does the word Lord mean here? We could, given verses 12 and 13 guess that the text means that Lord here means God. But let’s take the basic meaning of the word. Lord is someone who can give commands and expect them to be obeyed.

If "Jesus is Lord" means he can command and expect obedience then we have a basic definition of the meaning of the Christian confession. To put it in the terms of the Gospels, to say Jesus is Lord is to be a disciple of Jesus. We follow Jesus. We commit ourselves to do and live as Jesus commands.

This, of course, could create a problem with Paul’s whole argument. If we say that one is a Christian because one obeys Jesus then we argue the opposite of what Paul says throughout Romans, that one is saved by faith. Reformed tradition has claimed that Paul says in Romans that becoming a Christian changes the use of the Law for the Christian. While in the past obeying the Law was the way to salvation, now one is saved by faith through grace. But after one becomes a Christian one shows love for Christ (and seeks sanctification) by obeying Christ.

There are a variety of problems with this whole argument, not the least of which is recent study by Christians that suggest we have misunderstood the Pharisees and the use of the Law by 1st Century Jews all along, that the basic Jewish position was and is that God elected the people of Israel by grace and that obedience to the Law is not a way to earn God’s pleasure but rather a response to God’s grace. This is a developing argument in Romans studies today. But for our purposes let’s leave that argument alone. Let’s say that the confession “Jesus is Lord” means that the person who says this will be a disciple of Jesus and seek to obey him.

So that I suggest is the first part of the confession. To say Jesus is Lord is to confess that he has the right to command me, to tell me how to live.

The second part of the confession is just as problematic. The Greek word for Savior, soter, can mean healer, someone who saves your life, as well as the traditional way the Church has interpreted the word: that Jesus saves us from sin and thus opens the way to forgiveness and to the coming Kingdom of God.

In fact the New Testament uses the verbal form of the word much more often than the noun form. And the use of the verbal form is even more problematic. Paul uses the verb most often in the future tense, as in the passage I quoted from Romans above. The person who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised him from the dead shall be saved. Salvation then is a future event. (And notice that Paul doesn’t say that a Christian is one who confesses that Jesus is Lord and Savior. He says that one who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Jesus from the dead shall be saved, a different statement altogether.)

Again, the Church has traditionally used the word Savior to mean that through Jesus one is forgiven of sins. And Paul does talk about Jesus as the means by which we receive forgiveness; specifically that Jesus’ death gives forgiveness.

(A brief excursus on forgiveness) Unfortunately people often take one Biblical image for forgiveness and claim that image is the one way to think about Jesus and forgiveness. The image chosen most often, at least in conservative or Evangelical circles is the judicial image or that of atonement. I suggest that forgiveness is so big that one image cannot contain all that is meant by it. I think we need all the images, including the judicial image but also the other images like reconciliation and that Jesus’ death exposes the powers of oppression. To claim that Jesus’ death on the cross can only be interpreted by one image is to miss the richness of the New Testament on the subject.

Let’s move out of Paul for a moment. After all, Paul is not the be all and end all of Christianity. In Luke 19:1-10 Jesus himself uses the word salvation. Here is the passage:

1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

As we think of Jesus as Savior there are three critical aspects to this passage. Jesus does not proclaim that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house until after Zacchaeus repents and reverses his earlier behavior. Salvation then includes a change in the way one lives. Jesus tells the crowd that salvation has come because Zacchaeus is also a son of Abraham. Thus at this point in Luke’s narrative salvation was only open to Jews, a position he changes later in Acts. Finally Jesus, using “the Son of Man” to refer to himself, says that he came to save the lost. Note that there is no content in this passage, if we isolate if from the rest of Luke and other New Testament material that suggests that salvation refers to the future, as it does in Paul. Here salvation means that repentance brings one back into the people of Israel. While Jesus often refers to the Kingdom of God in Luke as both future and present, he does not say that salvation is a future event. Zacchaeus receives salvation at once.

So if we use the word Savior to describe Jesus, what do we mean? Certainly we mean that Jesus brings forgiveness. Zacchaeus repents (after something happens during his lunch with Jesus), and receives salvation. But on the other hand Paul talks about salvation as a future event, suggesting to me that salvation only becomes complete in the Kingdom of God, (and yes I know, that is a term that Paul does not use. Instead he talks about the return of Christ.)

So to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior is to say that Jesus can command and we who confess that he is Lord must obey and that Jesus brings forgiveness when one repents. Ultimately salvation comes when Jesus returns.

Grace and Peace

Bob

What is the Worst 80s Song?

Due to immense popular demand (well two folks, Bobby and Alex), I have decided to open up the floor for nominations for the worst 80s song! I have already cheated and checked out High Bias who collected his own worst 80s songs. Since the 80s were the years I was doing my country music dj stint, a few country and western tunes will be on my list.

As it is characteristic of Shuck and Jive to tick off folks now and then, my first nomination is...

Lee Greenwood: God Bless the USA
This is what High Bias sez about this tune:

Nativist, jingoist Reagan-era tripe meant to make us feel good about gutting social programs, recklessly building up our already bloated nuclear arsenal, and invading small Caribbean islands for self-aggrandizement and profit. Oh, don't get me started....
I tend to agree. And don't tell me that because I don't like this song, I don't support our troops, honor the men (AND WOMEN) who have lost their lives in conflict, and enjoy eating apple pie.

Nominations are already flooding in:

  1. Lee Greenwood--God Bless the USA
  2. Toni Basil--Hey Mickey!
  3. Styx--Mr. Roboto
  4. Hall and Oates--I Can't Go for That
  5. Michael Jackson--Beat It
  6. Men Without Hats--Safety Dance
I realize that one artist may have sung more than one really bad song. But each artist gets just one. I mean we don't want to give them a complex.

All right the floor is open for nominations! The worst 80s song!


Noah and Physics



King is Sailing came up with this hypothetical physics problem:

The flood of Noah drowned the entire earth, and covered all the dry land. Let’s assume this means it rained at least 9000 meters in order to cover Mount Everest. The atmospheric pressure at sea level before the flood matched our currect sea level, call it a pressure of 1 atmosphere. Noah carried a brand new Vaisala weather station on board the ark. When it finally stopped raining, Noah checked his atmospheric pressure.

What did the gauge read?

I don't even know how to start do you?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Results! The Worst 70s Song!


The votes have been cast. The world awaits breathlessly. The result?

A tie.

Muskrat Love and Disco Duck each received 6 votes. These songs apparently stink.






Since they are both animals, they receive the Skunk Award!









Thanks to all for voting and for making America great!

More News and Comment from the Peace Rally in Johnson City

Sandra of Concerned Tennessee Citizens has posted on her blog an opinion that was printed in the East Tennessean (ETSU's student newspaper) about the rally as well as a couple of responses from CNTCs. The opinion peace from the East Tennessean author, Josh McKinney, is entitled Anti-War or Anti-Bush?

Democracy Now Tricities has posted an account of the rally.

Here is a portion of the speech by Jason Hurd, Iraq war veteran on YouTube.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Being Known and Loved


(Conversations with Bob! Almost as exciting as C-Span!)




Bob,
I am all about community. That is why I lead one! I think that people need a community where they are known and loved. Folks need a place to grow, to learn, to contribute, and to experience blessedness. Christian communities can be that when they aren't overburdened with rules.

I like
point 4 of progressive communities:


Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):
  • believers and agnostics,
  • conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
  • women and men,
  • those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
  • those of all races and cultures,
  • those of all classes and abilities,
  • those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope
and point 7:

Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers.

You wrote:
It is my experience as a Presbyterian pastor of almost 30 years that we Presbyterians really operate on what I call the L & B method of receiving members. That means if you are living and breathing we will accept you as a member.
I am all for taking anyone who is living and breathing and wants to join! To push that a little bit, I think that people will join a community because they feel at home and want to participate in and contribute to its life. People won't join a community (unless there is a pathology somewhere) if they don't affirm its mission or if they don't feel welcomed and valued.

As far as the rules you quoted in the Book of Order, I realize that they are there. In my opinion, the rules are not absolute truth. They are rules that can be changed. I am no apologist for the rules.

I frankly, don't find them to be that helpful. I find them to be barriers, especially as they are used by some in this time in the church to make sure that everyone within the church and without knows that certain people are NOT invited.

I would much rather the PCUSA as a whole adopt the eight points of progressive Christianity rather than the Lord'n'Savior business, which does not resonate with many people. But, I, like you, am one guy with one vote. I don't like the rules we have that treat gays as second class either.

However, being a team player, I follow the Book (of Order, that is). In both instances, I try my best to figure out how I can welcome people and deal with the rules (including explaining lord'n'savior and G-6.0106b etc.) in some way so that we can fully include them.


So if you have an explanation for lord'n'savior that might be helpful for folks, great! I am always looking for creative ways of dealing with that phrase.

Peace,
John

Communities

(Conversations with Bob! It is Bob's turn. Here is how you pronounce Bob's name: B-ah-b. It rhymes with job and cob. Listen here and practice.)



I was going to move on to talk about the image of God, but I think you are right, we should talk about communities.

We all belong to various communities. In a sense we, along with all life, we belong to the creation of God on earth. In fact I think that is an important affirmation and an essential of Christian faith. We are creatures along with all the other creatures in creation. In a more limited sense, we all belong to the human community. A Christian point of view on this is that all humans are created in the image of God and all humans are sinners.

There are various other communities like nations, cities, tribes and families, all limited by citizenship or membership. In tribes and families membership is determined by being born into the community. Curiously birth is also how one enters the Jewish community and, for some entrance into the Muslim community.

Then there are all sorts of clubs and other stuff. My great aunt kept pressing me to join the Mayflower Society and the Sons of the American Revolution as I have ancestors who came on the Mayflower and fought in the Revolution. Personally I find this type of organization distasteful. I don’t see why I should be considered special because my ancestors did something. On the other hand I wear kilts because some of my ancestors were Scottish. Go figure.

And there is the Christian community. While at times the Christian community has defined itself by birth, (your family was Christian and you got baptized so you were part of the Church, no other questions asked), there are some clear and some not so clear limits to the Christian community. One limit is baptism. People who were baptized in a Christian community are part of the Christian community. The PCUSA places a limit on what baptism means to help define whether one has been baptized into the Christian community or not. For example, Jews take ritual baths at particular times in life. One of those times is when someone who is not Jewish converts to Judaism. That person takes a ritual bath as part of entrance into the community. The PCUSA would say that this ritual bath is not baptism. We limit baptism to those who are baptized with a Trinitarian formula.

For adults and youth when one joins a PCUSA congregation one meets with the session and the session sets the limits for joining the congregation. Our Form of Government makes the following statements about conscience and membership:

(1) (a) That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.”

(b) Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable: We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.

(2) That, in perfect consistency with the above principle of common right, every Christian Church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members, as well as the whole system of its internal government which Christ hath appointed; that in the exercise of this right they may, notwithstanding, err, in making the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow; yet, even in this case, they do not infringe upon the liberty or the rights of others, but only make an improper use of their own. (G-1.0301-0302)

We Presbyterians do like balance.

As you pointed out in response to my last post, John, the session sets the qualifications for membership. But there are some restrictions. Again, the Form of Government says:

The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church. (G-5.0101)

For those who are not Presbyterians these are from the PCUSA Constitution Part 2, the Book of Order. The numbers are reference numbers to sections in the Book of Order. The first part of the constitution is the Book of Confessions. If you want to read the Book of Order you can find it online at: http://www.pcusa.org/oga/constitution.htm.

So membership in the community called the Presbyterian Church (USA) is defined as those who have been baptized and who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Of course in the PCUSA the session decides whether someone believes Jesus is Lord and Savior. It is my experience as a Presbyterian pastor of almost 30 years that we Presbyterians really operate on what I call the L & B method of receiving members. That means if you are living and breathing we will accept you as a member. In fact I think we might accept someone who is just living and not breathing! I rarely hear any questions from the session about the faith of a person who wants to join.

Now that’s the formal stuff. A community is not really made up of people who say the right things. A Christian community does share certain intellectual beliefs but that isn’t what the community is really all about. The community is for mutual support, love and encouragement. We worship together, prayer together and for one another, eat together, study the Bible and other things together, care for one another in times of trouble, reach out in mission in a wide variety of ways, including feeding the poor, visiting the sick and those in prison, speaking to governments about what is just and what is unjust, speaking to the larger community on issues such as gun violence, (a big problem here in Philadelphia), gathering with other members of the larger community to demonstrate against violence, and yes, evangelism. A Christian congregation is made up of people that Christ has called together to be a community. But the Church can too easily forget that it is part of a larger community. When a congregation turns inward and does not participate in the life of the larger community it begins to die.

Someone quoted Bonhoeffer on this subject and I reiterate what Bonhoeffer said: we all have to abandon our wishes and images of what an ideal Christian community looks like. We don’t build the community into what we think God wants. Jesus molds the community into what he wants. This is easy to say and very difficult to do.

Flycandler said something about membership in response to my last post which I think is very helpful. An official member of a particular congregation has one privilege that those who are not members do not have: the member has the right and responsibility to vote in a congregational meeting. Everyone is welcome at all events of the congregation. All those who have been baptized are welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And frankly we don’t ask those who receive communion if they are baptized or not. We don’t give out baptism cards. Will those who attend be encouraged to become members? Of course. Most of the time evangelism is not explicit conversation about becoming a Christian, at least not in congregational events. But worship, education and fellowship all present the message of the Gospel.

What I mean to say is that being part of the community is not so much a formal reception into membership, although those who choose to join may do so. Being part of the community means that you are involved in the community. Everyone is welcomed, everyone is loved, everyone is served and asked to serve. But we will also have conversation about the Christian faith. People will be encouraged to become Christians.

To unpack the basic Christian affirmation, Jesus is Lord and Savior requires some preliminary information on subjects like sin and forgiveness so I will try to get back to that process in my next posts.

Grace and Peace

Bob

How to Pronounce Ahmadinejad


In my quest to help Shuck and Jive readers in the pronunciation of names (very valuable at snooty intellectual gatherings), I tip the hat to Katie Couric who has given us a mnemonic to pronounce that Iranian guy's name:

Ahmadinejad--think of "I'm a dinner jacket." Check it here.

Myanmar is also tricky. Thanks to GW Bush for the mnemonic:




Stolen from Madpriest









Thursday, September 27, 2007

Faith, Doubt, and the Quest



(Conversations with Bob! A place where even squares can have a ball!)


Hi Bob!

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I appreciate your struggle with faith and doubt. Our journeys of faith have many similarities.

A couple of folks have already responded to your post in the comments section. Some of those points are mine as well. You wrote:

We make truth claims. Yes they are claims of faith and people can freely disagree with them. But part of the job of the Church is to assert those truth claims.
And you wrote:

And in the PCUSA presbyteries and sessions are guardians of that truth.
We have the truth word again. I see it a bit differently than you, I think. Some parts of the church find themselves in a tight spot. They want on one hand to assert and be guardians of truth. Is this Truth with a capital T or simply what a particular portion of an institution has decided to assert and guard as truth? Is Truth something one asserts and guards or something one discovers? I think some (many?) have turned away from Christianity because much of Christianity confuses its creeds with Truth. There is a difference.

From my experience, Truth is not something one asserts and guards, but something one continues to discover and refine. In my view, dogma or doctrine is something that is important as long as we realize that it is not absolute. This approach to the teachings and confessions of the church is one that values these teachings as places where we have been. The confessions are our history. They, like the Bible, which is also part of our history, contain truth. But the Absolute Truth? No, I don't think so.

This is why I call myself a Progressive Christian and why I think what is "essential" is different from your understanding in both form and content.

Here is point 5: Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe.

And point 6: Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes.

That is part of the job of the church. And in the PCUSA sessions and presbyteries are guardians of that search for understanding.

I think it would be good to talk about community. I will let you start unless you have more to say about faith.

Blessings,
John

Videos of the Peace March

Sandra of Concerned Tennessee Citizens has posted two videos of the march last Saturday. Other links about the march and rally are to the right of this blog!

The Nominations Are Closed; Time to Vote!

The polls are now closed for the worst 70s song ever awards. To the right of this blog vote your award for the worst 70s song. Your moderator will graciously abstain from voting. But you can vote! Exercise your right! Vote for more than one. You can even vote more than once if your browser so allows. It is the American way; so vote! Polls close at 3 p.m. Saturday! Go here to see the videos so you can be informed as you make this important decision.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fast for Peace, October 8th


This is from the National Council of Churches news service:

Several religious leaders representing tens of millions of faithful Americans stood today in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol calling religious communities of various traditions to a day of fasting and prayer to end the Iraq war.

"We must return to the ancient disciplines so that we will turn away from violence toward reverence," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, Philadelphia, to reporters gathered in front of the United Methodist Church office building on Maryland Avenue.

Represented at the news conference were leaders of Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Baptist traditions. The Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for interfaith relations at the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), and himself a Baptist, organized the news event.


Ancient practices were used at the news conference in the call to the nation. The ram's horn, or Jewish shofar, was sounded to "wake up" a nation. Ashes were placed on the leaders' foreheads as signs of repentance. A bell was tolled to call America's people of faith to join together on October 8 to fast from dawn to sunset, breaking the fast with their Muslim sisters and brothers. (Read More)

Monday, October 8th. A good day to fast and pray for peace.


Faith, Doubt, and Dogma



(Conversations with Bob! More thrilling than 70s songs!)



John. Thanks for the explanation. Sometimes I think I’m an F Christian! At least you have a passing grade. Of course, we don’t earn our way into God’s favor. Grace is a gift. So while we might score low, God, through Jesus, gives us A’s.

I’m going to talk about this first from a personal perspective first. While I agree with you that faith and doubt are things that affect our whole beings I tend think about faith and doubt in several categories.

I have intellectual faith and doubt. Even though I am an INFJ I was trained in school as a thinker. That, after all, is what they want in school. Isn’t it curious? Big advancements in science tend to come from AHA! Moments by people who are well trained intellectually in their fields. But all the training cannot produce a moment like the Theory of Relativity. So anyway, I was trained to think and reason and I have intellectual faith and doubt.

That means that sometimes I am absolutely sure in my mind that Jesus rose from the dead. I know, I can’t prove it, but I can see historical evidence suggesting that it happened. Nevertheless, I have my moments when I think, “What if it isn’t true? Then I have wasted my whole life and made promises that aren’t true.” I stand up at funerals and talk about the resurrection and God’s promise of life beyond life, given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Usually I believe it at the time but I do have my moments when I think it isn’t true. And frankly, particularly when I’m depressed a long cold nothingness seems like it would be better than eternal life. I know, God will probably take away my bipolar disorder in the Kingdom of God and maybe even let me play the bagpipes! But yes, sometimes I wonder if it is all a lie.

Sometimes I have moments of feeling God’s presence and grace. Other times I feel like God could not possibly love me. Other people sure, even the people I pray with in prisons! But not me. While I preach grace, I have this place in the back of my head and way down in my heart that says that there are different rules for me, that I have to earn God’s love. And then I sit in the sanctuary during the Lord’s Supper, holding the bread and I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounding me with love, taking me into the center of the Trinity and time seems to stop. (It doesn’t. Often at those times I forget to look up and see the elders waiting to walk back to the chancel with the plates of bread!) Faith and doubt can come as feelings.

Faith and doubt can be expressed in actions. Even if I don’t feel God’s presence, even if I doubt the promises of Jesus I still can go forward and act according to the commands of Jesus. I’m trying an experiment right now! I promised God I would try to stop saying nasty things about my fellow drives and that I would try to have more patience while driving. The not verbalizing is going pretty well. The thoughts still cross my mind but I keep my big mouth shut, most of the time. The patience is coming slower. Fortunately I no longer live in So Cal! Stop and go on the freeways would probably be my undoing. (For those of you who know the Philadelphia area, I avoid the Schuylkill Expressway from 6 AM until 7 PM on weekdays!) So no matter what I feel or think I can still obey.

And then there is worldview. As I think about it that is the area in which I am fairly faithful. I tend to look at the world through Christian eyes. I’ve been living in this worldview for so long that trying to look at it like an atheist or a Muslim feels almost impossible.

I agree with you, John, I think the roller coaster ride of faith and doubt, is part of God’s intention for us. Times when we doubt, if we insist to ourselves that the faith is true, if we live as Christians no matter what we may think or feel, we can grow in faith. In fact I think faithful doubting is a gift from God that actually strengthens faith.

Something we have not talked about is the effect of being part of a community on our faith. We Americans tend to think of ourselves as individuals first and members of a community second. That is not the case through most of the world. In many places people see themselves as part of a family or village or tribe first and as individuals second. I suspect this is definitely and Old Testament viewpoint and probably a New Testament viewpoint as well. While I do see emphasis on individual decision making in the New Testament, (Jesus’ statements about hating parents, siblings and wives and giving up all including family to follow him), I also see family emphases too. There are hints in Acts that suggest that households became Christian because the leader of the household became a Christian, like Lydia’s household in Philippi. (Acts 15:11-15) While I see myself like most Americans, as an individual first, I think we need to reclaim at least a balance between being a part of a community and an individual. The community of faith is vital to the well being of the individual and vice versa. I’ve even suggested that the congregation sell their houses and buy an apartment building! Strange, but there were no takers. We exist as part of the community.

And yes, I used the word dogma up there in the title. I’ve read the responses to your last post that talk about the movie. Thanks flycandler! Most of the time Americans hear the word dogma and think of the Spanish Inquisition. (Okay, it has to be said: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) What I see and hear in these post modern times is that if you say what you think, particularly on religious issues, people think that you are persecuting them if you make a claim of absolute truth. I think dogma has a place in the life of the Church. We make truth claims. Yes they are claims of faith and people can freely disagree with them. But part of the job of the Church is to assert those truth claims. We have learned, at least here in America, that everyone has the right to say what they think, (as does the president of Iran. I may think he is a fanatical anti-Semitic . . . hmm, I better stop there, but I think Columbia was right to let him speak.) One of the best things about America is our tolerance for diversity, even if someone asserts something as true that most think is absolute bunk.

Of course, what I just said means that I think there are essentials of faith in the Church. And in the PCUSA presbyteries and sessions are guardians of that truth. As I’ve said before, I get one vote. We make decisions together. But there are things that we decide together are essential. I assert that faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is essential. I’m not going to spell out what Lord and Savior means in this post. I’ll save that for later. But faith is an essential, even as we ride the roller coaster of faith and doubt. May our doubts lead us to greater faith.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What Are the Worst 70s Songs Ever?

I think it is time to settle this. What were the worst songs of the 70s? So far, the nominees are:

  1. (Escape) The Pina Colada Song
  2. Muskrat Love
  3. Feelings
  4. You Light Up My Life
  5. Afternoon Delight
  6. Disco Duck
  7. Crazy Horses
  8. My Sharona
  9. Only Women Bleed
  10. Celebration
  11. Run for the Roses
  12. Convoy
  13. Hooked on a Feeling
  14. Freebird
  15. The Night Chicago Died
  16. You Make My Pants Wanna Get Up and Dance
  17. Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road
  18. Feel Like Makin' Love
  19. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
  20. (Shake, Shake, Shake), Shake Your Booty
  21. Don't Go Breakin' My Heart
  22. I Feel Love
  23. Billy Don't Be a Hero
  24. That's Rock and Roll
  25. I Was Made for Dancin'
  26. Big Balls
  27. Saturday Night
  28. ???
Make sure you watch the videos! Add your nominations and we'll have a big vote! Nominations close at noon Thursday!

Sunday's Sermon: My Peace I Leave With You

My Peace I Leave With You
John Shuck
September 23, 2007

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee
John 14:1-30


I am doing a series of sermons on the essence of faith. I have preached already on awe and gratitude. Today, I am going to speak of justice-making as an essence of faith. That phrase “justice-making” comes from Matthew Fox and Creation Spirituality.

Fox, in his work, details four spiritual paths that correspond to the four seasons. Today, the first day of Fall, we celebrate and honor the spiritual path of making justice. It is also known as the spiritual path of transformation. We are in awe of creation and grateful for life. We are also participating in the transformation of creation and of humankind toward more spiritual depth, more equality, more peace, more restorative justice for Creation.

When we speak about justice, we often think of retributive justice. This is punishment for wrongdoing. We think of the justice department or the penal system. Justice is retribution for wrong.

In theological terms, when God is seen as retributive justice, God is the punisher for wrongdoing. God punishes us for our sins. In its most common understanding, we deserve condemnation and punishment and Jesus is substituted for us, taking the penalty we deserve and Divine retributive justice is restored.

Distributive justice or restorative justice is not about punishment, but transformation and reconciliation. Restorative or distributive justice is about making

  • that which is broken, whole,
  • that which is sick, well,
  • that which is blind, sight,
  • that which is estranged, reunited,
  • that which is hungry, fed,
  • that which is sorrowful, filled with laughter,
  • that which is suffering, peace.

In theological terms, when God is seen as restorative justice, God is the healer of our suffering. God heals us from our wounds. Rather than being sinful or bad, we are not well. We are estranged from one another, from Creation, from God. Jesus is seen as the restorer of right-relationship which includes equality, dignity, and a sharing of the bounty of Earth. Jesus, then, is the healer who brings us to wholeness.

As we read in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Peace is not simply absence of conflict or the absence of violence. Peace is wholeness. We can only be whole when all have their needs met. Those needs include food, shelter, healthcare, safety, education, socialization, value, love. The task of distributive or restorative justice is to work for those needs for all people. There will be no peace until there is justice.

Last night I was watching a CNN special on the case of the tensions in Jena, Louisiana. I am assuming you know the story as it is been all over the news. The question that is presented is this: what is justice in this case? What is the correct punishment for the crimes? The outcry has been that justice has been uneven. Justice in its purest form is blind to our ethnicity, to our background, or whatever our situation in life. Although in practice, not always is justice blind.

The issue in Jena, Louisiana, focuses for the most part on retributive justice. Who should get punished and what to degree? That is the most our court system can usually attempt.

But, what would restorative or distributive justice look like? Restorative or distributive justice is not satisfied with the punishment that fits the crime, although that is part of justice. Restorative and distributive justice would require us to look deeper at the issues that divide this small town and the rest of America for that matter.

Why are we still so segregated along racial lines and afraid of one another? What will it take for generations of bitterness to find forgiveness? What will it take for brokenness to find healing? When will we finally be freed from the sins of our fathers? How can we participate in wholeness? How can we open ourselves to transformation?

There is a truth known to those who have gone through recovery from addiction.

We can only change when the pain of not changing is finally greater than the pain of change.

The little community of Jena is going through a great deal of pain right now. The people are embarrassed to be on the national news everyday. It is shaming for them and it is painful. Yet it might be the pain that leads to transformation. It might not. It isn’t a guarantee. But it might. The pain of remaining the same may be greater than the pain of change.

It will depend a great deal on the wisdom of the leaders of that small town, both in the black and in the white communities. It will require of them to do some soul-searching, to ask questions that they had long buried. It will require of them to move through the pain of injustice and to move toward restorative justice.

I mention this example of Jena, Louisiana as it is in the news. But I am speaking of Jena as illustration. Jena is a microcosm of what happens and is happening all over the world. Justice-making is a spiritual path, because none of us can truly be whole or at peace until all of us are.

I used the text of John 14. I read the entire chapter for a reason. It is likely that most people have heard one of those verses quite often. In fact, if you watch football games, you might see “John 14:6” written on a sign and held up in the end zone.

The text of John 14:6 is this:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

It is a verse that has been interpreted to foster Christian exclusivism. Unless you are a Christian, down the chute to the fire with you. I suppose if we keep interpreting one verse the same way long enough, folks will believe that is what it is about.

I don’t think that is what this long speech by Jesus is about. It is one verse in a long speech. It has been taken out of its literary context. It has also been taken out of its first century context. There wasn’t any Christianity when this Gospel was written. There were Jews and there were Jews for Jesus, but there was no Christianity as such. At best there a number ways of trying to understand and follow Jesus. These ways were in competition.

Chapter 14 of John is really a beautiful chapter. It is a deeply spiritual chapter. It is a speech in which Jesus comforts his disciples with a powerful message of God’s presence. It is a passage of assurance. The way of Jesus, the way of peace, the way of restoration reflects the way of the Father. Those works of peace, he tells his disciples, are yours to do. And you can do them because the spirit is in you. When this life is over, there is a dwelling place for you.

I think Jesus was telling them, and us: "I have shown you the way of authentic life—the way of the Father—the way of peace. The way of peace is really the only way."

It is the way of love. It is the way of restoring that which is broken. It is the way sharing the bounty of Earth with all. It is the spiritual path of transformation.