Monday, February 26, 2007

Real Christianity

The Tomb (and Life?) of Jesus?

This coming Sunday will premiere on the Discovery Channel a program purporting to uncover the tomb of Yeshua ben Yosef, aka Jesus. Yes, that Jesus. Riding the wave of "Biblical" archeology and the resurgent ruminations inspired by the DaVinci Code craze, the Discovery Channel is cashing in on speculation about Jesus' relationship with Mary (Magdalene) and the possibility of a child of Jesus. With the taste of conspiracy and the thrill of near-heresy, there will undoubtedly be a lot of hubbub around the special show. And, if it ever shows on PBS or comes to my local library, I'll probably watch it. Don't get me wrong, I'm as interested as anybody. I just think there's a hue of absurdity to it.

Perhaps I've been burned by speculation or conspiracy theory too many times before, or some other reason for me to be cautious. But, without having seen the whole episode or their evidence, I'm a little skeptical.

The website promoting the upcoming premier goes to some lengths to claim that their findings do not directly contradict Christian dogma, but do challenge Christian traditional conceptions. With reasonable conjecture, the Discovery Channel claims that the "resurrection" does not hinge on what tomb Jesus was resurrected from (although the issue of resurrection doesn't answer the question of how Jesus' alleged remains came to rest in their tomb). They also point out, rather creatively in my opinion, that the "ascension" of Jesus to heaven isn't specified in the Gospels as a bodily or spiritual ascension. So, Jesus' spirit could have gone to heaven, leaving his body behind? Interesting. And, voila!, they've skirted the venomous and vehement criticism by Christian conservatives. Hopefully. (Is it noteworthy that the "theological considerations" only offered two paragraphs on these two questions? Those are all the theological questions brought up by this? C'mon, people... have some imagination!)

Theological considerations aside for the moment: I'm interested in the archeology of the question. My understanding from what I've read is that their claim to our Jesus is statistical... which is an interesting way to go about it. None of the names associated with Jesus' family were all that uncommon in first-century Palestine. But a tomb that contains names and relations consistent (as far as they go) with the Gospel narratives becomes more uncommon. Apparently, the calculations they've done come up with a figure of 600-to-one - odds are, that this could be Jesus' family. (I'm interested to see how they get around the idea that Jesus' family would have settled in Jerusalem, could have afforded such an expansive tomb, and why relatives like mothers and brothers would be buried there as well - just a couple questions that come to mind.) It seems to me that 600-to-one odds aren't all that conclusive - archaeologically speaking. What are the odds, after all, that the one tomb of Jesus would have remained undisturbed and unknown for 2000 years? That seems a longer shot than even 600-to-one.

What the program boasts in store gives me an idea of their priorities. They'll have some suspenseful archaeological-docu-drama, but most of the stills and promotion seems to focus on dramatic reenactments of key scenes from Jesus' life, and probably a few fictionalized scenes from his family life before (and after?) his death. I'm curious as to why the filmmakers and producers are taking on this project? (Of course, there's the money to be made on such a potentially controversial but nonetheless interesting program. But is that the only thought in these people's heads?)

I am thrilled that, at least, they hired someone vaguely semitic to portray Jesus. :-)

The archaeological discovery and excavation of the tomb was inevitable. But the social and media hype around the issue... is that inevitable? Whom does it serve to frame the questions as they are here?

Lay this alongside an article in the January issue of Rev!: "When is a church really a CHURCH?" The article nobly tries to analyze the sorry state of contemporary Christianity, and offers some perspective to helpfully approach these decisive years in the formation of our Faith. The author points out the change in the Church since its installment as the official state religion under emperor Constantine 1600 years ago. Generally, I agree with this analysis - that Christianity changed (for the worse) when it was adopted as the normative and authoritative religion linked with the establishment and maintenance of state power. It was, I have often said myself, no longer remotely resembling the movement Jesus set out to inaugurate as a first-century Palestinian Jew. And, as this author claimed, as I have said before, we'd do well to more closely model ourselves on that oppressed, loosely organized faith of the persecuted and lowly. But reading this article affords me a critical look at my own presumptions.

The magazine author writes (and this is even a pull-quote for added emphasis): "Western Christianity is nowhere near what Jesus had in mind when he sent his disciples out into the world to build his church."

This statement tells us more about the speaker than about Christianity. Words like "authentic" and "what Jesus had in mind" really tell the reader what the author believes to be "true" or "authentic" discipleship. Don't get me wrong - I agree with the author, but reading such bold statements I can see the ground of my own assumptions in (partly) my own desires for the world and my faith. (My assumptions are also - partly - grounded in faithful attendance to the scriptures, the tradition, my own experience and reasoning, as well as faithful and reverent suspicion of those.) But framing our discussions of what Christianity ought to be in talk of "original" or "normative" Christianity isn't all that helpful.

Despite the obvious harm it does to my own arguments about Christian identity, I think claiming knowledge of original or normative Christianity is unhelpful because it is dishonest - and wrong. To the best of our honest knowledge and experience, there never has been a normative Christianity - there have always been varying Christianities, even within supposedly unified and homogeneous bodies. There have always been different opinions, perceptions, feelings, understandings about Jesus, and his message. A slice of this variety is preserved in the New Testament canon: we have four different Gospels, and several different epistolary collections - all of them offering different conceptions of "true" or "authoritative" Christianity. This diversity isn't something to be covered up or ignored - it is part of the revelation of God in our faith: God speaks different languages, calls out to different people in different ways. The diversity and genuine differences in the canon and apocryphal traditions should be honored and understood, and they should help focus on our areas of shared agreement. Throughout the Bible - Old and New Testament - God is portrayed many different ways, but there are threads that run faithfully throughout. (I'd lift up "social justice as the true worship of God" as one of these consistent threads, but I'm open to discussion on that.)

We should ground our sense of identity and mission not in "originality" or as a restoration of something original, but in our common struggle to re-envision ourselves with vision transformed the way the best of our forebears' vision was transformed. My own religious tradition, the Community of Christ, can be particularly well-positioned for this leap: we have struggled with our origins in "true church" mythology, and have come through that struggle to a point where we openly value diversity of virtually every kind - wrapping up our common selves in our common struggle to be transformed the way our forebears were transformed, to see the world as radically capable of (and deserving of) transformation.

The Christian Church does need to honestly confront its past - the Constantinian changes as well as our best guesses as to the nature of the church before Constantine. But our most bold, most hopeful, most authoritative claims of what we must become, our discussions of who we are and who we ought to be, shouldn't be couched in language that claims original knowledge. Our canon testifies against us: we are contextual, we are historicized individuals, we are people and peoples muddling through - but God works with us regardless.

What does this have to do with the televised "event" featuring the possible tomb of Jesus? On the one hand, such a feature presentation should have very little "theological" consideration to pose, and very little impact on our sense of identity or mission. On the other hand, our sense of who we are is bound up with who we think we were. To broadcast a discussion of the "roots" of Christianity or the "real" fate of the epicenter of our religious movement, is to call into question who we think we are. That is a discussion not to be left to capitalist producers, individual filmmakers, and historians and archaeologists who claim not to be bound by a particular perspective.

What I mean to say is: there is no "Historical Jesus" - that is, there is Jesus that we can know without the overlay and debris of our own perspectives, or apart from historical context. In other words, I suppose, there is nothing but "historicized Jesuses."

The value or impact of this new tomb of Jesus will depend on our ability to recognize that "real" Christianity is what we do. Nothing more; nothing less.

Others will have their own motives for exploring, expanding, restricting, combatting or ignoring this archaeological "evidence." Some, I would consider "Christian;" others not. But all real nonetheless. After all, some residents near the tomb are pleased by the discovery and the attention. "It will mean our house prices will go up because Christians will want to live here," one woman said.

The Discovery Channel website featuring the tomb "evidence."
(Thanks to Jon for pointing this out to me first thing this morning.)

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Happy Birthday, Me

Writing from Cafe Rozella....

Yesterday was my 32nd birthday. If it weren't for the cards and singing, I might have forgotten, which would be a shame since birthdays are celebrations of personhood - not just that we were born, but that we are. (The pic is of me and my mom, chatting one morning in my backyard this past summer. Thanks, Mom [and Dad] for having me.)

For me, birthdays are an occasion to intentionally reflect on the past year, and to consider plans for the coming one. So, naturally, when Christie and I sat down for dinner at Angelina's, and after a few obligatory toasts, the topic of conversation was me.

This last year was (surprisingly?) one of considerable change. It didn't start out looking like a very special year, but by the end turned out to be quite memorable. John died. I changed not just jobs but entire industries. I continued graduate studies, then quit, then started again. My parents came up to visit (twice). How many pruning and yard projects with friends? More jars of applesauce and blackberry jam than we could eat alone in a year. And so on....

The two biggest events, of course, are the death of my father-in-law and my new job. Both of them continue to affect me deeply. I continue to mourn John's passing; and I continue to tremendously enjoy my new job.

In fact, working for the church in large part consumes any personal goals I have this year. This job encourages me to develop myself and this position in ways that I am really excited about doing. Few jobs are so caught up with one's personal development or personality. I have professional goals, of course, but most of what I conceive my "job" or "position" to be is what I would want to be doing anyway!

It's my job to organize, equip and inspire people to transform the world! How cool is that?! (I think the only comparable job is my friend Randy's position as a high school social studies teacher - except I'm not as bound by curriculum, testy parents and the WASL.) It's my job to be friendly - to reach out to people. It's my job to build a name for my church in the social justice activist community. It's my job to preach! My job to read, study, and reflect on the scriptures and connect that story with our ongoing story in our world. My job to learn and grow; to process and offer the results to my congregants. What a year I have ahead of me.

The past year was no small feat itself. My circle of friends expands and contracts - inhales and exhales - with surprising rhythm. I picked up the violin again (I need to keep up on practicing, of course). Christie and I are one-year less in debt, and one-year closer to considering having a child. I am one-year more invested in our garden and home (part of our zionic experiment). And I am one-year more in touch with those underlying, subterranean, guiding forces that seem to populate my dark places.

But mostly, I think I am one year happier. Despite all the struggles and sufferings of living and loving, I am happier this February 26th than I was last. I am blessed with a wonderful wife, home, family, group of close friends, job, and a curious peace of mind (curious, because there's so much in me that is tied to turmoil). I have one more year of enviable history under my belt - and it looks like this next year will be more of the same (for better and for worse).

Perhaps just mere thankfulness is a good place to spend one's birthday. Mere thankfulness, and an afternoon in a sun-dappled cafe with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

If I write a chapter of a book someday, "mere thankfulness" would make a good title.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

pre-retreat reflections

This week I'm going to be heading to Bowen Island to the cottage of a friend to retreat for a few days. No electricity, water that needs to be boiled, propane-run everything, and a space dedicated to meditation only. My friend's family wants the place to be one that has intentional prayerfulness to it. I am very happy to be going. A friend from school is coming too, which will be nice, I like having others around to hold me accountable sometimes. It is going to be part of not only my Lenten devotional time, but also a really intentional use of the "reading break" (each of those words is a link to old blog posts with amusing reflections on the phenomenon of reading break, I think they're kind of funny) time I have these next two weeks.

On the whole, I have been enjoying life but it is always nice to take some time away, re-connect with the earth, and listen for what the Spirit is telling me. I have had really strong feelings about some specific things in the last few weeks, and I think it's time to slow down and see if it's the Spirit that is leading me to those strong feelings, or if it's just me. I have high hopes for the time, but I also am going to try and give myself the grace to let the beauty and space and silence be all that this retreat produces.

What is a 'successful' retreat anyway? I don't think I can measure it. I think that the retreat will be 'successful' just because I took it, just because I dared, in this busy, go-go-go world, to take a few days to just be. I think that is what is missing in many of our lives today, I know it's something I wish I had more of in mine - the space to just exist, to take time to listen attentively and reflect on how my words and walk are and aren't working together.

I like Lent because it gives me permission to do this even more - and yes, I do need permission and I do sometimes need a special season to help me turn my mindfulness towards God once again. I believe that contemplation is not only a gift to ourselves, but to the world, and to God. Contemplation is a key component to discernment as well. Since the fall of 2005 I've been regularly visiting with a spiritual director, mainly to address questions of discernment in my own life: who is God calling me to be? what is God calling me to do? I think the Community of Christ's focus on discernment before and at our upcoming conference is extremely important and even prophetic. I am looking forward to my retreat because it is an opportunity for discernment.

And since you all aren't coming with me, here are a few quotes for your mind to retreat with:

The process of discernment assumes that we are trying to choose a path that leads to goals consistent with the divine urge to love, and a desire for healing, growth, justice and freedom.
-Nancy Reeves

The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence.
-Thomas Merton

The way to use life is to do nothing through acting, the way to use life is to do everything through being.

PS - next week I will be in Montreal at the Canadian Theological Students Association conference presenting a paper, so if I don't post, it's because I haven't found my way to a computer. But fear not, as soon as I do, I will post something.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

A blog to watch

A blog discussing the intersection of personal finance and faith.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rick Steves: A Missional Christian

Rick Steves - tv travel guru - is a staple of the Pacific Northwest. Every time I hear about him, he gets more interesting. Apparently, in addition to all his other praiseworthy eccentricities, he's using his retirement nestegg and his daring vision to help house homeless women and their children in Seattle. He writes about this project on his website, in an article titled "Trinity Place." Read the article: although Steves is driven by altruistic motives, he speaks plainly about the wise finances of charitable ventures. (I think he should open a consulting firm, too!)

The whole thing is worth reading - but two paragraphs lept out at me:

As a Christian, I believe in tithing. And as a Christian businessman, I think a business can have this kind of giving as a goal too. A business has a lot of potential for good in its community. In my creative charitable initiatives, I hope to inspire other business people to do more than canned food drives. I was inspired this way back in the early 1980s when I met with a group of local business people who were supporters of Seattle's World Concern (a relief agency working for caring Seattleites in the developing world). I hope Trinity Place inspires other individuals, businesses, and charitable organizations to creatively use their capital (even if on a smaller scale) to buy simple existing housing to equip non-profits to help our homeless.

As an American and a liberal, I'm tired of hearing people say "there's not enough money." With any honest assessment, there is enough money. But we as a society have different priorities. As a Democrat, I believe providing affordable housing (like health care and education) is a responsibility of society in general — implemented efficiently by government. But I'm willing for now to be proceeding in the "thousand points of light" and "faith-based" Republican style which prefers to let the people who really care handle the problem apart from government involvement. But I do this under protest. I believe this can and should be performed most fairly and efficiently with governmental initiative by society as a whole. In short, an enlightened society brightens its world in unison and doesn’t need a thousand points of light.

Thanks to blogger John for pointing this out!

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Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Traditionally, Lent allowed people to participate in the 40 day fast of Jesus in the wilderness - offered an opportunity for people to explore their own wilderness, their own privation, face their own temptations and wrestle with how to bring God's world into being. The "ash" harkens back to the Old Testament practice of throwing ashes over one's head to signify repentance. (Traditionally, the ash for this specific occasion is made by burning the palms from the previous palm Sunday - perhaps connecting us with a failure to make Jesus our Lord, the way we promised then, fawning after the entrance of our triumphal King.)

"40 days," throughout the Bible, is a phrase which means "a really long time." Sort of like us saying "it took a million years to get to the Mall yesterday" - it is an expression, not a specifically quantifiable period of time. Our intentional living should also be a really long time. But we're human, right, so it's better to give us a round figure we can put on our calendars: 40 days - February 21 to April 1. Sacrifice for forty days, resurrection at the end, and it's back to normal again? Perhaps. But, then again, resurrection is a change, isn't it? Something's gotta be different. But what?

I spent a few hours this week preparing a Lenten candle - one of those tall votive candles that usually have a haloed Saint or flaming-hearted Jesus on it. This one was blank, until I wrote on it the lectionary texts that stood out for me from this last week and the next. I suppose I'll light it tonight at sundown.

My Lent has begun - I have promised to drive the speed limit, and to spend the extra time that takes and the reduction in stress to meditate on how I can better bring about the Reign of God in our world. 40 days of turtle-driving. I'll need your prayers for help.

And I'll also try to do the daily meditations, although less strictly (I almost said "less religiously", but caught myself). ;-) I suppose Lent will be "a long time of catching myself."

World Church Lenten Meditations (today's)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

on ministry

I have many excuses for why the post is late this week: it was my birthday on Friday and festivities stretched through the weekend, I was in a line-up at the passport office for 4 hours on Friday, I have schoolwork, blah blah blah. But what it comes down to is that with so many interesting things happening recently, I actually couldn't decide what to write about: the lecture on transgender persons I went to on Wednesday? Or the quilt my Mom recently finished for me? Or the amazing painting my aunt convinced me to buy (this one will definitely get a future post, once the exhibition is over and I have it in my hands)? I decided to try out a response to Christian's post about ministry... we'll see how it turns out.

I enjoyed Christian's reflections on ministry this week. I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means for me to be a minister in this body, in this time, in this place. I wonder about this more and more because as I become more aware of the danger in thinking I know how to "fix things", or thinking that I have to "fix" people, I find myself less and less sure of what it means to offer ministry to people. In conversation with postcolonial thought especially, I find myself wondering what it means to offer any kind of help when I live at the end of a long line of oppressive colonizers. I also sit with various feminists' critiques of domination and patriarchy, or as Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza would put it: 'kyriarchy' (from kyrie, Greek for lord, implying any domination of one person over another).

How does one maintain both authority and humility? How do I respond to God's call and to the needs of others with a responsible use of power? A number of my friends from school are taking a class in Christology right now, and as the 'advanced degree student' I've been called upon a couple of times to help friends sort-through their own wrestlings with the topic. I bring this up because my own Christology is one that centres on relationships, or more specifically, loving, life-giving relationships. These are relationships that are mutual, dialogical, reciprocal, ever-changing, and, although this is a dangerous word I will dare to use it: erotic.

You may know that in Greek there are several words for love (I'm no Greek scholar though, so please don't consider me an authority on this subject) including the commonly-used-in-Christian-circles word agape which has a very clean and proper connotation of general affection and concern, the more disinterested and dispassionate filios, and then the rather indecent eros which implies an interested love that is physical, passionate and connotes desire and longing.

I entertain eros as a way to look at Christian relationships because despite its lousy reputation, and some possible interpretations, Christianity is actually a body-friendly, body-affirming religion. We are a religion that is incarnational, meaning we actually believe the divine can and does dwell within our physical selves. We are a religion concerned about the actual bodies of those who suffer, not just their spiritual salvation. We are a religion that regards the world as a place made by God who called it "very good". We are a religion that has an erotic relationship with one another and with God, with loving concern for bodies, desires and pain.

So that last 'we are' is about the closest I can get right now to a picture of ministry, and I think I'm ok with that.


Monday, February 19, 2007

40 for 40

A Lenten Challenge

My wife wrote this article to raise awareness about global resource consumption, and to challenge us to take the Lenten season to focus on personal lifestyle changes as a way to take action in light of our new understanding. As stewards of resources and our lives, we have opportunities every day to make decisions based on conservation instead of exploitation, in other words to choose to see this world as holy and deserving of reverence and respect instead of merely fuel for our caprice.

Lent provides us a context of sacramental devotion in which we can consecrate a part of our lives to bringing us closer to God's transformative vision of the world. Read the article and consider covenanting with others dedicated to making a change in their lifestyles as an act of worship and as an act of faith in the possibility of a new world. (And who knows, you may even like the change!)

Can we find 40 people willing to challenge themselves for 40 days?

(click on the images below to view pages in jpg format)

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Face Time

First Months on the Job

The last two weeks have been both extraordinarily full and strange. I've been meeting with a lot of the leadership teams of congregations, with some individuals about their involvement in mission in their communities, and with some non-members about life and God a little about our community. I feel like I'm working, but I don't feel like I'm "accomplishing" much.

I come from the public sector (well, a University is technically "public sector" but runs itself as if it were "private sector") where you have tasks, you do them, you get new tasks. There is a sense of accomplishment, of creating deliverables, however mundane. And even after a couple months in an office job somewhere you're going to start pushing things off your desk and filing them as "done." Not so with this job.

First of all, yeah-yeah, its about God - to my mind that means about dedicating ourselves to ongoing creative transformation, and encouraging that commitment to transformation in our world.

But this job is just as much about people - that is: getting to know people, and them getting to know me; learning what their hopes and dreams and abilities are, them learning mine; me beginning to understand what makes them tick, and them beginning to trust me; me learning where they are and where they want to go, and them seeing me as a credible source of ideas, organizing and strategy for how to get there. I know that the first year at least (if not the first three years) is just about us starting this process - me and these people I meet.

I love this - and find it a little frustrating at the same time. I love having my job be the spiritual development of people, to focus on my own and others' relationships with their world, their highest hopes and understandings, their most bold and courageous faith commitments. I love that my job is to think about how we can together reify our beliefs in the world, how we can help each other understand and bring about a real Reign of God. At the same time, this job isn't like most jobs - concerned mostly with profit or products. I come away from these first few months (and probably this first year or two) with no "deliverables" - no "products." (That's not entirely true, of course... I will have articles, workshops, presentations, sermons, meetings, initiatives, evaluations, starts and shoots to my credit at year's end. But those aren't why I'm doing this job. Those aren't the ultimately hoped-for products of my work.)

My "product" (to continue the inadequate industrial analogy) is relationships - relationship with me, with the church community, with the larger communities in which we participate, with God, of people with themselves. I'm sure somewhere there is a bookkeeper counting baptisms and plotting them, but this seems a clumsy way to measure the community of Christ that is built in building the Reign of God. And trying to grow relationships isn't like growing a garden - although some of the analogy works: healthy soil, regular watering and weeding, pollination, sunshine and warmth, prep-work of the bed beforehand, composting everything left over to nourish the next crop, saving some seeds from one crop to plant the next. But relationships and discipleship isn't as certain as planting tomatoes. There are things you can do to help the process, but there's only so much you can do. And even in gardening, most of what needs to "happen" to make things grow well, one has to rely on others to provide (sunshine, nutrients, rain, protection from fungi, etc.). In relationships even more so.

If I am to be the best "missionary" I can be, I can't approach everything as if I'm a missionary - seeking to convert, always seeking to bring people to the church (as if the church will answer all their needs or solve their problems). I have to be a friend, a genuine friend, interested in their best interests, in their development, in their goals and ambitions and fears and abilities. I can't enter or continue a relationship with the ulterior motive of making them CofCers. For some friends, such a community isn't where they are or what they need now. Some people would undoubtedly benefit from such a community, and as a friend I can try to communicate the love, support and growth I find in this Community. But our friendship can't be conditional on their acceptance of that invitation. I'm not knocking on doors trolling for converts. I'm building disciples - and that means building first and foremost healthy, whole, challenged and challenging people who have healthy, whole relationships.

So in my job I have to stop myself from working by the world's rules. I have to stop myself from approaching my job like a station on an assembly line. I'm not piecing together uniform automatons for Christ here. I'm trying to (help) grow whole, healthy people. And that takes more than one or two seasons. (I'd say it takes a lifetime, but I'm not sure that's long enough.)

At the same time, the church is a "business." (Och, I hate using that word, but I'm in a tough spot here in the English language. We don't have a word for "non-businessy business-type ventures" - except for clunky modifications of the word: not-for-profit business, and the like.) The institutional church is a corporation with directors and a constitution and bylaws. It is accountable to the Federal government in financial reporting and legal operations. There has to be some accounting of budget expenditures, especially on salaries and expenses on the front line ("bleeding edge"). Someone somewhere has to say, "this job is worth this much hourly pay because...." So, are we a business?

There is a strange blend of business ethics at work in a church job. I'm paid worldly money and the organization is held to some degree of worldly standards, but my job is intentionally other-worldly - not in the sense of being super-natural, but in the sense of deliberately bringing about a different world. How can we responsibly stand astride that line - make sure I'm doing my job, but also make sure we're not wasting our money on my "job?" Culture and counter-culture come face to face, and they dialog.

I had thought of myself as a paid agent of the counter-culture... but now I wonder if I'm not an agent of the discussion between the two. Somehow, that new conception of my job helps.

Ah, transformation from face time.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Amazing Grace Sunday
This coming Sunday will be Amazing Grace Sunday - a change to reflect on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery (in England - 60 years before the US) - and the continuation of slavery elsewhere in the world even today. It is also an opportunity for congregations and individuals to reflect on the connect their faith declarations with the real-world work of bringing about the kingdom of God.

There is a moving 3-minute film ("Story of Amazing Grace") and other resources appropriate for worship and study on the history of the transformative power of Grace, and our call to transform the world. Consider showing it as part of your worship service.

The lectionary scriptures for this coming Sunday deal with the transformation (transfiguration) of Jesus and ourselves. A real-life example of extraordinary transformation would be both instructive and inspiring.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

transgressing wisdom

A sunny day in February in the Pacific Northwest is certainly a lovely/loving disruption by the weather. Yesterday I ditched my winter wool coat, donned a sweater, and headed to the boardwalk along the Fraser River, which my apartment overlooks. Of course I brought some school work with me - wisdom literature from ancient Syria. I sat in the sun, reading, listening to the sounds of the river life, and then when I got too cold (it is still February after all) I walked back to the public market and sat down inside with a cookie and notebook. I watched three kids between about 8 and 10 years old attempt to sit still at a table, waiting for their parents to return with snacks, all the while wearing rollerblades. Needless to say, it was difficult for them to sit still, and very entertaining. While sitting there I wrote a version of the following.

So lately I've been reflecting quite a bit on the "Ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature" I've been reading for school. I've also been reading some queer theory (see "queer" think questioning everything we take as normative, and seeing how normativity in economics, politics, sex and religion all keep oppressive power structures in place) lately for another class and it has added a new lens to my reading of "wisdom". I find myself wondering about when to rely on "wisdom" (think Proverbs) and when to question wisdom (think Job, sort of) or flip it around completely.

One of the most common proverbial sayings across the Near Eastern literature I've read thus far (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, etc) goes something like: "To be successful, keep your head low and your mouth shut so you don't rock the boat".
I don't like that "wisdom".
I like rocking the boat.
Another way of framing it, this time in wisdom directed at political leaders, is a saying like: "Kill anyone who is noisy or tries to incite a crowd: they are dangerous."
Now that is interesting. Anyone know someone who that happened to?
So I'm wondering if wisdom, especially that last type directed at rulers, could be something of a guidebook for boat-rockers? Flip it around, and you've got guidelines for social transformation: Want to upset the ruling class and empower the lower classes? Speak out and incite crowds!

Like the kids who are supposed to sit still while wearing rollerblades (really now, what kind of parent does that? Sit still with rollerblades? You've got to be kidding me) some of us seem to be gifted with qualities that make "keep your mouth shut and lie low" awfully difficult to adhere to. Jesus certainly didn't seem to be able to stomach that particular morsel of wisdom. He wasn't complicit with the way things were: he spoke out, incited crowds, and he paid for it. But he didn't allow the machine of power and domination silently keep moving along, he attempted to jam a wrench in that machine.

So today I wonder what kind of wisdom we need. I wonder how we work together at discerning when to speak out and when to sit down. I wonder about how our bodies can be the body of Christ: a wrench in the machine of society. I don't know yet exactly how we do that, I know it starts with little things , and I know it requires constant discernment.

I think we also need to acquaint ourselves with the machine we're all a part of. This interview on with writer Chris Hedges is very insightful and worth a read. Hedges presents people with his startling and articulate analysis that America is teetering on the edge of fascism. If his read on the current situation is accurate, then there is even more reason for standing up and acting out. Fortunately there are lots of folks who can teach us how to do this in discerning ways: John Woolman, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer... who are your favourite revolutionaries?

And remember too that even revolutionaries can laugh and be funny. One of my favourites happens to be Margaret Cho who brilliantly weaves into her comedy strong messages about racism, sexism, heteronormativism (did I just invent a new word there?) and politics.

Ok, fellow meek ones, time to don some rollerblades and inherit the earth! 1-2-3....


Shrub-mentality versus Tree-by-the-Water-thinking

We had a wonderful service this morning at Renton - followed by a bountiful and tasty potluck. I spoke on the 40 for 40 Lenten campaign during the Disciple's Generous Response, and gave the sermon.

Drawn loosely from some meditations in my Lectio Divina on the lectionary scriptures, I spoke on the dialectic posed by Luke and Jeremiah: we can approach the world in one of two ways, like a shrub in the desert or like a tree planted by the water, we can be dedicated to mortal/transitory things or we can be dedicated to eternal values. I also talked about our desire to not choose - to do both or one or the other depending on the circumstances and our desires at the moment. But in the end, both Luke and Jeremiah point out to us that we have to choose one way or the other - we can't be "dual-citizens", both Americans and citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Linked here are the mostly complete notes for the sermon. Shrub-mentality versus Tree-by-the-water-thinking

Linked here are download-pages for the .mwv recordings of the actual sermon:
Part 1

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Churches Gear Up for Evolution Sunday!

Congregations across the US are gearing up for sermons and discussions on the coexistence and mutual-information of faith and science this coming "Evolution" Sunday, including (notably) the Community of Christ.

Check out the article here.

Check out this site on the Evolution Sunday project.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

got luke?

January Chinook Now Online
An article I wrote ("got luke?") starts on page six.

Luke is the lectionary gospel for 2007. The Gospel of Luke pivots on just a few verses, in a confrontation between Jesus and a “rich ruler”. We all remember the story: The rich man asks Jesus how he may gain “eternal life.” Jesus answers how he can “enter the kingdom”: by giving away all his possessions and following Jesus. The scripture doesn’t tell us what the man’s response was. All it says is that he backed away.

This is a tough scripture for most of us - we are a lot like this “rich ruler”: we know Jesus speaks the truth,we agree with the idea of giving up our attachment to possessions and power, but just can’t bring ourselves to actually give them up. The faith-question of economic injustice is hit on over and over in Luke, and as the lectionary text for this year it asks us to take a hard look at ourselves.

Read the whole article on page six of the Chinook.
(The Chinook is the quarterly newsletter of the Greater Pacific Northwest region of the Community of Christ.)

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First Vietnam War conscientious objector dead at 73

Dale E. Noyd died in Seattle of complications of emphysema on Thursday, January 11. He was born in Wenatchee on May 1, 1933, and was the only member of the 1955 Reserve Officers Training Corps class at Washington State University to be offered a regular, as opposed to a reserve, commission. Noyd was an Air Force captain and fighter pilot for 11 years who was given a medal for successfully landing a badly damaged nuclear-armed F-100 fighter at an English airfield. In 1966, following graduate work in psychology at the University of Michigan, he asked to be allowed to resign or be classified as a conscientious objector in opposition to the Vietnam War. The ACLU represented him in a federal courtroom in Denver in 1967. In December of that year, the Supreme Court refused his case, claiming the military had jurisdiction. Noyd was court-martialed for disobeying orders to train a pilot bound for Vietnam. He was sentenced March 9, 1968, to a year in prison, given a dishonorable discharge, and stripped of his pension and benefits. Noyd was 73.

Flannel Note: I don't usually post obits, but this one seemed special. It is important for us (Americans, that is) to remember our long, deep, proud history of resistance. The powers would like us to believe that being American means doing anything the government or powerful tell us to do. But some of us, like Dale Noyd, it seems, know better. Good-bye, friend I never knew. (Thanks to Jon for passing this on.)

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Tired of American Politics?

Change your citizenship to the Kingdom of God!

This Sunday (Feb. 11), I'll be preaching in Renton, on the Sermon on the Plain (Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount). The Sermons on the Mount & Plain have been called the constitution of the Kingdom of God. What kind of "country" is this "kingdom"? Can we be dual-citizens? Are there any new taxes? Which side is it on in the "War on Terror"?

These questions and more, discussed at the 11AM service at the Renton Community of Christ on Feb. 11.

Come check it out!


Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Spiritual Practice of Loving Disruption

Hello! My name is Shannon and I’m going to be contributing some theological reflections to this blog on a hopefully regular basis (let's say watch for my posts on Sundays, and if you don't see one, leave a message on the last post with a big guilt trip about why I ought to be writing). I'm a young adult from the Vancouver, BC, Canada area who is a full-time theology student at Vancouver School of Theology, part-time office slave for a fisheries advocacy office, part-time research assistant, and pretty much 24/7 volunteer minister for the Community of Christ church. I'm sure you'll learn more about me as I post more. Christian has invited me to contribute another perspective to the blog, so here’s my first go....

Interrupting the orderly patterns in life happens to be one of my favourite hobbies. Examples would include my habit of turning the elevator buttons in my building so that instead of reading ‘P6’ and ‘P9’ they read ‘9d’ and ‘6d’ (look at them upside-down and you'll see what I mean) and a memorable moment when a schoolmate asked “you don’t know how to baste a turkey, but you know how to carve one?” (disrupting gender expectations is a particular passion of mine). If I had to draw you a picture of this practice there would be lightening bolts shooting out of my heart, zapping people to playfully wake them up from their usual ways of thinking in and moving through the world.

This play is like a spiritual discipline for me, since it is tempting to go through life with eyes cast low, mouth corners turned down, careful to not disrupt or change anything. It certainly seems like that would be a much simpler approach to living... But then I lock eyes with a stranger on the train and we both smile, or I see a hawk perched on a lamppost and point it out to my roommate, or I rub my cold nose on my friend’s neck as we lean in for a hug. My heart is captured by this adventurous, playful side of life.

Three and a half years of formal “theological education” (and still counting...) have helped me discover and then articulate that my Christian discipleship both comes from and shows itself in my deep, passionate love of the world. If, as some theologians have said, the world is God’s body, then just call me a passionate lover of God – and go ahead and take that word “lover” to mean whatever you want it to – yes, even that! With this much love for God and the world comes a passion for finding ways of articulating, demonstrating and living that love.

My theological reflections won’t profess to be decent or serious or perfect or pretty, but they will be honest, play/prayer-fully poetic and even a bit risky, little loving disruptions. They may be reflections on a French feminist psychoanalytic philosopher or recipes for in-season vegetable soup, but they will all flow from my own discipleship path. I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I will enjoy writing them!


Friday, February 02, 2007

Missional Living on the Cheap

Want to do something about the homeless? Do it yourself.

There's a great posting - "Missional Living on the Cheap" - that describes some concrete ways one can start taking a stab at the injustices of the (local) world. It's worth reading, if even just for the inspiration to try something similar yourself.

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

More than 1000 hits!

Ok, so I know that's not a lot in cyberspace, especially in nearly three months. But for me that seemed like a lot. Thanks for visiting - hopefully repeatedly - and I'll continue to try to make this some place worth coming back to. I'm also working on expanding the original content, so we'll see how that goes.

At any rate, thanks y'all. And thanks to those to whom I am actually a minister - still finding my sea-legs, but glad to be with you all.