Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Hosea (2)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Problem in the Book of the Twelve – Hosea (3)

Lent 1

          As the introduction to the Book of the Twelve Hosea gives a detailed profile of Israel’s problem. And since Israel bears humanity’s problem as well as its future and destiny, Israel’s problem is our problem too. And how YHWH is and what YHWH does to and for Israel is of utmost interest to us as well.

          Lent is the time between two deaths – our death with Christ in baptism and our death at the end of our earthly lives. That first death enables us to embrace and live well toward that second death. Utter honesty is required for us to live well so it appropriate for us to begin Lent with as brutally frank an appraisal of our situation as we can bear. Walter Brueggemann once claimed that Israel has given the church the inestimable gift of modeling a faith that holds together utter realism and extravagant hope at one and the same time. It is in this spirit that we will proceed. And remember, it is the church that is our primary focus in these reflections. Personal insights are derivative from them (though no less important).

          This problem is described variously and poignantly in Hosea. But in 5:4 through the prophet God gives a succinct and acute diagnosis of it: “For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know YHWH.”

          Prostitution or adultery are common metaphors for Israel and humanity’s root problem: idolatry.

          Idolatry is best parsed as I-dolatry. For at its core this phenomenon is a radical assertion of the imperial I. Our heart becomes “curved in on itself,” to use Luther’s penetrating phrase. We become sinners in that s-I-n, the malignant reign of the imperial I taints all that we are and do. This imperial I sees only itself, everything else through itself, and its own reflection in everything else.

          We in the west, and in the church in the west, have suckled at the breast of this primal distortion of the people we were meant to be for so long that what we take as normal, even natural, are but reflections of our whorish inclinations. And in the abundance of our lovers (the variety of our idols) we lose our relationship to YHWH!

          And in losing that relationship, we lose ourselves and our reason for being. Instead of bearing the image of YHWH who made us to be protectors and nurturers of those and the world around us, we are stamped with the false image (the 666 of the book of Revelation) of the unholy trinity we allow to guide and direct our lives: Mars (violence), Mammon (stuff), and Me (individualism).

          I-dolatry engulfs us and sours the whole of life. Nothing is exempt from its death-dealing touch. John Calvin called the fallen human mind “a factory for idols.”

Hear now the following witnesses to I-dolatry’s reach and scope:

          Our relation to God:

“We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically in a Church, where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love, and to promise what we already desire.”
― N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

          Our relation to ourselves:

“Every man becomes the image of the God he adores.
He whose worship is directed to a dead thing becomes dead.
He who loves corruption rots.
He who loves a shadow becomes, himself, a shadow.
He who loves things that must perish lives in dread of their perishing.”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Our relation to our faith itself:

"Orthodoxy is idolatry if it means holding the 'correct opinions about God' - 'fundamentalism' is the most extreme and salient example of such idolatry - but not if it means holding faith in the right way, that is, not holding it at all but being held by God, in love and service. Theology is idolatry if it means what we say about God instead of letting ourselves be addressed by what God has to say to us. Faith is idolatrous if it is rigidly self-certain . . ."
- John D. Caputo

Our relation to our nation:

"Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. 'Patriotism' is its cult... Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship."
- Erich Fromm

Our relation to life in a digital world:

"We are not witnessing the flow of information so much as pure spectacle, or information made sacred, ritually unreadable. The small monitors of the office, home and car become a kind of idolatry here, where crowds might gather in astonishment. "Hysteria at high speeds, day to day, minute to minute. People in free societies don't have to fear the pathology of the state. We create our own frenzy, our own mass convulsions, driven by thinking machines that we have no final authority over. The frenzy is barely noticeable most of the time. It's simply how we live." She finished with a laugh…THE TRUTH WAS MAPPED IN SLOW AND CERTAIN DECLINE. He was seeing something elaborately different from what he encountered step by step in the ordinary run of hours. He had to learn how to see it correctly, find a crack in the world where it might fit."
-Dom DeLillo

In short, St. Augustine said it best: we become what we adore. When our selves occupy our field of vision we can be certain the shadows that haunt our lives are not those of transcendence but of our own projections. In this respect, Feuerbach was right. We have made ourselves, personally and as a whole, made ourselves little gods instead of allowing God to make us the “little Christs” (Luther) we are meant to be.

This “spirit of whoredom,” our inclination to I-dolatry, was the problem in Hosea’s 8th century B. C. and remains the problem in 2016 A. D. What shall or can we do about it? Tune in tomorrow and we’ll see.

How does I-dolatry manifest itself in your life?

Remembering that genuine honesty and transparency happens because we are loved and accepted (yesterday’s reflection) and therefore can risk the pain of really looking into ourselves, spend some time reflecting on the I-dols you can identify.

Pray and sit with your reflections.




Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bernie Sanders is not the same as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Sanders is not a neoliberal

The Reason Why We Should be Depressed About Bernie Sanders' Success

by Charles Mudede • Feb 9, 2016 at 11:35 am

The key and devastating idea in Thomas Piketty's masterpiece Capital in the Twenty-First Century, an idea that many missed or failed to appreciate, is that there is no law-like link between democracy and capitalism. As he points out at the beginning of the book, there was after the Second World War great belief in the Kuznets Curve. The economist Simon Kuznets devised this hypothesis, which was eagerly accepted by those on the right and the left of his time (the 1950s). By using tax records, he saw a movement in the history of capitalism that began with things being very unequal and brutal for the poor to, step by step, things being more equal and democratic. It was therefore a law of capitalism that, as it accumulated more wealth, more of this wealth was distributed downward.

But what did Piketty show? This curve was not a law but the result of a historical accident.

The Book of the Twelve for Lent - Hosea (2) Ash Wednesday

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The God of the Book of the Twelve – Hosea (2)

Ash Wednesday

          Lent begins with Ash Wednesday’s great call to national repentance from the Book of the Twelve in Joel 2. We will get to Joel 2 in time but we will not start there in our reflections. We will start where everything Christian starts – with God. More particularly, with YHWH, the covenant, personal, familial God of Israel.

          Everything, I mean everything, in life begins with and is colored by who we believe God to be. In 1995 Joan Osborne released her hit song “One of Us.” In it she asked two questions:

          -If God had a name what would it be?

-If God had a face what would it look like?

Is God personal and can we know God, these are the questions whose answers determine in large measure the tenor and texture of our lives. So, I ask you, this Ash Wednesday 2016, is your God personal and can/do you know your God?

A decade or so ago, Christian Smith and his associates published the results of a wide-ranging study of the religious lives of American teens. They distilled a set of five convictions that made up a sort of creed most teens bought into in some form. And most surprising of all, Smith discovered the teens had gotten this creed from their parents! What these researchers had discovered was not some wild eccentric teen speculations but rather mainstream cultural beliefs. Two about God stood out. First, God created the world and keeps an eye on it. And second, God’s not much involved in our lives. Maybe in a pinch to help us out of a jam, but otherwise not much.

This deistic[1] God is, outside his creative activity, unknown. Whether personal or impersonal, good, evil or morally neutral, loving or indifferent to its creation, is beyond human knowledge. In the west we have tended to assume that this deity is morally good, strict, judgmental, and quick to punish. I call this deity the “God with a Scowl.”

Far too often passed off as the Christian God, the “God with a Scowl” is no such thing! Even though typified by the famous puritan Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” this deity has nothing to do with Christian faith.[2] The God made known in the Bible, the God of Israel and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is utterly different in every way from this!

Hosea announces this in his very first verse. “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea . . .” “Lord” is the translation of the Greek word used to translate the unutterable name of Israel’s God (YHWH). YHWH is the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush, the name by which he would rescue and dwell with, and know and be known by his people forever more. YHWH’s passion for his people, his love for them, moved him to make a promise to their forbears that they would be his people, he would bless and protect them, and through them he would bless the world. YWHW is a “blessing” God, not an angry, vengeful smiter as Richard Dawkins and the so-called New Atheists (which are really nothing but petulant old atheists) like to portray him. No doubt there are some aspects of his work in the Old Testament that raise some troubling questions, but the overwhelming witness of the Old Testament echoes YHWH’s own in Ex.34:

“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.”

          YHWH, this YHWH of Ex.34, the anti- “God with a Scowl,” introduces himself in the first verse of the Book of the Twelve, and this confession of his character is cited four more times in it (Joel 2:13; Jon.4:2; Mic.7:16-18; and Nah.1:3). This great confession of Israel’s God and faith, four times cited and everywhere implicit in the use of “Lord” says this is a deity who wants to be with his people, to know and be known, to share life together with them in peace and harmony. His love far out-strips his need to discipline his unruly children (v.7) and even that discipline serves his love for us.

          Any other view of God that compromises this total and unconditional love for his creatures is a false view of God. An idol. A damnable caricature that infects far too many people today and robs them of the relationship with God that alone makes and keeps human life human.  

          Does the “God with a Scowl” have any place in your view of God?

          Can you identify why?

How does this view of God affect your ability to love God with all you have and are and your neighbor (friend, family member, stranger, enemy) as yourself?

What can you do, as often as you need to do it, this Lent to remind yourself of who the Bible’s God really is?

Like I said, everything Christian begins here. And Lent is no exception.

[1] Deism is the belief that arose in the Enlightenment (17th – 18th centuries in Western Europe) that God was the Creator who set the world on its course and then left it to its own devices.
[2] Indeed, Edwards’ thought about God was on the whole much better and more biblical than this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

Hosea (1)

          No, the Book of the Twelve is not some new archaeological discovery, fantasy novel or self-help program. It is the name scholars give to what most of us call the twelve books of the “Minor Prophets.” You know, there those short books tucked in the very end of the Old Testaments after the longer, “Major Prophets,” of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Daniel is not considered a “prophetic” book in the Hebrew Bible even though it is included among them in our Bibles. The twelve “Minor Prophets” are considered to be one book, and hence, a fourth prophetic “book” along with the three “Major Prophets.” We read them, then, both as individual writings and then as “chapters” in a larger book. It is these chapters we will use to guide our Lenten reflections this year.

          The great theme and pattern of the Bible is Exodus – Exile repeated over and over again through Israel’s history and the history of the church. This macro-pattern also has its micro-analogue in our personal stories. The church in our land by all signs and evidences languishes in a season of exile these days. God has not rejected us but he has turned away from us, abandoned us to our preoccupations and self-absorptions. Jacques Ellul, in his seminal book, Hope in Time of Abandonment (written in the ‘70’s but remaining as pertinent today as ever), describes God’s abandoning his people because of their “mediocrity.”

Muddling along on our own insight and power, vesting our visions with ultimacy, forging ahead as if we actually knew what to do apart from a life steeped in prayer and the Spirit – the persistent and pervasive practice of such mediocrity also places God’s people in danger of being abandoned to ourselves.

Lent is the church’s best response to such danger. A lengthy period of reflection as we accompany Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross is a healthy antidote to avoiding or recovering from the mediocrity that leads to abandonment. This is not a moral struggle. Let’s be clear about that! It is a Spirit-ual (my way of indicating that our struggle is with God’s Spirit not our own inner “spiritual” resources) all the way down. It is a descent into hell, if you will. For it is only in hell where theologians (according to Luther) and faithful followers of Jesus are truly formed. And hell is abandonment by God (Mt.27:46).

The pattern or central theme of the Book of the Twelves is Sin – Judgment – Restoration (Paul House) and this pattern can be differentiated into one of “sin, partial repentance, delayed judgment, national rebellion, exile, return, further sporadic repentance, recurring sin, and a continued pattern of judgment and salvation until the final eschatological resolution” (Gary E. Yates, “Repentance and Return as Unifying Themes in the Book of the Twelve” ETS 2013). This differentiated pattern maps well onto the messy and jumbled character of our lives and the church’s response to God’s call and grace.

The great issue for the church and its members, and the focus of Lent, is how to face and fight our resistances to following Jesus Christ, to Jerusalem, to the cross, to Easter. Here is where the Book of the Twelve can help us.

Hosea serves as an introduction to the collection of these twelve documents. It introduces the theme of call to repentance and Israel’s failure to respond obediently. Joel-Malachi present this pattern in three different settings (Yates) and dynamics.

-the first iteration of this pattern begins in Joel with the people’s repentance, their relapse into sin, and exile for Israel (Amos) and Judah (Micah, Habbakuk, Zephaniah).

-the second iteration begins with Jonah’s story of Nineveh’s repentance but is followed immediately by Nahum’s announcement of judgment on that nation.

-the final iteration is post-exilic with Haggai and Zechariah demonstrating the repentance of the people as seen in rebuilding the temple and returning to YHWH, but Malachi closes the Book of the Twelve by documenting another tragic relapse into sin.

From pre-exilic Israel (Hosea/Micah, Habbakuk, Zephaniah) to the nations (Jonah/Nahum) to post-exilic Israel (Haggai, Zechariah/Malachi), the nation’s failure to be the people YHWH called to bear his presence and blessing to the world is the fundamental issue in the history of the world. Yes, the stakes are this high. For us. For the world. Even for God.

We will begin with a series of reflections on the dynamics of this pattern we find in Hosea which will equip us to note them in the three versions (pre-exilic, nations, post-exilic) the Book of the Twelve gives us.

We best read these reflections with the church in North America in mind. It is the analogy to Israel this side of the cross to which they make most sense. But there may well be personal issues each of us face and need to deal with that are illumined as well. Each reader will have to make that determination and use of these reflections to that end for themselves.

Why Bernie vs Hillary Matters More Than People Think

by Benjamin Studebaker

Lately the internet has become full of arguments about the merits and demerits of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been discussing and pondering all the various views about this, and I’m increasingly of the opinion that most of the people engaging in this debate don’t really understand what is at stake in the democratic primary. This is in part because many Americans don’t really understand the history of American left wing politics and don’t think about policy issues in a holistic, structural way. So in this post, I want to really dig into what the difference is between Bernie and Hillary and why that difference is extremely important.

We have a tendency in American politics to focus too much on individuals and personal narratives, especially in presidential campaigns. Who’s in touch with ordinary people? Who is experienced? Who is a nice person? Who connects better with different identity groups? Who would you like to have a beer with? This is in large part because many democrats like to think of Hillary and Bernie as different flavors of the same Democratic Party popcorn. Consequently they mostly just pay attention to which candidate they feel they can more readily identify with. But Sanders and Clinton represent two very different ideologies. Each of these ideologies wants control of the Democratic Party so that this party’s resources can be used to advance a different conception of what a good society looks like. This is not a matter of taste and these are not flavors of popcorn.
What are these two groups? Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist–he connects himself politically with Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, with the New Deal and the Great Society. To understand what that means, we need to know the history of this ideology. Under Calvin Coolidge’s right wing economic policy in the 1920’s, economic inequality in the United States spiked:


Learning to Pay Attention

by Matt Gunter

Are you paying attention?  

What are you paying attention to? 

A monk needed to go for a day-trip to a big city, accompanied by an acquaintance. In the midst of urban’ uproar the monk claimed to have heard a cricket, though his companion did not believe him. Crossing the road and looking carefully under a tree the monk found the cricket, to the astonishment of his companion.  

- You must have a superhuman hearing!  

- No. My ears aren’t different from yours, said the monk. But everything depends on what you’re used to listening for.

- No! I would not be able to hear a cricket in this noise!  

- It all depends on what is important to you, reiterated the monk. Let’s make a demonstration. So the monk took out few coins from his packet and dropped them on the pavement. And despite of the loud noise of the city, all the people around them turned their heads thinking that the scattered coins could have fallen from their pockets.  

- Do you understand now? It all depends on what is important to people … If we watch or listen to the contentions daily news on television, our ears become accustomed only to what is ugly and evil. We become fearful and helpless! Then we’ll say: “Life is hard, people are evil, we live in an insecure and ugly world, you cannot trust anyone or anything …”  

And meanwhile the crickets sing, the leaves rustle, the waters flow, and we do not hear them.

Are you paying attention? What are you paying attention to? What are you listening for? What are you looking for? 

The life of the spirit is about learning to pay attention to the right things. But, this turns out to be more difficult. There are distractions and spiritual static within us and in the world around us.

Each of us carry within us some confusing combination of pride and insecurity, hope and fear which make it difficult to have accurate understandings of ourselves, to engage others with understanding and charity, and to receive from God the tough, but transforming love extended in Jesus Christ. 

We live in a world that has lost its way. People are distracted and anxious. We have forgotten or ignore that there is more going on than what is in front of our noses. 

People “self-medicate” by shopping for more stuff or distracting themselves with technology and entertainment or general busyness. Thus they avoid dealing with the deep and disturbing questions about the meaning of life and death.  

We have been trained – catechized – to understand ourselves as no more than individual bundles of appetites to be satisfied by any means at any cost.

We allow our hopes and fears, appetites and anxieties, to be manipulated by economic and political powers. 

With all that, it is hard to hear the still small voice of God declaring his delight in us as beings of immeasurable value created in his image and his mercy poured out with understanding on our brokenness and sinfulness. It requires discipline.  

Although Christians are expected to engage in spiritual disciplines all the time that enable us to receive and live God’s mercy and delight, Lent is the season when we take on particular disciplines to reduce distractions and reorient our attention. Last fall I called the Diocese of Fond du Lac to adopt a “rule of life” based on basic classic spiritual disciplines as an aid to learning to pay attention to what is worthy of our attention. My hope is that we practice it throughout the year. But, I offer it here as a potential guide to Lenten discipline . 


Grateful for God’s mercy and delight that I have experienced through Jesus Christ, I desire to become more open to that mercy and delight, more open to seeing it in creation and in other people. I desire to become more of a channel of God’s mercy and delight in the world. I recognize this calls for training in attentiveness and self-control. To this end I commit to the following Rule of Life:

Worship in Community 

Worship is attending to what is worth attending to what – Who – is worthy of attention, i.e., worthship. It is orienting our attention toward God. It is delighting in God who is delightful. It is giving thanks for the gifts that God has given us. It is giving thanks for the grace and mercy God has lavished on us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

To enter more fully into God’s mercy and delight, I commit to embracing Sunday as a “holy day of expectation” and to join my congregation (or another) at least weekly for worship and Holy Eucharist when it is available. If I am unable to worship with a congregation on Sunday (or Saturday evening), I will pray Morning or Evening Prayer instead. 


Prayer is paying attention to God, conversing with God, sharing what is on my heart, and attending to God’s presence in my heart and life. It is resting in God’s mercy and delight. 

I commit to setting aside time (ideally at least 20 minutes) each day for intentional prayer in order to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). This might be praying one of the Daily Offices from the Book of Common Prayer, Lectio Divina, the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer, etc. A portion of that time will be offered in silent attentiveness to God. 


Fasting is about learning to pay attention and exercising self-control over one of our most basic appetites so we can also learn self-control over more deadly appetites, e.g., Self-absorption, Vanity, Malice, Envy, Sloth, Greed, etc. 

I commit to observing every Wednesday as a fast day. This might range from abstaining from all food for the day, to abstaining from one or more meals, to abstaining from one or another sort of food or drink. It will entail some kind of sacrifice to remind me that I do not live “by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3/Luke 4:4). By doing so, I hope to turn my attention to God throughout the day. 


Sabbath is a kind of fasting in time, i.e., fasting from busy-ness. It is a commitment to attend to God and to relationships with others. Observing Sabbath reminds me that God is God and I am not. 

I commit to refraining from participating in work (as far as possible) or commerce on Sunday. I will refrain from other distractions that keep me from attending to God’s mercy and delight in my life. I will engage in activities that reflect and cultivate my delight in relationships with family and friends and with the world. 


Where have I seen or experienced God’s mercy and delight today? Where might I have missed them? Did I delight in the people with whom I was engaged today? Those I thought about? Did I channel God’s mercy to others today? 

I commit to daily examination: giving thanks for the mercy and delight I received and shared during the past day; and confessing whatever failures to see, receive, or extend

God’s mercy and delight. 

I adopt this Rule not to prove my worthiness to God or anyone else. I adopt this Rule as an aid to growing into the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) and becoming more transparent to his mercy and delight. And I do so knowing that if/when I fail to keep it, in God’s grace I can begin again and again.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Preface to Lent

          One of my favorite stories serves as a wonderful preface to Ash Wednesday and the practice of Lent.

          A person seeking spiritual growth goes to a nearby abbey to speak with its abbot. They tell the abbot of their interest and ask for his help. The abbot tells them to come back the next day at noon and be prepared to do whatever he tells them to do without question.

          Noon sharp the next day this seeker arrives ready to do as the abbot directs. The first task he assigns is for the seeker to go outside and stand in the courtyard with arms raised to heaven till the abbot tells them to stop.

          Puzzled but willing to give it a try our seeker does as directed. Quickly, however, the wind whips up and blows a strong storm in. But the abbot does not call our seeker in.

          Rain lashes the seeker. But the abbot does not call them in.

          Thoroughly drenched and miserable, the seeker looks toward the abbot’s window. Still no sign was given for them to come in out of the weather.

          Finally, just as the seeker was ready to give up, the sign came for them to come in. Frustrated and angry, the seeker demands to know why this ordeal was necessary and how it relates to their desire for spiritual growth.

          “How do you feel?” the abbot asks.

          “Like a damn fool!” the seeker yells.

          “Good,” replies the abbot. “I think you’ve learned enough for today.”