Saturday, March 31, 2012

What is the Missional Church: “In” But Not “Of” Yet “For” Culture

Trying to define the church’s relation to its culture is kind of like eating soup with a fork. That’s because both culture and church are dynamically related to each other in ever-changing ways that defy our best efforts to classify them. That does not mean we should stop trying, only that we cannot hope to fully succeed. And it’s a good thing too!

I begin with three terms often used to qualify the noun “church” these days: “parallel,” “alternative,” and “counter.” These terms certainly overlap though they are not identical in meaning. I believe they provide us with a continuum of relationships or forms in which church and culture may exist in different circumstances. The phenomenon of the triple point of water may provide a helpful analogy. The triple point is that point of pressure and temperature where water, ice, and vapor coexist in a state of stable equilibrium. Alterations in pressure and temperature, however small, can change all of the substance to either ice, vapor, or liquid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_point).

This analogy captures, I think, the dynamic nature of the church-culture relationship. Rather, the potential for a variety of relations exists at every moment (a hypothetical “state of equilibrium). The specific form embodied depends on the changing circumstances of the relationship. I’ll try and make this more concrete by using the three terms mentioned above.

Parallel-alternative-counter are, as I noted above, overlapping terms (like water-ice-vapor). But they can be nuanced like this. A church in parallel with its culture is one that shares life with it in every way. It stands in solidarity with it and identifies with its hopes and hurts, dreams and doubt, experiences the same ups and downs, joys and despair. In every way from the most mundane to the exalted the church lives parallel to, or right alongside, those where it lives. Though their faith commitments may differ, both church and culture are “in it together” as subjects and objects of cultural life. Or, to say it in terms of my title, the church is “in” the world in the fullest sense of that word.

From within this fundamental solidarity, the church is also and at the same time an alternative community. That is, it is different from the other groups and communities that it lives and shares life with. By constitution and calling it is different from them. The church is to live in and among them as a community that is not “of” them, in the sense that it lives by another life and another wisdom. It does not promote or flaunt its difference, or act superior because of this. The church simply lives out its calling in humility and service to the community trusting God will use their life to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

There are times, however, when the church must stand against the grain in which its community and culture are moving. At such times its character as counter-cultural community comes to the fore. In times such as these the church

-which stands shoulder-to-shoulder “in” and “with” the community

-as one that lives from a vision and vitality of life not “of” the community,

-stands against it as one who is yet “for” it even its resistance to its present path.

There is no easy formula for how to work out all this. It will take discernment and prayer to know when and how the church lives “in” the community but not “of” it and yet “for” it even when it stands against its community and culture. This hard work, this gospel work of bearing faithful witness to the world in which we live, this is the missional work of the people of God.

Eleven theses on love (Ben Myers)

1. I have observed in my own handwriting a peculiar involuntary tic. My capital E is normally executed with three strokes: a sharp L-shape, followed by two swift horizontal strokes. It is a crooked, abrupt, ungainly sort of letter. But whenever I write the word Elise – my wife's name – the E takes on a completely different form and style. It is executed with a single fluid cursive stroke; it is curved, almost elegant, like a back-to-front 3. It is the only time my handwriting produces such a shape. Under all normal circumstances, my E – like the rest of my handwriting – is a rather jagged, haphazard, Runic, pagan-looking thing. But just ask me to spell my wife's name, and that first grapheme is mysteriously transfigured into something smooth, Cyrillic, serenely clean and Christian. As though it were inadequate to assign to her name any regular letter of the Roman alphabet; as though she required her own distinct letter, without which her name cannot be spelled or uttered; as though my love for her were the sanctification of language.

2. Like the Name of God which rebounds silently away from human speech, so love transcends language and eludes the grasp of words. Love is like the trauma that imposes its own peculiar patterns on a person's speech. Love is the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet.

3. Love escapes language, because love transcends the law. It is that towards which law is always reaching; it is that which law has never touched. "Love is the fulfilment of the law" (Romans 13:10).

4. Love is not desire, even though it appropriates desire the way a flame appropriates dry wood. To love is to desire the desire of another. Which means: love is kenosis, love is loss, love is the purgation of desire.

5. The purification of love is the task of life and the purpose of religion. The Christian faith is an ascetic doctrine of life, because it is a doctrine of love and joy. "All true joy expresses itself in terms of asceticism, … the repudiation of the great mass of human joys because of the supreme joyfulness of the one joy" (G. K. Chesterton). Love without asceticism is sentimentality – paltry, small, and sad.

6. The widespread sentimentalisation of romantic love in our society is a casual defacement of the Holy. Our pop songs and romantic comedies and breezy one-night stands are the moral equivalent of scribbling your lover's name beside the toilet in a public restroom. Except that it is God's Name – for "God is love" (1 John 4:16).

7. The experience of falling in love is the emotional shock produced by a sudden reorientation of personal attention. But such an experience is not yet love. To sustain that attention over time, even at great cost, is what it means to love.

8. Love without time is an absurdity, like fire without burning. Love is a mode of attention stretched out across time. Love is the temporal direction of the self. Love is nothing else than a certain object plus devotion plus time. "Love is patient" (1 Cor 13:4). That is why "the choice between one potential love and another can feel, and be, like a choice of a way of life" (Martha Nussbaum).

9. Love is mostly failure. If we understood ourselves, we would repent of our loves as one repents of the most appalling crime. Love is so entangled with selfish desire that we cannot even clearly tell the difference; nothing but the day of judgment will distinguish wheat from chaff. God's judgment does for me what I cannot do for myself: it separates one thing, love, from everything else that I am and everything else that I have done. What I need, all I need, is judgment. I live in desperate hope towards God's judgment, which is also God's mercy – the only kind of mercy worth the name.

10. The opposite of love is not hatred, but shame. "Love bade me welcome yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin" (George Herbert). Divine love is the abolition of shame. It is hospitality, welcome, the healing of the wounded gaze. "Love took my hand and smiling did reply, / Who made the eyes but I?" Shame stoops over, looking inward on the self. Quick-eyed love stands up straight, face to face with the beloved.

11. God's Word is love. Simone Weil: "God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion…. This tearing apart, over which supreme love places the bond of supreme union, echoes perpetually across the universe in the midst of the silence, like two notes, separate yet melting into one, like pure and heart-rending harmony. This is the Word of God. The whole creation is nothing but its vibration."

http://www.faith-theology.com/2012/03/twelve-theses-on-love.html

Friday, March 30, 2012

Daily Prayer During Holy Week

These services for Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer during Holy Week are adapted from Daily Prayer: Supplemental Liturgical Resource 5 of the Presbyterian Church (Westminster Press, 1987).

They are designed for corporate use but can be easily adapted for personal prayer.

The readings for each day are generally distributed as follows: Morning Prayer, Old Testament; Midday Prayer, Epistle; and Evening Prayer, Gospel Lesson. Should only one or two services a day be observed, the readings may be redistributed accordingly.
Musical settings for the canticles can be found in the Presbyterian Hymnal. Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 2

—Passion/Palm Sunday—

MORNING PRAYER
OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips, Psalm 51:15 and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Tell the daughter of Zion: Behold, your king is coming to you! Matthew 21:5, 9 He is humble and rides on a donkey.
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 84; Psalm 150 Psalm 31:9-16
SCRIPTURE READING Zechariah 9:9-12 Isaiah 50:4-9a
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
God of all joy, fill our souls to overflowing with the fullness of your grace. In this season, remind us of your triumph over the tragedy of the cross, and your victory for us over the powers of sin and death,
so that we may reflect your glory as disciples of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
To God be honor and glory forever and ever! 1 Timothy 1:17 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 122 Psalm 31:9-16
SCRIPTURE READING 1 Timothy 6:12-16 Philippians 2:5-11
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
To God be honor and glory forever and ever! 1 Timothy 1:17 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
Behold, now is the acceptable time; 2 Corinthians 6:2
now is the day of salvation.
Restore us, O God of our salvation, Psalm 80:3 that the light of your face may shine upon us.
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 42; Psalm 32 Psalm 31:9-16
SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 21:12-17 Matthew 26:14—27:66
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Let us live in love, as Christ loved us and gave his life for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
God of creation, you formed us out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into us. By your Spirit breathe new life into us.
Lead us to life eternal by the mighty love of Jesus Christ,
who suffered on the cross and was raised from the dead.
You lifted him to glory, where with outstretched arms he welcomes the world in his strong embrace of salvation. In his holy name we pray. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
To God be honor and glory forever and ever! 1 Timothy 1:17 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

—Monday—

MORNING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips, Psalm 51:15 and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
When Jesus saw Jerusalem, he wept over it. Luke 19:41 If only we had known the way to peace!
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 119:73-80; Psalm 145 Psalm 36:5-11
SCRIPTURE READING Jeremiah 11:18-20; 12:1-16 (17) Isaiah 42:1-9
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Eternal God, give us such grace and generosity that this day we may bring your love and peace and joy to the lonely, the troubled, the grieving. Help us by your Spirit to recognize your presence with us throughout the day, that we may do what is good in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge 2 Peter 3:18
of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 19:1-6 Psalm 36:5-11
SCRIPTURE READING Philippians 3:1-14 Hebrews 9:11-15
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
May we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge 2 Peter 3:18
of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O God, come to our assistance. Psalm 22:19 O Lord, hasten to help us.
Jesus drove the merchants out of the temple. Matthew 21:12-13 As it is written in the scriptures, God said: My temple will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 121; Psalm 6 Psalm 36:5-11
SCRIPTURE READING John 12:9-19 John 12:1-11
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Receive my prayer as incense, O God, my uplifted hands as an evening sacrifice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Loving God, fill us with a full measure of grace,
that we may be agents of your love in this world. By the power of your Holy Spirit, sustain us in the struggle for peace and justice.
Keep us constant in the service of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge 2 Peter 3:18
of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

—Tuesday—

MORNING PRAYER


OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips, Psalm 51:15 and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
The children were shouting in the temple: Matthew 21:15-16 Hosanna to the Son of David!
And Jesus justified them with scripture: Out of the mouths of children and infants you have brought perfect praise.
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 34; Psalm 146 Psalm 71:1-14
SCRIPTURE READING Jeremiah 15:10-21 Isaiah 49:1-7
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
God of love, as you have given your life to us, so may we live according to your holy will revealed in Jesus Christ. Make us bold to share your life, and show your love, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
The grace of God be with us all, now and always! 1 Timothy 6:21 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER


OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 113 Psalm 71:1-14
SCRIPTURE READING Philippians 3:15-21 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
The grace of God be with us all, now and always! 1 Timothy 6:21 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O God, come to our assistance. Psalm 22:19
O Lord, hasten to help us.
Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree and it died; so he said: Matthew 21:19, 22; Mark 11:25 When you pray, believe, and you will receive. When you pray, forgive, and God will forgive the wrongs you have done.
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 25; Psalm 91 Psalm 71:1-14
SCRIPTURE READING John 12:20-26 John 12:20-36
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Receive my prayer as incense, O God, my uplifted hands as an evening sacrifice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Great God, keep our feet firmly in the Way where Christ leads us; sound from our mouths the Truth which Christ teaches us; and fill our bodies with the Life that is Christ within us,
by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
The grace of God be with us all, now and always! 1 Timothy 6:21 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

—Wednesday—

MORNING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips. Psalm 51:15 And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Jesus said: Soon it will be the Passover, Matthew 26:1-2 and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 5; Psalm 147:1-11 Psalm 70
SCRIPTURE READING Jeremiah 17:5-10, 14-17 (18) Isaiah 50:4-9a
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Lord, as daylight fills the sky, fill us with your holy light. May our lives mirror your great love. Your wisdom has brought us into being, and your care guides us on the way of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May the Lord, who is our peace, 2 Thessalonians 3:16
give us peace at all times and in every way. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 121 Psalm 70
SCRIPTURE READING Philippians 4:1-13 Hebrews 12:1-3
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
May the Lord, who is our peace, 2 Thessalonians 3:16
give us peace at all times and in every way. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O God, come to our assistance. Psalm 22:19
O Lord, hasten to help us.
Mary washed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, and they said: Mark 14:3-6, 8
This should have been sold, and the money given to the poor.
But Jesus said: Leave her alone! She has done a beautiful thing. She has poured the perfume on me to prepare me for my burial.
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 27; Psalm 51 Psalm 70
SCRIPTURE READING John 12:27-36 John 13:21-32
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Receive my prayer as incense, O God, my uplifted hands as an evening sacrifice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Without your breath in us, O God, we wither and are gone. Calm us by your Spirit, and renew your life within us, that we may journey with Christ and come at last to the home he has prepared for us, welcomed in your eternal embrace. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May the Lord, who is our peace, 2 Thessalonians 3:16
give us peace at all times and in every way. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

—Maundy Thursday—

MORNING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips. Psalm 51:15 And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Jesus said: I give you a new commandment. John 13:34-35
Love one another as I have loved you. By this the world will know that we are his disciples, if we love one another.
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 27; Psalm 147:12-20 Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
SCRIPTURE READING Jeremiah 20:7-11 (12-13) 14-18 Exodus 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Loving God, as you have shared life and love with us, lead us to share ourselves,
that in the giving of our lives others may recognize your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, who commanded us to love by his righteous example. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace Romans 15:13 through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 34 Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
SCRIPTURE READING 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:27-32 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace Romans 15:13 through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O God, come to our assistance. Psalm 22:19
O Lord, hasten to help us.
When it was evening, they sat down to eat, and Jesus said: Matthew 26:21-22
I tell you, one of you will betray me.
The disciples were very upset, and began to ask him: Is it I, Lord?
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 126; Psalm 102 Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
SCRIPTURE READING John 17:1-11 (12-26) John 13:1-17, 31b-35
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Receive my prayer as incense, O God, my uplifted hands as an evening sacrifice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Holy God, keep us in communion with you and in community with one another, that we may always be ready to eat at table with Christ. Protect and preserve us from all evil, and deliver us from the pitfalls of sin, that, ransomed and restored, we may be loyal followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace Romans 15:13 through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

—Good Friday—

MORNING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips. Psalm 51:15 And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Keep watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. Matthew 26:41, 45; 6:13
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is week.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be handed over. Lord, lead us not into temptation.
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 22; Psalm 148 Psalm 22
SCRIPTURE READING Genesis 22:1-14 Isaiah 52:13—53:12
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Holy God, your Word, Jesus Christ, spoke peace to a sinful world and brought humanity the gift of reconciliation by the suffering and death he endured. Teach those who bear his name to follow the example he gave us. May your life-giving power at work in us turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, and sorrow into joy, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May God’s peace, which is far beyond our understanding, Philippians 4:7 keep us safe in union with Christ Jesus. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 13 Psalm 22
SCRIPTURE READING 1 Peter 1:10-20 Hebrews 10:16-25
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
May God’s peace, which is far beyond our understanding, Philippians 4:7 keep us safe in union with Christ Jesus. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O God, come to our assistance. Psalm 22:19
O Lord, hasten to help us.
They took Jesus out to the place called The Skull, Luke 23:33-34
and there they crucified him.
Jesus said: Father, forgive them! They do not know what they are doing.
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 105; Psalm 130 Psalm 22
SCRIPTURE READING John 19:38-42 John 18:1—19:42
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Receive my prayer as incense, O God, my uplifted hands as an evening sacrifice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Eternal God, as we are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, so give us the grace of repentance that we may pass through the grave with him and be born again to eternal life. For he is the One who was crucified, dead, and buried, and rose again for us, Jesus our Savior. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May God’s peace, which is far beyond our understanding, Philippians 4:7 keep us safe in union with Christ Jesus. Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

—Holy Saturday—

MORNING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
O Lord, open my lips. Psalm 51:15 And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Joseph had taken down his body, wrapped it in linen, Luke 23:53, 56 and placed it in a new tomb, cut from solid rock. The women had gone home to prepare spices for the body. It was the sabbath, so they rested as the law commanded.
MORNING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 43; Psalm 149 Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
SCRIPTURE READING Job 19:21-27a Job 14:1-14
CANTICLE Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Satisfy us with your love in the morning, and we will live this day in joy and praise.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Take all our doubts and uncertainties, O God, and fill us with such faith that we may be confident of your love and loyal in the service of him who died and yet lives for us, Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Philippians 4:23 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

MIDDAY PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
From the rising of the sun to its setting Psalm 113:3 let the name of the Lord be praised.
HYMN
PSALM Psalm 130 Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
SCRIPTURE READING Hebrews 4:1-16 1 Peter 4:1-8
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
I will call upon God, and the Lord will answer me. Psalm 55:16-17 Evening, morning, and at noon I offer my prayers, and the Lord will hear my voice.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
Blessed Savior,
at this hour you hung upon the cross,
stretching out your loving arms.
Grant that all the peoples of the earth
may be drawn to your redeeming love;
for your kingdom's sake. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
CANTICLE Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14) or Other Canticle
DISMISSAL
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Philippians 4:23 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

EVENING PRAYER

OPENING SENTENCES
Behold, now is the acceptable time; 2 Corinthians 6:2
now is the day of salvation.
Restore us, O God of our salvation, Psalm 80:3 that the light of your face may shine upon us.
EVENING HYMN
PSALM Psalm 31; Psalm 143 Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
SCRIPTURE READING Romans 8:1-11 Matthew 27:57-66
CANTICLE Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) or Other Canticle
THANKSGIVING AND INTERCESSION
Let us live in love, as Christ loved us and gave his life for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession are offered, followed by the concluding collect:
God our Redeemer, keep us firm in faith and safe from all evil. Open our eyes, that we may awaken and watch for the coming of your dawn, and the fulfillment of your promised realm, where there is no more pain or sorrow, in your eternal life with Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.
LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN OR SPIRITUAL
DISMISSAL
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Philippians 4:23 Amen.
Bless the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.

The Great Pattern for Reading the Bible

The biblical story is often told and retold by means of patterns. What I call the “Great Pattern” is that found in the Exodus story: liberation/wandering/promised land.

This pattern begins at the beginning: creation. God frees being from the shackles of non-being. Creation “wanders” from its beginning toward full flourishing in God’s new creation (Rev.21-22), the promised land.

The Exodus itself is well known. Liberation from Egypt is followed by wandering in the desert. Finally the people arrive at the threshold of the promised land.

Entry into the promised land is told by this pattern. The liberated people cross the miraculously dried Jordan into Canaan. There they “wander” while attempting to pacify the land according to YHWH instruction. Finally, the promised land is theirs.

Isaiah promises the people in exile that YHWH will perform a New Exodus for them. They will return to the land. However, once there they wander. All is not well and the great promises accompanying the New Exodus are obviously not yet completed. The promised only arrives when Jesus comes on the scene.

Jesus himself calls his death on the cross, in Luke 9:31 his exodus (usually translated “departure”). Liberated from death by resurrection, Jesus continues to “wander” in his people as they make their way through all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). Only at his return does Jesus fully establish God’s kingdom – the real promised land.

Paul interprets life with Christ according to this pattern. In Romans 6 he reflects on our liberation in Christ through baptism, our dying and rising with Christ out of the waters of baptism to new life. In Romans 7 he deals with the law (Sinai) and God’s people. In ch.8 he details the wandering of the people and indeed the whole creation in pain and futility till both finally arrive at the new creation (the promised land).

There is more, but this is enough to persuade me at least, that this pattern is indelibly imprinted in the church’s memory and formed a major interpretative lens for the biblical account of God’s journey with humanity from creation to new creation.

The Grim Comedy of St. Mark’s Passion Mark 14:1-15:47

A Blog by Debra Dean Murphy
March 30, 2012 (http://debradeanmurphy.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/the-grim-comedy-of-st-marks-passion/)

The passion narratives of the Gospels are dramatic and absorbing. As many times as we may have heard or read them, they can still hold our attention, grip our imaginations. Liturgically, year after year, we find ourselves riveted by the unfolding drama as if we didn’t know what was coming next. Such is the power of good story-telling and the giftedness of a good story-teller.
As compelling as the narratives are, it is also important to step back a bit from the particulars and consider other elements of the story-telling process. Elements like: the Gospel writers’ own time and place; their shaping of other sources for their unique literary and theological purposes. In this year’s appointed Gospel reading for Palm/Passion Sunday, there’s an odd double-trial scene that raises interesting questions about these kinds of story-telling elements—about setting, context, and the Gospel writer’s agenda.
In the first scene (14:60-62) Jesus is interrogated by the Sanhedrin; in the second (15:2-4) by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. There is a striking symmetry between the two, even some word-for-word sameness. But why two trials?
One answer that has held sway through the centuries is this: An over-zealous Jewish Council, representative of the religious elite who had wrangled with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, were determined to be rid of him. They turned him over to a reluctant, indifferent Pilate whose hand was forced by a bloodthirsty crowd.
Ched Myers – a peerless interpreter of this Gospel – insists, to the contrary, that the parallelism of the two trials “strongly implicates both parties of the colonial apparatus as equally culpable—indeed collaborative—in the political railroading of Jesus.” Other scholarly (and popular) interpretations have read Mark as a kind of apologia to the Romans: an attempt to minimize the state’s responsibility in Jesus’ death and, as recounted above, to maximize the role of the Jewish authorities. Christianity’s long, tragic history of anti-Semitism is rooted in such readings.
But for Myers the double-trial in Mark’s passion narrative is all parody and political cartoon, and as such indicts the whole corrupt system—Roman and Jewish—of joint sovereignty. “The highest Jewish court in the land,” says Myers, “throws due process out the window in favor of a rigged hearing”: the chief priests’ frantic (and futile) lobbying of the masses they so reviled (v. 55); hired perjurers who can’t get their stories straight (v. 59). There is also the irony of Jesus convicting himself by “his subversive confession” (14:62, 15:2).
In the trial before Pilate the parody lies in “his ‘consultation’ with the Jewish crowds for a verdict and sentence,” a detail, if taken at face value, is inconceivable in the case of this Roman procurator, “whose tenure was infamous (and well-attested) for its stubbornness, provocation, and violence.” And the crowds in Mark’s literary lampoon? Fickle masses whom he caricatures as spellbound by Jesus’ teaching one minute (11:18), and screaming for his head the next (15:13-14).
“These literary hyperboles,” concludes Myers, “work together to indict the entire politico-legal process of colonial condominium.” And the astute reader of this Gospel will not be surprised by this: “Jesus has already ideologically repudiated the system that condemns him. The sharp edge of realism in the political cartoon recognizes the converse: The powers railroad Jesus because they know he is committed to their overthrow; in political trials, justice is subordinate to the need for conviction.”
Both trials are farces, and Mark’s narrative strategy is to send up their purported legitimacy. Satire as scathing political critique.
This is grim comedy on the way to Golgotha. Yet we can miss it when we neglect the drama’s historical setting, indeed when we fail to read the passion narratives and the Gospels in their entirety as the politically-charged stories they are.
But if Mark’s telling of the passion story is darkly comic, it isn’t funny. The calculated miscarriage of justice by the Sanhedrin and the spectacle of public execution by the state apparatus conspire to brutalize, condemn, shame, and kill—to “send a message” to would-be subversives with their own theo-political aspirations.
There’s also no humor in the chilling parallels between Mark’s (and Jesus’) historical era and our own. Our imperial context, like that of the Imperium Romanum, is a social-political-economic-moral crisis in which the abuses of power, economic injustice, contempt for the poor, and the destruction of the natural world are re-narrated into a fantasy for the privileged: the American dream as the Pax Americana. But it is a false peace, of course; as sham a construct as a mock trial in the backwaters of empire in first-century Palestine.
But the good news of the gospel is that empire does not have the last word. Mark’s sophisticated literary style makes dark comedy of Jesus’ journey to the cross. But it is Easter, thanks be to God, that will have the last laugh.

What “The Hunger Games” and the Prodigal Son Have in Common

On the face of it Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and Jesus’ parable are strange bedfellows. Their story line is light years apart, their “points” don’t seem to converge, in short, what do these two stories have in common?

It seems to me that both stories have a common ending. We celebrate the father’s prodigal love in welcoming and celebrating his wayward son home, but Jesus’ story does not end there! Rather, it ends with the father trying to persuade the elder brother to join in the party and similarly welcoming his prodigal brother home. And we are never told what happens! We are left to imagine various responses and ultimately to decide how we are going to respond to God the Father’s prodigal saving love for prodigals and “righteous” alike. In this way Jesus pulls us into his story and makes us characters in it (as it were) needing to make our own decisions and responses to its drama.

“The Hunger Games” trilogy likewise leaves the story open-ended. Each of the main characters have a persona they have developed in response to the horrific psychological, emotional, social, and physical oppression of the Capitol. Yet none of them seem set in stone. Intimations and signals of actual and potential changing responses from each of them leave the texture of the ending of the story without closure. We don’t know where any of them end up or how their stories continue on to conclusion.

Like Jesus’ parable Collins’ story-telling draws readers in and as we accompany Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Prim and the others through their travail we too start to form our responses to this crisis which has become ours as well. We watch the others making their decisions and forging plans and strategies against the Capitol’s demonic designs. Yet we also see that none of these responses seem satisfactory. And the questions that naturally arise, such as “What will or should Katniss (or any of the other main characters) do now?” become questions for is amid the oppressions and injustices that impinge on our lives. What will we do? How should we respond?” “Which character(s) are moving in directions we too would like to move?”

This, I take it, is “The Hunger Games” greatest virtue. Collins writes us into a story with sufficient analogies to our own post-industrial setting that we get hooked into it, supple enough to evoke our own changing responses as we read (or watch), and provocative enough to force us to declare ourselves and write ourselves the next chapter in our own setting.

This is what good stories do for us. They enhance our spiritual formation by inviting and in some senses compelling us to extend them into the fabric of our own lives. Jesus’ parable and the Collins’ trilogy do this for us in exemplary ways for which we can be most grateful!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Redeeming Ritual by James K.A. Smith (The Banner, February 2012)

Jan 6, 2012 — Protestants tend to brace themselves at the mention of the R-word: ritual. The word is a trigger evoking a Reformation history that has sunk into our bones. We associate ritual with dead orthodoxy, “vain repetition,” the denial of grace, trying to earn salvation, scoring points with God, “going through the motions,” and various other forms of spiritual insincerity.

Anyone who has mastered a golf swing or a Bach fugue is a ritual animal.
And yet we affirm, even celebrate, ritual in other spheres. We recognize that the pursuit of excellence often requires devotion to a regime of routines and disciplines that are formative precisely because they are repetitive. Anyone who has mastered a golf swing or a Bach fugue is a ritual animal: one simply doesn’t achieve such excellence otherwise. In both cases, ritual is marked by embodied repetition. Ritual recruits our will through our body: the cellist’s fingers become habituated by moving through scale after scale; the golfer’s whole body is trained by a million practice swings.

Because we are embodied creatures of habit—God created us that way—we are profoundly shaped by ritual. That’s why ritual can de-form us, too: we know firsthand the destructive power of routines and rhythms that can hold us captive and make us someone we don’t want to be.

In all of these cases we intuit that rituals are not just something that we do; they do something to us. And their formative power works on the body, not just the mind. So why should we be allergic to ritual when it comes to our spiritual life? Could we redeem ritual?

Habitations of the Spirit

Our negative evaluation of ritual stems from a couple of bad assumptions. First, when it comes to religious devotion we tend to see ritual observance as mere obedience to duty, a way of scoring points with God and earning spiritual credit. We see ritual as a bottom-up effort—and “effort” starts to sound like “work.” It doesn’t take long before this all seems part of an elaborate system of “salvation by works.”

Let’s grant that some religious folk undoubtedly observe ritual with such misguided intent. We join Luther and Calvin and the Reformers in rejecting such superstitious attempts to curry God’s favor. But why should we settle for simply identifying ritual with “works righteousness?”

We have a more nuanced take on ritual in other spheres of our life. We can tell when someone is “just going through the motions,” but we don’t see the motions themselves as the problem. We know the difference between the piano student practicing scales because she “has to” and the student who does so in pursuit of excellence.

If I commit myself to the “ritual” of playing scales for an hour a day for years on end, it’s because I know this is a way for me to become something I want to be. It’s not just a bottom-up exercise on my part; it’s also a kind of top-down force that makes me and molds me and transforms me. It’s a way for me to be caught up in the music—a way for my fingers and hands and mind and imagination to be recruited into the symphony that I want to play.

If that is true on a “natural” level, why shouldn’t it also be true for our spiritual life? Historic Christian devotion bequeaths to us rituals and rhythms and routines that are what Craig Dykstra calls “habitations of the Spirit”—concrete practices that are conduits of the power of the Spirit and the transformative grace of God.

Think of some “ho-hum” rituals in Reformed worship. Week after week some congregations are asked to stand to hear the Word of God. Why? That shift in bodily posture sends a little unconscious signal: Listen up—something important is coming. After speaking the Word, the preacher announces: “This is the Word of the Lord.” To which the people reply, “Thanks be to God.” You might say it without thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not doing something. That little ritual trains your body to learn something about the authority of God’s Word, and to respond in gratitude.

Spirit-charged rituals are tangible ways that God gets hold of us, reorients us, and empowers us to be his imagebearers. They are ways for the Spirit to meet us where we are—as embodied creatures.

Worship Is for Bodies

A second reason we Reformed folks devalue ritual is because we tend to reduce Christian faith to a set of beliefs and believers to primarily thinking beings.

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor would describe this intellectualism as one of those Frankensteinish outcomes of the Protestant Reformation—a sort of unintended monster that outruns the good intentions of the Reformers themselves. Rightly criticizing superstition and “magical” views of ritual, the Reformers unleashed an impetus toward what Taylor calls “excarnation”—a dis-embodiment of spiritual life that reduced “true religion” to “right belief.”

The eventual result was a complete reconfiguration of worship and devotion. Christian worship was no longer a full-orbed exercise that recruited the body and touched all of the senses. Instead, Protestants designed worship as if believers were little more than brains-on-a-stick. The primary target was the mind; the primary means was a lecture-like sermon; and the primary goal was to deposit the right doctrines and beliefs into our heads so that we could then go out into the world to carry out the mission of God.

The problem with that, however, is that we are not created as brains-on-a-stick; we are created as embodied, tactile, visceral creatures who are more than cognitive processors or belief machines. As full-bodied imagebearers of God, our center of gravity is located as much in our bodies as in our minds. This is precisely why the body is the way to our heart, and this “incarnational” intuition has long informed the rich history of spiritual disciplines and liturgical formation.

Some of this incarnational intuition already shapes what we do. Congregations that celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly (as they did in John Calvin’s Geneva) have a deep appreciation for the tactile nature of the practice. Here is a ritual that pictures the gospel and that activates every one of our senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. It is a ritual whose repetition is a gift, not a bore. Through our immersion in it, the gospel sinks into our bones. We absorb the story of God’s grace in ways we don’t even realize.

Or consider the value of a simple ritual of confession that involves both repetition and the body, one that might be especially appropriate for Lent. By adopting a standard prayer of confession, worship constantly puts a prayer on our lips that seeps into our hearts and comes forth from our hearts throughout the week. When we kneel to confess, our physical posture both expresses and encourages humility before God. We know God’s grace differently because it is inscribed in our bodies.

We need not be afraid of ritual. If we appreciate that God created us as incarnate, embodied creatures, then we will recognize his grace lovingly extended to us in ways that meet us where we are: in the tangible, embodied practice of Spirit-charged rituals. Reframed in this way, we might be able to redeem rituals as gifts of God for the people of God.

Spikenard Sunday/Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

by Columbia Lutherans on Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 11:55am •

THE SERMON

“I am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by-and then we will have two good ideas. What might that second good idea be? I don’t know. How could I know? I will make a wild guess that it will come from music somehow. I have often wondered what music is and why we love it so. It may be that music is that second good idea’s being born.

“I choose as my text the first eight verses of John twelve, which deal not with Palm Sunday but with the night before-with Palm Sunday Eve, with what we might call ‘Spikenard Saturday.’ I hope that will be close enough to Palm Sunday to leave you more or less satisfied. I asked an Episcopalian priest the other day what I should say to you about PalmSunday itself. She told me to say that it was a brilliant satire on pomp and circumstance and high honors in this world. So I tell you that.

“The priest is Carol Anderson, who sold her physical church in order that her spiritual parish might survive. Her parish is All Angels on West Eightieth, just off Broadway. She sold the church but hung on to the parish house. I assume that most, if not all, of the angels are still around.

“Now as to the verses about Palm Sunday Eve: I choose them because Jesus says something in the eighth verse which many people I have known have
taken as proof that Jesus himself occasionally got sick and tired of people who needed mercy all the time. I read from the Revised Standard Bible rather than the King James, because it is easier for me to understand. Also, I will argue afterward that Jesus was only joking, and it is impossible to joke in King James English. The funniest joke in the world, if told in King James English, is doomed to sound like Charlton Heston.

“I read:“ ‘Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those at table with him.

“ ‘Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.

“ ‘But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” ‘

“Thus ends the reading, and although I have promised a joke, there is not much of a chuckle in there anywhere. The reading, in fact, ends with at least two quite depressing implications: That Jesus could be a touch self-pitying, and that he was, with his mission to earth about to end, at least momentarily sick and tired of hearing about the poor.

“The King James version of the last verse, by the way, is almost identical: ‘“For the poor always ye have with you; but you do not always have me.”’

“Whatever it was that Jesus really said to Judas was said in Aramaic, of course - and has come to us through Hebrew and Greek and Latin and archaic English. Maybe he only said something a lot like, ‘The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’ Perhaps a little something has been lost in translation. And let us remember, too, that in translations jokes are commonly the first things to go.

“I would like to recapture what has been lost. Why? Because, I, as a Christ-worshipping agnostic, have seen so much un-Christian impatience with the poor encouraged by the quotation, ‘For the poor always ye have with you.’

“I am speaking mainly of my youth in Indianapolis, Indiana. No matter where I am and how old I become, I still speak of almost nothing but my youth in Indianapolis, Indiana. Whenever anybody out that way began to worry a lot about the poor people when I was young, some eminently respectable Hoosier, possibly an uncle or an aunt, would say that Jesus himself had given up on doing much about the poor. He or she would paraphrase John twelve, Verse eight: ‘The poor people are hopeless. We’ll always be stuck with them.’

“The general company was then free to say that the poor were hopeless because they were so lazy or dumb, that they drank too much and had too many children and kept coal in the bathtub, and so on. Somebody was likely to quote Kin Hubbard, the Hoosier humorist, who said that he knew a man who was so poor that he owned twenty-two dogs. And so on.

“If those Hoosiers were still alive, which they are not, I would tell them now that Jesus was only joking, and that he was not even thinking much about the poor.

“I would tell them, too, what I don’t have to tell this particular congregation, that jokes can be noble. Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears. Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion, to the futility of thinking and striving anymore. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward-and since I can start thinking and striving again that much sooner.

“All right:“It is the evening before Palm Sunday. Jesus is frustrated and exhausted. He knows that one of his closest associates will soon betray him for money-and that he is going to be mocked and tortured and killed. He is going to feel all that a mortal feels when he dies in convulsions on the cross. His visit among us is almost over-but life must still go on for just a little while.

“It is again suppertime.

“How many suppertimes does Jesus have left? Five, I believe.

“His male companions for this supper are themselves a mockery. One is Judas, who will betray him. The other is Lazarus, who has recently been dead for four days. Lazarus was so dead that he stunk, the Bible says. Lazarus is surely dazed, and not much of a conversationalist-and not necessarily grateful, either, to be alive again It is a very mixed blessing to be brought back from the dead.

“If I had read a little farther, we would have learned that there is a crowd outside, crazy to see Lazarus, not Jesus. Lazarus is the man of the hour as far as the crowd is concerned.

“Trust a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time.

“There are two sisters of Lazarus there-Martha and Mary. They, at least, are sympathetic and imaginatively helpful. Mary begins to massage and perfume the feet of Jesus Christ with an ointment made from the spikenard plant. Jesus has the bones of a man and is clothed in the flesh of a man-so it must feel awfully nice, what Mary is doing to his feet. Would it be heretical of us to suppose that Jesus closes his eyes?

“This is too much for that envious hypocrite Judas who says, trying to be more Catholic than the Pope: ‘Hey-this is very un-Christian. Instead of wasting that stuff on your feet, we should have sold it and given the money to the poor people.’

“To which Jesus replies in Aramaic: ‘Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.’

“This is about what Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln would have said under similar circumstances.

‘If Jesus did in fact say that, it is a divine black joke, well suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor. It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him about his hypocrisy all the same.

“ ‘Judas, don’t worry about it. There will be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.’

“Shall I regarble it for you? ‘The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’

“My own translation does no violence to the words in the Bible. I have changed their order some, not merely to make them into the joke the situation calls for, but to harmonize them, too, with the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount suggests a mercifulness that can never waver or fade.

“This has no doubt been a silly sermon. I am sure you do not mind. People don’t come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.

“I thank you for your sweetly faked attention.”
END
Kurt Vonnegut. Palm Sunday. Random House. New York, New York. 1981. pgs 296-300.

Palm/Passion Sunday (Day 4)

Mark 14:1-15:47

1 It was two days before Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and legal experts through cunning tricks were searching for a way to arrest Jesus and kill him. 2 But they agreed that it shouldn’t happen during the festival; otherwise, there would be an uproar among the people.
3 Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some grew angry. They said to each other, “Why waste the perfume? 5 This perfume could have been sold for almost a year’s pay[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
6 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you; and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you won’t always have me. 8 She has done what she could. She has anointed my body ahead of time for burial. 9 I tell you the truth that, wherever in the whole world the good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
10 Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to give Jesus up to them. 11 When they heard it, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So he started looking for an opportunity to turn him in.
12 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover meal?”
13 He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city. A man carrying a water jar will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?” ’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs already furnished. Prepare for us there.” 16 The disciples left, came into the city, found everything just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
17 That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.”
19 Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, “It’s not me, is it?”
20 Jesus answered, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl. 21 The Human One[b] goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One![c] It would have been better for him if he had never been born.”
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.” 26 After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
27 Jesus said to them, “You will all falter in your faithfulness to me. It is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep will go off in all directions.[d] 28 But after I’m raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else stumbles, I won’t.”
30 But Jesus said to him, “I assure you that on this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
31 But Peter insisted, “If I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” And they all said the same thing.
32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
37 He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? 38 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. 40 And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One[e] to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”
43 Suddenly, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came with a mob carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders. 44 His betrayer had given them a sign: “Arrest the man I kiss, and take him away under guard.”
45 As soon as he got there, Judas said to Jesus, “Rabbi!” Then he kissed him. 46 Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
47 One of the bystanders drew a sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear. 48 Jesus responded, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, like an outlaw? 49 Day after day, I was with you, teaching in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And all his disciples left him and ran away. 51 One young man, a disciple, was wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They grabbed him, 52 but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked.
53 They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and legal experts gathered. 54 Peter followed him from a distance, right into the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the guards, warming himself by the fire. 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they couldn’t find any. 56 Many brought false testimony against him, but they contradicted each other. 57 Some stood to offer false witness against him, saying, 58 “We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple, constructed by humans, and within three days I will build another, one not made by humans.’” 59 But their testimonies didn’t agree even on this point.
60 Then the high priest stood up in the middle of the gathering and examined Jesus. “Aren’t you going to respond to the testimony these people have brought against you?” 61 But Jesus was silent and didn’t answer. Again, the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one?”
62 Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Human One[f] sitting on the right side of the Almighty[g] and coming on the heavenly clouds.”
63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we need any more witnesses? 64 You’ve heard his insult against God. What do you think?”
They all condemned him. “He deserves to die!”
65 Some began to spit on him. Some covered his face and hit him, saying, “Prophesy!” Then the guards took him and beat him.
66 Meanwhile, Peter was below in the courtyard. A woman, one of the high priest’s servants, approached 67 and saw Peter warming himself by the fire. She stared at him and said, “You were also with the Nazarene, Jesus.”
68 But he denied it, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t understand what you’re saying.” And he went outside into the outer courtyard. A rooster crowed.
69 The female servant saw him and began a second time to say to those standing around, “This man is one of them.” 70 But he denied it again.
A short time later, those standing around again said to Peter, “You must be one of them, because you are also a Galilean.”
71 But he cursed and swore, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” 72 At that very moment, a rooster crowed a second time. Peter remembered what Jesus told him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down, sobbing.
1 At daybreak, the chief priests—with the elders, legal experts, and the whole Sanhedrin—formed a plan. They bound Jesus, led him away, and turned him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” 3 The chief priests were accusing him of many things.
4 Pilate asked him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? What about all these accusations?” 5 But Jesus gave no more answers so that Pilate marveled.
6 During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. 7 A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. 8 The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. 9 Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” 10 He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. 12 Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”
13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
14 Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”
They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters,[h] and they called together the whole company of soldiers.[i] 17 They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. 18 They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!” 19 Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. 20 When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21 Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was coming in from the countryside. They forced him to carry his cross.
22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place. 23 They tried to give him wine mixed with myrrh, but he didn’t take it. 24 They crucified him. They divided up his clothes, drawing lots for them to determine who would take what. 25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” 27 They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left.[j]
29 People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? 30 Save yourself and come down from that cross!”
31 In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him.
33 From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. 34 At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
35 After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
38 The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”
40 Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. 41 When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.
42 Since it was late in the afternoon on Preparation Day, just before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph from Arimathea dared to approach Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was a prominent council member who also eagerly anticipated the coming of God’s kingdom.) 44 Pilate wondered if Jesus was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him whether Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate gave the dead body to Joseph. 46 He bought a linen cloth, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the cloth, and laid him in a tomb that had been carved out of rock. He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried.


Just read. Re-read. Read and pray.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Communion Calisthenics

The actions of Jesus at the Last Supper form a compelling paradigm of the life of Jesus the meal celebrates. I suggest we use that paradigm as a way to “practice” or exercise the faith we profess. I call them “Communion Calesthenics.”

The four actions of Jesus are:
-receiving (taking the bread offered him by others)
-thanksgiving to God
-breaking the bread
-giving it to others

These “Communion Calesthenics” are perfomed by standing up, lifting your arms over your head with palms open to receive the bread. Then you bring your arms down and put your hands together palm-to-palm in a praying posture. Thirdly, move your arms apart in a tearing motion for the breaking of the bread. Finally, stretch your arms straight out holding the bread out to those who need it. Repeat these motions until you can do them smoothly. Say “receiving,” “thanksgiving,” “breaking,” and “giving” as you make the gestures. Increase speed in moving through these gestures as able.

What do these “communion calesthenics” mean? Glad you asked.

Receiving: practice receptivity. Prayer, spiritual reading of scripture (lectio divina), contemplation, meditation, silence, music – there are a multitude of options. Experiment and find those practices that work best for you. The important thing to is to find a daily rhythm of some sort of receptive practice that positions us before God as the Giver of all gifts. I often use Thomas Merton’s well-known prayer for this:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

At other times I use a wonderful Jesuit meditation: “A Hollowed Space to Be Filled””

“A cup must be empty before it can be filled.
It is already full, it can’t be filled again
except by emptying it out.
In order to fill anything, there must be
A hollowed-out space.
Otherwise it can’t receive.

This is especially true of God’s word.
In order to receive it, we must be hollowed-out.
We must be capable of receiving it,
emptied of the false self and its endless demands.

When Christ came, there was no room in the inn.
It was full. The inn is a symbol of the human heart.
God’s word, Christ, can take root only in a hollow.”
(William Breault, Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits, ed. by Michael Harter, SJ, 74)

Explore a bit and find the practice(s) which you can use as this part of your Communion Calesthenics.

Thanksgiving: Gratitude is the hallmark of my reformed tradition. We realize that the very first response to God is not to do something, no matter how noble or exalted, but to say “Thanks” to God. Again there are many resources and options. A good place to begin might be to use the traditional “Great Prayers of Thanksgiving” for communion services. Go to pcusa.org and search for “great prayer of Thanksgiving” and you will find a variety to look over. Other denominations doubtless have similar resources at their websites.

Scripture, of course, also offers many great passages of thanksgiving. Psalms 145-150 might be a starting point. Hymns are also a good resource. Again, the key here is to find some way to express your thanks to God and begin doing it.

Breaking: here you want to explore the model of your lives being broken open so God’s love can flow from and through you to those around. Along with the gospels, Philippians 2:5-11 is a central text for reflection:

“Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.“


Giving: Here you need to find something to do to give yourself to others (if you do not already have something). Normal church activities don’t count here nor do things you might otherwise be inclined to do. This service should interrupt our normal routine a bit to remind us that this is a part of our “exercise” routine. You should “make time” for this activity as you would when starting a new exercise program.

There’s my outline of Communion Calesthenics. The dynamics of this process – receiving, thanksgiving, breaking, and giving – form a biblically patterned process of growing in faith. They will also inscribe the practice and pattern of Eucharistic reality and living deeper and deeper in our hearts and minds and exercise a greater influence on the community of faith than it usually does at present. So, I invite you to join me in doing Communion Calesthenics – ready?

Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture Is the Right One? By STANLEY FISH

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web
March 26, 2012
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/citing-chapter-and-verse-which-scripture-is-the-right-one/

The topic this past Sunday on the show “Up w/ Chris Hayes” (MSNBC) was the statistical correlation between deniers of global warming and religious believers. Participants included such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” and Steven Pinker, author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” a new book arguing that the world has gotten less violent as the tide of fundamentalist faith has receded and given way to the dictates of reason. It was no surprise that the panel’s default position, stated almost explicitly by Susan Jacoby, was that religion clouds the mind of those who, if they were only sufficiently educated, would arrive at the conclusion supported by the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence and reject the blind adherence to revealed or ecclesiastical authority that characterizes religious belief.

The self-congratulatory unanimity that presided over the discussion was challenged at one point by Hayes, who posed the following question: If you hold to the general skepticism that informs scientific inquiry — that is, if you refuse either to anoint a viewpoint in advance because it is widely held or to send viewpoints away because they are regarded as fanciful or preposterous — how do you respond to global-warming deniers or Holocaust deniers or creationists when they invoke the same principle of open inquiry to argue that they should be given a fair hearing and be represented in departments of history, biology and environmental science? What do you do, Hayes asked, when, in an act of jujitsu, the enemies of liberal, scientific skepticism wield it as a weapon against its adherents?

Dawkins and Pinker replied that you ask them to show you their evidence — the basis of their claim to be taken seriously — and then you show them yours, and you contrast the precious few facts they have with the enormous body of data collected and vetted by credentialed scholars and published in the discipline’s leading journals. Point, game, match.

Not quite. Pushed by Hayes, who had observed that when we accept the conclusions of scientific investigation we necessarily do so on trust (how many of us have done or could replicate the experiments?) and are thus not so different from religious believers, Dawkins and Pinker asserted that the trust we place in scientific researchers, as opposed to religious pronouncements, has been earned by their record of achievement and by the public rigor of their procedures. In short, our trust is justified, theirs is blind.

It was at this point that Dawkins said something amazing, although neither he nor anyone else picked up on it. He said: in the arena of science you can invoke Professor So-and-So’s study published in 2008, “you can actually cite chapter and verse.”

With this proverbial phrase, Dawkins unwittingly (I assume) attached himself to the centuries-old practice of citing biblical verses in support of a position on any number of matters, including, but not limited to, diet, animal husbandry, agricultural policy, family governance, political governance, commercial activities and the conduct of war. Intellectual responsibility for such matters has passed in the modern era from the Bible to academic departments bearing the names of my enumerated topics. We still cite chapter and verse — we still operate on trust — but the scripture has changed (at least in this country) and is now identified with the most up-to-date research conducted by credentialed and secular investigators.

The question is, what makes one chapter and verse more authoritative for citing than the other? The question did not arise in the discussion, but had it arisen, Dawkins and Pinker would no doubt have responded by extending the point they had already made: The chapter and verse of scriptural citation is based on nothing but subjective faith; the chapter and verse of scientific citation is based on facts and evidence.

The argument is circular and amounts to saying that the chapter and verse we find authoritative is the chapter and verse of the scripture we believe in because we believe in its first principle, in this case the adequacy and superiority of a materialist inquiry into questions religion answers by mere dogma. To be sure, those who stand with Dawkins and Pinker could also add that they believe in the chapter and verse of scientific inquiry for good reasons, and that would be true. But the reasons undergirding that belief are not independent of it.

People like Dawkins and Pinker do not survey the world in a manner free of assumptions about what it is like and then, from that (impossible) disinterested position, pick out the set of reasons that will be adequate to its description. They begin with the assumption (an act of faith) that the world is an object capable of being described by methods unattached to any imputation of deity, and they then develop procedures (tests, experiments, the compilation of databases, etc.) that yield results, and they call those results reasons for concluding this or that. And they are reasons, but only within the assumptions that both generate them and give them point.

Vary the assumptions (and it is impossible to not have any), begin by assuming a creating and sustaining God, and the force of quite other reasons will seem obvious and inescapable. As John Locke said in his Letter on Toleration, “Every church is orthodox to itself,” and every orthodoxy brings with it reasons, honored authorities, sacred texts and unassailable methods of verification.

It is at bottom a question of original authority: with what conviction — basic orthodoxy — about where truth and illumination are to be found do you begin? Once that question is answered satisfactorily for you (by revelation, education or conversion), you cannot test the answer by bringing it before the bar of some independent arbiter, for your answer now is the arbiter (and measure) of everything that comes before you. Your answer delivers the world to you and delivers with it mechanisms for distinguishing good evidence from bad or beside-the-point evidence and good reasons from reasons that just don’t cut it.

So when you come across someone who gives the wrong kind of reasons (global-warming deniers and creationists) or subscribes to the wrong kind of belief (Holocaust deniers), you don’t give them the time of day; they are just obviously the wrong sort and you don’t have to deal with them until they have gone away and read the right books and taken the right courses and so have acquired the ability to engage with you in a rational discussion.

What this means is that the rhetoric of disinterested inquiry, as retailed by the likes of Dawkins and Pinker, is in fact a very interested assertion of the superiority of one set of beliefs. And accompanying that assertion is a conviction that those who are not persuaded of those beliefs can be dismissed out of hand. Dawkins gave a wonderful illustration of the point when, to Hayes’s evident distress, he rejected the distinction, central to enlightenment liberalism, between the public realm, where you make decisions (like the decision about whom to vote for) on the basis of non-sectarian reasons, and the private realm, where you can hold and cultivate any sectarian beliefs you like. Because the two realms are separate, the argument goes, you should consider only the public views of a candidate and allow him the latitude of his private religious convictions.

Dawkins demurred and cited the example (hardly hypothetical) of a candidate who believes that a man named Joseph Smith was led by an angel to a set of golden plates buried in upstate New York. That candidate, said Dawkins, believes something crazy, and even if I think his tax policy is good, I’m not going to vote for someone with crazy beliefs. In short, no matter how cogent that candidate’s policy positions might be, I am not going to consider him because he’s not the right kind of person; he’s not on my side, where “my side” is not just a tribal designation, but the designation of a worldview that spills over from the private realm into the realm of public decision-making.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not criticizing Dawkins, but thanking him for affirming the argument I made last week in Campaign Stops, the argument that despite invocations of fairness and equality and giving every voice a chance, classical liberals, like any other ideologues (and ideologues we all are), divide the world into “us” and “them.” It’s just that rather than “us” being Christians and “them” Jews or vice-versa, “us” are those who subscribe to the tenets of materialist scientific inquiry and “them” are those who don’t, those who, in the entirely parochial judgment of liberal rationalists, subscribe to nonsense and superstition.

Again, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not criticizing liberals for standing up for, and with, their own, only for pretending that they are, or could be, doing something else. Liberals know, without having to think further about it, that those who oppose global warming on religious grounds are just ignorant nuts; and they know that those who deny the Holocaust, no matter what so-called facts and statistics they marshal, are just bad people; and they know that those who want creationism taught in the schools are just using the vocabulary of open inquiry as a Trojan horse. (Incidentally, I agree with all three of these liberal positions.)

But the desire of classical liberals to think of themselves as above the fray, as facilitating inquiry rather than steering it in a favored direction, makes them unable to be content with just saying, You guys are wrong, we’re right, and we’re not going to listen to you or give you an even break. Instead they labor mightily to ground their judgments in impersonal standards and impartial procedures (there are none) so that they can pronounce their excommunications with clean hands and pure — non-partisan, and non-tribal — hearts. It’s quite a performance and it is on display every day in our most enlightened newspapers and on our most progressive political talk shows, including the ones I’m addicted to.

Palm/Passion Sunday (Day 3)

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


So this is where it all ends, what it was all about – death on a cross. The One who was “equal with God” becomes “obedient to the point of death,” emptying and humbling himself, descending into ignominy and the obloquy of a hideous death reserved for traitors and runaway slaves! What can all this possibly mean?

Whatever else it means, Paul shows it means that such a way of life, unthinkable as it was for Jesus’ contemporaries and is for us, such a way of life is a God-approved way of life! Stunningly, Paul writes that in consequence of such a life God “highly honored” Jesus, indeed, gave Jesus the name he himself bears. And at the revelation of that name, all creation will bow in confessing him as “Lord,” that is, king and ruler of the world.

Much could be said about the ramifications of Jesus’ journey into “downward nobility” for us this Lent. I want to highlight one item that has been brought into bold relief in the first decade of this 21st century filled as it has been with terrors and tragedies aplenty. It was none other than Dietrich Bonhoeffer who identified this aspect out of his own journey into servanthood, humiliation, and finally death under the Nazi regime during World War II in Germany. In an essay looking back over a decade of struggle, he writes,

“We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer”.

Few utterances of any theologian are a poignant and profound as this one. The first ten years of our new century have afforded us chances to learn what Bonhoeffer learned – to see the world from the underside, from the experience of those who victimized by the greats and victors in the world’s struggles, those who cannot or are not allowed to “make it” to success and comfort.

Few learnings are as necessary and urgent as this, especially for Christians in affluent parts of the world. Pray that God not let us miss the window of opportunity for us to enter ever more deeply into the life of the risen Jesus in our world, the same kind of life he lived in Galilee and Jerusalem, the God-appointed, God-life of humble and humbling, risky, nothing-held-back-obedience all the way down!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Palm/Passion Sunday (Day 2)

Isaiah 50:4-9a

4 The LORD God
gave me an educated tongue
to know how to respond to the weary
with a word that will awaken them
in the morning.[a]
God awakens my ear
in the morning to listen,
as educated people do.
5 The LORD God opened my ear;
I didn’t rebel; I didn’t turn my back.
6 Instead, I gave my body to attackers,
and my cheeks to beard pluckers.
I didn’t hide my face
from insults and spitting.
7 The LORD God will help me;
therefore, I haven’t been insulted.
Therefore, I set my face like flint,
and knew I wouldn’t be ashamed.
8 The one who will declare me innocent
is near.
Who will argue with me?
Let’s stand up together.
Who will bring judgment against me?
Let him approach me.
9 Look! The LORD God will help me.
Who will condemn me?


This is the third of Isaiah’s poems about the figure of the Suffering Servant. This servant is a figure for both the people of Israel as they were supposed to be and an individual who will be for Israel and the world what the people have failed to be.

In this poem it is the servant’s ear that is highlighted. God awakens his ear each day that he may be the person given wholly to God (v.4). But hearing alone is not enough. In v.5 the servant hears and heeds the divine guidance he has received. And heeding that guidance places the servant in contradiction and conflict with those who resist and reject God’s will and way.

We might say the theme of this servant poem is “Hear, Here!” We hear God’s Word addressed to us. And in heeding God we are made present (“here”) where God wants us to be in the midst of the work of his kingdom.

God speaks personally to us in his Word. His Word is first and foremost his Son, Jesus Christ. As we accompany Jesus into his passion this Holy Week, we hear his call to us to follow and be present to what is happening to him. For in the drama that swirled around him that first Holy Week, we are called to embrace our own true identity and destiny. And that means an ever deeper solidarity (presence, here-ness) with the world and God’s purposes for it.

Let us not merely hear this call from Jesus this Lent. That is, hear it not simply as what happened to Jesus then and there. Let us hear it as his call to us to involve ourselves here and now, heeding this call and becoming ever more present to our world and God’s love for it and the roles he intends for us to play in it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lent and Narnia (5)

The Horse and His Boy features the deadly sin of pride. Three characters are particularly infected.

-Bree, a captive talking Narnian war horse is overly concerned with how he looks and what other horses will think of him

-Aravis, an escaped princess of Calormene, is prideful to the point of manipulative narcissism; even as a runaway she demands to be treated as royalty.

-Prince Rabadash, however, the heir-apparent of Calormene’s throne, is Lewis' supreme example of pride. Lewis parodies him in a comic way to demonstrate the absurdity of his pernicious pride.

If pride is indeed the most devilish of the deadly sins, then Lewis advice about dealing with the devil becomes relevant to his treatment of Rabadash. He takes Thomas More’s counsel that "the devil . . .the prowde spirit . . . cannot endure to be mocked" and Martin Luther's that "the best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to the texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flount him, for he cannot bear scorn."

This is exactly what he does with the poor Prince. And that reveals the heart of pride – it is a tragi-comic parody of human beings taking themselves way too seriously and seeking position and power not rightly given to any human being. That they make fools of themselves, or better, that we make fools of ourselves, in the process creates the opportunity for the mocking and jeering that routs pride.

I only have space here to look at Lewis’ treatment of Rabadash and leave Bree and Aravis to the side.

Rabadash, his pride wounded by Queen Susan of Narnia’s refusal to marry him, attempts to attack Narnia. Unfortunately for him, Rabadash is captured in a most unusual and embarrassing way. Atop a wall he tries to leap into the battle raging below him. Here’s Lewis account:

“And he meant to look and sound-no doubt for a moment he did look and sound-very grand and very dreadful as he jumped, crying "the bolt of Tash fall from above." But he had to jump sideways because the crowd in front of him left him no landing place in that direction. And then, in the neatest way you could wish, the tear in the back of his hauberk caught on a hook in the wall . . . And there he found himself, like a piece of washing hung up to dry, with everyone laughing at him.”

Things go from bad to worse for the forlorn prince. Defeated, he arrogantly refuses the Narnian terms for surrender. The great lion Aslan confronts him and says: "Forget your pride (what have you to be proud of?) and your anger (who has done you wrong?) and accept the mercy of these good Kings." Rabadash, however, curses Aslan in every way he can think of. Aslan finally warns him, “. . . have a care . . . Thy doom is nearer now: it is at the door: it has lifted the latch." Still Rabadash refuses to relent. And Aslan turns him into what he has made himself, an ass: "'Oh, not a Donkey! Mercy! If it were even a horse-even a horse-e'en-a-hor-eeh-auh, eeh-auh.' And so the words died away into a donkey's bray. . . Of course the Donkey twitched its ears forward-and that also was so funny that everybody laughed all the more. They tried not to, but they tried in vain."

Gluttony turned Edmund into an enslaved fool (“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Lust turned King Miraz into an unfit and unjust steward of his people’s resources (“Prince Caspian”). Greed turned Eustace into a dragon (“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”). Sloth turned Jill Pole into a witless follower who, save for the grace of Aslan, nearly bungled the task given her. Here in “The Horse and His Boy” Rabadash, whose pride makes him act like an ass, gets turned into one.
The scripture tells us "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling" (Proverbs 16:18). Rabadash is Lewis’ tragi-comic exemplification of this truth.

The gift of Lent comes round each year offering us a grace-filled time to take a hard look at how pride has affected us. Let us be grateful for this time in which we can allow the truth to be revealed in the confidence, as Paul put it to the Ephesians, that “everything that is revealed by the light is light” (Eph.5:14). Thanks be to God!