Saturday, May 10, 2014

rruuaacchh quotes 5

It means that the Messiah is loose in the world, this world. It means the gospel isn’t just about the past and the hereafter. There is a breathing Messiah, now.

--from The Healer Messiah chapter 4.

Monday, April 14, 2014

An Open and Closed Case

My friend Michael King, Dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, said he's often blue in the face. In his words: 

But "the open" find it hard to be open to "the closed." And "the closed" see it as violating their stand to be open to "the open." So I can preach until I'm blue in the face (and my face is often blue) that Christians will be open to treasures in perspectives other than our own. Yet the "closed" will hear me as imposing an openness that closes them out, as demanding they play a game rigged against them. Should they in turn insist our divisions can heal only if I yield to their One True Truth, I'll likewise experience the game as rigged. That's the riddle. (Michael A. King, Painholders on holy ground, The Mennonite, Feb 2014)

There's an upside to this. We don't need the weaknesses of both the open and the closed, we need their strengths. The conservatives' strengths are in their faithfulness to a wisdom that's been tested through generations. A conservative will dare to confront, even to offend. What motivates them is their appreciation of how desperately evil humanity can be. Hear hear!

The liberals' strengths are in their ability to reach out to learn from other sources of wisdom that have also been tested through generations. A liberal will dare to change. What motivates them is their appreciation of how desperately ignorant humanity can be. Hear hear!

The spirit of God carries both, and in spades. 

Not just daring to confront: daring to offend while weak, while powerless, while giving up power to dominate or control.

Not just daring to learn: forgiving offenses in order to forge a relationship where room for the offender can be negotiated.

To be fully human we must incarnate the spirit of God. This is the heart of the gospel. It's a matter of life and breath.*

*trademark, the American Lung Association.
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

rruuaacchh quotes 4

Whether using violence or ignition, to have a reasonable chance you have to attack the system before you get to Birkenau.

--from The Healer Messiah, chapter 10.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Split, part 2

I like diversity of points of view. I think it’s healthy, I think it’s normal, I think it’s valuable because none of us has all the answers.

And I like that there are different religions, and that within Christianity, there are many different denominations. We need each other. We need the diversity of opinion.

So logically I have to affirm church splitting, because all of these different forms of Christianity emerged by splits. In evolution, species often split, otherwise we wouldn’t have the vast array of different forms of life. 

But at the same time I want to forge communion with those who see the world differently than I do. I need them, they need me. We need to struggle over our different conclusions, otherwise we’re no use to each other. The Church+ doesn’t just exist between people who agree with each other, but between people who disagree and struggle with that disagreement to bring something new into the world. 

So I think that we should sometimes split. Birds of a feather flock together. We have a consistent way of looking at things that leads us to strong conclusions, and we want to teach that to our children, and spend time learning and exploring the framework that we claim as our own. We want a community that speaks the same language. It’s not only more comfortable, it’s the only way to become really fluent in that language. 

But in splitting, we must forge a higher union, on another level. We must covenant ourselves to create a space for regular struggle together over our differences. Maybe it’s twice a year, pick your own interval, but we must acknowledge that we can’t be ourselves, in our particular separateness, without the other. We must confess our need for each other, that we are incomplete without the other. The confrontation of our differences is valuable, and is what will keep us from our hubris.

In particular, this means that we do not cut off communion with each other. Because (as I argue in The Healer Messiah) our communion is not based on our agreement on common beliefs. Our communion is based on our commitment to God’s spirit, who wants to make a covenant with God’s offenders. We have to live in dangerous vulnerability to each other. That is our calling.

A parting of the ways. A pragmatic separation. A lessening of the frequency of our interaction. But not a breaking of communion. We commit to a regular interaction without which we cease to exist.

For this is a spiritual discipline without which we are not the Church+. Hospitality counts, and is not always comfortable. Every time we celebrate our hospitality to each other within our congregation, we should also be hospitable to the marginalized, the outsider, even the enemy.

May I suggest that we change our rite of communion, and perhaps our rite of eating together in all its forms, to give us some regular means of facing up to the music of being accountable to our sisters and brothers who differ from us. In separating we would pledge to send delegates to each others communion services, to celebrate our deeper union, and to keep up the conversation in a disciplined, sustainable fashion. It’s a middle way, a way of muddling through, that suits our humble status.

Imagine that every communion service were followed by a “conversation time” for listening to each other as trespassers, as offenders. We make a simple announcement like: “Welcome to this communion. Please partake with us. If anyone is offended by us or by anything that we do, please bring it up in our conversation time following this simple meal. It is meant for that, you will do us a favor. We look forward to hearing from you.” The conversation does not precede the communion, for our reconciliation is not based on our arriving at a common opinion, but on our love across our offending opinions. Maybe we'd even wash each other's feet.

Note that this practice would stand the common understanding of communion on its head--what used to be an expression of exclusion, a boundary marker of a community based on uniformity of belief, would become a rite of hospitality deliberately reaching out across differences of belief. In this we would follow Jesus, who deliberately sought out offenders to eat with.

Let me speak to three possible negative reactions. The first is concern about the nag, the congregation gadfly, the poor soul who brings up his/her schtick, at length, at every opportunity. If someone is so burdened that they can’t participate well in a discussion, they need support, and they may need healing. Some might need a counsellor, someone who can help them brave the work of discovering where their trauma lies, and naming it and perhaps their aggressors, and sorting out their lives. There is no need to accept the destruction of our ability to engage each other seriously, rather, we should get burdened people the resources they need.

The second is the plaint “But we’ve listened and listened, and talked and debated and worn each other out with words. Both sides have other pressing needs to attend to. We are exhausted. We need closure.” We need to make such conflict sustainable. Let’s agree to go our separate ways and break the deadlock in which we find ourselves, so that we can sustain a slower, longer term engagement. We need a rhythm to our lives, we need to reach out and learn from each other, but we also need rest and focus on our identity. We are finite creatures, it takes a while for us to digest change. But we dare not walk away from each other. We must pledge to continue our struggle, in a sustainable form.

The third is the plaint "What if your brother or sister is damaging others? Would you still commune with slavers, or oppressors, or murderers?" To which my reply is, if they really believe they are not damaging others, and if they commit to not coercing us, then yes, I would carefully consider the risk of inviting them into our confrontational communion. The risk may be great. But our conflict within our commitment to respectful listening and teaching would be particularly valuable.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

Split, part 1.

Many churches and denominations have split, or are splitting, over whether same-sex marriage partners should be given membership and leadership.

rruuaacchh poured out among us
God's Spirit poured out among us
I am on a local committee that recently organized a civil public discussion on the church and same-sex marriage. Our committee includes both conservatives and liberals, with deep connections to very conservative and liberal churches. One of the invited speakers had discussed several biblical passages that appeared to condemn homosexuality, giving reasons why they actually did not condemn homosexuality. I thought some of his efforts had fallen short. I think some of these passages are against homosexuality, and are wrong. Afterwards, there was a debriefing exchange of emails among the members of the committee. It became evident that the core of our disagreement was over scriptural interpretation. In a reply to some remarks by Bill [not his real name] a conservative member of the committee, I wrote:

[Bill], I say amen to your "I believe that our hearts are primarily deceitful (Jer. 17:9) and that we need to sit under the authority of God’s revealed will in his Word." Sign me up.

And I utterly agree with your next sentence too:

Any attempt to take interpretation and application outside of the parameters laid before us in scripture is to me dangerous, irresponsible, and subject to the whims of a given culture and cultural idols.

Great, spot on. But for me, the parameters laid before us in scripture are precisely that IF we engage with our enemies in confrontational communion, in a commitment to struggle with each other and not let go, just like we're doing here in this conversation, then indeed God is revealed in our midst. Emmanuel happens. The breathing body of Christ, the Church+, walks among us. To refer back to your first sentence, the Word lives. I think you all can think of lots of scriptures that support the view that the Holy Spirit continued revelation after Jesus passion. (One example would be Peter's dream of the unclean food, and his acceptance of eating with Cornelius. This abrogated Peter's scriptures.)

[Bill], you continue

Much like the book of Judges where “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” we too, without a recognized authority are prone to wander and follow after our own desires that Paul acknowledges in Romans 7 are often against the very thing he knows he should do.

Being open to the Holy Spirit, I want to forge communion with those who offend me, my rivals, my opponents, my enemies. I commit to staying in communion with them, that's the Church+. And so my safety net is my opponents. [I name all the conservatives on the committee], do you really think that if I were to wander and follow after my own desires, you'd let me get away with it? The thing that keeps me from sliding on the slippery slope of my own desires is my commitment to you, to not walk away from this conversation until we have consensus. That is my "recognized authority."

I have a question for you. Can you tell me where scripture says it is the end of all revelation? I think that any such assertion is unbiblical.

My next post will say why I think many churches and denominations should split. And that they should, at the same time, on another level, not split.

Monday, March 24, 2014

rruuaacchh quotes 2

A person who speaks “Catholic” may have difficulty understanding a person speaking “Southern Baptist”. They frame the world differently even though they may both use English, and the same scriptures, and even many of the same terms...

--from The Healer Messiah, chapter 1.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Spiritual Discipline

I’m taking a course on Islamic Spirituality, and the professor--my good friend Dr. Seyed Amir Akrami--once remarked that Sufism takes theology not as an end, the truth, but as a means to that end. He implied spirituality is a way, a journey that we neglect at our peril, and Sufi disciplines are to help us stay on that way.

For me truth is a state of blessed conflict, not something that can be written down in a set of propositions. That is, the limitations of my point of view, understanding, tradition and language are transcended by my community where people have different understandings and traditions. The continuous conflict of those perceptions is a great blessing. 

My goal is not to synthesize a grand truth that unifies those perceptions, though sometimes that is possible, and if so is wonderful and revealing. But synthesis is not my goal, any more than the goal of learning foreign languages is to make a blend of all the languages learned. My end goal is to live in the blessing of this sometimes chaotic conflict of perceptions in my community. It is the good place, my true home, my salvation, the kingdom of God, enough.

Amir spoke of the virtue of polishing our souls as one would a metal mirror, a trope of Rumi’s, who wrote

A mirror in external form is made up of iron,
the mirror revealing the image of the soul is very valuable

mirror, is the soul of the face of a friend
the face of that friend from that land (Rumi, Masnavi, Book 2 part 1)

(quoted from Fariborz Arbasi, Rumi on Change by Love and Reason, translated by Sherry Nabijou, in process of publication.)

Here the goal of spiritual discipline--the continuous polishing of the quickly tarnished metal mirror--is not the power of perfect vision. Rather, it is to simultaneously have one’s identity and become a mirror reflecting anothers’ identity, and in that mirroring, to see yourself and the other more clearly, though less distinctly, in losing track of the difference between the soul seen and the soul seeing. For me, as here for Rumi, it takes two to tango. I can’t become one without being two.

A favorite spiritual discipline of mine is something I try to do every time I meet another human. As, or before, I encounter them—my spouse, my child, a friend, a stranger, an enemy—I try to remind myself of what they are, and of what I am. We are capable of hosting God’s spirit. I set myself to search for the face of God in them, even and especially in the face of an enemy. To seek the face of my trustworthy opponent, someone with a message for me, a perception for me. I set myself to be quick to report to them if I see anything amiss—if I have a message for them. I pay attention to any loss of dignity of mine or theirs. Such transparency takes paying attention. It is our mutual care, to see what the other does not, and tell each other about it.

photo credit: Dean Ayres via photopin cc

Monday, March 17, 2014

rruuaacchh quotes 1

This book is about how to live well with people who deny our core beliefs, or whose actions we consider immoral, or who have traumatized us. Such people may be our spouses or kin, or international enemies.

--from The Healer Messiah, Introduction