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Archive for January, 2011

How Lost and Found Works

At my house we have dogs….right now three but that number varies.  We take in the strays that  collect at the local golf course.  My husband would say that we don’t have dogs….DOGS have US. 

Among the current dogs, we tease one dog for not being particular bright….but I have come to realize that he is unusually focused rather than unintelligent.  He is intent upon gentle and regular attention.  He likes loving strokes to the head and back.  He likes to be spoken to gently and when sharing space, if I or another member of the family  move,  he comes to full attention, rises, crosses the room  and comes over to touch us before resettling.  When a stranger comes to our door, he is less than friendly unless the stranger announces their intent to be gentle.    Having been lost, this dog appreciates that each moment is act of finding one another with excessive attention to detail.

He is now a part of a pack for better and for worse.  Because the pack has been stray, they are constantly reminded that they belong to a larger pack which is the household.   My husband leads this pack.  He provides understandable rules regarding eating with patience and in specific locations each day.  He raises their level of trust as he provides  butcher bones in addition to affordable dog food, water and touch.  We all try to teach them to be calm and “stay down” but they mostly do this just for him.    He is with them each morning and night.  My husband has been at this for each year of our 16 year   marriage….there are always different dogs to bring into the routine.   Having been lost,  the threat looms large.   Routines of trust feed the creatures need to be continually found. 

What is striking to me is that each time we pull into the drive after having been gone, the dogs greet us as if we have been the lost ones.    Our ever changing pack celebrates as if we are the ones who have been found.  Four of us call them playfully by name and join in their celebration….my husband settles them down.

Through it all, OUR  Creator seems to dance in the lost and the found.  

Luke 15

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The Good News

The Good News

It is a traditional commission within the Christian faith that believers are to “share the Good News” with others who may not have it.  As familiar as this instruction may be to those inside and outside the Christian community, this is perhaps one of the most difficult instructions for the Christian person to navigate.  Our Adult Sunday School class is engaging the subject in order to investigate why sharing the Good News can be a challenge. 

1.  The Definition – to define Good News is more difficult than one might think.  Most will answer that the Good News is Jesus Christ.  But of course there are many understandings and experiences of Jesus Christ.  If my definition of Jesus is different from yours and I share the Good News as I understand Jesus, is this Good News to you or is it just news or nuisance?   

2.  Between Giver and Receiver.    In order to share the Good News, there is necessarily one who is intent to give it and there is one who is in receipt of it.   Perhaps there has been an assumption that the Good News should be shared whether folks are interested in it or not.  In other words, the duty of the giver is to create receivers.  This is to our previous question.  If Good News is something you have not asked for…do you perceive it as good news?

Our Sunday School class is considering Good News as  a process of communication.  The communication begins and takes intentional shape within the mind of the person who is the giver of the Good News.  Only the final phase of the process is in the speaking of the Good News.   Not only is sharing the Good News a process of thoughtful communication, it is also communication that happens in response to a request or stated dilemma.  Further it is communication that happens with differing levels of awareness for the giver and the receiver. 

First, the process of communication.  In order to be a person who shares the Good News, one first need someone who presents a need for it.  In other words, if no need is presented, there is not an opportunity to Share the Good News. Our class believes this is biblical.   The need may be a need related to their humanity and identity, to their wonderment about church or their secure attachment to God…i.e. salvation.  Each of these options provokes a different intensity of giving from the giver.

1.  humanity and identity.  If an individual presents a need that is related to their humanity and identity but is not overtly about church or salvation, our class is considering the idea that Good News as overtly religious language is not”a fit”.  Many a Christian person has struggled with themselves when they have not shared Good News though they felt like they should have.  (Even though they would tell you that they just knew deep down it was the wrong time to try to share).    This need regarding our humanity is perhaps the most vulnerable expression of faith and can be crushed by overly doctrinal or religious language.  This need requires the giver to go to the Jesus that precedes church.   In order to share Good News that is congruent to this need one must  call upon the ministry of Jesus.  It was in that ministry that people’s empowerment and healing allowed them to experience Jesus as Good News.  In this instance, sharing the Good News is not overtly religious language but finding a way to express how an individual’s life is full of strength and promise.  This is  a subtle sharing of the Good News and receivers may not know they have received Christian Good News but they will feel they have been empowered. Thus, it is Good News shared for the giver.

2.  Sometimes Good News can be shared through wonderment about Church.  Folks who are searching for Good News often wonder if the church can provide them an experience of fulfillment or restoration.  Many good Christian people, out of their love for the church, have been tempted to explain the way that the church can make someone’s life better or make them feel better.  Our Sunday School class is considering a reversal of this traditional understanding of church.  Together we are considering  that the Good News is not so much what the church can do for an individual but how faith seeking individuals with their prayers, life experience and energy inform and empower the church to make its most robust response to God and to the world.  Here there is a renewed understanding of church without any false promises about the complexities of life.  Here giver and receiver are both highly aware of what is meant by Good News.  

3.  Still other times, Good News is shared through the question of salvation.  Again a person presents with a dilemma or a need to know “am I saved”?  The question of course is what does saved mean?  Making a choice for a salvation experience in the here and now rather than at some imagined future day, our Sunday School class is considering the self giving behavior of Jesus as the first tickle in the experience of Salvation.  In other words, as Jesus gave of himself in extreme and subtle ways, individuals began to experience being unbound from the things of the world and free to be in full and generous relationship with others.  The human being who seeks to follow Jesus exercises similar self giving in order to intensify the experience of and confidence in salvation.  So when the dilemma is presented about how to experience and feel confident about salvation, the Good News puts people in touch with their willingness to give of self for the upbuilding of others as an act of gratitude to God.

What is very interesting to me personally is the way that all of this is a legitimate way to share Good News.  It is legitimate even though the awareness and knowledge  of the giver and the receiver are at different levels of intensity.  

   What do you think of our Sunday School class’ work?

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Sensationalized violence grabs our attention and our concern.  The shootings in Tuscon of innocent people including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Christina Green hits at the heart of our patriotism and our sense of the neighbor, stranger, enemy and friend.  However, underneath sensationalized violence, I want to suggest that there are more subtle forms of violence that pervade our relationships and culture.  By no means, do I mean that the world is an awful place.  But our intense reaction to the sensationalized violence needs to be balanced with an awareness of and attention to violence that is somehow permissible.  Whether is it sarcasm to our spouse or scapegoating on a friend…signs of subtle violence can be found many places. 

 Forgive the play on words, but when we consider environments of violence, we must also consider the violence that we do to our environment.  The 14th chapter of Progressive Christians Speak:  A Different Voice for Faith and Politics is full of really attention-getting details regarding the current state of our environment:

  • Scientists in Florida can now pick up traces of African topsoil in the air while air over Hawaii picks up traces of Chinese topsoil.
  • We use 7 times the water we used in 1900
  • If everyone on earth consumed the way Americans do, we would need a planet 10 times earth size to supply the population.
  • While a head of iceberg lettuce is 50 calories, it takes 400 calories of energy to grow it in California’s fertile Central Valley

The article goes on to identify four major areas of concern:  nuclear waste, ocean fishing, water supply and global warming.   I would call them evidence of environmental violence.

  • Approaching the issue of nuclear waste, the authors distinguish between high and low-level nuclear waste.  But the overall concern is what the authors might refer to as the lax attitude of the government regarding nuclear waste.  “Nearly forty years after construction of the first US nuclear power plant, Congress in 1982 passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to cope with radioactive waste.    This forty-year delay was in the face of intense negotiations regarding liability with the companies that constructed the nuclear power plants.  Further, the nuclear power industry has not generated a tremendous profit and the concern about how to maintain the plants leads one to imagine the day that plants need to be decommissioned.  However, the decommissioning of a plant costs more than the building of one and the radioactivity  lingers long past the span of a human’s life time.
  • Ocean fisheries were a surprising priority of the chapter.  But then I know only a surface amount about environmentalism.  The liability in ocean fisheries is the way that they destroy the ocean’s coral reef and other vital places.  There are two types of fishing that are particularly destructive.  The fishing of underutilized species affects the food chain and the “complex interrelationships of ocean ecology” (256).   The second type, aggressive fishing causes more immature fish to be caught and thus there are less fish to reproduce and replenish the population.
  • Water sources runs right under our noses.  Each morning in Osawatomie, my children and I cross over the Marais des Cygnes River and check the water levels, trash levels and number of folks who are fishing.   Our bridge crossing is near the water treatment plant in Osawatomie.  The chapter cites a correlation between water treatment plants and hormonal damage to fish.  3/4 of the rivers in China are unable to support fish and 90% of Europe’s rivers have high nitrate concentrations.   Fish in the lower Hudson river are inedible.  There is also a tremendous amount of evidence that water not only cannot support life but is depleted in our aquifers and conflicts over water are becoming more significant than conflicts over oil or land. (258).  
  • Global warming has been so considered and discussed, I will just share a few of the novel things offered by the authors in this chapter. 
    • Malaria carrying mosquitoes are already migrating northward
    • studies that go back 450,000 years show that the earth has been warming for 500 years but 80% of the warming has been since 1800 correlating to the industrial revolution.
    • As I mentioned in a previous blog of all the nations in the world, the US is the slowest to join the world’s efforts modifying behavior to slow global warming.

When we consider that our Christian faith is symbolized  as light,  living water, and the ability to multiply provisions, we have to wonder if we are faithful to our environment.

Though the book from which Chapter 14 comes is some 10 years old now, the chapter should be read in its entirety by individuals concerned about violence.  It reveals the extent to which we are willing to have God’s earth absorb violence.  The permission to do violence against the foundation of our lives surely means that we will continue to be stumped by more overt and explicit acts of violence that seem to come out of no where.  As the authors note on page 259 “One scientist has said ‘The weather (or the environment?) is like a giant beast and we are poking it with a stick.’ According to ‘chaos theory’   …. small initial changes in a process can produce enormous changes later in the process,…” 

What small initial change needs to happen in order to affect the human being who decides to open fire on citizens in Tuscon?  Even before we consider our cultural environment, or an individual’s personal environment, perhaps we must first consider THE environment.

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Athanasius Kircher Interior of the earth

Image via Wikipedia

I chose to read the 14th chapter of Progressive Christians Speak:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics because a good member and now trustee has a heart for environmentalism.  This post and tomorrow’s post is for you,  Dee.   

Every cell of every organ in my body is a part of a larger living system that is me.  Similarly, each of us, with all life, is part of a larger living planetary system.  Earth is our larger self, our large body…Earth is not a planet with life on it;  rather it is a living planet.  The physical structure of the planet – its core, mantle, and mountain ranges – acts as the skeleton or frame of its existence.  The soil that covers its grasslands and forests is like a mammoth digestive system.   In it all things are broken down, absorbed and recycled into new growth.  The oceans, waterways and rain function as a circulatory system that moves life-giving “blood”, purifying and revitalizing the body.  The bacteria, algae, plants and trees provide the planet’s lungs, constantly regenerating the entire atmosphere.  The animal kingdom provides the functions of a nervous system, a finely tuned and diversified series of organisms sensitized to the environmental change.

Excerpted from Progressive Christians Speak:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics.  John Cobb Jr., editor.  (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 263-264 / Quoting Michael Dowd‘s Earthspirit (Mystic, Conn.:  Twenty-third Publications, 1992).

Psalm 104/ Matthew 6:28-29, 10:29, 25:40 / Luke 12:6, 27

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Some theologians and faithful church members cry out,  “The World is increasingly secular….it should be more sacred!”

Having heard this cry and even been tempted to utter it myself, I would like to offer a more complex understanding of church, God and world.  I am joining with others in suggesting that there is often a false dichotomy (a separation of different or distinct things) cried out when people think about the church and the world. Some believe that the the world is what we call secular (that is,  something other than God) while the church is what we call sacred (that is, of God or related to God).   The church has surely contributed to an intensification of this dichotomy of secular and sacred.  Perhaps it is because the church’s job seems to be to safeguard and offer (as some sort of broker) the sacred to people who are abiding in the secular.  In other words, the dichotomy assures the church that it has an essential function to perform for the world.  Sound familiar?

I do believe the church has an essential function for the world, but I do not believe that we are the keepers of the sacred which is offered to the secular in order to save or enrich their lives.  Rather, I believe that the church is the institution that has a vision that all the world (every secular corner so to speak) has evidence of God working in it.  The church is the institution that refuses a simple dichotomized viewpoint.  Rather, we are to lead the world in integrating the so called secular and the sacred as mutually informing realities. 

Process theology realizes that distinct or different things are not to be separated from one another into false dichotomies.  Rather, constrasting experiences or realities when drawn together can contribute to a harmony in people’s lives.   When human beings reconcile the disparate sections of their lives, they have a story to tell.  There are many ways that individuals discovery a life harmony.  When drug addiction is drawn to recovery, there is a rich story to tell that is much more informative than “just say no”.  When financial folly is drawn to financial discipline and there is a rich identity to reveal that is far more interesting than than being a spend thrift or a credit card junkie.  Spouses or partners whose commitments hold together very different energies and talents, model a partnership that others observe and wonder about. 

There is a harmony between what is characterized as sacred and secular in life.      Moments in which we are not thinking overtly about God,  such as,  cleaning the house, pruning a tree, making a doctor’s appointment or running errands around the hours of our job are, perhaps ironcially, the moments that give us the greatest reason to ponder the meaning of life and God’s providence for us.  It is when we take these moments into our church experience or our prayer life, that we have interesting questions by which we investigate and grow in our understanding of God.   And as we struggle to understand our life may become increasingly harmonized by the things that did not seem to go together at all.   

The sacred and the secular are not separate they are means by which we are brought to the struggle to consider our lives as creations of God.  If the church feels like it lives in an increasingly secular age, perhaps it has not fully exercised the secular clues toward a sacred end.

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I have been reading Gordon Kaufman’s book on my new kindle.  The book is entitled: Jesus and Creativity (published 2006) and it is further detailing the premise of Kaufman’s book In Face of Mystery  published in 1993.  The premise is that a God that is imagined as an agent-person (or anthropomorphized) is not an intelligible option for most individuals as they mature in the faith.  Such an understanding of God contributes to a diminishment of God as little more than a divine agent with human weaknesses such as anger, jealousy and vengance.  Kaufman suggests that this has affected our understanding of Jesus as well.  That a person-like God results in simplified and fractured understanding of Jesus.  This understanding vacillates between understanding Jesus’ humanity and imagining his divinity.  

Kaufman’s life work has been to suggest that our faith is better served if we imagine God apart from any antropomorphized language or imagination.  He argues that we should understand God as creativity.  In the current book he hones in on our understanding of Jesus.  He does so by giving us two Jesus tracks on which to to run. The first track he calls Jesus Trajectory (1).  This track declares that upon his death on the cross, Jesus’ life and ministry is increasingly understood as “quasi divine and then fully divine” (location 62 on the kindle).  One of the biggest problems with this track is that it understands the world dualistically with God and Jesus in the heavens and those of us on earth in some lower place.  Kaufman argues for the inadequacy of understanding the world dualistically.  I agree, with all the advances of science, astrology and change theory, dualism is simply outdated.

Kaufman invites us to understand that if we can release God from the anthropomorphized restraints, God as creativity gives rise to a Jesus Trajectory (2) “…the sequence of creative and historical events beginning with Jesus’ baptism, ministry, death and resurrection and then continuing creatively through human history all the way to the present.” (location 321 on the Kindle).  In other words because of the life and ministry of Jesus there is a creative trajectory that uniquely informs us about God’s creativity.  (All of this and I am not yet half way through the book). 

As I pause in my reading, my question for anyone reading this blog is this:  Can a human being ever fully do without a personal or personified image of God?  Do we need the warm and cuddly image (or alternately the threatening one) in order to feel close and connected?  Is the anthromorphized God an essential even if it is flawed and sometimes depraved?

I look forward to anyone generous enough to respond!

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They say that when one loses weight their energy grows.  I have certainly found this to be true but it is a bit counterintuitive for me.  I have always thought that food equaled energy.  However, in recent years I have learned that energy is a balance of digesting and resting from digesting.  I am currently hearing the call of a beautiful and fresh bag of potato chips.  One chip has fallen on the floor next to my resting cat.  This cat is always interested in fallen food.  But the cat is not interested in the potato chip… a sure sign that there is no energy or life in that chip.   Still it is a temptation for me that threatens my ideal weight according to my Weight Watchers website.

Considering the temptation of Jesus this week, I was struck by the opening sentence that Jesus was led by the Spirit.  Our faith instructs us that the Spirit reveals meaning and understanding and to have the Spirit as the lead energy in the temptation story must give one pause that temptation is all the devil’s doing. What if temptation is important for the development and maturation of the faith?

Some say that human being’s early faith development rests heavily upon ideals.  Without a lot of “faith experience” ideals are the shining light that call us forward to discover more about God and ourselves.   As we strive in the faith, we realize the ideals aren’t the true destinations.  Rather they are what keep us moving along a path upon which we find purposeful opportunities allowing us to grow in the faith.

Temptation is also along the path and seems to ask us if we understand our commitments and our goals in the faith.  Temptation sometimes sounds like, “That ideal is pretty tough…do you think you can realize it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just give in and rest?”  Though the gospel of Matthew has the temptation story preceding the ministry of Jesus, I wonder if that is really how temptation works in our day to day world.  I believe perhaps that temptation comes to us some time after we have identified an ideal or made a conviction …even a New Years resolution.   Temptation seems to challenge what we are resolved to do in our life but then I remember that when my muscles are reasonably challenged, they grow stronger.

Jesus was at least resolved to provide attention to:   the poor;  empiral power and to individualism.   Perhaps, temptation provided an opportunity for him to deepen his connection to his resolutions.

  •  When Jesus is invited to turn stones into bread in the midst of his own hunger, temptation arises.   “Temptation says…feed your own hunger and then start a food pantry for the world.”  The immediate gratification and assuaging of hunger is a primal urge within the human being.  But Jesus is not known as the bread of life for nothing.  Jesus seems to replay that humans have long hungered to know that they precious and important in God’s sight.  This is the hunger that Jesus will feed. 
  • When Jesus is invited to throw himself off the tip-top of the temple, temptation rises.  Temptation says, “Won’t you throw yourself into your mission and work in such a way that you will be safe in the end?”  This sounds familiar to me.  How many times have I withheld myself wondering who will step in and collaborate for part of the rigor?  Jesus knows this temptation but Jesus will not test God’s creativity.  Instead he will be a part of it and allow the effort to consume him.  Jesus will be sacrificing himself all along the way of his human pilgrimage into a divine status. 
  • When Jesus is invited to a powerful perspective of all the kingdoms of the world, temptation rises. Temptation says…’Your program is perfect!  You can save the world…all you need to do is take it over!”  We can bet that Jesus had a program he believed in.  But how that program was implemented makes all the difference.  Would his program be implemented through tryanny and kingdom control?  Jesus is resolved to peaceful persuasion generations since have worshiped his commitment.

I would content that temptation played a clarifying role in the life and ministry of Jesus.  Moments of temptation seem to last forever.  The temptation is over the minute we give in and allow it to rise over us.  What a relief! That is until we want more of ourselves…until we again set our sights on an ideal so that we can continue to put one foot in front of another. 

Our succombing is not temptation’s fault.  Temptation is a gift of the Spirit and through temptation the Spirit asks the most intimate of questions…”What do you care most about?”  the Spirit lingers and hovers wondering…will we be able to respond with congruent intimacy? 

  Let’s see… looking at the potato chip let me try!

 When I answer “I care most about my weight”, I know, from experience,  that I am only moments away from  a potato chip.  However, when I answer “I care most about having more energy to share with the world”….the potato chip no longer looks promising…particularly next to  a sleeping cat.

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