Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

I regret that my early excitement about Jesus  was extended as if I were a split and live wire.

Stretched if not reaching in order to zap comforting practices among those living intense realities.

As if  to shock people with the value of the Jesus who would not….should not be contained.

That Jesus no longer human and, in fact, uncontainable….an eternal flow more powerful than any shock.

I regret that I did not value being a conduit earlier.



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I would not say that our house is enamoured with Halloween.  The children have dressed up in years past.  They have all walked the trick or treat route.  But at the end of each year, hey are ready to go home a bit early and they are a bit uncertain of the most gruesome costumes.  One year, as my children were worried about a group of marauding teens dressed like ghouls, one mother said to me….”Leslie, the holiday is good for your kids it  will toughen them up!”   But I wonder….is the holiday meant to desensitize us to the gruesomeness or  the uncertainty of tricks and treats?  Or is All Hallow’s Eve, in the spirit of all good festivals, intended to increase our sensitivity so that we can live with a greater sense of adventure?

Every week in church, we say the Lord’s Prayer.  Some say the ritual is good for us.  That is softens our heart and makes us better people.  But again I wonder. Is the prayer or even the art of praying meant to keep us docile and obedient before a mysterious God?   Or, could prayer be a ritual meant to increase our sensitivity to life and the adventure of faith?

It has been a temptation within the Christian church to distance Halloween and good Christian fun even though the two had so much to do with one another in the early church.  Perhaps over the next several weeks we can consider,  “Hallowed be Halloween”!


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The Christian tradition has, like other religious traditions, succumb to a temptation.  The temptation is to provide proof texts and answers in defense of itself.  In fact, what gave rise to the Christian faith were, I think, powerful holding environments (to borrow a term from Ronald Heifetz) where questions could be imagined, discussed and celebrated.  Whether they were Jesus’ questions, the questions of disciples or questions from the crowd, it makes little difference.  The questions of the gospel rarely get a straight or simple answer and those who pursue answers are often characterized as rigid fools.    The gospel response to questions is often more mysterious and there is some sort of invitation to understanding.  It is portrayed as frustrating and confusing to those within the gospel narrative and we know how they feel.

What is the difference between understanding and answers?   It may be helpful to return to the etymology of the word understanding.  To understand has been confused with “knowing” something or someone.  The etymology of understand indicates “a standing between or in the midst of”.  This suggests that understanding is an act.  Understanding holds a tension between  things.   Perhaps in it we are held between our past experiences and our future hopes.   Perhaps understanding puts us between significant individuals of our lives.  But to just be between things seems a pansy-sort of stance.  Why do I want to just stand between, in the midst of.   Isn’t it more powerful to decide and stand on one side o or another?  Aren’t we declared “willy-nilly” or worse, “non-committal” with such a definition of understanding?  “I understand” can be such an impotent response to those in crisis, after all.

The spiritual discipline of asking questions seems to shed new light on understanding.  Questioning moves understanding from a passive observation toward and active engagement with the world.  In our questions to one another, we assist in the exploration of life.  Offering our questions into our relationship with God, according to the gospel record, illumines the human being’s journey.    Too often, I have been out of touch with the most significant questions of my life.  I think this happens to me because those original questions have given rise to very meaningful relationships and experiences that define my life and its purpose.  I don’t want to insult life’s meaning, my experiences, God’s gifts to me by seeming to second guess what has already been considered….at least in part.

As I consider John 3:1-10, this week’s lectionary text, it occurs to me that to return to significant questions (like “Who am i?”) does not mean that I don’t value the experiences that have risen from that question thus far.  On the contrary, returning to the essential questions may be  something like a miner who returns to a stable and robust mine.  This mine promises so many gems, they cannot be carried out in one journey.  And if the mine is the question….each gem is not a complete answer but part of what built the question.  The question is the joy and the purpose and each portion of the question catches a divine light….that light illumines a chosen path.

When Nicodemus asks his question, “How can one be born again?” it seems to me that he is trying to understand his desire to return to questions without shame.  He wants to keep their adventure at the fore front of his living.  And Jesus, for his part, responds with understanding.  He offers not another question nor an answer, but he offers modes of investigation for the adventure.  After all, water and wind have always been masterful at finding their way into the spacious depths of earth and humanity’s geography.

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David Kelsey’s chapter “Sin as Living Death in a Distorted Personal Identity” from his larger work, Eccentric Existence:  A Theological Anthropology provides a helpful anthropological assessment for approaching forgiveness.  As fundamental as forgiveness is for the Christian faith, it can be difficult to orient ourselves to think critically about it.  Too often we feel we “should forgive”.  Therein, we realize that forgiveness is a Christian fundamental that faces profound challenges.  In Kelsey’s larger work, he explicates God’s reconciling energy toward humanity and also formulates an ultimate question for the human community who is challenged to respond appropriately to the reconciling energy.

Appropriate response to reconciling God is a humanity that can engage forgiveness.  But there are things about our anthropology that challenge our ability to be forgiving or to forgive. Thus, we find ourselves living alienated from the only appropriate response to a reconciling God…. forgiveness.  And Kelsey defines forgiveness as “the interhuman reconciliation that is the necessary social context of acts seeking the rectification of unjust patterns of human action.” (878)

I will crudely summarize his three scenarios in which human beings are unable to approach forgiveness:

Humanity so ordered by culture that there is no room for forgiveness.

Personal identities that find their worth in power (the ability to command) or adherence to a moral order leave no real room for forgiveness.  Because one is only worthy insomuch as one is able to continue to exert power or adherence to a moral order, there is a cyclical need to return to power initiatives or rules of the moral order in order to find oneself as an individual of power.  This cyclical need puts us on a treadmill of spiritual righteousness.  We understand ourselves to be superior to those who cannot behave to the moral order or command an influence over their environment.   Kelsey asserts that identity in power and moral order provide no space for forgiveness. We cannot forgive others for not adhering to a moral order, nor can we forgive them for not exercising more power and influence in their own lives.  Because we understand our worth as coming from a perpetual cycle of power and order (inequality), forgiveness becomes a nuance-like interruption or inconvenience.

Waiting for the best time to forgiven.

As limited as power and moral order end up being, they do begin as best intents within the human heart.  In the second option, Kelsey reminds us that sinful behavior also obstructs our approach to the Christian essential of forgiveness.  While this seems obvious, Kelsey describes the dual-blockade of sinful behavior that is at once interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Not only do we find ourselves in relationships where we diminish others and they diminish us, additionally, we find (intrapersonal) a cognitive function  that denies our existence in such diminishing relationships.  Because we are involved in a structural bind, forgiveness is not an option. Kelsey draws upon the scriptural use of the word Hypocrite as one who is self-deceived.  Abiding in insulated armor, we imagine that when the world straightens up, we will then forgive.

Inability to forgive within the self:

Whereas the previous two options are interpersonal, this third option is really an intrapersonal experience.    Whereas the two previous options have human beings primarily concerned with social order or relational complexities, in the third option, human beings want to avoid “discovering themselves inwardly guilty of failure to do their duty and live consistently across time”.   While forgiving others may be an option or an interest they pursue, Kelsey notes that individuals are unable to forgive themselves.  They are unable to forgive themselves because they have a sense that they have fallen short of living consistently and to the standard of what is their duty.  This duty may be social constructed, humanistically defined or divinely ordained.  In any case, it is a standard that is never satisfied and the human being lives a partial life, guilt ridden.

Kelsey goes to great pains to explicate why forgiveness is so difficult. I think brilliantly.  However, in the end, we are in despair.  What Kelsey does not seem to acknowledge are brief moments in which forgiveness is attempted, respected and hoped for as sufficient responses by human beings to a reconciling God.  What if within adherence to power, moral order, complexities of relationships and our own intrapersonal world, our spiritual discipline of forgiveness is a ripple, sparkle or flash that leads or lights the way to our next significant moment wherein we behave with increasing faithfulness?

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Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, ...

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I enjoyed writing these prayers after reading very helpful commentary from  The Interpreter‘s Dictionary of the Bible vol. 2 “Holy Spirit”  and The Lord of Life:  Perspectives on Constructive Pneumatology David H. Jensen Editor and specifically chapter five “Guests, Hosts and Holy Ghost: Pneumatological Theology and Christian Practices in  World of Many Faiths” by Amos Yong.




Leader: Some say that faith, in the larger world,  has lost its tact.

People:  Our parents always told us to mind our manners.

Leader:  Minding manners allows individuals to arrive at shared understanding and behavior.

People:  Even in Jesus’ day there were a diversity of beliefs and this required etiquette and manners.

Leader:  There was no Emily Post, but there was and is attunement to the Holy Spirit.

All:  Let us reconnect with the Holy Spirit who inspires bold tact, as we worship the God of Jesus.  Amen.



Holy Host, you are not an ethereal ghost but a salient connector.  When we have a need to be loved, you connect us with those who need love from us.  When we need adventure, you connect us with demanding individuals and circumstances that build stamina.  When we are in need peace, you present us with people in need of comfort that only we can give.  Hear our praise that when you connect us though we seem to be meeting the needs of others, our own cup runneth over.  Continue to come and connect our lives o Great and Hospitable Spirit.  Amen.


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My indoor cat is a window warrior.

Her confidence is unshakable.

Daily she stalks her prey

And dissuades would be trespassers.  (Never mind the window is there).

Her throne window might even have the dogs persuaded.

I am not unlike my indoor cat.

So much of my life is as a window warrior.

But some say that God, at times, opens windows as if they were doors.

Who does the window warrior become when there is no window to protect them?


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The first petal on the T.U.L.I.P of Calvinism is the notion of total depravity.  Total depravity as defined by William Stacy Johnson, in his book John Calvin: Reformer for the 21st Century, “A belief taught by those who came after Calvin that human beings are so sinful that we are incapable of contributing anything to our own salvation including good works” (140).   While Calvin surely painted a bleak picture of humanity as inherited from Augustine and Luther, the largest part of Calvin’s theology was not sinfulness which takes up but five chapters between book one and book two of his Institutes.  Charles Partee notes, in his book The Theology of John Calvin,  that “For Calvin sin is a terrible reality, but it is not a major division of his theology.  Calvin should be understood as a theologian of God’s grace, not of human sin.  Sin is treated as a strange or foreign object in the body of Calvin’s theology… (130).   Later his followers would characterize sin as total depravity but this is not Calvin.  Calvin understood that sin was total only in so much as it had a total effect on the human being’s body, mind and soul.   This effect he called the stain of sin and the stain of sin gets passed on through the interconnectedness of the human community. (By the way, inter-connectedness is an essential notion of process theology.)  The modern image for stain of sin might be that our children are born into a society where there is air pollution.  They did not cause this problem, but they suffer from it and contribute to it nonetheless.  ” (Johnson 52)

Thus, sin is not the original sin that is imbedded like a seed in the human being.  Rather,  “Remarkably for Calvin sin is defined as an accident.  Sin ‘is an adventitious quality which comes upon man rather than a substantial property which has been implanted from the beginning.’ (II.1.11)” (Partee, 129) and “In connection with the reality of sin, Calvin simply refuses to carry his reflection to its logical conclusion.  Sin is a fact, but it is an accidental fact, which means it has not ultimate meaning.” (Partee, 131)  Thus Calvinism’s notion of total depravity must be contrasted with Calvin’s notion of ultimate possibility. For Calvin the human being is in the process of responding to sin through sanctification (increasing holiness) and that sanctification is a life-long process.

Kristine Culp, in her book, Vulnerability and Glory” rightly highlights Calvin’s “bearing the cross” as a response to the reality of sin.  “In contrast to the Stoic cultivation of apathy, Christians must constantly “train”, “keep” and “pursue” patience in face of real sorrow and pain.  He referred to the exercise of patience, moderation and humility in the face of suffering as “bearing the cross”.    … It matters greatly for Calvin, as for our day, whether theologies support responsive and responsible life and its flourishing before God.” (124)    The responsive and responsible life is not only an essential for Calvin but for process theology as well.

Epperly asserts in his book, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, that “Process theology understands the cross in relational terms as the result of human decision rather than divine necessity.” (73)  While Epperly’s summary of the meaning of the cross for process theologians may be more of a critique of traditional atonement doctrine, one can surely recognize a common thread between process and Calvin on the relationality of sin and the process by which we make our response to sin which is either the result of tragic decisions or Calvin’s accidental sin.

The answer to this blog’s question is that for Calvin the human being is subject to many complex situations in which sin is often an accidental occurrence but may also be intentional.  Because of this, we need God’s grace (which we will focus on more intently in a later blog) and we need to bear our cross.  Bearing our cross allows us to respond to the suffering that our sin causes keeps us mindful of God’s opportunities by which we can live more responsibly into God’s providence.  Those who cherish Calvin the reformer, pastor and theologian need not be dissuaded by the postmortem  development by Calvinism upon Calvin known as total depravity.  Further, those who treasure Calvin need to slough off the systematizing of Calvin by Calvinist.  Once we return to Calvin we find essentials of process thought already at work in Calvin’s Institutes.   Calvin understood imperfect  human beings who had not actualized the potential that God provided for their lives  to be worthy through their partnership with God,  interconnected and involved in a life long adventure of responsibility and response.    Not too bad….not totally depraved at all!

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