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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Weight Watchers tells me, “Count your points.”

Points are a way to anticipate how the consumption of food finds body mass and becomes weight.   The goal is that the body weigh less but not nothing.

Points are a hassle.  The counting of points requires attention if not mindfulness.  The counting of points can consume a day.   So after three weeks of refusing, (and I do have regular times when I refuse to count) I will start counting points midweek when it seems too late to do so.   Not only for my body but also for my soul.

I will count the points because I am not a good judge of the weight I throw around.

The points counted provide me a better sense of the weight of myself.  Of course, I do not just consume food.  There is an invitation to consume life and its experiences.   Those, too, need counting.  For some experiences “cost more” to consume than others.  Again, I am not good a good judge of the weight I throw around unless I am mindful of what I am taking in.

So in my forties, after consuming a lot of junk, I have grown weary of it.  I simply don’t consume the fast or process foods  as much as I used to.   This habit was a long time in coming.  Synchronizing the body and mind is years of work.  Funny, I thought my mind was ahead of my body.  When in reality, my body was the laboratory for my mind to learn the method that would also have a terrific spiritual benefit.

In my forties, I can also say that I have consumed a lot of spiritual junk as well.   Again, an expensive way to consume resulting in a weighted experience that I am tempted to throw around as I relate to others.  I used to take in and digest experiences that are the spiritual equivalent to junk food.  This I do not do anymore.  Rather, I savor what is fresh, life-giving and full of possibility.  This is not always comforting ingestion.  Painful experiences can be full of possibility.  This is not always self-focused ingestion.  How I treasure feasting with others as they celebrate their power and their empowerment of others.   Gorging no longer works.  The ingestion of what gives life and is robust with possibility requires the homage of careful breakdown upon the palate of life.  These are my best prayers….the digesting ones that never find adequate words.    Such a spiritual diet leaves me ready to “weigh in” confidently.

What is life-giving, fresh and full of possibility  is not expensive to consume.  The expense is in their breakdown, digestion and assimilation into my life…..as fiber to my soul.   Take, eat, this is my body….freshly broken,  full of possibility and life-giving.     You will not throw your weight my child, you will use it to carry my yoke.  

Jesus and weight watchers?  Well, for me anyway.  After all, he loved to eat.

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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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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, ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

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.

 

 

CALL TO WORSHIP:

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.

 

PRAYER OF PRAISE:

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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Church does not often like to compare itself to other societal organizations.  We declare theologically that we are the Body of Christ drawn together by Christ‘s call upon our life and the striving of our shared ministry.    While the Body of Christ is a  this is surely what we hope to be, I contend that we must also acknowledge that we are an organized group of people by virtue of culture, denomination (or lack of it) and our context.  For this reason, the rigor of Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change is worth the church’s time and review.

A challenging work, the book provides a look at organizational life from some of the keenest scientific minds.  These authors are actively bridging the gap between biology and sociology.  The importance of this bridge is that historically, sociology has rested upon the research and assumptions of Darwin’s biological research.   Lauding Darwin they note that his work allowed  scientists to “parallel evolutionary research:  laboratory scientists explored the genetic basis of variation mechanisms, while field researchers investigated the past history and present operational changes through selection.” (18)     Most exciting to me is that authors of Complexity Perspectives are also critiquing Darwin’s work which has now become orthodoxy for so many.

Their critique is a splicing of variation at the molecular level from selection at the sociological level.  They splice variation and selection as they detail the rise of dog breeding.  Breeding on the one hand is a manipulation of the genetic of dogs.  On the other hand, there is a culture and a context that rises up in the “dog fancying” culture that has nothing to do with genetics but everything to do with interpretation and information sharing.   That is, dog breeders began to make decisions about what was preferred among genetic variations.   “They were less interested in producing dogs well-adapted to hunting than in satisfying the growing demand for household pets, and so they selected for features that appealed to the non-sporting dog-loving public: “cute”, human-like facial features and a glamorous full coat.”

Leaving many important details out of their first chapter, suffice it to say that I believe that Complexity Perspectives.  Has great relevance for the church will may also rest upon assumptions of organizational development theory that in turn rest on Darwinian orthodoxy that has collapsed the biological and sociological.  The most powerful example may be found in copious Google images charting a congregation’s (or another organization’s) “life cycle” beginning with birth moving through a prime toward an ultimate death.    Such biological assessment of the church has contributed to a bias toward new church development or revitalization as resuscitation.    Both these models are becoming increasingly difficult for the church.  New Church development is difficult because of economy and increasing religious competition.  Revitalization is difficult because it is understood as  reversal of the life cycle process.

Complexity Perspectives offers another way to view organizational vitality when they draw you and I into the dog breeding metaphor. The vitality of organized life is not just at the molecular, genetic, biological level.  There is something unique about the sociological life that is under-addressed by Darwin and by the church.  That is a flow of information and communication that allows organized groups to invent tools, understanding and ascribe meaning to those inventions .  These inventions can then present new challenges that then require new tools, understanding and most importantly a new ascription of meaning.

It seems to me that the church of a living God  is evolving but those of us that manage the church are using outdated tools, understandings and meaning to try to manage the evolution.   We are not actively participating in the sociological selection process of adapting tools, understanding and meaning.  (Even secular organizations do this better than us)  What is worse, we refuse to be as nimble as Jesus was in the realm of investigating sociological context.    Issues of membership, tradition and finances are just some of the subjects that I hope to approach with the help of editors, David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain and Geoffrey West.

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 Almost 3 years after it is published, in the new year,  I will begin a review of a book Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change, editors David Lane, Sander van der Leeuw, Denise Pumain, Geoffrey West.  I first learned of this book by listening to a master’s class interview with Geoffrey West on the website www.edge.org devoted to multidisciplinary conversation among innovative scholars and scientists.

The book argues that innovation (the way that invention spreads through a population) is the driver behind urbanization.  My goal is to make this book applicable to the church which has, since the time of Jesus, been dealing with social change.

Today,  the church, it seems, can easily become a reactionary institution.  This is quite ironic given the progressive pictures of Jesus in our new testament scriptures and the progressive images of God in the Hebrew scriptures.   Fundamentally the church confesses a faith in a  living God with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Once organized we understand ourselves to be part of  a larger vitality.  Individual members become part of the Body of Christ.

In this critique I will be assuming that the church has a great deal to do with the urban environment that the editors have collected in this book.  Further, I will be assuming that the vitality of a localized congregation is found in its ability to innovate in response to its environment and its tradition.   I am sure I am not alone in this second assumption.  However, the challenge for the local congregation is the how-to of innovation and what are the necessary elements for innovation to flow through a congregation.

I hope to discover important questions and learn as I blog about this book.

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