The Hope of Holiness

I teach theology. I have a PhD in theology.  In common parlance, that makes me a theologian.

Yet, more often than I’d want to admit, I get those accusing, dismissive voices in the back of my mind, “Who are you?  You know who you are? And you pose as someone who can talk about God?”  Often accompanied by a short, or long, list of ways that I am presumptuous for thinking that.  Ways that clearly don’t mark me as a man of God.

Things I’ve done, or not done, in the past.  Fears and anxieties and misplaced hopes in the present.

That’s something writers get too. For other reasons usually. The idea that I have something to say is one of the biggest reasons people don’t write or try to share what they write.

Our pasts, our memories, our sense of self have much to say on our potential sources of insight or wisdom.  Mostly what it says is, “Don’t bother.”

Who am I to talk about God? Or pursuing the spiritual life?

This is a Saturday question as well.  Our pasts have caught up with us. Condemned and situated us in a place of judgment.   We are confronted with our weakness and stupidity and bad decisions made in stressful times, and bad decisions made when there wasn’t even a reason to make any decisions.  We ruined possibilities, friendships, respect, favor.  What hope do we have?

Who am I to talk about God?

Really, that’s why I pursued theology. To answer questions about hope and about God.  To find paths that left the muck and mire and pointed towards light and life.  Yet the muck and the mire remains.  Dirty, fouled, broken.

The result of past mistakes and past decisions and past missteps.

On Saturday, Jesus is dead and I’m left with myself, my past, my embarrassments.

On Saturday, there is still hope.  Hope that in the Promise there is still a potential for life that goes beyond what has been determined by my past. Hope that speaks into a future that is about God’s grace. Despite my steps, God still calls.  Despite my discouragements, God still loves. Despite my mistakes, God still seeks me to live, work, forgetting what is behind and pressing towards what is ahead each day.

What is ahead for Christ Jesus is ahead for me.  On Saturday, that is still risk. Risk that there’s something more. Risk that when I speak about theology, it is not predicated on my past, but on Christ’s future.

Am I determined by what I have been or what I have done? Or am I determined by who Jesus is and what he is doing?

I don’t see that in full yet.

I don’t see that for me or for others. The promise is still the same. The promise is still risk.

What someone else has done does not define them either.  Who someone has been or the mistakes they have made or the missed chances that populate their past is not, in light of the cross, who they are or will be.

Do I risk that?  Dare I hope for those who I have lost hope for?

Peter denied Jesus on Friday.  Jesus embraced Peter on Sunday.

How did Peter feel on Saturday?  Hopeful? Destitute?  Abandoned? Traitorous?

The past is determined by how we live on this Saturday.  Either the past is victor, and the cross is the end of the story. Or the future is victorious and on this Saturday we wait and we risk that the story continues on Sunday.  We wait and we risk together.

We wait for Easter and we risk in Easter.

What is the story we live in? What is the story we put others in?

That is Saturday, the Sabbath, the day of rest where there is no rest unless we have faith that there’s something more to this story, to our story, to the story of others.

 

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Time between Times

This is one of the more unusual days in the religious calendar. Friday is the crucifixion, that day in which we say that our sins were cleansed by the sacrifice of the Lamb. He took on the burden so we would not.

Tomorrow we celebrate the resurrection, the time in which death itself lost its sting, so that we who are of the Faith fear Sheol no more. To live is Christ, Paul says, and to die is gain. Death is but a transition from life to Life.

Saturday, today, is in between. Why didn’t Jesus come out on the Sabbath? Was it out of respect for the Law? Sunday had no special relevance until he made it so. Yes, the prophecies mention three days… why? Christ is not beholden to the prophecies, they are beholden to him. A curious consideration, and unknowable.

What were the disciples thinking? The Twelve, the others? Years of their lives had been spent with the man now dead. They could not return home, for traveling was forbidden for the most part. So they stayed, their lives lost, dead even though still alive. Already Christ had died on this day, he had not yet risen. They didn’t know he would. He told them, but they didn’t understand.

How many cursed Christ on this day for being deceitful? How many felt really bad about it after he rose again?

We live in the middle of the three days of the Passion, the time between times, Christ has come, Christ will come again. Already, not yet. Hoped for realities which are not apparent, no longer slaves to sin though sinners indeed, free and not free, alive and not alive, strong and weak, hopeful and fearful, that is our state. Yes, keeping the eye on the end is what helps us through the now, transforming our perspective even in the present so as to anticipate the future, letting us see time beyond time while we walk through time.

But we are living in the Saturday, the day between a day and a day, in which we expect everything and feel the loss of everything. Christ has told us what to expect, but we don’t really understand or believe it… just look at our lives, our hearts.

Saturday is an awkward day, neither here nor there. And so, it is a day of rest.

For a lot of reasons Holy Saturday is my most precious religious holiday. It is the one which I live with and the one which suits my soul. This is Holy Saturday. This is the day that reflects the present stanza of my inner liturgy. My whole life thus far is lived on this Saturday. Christ has died. May Christ be resurrected in my life, in the life of those around me. May the peace of God come into our hearts, and help us wait patiently for the fullness of Christ to enter our world for all eternity. Amen and amen.

It is Saturday, however, and all we have on this day is a promise. Such is our lives, such is my life. Praise be to the Three-in-One.

This post was something I wrote in 2008

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Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

It is Saturday, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This day has more and more meaning to me as the years go by, some of which I’ve written about in other places, some of which still I reflect on.

This being a journal of my spirit and soul I think it’s good to say how much I identify with this day more than tomorrow or yesterday. I feel forgiven, I have no guilt, I do not feel the weight of my own sins. They have been released and I am a slave to nothing. And yet, I do not feel resurrected. The weight of life’s difficulties weighs on my soul, my doubts and confidence balance each other out, each gaining sway for their own time. I taste of new life, I do not dwell in new life. Much has begun, nothing is resolved. I live in utter faith that the work God has started in me will be finished, with wonderful results. There is no actual indication this is the case.

Indeed, with all of the pomp and celebration of Easter, I feel myself distant from it, not because I do not understand the significance of the day, I just wait for my own Easter, along with the ultimate Easter. Today is my day.

Because I’ve been saturated in the Christian world for so long I wonder if it is simply overexposure. I was born into the church, and have no memory of not being a Christian. Thus that transition is missing for me. So, the joy and celebration of Easter is something I taste, but have more contrived emotions in celebration than real excitement.

Of course I live the Easter life in part, the presence of the Holy Spirit in me is a result of Easter. Had Christ avoided the cross or not risen, the Holy Spirit would not have been sent. So, that is a consideration.

But, too much of me now identifies with those dark words of Wesley and others, who miss God even as they seek him the most. It is Saturday, and all I have to do is wait, and pray, and continue to believe. Christ, we say tomorrow, has risen indeed. So too he rises in each of our lives. That is the wonder of Biblical prophecy and imagery, it means more than it means, though it does not mean less. Christ and Easter are the history, the depth of the theology of the Faith, and yet they still speak to us, meaning more than just what they meant 1,970 years ago.

The disciples sat together in someone’s house, weeping and remembering, hoping that something would happen, not yet fully without hope, still lost in the sudden change. Saturday is the Sabbath. They were not allowed to work. So they waited. The women were ready to go to the tomb as soon as it turned light the next day, to do what they could, the next step they saw. That’s all I can do, the next step before me, whatever it is. For one day, I will be going about my tasks, and Easter will come, a power beyond me, changing all in an instant. He does make all things new, is making all things new.

Some thoughts I wrote in 2004

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Writing

If you write for God, you will reach many people and bring them joy.

If you write for people — you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.

If you write only for yourself you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you wish you were dead.

~Thomas Merton

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Scandal!

Curious-George-ReadingCurious George, though universally included within the taxon of monkey, referred to as such within the body of literature which contains his various adventures, does not in fact have a tail.[1]

Thus, it is more accurate to refer to the inquisitive primate as an ape.[2]

 


[1] As portrayed in a selection of books and animated series, George does not have a tail.  See, for instance, N Di Angelo and Mary O’Keefe Young, Happy Valentine’s Day, Curious George! (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)

[2] Larry, “The Monkey Song,” notes, “If it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey, if it doesn’t have a tail, it’s an ape.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–szrOHtR6U [accessed March 11, 2014]

 

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Obedience is better than Sacrifice

Spoke on the atonement this morning. Flew up to Nampa, Idaho to join in with the Wesleyan Theological Society. Good time. Good people.

I’ve never really been all that interested in doctrines of the atonement. I was raised in a Christian family and so never had a dramatic conversion. And the other popular interest in atonement theories almost always are about drawing divisions in Christianity, using the cross as a bludgeon to attack people who don’t measure up to a perceived, generally parochial, orthodoxy. The conference theme was on atonement so I started thinking about it last Summer, and once that started, I got very interested in where my studies were taking me. So, over the last 2.5 weeks I wrote a 25 page paper as a beginning exploration of what I think is a somewhat novel approach. Well, novel in theology, it’s entirely throughout Scripture. That’s my argument and evidence at least. Got it down to 10.5 pages to present this morning. Seemed to go well.

Anyhow, here’s my intro:

Over the last half-century, there has been a shift in how we think about God’s eternal nature and work in this world. This relational turn in theology emphasizes a social model of the Trinity and with this a sociality of God’s kingdom rather than a political or hierarchical model. This is not, to be sure, a new conception.

The terminology of perichoresis—God’s eternal dance—has, for instance, been a key model especially in the Christian East for many centuries, dating back to the early church. In what follows, I will propose a model of the atonement that derives from this emphasis on God’s relationality. This is a preliminary exploration for what is a much larger project certainly in need of further refining and development. For the moment, I will propose themes and lay the groundwork for this approach that can be honed in future works.

A theology of the atonement involves two extremely important underlying questions. The first asks what is sin? Is it a violation of God’s honor as Lord? Is it corruption that leads to death? The tendency to establish a scapegoat? The devil’s capture of us in enslavement?

These questions point to the second key question. What is God’s primary pattern of interaction with this world? In the late twentieth century there was a shift of understanding of the human condition away from a strict legal construction and towards understanding sin as more of a disoriented identity that results in relational violations.

Such a view on the human situation is key in the theology of many contemporary theologians such as Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann. They both assert that attempts to establish our identity in a person, cause, activity, or goal other than God results in dis-integration—with God and with others—as nothing other than God can sustain identities into eternity. Such dis-integration requires re-integration.

However, models of the atonement have not derived, for the most part, from the starting point that Pannenberg and Moltmann, and others, suggest. This gap highlights the need for a new model, one that better incorporates contemporary understanding of the Trinity and anthropology.

This may also become a model that can include other models within its scope as it suggests the underlying priority, expressed through different themes, of God’s work throughout the Biblical narrative.

My initial conception is this: The relational trust between God and humanity that allowed for relational intimacy was broken through sin. God’s initiating movements then created contexts of obedience or disobedience as particular people chose where they would put their trust.

The expressions of obedience were insufficient both as a sustaining and as a fulfilling expression. The judgment of God expresses a relational displeasure, a response to betrayal and falsehood in attempts to instantiate ourselves through alternative means.

The cross becomes the ultimate expression of obedience and thus trust, denying false forms of identity and embracing the fullness of God’s promise. This act of obedience becomes the avenue of trust for humanity and the avenue of trust for God, who trusts those who trust the Son.

Such trust is first an ontological restoration as it orients a person within God’s field of force, his perichoretic substantiation that we call justification. This then re-initiates those who trust in the cross into a new transformative path of obedience, a new birth that re-constitutes the human identity and leads it to a path of identity reformation, which we call sanctification.

I’m not posting the whole thing because I’m considering what I want to do with it. It’s at least a book project, maybe my summer project now, but I may work on submitting the initial version as an article.

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Me and Tommy Jefferson

Big Five Personality Test

Out of 25 U.S. Presidents, you are the most like …

Thomas Jefferson

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family, and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give.”

Compared to the general population, you are:

  • Low on Extroversion, indicating that you are an introvert who prefers calm environments to large social gatherings.
  • High on Openness, indicating that you are very impatient with the way things are and always on the look for the new, the untested, and the untried.
  • Average on Agreeableness, indicating that you alternate between being tenderhearted in some situations and tough-minded in others.
  • Average on Conscientiousness, indicating that you take a balanced approach between sticking to plans and deadlines and being flexible about updating your current goals.
  • Low on Neuroticism, indicating that you are relaxed, cool under pressure, and not shy about presenting yourself or your ideas.

According to a study done by Jeffery J. Mondak, Ph.D., your scores indicate that you are:

  • Not likely to discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation.
  • More likely to be pro-choice rather than pro-life.
  • Likely to feel trapped by the status quo.
  • Likely to enjoy complex and abstract discussions.
  • Likely to be more knowledgeable on academic topics.
  • Less likely to have a tolerant attitude towards smoking.
  • More likely to favor harsh criminal punishments over milder ones.
  • Less likely to watch TV and read the news, preferring instead to follow your own interests.
  • Less likely to mobilize your friends in your own interests, preferring instead to immerse yourself in your interests in solitude.
  • Someone who seems impassive to others, while being in fact quite sure of your own views.
  • More likely to enjoy fitness training and physical exercise.
  • More likely to nurture a few select beliefs that you regard as settled in stone.
  • Less likely to flirt with harm and danger.
  • Less likely to have insurance or to belong to a labor union.

According to a study done by Jayme Neiman, Ph.D., your scores indicate that you are:

  • More likely than the average person to enjoy bitter vegetables like broccoli and arugula.
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Winter is the time for atonement

The theme of the conference is atonement.  Saturday morning will feature a special treat:
Patrick Oden, Fuller Theological Seminary, “Atonement as Obedience and Restoration of Trust,”
and
Scott F. Grover, Azusa Pacific University, “Violence, Identity and Sanctification: A Developmental Model of the Atonement”
Not sure why they listed me as Fuller. Well, when I submitted it in September I was scheduled for 2 classes with Fuller and 2 for APU.
We meant to do a co-operative presentation (we each present separately but on a shared theme) but it looks like we’re doing a joint presentation.  We’re looking at atonement through the lens of identity, relationality and personality.  So, it should be fun.
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On Finances

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend about the topic of finances. He sent it out to a number of people and asked for any tidbits, words of wisdom, advise, caution that you have learned, experienced or heard concerning discussing finances with your significant others.

FinancesI thought about it for a couple of days, nothing came to mind, and thinking that’s no reason to not reply, I wrote something up. Here’s what I said.

Amy and I are very different in terms of finances, both as a goal and in our family histories. But, while there have been tensions at times, I don’t think we’ve ever had arguments or battles. Partly because for the most part we really haven’t had much finances to work with. :-)

That being said, I’ve been thinking about why it’s never been a huge issue even as we have different understanding. One, I think it has to do with our general pattern in marriage. We’re a team. That means there’s give and take, letting go insisting that our individual assumption of reality has to work in every situation. More important, seeing as being on a team means we think more about common goals. What is our mission in life and how do our finances 1) reflect this and 2) lead us deeper into this mission? We also make it a matter of prayer and trust in God, and learning how to trust each other. There are times I’ve taken risks and Amy feels tense but then sees God working in the midst of those moves. Then there are times I know God is using Amy to lead us to very wise financial decisions.

We both seek God, we seek fullness for each other, we try to live out our faiths in our finances, and give ourselves grace at times. There’s a place for “sabbath” in finances too, using what God has given to help bring restoration or rest or renewal in life. But, that’s not about satiating either our desires or our frenzy–that concern for absolute security that leaves no room for faith.

Which means we start by talking through our visions of life, not formally, but as part of a continuing commitment to openness. By being on the same page with the big issues–life, faith, mission–the financial stuff falls into place as we talk about finances in the context of the other, bigger, already agreed upon ideals.

I don’t know if that was helpful (my friend said it was), but it’s what came to mind. Amy likely would have something else to say.

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Why Ravens?

Ravens are important in many cultures and harbingers in more than one religion. It  is not hard to see why. Anyone who has spent a moment listening or watching must be struck with curiosity at what these aerial acrobats are about.  two ravensThey are among the most intelligent of birds. They are social, and talkative, with a complex language that shows regional dialects. Few animals show as much love for their own abilities as these birds. They fly, and they are aware how cool it is they do so. Drifting on a warm updraft, diving through a valley, riding the wind of battered air in storms and fire, wrestling with each other midair, they exult in their mastery of the sky.

A pagan site speaks of these totemic birds:

If a raven totem has come into our life, magic is at play. Raven activates the energy of magic and links it to our will and intention. With this totem, we can make great changes in our life; the ability to take the unformed thought and make it reality. The raven shows us how to go into the dark of our inner self and bring out the light of our true self; resolving inner conflicts which are long been buried. This is the deepest power of healing we can possess.

Though a mish-mash of do it yourself religions, this speaks of distant understandings, held by many peoples throughout time.

Norse mythology, of course, prominently features two ravens, companions of Odin, bearers of knowledge and information. Thought and memory is the meaning of their names. They are the embodied soul of the All-Father, whispering from his shoulder the goings on of the wider world. The Edda, an epic Norse poem, states:

The whole earth over, every day, hover Hugin and Munin; I dread lest Hugin droop in his flight, yet I fear me still more for Munin.

Because of these constant companions Odin has been called the Raven god.

This he is not.


Long before the Norse laid claim to mystical tales and the gold of other lands, the God of Israel revealed himself to be Lord and protector of all, even the ravens.

“He gives to the animals their food,” Psalm 147:9 reads, “and to the young ravens when they cry.”

“Who provides for the raven its prey,” God asks Job rhetorically, “when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?”

He was answering Job out of the storm in chapter 38, replying to Job’s complaints not by direct answers, but by showing his character and power.

In return ravens served the God of Israel. Noah sent out a raven, which flew back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Ravens being what they are, it appears this one left the constraints of the boat for its own tasks. A dove was the next messenger, the one which came back.

The prophet Elijah ran into many troubles as he spoke the words of God to those who did not want to listen. He had power over wind and rain, and God had power over him. Savoldo Elijah Fed by the RavenA drought began, which parched the land.

In chapter seventeen of 1 Kings we read:

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan River. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.

So, he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith valley, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.


This is a website for those who now live near the Kerith, a place where water rushes through a narrow valley. God is calling many back as his own, and in doing this places them for a time in the midst of the wilderness, with drought and famine all around. There is water to drink, if it is sought, and food to eat by God’s gracious hand.

Many paths in this world lead onwards, but only one leads to the end. One travels with a goal in mind, and only those paths which take one to the expected end have perfect merit. There is only one path, the Way. Yet, along this path many sights are shared.

Forgotten views are highlighted elsewhere. Other paths may intersect, leading to their own interesting sights. Some travel far along, others stop very short. So, while there is only one way to the end, all others are worth consideration. For like the tale of ravens they remind us of our own stories, pointing us back to forgotten truths.

The Christian faith is ancient, laying claim to its history and the history of the Jewish people prior to the coming of the Messiah. The modern representations have lost much of the purview, limiting to specific words and angrily repulsing other voices. All truth is God’s truth. All those who hear truth, hear Yeshua. The Spirit moves wide and broad, teaching, reaching, grasping, enlightening. With an eye on the goal, and an open ear to hear the words which others speak, we walk together along the Way.

Moses knew this path. Into the wilderness and out he led the people, fully committed to the word of God, fully dedicated to the One who saves. To Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite, he said this:

We are on our way to the Promised land. Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has given wonderful promises to Israel! But Hobab replied, No, I will not go. I must return to my own land and family. Please don’t leave us, Moses pleaded. You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide and we will share with you all the good things that the LORD does for us.

RaveninflightNot of the people of God, but welcomed. Hobab knew what they did not, and could assist. In return, should he add his wisdom to their promises he would receive ‘good things.’ So we stand firm in our faith, with a listening ear and open mind to the work of the Spirit beyond our own understanding, trusting that it is he who draws people more than we. And thus we continue on the Way, trusting God will send ravens to bring food, everyday.
 

I wrote this about 6 or 7 years ago and it’s been a page on my website, though one rarely visited.  As I prepare for this new year, and all it entails, I thought it a fitting way as I renew my focus and thoughts.

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