Category Archives: history

Loving Neighbors in an Era of Internment

On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed  an order which authorized the internment of Americans who had Japanese ancestry.  Families were rounded up, taken away from their homes, put in camps for the duration of the war with Japan.

Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor the previous December.  Outrage was high and so was fear.  Submarines had been spotted off the coast of California. People were afraid and suspicious.  Sure, they thought, many have been here for generations, but some were newer immigrants. How can we know who to trust?

Panic set in and those in charge responded to the panic by making a sweeping gesture.

Panic does that, after all.  We lose the ability to rationally respond to particulars. We make sweeping gestures.  We make excuses for our sweeping gestures based on the possibility of something bad happening.  Other people are made to bear the weight for our sense of peace.

In the midst of hearing about injustice and trauma in so many directions it is easy to become overwhelmed.  We aren’t made to absorb a world’s worth of news, after all, and it is human nature to break complexities down into general categories.

It’s not personal, we say.  Only of course it is.  It’s always personal. Because our responses affect real people.

So the US put people into camps, pulling them away from their homes and livelihoods, for the sake of an assumption of security.

A lot more can and should be said about this, which is why it’s worth spending time listening to the experiences of those who were forced to live in these camps.

I’m thankful for the voices we can listen to now about what happened, that they weren’t silenced.  I wonder who fought for their voice in 1942.

I wonder because I think about the responsibility of the church in such times of crises, to help people avoid navigating by panic and help orient them in light of their responsibilities to loving God and loving neighbor.

The problem is that in a time when everyone had problems, it’s hard to think about helping others with problems, to fight for their benefit, to give them voice, to bear the weight for them.  I think that’s the way of Christ. We don’t make other bear the weight for our peace but instead are willing to bear the weight so they can experience peace.

I don’t know what most of America did in response, or what the general response was when everyone heard news of this Presidential order.  It seemed most either supported this or ignored it.  Not everyone did, though.

I do know the response of a couple men, and, on this day, I want to make mention of their part.

Merle McBride
Merle McBride

My dad’s grandfather came to California when he was a young man, riding the rails from Texas, starting a new life out on the West coast, working as a laborer and then a farmer in southern California. My mom’s dad came to southern California when he was young, a family of farmers from Oklahoma (but not Okies, as the later depression era immigrants from that state were called) . He became a farmer himself.

They were friendly with their neighbors, most of whom were also farmers.  As was common, many were of Japanese descent, families who had come east rather than west, sometimes generations earlier, finding a shared celebration of the bounty of California soil.

These families were arrested and put in camps.  Some people took advantage of the situation, foreclosing on loans, buying out property for significantly less than what it was worth.  Some people see other people’s problems as an opportunity for gain. Some people see other people’s problems as their own problems, and work to alleviate some of the pain.

My great-grandfather Willis Oden and my grandpa Merle McBride were of this latter sort, I’m proud to say.  They took on the burden of their neighbors farms, working them as if they were their own.  They didn’t take them over, they took care of their neighbors property. They kept the farms going, paying debts and maintaining profit.

Their neighbors lost years and lost freedom in interment camps, but they did not lose their farms or livelihood.  When they came back home, everything was as they had left it, and they were able to settle back into to their lives on their land.

Willis T. Oden and Etta Oden

I’m not proud of that Presidential order but I’m proud of my great-grandpa and grandpa, how they responded. I come from families that were willing to shoulder the burden of their neighbors in a time of crisis, even when they had family members who were fighting, and sometimes dying, in the fight against Japan.

They weren’t alone, and I imagine there are many stories like this. Americans sharing each other’s burdens no matter what their national origin.

It’s far too easy to generalize the idea of loving one’s neighbors, but sometimes the best way to show love to neighbor is really to help one’s actual neighbors.

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at. Imagine if everyone did that, each reaching out within their own circle to bear the real burdens of others. That would resonate deeply and broadly indeed, maybe even transform our neighborhoods and our society in ways that reflect the Kingdom of God.

We have a choice each day. Do we depersonalize and take advantage of our supposed enemies, who are categorized based on general categories? Or do we put in the work to help those around us, recognizing each other as persons and responding in helpful love?

On a day in which there’s sadness and shame, it’s worth noting that there can be a better way.  It gives me hope and it gives me an example of the kind of person I want to be.

Posted in church, family, good works, history | 1 Comment

sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about the Apostle John

 

Excerpt from “Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved” by Clement of Alexandria

Ch. 42

And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.

stJohntheApostleWhen he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, `This one I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.

But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.

But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.

And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, `Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.’

But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, `I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, `He is dead.’ `How and what kind of death?’ `He is dead to God,’ he said; `for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’

st johnBut the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, `A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost.

He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, `For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’

The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.

But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, `Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you still have hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.’

And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.

But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Savior, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”

Posted in church, history, quotes | 5 Comments

The Sorrow of God

This week I start into my dissertation writing phase. Yesterday, I compiled the various papers I’ve written on related subjects, copying relevant sections and putting them into some kind of shape, a shape that will become the second chapter after a little bit of work this next week. My first chapter is an introduction, pointing towards the themes and contexts of my focus. It’s also the most important for me right now, because if I can get into writing that, I can turn my mind back to the themes and issues that have peppered my last three years, but haven’t really been present since last Spring. Having spent the summer studying Latin and the Fall studying for comprehensive exams, it takes a bit of time to recover not only the topics but the very mood of what stands before me now. One way that I like to do that is begin musing, not writing in a pure academic fashion but stretching my mind in prose, reading and writing more lyrically, sparking the cool embers of once burning thoughts.

I also like to choose an anchor for what I write, a source that’s not directly academic but which continues to provide a more lyrically anchor, pushing me back into the mystical priorities, back into what matters for lived life.

My dissertation will be focusing on an element of Moltmann’s theology, but will not be as much of a summary of his thought as a pushing it further. Using his writing to pull out themes and lay the groundwork for continued exploration. And it was Moltmann who provided what might be a key lyrical anchor for my work this year. Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, known as “Woodbine Willie,” was a British chaplain in World War One. “I was deeply impressed by him,” Moltmann says, “because he was a chaplain in the trenches, not in the gazebos. Part of his poem on the sorrow of God, the hardest part is the heart of God. Therefore he developed an understanding of the suffering of God, because God loves people who contradict God, and kill themselves, and he understood how God must feel in World War I.”

Here’s Studdert Kennedy’s poem “The Sorrow of God”. It’s too long to embed at the beginning of my dissertation, so I’m posting it here. Using Ben Witherington’s American English adapted version. For those of us who aren’t soldiers in the trenches of France, which is all of us now, this poem still has meaning, for what they experienced physically, so many of us experience emotionally, or socially, or spiritually, often with physical implications. We know what is like to be in the muck and the mire, trapped on both sides, seeing friends and relatives and neighbors falling by the wayside, sparking us to question life, to question God who is supposedly in charge of such life.

And yet, in the midst of this, there is discovered true liberation, a liberation that breaks us and beats us, but also restores us, and even restores humanity itself, in the light of God’s participation and calling and universal work.

The Sorrow of God

“Yes I used to believe in Jesus Christ
And I used to go to church.
But since I left home and came to France,
I’ve been clean knocked off my perch.
For it seemed alright at home it did,
To believe in a God above
And in Jesus Christ his only Son
What died on the cross through Love.

When I went for a walk of a Sunday morn
On a nice fine day in the spring
I could see the proof of the living God
In every living thing.
For how could the grass and the trees grow up,
All alone of their bloomin’ selves?
Ye might as well believe in fairy tales,
And think they were made by elves.

So I thought that that long haired atheist
Was nothing but a silly sod
For how did he account for my Brussel sprouts,
If he didn’t believe in God?

But it ain’t the same out here, you know
It’s as different as chalk and cheese,
For half of its blood and the other half mud,
And I’m darned if I really see
How the God who has made such a cruel cruel world
Can have love in his heart for men,
And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies
And never comes home again.

Just look at that little boy corporal there,
Such a fine upstanding lad,
With a will of his own, and a way of his own
And a smile of his own, he had.
An hour ago he was bustin’ with life
With his actin’ and foolin’ and fun;
He was simply the life of us all, he was
Now look what the blighters have done.
Look at him lying there all of a heap
With the blood soaking over his head
Like a beautiful picture spoiled by a fool,
A bundle of nothing– dead…

And the lovin’ God he looks down on it all,
On the blood, and the mud, and the smell,
Oh God if its true how I pity you
For you must be livin’ in hell.
You must be livin’ in hell all day,
And livin’ in hell all night.
I’d rather be dead with a hole in my dead
I would by a darn long sight,
Than be livin’ with you on your heavenly throne,
Looking down on yon bloody heap,
That was once a boy full of life and joy,
And hearin’ his mother weep.

The sorrows of God must be hard to bear,
If he really has love in his heart.
And the hardest part in the world to play
Must surely be God’s part.
And I wonder if that’s what it really means,
That figure who hangs on the cross.
I remember I saw one the other day
As I stood with the captain’s hoss.

I remembers, I thinks, thinks I to myself
Its a long time since he died,
Yet the world don’t seem much better to-day
Then when he was crucified.

It’s always the same, as it seems to me,
The weakest must go to the wall,
And whether it’s right, or whether it’s wrong
Doesn’t seem to matter at all.
The better you are and the harder it is,
The harder you have to fight,
It’s a cruel hard world for any bloke
Who does the thing which is right.
And that’s how he came to be crucified,
For that’s what he tried to do.
He was always a-tryin’ to do his best
For the likes of me and you.

Well what if he came to the earth today
Came walking about in this trench
How his heart would bleed for the sights he’d see
In the mud and the blood and the stench.
And I guess it would finish him up for good
When he came to this old sap end,
And he saw that bundle of nothing there,
For he wept at the grave of a friend.

And they say He was just the Image of God
I wonder if God sheds tears.
I wonder if God can be sorrowing still,
And has been all these years.
I wonder if that’s what it really means,
Not only that he once died,
Not only that he came once to earth
And wept and was crucified?
Not just that he suffered once for all
To save us from our sins
And then went up to his throne on high
To wait until his heaven begins.

But what if he came to earth to show
By the paths of the pain he trod,
The blistering flame of eternal shame
That burns in the heart of God?…

But why don’t you bust this show to bits
And force us to do your will?
Why ever should God be suffering so,
And man be sinning still?
Why don’t you make your voice ring out,
And drown these cursed guns?
Why don’t you stand with an outstretched hand
Out there betwixt us and the Huns?
Why don’t you force us to end this war
And fix up a lasting peace?
Why don’t you will that the world be still
And wars for ever cease?
That’s what I’d do, if I were you,
And I had a lot of sons
Who squabbled and fought and spoiled their home,
Same as us boys and the Huns.

And yet I remember a lad of mine,
He’s fighting now on the sea.
And he was a thorn in his mother’s side
And the plague of my life to me.
Lord how I used to switch that lad
Until he fairly yelped with pain
But fast as I thrashed one devil out
Another popped in again.

And at last when he grew up a strapping lad
He ups and says to me
‘My will is my own, and my life is my own,
And I’m goin’ Dad to sea.’
And he went, for I hadn’t broken his will,
Though God knows how I tried,
And he never set eyes on my face again
Until the day his mother dies.

Well maybe that’s how it is with God,
His sons have got to be free.
Their wills are their own, their lives are their own,
And that is how it has to be.
So the Father God goes sorrowing still
For his world which has gone to sea
But he runs up a light on Calvary’s height
That beckons to you and to me.
The beacon light of the sorrow of God
Has been shinin’ down the years,
Flashin’ its light through the darkest night
Of our human blood and tears.

There’s a sight of things which I thought were strange,
As I am just beginnin’ to see.
‘Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these,
You did it unto Me’

So it isn’t just only the crown of thorns
What has pierced and torn God’s head
He knows the feel of the bullet too,
And he’s had his touch of the lead.
And he’s standin’ with me in this here sap,
And the corporal stands with Him,
And the eyes of the laddie is shinin’ bright
But the eyes of the Christ burn dim.

Oh laddie I thought as ye’d done for me
And broken my heart with your pain.
I thought ye’d taught me God was dead,
But ye’ve brought Him to life again.
And ye’ve taught me more of what God is
Than ever I thought to know,
For I never thought he could come so close,
Or that I could love Him so.

For the voice of the Lord, as I hear it now
Is the voice of my pals that bled,
And the call of my country’s God to me
Is the call of my country’s dead.

Posted in dissertation musings, history | Leave a comment

Abomination, Desolation, and Christmas

Last evening, I had the opportunity to preach at the Saturday evening service over at PazNaz. This year, the church has been going through the book of Mark and so rather than having a traditional Advent passage, the passage I was given to preach on was Mark 13:14-27.

Do you know this passage? On the surface it appears entirely non-Christmasy. But, I quickly realized that it was absolutely an appropriate, if nontraditional, passage to preach on during this time of year. What follows is my sermon outline notes I used last night. They’re not a script, nor a traditional outline, rather they’re more like thoughts I write out that serve as cues as I move along. If my mind blanks I can look down, but for the most part I just glance at the theme of each paragraph and talk. I’m getting better at it, Amy says.

The service began with Amy leading some songs in worship, and then an advent liturgy. I then talked a little bit about Christmas and the usual thoughts of family, peace, joy, life, hope that come during this season. At that point I read the passage.

Mark 13:14-27
14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the housetop go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.

20 “If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

Merry Christmas? Doesn’t exactly fit, does it? But this is a great passage for Christmas. Let me finish the passage:

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Still doesn’t quite seem a Christmas passage? But it is! Let me explain why. Though just as a bit of warning, means I’m going to be doing a lot of history and a bit of reading. God works in history, after all, and we can’t just take a passage out of its context and think we know what it means. Mark assumes that his readers know the history, because the Jewish people and the early Christians were, if nothing else, people who knew the Scriptures and in the Scriptures they were reminded of the workings of God throughout time. As Christians, we tend to ignore history, thinking that it’s not relevant for our future or our faith. That’s troublesome because that’s one of the remnants of liberal Christianity that found its way into conservative circles.

Back in the day, scholars wanted a faith but didn’t really believe in God’s working, they liked the idea of God but thought all the stories and miracles and such were a bit absurd. Nowadays, we might affirm the stories, but we do so in an ahistorical way. That’s how this passage is often read too. This passage and others have so much intriguing imagery that teachers and preachers like to fill it in with their own thoughts and in doing that provoking panic and fear and isolation, encouraging people to succumb to their worries, to look for things to fret about.

They cause people to be wary of this world, to see it as us against them, a competition over meaning or resources. But that’s where Christmas comes into play. Reading this passage wrongly makes us afraid and wary of this world. But Jesus came into this world, being born in a manger, participating in it. Not with an attitude that everything is okay as it is, because it’s not, but with an attitude of love, offering the hope of salvation, the hope that what is experienced is not in fact the defining reality of this world.

Which reality do we want to participate in? The one that competes and is afraid, constantly worried about signs or disasters? Or the reality that Christ brings, that of true hope, true joy, true peace? That’s the message of this passage. And this passage immerses us in the history of God’s work with his people so that by understanding this work we might have confidence in his work in our lives and his continuing work in the future.

An abomination that causes desolation? What is that? Well, throughout the Bible we have these sorts of phrases and prophecies that, for the readers, served as an allusion of sorts, bringing to mind events of the past and pointing how these events are not just in the past but are models of our lives and the future of this world. We have this image of the abomination that causes desolation? What is this?

Well, it’s like what is sounds like. It’s this world shattering event or moment in which that which defines us, which gives us meaning and direction and identity, somehow utterly defiled. Everything we put stock in, that which we thought was the most important thing, that’s ruined and it leaves us in desolation. Sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually.

To understand this issue, we have to go back to the beginning, and by beginning I mean the very first story of humanities interaction with God.

Adam and Eve – the abomination of eating the fruit, desolation in being kicked out the garden. How did that work out? God reached into human history to set things right.

We go on from there, and can talk about Joseph in slavery. Tossed into the well. Abomination that caused his desolation. He did everything right… but everything went wrong. With Potiphar’s wife maybe he could have just adapted to his situation, try to make the best of it. He stood close to God, and desolation followed. Then God worked.

Exodus – the abomination of killing the babies, of slavery made harder, of freedom then starvation and thirst. The abomination of the wilderness, the desolation of the journey.

Abomination passage itself is originally found in Daniel

Daniel (1st Temple): Remember Daniel? Daniel 1:1-6.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

Daniel was this guy, in every respect gifted in intelligence and good looks. He had everything going for him. Then everything, every part of his life was stolen, he was taken from his destroyed home, and it is quite likely that he was made into a eunuch. He refused for this desolation to give him identity. He clung to the identity of God, as did his friends, even in the face of persecution and isolation and desolation.

Here’s what he writes about the abomination that causes desolation:

9:25-27:

25 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

11:31-35:

31 “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.

33 “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34 When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. 35 Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.

12:11-13:

“From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.

13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

Do you know the story of Hanukkah? [Here I summarized, but if I had more time I would have read a passage in Josephus and one from 1 Maccabees — here’s a link that summarizes those]

So, Hannukkah celebrates this restoration of the Temple and the restoration of the Kingdom.

Romans (2nd Temple): The people forgot their devotion and things went bad, so bad the corrupt descendents of Judas got into their own corruption and problems. I won’t go into the details, but basically this all led to Rome taking over in Israel. And that leads to the situation we encounter at the time of Jesus’s birth. We know Herod, yeah, but we don’t know how vicious and mean he was. He did all sorts of terrible things to keep the peace, to keep the peace of Rome that was imposed upon the people. He wasn’t the only one. Up in Galilee, where a Roman governor was in charge there was the story of Sepphoris. [I summarized Rome, Herod, Sepphoris abominations]

Herod himself creates abominations, he rebuilt a majestic Temple, one of the grandest buildings of the time, sure. But then he killed all the boy babies in Bethlehem. Echoes of Pharaoh and Egypt? Sure! The people were living in a reality where others were imposing on them what it meant to live in this world. There was rebellions and disasters, and massive amounts of violence, so much so that it would take weeks and weeks to talk about all the stories of suffering and sacrifice.

And it wasn’t over when Herod died.

What did the readers of Mark think about? Maybe all the things I shared. More immediately, to them, though, they thought of the Roman siege of Jerusalem. Scholars think that Mark was written not long after Jerusalem was destroyed, and that destruction involved its own desolation and abomination. Let me read a little bit about that from a passage written by Josephus, that the early church historian Eusebius quotes.

That was, no doubt, in the minds of the earliest readers of the book of Mark. They knew abominations, they experienced desolations.

So, what was Jesus talking about here? Remember the passage in its context!

Prior to this, the whole book, he’s talking about the kingdom, what it’s like, what the people are like who live in this kingdom.

Don’t get distracted. Don’t give into competing claims. What was Jesus talking about earlier in the chapter? The importance of love, the sacrifice of the widow in giving what she had. These are messages of what it means to live in God’s Kingdom, a way of life that won’t be defined by other attempts to define rule and law and identity in this world. More than this, however, in this passage Jesus is telling us that life is absolutely not going to go fine just because we claim Jesus as our savior. The people of God experience suffering, and this story of suffering is throughout the Bible.

We’re told to expect this. But we’re also told not to obsess about it. There’s the hope that comes from God, and there’s a false hope that comes from people trying to use suffering or evil or problems in order to take advantage of those who want, who need, to hear a good word. The trouble is that so often they then point to hope that isn’t God, and because we’re so desperate for hope we look to those other people to give us wisdom and guidance, who to be for and who to be against.

When we follow those false prophets and false messiahs, we’re no longer following Jesus.

So even if they sound like they’re talking about Jesus, or using Christian words, if they’re pointing to a sort of Kingdom that is different than what Jesus talks about, they’re not of God. If they’re pushing us to be afraid, or to worry, or to get caught up in this sign or that sign or obsess about all the details of Christ’s return, then, according to this passage, they’re not from God.

The message here is that we should not, can not, define our suffering as the true reality. Jesus is telling us not to get distracted by the competing claims or those things which seem to destroy our whole sense of meaning and purpose.

As bad as it can get, and it can and will get very bad, we are to stick to being the sorts of people that live in accordance with God’s Kingdom, people of love, of hope, of life and light, not people of fear and worry and constantly fretting about this event or that supposed sign. God is in charge. God wins.

So, what does this have to do with Christmas?

Another image of possible devastation. Isaiah – Isaiah 7

1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

2 Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field. 4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,
8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all
.’”

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, 16 for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.

We make it about competing kingdoms, one winning is the other losing. We’re tempted to pick sides, to make it about competing over the same piece of the pie — the land, the schools, the whatever.

However, God is not competing with the other kingdoms. He defines reality.

They are suggesting one kind of reality, we are participating in another. This is not other worldly, this is true worldly, God the creator re-creates, he does a new thing. A baby is born. Both sides are liberated.

It’s not that we don’t feel it, giving into a religious soaked denial of our circumstances. No, we’re in the midst of the suffering, we feel the desolation at times. We are rightfully enraged by the abomination.

It is in this experience of suffering that we hear a voice crying in the wilderness. A Son is Born. Christ is with us. God is working. We have true hope.

Isaiah 35

Joy of the Redeemed

1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the LORD has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

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Roger Williams and the life of faith (part 5)

I continue my look at Roger Williams and what he suggested were the ten “trials” that a Christian faces in making spiritual progress in this world:

Ninth, true followers of Christ are restless in regards to their own sins. When they do yield to sin—as Williams seems to expect even true followers to do on occasion—they will confess and seek mercy, following the model of King David.[1] He uses the analogy of a fish out of water to explain the feeling of a true child of God who discovers, or suspects, sin in their life. It is a troubling, overwhelming situation, that is immediately addressed. Hypocrites may also feel uncomfortable with their sin, but this discomfort is one of feeling the weight of a judge or ruler, wishing for pardon from their crimes.

A child of God, a true follower of Christ, however, feels the loss of relationship in committing sin, a distance that is created by grieving a Father and incurring his displeasure. While Williams does not detail his soteriology or understanding of atonement, this does seem to indicate a somewhat different emphasis than what the penal substitution model highlights. Williams seems to see the image of judge forgiving a criminal as misguided, indicating more of an artificial spirituality than genuine devotion.

Finally, the tenth trial involves an increasing awareness of the grace of Christ Jesus that is seen in others, so it can be seen in our own selves. There is seen a “beauty and excellency” which the true follower wants for themselves, they see discipleship as a resonance of this beauty and excellence, an active pursuit of the light that others who do follow Christ radiate in their lives.[2]

Seeing such beauty and finding it in one’s own life is an achievement of grace. Seeing it is not enough, Williams asserts. One may be aware of it, but if the seeing is not accompanied by a journey towards its realization, then the vision of such beauty is naught.



[1] Roger Williams, 7:67ff.

[2] Roger Williams, 7:68.

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Roger Williams and the Life of Faith (part 4)

We’ve gone through five ‘trials’ that Roger Williams taught were part of the faithful Christian life.  These are not simply something to endure, however, but ways of response, showing true faith in faithful response to tests of faith.

In the sixth ‘trial’, a true follower of God endures troubles and persecution without attributing blame to God. Just as Job would question but not curse God, so too a true child of God may struggle deeply but in this struggle they will maintain hope in the God of their salvation. Such a person “is always ready to take his part, to speak well of him, and endures not, with a quiet mind, to hear his name dishonored.”[1] Hypocrites, on the other hand, use their public devotion as a stepping stone to their own successes, “for a stirrup to get up into the sadle of their own Names and Honours, or as a commodity to get something by it, as an hirely that serves God for wages, and while he cries , let the Lord be glorified, (Isa. 66.) persecutes his servants…”[2]

In contrast, Williams writes that a servant of God is willing to be trampled into the dust, “to be cast out, that the name of God alone may be exalted,” and in this way show devotion that goes beyond selfish gratification. This being trampled into the dust may not only be caused by outside forces, but may be a result of submitting to the “correcting and afflicting hand of God,” and as such is Williams’s seventh trial a true follower of Christ must endure. Hypocrites, on the other hand, endure trials as they are forced to endure them, not seeing correction or improvement as children, but as victims of divine punishment—“a Saul, a Pharaoh, Etc.”[3]

A hypocrite will thus run from God in the event of this persecution, trying to escape as a beaten dog might, while a true Christian runs to God in the midst of struggle. Likewise, a hypocrite will seek to end the pain before ending the sin that might be at the root of the trial. “But,” Williams writes, “a true child of God, truly (though weakly) desires to see, and abhor, and slay his dearest sins, because he knows they are but flattering traytors and guilded poisons.”[4]

The eighth trial a Christian follower can expect involves a true willingness to participate more and more with Christ, more and more in the company of his followers, as Christ leads, even as this may lead into hardship.[5] There is a longing after true worship, and while this may not prevent a Christian from being lulled into false worship, it is the heart of the true child to seek to serve God as faithfully as possible in any given setting. A follower may be “asleep” in regards to true and accurate worship, but “awake” in regards to inclinations and desires.[6]

We see in this Williams’s own conflict about the churches of his era, which he could not affirm as true even as he could affirm there were true Christians. His disagreements, it seems, often reflected this complex paradox. He rationalized it for himself, in this treatise, by comparing devotion to a marriage, in which there are degrees of affection, some lively and strong, some dull and weak, with the key factor being a willingness to always turn towards the lover, away from false temptations.[7]

This could very much explain, along with other factors, his vehemence against the Quakers who he saw as a very dangerous, tempting seducer that would woo weary souls into what he saw as false worship. Indeed, his vehemence could be even more explained by his own temptations, especially as Quakers seemed to take up many of Williams’s own positions, popularizing them in a way Williams never seemed able.


[1] Roger Williams, 7:64.

[2] Roger Williams, 7:64. This is an interesting list of several of Williams’s apparent ecclesial pet peeves.

[3] Roger Williams, 7:65. It is interesting to note here the differing perspective on divine punishment in regards to Anne Hutchison, whose deformed baby, and that of her follower Mary Dyer, was seen as a sure sign of apostasy and God’s judgment. The leaders of Boston felt themselves vindicated by such an event while it is probable based on this passage that Williams would not see such an event as punishment, but rather as yet another trial, testing the faith of a true believer, not punishing the misdeeds of a false one. Indeed, Williams often notes the success that even pagan kings have in their lives.

[4] Roger Williams, 7:66.

[5] George Fox, The Journal of George Fox, ed. Rufus Jones (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1976), 408 writes, “…I and my Friends direct all people to the Spirit of God in them, to mortify the deeds of the flesh. This brings them into well-doing, and away from that which the magistrate’s sword is against, which eases the magistrates, who are for the punishment of evil-doers.” Though, curiously enough, claiming the Spirit as the source of their actions led the Quakers to, not away from, the magistrates.

[6] Roger Williams, 7:67.

[7] Roger Williams 7:67.

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Roger Williams and the Life of Faith (part 3)

Continuing with my look at the great early Baptist, Roger Williams.  We arrive at the third “trial” that someone who is seeking Christ endures during their progress into maturity.

In this third trial, a person with a measure of spiritual life in Christ has a “hunger and longing after the Ordinance of the word preached.”[1] This is particularly interesting as Williams seems to have had trouble himself staying committed to a congregation. Yet, at the heart of this is a key factor in his lifelong struggle. He did not separate because of apathy, rather he continually pressed for the realization of a true Christian community, a realization that he so hungered and longed for he could not stay content either as a leader or as a follower in just about any particular, limited expression. He makes note that hypocrites also are often eager to attend church. Yet, “false worshippers and false Christians may easily satisfie themselves, and stop the mouths of their consciences, with any formal performance of a sermon by an houre-glasse, or other traditions, or customes of the Fathers, or the Times.”[2]

Indeed, this is his exact argument in his Christenings Make not Christians.[3] A true child of God looks to God, and Christ, following whatever form leads to fruition. This fruition is key, as a second aspect of hypocrisy is the willingness to listen but a neglect of the doing. The true child of God has a “vehement painfull longing, to have its soul satisfied, and its strength of spirituall life and grace increased in the ways of God.”[4] One might even see this as the mission statement of Roger Williams himself.

Fourth, Williams notes a truly spiritual person seeks God, even if they know they cannot satisfy their longing to be a fully obedient child. This is a longing that keeps seeking. This is a seeking after God for himself, not for his blessings, or help. A hypocrite, on the other hand, desires only to have to know God just enough, to have “so much of his grace, and so much of his power against some sins, as may serve to save his soul, when he sees he cannot be saved without it.”[5] Christianity is more than having assurance about salvation. It is more than having a nicely ordered society that maintains a comfortable, civil peace. There is a radical relationship at the heart of Christian theology, and it is understanding the spiritual life as relationship rather than as transaction that drives Williams’s own spirituality.

This leads into the fifth “trial”, which involves “a constant resisting and fighting against all known sin, as sin.”[6] As a true follower seeks out God, they root out sins as barriers between them and their primary goal. There is, in this, the continual struggle of flesh and spirit. Williams does not assert here the idea of Christian perfection, but rather the expectation of Christian struggle in fighting against temptation. A faithful follower does not indulge sin, though he does note there are reasons that might overcome this resistance.  This resistance against sin involves giving up even possible gain, as the greatest gain of all comes in being in harmony with Christ. A hypocrite, on the other hand, may resist some temptations, but not “sin as sin.” Instead, they resist only those things that are “dangerous and hurtful to soul, to body, to purse, to credit.”[7]

Indeed, hypocrisy itself is a sin in Williams’s perspective, and while a hypocrite, by definition, embraces this sin, a child of God seeks all hypocrisy to be rooted out and to live in a truly holy way.[8]



[1] Roger Williams, 7:61.

[2] Roger Williams, 7:61.

[3] In this treatise, he is emphasizing the idea that merely converting native Americans to customs and forms of church does not indicate actual conversion to Christ, as is shown by the rather non-Christian actions of much of Christian Europe and its colonies.

[4] Roger Williams, 7:62

[5] Roger Williams, 7:62.

[6] Roger Williams, 7:63.

[7] Roger Williams, 7:63.

[8] This seems to be at the core of why Williams argued against any association with the Church of England, as they were seen to encourage a mixture of hypocrisy and holiness.

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Roger Williams and the Life of Faith (part 2)

The first section of the letter that Roger Williams sent to his wife discusses ten ‘trials’ which we endure as we find the beginning of a true devotion to Christ developing in our life. Williams discusses ten points, each of which follows the typical pattern in his writings of making an assertion, then following it with objections, which he then answers. In this section, the chief objection for each of the particular points has to do with hypocrisy. Williams is aware that there can be a false appearance of religious zeal that does not have at its heart true devotion to Christ. He is careful, then, to point out ways of discerning the true from the false. In these, we can see the echoes of his broader theology and his ecclesial battles. He begins by noting that spiritual maturity is begun by crying to God as Father. “Because you are sons,” Williams writes, “he hath sent forth the spirit of his Son crying in your Hearts Abba Father: Father pardon me, Father help me, Father give me, Etc.”[1] Hypocrites, Williams notes, may cry out “Lord, Lord” as well, but they falter in two respects. One they may call God Father, but they have many Fathers, mixing their religious devotion with other drives. Or, they may call God Father, but not fully submit to him, speaking the words of devotion but then serving their own desires.[2]

Secondly, “there is always a professed willingness to get more and more knowledge of this heavenly father, of his name, of his works, of his word, of his Christ, of his Spirit, his Saints, and Ordinances.”[3] True disciples seek to know more and more, deepening their understanding in ways which is not about adding facts, but about adding deeper devotion. “Hence his Disciples or Scholars petition to Christ Jesus, Lord teach us to pray: Lord increase our Faith, Etc.”[4] Williams is fully aware that education and knowledge do not make someone a true Christian. He notes that hypocrites will also seek knowledge, but rather than pursuing a holistic knowledge that they then apply to their whole life, hypocrites try to “make use of so much of God, and of Christ, as may serve his own ends.”[5] As such, they may know a great deal in certain areas, but they “pick and choose as Saul did,” leaving aside teachings which interfere in their particular interests.

In all his writings, from the very beginning, Williams is attuned to self-interest in the pursuit of religious ends. Indeed, this was a key area which marked him as dangerous and unsuitable to stay in Massachusetts. One of the principle reasons for his banishment was his increasing opposition to the legality of land grants from the King.[6] It was, he knew, the Indian’s land, not England’s. The ministers of Boston, in contrast, felt they had the right and indeed duty to take the Land from heathens so as to pursue their greater good of reflecting Christ’s kingdom in this world. This self-interest also sparked his increasing opposition to “hireling” ministers, who he felt were mercenaries rather than acting as true children of God.[7]



[1] Roger Williams, 7:60

[2] It is this charge which causes Williams to repeatedly assert a need for separation, and which he charges against other ministers. In The Hireling Ministry, Roger Williams, 7:164 writes, “He that makes a Trade of preaching, that makes the cure of Souls, and the charge of mens eternall welfare, a trade, a maintenance, and a living, and that explicitly makes a covenant or bargain (and therefore no longer penny no longer Paternoster, no long pay no longer pray, no longer Preach, no longer fast, &c.) I am humbly confident to maintain that the Son of God never sent such a one to be a labourer in his Vineyard: Such Motions spring not from the living and voluntary Spring of the holy Spirit of God, but from the Artificiall and worldly respects of Money, Maintenance, &c.”

[3] Roger Williams, 7:60.

[4] Roger Williams, 7:61. He continues, “Hence they ask him many Questions, and are by little and little instructed, though for a while they were ignorant of the mystery of his Death, and Resurrection.”

[5] Roger Williams 7:61.

[6] Roger Williams, 1:40, in his first response to John Cotton, repeats the charges against him: “Mr. Williams (said he) holds forth these four particulars: First, That we have not our Land by Patttent from the King, but that the Natives are the true owners of it, and that we ought to repent of such a receiving it by Pattent.” The list of particulars continues, “Secondly, That it is not lawfull to call a wicked person to Sweare, to Pray, as being actions of God’s Worship. Thirdly, that it is not lawfull to heare any of the Ministers of the Parish Assemblies in England. Fourthly, That the Civill Magistrates power extends only to the Bodies and Goods, and outward state of men, &c.” His respect for native Americans was very strong, even as he expressed his strong disagreement with their

[7] To be sure, this was not acknowledged as self-interest, but was rather invested with theological justification.

 

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Roger Williams and the life of Faith (part 1)

As I’m studying for my comprehensive exams, I’m getting back into reading my major research from the last few years on topics of church history.  My first major study focused on Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, and George Fox, trying to explore their basic contributions in light of a developing understanding of the Spirit and a desire for true religious freedom. This search for religious toleration wasn’t about them wanting to live more loose or godless lifestyles, they sought to be more Christian, embracing the fullness of the Christian life in increasing ways.  In doing this they often ran up against the barriers of the established church in their context, who were also supporters of a good Christian life, but wanted that life to make a lot more orderly sense.  The three I studied wouldn’t accept that version of faith, so pushed back, often to their own detriment. But they leave a very interesting model for us today in how they lived, what they said, and what they wrote.

I’m pretty caught up in my studying and in my teaching an online course on theological studies.  So, my blogging has fallen off. Hopefully this post and those that follow give a good insight into what I’m studying, how I’m going about this education process myself, and what is inspiring me these days:



Roger Williams is primarily now known for his contribution to the idea of separation of church and state in American history, yet it is fairly clear Williams was not primarily a political philosopher, nor was he, it seems, even primarily driven by the relationship between the state and the church.[1]  Rather, this was an ancillary topic to his significantly stronger drive. Even as he did not continue on in active ministry, nor does it seem he ever found a settled place in any particular religious community, Williams was a man who was driven by his quest for a deeper relationship with God, one that could not be separated from any part of his life, and one which insisted on an increasingly sophisticated coherence of doctrine.

It is in the context of Williams’s continued theological drive that we should place his various contributions. This includes his largest writings, which relate to religious persecution and religious freedom. Rather than being religiously open to whatever wind was blowing, Williams was, on the contrary, very particular in what he thought was acceptable religious doctrine. Indeed, he was so exact in his theological demands that one of the major causes of his earliest separation with the churches in Boston was his assertion they should be entirely separate from the Church of England, separating not only in geography but also in affiliation. Toleration, for him, meant something very different than it does in contemporary culture.[2]

Although, most of his major writings were written in a defensive posture, arguing against civil persecution and maintaining a strong call to respect freedom of conscience, in his Experiments of Spiritual Life and Health, and their Preservatives, we are given insight into his positive spirituality, which almost certainly was more of a constant pursuit of his rather than his occasional, combative and controversial writings.[3] While away on a trading trip, Williams received word his wife had been very sick and almost died.  In Williams’s consistently intellectual response to crisis, he penned a theological, indeed pastoral, encouragement to her to aid in her recovery. More than merely pastoral, however, it is likely that here, in the time of his wife’s crisis, Williams exposed a great deal of his own self.

He could not visit her in person, but he could send her what he thought was his best self, his best contribution to his family and to the broader society. He writes, “I send thee (though in Winter) an handfull of flowers made up in a little Posey, for thy dear selfe, and our dear children, to look and smell on, when I as the grasse of the field shall be gone and withered.”[4] This “handfull of flowers” consists of three main sections, which indicate the progression of the spiritual life through being drawn by God into his presence, into confidence and spiritual health, ending with practices of preservation of a strong spiritual state.

 


[1] For excellent studies on his contributions to the debate over the relationship between church and state see Timothy Hall, Separating Church and State: Roger Williams and Religious Liberty (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998) and Edmund S. Morgan, Roger Williams: The Church and the State (New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1967).

[2] For Williams the key issue was the role of the civil authorities in responding to spiritual disputes. He writes, 7:179, “…Christ Jesus never cald for the Sword of Steel to helpe the Sword of the Spirit that two-edged Sword that comes out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus.” Williams greatly expanded on this basic theme in his books, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution and The Bloody Tenent Yet More Bloody.

[3] “It is true, I have been sometimes prest to engage in controversies, but I can really and uprightly say, my Witnes is on high… At other times I have been drawne to consider of the little flock of Jesus, his Army, his body, his building… At present, I onely examine who are the personall and particular Sheep of Jesus Crhsti, his Souldiers, his living materials, though scattered, divided, and not compos’d and ordred at their souls desire.” (Roger Williams, 7:48). In the foreword to this work, the publishers write, “For the student of Williams this devotional book is of basic importance. Placed alongside the two Tenents it shows how Williams’ ecclesiastical radicalism arose out of a profound Puritan piety. Here is the ‘root of the matter’ which even Cotton Mather admitted was in him.” (Roger Williams, 7:43).  This does raise the question, “What kind of Puritan piety?” Puritanism is more properly understood as a reaction against the established Church of England and as such can be defined more in terms of what it was against rather than a settled set of emphases, even if there were common shared themes. See Jerald C. Brauer, “Types of Puritan Piety,” Church History 56, no. 1 (1987). Williams’s theological questioning was certainly pushing his ecclesiology in decidedly different directions than the established Puritan movement of his day, and one can surmise this ecclesiological exploration was driven by broader theological and spiritual roving.

[4] Roger Williams, 7:56.

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The Spirit in History part 6

The last part of my presentation at the Conference of Faith and History:

Telling the stories of God’s work in this world, which exists throughout this world and throughout all the times of this world, is a practice that helps illuminate the grand narrative which only God knows in full. In studying historical contexts, whether they are specifically Christian or whether they are not, historians should see that their efforts as historians are charismatic endeavors, used by God for the edification of his people in this present and for the future.

Indeed, historians who look for discoveries of the work of the Holy Spirit in history are likely doing the most important work as they maintain consistently rigorous, historiographic standards. The pneumatological insights are employed in sifting through evidence, in prioritizing evidence, in highlighting what may at first glance be incidental or neglected aspects of a historical study. We gain understanding about the work of God in history, not by looking for a supposed Christianized history or moments of dazzling miracles, but by being good historians who tell the story of the world, with the realization that it is all God’s story with the world.

This story, this history, is a chaotic structure in which the work of the Spirit could be embedded in a myriad of different ways, moving in certain situations, stirring slight moods, tweaking specific moments in ways that may be imperceptible to anyone in a given situation. Seeing the Spirit only as a publicly obvious, charismatic force inciting dramatic gifts, visions, or intense piety leaves the discussion of the Spirit off to the side in most historical situations.

Thus, to look for the Spirit in history is not to become voyeurs of the Spirit. Rather, if the Spirit remains behind the scenes, we do not look for obvious moments or extraordinary events of supernatural activity. We have to instead learn and then look for the cues which point to the work of the Spirit in contexts throughout this world and throughout time, a work which has at its heart the fullness of God’s holistic, enlivening, salvific work as reflected in, and returning all creation back towards, the person of Christ.

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