Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Review of Tripp York's The Politics of Martyrdom

The first volume of the polyglossia series provided me with a wonderful reentry into Mennonite theology. Volume Two was not a bad follow up . . . (thanks to Canadian Mennonite for the review copy)
In The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom Tripp York offers commentary on the social and ecclesial implications and meanings of dying for one’s faith. Perhaps more importantly for us York demonstrates how the possibility of martyrdom is tied up in the basic practices of the church which are inherently social and political. Martyrdom is not reserved for the super-human Christians but Christians are made able to become martyrs as the journey down the path of Christian practice and worship.
In the first chapter York lays out the fundamental themes of his book. By looking at the early church York demonstrates that martyrdom is public act. This act can be understood as a contest and a testimony. Often times potential martyrs were brought into the coliseum for public display to see if individuals would recant or at least break down and plead for mercy. Many of the early Christians did not see the contest as being between them and the wild beasts that they faced or even against an emperor. Rather the Christian “provided a vision of the actual celestial battle taking place between Christ and Satan” (35). The martyr’s life was taken up into the cosmic battles between good and evil. This understanding was possible because not only was the death of the martyr important but so was their life. Martyrdom was not possible because of a sudden burst of spiritual strength and resolve but because of the daily and nourishment of the church life. Martyrs are an example to us as much in their life as in their death.
After establishing his basic themes York goes on in chapter two to explore the Christian’s physical body as the field of conflict between faithful and unfaithful expressions. York then moves to the sixteenth-century in chapter three which is a move from pagans killing Christians to Christians killing Christians and the tension over who is a martyr and who is just a criminal. In chapter four York addresses the particular type of politics that the martyr’s demonstrate. Finally in chapter five York explores the life and message of Oscar Romero as a contemporary example of the politics of martyrdom. While the final chapter can be viewed as the ‘practical’ expression of York’s historical and theological accounts in the earlier chapters it would a mistake to do so missing the pervasive and persistent pleas to his readers throughout the book.
Chapter two, Body: The Field of Combat, demonstrates the sensual and bodily nature of early Christian spirituality. York is clear that the early martyr accounts view the spiritual battle waged by Christ as happening on the plane of the bodies of the faithful. Throughout this chapter York is asking the contemporary church to consider how it handles the bodies of its members through life and worship because for him the possible political significance of the church hangs in these practices.
Chapter three, Performance: The Sixteenth Century Debacle, attempts to walk the line between a Christian being persecuted or being prosecuted. After Constantine and into the Reformation church practices and beliefs were ecclesially but politically. Beliefs about baptism and communion were matters of life and death. And so to die a martyr or to be executed a criminal was a matter of doctrine. From this situation York asks the contemporary question of truth and its relations to doctrine and denomination. Is it possible that both the Catholic and Anabaptist church were faithful to Christ in the midst of its persecution and prosecution?
Chapter four, City: Enduring Enoch, attempts to flesh out some of the implications of his study. He frames the post-Reformation relationship between the church and state as own of the state’s perverse parody of the church establishing its presence as body with its own story of salvation. York then describes the church not simply as an alternative to the state but rather as preceding the state founded and nourished by the body of Christ. The church functions as a city that overcomes the world’s boundaries of space and time allowing fluid participation of people across borders and eras.
After exploring the life of Oscar Romero in chapter five as an example of some of what he has been trying York concludes by offering the Eucharist as the centre and source of the vision we are given from the martyrs and then reminds us that the martyrs are important because they point to Christ which is to be the aim of any faithful expression.
York takes some very large strides in this book moving across disciplines, eras, denominations, and continents. While this has surely limited York’s ability to flesh out any one aspect thoroughly I would rather view the entire book as a type of introduction that is calling for the church to continue to recover and enact the resources that are offered to us here. In presenting to us the martyrs York offered no militant call to heroic and dynamic exploits. Instead York followed the arc back from their deaths into their lives and pointed us to the daily practices that shape a world without end.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Come All Ye Faithful

If there is one thing that I have been impressed with in preparing for sermons these days it has been in noticing the centrality of worship in the biblical witness.  This should of course go without saying and yet I don't think we reflect the biblical concern.  First it was returning to the prophets and before I listened to Isaiah's concern for social injustices I allowed myself to hear how this judgment is rooted in faithful worship or what had turned into unfaithful worship (Isaiah 1).  Then in Advent I reflected on the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary.  I took note for the first time that Gabriel is only mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Old Testament and there Gabriel brings a political vision of the end of the world.  This vision came in the context of Daniel's prayer.  In Luke both Gabriel's message and Mary's response are steeped in Old Testament imagery.  The imagery is political but also liturgical.  There appears to be an integration of worship and politics that we (Mennonites) still do not yet fully understand (well I will speak for myself).  We say that worship and work are one but I am not sure that is helpful.  There is only worship.  There is only liturgy, whether it is to a true or a false god.

Now I am in the midst of preparing a message for Epiphany, the visitation of the Magi.  The Magi bring gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.  This gift giving is set in the larger context again of the Old Testament where the nations will come and bring their wealth to the house of God.  This imagery always disturbed me.  I never felt comfortable thinking that this vision was one of increasing power through the means of earthly wealth.  It did not fit with the experience of the Second Temple Israelites and certainly it did not fit with the ministry of Jesus.  I decided, however, do perform a simply search of 'gold', frankincense' and 'myrrh'.  What I found was that all of these materials are used predominantly if not exclusively for the purposes of worship, particularly in the Temple and Tabernacle.  Even gold's use as a measure of monetary worth is far and away overshadowed by use in worship.  Worship and work are not one.  There is only worship.  The nations who come with their treasures do so to join in the song.  This too is the vision of Revelation.  God's Kingdom is restored as a liturgical community.  It is from this place that peace and justice will be restored.  It is to this end that we must re-conceive both worship and work.  The center of our worshipping community has been born.  Come all ye faithful.  Come let us adorn him.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Note on Notes From The Underground

And then I read the line, “So this is it – this is it at last – a head-on clash with real life!” This was spoken by the Underground Man of Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground. Having worked through his major and late novels I have been enjoying his earlier shorter works. This is where you see his ideas take a cruder form. It is here that you listen to his dress rehearsals and confirm you inklings about his vision. Dostoevsky will make any turn necessary so that there will be a possibility for the real. The Underground Man both despises and feels despised by his anonymous audience. He attempts to recount his life with brutal honesty which means being honestly deceptive at times. He throws any notion of consistency out into the street for it is being tossed on your head into the street that one might actually learn something about one’s self. The Underground Man concludes spitefully that he was sorry for ever starting this account of his life recognizing that is was a pursuit in vanity and has move away from literature. For, “[a] novel must have a hero, and here I seemed to have deliberately gathered together all the characteristics of an anti-hero, and, above all, all this is certain to produce a most unpleasant impression because we have all lost touch with life, we are all cripples, every one of us – more or less.” He goes to tell us that because of our disability with are left with a disgust for any encounter, any taste with ‘real life.’ In response to any rejections his audience might raise for this view the writer continues by saying that, “for my part, I have merely carried to extremes in my life what you have not dared to carry even half-way, and, in addition, you have mistaken your cowardice for common sense and have found comfort in that, deceiving yourselves.” And even after this the Underground Man is not finished.

My opening quotation came about half-way through this short story and immediately guided me the rest of the way. It has crystallized for me what is clear to all of us. As humans we act out and articulate the desire for something ‘real’. I don’t think we do this for all of our life. Realness in childhood is knowing that the world is more than it is. Realness is creative and unstable. Realness becomes in young adulthood more concrete as we begin to pursue tangible goals in love and vocation. Because the real was always more and bigger than ourselves it was never captured or tamed and so in time most of us began to simply give up on the real and sought the comfortable and stable. And so from below the order streets and time-conscious pedestrians the Underground Man emerges not with a challenge but with an assertion and a condemnation. I have followed through and looked around the corners of the dark corridors of the real. I have said yes to all of life. The pitch of the Underground Man rises in its crescendo. In deceiving yourselves “as a matter fact, I seem to be much alive than you. Come, look into it more closely! Why, we do not even know where we are to find real life, or what it is, or what it is called. . . . We even find it hard to be men, men of real flesh and blood, our own flesh and blood. We are ashamed of it. We think it a disgrace.” The Underground Man includes himself in this condemnation.

This short piece also confirmed for me the thought that the dominant two forms of pursuing the real for men are sex and violence. The slogan for The Ultimate Fighting Championship is As Real as it Gets. In these matches two hyper-masculine men enter an intimate and solitary space where they touch and embrace, sweat and grown moving from one position to another until there is climax and exhaustion. There is an overt sexuality to this expression that dangles right in front of the aroused spectator but remains unnamed. Conversely of course sexuality remains the oldest field of battle for position and dominance. And the vast majority do not even go so far as engaging in these expressions but rather we remain passive, insulated observers allowing the barest union between what is happening in front of us and what we are experiencing. These are the only two plotlines in Notes. First it is the author’s confrontation (verging on physical) with his peers. The second is with a woman he meets a hotel where he hopes to confront the men he spoke of the first half of the work. So it would seem that Dostoevsky also acknowledges these two paths of the real for men. I would argue, however, that the difference is Dostoevsky’s willingness to wrestle internally and then to vulnerably articulate externally. It is in his process where there is the possibility of ‘real life’ and not in the story itself. The Underground Man himself warns of the comfort we find living by the ‘book’ (we could substitute television now). Do not assume that this story itself will be of any aid to you. It is simply an account, a testimony, of one who wrestled.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Celebration of the Culture Industry

In Adorno and Horkheimer's The Dialectic of Enlightenment we come across a rant of the poverty of western arts seeing as they have become consumed in the larger culture industry.  With the rise of the techonological rationale comes the homogenization of expression (in its mass production).  All expressions despite input, varying budgets, and plots all come to the same end.  With regard to television they write, "Televison aims at the synethesis of radio and film, and is held up only because interested partes have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverisment of aesthetic matter so drastically, taht by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wangerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk - the fusion of all arts in one work."  Then referring to producers they go on to say that, "Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but teh specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change.  The details are interchangeable.  The short interval sequence which was effective in a hit song, the hero's momentary fall from grace, the rough treatment which the beloved gets from the male star, the latter's rugid defiance of the spoilt heiress, are, like all th other details, ready-made cliches to be slotted in anywhere; they do anything more than fulfill the purpose allotted them in the overall plan."
In a response to Ben's 10 Theological Theses on Art poserorprophet (p.o.p.) offered an alternative 10 theses based primarly on the work of Adorno. p.o.p. questioned aesthetic form and expression in the west because of its implication in the larger system of death.  I appreciated his rigorous response but in the end I felt that they first of all were not really alternative theses at all but instead placed a kind of control on beauty which is simply not appropriate.  p.o.p. ended up affirming though limiting much of what Ben was getting at, I think but on his own terms.  The trajectory of the Messiah is indeed towards the cross and much of (and perhaps most of) the beauty in this world is born of suffering.  Above this though the trajectory of Christ is one of freedom, the most truly free life.  I do not see p.o.p.'s articulation allowing for both the judgment and freedom of Christ.
This was actually not meant to be a very theological post.  I just wanted to set up the following videos by Girl Talk.  Adorno and Horkheimer expose the monolithicity of western art and Girl Talk seems to celebrate it.  If indeed all songs are the same and the details interchangeable then Girl Talk may herald the end of the world bringing them all together in one apocalyptic anthem.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Now Former Leader of Our Opposition Party in Canada - Wow


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Response to Zizek Review

A great response to the buzz around TNR's review of Zizek.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

We Shopped Till He Dropped

Did we know it would only be a matter of time? Were we aware that possible escalation had no real check? Did the legion of reality TV shows, sporting events, and corporate ladders instill in us an instinct for conquering? There can be only one! This weekend CNN announced the 'hero of the year'. There could be no community of heroes, no spirit and discipline of heroism. There could be only the 1 million dollar hero. But yesterday the weight of this culture crushed Jdimytai Damour. The 5am sales blitz at Wal-Mart corralled desperate shoppers for over 24hrs until the first crack in the dam opened at which time they flooded through the gates and poured over and killed the temp employee Damour who was brought in for the holiday season.

Lord have mercy. Lord have justice.
Yesterday was also Buy Nothing Day. I am standing on the sidelines.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Whos Who?

Who is Brueggemann and who is Hauerwas? Is it just me or do I think all old people look alike?


"I Am an Arena of Contestation"

Just sort of stumbled across this. I only watched the first five minutes but I thought it was great Brueggemann (especially the part around 5:00 where he starts banging his head calling himself 'shit') . . . wonder if he got invited back to the 'emergent' events?
(Oh geez I didn't notice him drop the 'n' bomb either!)


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Serious Business

A Christian life is not child's play.
- Hans Schlaffer 1528 (Early Anabaptist)


Saturday, October 11, 2008


Now I am no longer a huge hockey fan but as a Canadian I feel some responsibility over the new anthem that the CBC will be adopting. The original is of course awesome and has served its purpose. It seems the two finalist are lame second-best attempts to have something similar . . . though much, much lamer. Here are the two finalists.
Sticks to the Ice
Canadian Gold


Monday, October 06, 2008

On My Own

Well Chantal is off to Thailand for a few weeks. I view myself as a bit of a loner and so I was actually looking forward to some time on my own but as I soon as I got home from the airport the house felt so empty. I guess I am a bit of a suck. Just sitting at home listening to some good lonely music. If any of you have never heard of the fabulous Winnipeg band The Weakerthans then listen up,

Sorry for not posting as much. I have been working on more not-for-public-consumption pieces which have been rewarding but I am sure I will surface here again some time soon.


Friday, September 12, 2008

The Saddest Story . . . Ever

Do you remember when you first started writing stories? The story would inevitably begin with a title and 'Chapter One'. Yesterday I was looking in our junior church library for a children's book to read on Sunday. After finding it I opened it only to find a page on which a kid had started a story. The illustration occupied primary place with a horizon dotted with mountain peaks and the most pressing image being a mountain on which a small dog appeared to be climbing. The mountain was imposing with its peak nowhere to be seen as its side was near vertical stretching beyond the limits of the page, it was also snowing. At the top of the page a few lines were written,
Chapter One: The Lost Puppy
Once upon a time a puppy was looking for a home and a name. But nobody wanted him.
Ouch. It made me almost want to cry . . . seriously. It reminded me of an 'at-risk' youth a worked with who was just beginning to learn how to read and write. He would spend time writing and illustrating in his journal. I can vaguely remember him writing thinly veiled allegories about a puppy who seemed to be having some similar struggles as he was. I am not saying that the person who wrote the above story was somehow personally in crisis, only that some of the primary concepts of love, value, and security and instilled and understood at such a young age.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Cracking the Cavey Code

I sent my review of The End of Religion to the author Bruxy Cavey and received a prompt and detailed response. I thought it would be helpful working through those points before shipping the Review off to Canadian Mennonite.

Cavey begins with the most important response stating,

I believe that understanding the target audience for my book helps clarify many things, which you have not mentioned in your review. The End of Religion is written primarily to non-Christians who could be described as religion drop-outs - people who are open to "faith" (whatever they mean by that), but would tell you (often in impassioned and colourful language) that they have a negative take on organized "religion". From that starting point I want to engage these readers in a "from here to there" journey toward the biblical Jesus and New Testament community. I believe I state this clearly at the start of the book and follow this approach throughout. . . .
So this book is my attempt to describe the biblical gospel in language these people might have ears to hear. If I were writing a book to a primarily Christian audience my approach may be very different. I see the approach I take in The End of Religion as comparable to the Apostle Paul's communication style in Acts 17, communicating the message of Jesus in words and images that beckons his pagan audience to go further in their investigation of Christ. No doubt he would phrase his teaching very differently if he were writing to a Christian audience (for instance, the New Testament demonstrates that Paul is not in the habit of quoting pagan sources in place of Scripture and calling all people, whether believer or not, "God's children").
I trust that if you read The End of Religion keeping in mind that you are eavesdropping on a conversation between me and a specific target reader - one who comes to the table with baggage that they need help putting down - it will go a long way to clarifying why I take the approach I take and emphasise the things I do.
The claim is that because Cavey is writing to a non-Christian audience the approach will be different. As I mentioned in my review I get the impression that for Cavey 'Christians' are stuffy old fuddy-duddies blinded by the lure tradition. But to these people I suspect he would want to bring the same message. In addition the lecture I heard at a Christian event ten years was also in the same medium. Perhaps he was unconcerned with those who already had a meaningful religious expression. I agree that when I teach Sunday School for 10 year olds and when I prepare a college lecture I will be using a different vocabularly and syntax. In the case of Cavey however, I see his medium and message so intricately tied together that I am not convinced he is interested in articulating the Gospel in any other way (though I have not heard his church teaching), which of course is fine only that his comment does not apply to my criticisms. I guess I am simply not sure why this would not be the same message preached to the church, because according to the book, the church sure needs it!

In my review I viewed Cavey's work as inappropriately seperating himself from church history. In response he says that he is interested in responding to the cynic who stumbles over the atrocities that the church has perpetrated and that he does acknowledge "that Christians are responsible for many wonderful examples of charity and benevolence through the centuries. But these positive examples cannot nor should not undo the repulsive effects of the judgmental bigotry and horrific violence that permeates church history" (58). It is fine to have that caveat but then it would be important to state that the chapter is dealing with a particular aspect of church history, as opposed to a near blanket statement. And this chapter would then be even more palatable if there were any sense that Cavey was interested in drawing from the wells of church history (other than the quotes that preface some of the chapters). The way Cavey overcomes the challenge of church history is seperate himself from it. My concern is that if the reader accepts Cavey's basic positions how could they then not also be swayed into thinking that Cavey's expression of irreligion is the climax (or return) of true Christian spirituality. Cavey explicitly acknowledges that his work is within the stream of evangelical/Anabaptist. I suppose it is the tendency of working within this stream to not elevate the role of church history and tradition. This, however, makes it no less of historical religious expression.

In my review I stated that Cavey's book led towards an individualistic 'me and Jesus' view of spirituality. Cavey responded by saying that in the end of the book the final thing the reader is encouraged to do is seek out intentional community (230). In reviewing the book I can more understand the role he gives for the community of believers. For instance baptism is a sign of the iniatition into a community and not just a personal experience of forgiveness. Communion, however, appears to have a much lower view of community. There is neither the act of economic distribution emphasized in Anbaptism nor the communal formation emphasized in more mainline traditions. It is rather a replacement of the the sacrifice for the individuals forgiveness. I understand that Cavey emphasizes the need for community I just find it in the end subordinated to the role of the individual in his overall work.

Finally, Cavey feels as though I have misunderstood and so misrepresented his intention for 'organized irreligion' which is what he sees as the natural expression flowing from the Gospel. I appreciate that his book is an attempt at helping people to take the next (or first) step in their faith. And I was almost ready to admit that I was in fact very wrong in how I understood his intention but then he made this strange statement, "I can only leave you to draw your own conclusion about the theology of The End of Religion, and certainly no human effort to communicate the gospel of Jesus is necessary. God doesn't need us - we need him." This I assume is in response to my statement that indeed we need to rely on the things Cavey rejects because they are the realities of life. Indeed they are God's medium as God was the one who came as the word. This is I suppose what I can't get around. All of these things, all of these things of faith are ultimately wedded in the material world. I never said God needed us and yes we need God, we need all that God offers us.

Cavey asks in his book that I do not get caught up in semantics. That I look to the essence of his message. But semantics are indeed part of the message. Yes many have come and found this message attractive (and I find hard to argue with a transformed life) and many others have found their way out the backdoor of similar 'emergent' expressions. So as Cavey asks in his book, So What? I suppose each should be convinced in their own minds and may any friction add to a fire that warms, illuminates, and purges.



From one of my quote feeds,

If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; 
admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches;
because for the creator there is no poverty and no indifferent place.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

This quote struck me as I have continued to do some writing but I feel my resources are depleted having moved from some saucy urban settings to the country.  I am not sure I can (or want to) sustain the reflective writing on nature that Annie Dillard does, mine seems to tied to humanness.  And well as I pastor there are many things I simply need to keep to myself.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Proclaiming the End: A Review of Bruxy Cavey's The End of Religion

I will admit that I was prepared to hate Bruxy Cavey’s recent book The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus.  I can still vividly remember Cavey speaking at my college about ten years ago.  The first words of his lecture were, “God hates religion!”  I was put off by his rhetorical style and it left a bad taste in my mouth since.  When there was a chance to review his book I jumped at it to see how his message had developed.  Cavey divides his book into three parts.  The first part explores the inadequacy of religion and its negative effects throughout history.  Second Cavey looks at the scandalous life of Jesus as he attempts to recover the subversive nature of his message.  Finally, Cavey draws the implications Jesus’ message should have on the life of those who follow him. 

The chapters within these sections are short and digestible with plenty of anecdotal commentary.  My favourite is Cavey’s observation that most of the other religions’ version of the Golden Rule are stated negatively or passively (Do not do unto others as you would not want done to yourself).  Cavey views this as s theology of a rock.  A rock does not hurt anyone else.  As Cavey was trying to explain to his children telling them that we need to do more than just be a rock he says, “So we created a Cavey Code: ‘Rock on!”  Each day as Nina and I dropped them off for camp, we would hold our fists high as a family and say ‘Rock On.’”
Despite the pleasant writing style and accessible imagery I had some serious reservations about some of his basic theological positions.  First there is a type of anti-historicism in his work.  For Cavey history is heavy-laden with the shackles of religion.  With respect to current uses of the word ‘spirituality’ Cavey says, “I am encouraged, because I think we are finally catching up to what Jesus has been saying for over two thousand years” (43).  Cavey’s treatment of church history is found in his chapter “Chamber of Horrors” which he begins by saying, “If the history of religion were turned into a series of displays in a wax museum, visitors might think they had entered the Chamber of Horrors.  A centerpiece of the museum would be a body lurching toward you, seemingly animated – but headless.  The descriptive plaque would read, ‘The institutional church throughout much of history’” (57).  This chapter reads like a direct response to Sam Harris’ recent book The End of Faith which is a plea for rational atheism as a response to the dangers of faith.  Harris laments Christianity’s perpetration of the Crusades, the Inquisition, Witch-Hunts, etc.  In response to this Cavey offers a hearty amen to Harris.  Agreeing that indeed Christian religion is guilty as charged he is able to also shake himself loose of history say that “none of this is the way of Jesus” (68). 
Cavey falls unfortunately short here in not acknowledging how his own project is at the very least implicitly informed by church tradition.  Much of The Meeting House’s (Cavey’s church) ‘Manifesto’ reads like a paraphrase of an evangelical statement of faith.  But more than this Cavey has discarded a wealth of resources from those who have wrestled intimately and honestly with the subversive message of Jesus.  Cavey’s message of spirituality is fundamentally “me and Jesus.”  It is a group of individual followers of Jesus coming together as church.  This view of the church largely ignores the view of the church as Christ’s body.  As such if Cavey views the history of Christianity as largely headless then his own view becomes a bunch heads rolling around on the floor disconnected to each other.
Part of my issue with Cavey’s view of church is related to his misunderstanding of two important images in the Old Testament, the Garden of Eden and the Temple.  While I agree that Jesus transcended the Temple he did so on the basis of the Temple not in conflict with it and in returning to the Garden of Eden Jesus was not rejecting but using the religious imagery of the Old Testament.  Biblically the Temple was as much a theological reality as it was a practical or ritual reality.  The Temple (and the Tabernacle) depicted the way in which the world was ordered.  The Temple was a 3-D theological representation of the world as God is present in it.  In many ways Jesus was simply taking the natural steps back towards the Garden of Eden.  By calling the body the Temple Jesus makes God’s presence portable (as the Tabernacle was) but he also makes God’s presence relational (as the Garden of Eden was).  Biblically Eden and the Temple share many similarities in their actual geography.  In this way Cavey unnecessarily depicts Jesus as rejecting an aspect of religion that was deeply embedded within the biblical story.
Cavey also neglects to demonstrate how Jesus’ subversiveness was as much (and likely more) about power and economics than it was simply about religion.  One gets the impression from Cavey that the target of Jesus’ vehemence was aimed at a crusty old stick-in-the-mud priest instead of those who abuse power.  While Cavey is interested in the social aspects of the Gospel he still characterizes the Kingdom of God as a ‘spiritual’ ‘inner reality’ as opposed to the particular practices that Christians are called on to express this Kingdom.
After such heavy-handed criticism I have to admit that I did not hate the book as I was prepared to.  In many places I strongly sympathized with what Cavey was trying to accomplish.  However, the project seemed misguided from the start.  Cavey states early on that by religion he is referring “to any reliance on systems or institutions, rules or rituals as our conduit to God” (37)  There is a paradox here because we need to rely on these things in some way because it is in these systems, institutions, rules and rituals that we live and express ourselves.  A faith that could not in some rely on these things would be the worst kind if isolated and internalized spiritualism.  Jesus relied on these to spread the message of God’s kingdom.  It is a matter of living in the knowledge and trust of God’s sovereignty over these things and not the rejection of them.  Perhaps this is where Cavey is trying to end up with his notion of organized irreligion towards the end of the book where he softens up on what ‘good’ religion is.  However, this end renders much of his book unnecessary and suspect theologically.  Cavey’s final expression ultimately fits within the North American expression (religion) of evangelicalism in his approach to the Bible, mission, salvation, and to the broader church.  I do not say this as a criticism only that I think Cavey is being a little disingenuous in some of his claims.  Perhaps we need to stop proclaiming the end of religion and focus on proclaiming the lordship of Christ over our systems, institutions, rules, and rituals.


Who Cares Who Wrote the Bible?

For those of you who were riveted to my series on the origins of the Old Testament I have the devastating news that I will not finish the series. (I will pause as you regroup)  While I did enjoy the book and it has changed how I view the Bible I simply lost interest in exerting that much energy to distill it here.  In addition as I was working through it more closely I began to see to how forced some of the moves were that he made in order to sustain the overall project.  I do not deny that much of it might be true but I am certainly also not convinced of it.  As he reached the formation of P things started to get a little convoluted in who had what text when and why they got put together.  So anyway I'm putting that one to bed.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Crazy Canucks!

As I am sure it is common global knowledge the Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation dropped the license to the iconic 1968 anthem (bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bahhhhhhhh, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bahbahhhhhhh). So they issued a challenge for people to submit a new anthem. I just got an e-mail from my friend and his submission. It's pretty straight up.


Who Wrote the Bible - Part IV - Ezra has the Book

After uncovering the author of D Richard Friedman moves into describing the period of the Bible’s formation from 587-400 BC. There is very little biblical narrative that deals with the exile and also little archeological evidence.

Life was difficult in Babylon as Judah’s religion did not allow for easy adaptation into the pagan pantheon. This period is characterized as having history and theology on a crash course. “Is Yahweh a national God? If so, he is left behind in Judah, and the people are cut off from him exile. This very question is asked by the author of Psalm 137, ‘How shall we sing a song of Yahweh on foreign soil?’ Or is Yahweh a universal God? And if so, why did he let this disaster happen?” The answer of course for many was that it was their fault. The exile forced Judah to reconceive theology and worship. It was however only 50 years later that the people were allowed to return to Judah. The Persian king who overthrew Babylon allowed the people to return and to rebuild their Temple. By 516 the Temple was rebuilt, though with considerably less ‘stuff’, no ark or cherubim or Urim and Thummin. It was only Aaronid priests who were legitimate priests. Levites were assistants. Ezra came to Judah in 458 BC. He was a priest and a scribe and was known like Moses as a lawgiver. Ezra also had the authority of the Persian emperor. Ezra has the torah read to the people and in these readings F. finds material from JE, D, and P. From this he believes that Ezra had the complete five books of Moses. At this point F. has left out P with very clear intent.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Good Will Hunting on Relationships

Good Will Hunting was recently on TV and as I watched Will's childhood gang go bar-hopping and street-fighting I was reminded of the masculine ability to form intimate tribes between the ages of 17 and 25. Towards the end of the movie Chuckie (Ben Affleck) confesses to Will (Matt Damon) that he hopes one day Will won't answer the door when he comes to pick him up because he has used his knowledge to get out of south Boston. Through most of the movie Will rejects opportunities at love and work guarding himself and staying safe with his gang. At the end of the movie Will finally leaves his tribe for both love and career. I can in many ways relate to leaving my tribe at around this age. My hunch is that men become increasingly lonely after the age of 25. There may be a period from 25 to 30 where we are absorbed enough in pursuits not to notice it too much but it eventually surfaces. Are the sorts of relationships portrayed in this movie only applicable to a certain stage of life? Does our culture of romantic love and powerful career sever these relationships unnecessarily? Anyway, I miss my old tribe. And in case you forgot, here is a great scene.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Apologetics vs Criticism

Given the comments on the following quote over at Faith and Theology there is little remaining doubt that apologetics continues to be the ready target of high-brow theological discourse.  Here is the quote,

“The philosopher is not an apologist; apologetic concern, as Karl Barth (the one living theologian of unquestionable genius) has rightly insisted, is the death of serious theologizing, and I would add, equally of serious work in the philosophy of religion.”

—Donald M. MacKinnon, The Borderlands of Theology: An Inaugural Lecture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1961), 28.
 I should state that I am not assuming a monolithic approach to apologetics.  I consider apologetics an attempt at stating the positive case for a held truth.  So this of course can be done in many different forms.  I think apologetics is often criticised for its reactivity and inappropriate methodology.  The methodology piece is again of course dependent on the particular expression.  My question is what the difference is between apologetics and the type of criticism entered into readily by so many of the bloggers who so roundly denounce apologetics?  Both assume that the reality of error and the possibilty of at least expressing things more truthfully (I am not thinking of things propositionally here).  I would have to say that good apologetics at least has the benefit of being courageous enough to put out substantive contributions.  I would see Halden's (Inhabitatio Dei) ongoing work around martyology and non-violence as a type of apologetic project.  I agree that we do not need to defend our faith or submit entirely to modern material-scientific methodolgy, but again I see that as a type of apologetics.
Anyway, I always start to get a little cautious when academia finds too clear a target for criticism as opposed to entering critically (and/or constructively) with particular discourses.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Who Wrote the Bible - Part III - The Tormented Historian

Having laid the mystery of J and E to rest F. moves on to outlining the next time period significant for the Bible, 722-587 BC. After the fall of Israel Judah shifted significantly in its political and religious outlook. Politically they functioned from a considerable position of weakness in the world, religiously they were now an integrated people without real tribal boundaries as refugees from the north would have fled south.

King Hezekiah ruled Israel from about 715 to 687. In that time Hezekiah introduced political and religious reforms rebelling against Assyria and centralizing worship to the Temple in Jerusalem. After a number of ‘bad’ kings Josiah became king at the age of 8 (2 Kgs 22) and ruled from 640 to 609. Josiah also carried out religious reforms re-centralizing Temple worship. It is also during Josiah’s reign that we read about the high priest Hilkiah having found a “book of the law.” After Josiah’s reign Israel quickly goes downhill with a few ‘bad’ kings before being exiled by Babylon in 587.
F. states that the book found by Hilkiah was Deuteronomy (D). One of the main arguments for this that both Deuteronomy and Josiah are concerned with the centralizing worship. This is in contrast to the worship of Saul, Samuel and David who worshiped at various sites. F. also recognizes the literary relationship between Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings (the Deuteronomistic History; DH). In addition covenant becomes a central theme particularly as it leads up to the Davidic covenant which promises the line of David the throne eternally. The question then is why the writer would so emphasize the covenant knowing that the throne of David does not endure. F. suggests that there were two versions of DH. It is claimed that the first version was written to culminate in King Josiah. Inordinate space is given to describe Josiah’s reign, Josiah is referred to by name in prophecy against Jeroboam in 1 Kgs 13 (and it is Josiah who explicitly destroys the alter in Beth-El which Jeroboam established). The author of DH evaluates all the kings and includes some criticism even for the good ones (David and Hezekiah) but in reference to Josiah these words are spoken, “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses. . . . nor did any like him arise after him” (interesting side note the NIV does not include that final line, even though it is clearly attested in the MT not even as a textual variant) This leads F. to further compare how Moses is compared to Josiah in DH. The phrase “nor did any like him arise” is used only in reference to Moses (Deut 34:10) and Josiah. Josiah is the only one known to have fulfilled Moses command to love God with all your heart, soul, and strength. The Book of Torah is mentioned only in Deuteronomy and Joshua and then in reference to Josiah. Both figures grind idols “thin as dust.” F. includes other similarities between the two sources. Josiah was meant to be the end and culmination of history. But after Josiah the two main themes of DH disappear, the Davidic covenant and centralized worship.
In attempting to discern the author of these books F. looks to levitical priest but discards the Temple priest because they are Aaronids and distinguish themselves from other Levites and D does not make such distinction. D also never refers to an ark, cherubs, or other Temple instruments. F. points again to the priests at Shiloh as the possible authors of Deuteronomy. F. is more specific saying that the law code of Deuteronomy was likely written by these priests. It was the author of DH that took this law code (that Josiah found) and added the narrative of Moses’ final days around it, as well as the later history.
F. goes on to connect the prophet Jeremiah to the writing of DH. Jeremiah is linked to Josiah’s reign. Jeremiah has close connection to son’s of the priest and scribes who bring Josiah the book of the law. Jeremiah is the only prophet connected in his writings to Shiloh (which he calls the place where God’s name will dwell; Jer 7:12). Jeremiah is also a priest from Anathoth where Abiathar was originally banished by Solomon. Jeremiah is also the son of Hilkiah, though F. is quick to point out that this may not be the same Hilkiah that found the scroll. More pressing is that fact that it has been observed that the language of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy are similar. Jeremiah then wrote the history of the people until the culmination of Josiah. But what of the remaining kings that ruled until exile? F. likens the case to writing a history of John F. Kennedy before he was assassinated. F. maintains that allusions to exile and idolatry were then added throughout DH. Jeremiah also rewrote the consequences of Manasseh, Josiah’s grandfather. Manasseh’s rule was so bad that it irrevocably caused the destruction of Judah beyond what Josiah’s reforms could accomplish (2 Kgs 23:26). F. then says that Jeremiah re-worked the covenant to show that the Mosaic covenant with the people was first and so the eternal unconditional throne of David would be irrelevant if there were no people to rule. This reworking was done by Jeremiah in exile. F. ends his chapter on D by characterizing Jeremiah as a man tortured by truth unable to leave either accounts alone. The hope of Josiah remains but the judgment of idolatry cannot be avoided.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Who Wrote the Bible - Part II - This Post Brought to You by the Letters J and E

J and E exist largely in the first four books of the Bible (though significantly less in Leviticus and Numbers). The names of course derive from the way each source refers to God J/Yahweh and Elohim.

F. is quick to point out that the differences go far beyond the name used for God. F. identifies J with Judah (the south) and E with Israel (the north) demonstrating the connection that the sources have with each geographic location. For instance in the birth narratives of the twelve tribes Elohim is used in reference to the ten tribes while Yahweh is used in reference to the south (Gen 29:32-30:24a; of course 24b has Yahweh, but I am sure he explains that in the article he references :)). F. goes on to look at the Golden Calf story in Exodus (Ex 32) as a definitive case for understanding the E source. With respect to the Levitical priests in Shiloh and their relationship to Moses he states here simply that they “therefore possibly descended from Moses.” This is important because of the way it elevates Moses in the story of the Golden Calf and implicates Aaron. This story then is also a stab at the golden calves set up by Jeroboam when he established his own religious system apart from these priests (see last post). This criticism of Jeroboam in this story (where the singular golden calf made by Aaron is referred to in the plural) is further strengthened by its connection to Jeroboam’s explicit statement regarding the golden calves he established. He says to the people, “Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of Egypt” (1 Kgs 12:28 cf. Aaron Ex 32:4, 8). It is then the Levites who come to the rescue at the bequest of Moses. Joshua is also saved from implication because he is a northern hero coming from the tribe of Ephraim. In this account then E in addition to attaching the south is also attacking the religious system of the north while still keeping his hope in it.
If E associates with Moses then the Numbers 12 story of God reprimanding Aaron for criticizing Moses also fits. On the other hand J accounts often have the people complaining to Moses. F. also points out the Ark and its political significance for David and Solomon is never mentioned in E while the Tabernacle and its association with Shiloh is never mentioned in J. The J creation account also has the Garden of Eden protected by Cherubim which would have been important for Judah and not Israel. Again in the Exodus account J has God saving the people while in the E account Moses is the one sent (Ex 3:8, 10).
With respect to their commonalities F. is clear that he believes the two writers produced versions. They were “drawing upon a common treasury of history and tradition because Israel and Judah had once been one united people.” With the Assyrian exile of Israel a number of refugees from the north would have flooded south and brought with them their texts. Instead of rejecting one version F. holds that the newly combined people of the south would not have allowed one story to be told without the other and so both aspects of the versions were combined. Combining the two then averts the tension between which one would have been viewed as authoritative.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Halden on Donald

Good post over at Inhabitatio Dei.  A couple of quotes,
“Evangelical identity, at least in the U.S. is so utterly determined by the American political imagination and the capitalist economy which grounds it, that it is unable to express or realize itself except through the political-economic architecture of America, regardless of what political subdivision it finds itself in.”

“For Christian politics to be truly Christian they must be, at their very core, nonreactive. The peace of the city of God is in no way determined, constituted, or defined by the agonism of the earthly city.”


Who Wrote the Bible - Part I - The World that Produced the Bible - 1200-722

In terms of interpretive approach to the Bible I believe largely in a literary ‘canonical’ approach. However, in terms of understanding the formation of the Bible (or the Old Testament in particular) I find Richard Elliott Friedman’s account fascinating and in many of the general claims convincing. I thought it would be helpful for my own clarity to work through in detail the claims he makes in Who Wrote the Bible. Whether you accept the Documentary Hypothesis or not this account opens the vistas of the historical context in which the Bible existed.
F. begins with the rise of the Davidic and Solomonic monarchies. Key in this description is the movement from the worship and sacrifice in Shiloh (what will later be in the northern kingdom) to Jerusalem (which will be in the south). David establishes a priest in either location (2 Sam 8:17). The two priests also represent the lines of Moses (Abiathar; I think the Moses reference to priests in Shiloh comes from Jdg 18:30) and Aaron (Zadok; 1 Chr 24:3). The division between Aaron’s and Moses’s ancestor becomes important later (though the biblical references to this is unclear and I can’t remember is basis right now; I am sure I will return to it). Abiathar, however, casts his lot in with Adonijah as Solomon’s successor and then when Solomon takes power he dismisses him as priest and sends him away (to the north; 1 Kgs 2:26). When Rehoboam succeeds Solomon the ten tribes to the north rebel and Jeroboam becomes king of Israel and significant for F. Jeroboam does not re-instate Abiathar’s line as priests (1 Kgs 12; 2 Chr 13:8-9). From this action it appears that the Levites of Shiloh had the choice of moving south to Judah or of scraping out a living in the north. It is in this period from the divided kingdom to Israel’s exile that F. believes two of the texts of the Old Testament were written J and E.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Only Offensive

From this morning's sermon,

It has often been noted that the armour described [in Ephesians 6] is not meant for offensive attack. There is no spear, bow, or long sword. The equipment described assumes close and intimate contact. It is interesting that the only piece of equipment used for any sort of offence is the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. We often make truth or righteousness or even salvation as the sword we wield. We try to outdo our opponents in disputes over truth. We claim victory in our acts of righteousness. Or we divide people over our claims about salvation. Instead of offensive weapons Paul describes these things as gifted to us, that we take up and dress ourselves in. This sword of the Spirit is also mentioned in the book of Hebrews where it says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
And so even this one offensive object is something we ourselves can never master or control but is something that we allow to work on ourselves as much as others. When we allow the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, free movement it shifts from being the crusaders sword to the surgeon’s scalpel and the priest’s sacrificial knife able to make cuts and incisions that work for healing and wholeness.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Bible in Three Easy Steps

I am entering my second (and final term!) term in helping my church conference put on its winter retreat for youth.  I came into this pastoral position acknowledging that I am not a good event planner even though over half of my time is directed towards those birth to 25 (and many still consider me the 'youth pastor').  I can act zany with the best of them at times (me as the hippy prophet Isaiah receiving his vision) but other than drama I tend not to lean towards fun events.  I am really hoping to plan and entitle an event "The Least Fun You Will Ever Have" some time but perhaps when my next position is secured.  Anyway, I am posting because for this winter retreat I volunteered to lead three sessions on "The Bible" (I figured only three would be required).  Session 1: The Formation of the Bible. Session 2: The Story of the Bible. Session 3: The Bible Today.

Now feel free to criticize these categories but I thought they were a place to start.  What I am hoping to do move the context away from a purely apologtic 'defence' of the Bible.  I am not sure if perhaps I should begin with a bit of epistemology and distinguish the relationship between modern science and Bible.  I will likely also focus on canon and community (looking at least a little at James Sanders) recognizing emphatically the many (and mostly unknown) hands that were a part of leading to their flasy youth devotional Bible.  I think testimony is important recognizing the ongoing communication that surrounding (and was included within) the Bible's formation.  In any event I hope to elevate the human end of the Bible while still recoginizing it is as revelation.  I hope to post more as this unfolds.  The problem is always getting started with youth.  I need something zany don't I . . .


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Last Sunday's sermon on Jubilee

(August 17, 2008; Leviticus 25, Luke 4:16-21)
What if I told you that Canada existed only as an act of imagination? That we fight wars, pay taxes and support Olympic teams for an act of imagination. What could that possibly mean? I recently read two books by William Cavanaugh, someone who could very quickly become one of my favourite theologians. Cavanaugh makes just such an assertion. In the opening lines to one of his books he writes the following,
Politics is a practice of the imagination. Sometimes politics is the ‘art of the possible,’ but it is always an art, and engages the imagination just as art does. We are often fooled by the seeming solidity of the materials of politics, its armies and offices, into forgetting that these materials are marshaled by acts of the imagination. How does a provincial farm boy become persuaded that he must travel as a soldier to another part of the world and kill people he knows nothing about? He must be convinced of the reality of borders, and imagine himself deeply, mystically, united to a wider national community that stops abruptly at those borders. . . . Modern politics was not discovered but imagined, invented.

So why am I telling you all this? What does this have to do with our readings this morning? If we hope to accept the Bible and live out of its story and particularly this morning’s story then we are going to need to re-imagine the world around us. We need to the learn the truths and expose the falsehoods of our current story, as it is and step into the biblical story and allow it to shape and transform our expression of church. I believe that our reading this morning offers one such re-imagination. So this morning I am inviting us to consider our story and also the story and imagination that forms the concept of Jubilee.
Early in Canada’s history land was secured by the emerging government and then gifted and sold to those who would be most economically productive and stabilize the government. The legal immigration of people to Canada was developed around their potential benefit to our economic base and so our immigration act still disallows immigrants if they will be taxing on our health care system or are unable to financially support themselves. Land in our system is obtained and maintained by those who have the ability to obtain and maintain more land. This is not how land was imagined in Israel. Land in Israel was not distributed on the basis of a self-interested government but was a gift offered on the basis of a promise. The space and society this opened then was always based on this foundation. The foundation was that the land belonged to God and that every family in Israel had a share in it. It still happened that families fell on hard times and would have to sell their land or work it for someone else. But this was always in relationship to God’s promise. No one was allowed to continually amass more land and wealth. At some point in each generation the family’s promised land was restored to them and people were allowed another opportunity to provide for themselves. God says this to Moses, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
Can you imagine what the American and Canadian landscape would look like if in the 1980s, fifty years after the Great Depression, the children of those who profited from that time, those who acquired all the land from farmers who could not survive returned the land to the children of those who lost it? Economic theory is certainly not my strength but I can’t help but note the irony that it was in the 1980s that we witnessed the rise of huge multinational corporations and the outsourcing of work to economically impoverished counties. It was at this time that land and capital began to be increasingly centralized around fewer and fewer people. This is a movement that the act of Jubilee works directly against. So we need to ask ourselves how can we re-imagine the redemption of the land for all people?
In North America personal security is understood largely in economic terms. Our economic model encourages us to amass wealth infinitely through work and saving. In many cases this can nurture a healthy and responsible work ethics. However, the reality of our current economic model is that increasingly the most wealthy people in the world are making their money without producing any valuable goods or services. Even with the economic slowdown in the U.S. corporate CEOs continue to increase their own compensation despite posting losses and layoffs. Since 1965 CEOs have moved from making an average of 51 times minimum wage to 815 times what a minimum wage employee earns. Others have made millions off others’ adversity in the US mortgage crisis. A number of the most recent billionaires attained their wealth by opening online gambling sites which relies on the addiction we have to the promise of wealth. We live in a system where we find increasing security with increased wealth though the reality is that the most wealthy are not wealthy from hard work and prudent saving but make their fortune all too often off of the misfortune of others.
For Israel, at least as God would have it, wealth simply cannot be an end in itself. What we have flows from God and is not an object to be pursued and obtained. In Deuteronomy it says that even a king, perhaps today’s CEO, should not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver. And every seven years the people are not to plant their fields or gather from their vineyards. They are to eat only from what the earth provides and from what has been provided the following year. Rich and poor trust in God’s provision from the land. Can you imagine if after each six year cycle you would spend the entire year in the basic task of acquiring and preparing food and maintaining your home? Imagine the opportunities for family growth. Imagine the opportunities for personal growth and exploring passions. Imagine the opportunities for fellowship and relationships. How is it that we can we re-imagine our relationship to wealth and time?
In North America freedom is claimed as one of the highest goals in life. In Canada we sing of the true north strong and free while our neighbours to the south sing of the land of free and the home of the brave. Freedom is conceived of as strength and independence. We typically talk of freedom as the ability to live without interference or support, to be independent. We talk about having a free market system with free trade so that we can achieve freedom 55. We encourage free speech and free choice and we have people who call themselves free thinkers. However, this view of freedom is always defined negatively as freedom from something as opposed to freedom towards something. Freedom form constraints as opposed to freedom to construct. The recent movie Into the Wild portrays the true story of Chris McCandless. McCandless was a young man dissatisfied with what he saw as all the trappings and bondage of western society. After he graduated from university he donated the remaining 24,000 dollars of his college fund to charity and spent the next two years of his life wandering around the US with little or no money. His words and actions were constant attempts at freedom. It is a freedom we can all relate to. We daily feel the pressures of work, of the government, of advertising, of television and internet images portraying an ideal life that we seem always to pursue and never attain. McCandless attempted to free himself from what he thought were unnecessary and harmful pressures. The problem with how he approached this freedom was that he was still caught in the mentality and the culture that he was raised in. He kept pushing for freedom from things and not freedom towards things. One of his goals was to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness and on April 28, 1992 he was dropped off at the head of the Stampede Trail in Alaska where he hiked into the bush and eventually found an abandoned bus where he lived alone for about 200 days before he eventually starved to death. There was no end or goal to his freedom. In some ways he became the ultimate expression of our attempts at freedom, which is isolation.
In one of the final scenes of the movie as he is already declining in health McCandless reflects on his past relationships and the realization of what is happening he pens the words, “Happiness can only be shared.” Our search for freedom must lead towards something and someone if it is not to lead towards isolation.
In Leviticus God says that every fifty years on the Day of Atonement a trumpet is to be sounded and then it says that the people are make the day holy and proclaim freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. This freedom was based entirely on restoring families and neighbours and space for worshipping and celebrating with God. We often assume in our minds that freedom is attractive and natural to live out but this tends not to be the case. God’s freedom is, from our perspective, a radically unstable way of living. Stanley Hauerwas expresses it as living ‘out of the control.’ It is the daily trust of the Israelites in the wilderness as they often longed to return to slavery in Egypt where at least there was some order and predictability to their lives. We tend to be happy living within the norms of our culture rather then running the risk of being shunned, humiliated or rejected by living outside those norms. This is the type of freedom Jesus announced at the start of his ministry. He proclaims freedom for the prisoner and release for the oppressed. And how did those caught up in the daily work of ‘living in control’ respond to his acts of freedom? Jesus compares these acts of freedom to an extravagant banquet that people are invited to. But when they receive the invitation one says that he must attend to his business, one says he must work his field and another says that he is off to be married. We refuse God’s acts of freedom because we attend to the demands of security and control, the illusions of freedom. Can you imagine if we allowed ourselves to be freed even just a little from the demands of productivity, accumulation, security and control? Can you imagine if we were free to invite friend, neighbour and stranger into our home? Can you imagine if freedom was understood solely in terms of worshipping God and loving our neighbour? How can we re-imagine and proclaim God’s gift of freedom?
In the Old Testament God revealed to Moses that in each generation there should be a time when things would be made right and restored to their original intention, a time of Jubilee it was called. Jesus came and lived his life in the spirit this Jubilee. He came to restore those who were ill to their original health. He came to redistribute the wealth of the few so it could be shared with the many. He lived outside the control of idolatrous temptations of wealth, status and power. And Christ gave his life for and his Spirit to the church that we might live this reality. But where are we now as a church? How do we understand ourselves? Are we a lobby group trying to influence the political process? Are we a social club that meets for fun and friendships? Are we a peer-support group that tries to help each through the difficulties of life? Are we an educational institution trying to form our children in a particular way? Are we a non-profit organization trying to serve the community? By themselves these expressions all have their appropriate place. But even if they were all put together they would still be too narrow to describe the church, the body of Christ.
In his book Cavanaugh asks what it would mean for the church to recover and re-imagine herself as a truly free and public space. Not one expression within in a national body but as the body of Christ within which national, racial and economic boundaries are overcome. In the New Testament language of God’s people took on the broadest terms. The church could have been referred to as a guild or association but instead Christians are called citizens of God’s Kingdom as well as members of God’s household. The calling of the church covers both the private and public life of believers. Recovering this understanding is a call back to a life of discipleship, or what Cavanaugh simply calls discipline. The church is called and equipped to practice the discipline of jubilee living. Oscar Romero the Catholic martyr in Latin America said, that “the church is well aware that anything it can contribute to the process of liberation . . . will have originality and effectiveness only when the church is truly identified as church.” Each local gathering of believers and the lives they live are called to express the social and global vision of God as church, there is no higher calling.
If the church is called to the discipline of Jubilee living then we will need to re-imagine our practices as church and begin to conceive the church, the body of Christ, as the central context for life. We need to re-imagine tithing as an expression of gracious thanksgiving for God’s provision and as our opportunity to distribute wealth in life-giving ways. We need to re-imagine Sabbath as a time to cease our own pursuits of living in control and rest, with our neighbours, in God’s presence and provision. We need to re-imagine the practice of forgiveness so that we can lead one another out of the bondage of guilt and shame. We need to re-imagine the practice of baptism so that those being baptized understand they are gaining a new citizenship in a community that is not bond by the powers of this world. That with baptism we accept and learn to live knowing that we are named as a child of God who is valuable and gifted. And as Mennonites we may need above all to re-imagine the practice of communion. As a Catholic William Cavanaugh has a well developed theological and social role of communion. He states that it is in communion that we consume the body of Christ and in turn we are consumed into the body of Christ which is freedom and equality. Communion is a common practice in which no one is privileged. It is through communion that some Catholics have re-imagined the social space of the church. Cavanaugh quotes Fr Rutilio Grande of El Salvador in a sermon he gave in 1977 in response to dominating expressions of power through wealth that he witnessed. He said,
The Lord God gave us . . . a material world for all, without borders . . . [Some say] ‘I’ll buy half of El Salvador. Look at all my money. That’ll give me the right to it.’ No! That’s denying God! There is no ‘right’ against the masses of the people! A material world for all, then, without borders, without frontiers. A common table, with broad linens, a table for everybody, like this Eucharist. A chair for everybody. And a table setting for everybody. Christ had good reason to talk about his kingdom as a meal. He talked about meals a lot. And he celebrated one the night before his supreme sacrifice . . . And he said that this was the great memorial of the redemption: a table shared in brotherhood, where all have their position and place . . . This is the love of a communion of sisters and brothers that smashes and casts to earth every sort of barrier and prejudice and that one day will overcome hatred itself.
The priest understood the Eucharist to be the ultimate order of reality one that would overcome all political or economic boundaries. In Israel the Jubilee announced that the land was sufficient for all people. In communion we share in the body of Christ which is sufficient for all people. This priest understood communion in the body of Christ as the place where God’s vision of jubilee could be enacted. Fr Grande was gunned by a government sponsored death squad only one month later. In response to this tragedy the Archbishop Oscar Romero declared that there would be only one Mass or service that churches in the area could celebrate on Sunday and it was to be a funeral Mass. All who called themselves faithful, rich and poor, would share in the same table and acknowledge this loss and this attempt to overcome the freedom that God proclaims.
In response to the destructive powers of the world Cavanaugh states that Romero enacted the global and universal vision of the church in that place at that time.
The practices of the church are not magic and they are not clever strategies. They are the gift of God for the salvation of the world. We need to daily recall and re-imagine the story of God’s Jubilee. We need to daily invite Christ to speak freedom over our lives, to release our grip from possessions and from time. To learn to take steps that are in faith and out of control. May we as a church recognize and practice the disciplines of jubilee in our gathering and in our scattering that the trumpet may sound and freedom proclaimed throughout the land. May we begin with this prayer,
O Come, O Come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel.
O Come Desire of Nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease. Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
And may our days end with this refrain.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thy O Israel.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Year was 2002 . . .

The year was 2002. Pink's Get this Party Started could be heard blasting from car radios, the first Euros were printed in Europe, the US congress authorized the President to use force in Iraq and the first post on IndieFaith forum was submitted.

August marks the birthday for IndieFaith though the site itself has earlier unknown origins. For those of you who have felt some distaste over the name IndieFaith I will let you into its history.  I was originally experimenting with Angelfire's free websites and when you registered your domain name it always began with the there were some choices for a /directory after which you added your /name.  'indie' was on of the few intelligable subdirectories to choose from and so was born.  The name itself has always left me feeling a little uneasy.  Indie can strike me as too pretentious or too individualistic.  Though on the other hand it can also garner feelings of marginal authenticity.  I am happy to remain a little uneasy with my title.  Here was my original post in IndieFaith Forum,
Theology of presence Theology of covenant, Tomaato, Tomahto. This is a quote from A Homily on Acts 2 “To have faith in the Bible is to believe its promises and to believe in its record of God's work in the life of human history. The Bible then becomes a whole. We see the promise to Abraham, the Exodus out of Egypt, deliverance of the Promised Land, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Acts Church. However, these spectacular events are accompanied by the wandering in the desert, the exile, the destruction of the Temple. For whatever the reason God appears to break into history at different times with varying degrees of force. The Bible gives us no reason to think that, outside of God's own timing, does the present Church body need to perform in the same manner as the Acts Church. If anything the Bible illustrates how consistently we have misunderstood how it is that God will act and fulfill his will. It is impossible to reduce God's Spirit to a formula and so we must ask what it is that God desires of us.” This then is not a theology of presence, but to shift away from the academic, a theology of the present. In light of covenant promises and accounts God’s presence in the past, how is that God speaks to today. For this dilemma I offer another quote, “Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez extends Hegal's notion of philosophy into theology and says that theology rises only at sundown.” We cannot expect a Christian theology unless we commit to working our “days” amidst the brokenness of our world, and then seriously reflecting on that at the end of the day. I walk around my neighbourhood and I see hookers, dried puddles of blood, domestic disputes, and kids with knives. However, I also hear the sound of hammers, children laughing, and gardens being planted. Move past a theology that binds itself by well-seeming borders and opens itself to engage with those it purports to redeem.
Birthday wishes and monetary donations are welcome.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Confession; Or Mixed Martial Artist as Hebrew Scholar

On occasion we run across blog entries that give us a glimpse of the all-too ordinary lives of the bloggers. The bloggers begin with some shame in their confession wondering if the few readers they have could possibly respect them after such a confession. Perhaps it is professor of sociology admitting they watch (and are addicted to) American's Next Top Model or an admitted film snob confessing his guilty pleasures. Well anyway, here goes.

I grew up enjoying wrestling. I had two older sisters and so I never got many chances to wrestle growing up and so I watched the WWF or bush league AWA and wrestled with pillows in my basement. Now, fortunately, over time I drifted away from the wrestling entertainment business and in 1993 I came across something else. I am not sure if I heard about first or simply saw the VHS cover in a small corner store in my town that rented videos. It was called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. And for four seasons I watched fighters with backgrounds as diverse as boxing to Samoan Bone Crushing come together to test their skills. And for four seasons (except one due to dehydration) I watched the 165 pounder Royce Gracie beat them all.
In retrospect I see something actually quite beautiful in that convergence. It was a truly interdisciplinary step (though it was of course admitted that it favoured some). I lost track of UFC for years until this year. In our recent move we now get some channels that play some UFC matches. Things have changed. There are now time limits and rounds and they stand up the opponents if there is not enough 'action'. The shift has moved away from free-style and is geared now towards a more 'exciting' fight. Plus nearly everyone is now trained in the style Gracie introduced.
This being said I started seeing previews for UFC 87 and got swept up by the hype. The day after the pay-per-view event I scoured the internet looking for highlights. I found my body tensed through each round and my emotions shifting from exhilaration to fear and concern. I witnessed respect and sportsmanship (among most). And heard the stories of those who left Wall Street to fight or how grew up homeless and found this as a way out. And highly anticipated the main event for the night the welterweight champion (and Canadian) George St. Pierre vs the scarper Jon Fitch (if you really want to you can see the fight here).
So anyway, what can I say I really enjoyed the fights. I do not translate this directly into a popular masculine spirituality. How do I justify or understand this expression? To be honest I am not sure. I actually find these matches more respectful than most other sports. In other sports there is always the temptation to 'cheat' in order to gain an advantage. In the UFC I believe the only rules are no biting, eye gauging, punches to the back of the head and groin shots (though they wear cups) and I have never seen someone try to use these things to there advantage. I don't think these guys are saints, but I do think the nature of the sport allows for more 'honest' competition.

I suspect at bottom the allure of these competitions is the basic desire to be King of the Castle to be capable of some expression in which we are able to control our environment. In this way I can relate my interest in mixed martial arts to my interest in Hebrew in college and philosophical theology now. In college I held firmly that the Bible was the final authority on truth and practice and so in order to best control the play of interpretations I studied the biblical languages. In this way I could use this authority to legitimize or undermine interpretations (and thus control the playing field). This gave way to the study of hermeneutics and its role in philosophy. I began to think that there were philosophical assumptions that guided my interpretations and so I needed to master that field in order to remain in control. Our actions are almost always in the service of stability.
. . . Wait! This is supposed to be a confession! Only guilt and shame, no excuses! Anyone else? The pastor is in . . .