Who Loves Us? or What’s Up With Worship Music?

I am a passionate worshiper. I sing loudly and feel the songs deeply. As a former drummer, I also dig rockin’ worship.worship blue

Having said that, my recent travels have given me reason to pause. In three different states – in three different regions of the country – I have had the pleasure of attending three different worship services. It was not lost on me that although they are three different denominational backgrounds, they all sang almost identical worship sets.

Now, the uniformity in contexts that proudly eschew liturgy is fascinating enough – but will have to wait.
What I want to focus on today is that in all  three services the exact same song appeared … and it is a troubling song in the context of public worship.

I know that looking at contemporary worship music is a delicate affair. I have at times comforted those who are worried about worship. I have at other times needed to be reminded of the poetics involved corporate singing.

It is with appropriate caution that I offer a modest critique of this very popular song. I only bring it up because it is so emblematic of a larger issue that needs addressing.

The song is “How He Loves Us”. Here is how the song starts:

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.

 

Right off the bat we have 4 problems:

1) Who is ‘He’? The song never references God at all.  It never introduces a character and then refers to ‘him’ by pronoun the rest of the time. There is no referent for ‘he’. It is odd to introduce a pronoun without an antecedent.

Herein lies the problem: the assumed ‘you’ (or in this case ‘he’) of modern worship music is too comfortable. I don’t mean in a ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ sort of way. I mean in an christendom assumption that everyone in the room means/thinks the same thing.
This presumption of identity is the exact thing that we need to be correcting/ deconstructing with good and meaningful worship!  Instead, we go early and often to therapeutic songs about belonging, identity and longing.

2) Mercy Doesn’t Bend Trees. I get the imagery of the hurricane. It is fine to allude to imagery and even use allegory. Music is expressive! I get that. But if you are going to employ a device … stick with it.

‘He’ is a hurricane, I am a tree. Fine. Wind bends trees. Got it. What is the mercy part? Mercy doesn’t bend trees. That line doesn’t make any sense.

Herein lies the problem: the thoughtless jumping into and out of poetic devices is distracting to anyone who is actually thinking about what they are singing. If your going to employ imagery – go with it. Stick with it. As worshipers we will give you plenty of permission to be creative. Just don’t be distracting.

3) Who are you singing to? The next line of the song then shifts voices/audiences.

When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

We were just singing about ‘Him’ and now you (singular) are singing to ‘You’. What happened there?  It is like this song loses its train of thought or switches into and out of storytelling mode impulsively.

Herein lies the problem: contemporary worship songs have become so emotive that what may be appropriate for the song writer’s personal/private experience may not be as suitable for public/corporate worship.

4) He Loves Us. The chorus then has another shift in voice and audience and now ‘we‘ are signing about ‘Him’. The music swells and settles into a powerful and constant sway. The audience comes together into full-throated unity. It is an amazing crescendo and it resonates deeply in our hearts as we remind each other of the deepest truth in the universe: God is love (I John 4:8) and that love is for the whole world (John 3:16).

Herein lies the problem: the chorus is beautiful and deep and meaningful and true. So my concern about the distracting and scattered nature of the song up to this point may lead someone to ask “You don’t like that song? I love that song! It means so much to me and I experienced God’s love when we sang it.”  And that is the problem! Because songs are so powerful and people’s experience in/of them is so profound and meaningful … we need to be more careful with the stuff we throw up on the powerpoint projector.

My concern is not with the sincere congregant who throws themselves whole-heartedly into a worship chorus and isn’t analyzing every detail of the progression and theology. God bless them!
My concern is with the leadership that chooses and orchestrates the worship gathering! We need to love, lead and protect people because they are vulnerable when they on their knees – with their eyes closed – and their hands raised to heaven. That is a vulnerable position and we are asking them to offer their whole hearts to God – we can’t be this sloppy and unquestioning in our song selection.

 

I could go on with my critique of this song. It gets weirder and more erratic. I don’t want to beat a dead horse though. 

Let me close with this: If you were to take the lyrics of a song and plug them into one of those ‘word bubble’ generators, if ‘He’ is the biggest word + ‘God’ never appears in the song = the song is making assumptions we cannot afford to make in the 21st century.

In a post-modern post-christendom context, people are coming in with both great needs and massive assumptions. We are missing the very opportunity that worship of the living God provides when we don’t challenge those assumptions (of both God’s identity as well as  our own identity) and meet those needs of forgiveness, acceptance and belonging.

It is time to ask again what the purpose of worship is and then select songs accordingly. Otherwise we are missing an opportunity to teach about God and introduce people to that God who loves them so very much.

I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, concerns and corrections. 

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How (not) to speak (about the power) of God

I appreciated many things about the most recent TNT episode in which Tripp and Bo dealt with some of the questions and common misconceptions of process theology and its differences from other theologies like Arminianism and open theism.  I also enjoyed the exchange between Tripp and Brandon in the comment section.  This podcast and blog is one of the best places out there for constructive theological conversation.  I have read Whitehead and studied process theology in some depth now, and I’m very impressed and challenged by much of it.  Getting to hear from John Cobb in person on a number of occasions was a highlight during my time at CGU.

I am not very interested in making statements about what counts as orthodoxy and what doesn’t, but I am concerned about giving past theological ideas a fair reading.  When treating central doctrines of the faith with scrutiny, therefore, I feel that the burden of proof should be on the innovator more so than on the tradition.  Of course, this does not mean that we cannot innovate.  On the contrary, innovation is essential, but problems occur when we do this without charitable consideration of those who have come before us — as Tripp and Bo know (that’s why they let people like me express somewhat divergent opinions on their blog!).

For guys who are as theologically astute as Tripp and Bo, however, I was a little surprised to hear what I consider to be a rather trite dismissal and caricature of the classical tradition’s way of talking about God’s power.  Specifically, I want to take issue with the claim made by process theology that “Constantinian” Christianity gave bad compliments to God that were better reserved for Caesar – omnipotence in particular.  The trouble is that oppressed Christians with minority and marginalized status under the rule of the Roman Empire gave “Caesar” attributes to God to distinguish themselves from Greek polytheism long before the church’s integrity was compromised by imperial power.  And they weren’t voluntarists (i.e., those who believe that God can do whatever God wants).  Now, this by itself does not mean that the early Christians were right to talk about God in the way they did, but I’m simply making the point that such supposedly misleading “compliments” predated the creeds and the councils, and were not made for the reasons that Tripp and Bo’s comments implied.  Yet the question still remains as to whether the early church was justified in how they conceived of God, and that’s what I want to consider first.

In the podcast, Tripp used the example of parenting to illustrate the problem of evil with respect to God’s power and God’s character.   The scenario was described in which a parent standing idly by watches while his or her child runs into the street, fully aware that a car is coming down the road and not intervening to save the child.  Clearly, by the standards of our finite, human and historical existence, this kind of parenting is unimaginable.  The conclusion is drawn then that if God fails to intervene in the world when God’s children are in imminent danger, God is a bad parent.  Therefore, if God is to remain good, it must be the case that God cannot “intervene.”

In order to arrive at this position, a comparison is made univocally to God’s relationship with human beings in history and space-time in general.  That is, it is assumed that human relationships between parents and their children are similar enough to the relationship between God and human beings for this exact parenting comparison to be used when talking about God.  According to the classical Christian way of talking about God though, and as Brandon Morgan points out, this direct comparison is a mistake.

As finite beings, all of our language is only fit to describe finite reality.  This leads some to conclude that all attempts to say anything positive about God are in vain.  But those like Thomas Aquinas for example, and Pseudo-Dionysius, insisted instead that one could indeed ascribe certain attributes to God by following a process of affirmation, negation, and remotion when talking about God (e.g., “God is like a parent in some respects, but only in limited correlation or proportionality, not directly”). This method of theology became known as the via analogia, or the “analogical predication of divine names.”  Thomas also has an account of God’s agency in the world in terms of secondary causality, which is a non-zero sum way of granting freedom to creation and human agents for participation in the purposes of God without infringing upon natural ends.Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

In other words, while it is fitting to say that God loves us like parents love their children, this love, and this parenthood, are not im-mediately comparable to our finite and human experience of love and parenting.  All the more so when we get into specific human experiences like kids playing in traffic.  The idea that God could intervene to stop traffic is not the same kind of intervention that Christians hope for in the resurrection or in the eschaton.  The same goes for talking about God as a “ruler,” or as anything else.  Thus, when assessing and the nature of God’s character with respect to God’s power, we cannot rely too heavily on any one human analogy.  Only in the resounding overflow or of a plurality of names does the nature of God become even partially revealed.  Thus, whatever one makes of traditional accounts of God’s omnipotence, it does not equal “arbitrariness” or Caesar-style trumping power. 

Secondly, The problem of evil has troubled me deeply, and still does.  I do not feel resolved about it at all.  My dissertation is largely about this very subject.  But I think our refusal to tolerate a fair amount of mystery and childlike faith when it comes to explaining suffering has as much to do with our anthropocentric view of reality as it does with any possible deficiency in God’s character or power.  Much as I want it to, God’s goodness does not necessarily depend on what is good for humans and from our point of view right now.  I say this as someone who is as existentially disturbed by meaningless horrors in history as the next person.

Process folks like to recite the Philippians 2 hymn, but only the first half of it.  Yes, God’s power is most demonstrated in the self-emptying love of Christ on the cross.  In this sense, God can rightly be called a fellow-suffer who understands.  And on this same cross, the power of Caesar is judged, criticized, and exposed as fraudulent.  But only in the resurrection is the power of Caesar truly undermined, which Paul attests in “part two” of the Philippians hymn.  And according to Paul, the power of God is disclosed not as weakness, but in weakness – in becoming weakness, namely.  For without decent, there could be no ascent (metaphorically).

Similarly, the reign of God is known not so much by non-coercive power, but by power from below – power from the fringe.  There is a difference here. I am weary of any dualism between nature and super-nature as well, but if the resurrection isn’t meant to be a coercive rupture of the “as is” structure of reality, I don’t know what is.  I suggest, therefore, that Christians are better off not by taking issue with the idea of God having coercive power as such, but with God having top-down power.  It’s a false binary if we’re forced to choose between a Caesar-God and a persuasive God.  God’s top-down action is weak, but bottom-up, it’s strong, transformative and quite forceful.  This doesn’t need to mean it isn’t loving.  Somewhere herein lies an all-important distinction that might just make a way for a real eschatology without giving up the integrity of the physical universe.

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Unfolded Episode 9 – Through The Motions

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In Episode 9 of Unfolded, the illustrious Dave Harrity reflects on relationships, marriage, love, awkwardness, pride and compassion in his poetic story entitled Through The Motions. And, as always, Matt Barlow shines on the 1’s and 2’s.

HarrityAuthorPhotoDave Harrity is an author and teacher from Louisville Kentucky, where he lives with his wife and kids. He is the author of Making Manifest: On Faith, Creativity and the Kingdom at Hand, which is available at seedbed.com. He is also the founder of Antler, a community building organization that exists to help people engage creativity as a devotional practice for spiritual formation. You can connect with Dave on twitter @daveharrity.

We  truly love feedback and dialogue. Please leave comments here on the blog and let us know what you thought of this episode — liked it? Didn’t like it? Why? And be sure to follow Matt and Jesse on twitter.

Please subscribe to Unfolded on itunes. Non iTunes users can grab the feedburner feed HERE or listen through Stitcher. And when you’re done listening to the show, you can read Through the Motions here.

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Rob Bell, that new show with Carlton Cuse & Post-Mars Hill Goodies [Podcast ep.168]

Rob Bell is back on the podcast.  He is no longer a Grand Rapids resident, a congregational minister, or wearing black framed glasses!!! In the past year he moved to Orange County and has been busy working on the pilot of a new TV show with Carlton Cuse from Lost.  Rob threw out the idea of interviewing him before the taping of a pilot episode and we said ‘yes.’

The conversation was recorded in two parts.  The first half was recorded in person back stage before the show taping and the second on the phone since Carlton needed Rob.  Getting cut off by Carlton was awesome.

In this interview Bo asks him about what he has been reading. Check out Rob Bell’s reading list here.  

Check out Rob’s last visit to the podcast and Bo and I’s discussion of the new show.
And sign up for Mutiny!

Mutiny Live (10/25)

Come on out for a live mutinous podcasting experiment. Join Captain Brewin, Peg-Legged Pete, & Barry the Skull Keeper for some philosophical swash-buckling & fresh brewed pints at the Monkish Brewing Co.

Kester Brewin is bringing the good news of pirate inspired mutiny to the USA. We shall be seeking the wisdom of Blackbeard, Luke Skywalker, Peter Pan and Odysseus and other eye-patched heroines as we reflect on personal development, art, economics and faith. If hearing from Kester about his newest book Mutiny! wasn’t enough… he’s bring two fellow philosophical swashbucklers, Peter Rollins & Barry Taylor, who shall assist him in over-throwing the intellectual & cultural scurvy.

Get your Mutinyt! tickets here. They are $15 and there only 50 available so Go Over-Board NOW!

Those in attendance are encouraged to come in Pirate gear. Should you NOT come with at least an eye patch you will be publicly shamed into purchasing Tripp an additional pint and yell ‘Arr’ with gusto.

For directions to Monkish Brewery go here. Look at pictures so you don’t get lost… it has happened before.

* SUPPORT the podcast by just getting anything on AMAZON through THIS LINK or you can get some Homespun Craftianity. We really appreciate your assistance in covering all the hosting fees which went up 30 bucks a month due to the growing Deaconate!

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I Could Not Be Less Reductive: Love, Sex and Faith

It has become quite clear over the past several years that the source of many arguments in my life and in our culture ordinate with a desire to reduce things down to their simplest components or lowest common denominator. Over the past decade I have really embraced a complexity model of things. I can illustrate it with two examples:

  •  The foundational thinking of Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias – the apologetics school I had been groomed in – began to ring hollow in a number of areas. Through that process, I came to see the advantage of conceptualizing reality as a web, anchored in several locations, rather than a building resting on one key foundation.

The foundationalist approach is scary in a shifting culture. What used to seem rock solid is in danger of falling like a house of cards if even one element is moved or compromised.

  •  I moved from a magical ex nihilo understanding of 6 day creation (it was not the theologically sophisticated one you might be familiar with) but could not buy the cold darwinian evolution that had been so demonized in my camps.  Turns out that both a fairly reductive. It wasn’t until I discovered emergence thought and the interplay of elements that I was able to move beyond the simple either-or option of creation vs. evolution.

 This move away from the reductive becomes important in three key conversations: love, sex, and faith. 

 Love - when I talk with other youth pastors or teens from other youth groups, I am frequently surprised with just how often a reductive approach is taken on the topic love. “Is love an action or an emotion?” Sometime a third option will be given: “or a decision”. 

Its not that the answer to the question is that consequential. That is easy enough to deal with. It is the thinking behind the question that is so dangerous! Of course love is an action, it comes with feelings and creates more feelings and we make decisions about that at every step along the way. Its easy enough to side step the either/or trap … what concerns me is why something as grand and essential complex as love has to be reduced down to a single element? What is the driving influence there?  It is bigger than just getting christian teens to not ‘give into their emotions’ or to show their love for God and the world by putting it into ‘action’ whether they feel like it or not.  There is something else behind that reductive move.

Sex - I am truly shocked by how often a reductive maneuver is employed by those who are a little more conservative than me when the topic of sex comes up. “While sex may be pleasurable – in the end, it is primarily about procreation” my debate partner will say. “In fact, God probably made it pleasurable so that we would want to do it more.”

I object to this live of reasoning strenuously!  Sex is about a whole myriad of things.

Our sexuality is about pleasure, connection, expression, intimacy, power, procreation and drive.  It certainly is not about just one thing.

Look, I know a heterosexual couple that can’t procreate. They have a very healthy sex life. I know another couple who did procreate (twice) and are finding that it is significantly impeding their sex life.

Sex in the 21st century is not just or even primarily about procreation. Even heterosexual couples who can procreate have sex that does not result in pregnancy.

 Faith - I have heard voices as disparate as Slavo Zizek and Martin Luther pull a reductive move when it comes to faith. Zizek has said on more than one occasion that he would like to see good deeds done for no other reason than that they the right thing to do – good on their own merit – and not because the one who does it gets anything out (like an altruistic sense of satisfaction) or believes that she will be rewarded for it in the next life. This reminds of Luther’s early wrestling with loving God (If I only love God for saving me then I have loved God for the wrong reason and it is not love worthy of God … etc.)

 I don’t get this at all!  It seems to me that whether you believe in a God (I do) or whether you subscribe to a social construction theory of morality (that as social mammals it benefits us to benefit others in a series of non-zero and reciprocal relationships) that both are best understood as essentially complex webs of meaning and relationship.

Let’s take the God road for a minute. If there is a God who wants me to do good things, then it stands to reason that I may be made in such a way that I both enjoy doing that good and benefit from it. That does not take away from the goodness itself, it is just distributed to several factors of befit. Why is it only truly a good deed if I get nothing – not even satisfaction – out of it. Even if I do something anonymously for which there can be no reciprocal or social benefit, I’m not allowed that simple satisfaction of knowing I did something good?  So the only truly good deed is done with emotional distance and internal steel?  That is bogus! It seems to me that even without God in the equation, that reductive move is limiting and harmful, even self-defeating.

A far better approach would be embrace the social locatedness of human existence and to recognize the collective pot of goodness to which we both benefit from and contribute to. A pot of common-wealth that is both relational and substantial that has made us who we are – we have been molded, shaped and groomed by it – and to which we participate that can benefit others as well as be rewarding for us.

Doing good is complex and it is essentially complicated. We don’t need to break that down and diagnose it as much as we need to embrace it and pour ourselves into it.

In the end, I see this impulse toward the reductive to be not only limiting to thought but detrimental to joy. I think we are missing out by not embracing the multifaceted and layered complexity of love, sex and faith.

-Bo Sanders 

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An Evangelical Support for Same-Sex Marriage

I have been asked by several of my evangelical friends to both explain my position and help them to approach this conversation in a way that does not require them to disregard the Bible that they so value. I will do this as directly and effectively as I can without being dismissive. If I am too brief in some aspect, please let me know which element you would like to have elaborated. This is an emotionally charged issue for folks on both sides and I am trying to be as irenic as possible.

 Preface: As Evangelicals we hold that the Bible as the inspired written word of God. It points us to the Incarnate Word of God (Jesus) and becomes living and active when it is read or proclaimed as the ‘declared’ word of God when preached under the influence of Holy Spirit power. (Some specialized groups will want to say ‘inerrant’ or ‘infallible’ instead of inspired but I stick with inspired since it has the greatest level of agreement.)

 The thought process for a new approach to same-sex unions centers around three things: 

 The Old Testament: Christians are not bound to the ‘law’ and follow almost none of the rules found in the Hebrew testament. Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the law  for all who believe and the Christian scriptures say that Christ abolished the law (Ephesians 2:15), fulfilled the law (Romans 10:4 & Matthew 5:17) and made it obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).  We can’t quote any of the Old Testament ‘clobber’ passages on this issue. While the Old Testament is an inspired record containing the word of God, Christians have been set free and no longer live by that law (see the book of Acts 10-15).

The New Testament: Paul did not write in a vacuum. He wrote in the context of the Roman empire – both in reaction to and correction of. Central to the Roman code was something called the Pater familias. The ‘dad’ (land owner) in a Roman family basically ‘owned’ everyone else (including wife and kids) and could do whatever they wanted (including sexually) with them. There was also a practice of men going to war taking a young ‘armor bearer’ (or companion) who they could use sexually. What verses like Romans 1 are against is something that everyone – no matter where they are on our current issue – would still be against.

Homosexuality: Homosexuality was a medical term invented in the 19th century. It was in contrast to heterosexuality (notice the binary).  The Bible (the inspired written word of God) is not talking about homosexuality. It didn’t exist. The Bible is not talking about the same thing we are debating. It can no more be addressing homosexuality than it can be talking about Television. There was no such thing. Our contemporary talk about sexual identity and sexual orientation is not on the Bible’s radar.

We don’t live by the Old Testament. The New Testament is talking about something we would all still be against. The Bible is not talking about the same thing that we are debating, it didn’t exist. To drag our ‘homosexuality’ into the pages of the Bible is anachronistic (out of time sequence).

 Sexual identity/orientation is something we have to talk about in light of scripture’s teaching, but we can’t simply import our English words and concepts into the original text and assume that it is addressing the same things we are wrestling with.*

 So let’s be clear – here is what we are saying and what we are not saying:

  •  We are not talking about permissive promiscuity and a ‘do what ever you want’ morality.
  •  We are talking about committed disciples of Christ finding a healthy expression of their sexuality in a committed long term relationship.
  •  We are not talking about anything goes licentiousness.
  •  We are talking about equality for those with orientations that are admittedly not the majority expressions but who, none the less, have a sexual identity that is valid and legitimate.

So there it is -as simply as I can state it. I have found this three-pronged approach to be a good first entry into the conversation. From there I would talk about the trajectory of liberation found in the New Testament, or the hermeneutical approach that allows us to navigate the sayings in the Bible about divorce in our contemporary churches (we clearly have the ability to navigate that sort of challenge.)

I hope this will be helpful or at least informative of one approach to addressing support for same-sex unions.

 

* I know that some who are more progressive are going to say “even if it was – so what? The Bible was wrong on slavery and it is wrong on this too!”. Can I just kindly say that this post is not intended for you and that it is great that you already have your conviction and if you could just let us slow-pokes have this little conversation in our own terms, that would be really helpful. 

_____ post script

So Lynette came on and answered the question that so many had been asking for 2 days and I had only attempted to answer:

The term “arsenokoites” in Paul’s writing and the term “homosexual” today don’t really map to each other very well.

Arsenokoites was even used in reference to married, opposite-sex relationships in the early church (See John the Faster’s “Many men commit the sin of arsenokoitia with their wives.”). Arsenokoites would appear to mean “A man who takes sexual advantage of those under his authority, including male slaves (his own and those belonging to pagan temples), sons, pupils, and prisoners of war”.
Whereas homosexual means a person, male or female, who is romantically, relationally, and sexual attracted primarily to those of his or her own sex or gender, and therefore is likely to seek romantic partnerships and sexual relationships with his or her own sex or gender (though one can be celibate and still be homosexual).
They don’t map very well together. In Paul’s world, sex was largely a matter of power relationships– a man acquired a wife, a slave, a prostitute, a child, etc. and could, as part of his authority gratify sexual desires with those under him.
Today’s relationships are largely based on love, partnership, companionship, not property and authority. Therefore, what Paul writes has to be understood through the lens of his own time and not through our own lens.

_______ pt. 2

The amazing amount of comments has exceeded the program’s ability to display them all on the same page.  So I am moving some very helpful comments up into the original post so that we can all find them as the conversation progresses.

 From JDS: For an extended discussion of the word “arsenokoitai,” please see: http://www.religioustolerance.org/homarsen.htm. (This site is excellent for presenting multiple interpretations of the Bible’s references to homosexuality). The word has been translated various ways over the years, but the translation as homosexual does not appear until the last couple hundred years.
Again: the term “homosexuality” has no record before about 1800 (and is very rare until later in the 19th century). “Arsenokoitai” also (as far as we can tell) does not refer to lesbianism, fwiw, but only some kind of male sexual practice (Martin Luther thought it meant self-abuse, apparently).

The upshot is that Paul does NOT use the very common Greek term “paiderasste,” which was what the Greeks used to refer to male-male sex. Instead, he uses this other term of more obscure origin.

 

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To Fear the Loving God?

In the latest episode of the TNT (Theology Nerd Throwdown) Tripp and I discuss the christo-centric and love-centric lens (hermeneutic) of reading the Bible.

We put forward the audacious claim that if God is (at least) as nice as Jesus then you have to look at the rest of Scripture (including the OT and the book of Revelation) a little differently. This is a radical departure from what many would  classify as ‘a plain reading of the text’ or ‘it says what it means,stupid’ ( a slight but important deviation from “Keep It Simple Studip: K.I.S.S.) readings.

I both sensed and was waiting for someone to bring up the passage from the OT … and jb00m brought the thunder!

The question raised to me after discussion about this TNT was, “how do we understand ‘fear of God’ with respect to a non-violent God? What would/does it mean?”

I’m not sure what the answer is. Though, my thinking goes along: living the transformed life is living with the fear of God, working out faith with fear and trembling…because of the responsibility inherent in it, with the ambiguity that can be there in figuring out how to act in the individual circumstance. Something like that. Any thoughts?

What a great question!  I promised that I would put it out there for discussion. If the being of wisdom is fear of the Lord, we are suppose to work out our salvation with fear and trembling  – then how do we reconcile that with this life transformation perspective that was proposed on the TNT?

look forward to your thoughts and responses  -Bo

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In Remembrance of Me: guest post by Dan Hauge

by Dan Hauge 

As I began to read through Bo’s post, Eucharist Isn’t Enough, the other day, I began to steel myself for disappointment. I feel keenly the problems of consumerism and commodification that Bo talks about, but I have intuitively felt for some time that an emphasis on the Eucharist really has the potential to help the church combat these less-than-humanizing cultural tendencies. So getting ready to hear how the Eucharist just won’t cut it brought up a certain defensiveness in me.

However, as I read his critique of how the Eucharist plays out in many church contexts (providing people a religious service with bread and wine serving the same function as a biscotti and latte) his critique began to make a lot of sense, and I realized I agreed with him—if we’re talking about the Eucharist as the specific ritual where we gather in our (mostly) demographically homogeneous communities, partake of thimble-sized versions of the elements, and place a great amount of importance on whether God’s presence really or symbolically resides in those thimble-sized elements.
At least in my own evangelical contexts, taking communion has come to be primarily an opportunity for us to intellectually “remember” the events of Good Friday, and then privately reflect in gratitude on whatever significance we believe those events have for us. In some more creative versions there is space for people to mingle and interact, and while all these things are valuable in and of themselves, I believe there is potential for more.

 My own understanding of the eucharist has been shaped by the distinct possibility that many early Christians experienced it as a common meal. Jesus’ final supper, whether a Passover or not, is definitely portrayed as a full meal. The Didache offers instructions for a Eucharistic prayer to be read “after you have been filled” (10.1), and the latter part of 1 Corinthians 11 seems to describe a Lord’s Supper where the community is sharing a meal together. And eating together implies a lot of sharing—sharing space, sharing resources, and sharing the fruit of your labors, whether the farming, purchasing, or cooking. What is key for me in all of this is the sense of unity—people coming together, sharing what they have, embodying the deeper truth of our interdependence as co-equal children of God.

In the Corinthian church this sense of unity was (to put it mildly) breaking down, as some members were doing some serious feasting (perhaps bringing some of their favorite menu items from home, or maybe even taking more than their fair share), to the extent that they created a visible, uncomfortable gap between the better-off and not-so-well-off. In one of his snarkier passages, Paul addresses this gap head on: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” He goes on to complain that “one goes hungry and another becomes drunk”, and asks “do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” (By the way, I’m drawing mostly from the work of Dr. Gordon Fee in my interpretation of this passage.)
The way in which the ‘feasters’ were behaving during a meal that was supposed to embody commonality was turning it into a time of self-gratification. (I’m tempted to call it a time of “consumerism”, but I suppose we shouldn’t slide over the real cultural and economic differences between their time and ours). Still, this exercise of privilege, enjoying their own resources at the expense of the inclusion of people of lower class, is for Paul a matter of taking the bread and cup of Jesus “in an unworthy manner”.

In fact, it’s worth questioning whether Paul’s reiteration of Jesus’ instructions to take the Eucharist “in remembrance of me” is really geared toward remembering the theological significance of Good Friday (as it’s often been understood), or if he might rather be emphasizing “remembrance” of who Jesus was—his radical inclusive love, his barrier-breaking kingdom (or kin-dom, if you like). How you treat each other—with dignity, with mutuality and shared purpose embodied in the equal sharing of sustenance—matters a great deal if the Eucharist is truly going to reflect who Jesus was and what he calls us to be.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that Paul doesn’t seem too concerned about uprooting the class structures themselves. His solution to this particular issue is a little more mundane—if you really want to chow down, do it at home and don’t bring it into the context of the shared meal with the rest of the body. But this is a case where I think we can take the basic principle (don’t exacerbate class distinctions within the community of Christ) and extend it to the issues of class, marginalization, and oppression in general.

If the community of Jesus followers is supposed to be about sharing the vision of God’s shalom with the wider world, shouldn’t our Eucharist celebrations embody that? Can we celebrate the Eucharist in such a way that calls into question the fact that we live, work, and eat every day in the midst of grossly unfair class structures that divide us, excessively rewarding some and punishing others?

I think about a UCC church I once attended in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (an area with a significant amount of poverty and drug use), where right after the service the “coffee and snack hour” was open to the entire neighborhood. It was one (rare) instance where it did not feel like the church fellowship was one community “serving” the poor community it lived in the midst of. Rather it felt like one community gathering, where it just so happened that most of the people didn’t choose to attend the formal service the hour before. How can Christians of privilege, who constantly benefit from the dominant system even as we critique it, engage in genuinely mutual community with those the system leaves behind? Can we create ways of truly eating together, to embody real communion in our communion?

 

It will require ongoing analysis of my privilege in society, a willingness to examine how my ways of being, eating, and doing contribute to making life harder for others, and a recognition of how all of this creates a barrier to mutual relationship with others. A barrier that Jesus died to overcome, but that is only overcome as we follow and trust Jesus, finding ways to share together, strive together and eat together “in remembrance of him”.

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Is this even Christianity?

This past Monday I caught wind of a cooky Southern preacher who preached about a plan to exterminate lesbians, queers and homosexuals. I hear a lot of chatter about this kind of thing so I hoped it would just go away.

By Tuesday night this North Carolina pastor was showing up all over Facebook and Twitter. By Wednesday morning he was the ‘most popular’ link on all of Yahoo! world homepage.

If you have not seen this video, be warned. It is in no way understated. Here is the link:  NC Pastor 

 I have 3 main thoughts about this:

  1. I know tons of people who are not for ‘same sex marriage’ who would not speak of electric fences. Anytime you are suggesting some tactic that the Germans used in WWII you may want to take note.
  2. This is a different TYPE of Christianity – one that is the concerned with governing morals. We going to have to address why the church is even doing State sanctioned marriage in the first place. So often we try to have the second conversation without the first – no wonder it doesn’t go anywhere.
  3. My church and 50 others that I know of and communicate with on a regular basis do kind things and say loving words all the time and no one press covers it. That is the nature of the modern media. Deal with it.

Nothing thus far is that surprising – save the actual sermon by the NC Pastor. Here is my concern:

  • At what point is some pastor so deep in the Constantinian compromise that he is more Roman than Christ-like? At some point do we say ‘that is not even Christian’ ?
  • OR is this just one branch of Christianity and it is our obligation to treat this man as a brother who has simply lost his way?
  • OR is this Preacher doing more harm than good and actually crippling the gospel message – and in that sense he is an enemy of our cause?  And at that point, what do we do with Jesus’ admonition to love our enemy?

Admission: I have been re-reading Stuart Murray’s Post-Christendom and … while that is admittedly probably not the best idea … I have to admit that this whole ‘legislating civil unions and marriages’ thing in North Carolina could not come at a worse time for me.

For what it is worth, here is my 2 cents.

  1. This is not Christianity. Well, it might be Christendom but it is not whatever Jesus was after.
  2. This guy is my brother (in humanity even if not christianity) and has simply lost his way.
  3. Whether he is my crazy cousin or my enemy – Christ compels me to love and respect him as a person even as I wholly (and holy) disagree with his inhuman and immoral speech.

I’m not really sure what other course of action I have in this situation. I spent last week in the woods with no technology and unless I want to perpetually retreat away from all this ugliness, I have got to address this kind of craziness at some level. What else is there in the face of hate except to love?

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