Engage: The Wilderness

Brueggemann’s reintroduction in the revised edition of this book is worth the price of it because “the wilderness” is where we spend so much time in our journey to the common good. We live between what should not be and what should. We must learn to survive in the wilderness.

In the reintroduction, Brueggemann describes it as the place where key things occur, but always in the face of formidable challenges which he names today as vulnerability, dislocation, anger, and fear.

The wilderness is a movement “from” these things “to” resiliance, identity, gratitude, and love. The wilderness is the crucible where leaden dross is turned into living faith. It is a firey experience–one that cannot occur without risk-taking and courage. Brueggemann sees three wilderness analogies between Israel’s exodus (from/to) and ours today….

(1) The wilderness is where Pharoah (“the system”) no longer controls us. But this means we have to find the means to order our life together. It is easier to be dominated from without than directed from within. All slaves have to do is follow orders; an emancipated people must determine what their marching orders are supposed to be. Otherwise the exodus becomes a death march.

The journey toward the common good requires a communal discernment of what “the good” is, and a covenantal commitment to bring it to pass. Brueggemann describes it this way, “in the moment of emancipated bodies, the wilderness requires hard thinking and bold action for the sake of an alternative social apparatus.”

At the present time, we have no meta-narrative, no national ethos. We are in a wilderness of anarchy much more than one of collective alignment. The journey to the common good begins in the effort to discern and design a way forward.

(2) The wilderness is where we are no longer dependent upon imperial support systems, and we trust God to provide for us. The substsnce and timing of God’s provision is different from what the system gave, and it is easy to give up on God and head back to empire-defined life.

Here is where imagination is crucial. Brueggemann notes that “a failure of imagination might lead to a replication of the old forms of our common life that bring with them conventional practices of exploitation, predation, and abuse.”

Prophetic imagination develops alternatives to those established in the system: political, racial, economic alternatives. Inevitably, those who have benefitted from the old ways immediately resist the alternatives, and characterize advocates as unpatriotic, libtards, trouble-makers. It is here where John Lewis’ admonition to make “good trouble” becomes determinative as to whether we keep moving toward the Promised Land, return to Egypt, or die in the desert.

At the present time, we have prophets who are envisioning and creating alternatives. The continuation of our journeyn to the common good hinges on this question, “Will we heed the prophetic call or listen instead to the siren songs of the dirty, rotten system?”

(3) The wilderness is the place of protest. In Egypt, Pharoah silenced the voice of protest by punishing the protestors. But in the wilderness, God allows and accepts protest because when people speak up, it is a sign they are alive and hopeful.

Brueggemann puts it this way, “The protesters around us have not acted out of cynicism or despair; they have acted in hope of transformative outcomes.” And in the end, that’s what the journey to the common good is–the exercise of hope so that life together is transformed from enslavement to emancipation. It is a journey that must pass through the wilderness.

We are in the wilderness today. It is a necessary disorientation between the old order and the new creation. Using Exodus, Jeremiah, and Isaiah, Brueggemann will guide us toward the common good.

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At the Gate: Now I See!

Sitting at the gate, I see things I did not see before. Many of those things cluster around the word ‘injustice’—things that were going on right before my eyes but I did not see them. Things that created a lopsided society operating with two phrases Walter Brueggemann used in a recent article: “predatory dispossession” and “violent greed.” [1] Today, I illustrate with my own experience of what he writes about in the article, the systemic dismantling of Black farms through white-supremacist tactics.

I grew up in Haskell, Texas. It survived in almost every respect by agricultural revenue. The phrase “Cotton is King” was more true than false in my hometown. No matter which direction you came from to get into town, you drove through miles of cotton fields. Haskell was an island in a sea of farmland. And that picture was replicated throughout much of Texas, and other states as well.

In that agricultural ocean surrounding Haskell, I did not know one Black farmer. I knew minority-group farm workers, but no minority-race farm owners. At the time, I thought nothing of it. Now, I understand that I was living in a culture of white-supremacy which created the dearth of Black farmers. Sitting at the gate, I now see that the phrase, “That’s the way it is,” too easily becomes an anesthetic rendering us unconscious of realities going on around us and leaving us asleep so far as doing anything about them is concerned. The absence of Black farmers was “just the way it is.” Drawing on his reading of an eye-opening book, Brueggemann shines light into a darkness I did not even know was there. [2]

In 1920, there were 925,000 Black farms in The United States. By 1970, there were 86,000. In fifty years, 91% were gone! This did not happen accidentally, but rather through a concerted effort by white people operating in two seditious ways. First, when the U.S. government allocated huge amounts of money over decades to strengthen farming, the USDA authorized County Extension Agents to determine who got the money. Simply put—Black farmers didn’t. White farms were bolstered; Black farms shriveled in the sun like the cotton grown there did in a drought. And that led to the second wave of the sedition: when Black farmers did not produce profitable crops, they defaulted on their loans, and banks foreclosed on their land. And. “wah-lah,” Black farms largely disappeared.

Writing as a white person (like me, though his experience was in North Carolina), Brueggemann laments, “Now it strikes me that the sore point is that I (we) did not know about this. We did not know the economic jeopardy of small-acreage Black farmers. We did not know about the long term resistance of the Department of Agriculture. We did not know about the pattern of predatory dispossession. And we did not know that we lived in a world of assets while these neighbors lived in a world of dangerous debt. We did not know, in our comfort zone so carefully protected from reality.”

We did not know…….”that’s just the way it was.” It still is, and as we continue to say “That’s just the way it is,” we anesthetize ourselves to the white supremacy which continues to operate in the economic, political, judicial, business, educational, media, athletic, entertainment, and religious aspects of our culture. The supremacists want us to accept “that’s just the way it is” in our day, as in times past. They peddle it through the anesthesia of “anti-woke” sentiment, striving to make us take the gas of their poisonous ideology and be as asleep and inactive as has ever been the case in our nation.

But….now, I see! “I once was blind, but now I see.” Amazing grace—that stirs us from our societal sleep of death. As we awaken, we hear Isaiah, Malachi, and Paul rousing us, “Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [3] Getting “woke” is what happens when “the Gospel says” becomes our interpretive view. Awakening gives us the seeing eyes that Jesus wants us to have (Mark 8:18)—the eyes to see things the supremacists do not want us to see, and are at work to prevent us from seeing. Awakening is cleaning the lens so we can see what’s going on, expose it, and resist it.

Brueggemann ends his article by saying, “The work of learning is an urgent responsibility, to see how and why “the other half”—the half of debt—lives and suffers and resists and fears as it does. There are testimonies, witnesses, and advocates along the way if we pay heed…Our awakened sensibility is a first urgent step toward neighborly restoration. It is a step the church makes in its defining vocation.”

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “The Dispossessing Power of Violent Greed,” Church Anew e-letter, February 3, 2023.
[2] Pete Daniel, ‘Dispossession: Discrimination Against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights.’
[3] Isaiah 26:19, 51:17, 60:1; Malachi 4:2; Romans 13:11; Ephesians 5:14.

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At the Gate: The First-Christians Hermeneutic

Sitting at the gate, I look one more time at “the Gospel says” interpretive declaration. Following Jesus, it is not surprising that the first Christians interpreted the Hebrew scriptures (and then, Jesus’ teachings too) as Jesus did. Sadly, this did not last, as the Church became increasingly imperialistic. [1] With its mounting institutionalism, the Church splintered into factions vying for power and control. A major schism occurred in 1054 CE, only to be followed in both the Roman and Orthodox branches with thousands more. With each ensuing split, The Jesus hermeneutic faded in favor of a hermeneutic more given to group-think and doctrine-drivenness. At its worst, being “orthodox” was more important than being Christlike. [2]

Given this departure from the Jesus hermeneutic, it is important to see how the first Christians remained faithful to it, forming the second wave of “the Gospel says” interpretation of Scripture In the rest of the New Testament.

First, the first Christians continued the trajectory toward inclusion. We see this in key texts: Acts 10, Acts 15, Galatians 3:28, and Colossians 3:11. The Jesus hermeneutic is clearly in play here, one which Paul declares to have been in effect at the beginning of creation itself (Colossians 1:15-20). The first Christians enlarged the Jesus hermeneutic to the universal Christ interpretation. [3] Full inclusion was not achieved by the close of the New Testament, but the trajectory for it was set—even though aspects of it (e.g. women and non-European people) were subjugated, and still are.

Second, the first Christians perpetuated the primacy of love. Paul (1 Corinthians 13) and John (1 John 3:13-23 and 4:7—5:3) amplified the two great commandments, making love “the more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and enjoining love as the evidence of the Spirit-filled life and the hallmark of community. And as Jesus had done, the first Christians understood that love is an action, with grace being love in operation. [4] The result is Christlikeness, the virtuous life, characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Third, the first Christians continued restorative justice. They expressed it in the ministries of healing and forgiveness (sometimes combining them as Jesus did), with the result that they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The metaphor is one of restoration. Sin turned the first creation upside down; when the first Christians turned it upside down the second time, they were actually turning it rightside up! That’s restorative justice—where equality, inclusion, and the common good prevail.. And more, they believed that what God had begun in Jesus would be fulfilled in the cosmic Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:22, Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 1:9-10)—the entire order (all things in heaven and on earth) will be set rightside up. They called it the new creation, and envisioned it as a new heaven and a new earth. Love wins!

Taken together, the Jesus hermeneutic and the first-Christians hermeneutic create the glasses we wear when reading the Bible. Looking through their lenses, we declare “the Gospel says!”

[1] Scholars are paying more and more attention to the period from the close of the New Testament into the time in and around the Council of Nicea, and the ensuing conciliar era. A substantive study of this era is, ‘After Jesus, Before Christianity,’ by Erin Vearncombe and others.
[2] Sadly, the word “orthodoxy” has been moved out of its original meaning of “what the creeds say” and used to mean “what our group believes.” Justin Holcomb writes about this critical distinction in his book, ‘Know the Creeds and Councils’ (Zondervan, 2014). Orthodoxy is determined by the creeds, not confessions, doctrines, or other statements of faith. The misuse of the word ‘orthodoxy’ is divisive and harmful. Misusing the term “orthodoxy” allows some Christians (in history and today) falsely to allege that those who disagree with are “heretical.” The tribunal/inquisitional spirit is alive and well alive and well among fundamentalist/nationalist Christians in our time.
[3] Richard Rohr has called our attention to this in his book, ‘The Universal Christ,’ as did Matthew Fox before him in ‘The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.’ Both writers describe Christ in relation to the Wisdom tradition in the Hebrew scriptures—the tradition Cynthia Bourgeault highlights in her book, ‘The Wisdom Jesus.’
[4] Thomas Oord is writing these days about the centrality of love. His book, ‘Pluriform Love’ is a good place to begin in reading him.

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At the Gate: The Jesus Hermeneutic

Sitting at the gate, I continue to see the necessity of interpreting the Bible through the lens of the Gospel. My post this past Monday, “The Gospel Says,” described my thinking in this regard. But in doing so, I recognize the phrase points to a two-pronged hermeneutic: the one begun in Jesus, and the one continued by the first Christians. In this post, and the next one, we will examine each of these subsets in “the Gospel says” interpretive lens. We begin with the Jesus Hermeneutic.

When I read Richard Rohr’s words, “Let’s use the Bible the way that Jesus did!,” my immediate response was, “Well, yes!” [1] I mean, who would want to do otherwise? His words reminded me of a similar sentiment from Emil Brunner in his book, ‘The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption,’ in which he posited that Christ is the lens through whom we look to see Scripture correctly. [2] I was in my first year of seminary (1970), and Brunner’s words set me on an interpretive journey which I continue to this day.

Essentially, Brunner said that as the Word made flesh, Jesus is the lens for “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), which of course was a reference to the Hebrew scriptures and to the Gospel which emerged from them in Jesus (Mark 1:1).. As the mediator (another of Brunner’s major themes), we look through him to see the rest of the New Testament and the subsequent Christian tradition. Everything, including the Bible, must be “in Christ” in order to be what God intends.

So, it comes as no surprise that Rohr’s admonition above went straight into my soul. Thankfully, he goes on in chapter three to enumerate some of the particulars of the Jesus Hermeneutic. [3] I offer a synthesis of his list with minimal commentary.

First, Jesus quotes the Hebrew scriptures infrequently, and when he does, it is more to show that his message is found in them, not to prove their inspiration and authority, or to validate his. Jesus’ authority is ex persona, an authority different from that of “the legal experts” (Matthew 7:29).

Second, Jesus took the Hebrew scriptures seriously, not literally. This is seen multiple times in his life and ministry, but most clearly when he stopped the stoning of the woman in John 8:3-11. In this experience and others, Jesus disobeyed unjust laws, ignored exclusionary and punitive ones, and never used any scripture to shame or shun anyone. In fact, he forbade any judgement that was based in legalism and the arrogance which allows it (Matthew 7:1).

Third, Jesus reinterpreted key passages with his phrase, “you have heard…..but I say.” He did this six times in the sermon the mount. There is no clearer revelation that he was/is the hermeneutic than in his own reinterpretation of sacred texts. But here is the point: it was a reinterpretation which restored the texts to their intended meanings. The Jesus hermeneutic does not deconstruct the text, it resurrects it.

Fourth, the laser beam of the Jesus hermeneutic is found when he concentrated the 613 commandments into two—loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthewb22:34-40), the two commands upon which all the others hang. In doing this, he was pointing to “the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23), which Walter Brueggemann sees summed up in love, justice (the common good), and mercy.

As followers of Jesus, we must interpret the Bible as Jesus did. He is the lens through whom we look at passages to discern their message. In the next post we will see how the first Christians did this in the remainder of the New Testament.

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do with the Bible?’ (CAC Publications, 2018), 41.
[2] Emil Brunner, ‘The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption’ (Westminster Press, 1952).
[3] Rohr also writes about the Jesus hermeneutic in the introduction to his book, ‘Yes, And…’ (Franciscan Media, 2013).

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Engage: Journey

We begin reading ‘Journey to the Common Good’ (Revised Edition) tomorrow. I want to offer an introductory reflection today.

The metaphor of journey is arguably the main way that Scripture and Tradition describe the spiritual life and its formation in us. Brueggemann uses the metaphor with respect to the advancement of the common good–that is, an incremental, little-by-little movement into its realization. He uses biblical insights from Exodus, Jeremiah, and Isaiah to describe this journey, as we shall see.

Today, I want to point out how many others have used the journey metaphor, and continue to use it today. Brueggemann is in good company, and you may want to include these other people in your exploration of the journey metaphor.

In his book, ‘The Spirituality of the Psalms’ Brueggemann describes it as a journey from orientation, to disorientation, to reorientation. An old order collapses, and we move toward a new creation, with liminal space (disorientation) in between. The “wilderness” is a biblical metaphor for the in-between time. I will write about it in next week’s meditation.

In the journey metaphor, we are rooted in the Bible, with key passages like Abraham’s journey from Ur to the land God would show him (Gen 12 ff.), the Exodus from Egypt to Canaan, Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-8), and Paul’s description of life in Christ the old passing away so the new can come (2 Cor 5:17). All such passages describe a threefold pattern of leaving, floundering, and entering.

I am making a general study of this threefold pattern of journeying. Here are the books that are helpful to me in this general sense…

Richard Rohr, ‘The Wisdom Pattern’–order, disorder, reorder.

Thomas Merton, ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’–false self, inadequacy, true self.

Anne Lamott, ‘Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage’–dusk, night, dawn.

Paul Tournier, ‘The Meaning of Persons’–(trapeeze analogy), first bar, between-the-bars, second bar

Henri Nouwen, ‘Flying, Falling, Catching’ (uses trapeeze analogy too)–flying, falling, catching.

Joyce Rupp, ‘Open the Door,’-opening, closing, entering. She also uses a trifold metaphor in other writing, one in which we say good-bye, struggle to say anything, and say hello.

David Brooks, ‘The Second Mountain’–first mountain, valley, second mountain.

These are only some of the resources that are shining a helpful light on the journey metaphor. They increase my appreciation of Brueggemann’s use of it relative to the common good, and my anticipation for using it in our Engage Group.

Off we go!

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At the Gate: The Gospel Says

Sitting at the gate, I see the need for us to be rooted in the Gospel. An article by Walter Brueggemann (9/21/22, link below) has moved me to see and affirm this. To get the full impact of Brueggemann’s article, you must read it for yourself. I urge you to do so. What follows in this post is an extrapolation of some of his ideas, mingling them with my own.

I begin with a statement Billy Graham made decades ago—that his ministry was rooted in Scripture, and that was why in his evangelistic crusades he laced his sermons with “the Bible says” to show the foundation of his message. I have taken this commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture to heart throughout my life and ministry, and despite what some falsely allege about me, I continue to do so today.

But as the years have gone by, we find ourselves in a different cultural and religious context than Graham did. With respect to key issues today, it is no longer sufficient to declare “the Bible says.” Why? Because as Brueggemann points out, the Bible does not have a singular message with respect to all sorts of things. It does not speak with “one voice.” Illustrating this with regard to LGBTQ+ people, he notes, “The reason the Bible seems to speak “in one voice” concerning matters that pertain to LGBTQ+ persons is that the loud voices most often cite only one set of texts, to the determined disregard of the texts that offer a counter-position.” As he points out, there are restrictive passages and welcoming ones. And this calls for a new exegetical task.

This means that passages must not merely be quoted, the biblical message must be interpreted; indeed, the exegetical task requires the adjudication of conflicting texts. But what do we use to make the adjudication? Brueggemann asserts, the interpretive lens is the Gospel. He says (and I agree) that for Christians, we are at a time when we must now declare “the Gospel says.” Declaring that “the Bible says” is insufficient with respect to key issues today. We are Jesus people; his message is the trajectory we follow. With respect to human sexuality, he stands with the welcoming voice in two ways: (1) by not citing the two Levitical prohibitions (18:22 or 20:13) when he could easily have done so [1], and then (2) by commending eunuchs (“born that way” as intersex and/or transgender human beings) in Matthew 19:12, in a spirit akin to Isaiah 56:3-5. When you bring his sense of mission (Luke 4:18-19) into the picture is even more clear.

After much substantive detail, Brueggemann concludes his article summarizing the interpretive principles he has set forth,

“Because our interpretation is filtered through our close experience, our context calls for an embrace of God’s newness, our interpretive trajectory is bent toward justice and mercy, our faith calls us to the embrace of the other, and our hope is in the God of the gospel and in no other, the full acceptance and embrace of LGBTQ+ persons follows as a clear mandate of the gospel in our time. Claims to the contrary are contradictions of the truth of the gospel on all the counts indicated above….All of these angles of interpretation, taken together, authorize a sign for LGBTQ+ persons: WELCOME! Welcome to the neighborhood! Welcome to the gifts of the community! Welcome to the work of the community! Welcome to the continuing emancipatory work of interpretation!”

Jesus is the Gospel. We follow him, and we declare “the Gospel says” as the message which “in the fullness of time” is the emancipating trajectory (e.g. Ephesians 1:9-10).

[1] Out of the entire book of Leviticus, Jesus only quoted one verse, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). Combined with the command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), Jesus identifies with the inclusive-love tradition of the Old Testament. Brueggemann writes about this in nearly all his books, articles, and in his audio/video presentations.

Here is the link to Brueggemann’s article referred to in this post: https://churchanew.org/brueggemann/the-emancipatory-work-of-interpretation?mc_cid=5e2c7b5039&mc_eid=95aec313f5

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At the Gate: The Power of a Few”

Sitting at the gate, I see the importance of a few ordinary people engaging in the advance of the common good.

As you know, the Oboedire community begins a group reading of Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Journey to the Common Good” (Revised Edition) on February 1st. A recent article by him shows why it is so timely to make this journey. [1] The article is a prelude to the commencement of our reading experience.

Through the reading of Scripture and other literature, Brueggemann has discerned this key principle for living as God intends today: “Faithfulness as the practice of risk and danger is the story of a few good women and men.” [1]

In the article, he draws this insight from Robert Crichton’s novel ‘The Secret of Santa Vittori’ and the stories of Caleb and Joshua in the Old Testament, the two leaders who personifed faithful leadership after Moses. From this reading, Brueggemann observes these things…

“(1) A few brave, good persons can make a decisive difference and alter history.

(2) The bravery of a few good persons is a magnetic force that will draw others to it, because there are many well-intentioned people who are not brave, but who can follow if led.

(3) The brave work of the few is never the work of an isolated individual, even if done alone.”

These three dynamics, Brueggemann notes, are needed in our day….

“In our society we are at a critical historical juncture that requires a few good women and men. The wealth gap between rich and poor grows, the rendition of vulnerable persons as commodities places the human community in deep jeopardy, and the spoil of the environment jeopardizes the health of creation. The wealthy, who benefit from and enjoy the wealth gap and the managers and beneficiaries of privatized prosperity, the powerful who exploit the poor, and those who produce the poison of our planet count on the rest of us to be compliant, even if in dissent. The spell of such fearful compliance can be and will be broken only by the few good women and men who dare to march to a different drummer, work from a different script, and act in ways congruent with their conviction of a world held in the good hands of the creator.”

Brueggemann’s conviction is held by others. In the Wesleyan tradition, I see it in John Wesley’s conviction, “Give me one hundred people who fear nothing but God and hate nothing but sin, and I can change the world.”

In the mid-twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. said the same, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” [2]

And do we not see the same “power of the few” in Jesus’ apostolic fellowship and discipleship followership, a world-changing band of raggamuffins barely larger than a hundred when Jesus died. The expansion of Christianity similarly occurred through a handful of people going here and there in Jesus’ name.

And that brings us back to the beginning of this piece–faithfulness is an act of the few which is risky, dangerous, and incurs opposition. The few do not seek pushback, but they inevitably experience it when the values of God’s reign collide with those of the principalities and powers.

Brueggemann’s reminder above is our marching order, “In our society we are at a critical historical juncture that requires a few good women and men.”

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “Start Me with Two!” Church Anew, 1/25/23.
[2] ‘Daily Good’ e-letter, 1/26/23.

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At the Gate: CRT

Sitting at the gate, I see the necessity and urgency for critical thinking. Without it, our survival is at stake. Tragically, we are living in a time when critical thinking is in short supply—and worse, when it is discouraged and caricatured as being “woke.” Opponents demean those who advocate critical thinking, working to insure it is not taught in schools and putting “sanitized history” in its place, so that those with “white-washed” brains (pun intended) will blindly follow them.

If you read the title of this blog and the previous paragraph thinking I am referring to the opposition of Critical Race Theory, you are partly correct. Anti-CRT sentiment is a major expression of supremacists, who fear truth and institutionalize policies and systems to keep it hidden. We rightly resist these efforts and vow to vote against CRT-opponents when they stand for re-election.

But today, I am focusing on another resisted CRT—Critical Religion Theory. Simply put, there are some religion adherents (e.g. Christian Nationalists) who do not want us to think critically about religion so as to see its dark sides, which are longstanding and legion. They insist on sanitizing religious history so that only “the light and the glory” are seen. Biblically, this means minimizing or ignoring imperialism in Scripture (political-religious collusion to advance the few and oppress the many). Historically, it means omitting such things as the persecution of Aramaic Christians (4th CE), Aryanism, the Doctrine of Discovery (multiple papal edicts, 15th-16th CE), Manifest Destiny, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, etc. Theologically, it means drawing on Christian Dominionism and its multiplied manifestations in contemporary Christian Fundamentalism. Culturally, it is enshrining oppression in the plethora of “America First” movements, some of which thrive through survivalist hate groups willing to engage in armed insurrection. I have written previous posts about these things; many others have written a lot more, and written better.

Today, it all boils to this: opposition to CRT (race and religion) is opposition to reality. We call it obscurantism. And this is why supremacists engage in it: if they can blind us to the evil of the past, they know we will not see the evil they are doing in the present. Jesus said they do this, preferring darkness to light, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19-20). Jesus also said he came to recover sight to the blind (Luke 4:18) so we could have eyes that see (Mark 8:18). The sight Jesus gives is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”—and he said this truth sets us free (John 8:32).

Thomas Aquinas said, “Tyrants are more afraid of good people than of bad people.” Good people are critical thinkers, set free to see into the deceivers and see through them to envision justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). We only call out we see. Critical thinking gives us eyes to see.

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Engage: Oops!

Should have read “scroll down to the post on January 20th to learn more.”

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Engage: Group Begins Next Week

Just a reminder that we begin a common reading of Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ (Revised Edition) on February 1st, with monthly Zoom meetings to share what we are experiencing.

You can scroll down to the post for January 20th to learn more.

I am grateful to those of you who have emailed me to say you will join the journey. I will post weekly as we read through the book, beginning on Tuesday, January 7th.

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Wesley Windows: Methodism Considered

When the foundation stone for the New Chapel in London was laid (today called Wesley Chapel) on April 21, 1777, John Wesley preached the dedicatory sermon. In it he addressed the question, “What is Methodism?” He responded,
It is “no other than love, the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, as having first loved us,–as the fountain of all the good we have received, and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God has made, every man on earth as our own soul.” [1]

In the larger context, his words confirmed his belief that Methodism, far from being an aberration or something novel was, in fact, the religion of the Bible and of the Church of England. Indeed, it was, as a theology of love, “the great medicine of life.” He believed this when Methodism began in the 1740’s, and he continued to believe it thirty-five years later. Time had confirmed the validity of his original vision.

John Wesley’s abiding conviction was that God had raised up the people called Methodist to declare God’s inclusive love—love for “all mankind,” love of “every soul God has made, every man on earth as our own soul.” No wonder that the early Methodist movement attracted many “nones and dones” (as we call them today), offering them Christ through hospitality and formation.

Wesleyan theology is one of inclusive love, loving everyone as we love our own souls.

[1] Albert C. Outler, ed., ‘The Works of John Wesley,’ Volume 3, Sermons III, 71-114 (Abingdon Press, 1986), 585.

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At the Gate: No Longer Strangers

Sitting at the gate, one of the most encouraging things I see is that religion and science are no loner strangers to one another, that each discipline has reduced its competitiveness toward the other so that a symbiosis can occur. As it does, both religion and science are better.

I am a neophyte in all this, but the little bit that I can observe is transformative, generating in me the desire to discover more and more. From what I can tell, the fundamental shift occurred when the Newtonian concept of creation as a machine gave way to a view of creation as a living thing.

Theologically, this scientific amendment fits right into a life from Life….being from Being understanding of creation. Theories of biogenesis (living things come from living things) remain plausible, but science has gone beyond them to develop abiogenesis (spontaneous generation of life coming from non-living things), making a Big Bang feasible, not only in science, but also in the first creation story in Genesis as well. [1]

The result is a religious/scientific view of creation as a sentient matrix with pervasive and interactive consciousness (variously expressed) between and among created things, a cosmic oneness that is both alive and life-giving. This brings Paul’s words into the realm of science, “In God we live, move, and exist” (Acts 17:28). It weaves religion and science together in the hymn Paul included in Colossians 1:15-20, giving an enriched and expanded understanding and appreciation of the Cosmic Christ (e.g. John 1:3).

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is often cited as a major contributor to the religion/science symbiosis, using his life as a priest and paleontologist to insightfully integrate the two through a theology of love, seen in both the nature of God and in the nature of creation. [2] Thomas Berry has similarly written to reveal a religious/scientific sacredness in creation. [3] Ilia Delio is substantively popularizing all this in the Center for Christogenesis. [4] A whole new interdisciplinary field, quantum spirituality, is enriching our knowledge. [5]

The learnings given to us through the religion/science convergence are legion. Inwardly, the discoveries of genetics and neuroscience, for example, are transforming our understanding of humanity (e.g. nature, gender, identity, orientation, etc.) as the nonbinary spectrums of existence are seen in all things. Outwardly, cosmology and quantum physics are increasing our sense of wonder. From the smallest particle to the farthest star, David’s words that we are sacredly and variously made (Psalm 139:14) are increasingly confirmed.

We are blessed to be living in this time when the visible and invisible, earth and heaven, cells and souls, telescopes and theologians are declaring the glory of God. Our sense of wholeness and holiness is being enlarged as we learn to see God in everyone and everywhere. [6] The more we learn that religion and science are not strangers to each other, the more we see that we are not strangers to one another either.

[1] Nick Lane, ‘The Vital Question’ (W.W. Norton, 2016). Mike McHargue’s book, ‘Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science (Convergent, 2016).
[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, ‘The Divine Milieu’ (1960, reprinted as a Harper Perennial book in 2001).
[3] Thomas Berry, ‘The Sacred Universe’ (Columbia University Press, 2009).
[4] https://christogenesis.org.
[5] Amit Goswami and Valentina Onisor, ‘Quantum Spirituality’ (Blue Rose Publishers, 2019).
[6] Andrew Davis & Philip Clayton, ‘How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere: An Anthology of Spiritual Memoirs (Monkfish Book Publishing, 2018).

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Engage: New Group to Start

From its beginning, I have had no intention of conducting an Engage Group on a continuing basis, but only when it seems the experience might serve a useful purpose.

In that context, I am announcing a new round of Engage Group meetings based on our common reading of Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ (Revised Edition, 2021).

I have decided to have a second Engage Group experience in light of the clear and increasing threat posed by far-right political and religious leaders and the other extremists who follow and fund them. The tipping point in my decision came when the new House of Representatives convened in chaos and with an evil determination to eschew ethics in favor of achieving their dark and radical agenda. Truth is now eclipsed by falsehood.

I personally believe that our current dilemma poses the greatest threat to state and church in my lifetime. There are multiple factors which have led me to this conviction–summed up in the context of syatemic evil that we explored in the first Engage Group using Richard Rohr’s book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?”

So much of what Rohr wrote and warned about is playing out right before our eyes. The local, state, and federal expressions of evil through the collusion of executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government make civic/ecclesial fundamentalism a threat to our nation and faiths.

It is not enough to name this pervasive evil, we must resist it and move beyond it through what Rohr has called “the practice of the better” by the efforts of those whom Matthew Fox is calling “mystic-prophets.” Walter Brueggemann’s book ‘Journey to the Common Good’ is a map for the much-needed renewal.

So….beginning February 1st, we will begin a common reading of his book. It has three parts. We will read Part One in February, Part Two in March, and Part Three in April. On the last Friday of each month (February 24, March 31, and April 28), we will gather from Noon to 1:00 pm. (Eastern Time) to talk about what we are experiencing as we read Brueggemann’s book.

As with the first round of Engage Group meetings, I will write a weekly Oboedire post as we move through the book. In the post prior to the monthly group meeting I will include the Zoom link for you to use to join the meeting. The live meeting is optional, but if you decide to participate in the Engage Group, I hope you will plan to attend all or as many of the Zoom meetings that you can.

As before, there is no cost for this group experience, except the cost of the book. If you already have the original edition, it will suffice. If you are ordering it for the first time, be sure to purchase the revised edition (2021). It has a new and very helpful introduction and other changes as well.

You do not have to formally register for the Engage Group experience. Everything you need will be posted here on Oboedire. Look for the “Engage Group” theme to guide you.

I will begin “Engage Group”theme posts the first week of February. In the meantime, get the book. If you have any questions, email me at oboediresite@gmail.com

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At the Gate: The Power of Love

Sitting at the gate, I see the power of love–the power to create, sustain, and redeem. It is the power inherent in the nature of God (1 John 4:8), manifest in Jesus (John 14:1), given to us through the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and intended to be the way we live our lives (John 15:9-17).

An article by Roger Wolsey today brought all this to mind, and his belief that “omniamo” (all loving) should be added to the three classical omnis (all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful) is one I embrace. Thanks to Roger, I want to add “omniamo” to my list of God’s allness qualities. Here are his own words, which have captured my attention,

“I would like to introduce a new “omni” quality for God, perhaps to override the “omnis” that have been displaced or reinterpreted – “omniamo” or “omniamore”) – all loving. If there is one essential and consistent theme throughout the whole of the Bible it is God’s love. We see that God loves us unconditionally like a protective parent, like a wooing lover, and like a committed lover. God loves us incarnationally, down to earth, and relationally. God loves us like a friend.” [1]

And like Roger, I want to go on to say that “all loving” is the supreme quality, the one pervading the other three–indeed, that the absence of love in the list makes the other three far less, perhaps even dangerous in some ways. Like Roger, I want to plant my flag in the soil of a theology of love, rooted in God’s powerful love.

Along with so many other Christians who embrace an all-loving God, we come by this honestly. I have pointed to it in Scripture, though there is much more in the Bible to further confirm the centrality of God’s love. But it is also a core theology in the Christian tradition, particularly emphasized in the Wesleyan tradition, where I have my theological home. [2] Indeed, I believe John Wesley’s statement of early Methodism’s mission “to spread scriptural holiness across the land” means the spreading of love everywhere.

Today, reading Roger’s article, I am reminded of the power of love. Sitting at the gate, I see the all-loving God at work directly through the Holy Spirit and indirectly through those filled with the Spirit. It is a power which transforms–enabling people to believe things about themselves (i.e. their inherent worth as God’s beloved children) which others have not ascribed to them, choosing instead to replace the truth with lies which shame and shun them. Instead, we see in God that the power of love is the ultimate unifying reality, moving Paul to write, “nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). Nothing.

With this bedrock revelation, we respond via the two great comnandments, as Jesus told us to do, loving God and loving our neighbors, refusing to engage in the fallen-world’s never-ending project of “othering” so that supremacies can be enthroned (social and ecclesial) and the few can be enriched (monetarily and in other ways) at the expense of the many. So, we resist evil (the absence of love) and advocate justice, where love prevails in fairness, equality, inclusion, and the common good.

Sitting at the gate, I see God’s all-loving nature and activity as the source for our hope that God is at work “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things of on earth” (Ephesians 2:10) [3]

Today, I cast my vote for adding all-loving to the list of God’s omnis, and I cast my lot with those who are walking the path that brings us ever nearer to the cosmic truth, “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

[1] Roger Wolsey, “All Loving–A Better Doctrine,” Progressing Spirit, 1/19/23.

[2] I am indebted to many for teaching me this theology of love through their writings and friendships: Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, Tom Carruth, Frank Baker, Randy Maddox, Thomas Oord, and Paul Chilcote–to name a few.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann links hope and love in Christology, in his book, ‘The Way of Jesus Christ.’

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At the Gate: Beyond Beliefs

Sitting at the gate, I see how my concept of belief has been distorted through the lens of the Enlightenment. [1] The distortion is not easy to describe because over time it has manifested itself in the Church in a variety of ways. But as-a-whole, belief has become linked to doctrines. We are taught to believe in beliefs—to affirm creeds, statements of faith (notice the use of the word ‘faith’ here), etc. And while “affirmations of faith” have their place, the problem is (at least the one I am trying to address here) that they become seedbeds where the weeds of egotism/ethnocentrism choke out the wheat of faith. In short, beliefs become debate stages to see who has the “best” (true) ones, tugs-of-war to see which side wins, and at their worst, battlefields where vanquishing foes (conquering heretics) is the end game.

In this unfortunate outcome, and harm-doing environment (which is often excused as “defending the faith”—again, notice that the word ‘faith’ is used), belief gets hijacked, and James’ words to Christians, “My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way” (James 3:10) are a fair assessment of our mess today as it was an accurate one in his day.

If we are to recover our senses and return belief to its biblical meaning, we must move beyond beliefs. I am in the early stages of my own attempt to do this. This post is a field report with “miles to go before I sleep.”

I have begun the restoration noting that in the Common English Bible, there are 325 occurrences of the word ‘believe’ as a stand-alone word or embedded in a word like ‘believers.’ In addition, there are well over a hundred uses of words like ‘belief,’ ‘believing,’ etc. I may never get through all this, but some initial observations are already apparent. In this post I note a few main ones.

Belief is in God, not in secondary beliefs about God. In fact, if we take a look at the creeds of Christendom, they are essentially statements of faith about God as Father, Son, and Spirit. We believe in God. We then construct beliefs about God.

In a more specific Christian sense, we believe in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. In fact, this is the faith which saves us (Acts 16:31). That is, we believe in Someone, not some things. We believe in a Person, not in principles. The way, truth, and life of our faith is Jesus—not doctrines about him. [2]

Of course this is tricky, and there is a lot to say other than “I believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus.” But what my early journey through the Bible is revealing is that this is the meaning of belief. Everything else is beliefs….and….we are not told to believe in beliefs. Jesus said, “Believe in me” (John 14:1).

What I am discovering is that when belief is freed from beliefs, my “enlightenment mind” immediately rises us and says, “That’s not good enough; that’s minimalism.” But my heart says, “It is good enough; that’s faith.” Liberated belief is radical. It means being “homeless” so far as selling your soul to any company store is concerned. But radical means “at the root,” and that is where I want to live—rooted in Christ as a branch is rooted in a vine.

As I recall, that is where Christ himself told us to live (John 15). He went on in that chapter to describe the “much fruit” that abiding in him produces: the life of love (focused in two great commandments), the life that John said would be the hallmark of the Christian community (1 John 2:7-11; 3:11—4:21).

Believing in beliefs has taken the Church far “into the weeds” and far off course from its nature (the Body of Christ, the Loving One) and mission (“love as I have loved you,” John 15:12).

It is high time to recover belief, and it begins in realizing that it is beyond beliefs.

[1] As a historical theologian, I must caution against caricaturing the Enlightenment so that it becomes the alleged cause of a derailment of Christianity. The Enlightenment is not a scapegoat. A lot of good things happened in “the age of reason,” but that does not eclipse the point I am trying to make in this blog.

[2] The writings of E. Stanley Jones are once again freeing me from the captivity to belief in beliefs. His book, ‘The Way’ is the foundational book that does so.

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Wesley Windows: Introduction

A window is a place to stand or sit and look out on a larger reality. The Wesleys lived and ministered in ways that have become windows through which we can see life in Christ and live it inwardly and outwardly. I am writing this series to explore some of those windows, not just to know what they are, but more, to take what we see and use it to live as faithful disciples of Christ.

When the Wesleys began Methodism in the early 1740’s, it was a time of awakening in the society and the church. They envisioned the Methodist movement to be a fellowship “united together in the several parts of the kingdom, engaging, in like manner, to be helpful to each other in all good, Christian ways.” [1] The early Methodists were faithful to that intent.

We are living in another time of awakening, a time when uniting together in “all good Christian ways” is much needed. Awakenings are times when God does new things (Isaiah 43:19), or as Jesus put it, when new wineskins are created (Mark 2:22). Awakenings are liminal space times, times of disorder, as God moves us from an old order into a new creation. We make that journey through contemplation and action.

The Wesleyan tradition offers us formative insights for living well in this kairos time. This series of bi-weekly blogs (2nd & 4th Mondays) aims to take us to a particular “Wesley Window” through which to view an aspect of abundant living.

The Wesleys were faithful to God in creating a movement that enriched the lives of people, simultaneously renewing the Church and reforming the nation. We need the same outcomes today. I hope these posts will contribute to that end. I invite you to join me in looking at life in Christ through “Wesley Windows.”

[1] A letter from John Wesley to Mr. T.H. dated December 12 1760, Ted A. Campbell, ed., ’The Works of John Wesley,’ Volume 27, Letters III: 1756-1765 (Abingdon Press, 2015), 225. This multi-volume publication is often referred to as the Bi-Centennial Edition of Wesley’s Works because the first volume came out in 1984, the 200th anniversary of the official beginning of Methodism as a denomination in America.

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At the Gate: Imagineers

Sitting at the gate, I see how life is enriched by imagination. Living about halfway between Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center, I follow the news media which is ripe with stories that chronicle the ventures of those who boldly go where none have gone before. The dreamers and planners are sometimes called “Imagineers”–those who envision things and have the will to bring them to pass.

What I have come to realize is that theme park designers and space explorers are only the latest version of people who can see into current reality and then gaze through it into “something more.” Imagination is the soil in which the future is conceived.

In the biblical tradition, we are talking about the prophets, God’s imagineers, the women and men who conjoined contemplation and action so that the world could increasingly become what God intends for it to be.

I am writing about this today because I want to remind you that Richard Rohr’s 2023 Daily Meditations are themed “The Prophetic Path.” Only two meditations have come out, and it is clear that he will be leading us in a rich journey. I hope you are already reading his meditations. If not, the 2023 “Prophetic Path” series is a good time to begin doing so.

As God’s Imagineers, the prophets entered a stagnant, sacred-cow status quo and declared there is another way to live, a way in which love prevails and the common good is enacted. They called out sin, called for repentance, and called forth hope. [1] They did this from the reservoir of their deep communion with God. [2]

Abiding in the heart of God, they saw what a world conformed to God’s heart would look like–a Beloved Community in which people “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8), where they love God and others (Matthew 22:34-40), doing good to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) through the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

All this became crystal clear in Jesus, the Word made flesh, who used the words of a prophet (Isaiah) to let people know he would be a prophet too, with the Spirit of the Lord upon him, anointing him “to bring Good News to those who are poor…to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison–to proclaim the year of our God’s favor” (Luke 4:18, The Inclusive Bible)

We have our marching orders: to walk the prophetic path–to follow God’s imagineers, and become so ourselves.

[1] I am indebted to Walter Brueggemann for teaching the prophetic tradition in nearly all his books. His book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ has become an oft-consulted resource.

[2] I am grateful to Matthew Fox for teaching that prophets are first and foremost mystics. His book, ‘Prayer, a Radical Response to Life’ shows how this is so.

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Oboedire 2023

Happy New Year!

Here we are, at the start of a journey into 2023. I pray that it will be a good year for you, and I hope that Oboedire will play a small role in making it so.

Accordingly, while continuing a “less is more” approach to posting here, I intend to offer you two spiritual formation resources.

First, through the occasional “At the Gate” posts, I will continue to write about the spiritual life from the vantage point of an elder.

Second, I want to offer posts that bring forward my work in Wesley Studies that has been so much a part of my life for 45 years. So, twice a month, I will develop a series entitled “Wesley Windows.”

I hope these writings will increase your love of God and others, and further enrich your life in Christ. I am grateful for your involvement in Oboedire. Some of you have walked along with me since Oboedire began in July 2010. Thank you.

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At the Gate: Inviting Space

Sitting at the gate, we experience the sacredness of space. Some see space as protective, living with a “keep your distance” mentality. And of course, there are times when that’s good advice. In a dangerous world, space can be a necessary refuge. But as a philosophy of life, it withers the soul, depriving us of the nutrients which we receive when space is a bridge rather than a barrier.

I am glad there are traditions which begin by viewing space as inviting rather than threatening. Reading an excerpt from Christian Dillo’s book, ‘The Path of Aliveness,’ his words reignited this vision, “When I was introduced to the view that space connects and began to observe the world in this way, I found many ways to enact this new view.” [1]

The Christian tradition is at its best when it teaches that space is inviting. Believing that, we use the space between knowing and unknowing to learn. We use the space between ourselves and strangers to make friends. We use the space between here and there, between this and that, to have experiences and make memories which last for a lifetime. Inviting space enriches us.

And that brings us to Christmas. The space between heaven and earth was bridged as “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). God never viewed space as threatening (even though there was suffering to be found there), choosing instead to dwell among us in a “tent of meeting” in the wilderness, a temple in Jerusalem, and as Immanuel in Jesus. God drew near in that inviting space, and we are encouraged to draw near to God (James 4:8).

God gives us the vision to see the sacredness of inviting space. May we have eyes to see the blessedness of life when we move into it rather than away from it.

[1] Christian Dillo, ‘The Path of Aliveness’ (Shambala, 2022), 50.

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At the Gate: Re-Framing

Sitting at the gate, we have the opportunity to see things differently and use the new sight to grow inwardly and outwardly. The biblical word for this is repentance, looking at life in a larger perspective (metanoia). But it is a word that often comes in the form of a question that requires our response, “Are you willing to look at life in a new way?” Sitting at the gate we have moments to say “Yes,” and we face temptations to say “No.”

It is possible to look at the life and ministry of Jesus as an invitation to repent–to look at life and faith in a new way. He picked up right where John left off, saying “Repent.” And there was a reason for doing so, “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15).

It always is. Every moment is a moment when God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19), but the moment, Isaiah said, comes with the question, “don’t you recognize it?” Repentance always comes with this question.

Set in the context of Jesus’ life and ministry, repentance is evolution. He called it having eyes that see (Mark 8:18). The old is not trashed, it’s transcended. Paul says it “passes away” so that the new can come–new creation, God’s new thing, the reign of God (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We understand this scientifically. Life evolves. All life. Jesus calls us to recognize it spiritually. Indeed, as Bill Mc Nary puts it, “Our life’s purpose is to recognize the evolutionary journey and live our lives so we advance humankind along the evolutionary path. Life is a very short opportunity to expand God’s love.” [1]

Ah, there it is! Re-framing, repenting, looking at life in a new way is the opportunity to expand God’s love.

Yes, oh yes! God’s new thing, the new creation–the ever-expanding way of love. Do we recognize it?

[1] Bill McNary, ‘Our Future, The Evolutionary Journey to the Image and Likeness of God.‘ (page not cited).

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At the Gate: Wholeness, Our Hope & Work

[Note: The length of this post indicates the degree of importance that I give to the topic of wholeness. The longer-than-usual footnote list is meant to take you much farther into the topic than a blog can do.]

Sitting at the gate, we see the wholeness of life—its interbeing, interdependency, integration, etc. Life is conjoined, not divided. With respect to Christianity, we see it in the oneness of theology and spirituality. In this time of awakening, wholeness is our hope and our work.

Wholeness was the general view of reality in Christian history until about 1000 CE. Evan Howard has noted this, “For early theologians, theology and spirituality were intimately connected.” [1] The creation of universities ignited the separation, with schools taking over the theological (academic) aspects and monasteries perpetuating the spiritual (experiential) dimensions. [2] The Enlightenment widened the divide, in some cases creating a competition between the mind and the heart, complete with caricatures and denigrations lobbed by each side at the other. The deformative divide is still seen today when some gravitate toward theology (e.g. Bible Study) and away from spirituality (e.g. daily devotions), and others do the opposite. Reason and experience variously hijack scripture and tradition.

Charles Wesley saw this division in his day, and along with John, he believed that one of the reasons God raised up Methodism was to “unite the pair so long disjoined–knowledge and vital piety.” [3] It was part of their sense that they had “a charge to keep.” [4] Those of us in the Wesleyan tradition are heirs of this uniting and called to keep it alive in our mission “to serve the present age.” [5] Fortunately, the time of new awakening in which we are living is conducive to doing this. It is a time when nonduality, oneness, and union are being recovered. Here are some ways that this is so.

First, in a revival of the Trinity. Far from being an abstract or irrelevant doctrine, it is increasingly seen as a lens through which to see life as God intends for us to live it, precisely because it is the life lived by the Godhead. [6] The creation lives in congruence with the Creator. Our faith arises from our natural theology, which itself emerges from God’s nature. Intertwined in this Trinitarian revival is a theology of love, which is at the heart of Wesleyan theology. [7]

Second, by a new emphasis upon sapiential theology. [8] It’s a big term that essentially means what the Wesleys called “living faith,” and what Paul Chilcote describes in his book, ‘Active Faith.’ [9] Indeed, it has become an identifiable discipline referred to as “lived theology.” [10] It is the idea of experience in the Wesleyan quadrilateral, and notably the linking of wholeness to the Wisdom genre in scripture and tradition. Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, ‘The Wisdom Way of Knowing’ (Josey-Bass, 2003) is a good place to explore the Wisdom tradition. Taken together this new emphasis views wholeness as the motivator that engages our will to bring it to pass on the earth, the vision which transforms.

Third, through a restoration of deep ecumenism. [11] This is a river into which humanity has dug many wells from which to drink the Water of Life. In the Christian tradition we see it through the idea of the universal Christ (Colossians 1:25-20; Colossians 3:11; Ephesians 1:9-10). This is not arrogance, superiority, or triumphalism because Christ is “another word for everything—in its fullness” [12], a fullness by which we receive grace upon grace (John 1:16). [13] Some have called this “the hidden Christ,” but the fact is, Christ is not hidden at all, rather as St. Francis put it, “God is doing cartwheels in creation.” Deep ecumenism enriches and enlarges our Christology, and in turn our view of life.

Fourth, via a conjoining of religion and science. [14] Whereas some Christians continue to perpetuate the theology/spirituality divide, the sciences are reuniting them. Here is where new discoveries are replacing old information. In short, we have new truth—for example, truth about what we know and how we know it, truth about the nonbinary nature of creation and its expression through innumerable “kinds,” and truth about what we must do to prevent the extinction of life on the earth. Amazingly, many scientists openly advocate the union of science and spirituality—sounding more like theologians than some theologians do—and using their sciences to increase wonder. [15]

Fifth, by means of a resurgence in contemplative Christianity. [16] It is in this final point that the other four converge. Paul’s admonition to “think on things” which are highest and best (Colossians 3:2)—is gaining traction in our day. Nondual thinking, intuitive knowing, “heart knowledge” is increasingly affirmed and practiced. When we give ourselves to this, we recognize that the root idea of salvation itself is wholeness—in time (abundant living) and for eternity (a new heaven and earth). This is the telos of the awakening we are in the midst of, and once we see it, we cannot unsee it. Obscurantism holds no appeal. Supremacies are immaturities….and harmful.

It has taken longer than usual to write about wholeness, and as the footnotes reveal, what you have read is only the tip of the iceberg. But even what I have written is enough to show that wholeness is our aim. It is the engine for our sustained effort to effect justice (fairness, inclusion, common good) through communities where inclusion and access bear witness to our oneness as a people and planet. Jeremiah said that when God is it work, it is so we can have “a future filled with hope (29:11). It is the hope of wholeness, for which we work. [17]

[1] Evan Howard, ‘The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality’ (Brazos Press, 2008), 136.
[2] Richard Foster and Eugene Peterson engaged in a helpful conversation about this years ago—one recently shared on the Renovaré weekly e-letter (12/2/22). It’s entitled the “Re-emergence of Spiritual Theology.”
[3] Charles Wesley’s hymn, “A Prayer for Children” includes the phrase, along with other reunions he hoped for…
“Unite the pair so long disjoined,
Knowledge and vital piety:
Learning and holiness combined,
And truth and love, let all men see
In those whom up to thee we give,
Thine, wholly thine, to die and live.”
[4] Charles Wesley’ hymn of the same title describes elements of that charge.
[5] One of the dimensions of the charge God calls us to keep.
[6] Richard Rohr’s book, ‘The Divine Dance’ (SPCK, 2016) illustrates the Trinitarian revival, and is itself a writing that conjoins knowledge and vital piety.
[7] Thomas Oord writes extensively about love. His recent book, ‘Pluriform Love’ (Sacra Sage, 2022) sets forth his view. David N. Field adds to the picture in his book, ‘Our Purpose is Love’ (Abingdon, 2018). In his book, ‘The Quest for Divine Love’ (Cascade Books, 2022), Paul Chilcote shows how love is our primal hunger.
[8] Ellen Charry’s book, ‘By the Renewing of Our Mind’ (Oxford University Press, 1997) is often cited in relation to this theology.
[9] Paul Chilcote, ‘Active Faith’ (Abingdon, 2019).
[10] The Project on Lived Theology is a research initiative at The University of Virginia, aimed to study the social consequences of theological ideas.
[11] Matthew Fox’s book, ‘One River, Many Wells’ (Tarcher/Penguin, 2000) exemplifies and explores this idea.
[12] Richard Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent, 2019), 5.
[13] My book, ‘The Way to Heaven’ (Zondervan, 2003) describes a Wesleyan theology of grace.
[14] Ilia Delio, ‘The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey (Orbis, 2021) not only explores the science/spirituality union, it is a product of the union.
[15] It’s been interesting how the launch of the James Webb telescope into deep space has been described by the scientists and engineers using language full of awe and wonder.
[16] Richard Foster, ‘Streams of Living Water’ (HarperOne, 1998), chapter one.
[17] Paul Chilcote and I have co-authored, ‘Living Hope’ (Cascade Books, 2020) which further explores wholeness as an “inclusive vision of the future.”

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At the Gate: Word Wounding

Sitting at the gate, we hear all sorts of conversaions. Some are formative; others are deformative. Some build up; others tear down.

Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was dead wrong. Dead wrong. Words wound. Words do harm.

Of all people, Christians should know this. We are products of “the Word” made flesh. We are incarnational people, not only in relation to Christ, but also in our recognition that our words engender behavior. Affirmed faith becomes enacted faith.

Years ago, a seminary student from Princeton took one of my classes during the January term. I do not know what about the course led him to write his final paper on the link between language and behavior, but that’s what he chose to do. It was an excellent paper, one that I kept and referred to. Sadly, it has gotten lost in my comings and goings, but I remember the essence of it to this day.

Drawing on research from linguistic studies, Jim (I think that was his name) showed how language influences behavior…words generate ideas, ideas create impressions, repeated impressions become beliefs, beliefs lead to convictions, and convictions are enacted. He went on to say that cultures behave on the basis of this evolution of their language.

The recent shooting in Colorado Springs (to say nothing of other innumerable examples) has brought Jim’s paper to mind once again–in this case, the way language leads to violence, how a society’s use of words creates a culture of harm.

In this context, it is telling that some anti-LGBTQ+ Christians and Christian ministries have denounced the Colorado Springs murders, but stopped short of acknowledging culpability for using words, developing theologies, and establishing ideologies that shooters use to justify their actions. Some of the wounding words are in their publications and social media; others are spoken at their gatherings. When these words fall on some people’s ears, they create ideas, impressions, beliefs, convictions….and actions.

I am thinking today about Jim’s paper in my class. We are living in a time when words are wounding others figuratively and literally. That any segment of Christianity would contribute fuel to the fire through deformative language is to our shame and to the dishonoring of Christ. Sticks and stones do break bones. Words do too.

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At the Gate: Woke Does Not Die

Sitting at the gate is an act of seeing, observing, and paying attention to life. The gate is a panoramic place where we see the breadth and depth (diversity and wonder) of life. It is no accident that “the recovery of sight to the blind” launched Jesus’ mission and characterized his ministry (Luke 4:18), and he said it is to be ours as well (Luke 9:2).

He wanted people to have eyes that see (Mark 8:18)–people who see that Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11)–people who live so that none are “othered” or “less-thaned” (Galatians 3:28) or left in need (Acts 4:34). He taught that caring for “the least” is caring for him (Matthew 25:40). Awakening is at the heart of the spiritual life. Being “woke” is God’s will

And that’s why Governor Ron DeSantis’ comments following his re-election as Florida’s governor are so appalling, and anti-Christian. He said he would continue to work to make Florida the state where “woke goes to die.” Anyone who knows even a little about Jesus recognizes how evil words like that are.

But DeSantis is not an isolated personification of an anti-awakening mindset. Others think, speak, and act similarly. A slogan has emerged in recent days, “Make America Florida.” There are people across the nation, some who profess to be Christian (as DeSantis does), who are promoting life contrary to the life that was in Christ.

It is only those who “prefer darkness to light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19-21) who would prevent us from being woke. To be woke is to be awakened, to see things as they are rather than accepting false narratives and santized histories. The way of Christ is the way of awakening–of getting woke. The Gospel says that becoming woke is God’s will.

If this is not enough, Jesus set the final judgement in relation to those who see and those who do not (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus commends the woke ones, for it is on the basis of their sight that their compassion flowed for the common good. The blind kept life defined by their selfishness and supremacy.

Woke ones see life in relation to God’s way–“justice for the world” (1Chronicles 18:14), When we have eyes that see, we recognize that there is no place where woke is supposed to die.

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At the Gate: Jesus Enlarged and Enriched

Sitting at the gate as an elder is a posture that creates the time and space to explore new things, and grow. I have previously noted that the most significant expression of this opportunity has been an enlarged Christology. I began an Oboedire series about this (“Christ”) using E. Stanley Jones’ excarnate/incarnate categories to describe Christ’s universality. I do not know when (or if) I will resume the series. The existing ones are archived on the Oboedire home page.

In this post, I want to record a related Christological discovery: the Aramaic Jesus, or as others refer to him, the Middle-Eastern Jesus. This discovery is resulting in an enlarged and enriched view of him. I am in the early stages of my exploration, but already there is too much to write about. In this post I will only hit a few high spots, and provide some ways for you to discover the Aramaic Jesus if you have not already done so.

I begin with the obvious: Jesus was a Middle-Eastern person who commonly spoke Aramaic. [1]

But I (we) were taught Greek, not Aramaic. I had 14 hours of Greek in college and 9 in seminary. Why was I not taught Aramaic? Because the New Testament was written in Greek. And that, in and of itself, is telling.

It says that before the close of the New Testament era, a “Western” Jesus was already the interpretive picture. The New Testament is more of a Greco-Roman book than a Middle-Eastern one. The Christian missionary movement is defined by Paul’s “western” journeys, even though we know that other Christians took the message eastward. [2] Early Christian history locates Christianity in the Roman empire, but we know it had a primary center in Persia. [3]

And the point is? Well, simply put…we are given a view of Christ that makes him seem more like a Greco-Roman philosopher than a Semitic Wisdom teacher. Missing the Aramaic Jesus leaves us with a good, but incomplete picture of him. Recovering the Aramaic Jesus brings aspects of his life and ministry to the fore which can serve us well in the New Awakening and in the renewal of Christianity occurring as part of it.

I leave you to discover the Aramaic Jesus for yourself if you have not already done so, using these resources….

George Lamsa, ‘Holy Bible: From the Ancient Text’

George Lamsa, ‘Idioms of the Bible Explained’

Kenneth Bailey, ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’

Neil Douglas-Klotz, ‘Revelations of the Aramaic Jesus’

Cynthia Bourgeault, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’

[1] He knew Hebrew too, of course–a related Semitic language.

[2] The list in Acts of those who heard Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost includes people from all directions, not just the west.

[3] The Persian center was largely ignored (even persecuted) after the Nicene Creed was produced, further “westernizing” the faith. We are taught very little about the Persian (and African and Asian) manifestations of Christianity, even further “westernizing” our view of it. European Protestantism only magnifies the neglect of the Aramaic Jesus.

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New UMC: The Future is Now

With the election of new bishops, the emergence of the new United Methodist Church moves farther into its future filled with hope (Jeremiah 29:11). We have hope that the Council of Bishops will lead us with magnified wisdom and courage, as the UMC increasingly incarnates “loving and blessing all people” (Matthew 5:48, FNV) [1]

Christlikeness must be our aim, with ongoing conformity to that image (Romans 8:29). At the core of this is what the Christian tradition calls life in Christ. [2] It is the abundant life Jesus said he came to give us (John 10:10), a life defined in relation to the fruit of the Spirit, “love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and goodness, faithful hearts, gentle ways, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, FNV).

We advance in this life together in the emerging UMC with the hallmarks of love (hesed and agapé), justice (the common good), and inclusion (affirmation and access). All of this is rooted in the two great commandments and in our belief that “Christ is all and is in all” (Colossians 3:11 NRSVue). [3]

Joining with many continuing bishops, the newly elected ones give evidence of their intent to lead us into the fulfillment of this Gospel in the emerging UMC. Many of us will follow them. The future is now.

[1] FNV is the ‘First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament (IVP, 2021). It is the “complete love” (CEB) Jesus said we are to give to all, not just some. Other translations call it “perfect love.”

[2] I write about this in my book, ‘Life in Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 2020).

[3] NRSVue is the recently updated edition of the New Revised Standard Version. E. Stanley Jones said of these words, “This is the charter of equality. Nothing in all literature can compare with this.” (‘In Christ,’ Week 40, Saturday). Paul wrote similarly in Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 1:23.

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Oboedire at 75

Well, no….Oboedire is not 75 years old, but I am. I hit that number a few days ago. It is a marker for me to think about Oboedire in a new way.

I want to keep the site active, if for no other reason that since 2010 I have archived a bunch of stuff. It’s here for anyone to explore, using the icons at the top of the homepage and the “Categories’ list on the sidebar.

I want to keep Oboedire active, but do so differently. I want to keep it alive as an elder, which at age 75 I clearly am. Whatever Oboedire is to be, it must be in relation to eldering.

One of the metaphors about elders in the Bible is that they “sit at the gate.” It is a different posture and place from how and where they have lived previously. It is where I must now live.

To manifest that in print, most future blogs will be under the title, “At the Gate.” I have no planned schedule for them, but if you are a subscriber to Oboedire, you will automatically receive them as you have previous ones.

I will also continue to write occasionally about that which has been so much a part of my life, spiritual formation in the Wesleyan tradition, using the “Wesleyan Formation” category.

I am grateful to the 843 of you who subscribe to Oboedire and the others of you who visit the site from time to time. I hope what you find here will help you live more abundantly. We will continue the journey, just in a new way.

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Along the Way: Healthy Religion

Reading Brian McLaren’s latest book, ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ has been a good experience for me for multiple reasons. [1] In this post I look at one of them: the importance of embracing and expressing healthy religion. At first glance, that seems like a “Captain Obvious” statement. Who would want any other kind? And yet, after reading McLaren’s book, it is soberingly clear that there are formidable forms of toxic religion, not only doing great harm, but moving more people than we imagine to say “No thank you” to Christianity. [2]

It will take us decades to turn this around, and the reversal will not be a return to theological and institutional status quos. God is using the liminal space between religious toxicity and religious health to once again do a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). We are in a new-wine era. We must make new wineskins. [3]

That effort, wending its way toward a new era yet to be seen is a “great spiritual migration” into which God invites us. [4] We must be engaged pilgrims, not waiting on others to do what needs to be done. “This is the day of salvation”—the moment of restoration. We must do what we can, using the time and resources we have, to move forward into increasingly healthy religion. Three words point us in the right direction.

Seeing…..John the Baptist and Jesus came proclaiming the message of the kingdom of heaven, with its internal (“within you”) and external (“in your midst”) dynamics, both of which made it near and now. Jesus great desire was that his followers would have eyes and ears to recognize it (Mark 8:18). As a Life-Giver, Jesus summed it up in the phrase “abundant living” (John 19:10).

We must become students of this kingdom, one in which even the word ‘kingdom’ must be understood in a new way. Traditional monarchy language is insufficient, even misleading. Jesus put it plainly, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). To see the kingdom of heaven requires metanoia (repentance)—that is, looking at life in a new way.

Syncing…..healthy religion is not just seen, it is experienced. It is not just believed, it is behaved. To see the kingdom of heaven is to enter it because the wonder of it ignites our journey in it. We affirm the faith and then align ourselves with it.

In the Wesleyan tradition, this is experience—brought into its relationship with Scripture, tradition, and reason. It is “religion of the heart” (inward and outward holiness). It is “living faith” (as the Wesleys often called it), faith where love prevails through the enactment of the two great commandments and the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. The contemplation of the kingdom ensues in our congruence with it. [5]

Serving…..once we see and sync with the kingdom of heaven, we joyfully accept our opportunity to serve God in it, offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). In the words of the Wesleyan Covenant Service, “Christ has many services to be done.” We acknowledge this by bringing our particular form of service to the task of glorifying God and exalting Christ.

The model for this service comes from Christ himself in what we call his kenosis, as seen in Philippians 2:5-11. We sync with his spirit and serve with his disposition. Paul says we have “the mind of Christ” and our obedience is expressed every day through our routine activities—what we refer to as ordinary holiness. Brother Lawrence, in his classic ‘The Practice of the Presence of God,’ says we are meant “to do little things for God.” We serve that way.

Healthy religion includes additional features and details. But seeing (the kingdom of heaven), syncing (metanoia), and serving (kenosis) get us moving, and doing so in the right direction. [6) We have hope that if we embrace and express these things, we will be among those whom God uses to move us into the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so, we pray in the Spirit of Sts Francis and Clare of Assisi, and others before and after them,

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

[1] Brian McLaren, ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ (St. Martin’s, 2022).
[2] Chapters 1-10 in ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ look at unhealthy Christianity: anti-semitism, violence, colonialism, institutionalism, money, white patriarchy, toxic theology, lack of transformation, constricted intellectualism, and an aging demographic.
[3] Chapters 11-20 in ‘Do I Stay Christian?’ says “Yes” is a compelling answer because: leaving hurts allies and helps opponents, leaving defiantly or staying compliantly are not the only options, where would I go?, it would be a shame to leave a religion in its infancy, our legendary founder, innocence is an addiction and solidarity is a cure, I’m human, Christianity is changing for the worse and for the better, to free God, Fermi’s paradox and the great filter.
[4]Brian McLaren looks at this in detail in his book, ‘The Great Spiritual Migration’ (Convergent Books, 2016).
[5] Eugene Peterson emphasized congruence in his books, ‘Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places’ and ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ and also in articles and interviews. It was one of the main themes in his spiritual theology.
[6] Ilia Delio’s book, ‘The Wisdom Jesus’ (Shambala, 2011), explores all three of the themes in this post: “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” metanoia, and kenosis. Her excellent book shows how Christology is at the heart of it all.

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Along the Way: Communion Spirituality

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Along the Way: Theological Diversity

The current theological hurricane in which we find ourselves (in both the society and the church) is complex, rendering a singular cause/effect description impossible. But like meteorologists, we can identify and explore particular factors that contribute to making the storm what it is.

One of the factors in the theological storm is the false allegation that “for more than 2000 years” there has been one orthodox belief. [1] The statement is used by fundamentalists to allege their beliefs express that very orthodoxy. And from their self-asserted position, they then go on to declare that those who believe differently than they do have denied the faith, or so seriously compromised the true faith, that light can no longer fellowship with darkness.

Historical theology exposes the allegation’s falsehood, revealing that for two thousand years the descriptive term for Christian theology is ‘diversity.’ We see this by looking at the creeds of Christendom themselves. Philip Schaff’s classic study is a multi-volume confirmation of this diversity. In the introduction, Schaff pointed to diversity by writing that the creeds “bring to light the various aspects and phases of revealed truth.” [2] “Various aspects.” Don’t miss that. It is Schaff’s way of recognizing that the creeds themselves bear witness to theological diversity within orthodoxy. A look at volume one of Schaff’s study explores diversity in detail. These main points emerge from that volume.

First, theological diversity gave rise to the creeds. Christians did not view faith through one lens in the two centuries after Jesus. [3] The grand ideas of faith were (and still are) too magnificent to be captured in any one interpretation. The documents leading up to the formulation of the creeds reveal diversity, within orthodoxy—not as an enemy of it. Using the creeds (and even less so the various attending doctrines related to them) to determine saints from heretics is not why the creeds came into existence in the first place. Their purpose was not to vilify differences, but to verify consensus. That’s why the creeds do not go into doctrinal detail about their affirmations.

Second, theological diversity is reflected in the creeds themselves. For example, in affirming Jesus the creeds select more than one phrase to describe him: “born of the virgin Mary”….”begotten not made”….”incarnate”….”Son of God”….”Son of Man”….”one Christ.” Each of these descriptions opens the way to more than one way of believing in him—ways that believers were using. The creeds themselves created their consensus by integrating the diverse ways Christians expressed their faith in Jesus.

Third, theological diversity continued after the creeds. This is one of Schaff’s main teachings in his study. The classic creeds did not end diversity, for they were not intended to do so. Instead, what we see in Christian history is the proliferation of diversity—within orthodoxy, not outside it or in opposition to it. Across the centuries, Christians have recognized that diversity enriches faith—sometimes as a “coat of many colors” and at other times through an “iron sharpens iron” dialog. [4]

Fourth, the continuing diversity of belief was not a way to deny earlier faith, but to apply it. This becomes clear in Schaff’s study when he looks at the statements of faith in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and the host of ecumenical affirmations that integrate the major traditions. The fact that theological statements did not cease after the creedal era is a testimony to the diversity which continued, finding expression in biblical, historic, systematic, and pastoral theologies, further detailed in their applications to specific periods of time, contexts, cultures, and countries.

Charles Wesley described the ongoing theological task as a means “to serve the present age,” and he (along with John and the early Methodists) said it was a charge they had to keep and a calling they had to fulfill, with all their might. [5] John expressed commitment to diversity when he abridged and edited the thirty-nine ‘Articles of Religion’ of the Church of England and sent the revision to the Methodists in America as they began their denomination in 1784.

Bottom line: Christians have not had one true faith “for more than 2000 years.” They have gazed at the masterpiece we call revelation and have borne witness to what they saw in a diversity of ways. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a mandated “one size fits all” orthodoxy. To allege that there is, is not to defend the faith, but rather to diminish it.

[1] I recently read this again in a statement written by a fundamentalist group. I have taken it directly from their own writing. It is one of their often-used allegations.

[2] Philip Schaff, ‘The Creeds of Christendom,’ 3 volumes (1877), and still available in multiple formats.

[3] The discovery of the Nag-Hammadi scrolls in 1945 has made this clear, shining new and brighter light on the theological diversity among the first (ante-Nicene) Christians. A recent book, ‘After Jesus, Before Christianity’ (HarperOne, 2021) looks at early Christian diversity in relation to the Roman empire and within the Christian community itself.

[4] E. Stanley Jones used the idea and practice of “the round table” in his ministry, writing in detail about it in his books, ‘The Christ at the Round Table’ (Abingdon Press, 1928) and ‘The Christ of Every Road’ (Abingdon Press, 1930).

[5] Charles Wesley’s hymn, “A Charge to Keep.” This commitment caused the Methodists to be caricatured as “enthusiasts” by the liberals and “latitudinarians” (we would say ‘pluralists’) by the conservatives. Ironically, truth is always a via media that is eschewed by extremists of all persuasions.

[This post also appears on Oboedire.]

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“Engage” Meeting Tomorrow

I’m looking forward to meeting with you tomorrow (Thursday) at Noon (ET).

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #13

Read: In Summary

In this final chapter, Rohr stays with Pauline thought to gather up all he has been saying in the book into six closing statements. He calls the summary “the redemptive plan of God” (p. 98), calling to mind Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:9-10.

This overcoming of evil with good is in process, but it will not be fully realized in time here on earth. But it is under way through the loving, incremental efforts of those who work daily to overcome evil with good.

We do this keeping before us the final vision of Scripture in Revelation 22:17. A grand vision that engages us here and now.

Our final “Engage” group Zoom meeting is this Thursday, August 25th at Noon (ET, USA). Here is the link to the meeting…

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

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Along the Way: Soulship Enterprise

“I have been attentive to the soul and to things related to it for a long time, with memories that go all the way back into my childhood. To use Star Trek language, I have viewed my soul as the Starship Enterprise.

I have been amazed by it. Going into it, like Teresa of Avila did in her interior castle, Soulship Enterprise has fascinated me. All its rooms, furnishings, and provisions. And the bridge with its consoles, instruments, machines, lights, sounds, and views—wonderful! I have spent untold hours in Soulship Enterprise, much to my benefit.

I have invited others to join me, doing my best to tell them what they will experience if they do. And…I have carried food, clothing, and other things out to people from its galley, closets, and store rooms. They seem to be helped and grateful when I share the treasures of Soulship Enterprise with them. All things considered life in Soulship Enterprise has been wonderful, and made all the more so with Jeannie, children, family, and friends on board.

But one day, I realized that Soulship Enterprise was on the tarmac, parked in a space inside the lines. With all its fabulous features, it had not fulfilled its purpose to enable me to “boldly go where no one (at least not I) had ever gone before.” I had equated my space with Space. I had settled for visions and visits, forgetting that Soulship Enterprise is a voyager.

So, a while back, I started the engine, but rather than enjoying the sound of its power, I shifted out of neutral. Soulship Enterprise rose up, and headed out. The navigation system kicked in, but where I was going was largely unknown, except for some maps that previous travelers had provided.

Before long, I was experiencing a magnificence beyond anything I had known on the ground inside the lines. The Universal Christ captains Soulship Enterprise, taking me all over the place, and like an excited child he tells me over and over, “Look at this. I made it!  Look at that. It’s mine!”  And reminiscent of Dr. Seuss (“O, the places you will go!”) I respond to the Cosmic Christ gratefully saying, “You are Lord of everyone and everything—from the smallest particle to the farthest star” (Colossians 3:11).

Venturing farther into Space, Christ puts his finger on a button that has the word ‘Death’ on it.  With a twinkle in his eye, the Cosmic Christ tells me, “Watch this, “ and he pushes it. But rather than ending our journey we go into warp speed, traveling faster and farther than ever before. Light-speed into infinity. And that is dying.

Soulship Enterprise. All this in one vessel called the imago dei. Zoom! Zoom!

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #12

Read: “Holding the Tensions”

In this chapter, Rohr expands on the Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectical methodology: a form of nondual thinking necessary if we are to overcome evil with good.

He uses the concept of “third-force thinking” developed by G.I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949) and advanced in our day by Cynthia Bourgeault in her writing, especially her book, ‘The Wisdom Way of Knowing.’

Two things stand out: first, this way of thinking produces Wisdom. And second, Wisdom not as a superior idea, but as a force that changes things for the better. It begins, as Rohr noted in the last chapter, as holding the opposites in tension until “something new, bigger, and better” emerges. (p. 91)

This way of living (thinking and acting) exacts a high price, bringing on us the ire of dualistic, either/or thinkers. In the face of nondual thinking, all these folks know to do is to call us “heretics, sinners, or just wrong and stupid.” (p. 92). But third-force thinking does not cower or quit in the face of these falsehoods and caricatures.

Instead, it moves ahead with what Guedjieff called holy affirming, holy denying, and holy reconciling. Rohr has developed the same three phases into what he calls the transformative process of order, disorder, and reorder. He develops this in his book, ‘The Wisdom Pattern.’

In short, this pattern gathers up everything Rohr has helped us to see in the previous chapters, turning principles into practices that take us from evil into goodness, darkness into light, and death into life.

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Along the Way: No-name God

“I have recently had the opportunity to revisit the fact that in Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam, God is nameless. I began thinking about this again when I read Moses’ request to know God’s name, and God said, “The only thing I am going to tell you is that I am” (Exodus 3:13-14).

Why did God respond to Moses like that, and why do world religions make the point that God is nameless? Well, for starters, God does not tell us why, but we are right to assume there is a good reason (or reasons) for denying the request. I believe one reason comes out of the contemplative tradition with its understanding that words limit things and people…and God. In that paradigm wordlessness is the highest form of spirituality—the greatest act of reverence on our part when it comes to God.

But I think there is another reason, and it is the one which has burrowed its way into me this time around. God is nameless to keep our egos at bay. When we can name something, it is a short journey to think we “know” it, and when we arrive at that state, it is easy to take our knowledge and turn it into certainty, control, and censoriousness.

Think of it like a signature. If someone can write my name the way I write it, they can become forgers. So too with God. When we know God’s name, we can use it all over the place, “cashing checks” we claim God signed. That’s what the ego does, and there is no better or higher name to use than God’s name to justify what we’re saying and doing.

Sadly, we are seeing God’s name ascribed to things that have little, if anything, to do with God.
We are seeing “of God” signed onto attitudes and actions that bear little, or no, resemblance to God. It is what taking God’s name in vain means. It is egotism (certainty, control, and censoriousness) putting God’s name on things that are antithetical to God. It is spiritual forgery.

So, God responded to Moses and said, “All I am going to tell you is that I exist—I Exist.” That ‘s what God tells us because it’s all we can handle without going off the rails, becoming “overly righteous” (John Wesley’s term)–too religious, spuriously spiritual. A no-name God preserves Mystery, evoking wonder and keeping us humble. God refuses to be named for God’s glory and for our good. God is nameless to keep us from using a name to do harm to ourselves and others.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #11

Thanks to a gentle nudge from a group member a little while ago, I realize I did not post the weekly “Engage Group” memo this past Monday. In the spirit of “better late than never, here it is. 😃

Read: “The Pauline Dialectic”

In this chapter, Rohr invites us into a new way of thinking and acting. Even using the word ‘dialectic’ is a call to look at things differently than we often do. In this case, it is a way of seeing opposites without choosing sides. (p. 88)

That may seem strange in relation to good and evil. But it is a way of “holding opposites in tension” in order to see a new ground for acting. In general, Rohr has written about this in other places as nondual thinking–not thinking which never decides, but rather thinking that decides from the vantage point of a larger perspective than one-sided thinking can provide.

In the Pauline dialectic, a “hidden wholeness” emerges. Rohr’s phrase is reminiscent of Parker Palmer’s book by that title, and I looked at it again with profit as I read Rohr’s chapter.

Rohr provides eight examples of nondual thinking (p. 89), and does so in the belief that the Pauline dialectic is an exercise in naming and overcoming opposites through love. He believes we must think this way or humanity is in trouble

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Christ: Christ is All in All #6

“Let’s Be the Church”

Paul’s words in Colossians 3:11 are the basis for the Church. Because Christ is Lord and universally present in everyone and everything, we can gather in his name, and he will be with us (Matthew 18:20). With Christ as the head, we are the Body of Christ. There is no finer understanding of the Church than this.

We are going through a seismic shift with respect to how the Church manifests itself inwardly and outwardly. Many familiar aspects are increasingly irrelevant and unnecessary. The institutional church is in an in-between time. Some things are passing away. New things are emerging, with much of the future remaining unseen.

But the center holds, for the center of the Church is Christ (Matthew 16:18). Whether we gather in a cathedral, condo, café, campground, or anywhere else, he is with us. When we connect Paul’s words with our vision of the Church, we recognize that our faith in it is because of Christ, not the form it takes. Because Christ is all and in all, we can say, “Let’s be the Church!”

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #10

Read: “Love and Forgiveness”

The way of God is the way of love. We always love in the midst of life as it is–rarely, if ever, loving in ideal conditions when everything is as it should be. Often, we love “nevertheless”–that is, we love when we don’t feel like loving; we love when we have reasons not to.

And as Rohr notes, this kind of love requires us to practice forgiveness. It is the love Jesus offered throughout his ministry all the way into his crucifixion. And it is the kind of love we will manifest when we abide in Christ (John 15).

We have our next Zoom meeting this coming Friday, August 5th, at Noon (ET, USA). Here is the link to use in order to join the group. I hope you can make it…


https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

Meeting ID: 931 408 5719
Passcode: s32xDL

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Christ: Christ is All and in All #5

“Christ is Reality”

Taking Paul’s two-part sentence as-a-whole, we see that he was saying, “Christ is reality.” E. Stanley Jones said the same, “To be in him is to be in ultimate reality. To be in him is to have the roots of our being in reality. To be in him is to have the sum total of reality behind us, sustaining us and giving us cosmic backing.” [1]

Christians are sometimes mocked by those who tell us to “live in the real world.” But the fact is, we do! [2] This world (e.g. money, sex, and power) is the illusion, referred to as maya in Buddhism and as “the kingdoms of this world” in Christianity. In upcoming meditations, we will read and reflect about the amazing Christ, but every one is an aspect of reality: real life”(abundant living) in the real world (the kingdom of God). It is all in the universal Christ, excarnate (eternal) and incarnate (in time). Christ is the deep-and-wide dive into reality. Paul’s six words sum it all up.

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961), Week 2, Sunday. The book has been republished by Abingdon.

[2] Jones made this clear too in his book, ‘In Christ,’ Week 1, Monday.

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Engage: What Do We Do With Evil? #9

Read: “How to Survive and Even Thrive”

The idea of overcoming evil with good can sometimes seem impossible, given the systemic and pervasive nature of evil. Paul questioned the possibility in Romans 7:14, 23.

Rohr connects our questions with Paul’s to remind us that our resistance to evil is always in the context of realism. That is, there is no full and final escape from evil…but…there is partial success.

We must live “in the system”–that is, being those who resist evil by espousing countercultural values, living in alternative communities, celebrating incremental change, and accepting the inevitability of opposition.

This is one expression of the way of Wisdom taught in Scripture. It is a way deemed foolish by the evil system. It is hidden (subversive), cruciform, and a way of love. It is a paradox. But it is the way God calls us to live.

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Wesley’s Way: The Grand Reunion

Among the missional senses that the Wesleys had for the Methodist movement was this: the conjoining of knowledge and vital piety, which John said had been too long divided. He incarnated that grand reunion through his integration of theology and science, particularly the medical and creation sciences of his day. It was a hallmark of his nondual thinking and conjunctive theology.

Today, we call it the reunion of science and spirituality. It is part of the New Awakening, and the findings of the sciences are enriching our faith (e.g. new truths regarding our humanity, the earth, and the cosmos), and offering us the vision and means to heal harmful dualisms. This video by Matthew Fox (32:08) speaks about this grand reunion…

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Along the Way: When Deception Becomes Reality

My psalm reading this morning took me to these words of David describing someone living under the influence of evil,

“Your tongue devises destruction: it’s like a sharpened razor, causing deception.You love evil more than good; you love lying more than speaking what is right. You love all destructive words; you love the deceiving tongue” (Psalm 52:2-4).

The psalm lays bare what kind of life a person lives when deception becomes reality–when it becomes the world we live in.

The connection between this psalm and last night’s revelations about Donald Trump (confirming what we already know) bring David’s insights to bear upon one who is among the most pathetic people we have seen in our lifetime. We watched Donald Trump live in the only reality he knows–deception. It is a world he created all the way back into his relationships with his parents and siblings, and then continued to live in for decades in his personal ethics and business endeavors. Somewhere along the way his world became deception. He cannot live any other way because deception is reality for him.

In the note for Psalm 52, I read this, “Wesley was convinced that living truthfully is a mark of God’s grace in our lives.” [1] David did not excuse himself from that reality, as the previous psalm (Psalm 51) shows. The comment note continues, “According to Wesley, God’s prevenient (preventing) grace assists us to be honest with God, ourselves, and others.”

Indeed it does. Grace creates another reality–the reality of truth telling and truth living. Last night we saw on full display the opposite of that. But the point of this post is not to single out Donald Trump. He just happens to be an “Exhibit A” evidence of a life of someone who is a stranger to grace.

The juxtaposition of David’s ancient words and Donald’s current words is its own illustration. It is a sad and sobering reminder of how imprisoned anyone is when deception becomes reality.

[1] ‘The Wesley Study Bible’ (Common English Bible), 724.

(Also posted on Oboedire)

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Christ: Christ is in All #4

“Our Provider”

Paul’s words are not only revelations of Christ’s person, but also of Christ’s provision. Christ’s “allness” offers us the opportunity to live abundantly (John 10:10). Just a few verses before this one, Paul summed it up: Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4).

There is no way to describe all the ways that Christ is our provider. There are too many to name even within the confines of our life here on earth. A read through the four gospels shows a myriad of ways Jesus provided for the needs of people. And before the end of each gospel, we see the Risen Christ continued providing for others.

When we step into the Book of Acts, the provisions multiply in example after example of how the risen Christ continued to be at work in the world through the Holy Spirit. Christ was/is “all and in all” to give us what we need to live as God intends. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul declared Christ’s provision plainly, “God will meet your every need out of his riches in the glory that is found in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

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Along the Way: A Hard Look on the Inside

My last “Along the Way” post dealt with the evil of fundamentalism/nationalism, looking at Jesus’ call to have eyes that see as a way of naming it, resisting it, and overcoming it with good.

The problem is, when the eyes of our heart are opened (Ephesians 1:18), we see something else–we see that mainline Christianity has not escaped evil, but rather has contributed to the mess we are in today. When our eyes are opened, Jesus tells us to look at ourselves, not just others (Matthew 7:1-5). In fact, he tells us to look inside before we look outside. It is a hard look, but one that is necessary.

When we do, we see that we have benefitted from evil as much as any other person or movement. One of the reasons that evil is so difficult to overcome is that we all participate in and prosper from it. [1] The influence of evil upon our egotism, ethnocentrism, and economics (noted in the last post) is no less real. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Progressives have their unique contaminations, so we do not escape the “guilty as charged” conclusion when the Spirit searches our hearts (Psalm 139:24). In this post, I will use writings by Thomas Merton and Lisa Sharon Harper to show how this is so, and then conclude with my own thoughts.

Thomas Merton’s “Letters to a White Liberal” was one of my early eye-openers. [2] Written in the summer of 1963, they ran nearly 70 pages in printed form. He wrote the letters as a “call to universal examination of conscience” on the part of all Christians, and especially those who considered themselves liberal.

The length and substance of the letters preclude a detailed summary. They are a read-it-for-yourself necessity, but in a nutshel we can see that Merton’s indictment lay in the fact that while liberals championed many good things, many Gospel things, they did so in ways that preserved their security and power.

As the letters unfold, they show how this has been so in many ways: politically, economically, militarily, even racially. Position papers and laws (in and of themselves) were written by the liberals in ways that did not end up respecting Black Americans, but “look nice on paper.” In the end, Merton shows, Christians made profit (e.g. money, materials, status) more important than people. This, he noted made the liberals feel good while perpetuating a view of the individual/collective self that treated non-Whites as objects, and largely left them “in their place.”

Merton’s words were a hard saying when I first read them decades ago, and have remained so every time I re-read them. They were written to those who went to church without ever becoming the Church. They connected with the view of E. Stanley Jones written forty years earlier in his book, ‘The Christ of the Indian Road,’ in which he showed how too much of institutional Christianity (in his case, Methodism) was incarnating colonialism more than Christ.

Lisa Sharon Harper’s book, ‘The Very Good Gospel’ has come alongside Merton’s letters because what she writes about further illustrates the failure of the Church to be the Body of Christ–a failure, in her view, to embrace and express shalom. This has occurred to a large extent, she writes, because the Church settled for “thin theology.” [3]

Thin theology is not an original idea with her, but one that Miroslav Volf put forward in 2011. On the conservative side, Lisa points to “Gospel tracts, simple diagrams, and fill-in-the-blank studies” as examples. On the progressive side, thin theology “lacks deep roots in the Scriptures and Christian traditions.” No matter from where thin theology emerges, the most dangerous thing about it, Harper says, is this: “It also has left us without the biblical foundations needed to comprehend Kingdom theology.”

Thin theology renders people incapable of recognizing fallen-world ideologies and faux faith. It leaves “the principalities and powers” free to peddle their putrid patriotism and snake-oil spirituality. We are seeing how true this is as people fall prey to conspiracy theories, QAnon lunacies, and Christian Nationalism–falsely concluding that “the kingdoms of this world” are of God.

Merton’s recovery was in relation to a restoration of the true self (imago dei) in its individual and collective manifestations. For Harper, it is the recovery of shalom. Taken together, both of them call us to a recovery of humanity[4]–holy humanism which God commended in the Perennial Tradition long before organized religion ever came on the scene. [5]

In addition to the hard look that Merton and Harper call us to take, I would add the following things without comment. As a Church, we have…

–emphasized going to church more than being the Church

–made members more than disciples

–clericalized the church, turning the clergy into a guild and the laity into donors who support the system

–defined right belief more as assent to to doctrines than alignment of our lives with the Gospel

–turned differences into divisions (complete with “our side is of God”) and made our disagreements battlefields

–elevated religion above humanity, making it possible to claim to be religious while behaving inhumanely

–made missions too much about the transfer of cultural values so that becoming Christian looks more like being European or North American (also read “white male”) rather than like Christ

–built walls rather than bridges and constructed fortresses more than welcome centers.

If we add everything up, it is little wonder that people are staying away and walking away from the Church. When we take a hard look at ourselves, we find that the problem is not the world’s rejection, it’s our self-righteousness.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he cleansed the Temple, not the Sanhedrin. If we take a hard look at ourselves, we realize that if he went to work again today, he would cleanse the Church, not the Capitol.

[1] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ 38-42.
[2] Thomas Merton, ‘Seeds of Destruction,’ 3-70.
[3] Lisa Sharon Harper, ‘The Very Good Gospel,’ 10-11.
[4] David Gushee writes about this in his book, ‘After Evangelicalism’ as does Brian McLaren in his book, ‘Do I Stay Christian?’
[5] Bede Griffith’s book, ‘Universal Wisdom’ describes the main features of the Perennial Tradition in the introduction. Richard Rohr’s ‘Oneing’ journal (Vol. 1, No. 1) explores the Perennial Tradition from various angles.

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Engage: What Do We Do With Evil? #8

Thanks to those of you who joined our Zoom meeting last Friday. The group was a bit larger this time around and included some new people. We will meet again on Friday, August 5th. I will include the link in the August 1st “Engage” post.

And now…..here’s this week’s reading: “Jesus’ Critique of the Sin System”

Rohr notes that we can miss Jesus’ resistance to evil because it was not in relation to the “flesh” (as retributive justice is), but rather in the “world” and “devil” dimensions of the system. Jesus was merciful and forgiving of individuals, but prophetic and indicting of the system (imperialism: political and religious) that ensnared people.

Similarly, we are called to offer forgiveness to individuals, and to practice nonviolent resistance against the world/devil. This combination is what the Bible means when it teaches us to overcome evil with good: individual freedom on the one hand, with social critique on the other.

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Along the Way: We See You!

The caricature and denigration of “social justice” by Christian fundamentalist/nationalists is not only an abberation of the Gospel, it is a revelation of how wedded the Christian right is to the “dirty rotten system” (Dorothy Day). [1]

Fundamentalists/nationalists reap enormous benefits from that system because it blesses them as the false prophets fawn over their leaders and allege their movements are “of God.” [2] This is nothing new. Jeremiah 28-29 reveals how far back in biblical history faux blessings have undermind the ways of God. They feed egotism and ethnocentrism, but leave peoples’ souls bankrupt and corrupt.

Fundamentalists/nationalists also benefit economically. Imperialism always has an economic incentive for oligarchy as the few are enriched  at the expense of the many. [3] Sociologists have named the main feeders of it: the military-industrial complex, the market/corporate economy, and white-male supremacy. [4] These toxic forces feed the bank acounts of the oligarchs and provide dark-money donations to keep evil in place, but starve the virtues of stewardship, generosity, and the common good.

Jesus saw these things in play, saying words the system fears more than any other, “I see you.” Recognition and exposure are the seedbed where resistance is grown. When Jesus said, “I see you,” he shined the Light of God into the dark places, the hidden places, where evil plies its trade (John 3:19-20). When Jesus said, “I see you,” he had to go. [5]

Ah, but he did not stop there. He called his disciples to have eyes that see (Mark 8:18). He formed them into a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural community that went into the world telling the potentates and power brokers, “We see you.” And before the end of the New Testament era, we read (in Acts, Paul’s letters, and Hebrews 11) that the imperialists concluded that Jesus’ disciples had to go too.

We find ourselves in yet another time when to follow Jesus means to resist the fundamentalists/nationalists. The risen Christ is at work apart from us, in us, and through us. The Social Justice stream is released from the dam made by the oligarchs and false prophets, allowing “justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). In the Wesleyan tradition this means a revival of social holiness across the land.

Those who do this will, as always, be harassed, caricatured, maligned, demeaned, marginalized, and oppressed (Matthew 5:10-12). But like Jesus, his first disciples, and true disciples since, the Spirit touches our lips with live coals from off the alter (Isaiah 6), putting these words on our tongue: “We see you.”

[1] Richard Foster explores the classic Social Justice stream in chapter 5 of his book, ‘Streams of Living Water.’
[2] Senator Rick Scott’s “Rescue America Plan” is an exhibit-A illustration of Christian Nationalism’s political/religious collusion, and false prophesy.
[3] Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Tenacious Solidarity’ looks at the fallen-world economy in detail.
[4] Richard Rohr, ‘What Do We Do with Evil?’ p. 53.
[5] Marcus Borg looks at Jesus’ collision course with the system in his book, ‘Jesus,’ chapters 9-10.

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Engage: Zoom Tomorrow

Just a reminder that our second Zoom meeting to discuss Richard Rohr’s book is tomorrow (Friday) at Noon, Eastern Time USA. I hope you can join in. Here is the link…

Please click this URL to start or join. https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09
    Or, go to https://us06web.zoom.us/join and enter meeting ID: 931 408 5719 and password: s32xDL

We will discuss chapters 4-7.

I have upgraded my Zoom account, so we no longer have the 40-minute meeting limit. But we will be good stewards of our time and have our discussion in a one-hour format.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #7

Read: “The Spiral of Violence”

This chapter shows the inadequacy of retributive justice. Punishment does not overcome evil because it only addresses the effects of it, not the causes of it. Punitiveness is not transformative. It leaves “the filthy rotten system” in place to continue its deformation and destruction.

Restorative justice, on the other hand, overcomes evil with good. It includes the rehabiliation of individuals, but it goes on to change the system–or at least keep calling for its change.

Rohr rightly notes that “overcoming the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) is the deeper, more-engaging work to which we are called by God. This is the biblical invitation to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

Restorative justice breaks the system, not the people caught in it. It not only asks, ‘Who did this?” but also, “Why is this kind of thing happening?”

Reminder: Our next Zoom call is this Friday, July 15th at Noon (ET). We will focus on chapters 4-7. I have subscribed to the Zoom Pro Plan, so we will not be limited to 40 minutes. But we will be good stewards of our time and keep our meeting to one hour. Here is the link to the meeting. I hope you can join in…

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/9314085719?pwd=ZXhGc1dtMXlWRkFHUnZZem1SZDRQQT09

Meeting ID: 931 408 5719
Passcode: s32xDL

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Christ: Christ is in All #3

“In Every Moment”

When we affirm that Christ is in all, we easily connect the statement to people, places and things. The previous meditations have done this by noting Christ is in everyone and everything. But there is more. Christ is in all time, in every moment. We meditate on that here.

Adding Christ’s presence in every moment transports us further into oneness and nonduality. Far from being abstract, Christ in all time saves us from seeing Christ some of the time, but not all of the time. Christ in all time saves us from believing God is here, but not there.

Christ in all time is summed up in the word ‘Emmanuel.’
God is with us. Jesus said it, “I am with you always “ The affirmation that Christ is in all time is easy to lose sight of in challenging times. It is easy to think God is absent

But to say Christ is in all is to include every moment of our lives. This vision is precisely what we need if our spirituality is to have the tenacity necessary to be strong, to endure hard times, and not give way to despair.

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Engage: What Do We Do with Evil? #6

Read: “A Way Out and Through”

Having laid a good foundation for understanding the nature and expression of evil, Rohr begins to lead us out of it, offering a way through it that he further develops in the rest of the book. This chapter is the pivot for what is to come.

We pray, “deliver us from evil” every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Rohr summarizes deliverance in the word ‘freedom.’ It commences only when we name evil “fully and correctly” (p. 61). This requires “real wisdom and spiritual intelligence” (p. 63).

It’s easy to see Rohr’s formation in the Franciscan tradition coming through in this chapter–the disposition to overcome evil with good, as St. Francis’ prayer describes it. From this heritage, Rohr offers light to us all.

A Reminder: our next Zoom discussion is Friday, July 15th at Noon (ET, USA). I have upgraded my Zoom account so we will not be limited to 40 minutes. We will, however, steward our time and keep our meeting to an hour.

I will post the link to the meeting in next Monday’s “Engage” post.

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Along the Way: The Hard Work of Hope”

Earlier today I read an article by Dr. Walter Brueggemann in which he used the phrase “the hard work of hope.” [1] The phrase stuck to the velcro on my soul, putting words to a sentiment I have had for some time: that hope is a verb, not merely a value–an action, not simply an attitude. [2]

Brueggemann used four words to give details to his phrase, saying that the hard work of hope is done through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. Each of the words brings the light of God to bear upon the challenges we face

Resolve….nothing changes apart from our will (individual and collective) to change it. The hard work of hope begins with the decision to do something–and to engage in the change-making now.
“Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Energy….we do not go far in our effort to change something before we realize that it is a supernatural task, and supernatural tasks require supernatural power. Zechariah 4:6 makes this clear, and his prophetic word is a call for us to live by and in the Spirit. The two great commandments and fruit of the Spirit describe this life

Courage….the “principalities and powers” take immediate and great offense when their beliefs are critiqued and their systems are challenged. Demagogues of any kind (civic or religious) will push back using anything (e.g. shaming, shuning, caricaturing, lying) to stay on their self-made pedastals of power. God’s admonition to Joshua to “be strong and courageous” was not a one-off call. It is what God says to anyone who sets out to overcome evil with good. [3]

Imagination….courageous change means “the old must pass away” in order for the new to come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the in-Chtist life–the making of new wineskins. Imagination is not only creativity, it is the conviction that some things will not be perpetuated, and that things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1) will be the conveyors of future realities.

The hard work of hope is what we must engage in today. Quick fixes are no fixes at all in the face of the formidable evil we are currently confronting. We must “incline our hearts into the Lord’ (Joshua 24:23), forming a long-haul spirituality that promotes justice (equality, fairness, inclusion, common good), through resolve, energy, courage, and imagination. In the hard work of hope, we offer ourselves as instruments of God’s peace so that “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

[1] Church Anew e-letter, 7/1/22.

[2] Several years ago, Paul Chilcote and I shared this sentiment, going on to write about it in our book, ‘Living Hope.’

[3] The Center for Courage and Renewal, begun by Parker Palmer, is an excellent resource for developing and deploying courage.

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