Engage: Subversion #4

We must paint this week’s reflection with a broad brush because Brueggemann goes into detail in this chapter. But it is possible to see the big picture.

It begins in sections I-III, with the differentiated elitist and neighborly narratives. We have looked at this. Exodus/Deuteronomy subverts Egypt. But “egypt” not only never goes away, it reasserts dominance.

The dominance gets institutiinalized when Israel demands a king, and the kings look more and more like pharoahs. This appearance, which Brueggemann unpacks in sections IV-VI, reaches its climax in Solomon. His rule and his temple reinstate the old order (or raise the reinstatement of it) to its highest level.

But….the enthronement of entitlement is not universal, it is not total. Israel’s Exodus/Deuteronomy memory is resurrected through the prophets. Brueggemann introduces us to Jeremiah in sections VII-VIII and uses his message to define subversion (though the other proohets amplify the narrative). The God-ordained triad of steadfast love, justice, and righteousness hang thick in the air, kept there through prophetic imagination, courage, and endurance–things which Brueggemann writes about extensively in his other books.

We come to section IX of this powerful chapter, where Brueggemann moves from biblical history to our time and place. We will explore this section next week, as we move to our second Zoom meeting on the 31st.

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Last June, Matt Horan began a facebook page named “Rev. Dr. Steve & Jeannie Harper Theological Seminary.”

It was a tongue-in-cheek title with the intent of creating an online community for those of us who have journeyed together as colleagues, students, and friends over the years. Various things are posted there.

Matt has recently extended a fresh invitation to folks who might be interested in joining this open group. The group has grown by nearly 20 in the past couple of days. I am writing to add my invitation to Matt’s.

And also to let you know that I will be more active on that page. One way I am doing this is by moving my ‘Shepherd’s Care” posts to that page. I am going to be more intentional in writing clergy-encouragement posts and putting them there. The page has a search feature, so you can always find the series easily, in addition to other things of interest.

Jeannie posts there occasionally as well, and I know some of you are blessed by what she has to say

So….go to “Rev. Dr. Steve & Jeannie Harper Theological Seminary” on facebook, give it a look, and consider joining the group.

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Engage: Subversion #3

The Covenant at Sinai subverts the culture of Egypt. Neighborliness subverts elitism. And elites do not take kindly to it. They push back with a counternarrative. And they do it through the use of the dominant word of theit faith and culture: holiness. God is holy; we are to be holy too.

But it is not long before a neighborly holiness (i.e. something equally for all) becomes an elitism that resembles the old Egyptian hierarchy rather than God’s inclusivity. Brueggemann notes, “there came the notion of “graded holiness,” that is, there are degrees of eligibility, so some are more eligible for access than others.” The holy space is divided into three chambers. Brueggemann writes, “The chambers are ordered so that some are admitted only at the edge, fewer are permitted to enter midway, and only one is given access clear to the center. The process is to differentiate between neighbors, some better than others.” The back-to-egypt committee is in charge.

We cannot miss the linkage between than and now. The Christian Nationalists of our day (using Dominionism theology) have counterfeited the word ‘America’ just as the ancients did holiness. The MAGA mantra is a denial of the common good through a concerted effort to erect chambers of separation, with corresponding gradations of privilege and access.

Even the term “great again” is a harking back to elitism that enshrines a largely white-male oligarchy. Along with it, another counterfitting of language is used–people are “patriots” only when they champion a MAGA-fied nation. And as with ancient elitism, contemporary supremacy advances through cultic access, moral ratings, and economic advantages–all of which perpetuate inequality. Brueggemann notes that these injustices put Israel on a “collision course between the neighborly possibilities mandated by the tradition of Deuteronomy and the regimentations of holiness in the Priestly tradition.” The major conflict in the rest of the Old Testament is between imperialism and neighborliness. We will continue our reflections about this next week.

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At the Gate: “A Bloated Soul”

Sitting at the gate, we see the end game of egotism.

It is no accident that Jesus made humility the starting point for the blessed life (Matthew 5:3). Being “poor in spirit” gets us off on the right foot in the journey of life. Being “rich in spirit” (egotism) causes us to march out of sync with the Music of God.

We all have egos, but it is when we allow ego to be king that we become strangers to the kingdom of God. Why? Because once the ego “tastes power,” the taste becomes a craving (an inordinate desire, our Buddhist friends tell us) that is never satisfied. When the ego “drinks the kool-aid” of demagoguery, it thirsts for more. When the ego eats “a mess of pottage,” it becomes gluttonous. Once it has “conquered a world,” it wants to conquer the world.

At some point in the bloating of the soul, delusion becomes dangerous because, as an addiction, egotism must have a “bigger hit” to achieve the same satisfaction. Lying turns into the Big Lie. Becoming Big Dog is mandatory. In that condition, the ego abandons decency and truth, thereafter justifying whatever it says and does in service to the person’s self-created cause. And with the false prophets claiming that God is blessing the whole thing, the despot becomes messianic, and his followers make an idol of him. His actions in one place turns into a blueprint for everywhere else.

Ron DeSantis is the latest example in Florida of what a life looks like when it rides the bronco of unbridled egotism. To those who get high on someone else’s bravado, he looks like “Cowboy Ron.” Yee-hae! But to those who can tell a bully when they see one, he is a poster child for a failed life. He is lamentable, not laudatory.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said. Humility, he taught, is the entry point into the life God intends for us. Being “rich in spirit” bloats the soul until it eventually bursts.

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Engage: Subversion #2

I am sure you will agree that it is difficult to summarize Brueggemann’s insights in chapter two. Even by his own standards, it took nine sections for him to convey his message about subversion. In this post, and the remaining three this month, we will walk through the details as best we can.

We begin by seeing that a moment of history (the exodus) becomes a template for reordering reality. Israel’s liberation from Egyptian slavery is a sign of God’s never-ending response to evil (hearing our cries) and God’s ongoing efforts to overcome evil with good. A one-time event becomes an all-time experience.

Subversives have a script. Subversion is not a knee-jerk reaction to evil, it is an educated response to it. Brueggemann illustrates it as the book of Exodus becomes the book of Deuteronomy. Exodus is a first-generation description of God’s liberation; Deuteronomy is a subsequent-generation paradigm for it.

Subversion is essentially the adoption of an order that dethrones Pharoah (a symbol of the entitled few) and enthrones neighborliness. The Covenant commenced at Sinai becomes the conduct for the long haul. Sinai initiates the process of removing walls that divide. Brueggemann writes, “that wall of separation is removed by this primal exodus narrative and by the covenantal commandments that are extrapolated from it. The tradition of Deuteronomy intends to resituate the economy of Israel into the fabric of the neighborhood.”

But as Brueggemann points out, God’s intention is resisted as egotism and ethnocentrism conspire to recreate a new “Egypt,” where once again elitism conquers neighborliness. Brueggemann notes that “it is no wonder that the key question of this tradition of commandment, rooted in a memory of emancipation, is the question of the neighbor: Who is my neighbor?”

We will pick up here in next week’s post.

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At the Gate: Mocking God

Sitting at the gate, I see Christian nationalism mocking God. In his book, ‘From Judgment to Hope,’ Walter Brueggemann writes that the ancient prophetic message “may still be true among us that God will not be mocked, neither will God quit” [1] He describes the mockery of God through the promulgation of faux holiness.

Christian nationalism mocks God in the same way, by foisting a faux holiness in the Church and trying also to impose it on the state, e.g., “MAGA Jesus.” Brueggemann (along with others) repeatedly calls out the mockery, naming it as imperialism characterized by predatory economy, white-supremacy racism, and aggressive nationalism. [2] Translated into a classical paradigm, it is what we describe as “the Christ of culture”—that is, an acculturation of Christ giving rise to the claim that the fallen-world culture is Christian, complete with the alleged blessing of God upon it. [3]

We find ourselves in a day when Christian fundamentalism has gone beyond its originating declarations in the early twentieth-century, becoming incendiary under the leadership of political and religious extremists. Their theological Dominionism has conjoined international Fascism, creating a global network that undermines God and does so “in Jesus’ name.” [4]

We have no choice but to call out this God mockery. The opening quote by Brueggemann not only says God will not be mocked, it also says God does not quit. That is, God never ceases to expose evil and resist imperialism. And….God does it, now as in ancient times, through people who break the silence of complicity and speak truth to power. [5]

God is being mocked by Christian nationalism, and we must say so. [6]

God will not quit, and neither must we. [7]

[1] Walter Brueggemann, ‘From Judgment to Hope’ (WJK, 2019), 23.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Tenacious Solidarity’ (Fortress Press, 2018). Joan Chittister calls it out similarly in her book, ‘The Time is Now’ (Convergent Books, 2019).

[3] H. Richard Neighbor ‘Christ and Culture’ (Harper & Brothers, 1951). There are newer paradigms than this one. But it is the one I was taught, and I find it useful in assessing where we are today.

[4] Annika Brockschmidt, “The ‘Dreher Affair’ Highlights the Right’s International Networks” (Religion Dispatches, 2/23/23).

[5] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out’ (WJK, 2018). Richard Rohr writes similarly in his book, ‘What Do We Do With Evil?” (CAC Publications, 2019).

[6] Here on Oboedire, I have put a reading list that exposes Christian nationalism for the sham that it is. Click on the icon at the top of the home page to see it.

[7] I am using Brueggemann’s trifocal lens for seeing imperialism (predatory economy, white-supremacy racism, and aggressive nationalism) as a way of recognizing what Ron DeSantis is up to. Attaching documented sources to these things, I can already see that he engages in all three, and almost daily, new evidence appears. I suggest that you use the same trifocal lens to look at your leaders.

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At the Gate: 3M Living

Sitting at the gate, I see the new way of thinking, believing, and acting that God calls us to live. Like so many others, Walter Brueggemann’s writings have influenced me substantially, and they continue to do so. [1] And as you know, we are currently reading his book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ in the Oboedire community. This post emerges from my ongoing attention to and appreciation for Dr. Brueggemann’s influence.

Recently, he wrote a summary piece about the prophetic imagination that has been a major emphasis of his since 1978. [2] Reading it, I was inspired anew, not only regarding his influence upon my life and ministry, but also in a renewal of resolve to live prophetically. In this post, I summarize it as 3M living—the formative flow from mysticism, to message, to ministry.[3]

First, mysticism. I have written about this before. I will not repeat what I have said, other than that the word/concept is being liberated from stereotypes and returned to its rightful place. The prophetic tradition is a contributive factor to this recovery. Walter Brueggemann calls them “emancipated imaginers of alternative.” [4] This is another way to describe mysticism.

In his recent article (cited in footnote #2), Brueggemann describes what I am calling mysticism in these words, “prophetic imagination always asserts that “the days are coming” when an alternative world will emerge among us.” The prophets are mystics. They see things, imagine things, envision things, dream things—things revealed to them by God (e.g., “write what you see”)—things which they then declare (i.e.”thus says the Lord”) as a means to awaken those who have been asleep.

Awakening from an excessive rationalism, scientists and theologians are combining to restore the credibility and significance of intuitive knowing. Like all other ways of knowing, it is held accountable by reason and responsibility. But the fact is, mystical knowing is valid. Indeed, it is the genre of knowing the Bible commends when God is “doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19) and leading us from darkness into light (Isaiah:9:2).

And what do we see? We recognize how the current order no longer reflects the will of God. We see that the current world fails the real-world test in a variety of ways. Brueggemann frequently lifts up the contemporary practices of predatory capitalism, white-supremacy racism, and aggressive nationalism as examples of how we fall short of the glory of God in our day. Mystics see this, and what they see becomes what they say. And that takes us to the next point.

Second, message. The prophets simultaneously expose sin and envision redemption. They call people to look at life in new ways (repent) and to live into God’s future “filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The call evokes a choice and issues a challenge. The message liberates us from believing “Egypt” (the old order) is all there is, all that’s supposed to be, and all that ever will be. It envisions a “Promised Land” (a new order) where God’s steadfast love will define our life together and direct us toward the common good. As Bruegemann puts it in his two-volume study of Exodus, we are delivered out of empire and delivered into covenant. [5]

As such, the message is a summons, “Get moving….away from captivity and toward freedom.” The message is an action, not just an affirmation. It is what some today are calling lived theology—what John Wesley called “living faith” (in contrast to dead orthodoxy) and “faith working by love”—social holiness. Brueggemann uses the term ‘neighborliness’ to ground it all in the second great commandment (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39).

The message leads us into the wilderness—into liminal space, disorientation, struggle, testing, disorder, and anxiety. As Paul Tournier described it (using a trapeze analogy), we are “between the bars,” having let go of the first bar, but not yet grasping the second one. It is the in-between time of doubting, a “necessary suffering” (Richard Rohr’s term) that includes the temptation to go back to “Egypt.” We see this in Jesus’ ministry to lead others into the reign of God, but the cost of discipleship was so high that “many turned away and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). But as John wrote in his prologue, those who did not reject him were given grace to become children of God (John 1:12)—that is, to be in the family who experiences the new creation. But the message is not only something to experience, it is something to enact. The message becomes a ministry.

Third, ministry. Specifically, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), objectively commenced by Christ (Colossians 1:20) and commissioned/continued by us. Christ has broken down the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14), and we are called to remove walls that divide. The removal does not leave separated sides but ignites a coming together so that all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

Furthermore, this reconciliation moves toward a convergence made possible through the one who is Alpha and Omega, as he brings all things together—all things on earth and in heaven (Ephesians 1:9-10). The ministry of reconciliation is a cosmic soteriology, so that as in Adam all died, in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). Love triumphs, and a number too large to count, from every people group and nation, live together forever in the new heaven and new earth.

This is 3M living: mysticism, message, and ministry. It is not a way of life reserved for a few, but rather one offered to all. And when we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it (Mark 8:18), our mouths will exclaim a fourth “m”—marvelous!

[1] Some of you will recall that from mid-October 2017 through mid-January 2018, I wrote a series here on Oboedire entitled “The Prophetic Task” based on Brueggemann’s views of prophetic ministry. His book, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ remains in print, with a 40th anniversary edition published in 2018.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “The Pathetic Imagination,” (February 19, 2023). A humorous slip of his tongue spawned his updated reflection of the prophetic imagination. This is a “keeper” article that summarizes how the prophetic imagination has ignited his own prophetic ministry. In addition, his website (www.walterbrueggemann.com) is a storehouse of treasures from his mind and heart.

[3] Matthew Fox’s emphasis on the mystic-prophet has further enriched my vision of 3M living that Brueggemann has enabled me to see. Fox’s books, ‘Prayer, A Radical Response to Life’ (originally published as ‘On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear’) and ‘Creation Spirituality’ are in mind as well in this post. Dorothy Soelle described the same idea, calling it “mysticism and resistance.” Richard Rohr calls it “contemplative activism.” Barbara Holmes describes it as “crisis contemplation.”

[4] Walter Brueggemann, ‘From Judgment to Hope’ (WJK, 2019), Preface.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Delivered Out of Empire’ (WJK, 2921) and ‘Delivered Into Covenant (WJK, 2021).

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Engage: Subversion #1

It was not until I read Eugene Peterson’s book ‘Subversive Spirituality’ that I recognized the importance of subversion. When I saw that Brueggemann used the word in his title for chapter two, I was eager to see what he means by it with respect to our journey into the common good.

Interestingly, he tells us right in the chapter itself. Subversion is enacting an “alternative possibility.” Both words are insightful. Subversion is an alternative, not the status quo. And it is a possibility, not sure thing. Both words require action if anything is to change.

The first sentence of the chapter makes clear that the alternative possibility is not a conversation, it is a contest–one that determines what constitutes the soul of our nation. It is a contest which we can see in biblical history, and one that is playing out in our history. It is happening right now.

We are reading chapter two in March. We are in the season of Lent, often referred to as “our Lenten journey.” And….it is the season in the Christian year when we consider an alternative possibility. So, we could not be reading this chapter at any better time than this. And given the way March unfolds, there will be four more posts here on Oboedire before we have our second Zoom meeting on Friday, the 31st.

As we begin chapter two, we do well to frame it in relation to the question, “What narrative controls my life?” And related to it, as Brueggemann notes in the way he constructs the chapter, “Am I willing to embrace and enact a narrative different than that one of imperialism?”

Interestingly, we ask this question while still in Egypt. The Sinai peninsula was part of Egypt. The Israelites had escaped from the control of Pharaoh, but they were still in Egypt–through the entirety of their exodus. Similarly, we ask the hard questions about our liberation from imperialism while still in its territory. We commence the new order (i.e. neighborliness) while still in the old one. Subversion begins in our heart, in small groups, and in other communities that incarnate the alternative possibility.

The moment we decide to reject “the kingdoms of this world” and live by the values of the kingdom of God, we become part of the resistance movement which seeks to overcome evil with good.

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At the Gate: Ad Fontes!

Sitting at the gate, I see the importance of going back to the Center if we are to change things on the circumference. One of the clarion calls of the Renaissance was “ad fontes,” a mantra reminding people that change occurs by returning to Sources—first principles, originating causes, etc.

I was recently reminded about this in relation to the renewal of the church. During an online meeting, one of the participants pointed out that our conversation had become focused on institutional renewal. He rightly reminded us that we must look beyond that in order to experience the renewal we need. While by no means ignoring the institutional needs, he invited us into a deeper conversation. We accepted the invitation, and used much of our remaining time talking about “the hunger of the heart” so profoundly expressed by multitudes today.

It is a hunger that emerges from the imago dei. Made in the image of God, we thirst for God as naturally, recurringly, and intensely as a deer thirsts for water (Psalm 42:1-2). In the Christian context we say that we thirst for God “in Christ.” Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11). Made by the Word, the excarnate Christ (John 1:3), we follow him into abundant living (John 10:10). Simply put, Christ is the Center, with the circumference finding life in relation to him.

The renewal we see the need for is found in Christ. Jesus is the Gospel, the content, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). In their own ways, the “nones and dones” are telling us this by their separation from institutional religion in general and institutional Christianity in particular. We only think of their departures negatively if we are defined by and stuck in institutional thinking. They are, in fact, the prophets crying out “ad fontes” if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Our friend in the Zoom meeting did us a good service, and without naming him, I thank him. It was a moment to be reminded how easily those of us who have lived our discipleship as “professional Christians” can slip into institutional-renewal talk, without even realizing (I speak only for myself) we are doing so. Of course, wine needs a wineskin; content needs a container. I am not denying that. Neither was our friend. As a historical theologian, I know that movements dissipate when they lack means to sustain them.

But in this post, I want to offer the same reminder that our friend in the meeting offered to us. His words moved me to remember that when Francis of Assisi first heard God’s word to “rebuild my church,” he took it to mean the restoration of the San Damiano church building. It took a deeper look for him to realize it was an “ad fontes” call to return to the Center in order to renew the circumference. He devoted the rest of his life to the exaltation of Christ and the incarnation of Christlikeness. Even as he did this, he carried a broom to clean any building before he preached or taught there. He never downplayed the institution, he only refused to treat it as the main thing.

As a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition, I see the same “ad fontes” spirit in John Wesley, who sent ministers to America with the mission to “offer them Christ,” not make them Methodists. We do well to do the same in our day. It is Christ for whom people hunger. Where and how they experience him is always secondary. Renewal-talk must be “ad fontes” conversation that takes us to Christ.

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Engage Group: First Meeting Today

Looking forward to visiting with you today at noon (ET), focusing on the introduction and first chapter of Brueggemann’s book

Here’s the Zoom meeting link…


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LGBTQ+ Writing: Liberating Scripture #4

In the previous three posts, I have shown that the interpretive landscape with respect to human sexuality is changing as biblical exegetes join with those in the physical sciences to liberate Scripture from a theological/cultural captivity that inaccurately leads to anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs. New discoveries at the micro and macro levels of existence enable us to recognize the previous errors, and correct them. In the previous posts I showed how a misconception about the creation and a misinterpretation of biblical texts in Leviticus and Romans have been exposed, and replaced with new information which removes anti-LGBTQ+ bias from the Bible.

There is one more thing to point out, and I turn to it in this post—a mistranslation of two Greek words found in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. This is the newest liberation among those I am writing about. In fact, it is an ongoing investigation. Several aspects are noteworthy here.

First, let’s name the Greek words, so we can see what the issue is. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, they both appear: malakoi and arsenakoitai. In 1 Timothy 1:10, only arsenakoitai is there. The main thing to emphasize at the outset is that the meaning of both words is uncertain, as textual notes point out. The problem is that translators have to deal with them somehow, which means that any Bible version of these words is an educated guess. [1]

Second, with respect to LGBTQ+ matters, we can focus on the 1946 Revised Standard Version translation, where the word ‘homosexual’ was used in the Bible for the first time. The reasons are complex and problematic, as the translators themselves reveal in process notes preserved in the archives at Yale University.

But the conclusion of it all, after the RSV was published, is this: using the word ‘homosexual’ was a mistake. Luther Allan Weigle, head of the RSV translation committee, wrote “The RSV committee decided the word ‘homosexual’ was an inaccurate translation of malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9.” [2] This is a stunning admission, but given it came after the 1946 RSV was in print, the damage was done, seized upon by conservative Christians, so that even to the present the words are taken to identify homosexuality itself as sinful.

But remember….the meaning of both words is uncertain. Uncertain. So how did ‘homosexuality’ end up being used?

It begins with a treating of the two words as if they were one. So in 1 Corinthians 6:9 the 1946 RSV used one word (homosexuals) to translate two. This obscures the specificity of each words. At the least, we should study them individually.

Malakoi….This word (used outside the Bible) means ‘soft.’ It has nothing to do with sexuality, as John Wesley pointed out in his comment on 1 Corinthians 6:9. He saw it as a word describing self-indulgence. [3] In the context of sexuality, it would mean lust, and in terms of practice it would refer to prostitution and pederasty. Orientation is not in this picture.

Arsenakoitai….This is an even harder word to translate because it only appears in the two verses of the New Testament, leading some to think Paul may have coined the term. If so, what might he have had in mind? Again, the meaning is uncertain. But it most likely describes an aggressive, abusive behavior—further strengthening the idea of lustful sexuality. Orientation is not in the picture.

What Paul is most likely denouncing is lustful, abusive sexuality. Some scholars include the practice of sex-trafficking in the interpretation. Let there be no doubt—Paul strongly denounced illicit sex [4] but did not associate it with LGBTQ people. Illicit sex is a perversion of practice, not one of orientation. My previous three posts further confirm this view.

Third, the correction effort is underway. But it is being resisted and caricatured by conservative Christians. This is not surprising because it sinks one of the ships in their anti-LGBTQ+ flotilla.

But truth is truth, and the fact is, neither 1 Corinthians 6:9 nor 1 Timothy 1:10 are about homosexuality, and the very ones who created the problem through their mistranslation are trying to tell us so. They are trying to liberate two Scripture verses from the trap they themselves set. The question is this, “Are we listening to them?”

[1] Textual notes about the uncertainty of word meanings, in both Hebrew and Greek, are found often in biblical texts. If you have a reference Bible (text with notes), you will see this. This is inevitable. The problem comes when words with uncertain meanings become the foundation for alleged certain interpretations, elevating texts to an unsupported status. This is not good exegesis, and it is a misuse of the phrase “the Bible says,” when the fact is, it doesn’t.

[2] Ed Oxford, “My Quest to Find the Word ‘Homosexual’ in the Bible,” Baptist News Global. Augustv0 19, 2020.

[3] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755). His notes on the Bible (the Old Testament too) are still available in various formats.

[4] The latest RSV-family translation, the New Revised Standard Version, updated edition (NRSVue) published in 2021, seeks a return to a more-likely message from Paul, translating malakoi as ‘male prostitutes’ and arsenakoitai as ‘men who engage in illicit sex.’—taking the verses back lust and abuse, not orientation.

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Engage Group: Meeting Reminder

Just a reminder that our meeting is changed to tomorrow (Saturday) at Noon (ET), not today. Looking forward to a good discussion of Brueggemann’s introduction and first chapter.

Here is the link to the meeting…


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LGBTQ+ Writing: Liberating Scripture #3

Today, we look at how Romans 1:18-32 is being liberated from misinterpretation. At its broadest base, Paul’s words have been used (as those in Leviticus) as a blanket condemnation of homosexuality. That one-size-fits-all view has been changing, but the overall use of the text remains prohibitive. Indeed, Paul is against something, but it is crucial to see what it is.

Paul carried the Levitical prohibition into the Roman context—that is, he carried the Hebrew Covenant ethic (monogamy, sacredness, fidelity, and permanency) into the Christian Covenant. As in Canaan, centuries earlier, Roman culture had male temple prostitution. The cult of Isis was on Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage. [1] In this sense, the defining element for Paul (as with Leviticus) was idolatry. It was a sexuality practiced in the worship of false gods (Molech in Canaan and Isis in Rome) for self-serving purposes. And just as with a setting aside of male/female relationships for fertility religion in Leviticus, leading to good crops in Canaan, so in Rome it was a similar decision to worship “mortal humans, birds, animals, and reptiles” (Romans 1:23).

Scholars also think he was forbidding pederasty, which was included in temple prostitution but not limited to it. And as with Leviticus, such illicit sex destabilized the family.

Furthermore, it is likely that Paul was writing to prophetically call out the emperor’s sexual sinfulness, which included prostitution, pederasty, and more. [2] And again, as with Leviticus, Paul appeals to the Covenant as the defining and directing revelation of sexual morality.

The point is, sexual orientation in general and homosexuality in particular were not in Paul’s mind. He was thinking Covenantly and opposing egoic (lustful) and promiscuous sexual behavior.

Paul further confirms this in his use of the word ‘traded’ (CEB) or exchanged’ (NRSVue, NIV, ESV). The Greek word means a deliberate, temporary setting aside of one thing for another. What is being given up? Heterosexuality. Straight people were acting like gay people. In Rome, they did so through prostitution and pederasty. After their flings, they went home and resumed the heterosexual lives. Romans 1:26-27).Paul said this ‘exchange’ was wrong.

Finally, Paul uses the word “unnatural” to describe what God is against. God is against people acting sexually contrary to their orientation. In Rome, it was heterosexuals acting contrary to their orientation. Here is where the nonbinary creation enters the picture. In the spectrum of humanity (genders, identities, and orientations), it is wrong (unnatural) to engage in sex contrary to our orientation, and to do so in ways which violate Covenant qualities: sacredness, fidelity, permanency, and monogamy.

Where do these interpretations of Leviticus and Romans bring us? They lead us to affirm Covenant sexuality (minigamy, sacredness, fidelity, and permanency), and to declare that all people can live sexually in this way. They also bring us to reject sexuality that is idolatrous: violating the four principles previously named, and doing so in egoic (lustful) and promiscuous ways. “The Bible tells us so.”

[1] Robert Gnuse, “Romans 1:26-27 Condemns the Cult of Isis, not Homosexuality,” International Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Studies, Volume 8, Issue 3, 2021, 33-41. This study includes other key factors which substantiate the point I am making.

[2] Sylvia Keesmat and Brian Walsh, ‘Romans Disarmed’ (Brazos Press, 2019), chapter 9, “Imperial Sexuality and Covenantal Faithfulness.”

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At the Gate: “But They Do A Lot of Good”

Sitting at the gate, I see the great loss that occurs when critical thinking is abandoned. We are seeing this abandonment in spades these days, in both the society and church. I live in a state (Florida) that is saturated with the demeaning and destruction of critical thinking, in conjunction with the larger “anti-woke” movement occurring today. Critical thinking is caricatured through a plethora of clichés, stereotyping, and lies. At its worst, “anti-woke” advocates try to get people to believe that being smart is dumb, that seeing what’s going on is being blind, and anything other than carte blanche agreement with them is a punishable offense.

One of the ways critical thinking dies is when people raise concerns, but then go on to say, “But they do a lot of good.” As soon as that claim enters the picture, it eclipses critical thinking and replaces it with magical thinking, where lies can be told as truth, history can be revised and sanitized but still claimed to be be valid, and where prejudices can be defended as virtues. Whenever you hear, “but they do a lot of good,” you can reasonably assume the whole story is not being told…..by design. Psychologically, it’s cognitive dissonance. Collectively, it’s systemic evil.

In this post, I limit my comments to Christians who use “but they do a lot of good” as a way of ignoring or minimizing the rest of the story, “but they also do a lot of harm.”

And here’s the thing, the moral/ethical foundation of critical thinking is in the phrase “do no harm.” It is the starting point for classic philosophy (e.g. Hippocratic Oath), and in healthy, robust, and mature religion it is too. John Wesley, for example, began the General Rules for the United Societies (the Methodist movement) with the communal commitment to “do no harm.” People and groups are on the right track to lead with this intention. Critical thinking begins here too.

Magical thinking almost always includes “but they do a lot of good.” It covers over harm, and when that happens, people allow harm to continue, likely never seeking to end it, but rather becoming passive with a “nobody’s perfect” justification. The voices of those who are harmed are muted by the hoopla and “P.R.” that takes center stage. When magical thinking takes over, no one is allowed to go back stage. Those who either go there anyway, or who come from there, are fired, excommunicated, or otherwise removed.

Christian fundamentalism/nationalism is protected, preserved, and promoted through “but they do a lot of good” justification. Institutions known for historic and longstanding prejudices and harmful environments are given fast-passes into acceptance without ever having to change. Image is everything.

I experienced this a while back in a conversation about a well-known leader in the Christian nationalism movement, a person whose tone (in the pulpit and in print) is vitriolic and vengeful. The person’s prejudice and animosity was acknowledged, but because he also heads up a charitable organization “that does a lot of good,” the conversation never included the harm he gets by with.

Each week, the Orlando Sentinel names restaurants that have failed inspections and been closed until the health violations are corrected. The perils are almost always in the kitchen, where critters and contaminates have put food safety in jeopardy. Inspections are not indictments, but rather indications that sub-standard things exist, and they must be rectified.

Critical thinking is that kind of inspection. It does not deny any good in a person’s heart, a church’s ministry, an institution’s mission, or a government’s actions. But critical thinking does not stop there. It goes on to name any bad that’s in the mix. Critical thinking tells “the rest of the story.” Magical thinking does not. It stops at, “but they do a lot of good.”

How do we move from magical thinking to critical thinking? By asking, “Who is crying out? How have they been harmed? Why has the harm continued?” Until we ask these kinds of questions, critical thinking suffers. Critical thinking hears the cries of the harmed ones (the Hebrew word is ‘anawim’ in the Bible) and responds to what they say.

Critical thinking is at the heart of true spirituality. It is found in what the Bible calls having “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17), moving us to pray, “search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked (hurtful) way in me. And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Critical thinking takes individuals and institutions back to “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

Until we get there, ecclesial revivals and national reforms fall short of glory of God..

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Engage Group: New Meeting Time

The first online meeting of our group has been changed to Saturday, the 25th at Noon (ET). We will share in relation to the introduction and first chapter of Brueggemann’s book.

Here is the link to the meeting


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LGBTQ+ Writing: Liberating Scripture #2

In the first post in this mini-series, I wrote to show how the sciences have cleared up the misconception of creation as binary, revealing a cosmos (from molecules to galaxies) that is nonbinary and interconnected.[1] Creation theology is shedding bright light on the Bible. It serves as the backdrop for this second post.

Scripture is being liberated from a misinterpretation of three key passages: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 and Romans 1:18-32. Today, I look at the Leviticus passages.

Context is everything, and the context for both verses is the Holiness Code that comprises chapters 18-27 of the book of Leviticus. It is the instruction given to the Israelites just before they entered Canaan. It sets forth a way of living that is different from life in Egypt (where they had been) and from life in Canaan (where they were going). The Holiness Code addresses a specific time and place, and it answers the question, “How shall we live as a Covenant people in the promised land?”

For that reason, every admonition in Leviticus 18-27 is historically and culturally conditioned. None are timeless or universal in their original context. That’s why even conservative Jews do not obey all the rules in this section of Leviticus. [2] As Christians, we are not obligated to obey them either. But of course, some of the instructions transcend time and place. The two verses about male sexuality are said to be among them. But how so? Again, context is everything.

In both verses Covenant violations are the context. With respect to Leviticus 18:22, the violation is idolatry. Males in Canaan would set aside their male/female marital relationships for same-sex relations in Canaanite temples. Why? Allegedly, to have better crops. [3] That’s what fertility religions taught. The behavior had nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with religion that promised material prosperity and financial gain. The context is pagan religious rituals. [4] Male same-sex relationships were indications of idolatry, violations of the Covenant that began with, “you shall have no other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3).

With respect to 20:13, the Covenant violation continues the idea of idolatry, but adds the dishonoring of the family unit in 20:9-21. In the original ten commandments, God had forbidden adultery and the taking of a neighbor’s wife (Exodus 20:14, 17). These two things constituted illicit sexual behavior. This is not only immoral but also idolatrous because the dishonoring of those whom God has made is a dishonoring of God.

The Levitical verses are about Covenant violations (idolatry and family destabilization), not homosexuality. With respect to sexuality, this meant three big things. First, it was polytheistic, not monogomatic. Illicit sexual activity was a violation of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), where God’s oneness is revealed. Canaanite religion was polytheistic, and therefore, not to be practiced.

Second, it was egoic (lustful) sex, behavior which uses others for personal gain–in this case, better crops (18:22) and selfish pleasure (20:13). The sacredness of sex was lost, replaced by greed and hedonism. Lust is the perversion of sex, not identity, gender, or orientation. Lust is the driver for the two main expressions of illicit sex: fornication and adultery.

And third, it was promiscuous. The Hebrew word ‘shakob’ literally means ‘roaming’—what we call today “sleeping around” It was also temporary, like dew that does not stay on the ground. [5] Taken together, the Leviticus verses are prohibitions against sexual activity which lacks love and commitment—the defining quality of God (steadfast love) and the neighborliness (love of others) God intends for us to practice among ourselves. [6]

In these ways men violated the Covenant ethic by abandoning monogamy, sacredness, fidelity, and permanence. When we see this, these two verses are liberated from the misinterpretation of them–“the Bible tells us so.”

[1] The Newtonian concept of creation (the universe as a machine) which arose in the Enlightenment is being superseded by the quantum reality concept (the universe as organic) which posits an interconnected cosmos and teaches us to practice unitive thinking. Thomas Berry and Joanna Macy wrote a lot about this.

[2] Rabbi Jacob Milgrom, a conservative scholar, in his monumental three-volume commentary in the Anchor Bible series goes into detail about the limited intent and focus of the Holiness Code, rather than its being universal and timeless. As a textual document, it is not prescriptive. It contains transcendent principles, but it applies them to a temporary situation, i.e. Israel living as a Covenant people in Canaan. Samuel Balentine’s commentary on Leviticus in the Interpretation series takes a stance akin to Milgrom. Hence, my lifting up the two Levitical verses in relation to the Covenant in this post.

[3] This is why women are not mentioned. They did not go to the temples and engage in illicit sex for agricultural benefits.

[4] Given 18:23 is set in the context of pagan religious rituals, the verse likely forbids participation in the worship of Molech (18:21). The sin called out is idolatry.

[5] William Mounce, ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006), 403.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, ‘God, Neighbor, Empire’ (Baylor University Press, 2016).

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LGBTQ+ Writing: Liberating Scripture #1

For multiple reasons in recent days, it is clear that the assault against LGBTQ+ people is increasing in some places, led in many ways by Christians using the Bible to do harm. The need to liberate Scripture from its theological captivity remains. That liberation is under way, led by Bible-believing Christians.

The liberation is advancing slowly because it involves a meticulous hermeneutical process. The liberation is happening against intense pushback because non-affirming interpretations have run deeply in some parts of Christianity for a long time. And in certain fundamentalist circles, the survival of groups, denominations, and institutions requires a non-affirming position—lest they go out of business and/or be emptied of their power and money. Loss of influence is unthinkable.

But the “freedom train” has pulled out of the station, engineered by devoted Christ followers, and fueled by sound scholarship. It is impossible to deny this or to demean the liberators, unless you are defined and driven by obscurantism.

Today through Saturday, I begin a short series about the liberation of Scripture. It is occurring on several key fronts: a unitive understanding of creation, a fresh interpretation of focal texts, and the correction of a mistranslation. None of these are “new” in the strict sense of the word, but rather in the sense of mounting credibility, influence, and acceptance–supplanting previous beliefs.

In this first post, I focus on the creation. The sciences are converging in ways that reveal the oneness of creation. [1] More specifically, biology and cosmology reveal that creation is nonbinary and interconnected. [2] We exist in a matrix of being that exhibits essential oneness along spectrums of amazing diversity. Knowledge now moves in the context of quantum physics which defines nonbinary life from the smallest particle to the farthest star. The implications are far reaching.

With respect to Scripture, it means that the creation stories must now be read with new eyes. The “and” designations are signs of oneness and nonbinary manifestations. Between each of the “twos” in the first creation story is a spectrum of “kinds,” with incalculable variety at the molecular level all the way out to the expanding cosmos.

When the writer of Genesis gets to day six, the male-female creation is consistent with the nonbinary nature of all that has preceded (including the nonbinary nature of God that we name theologically as Trinity), with a human genome that gives rise to a variety of genders, identities, and orientations. This too is consistent with the diversity found in other species.

The Bible itself recognizes this through eunuchs, the one-word description of nonbinary human beings. [3] In Isaiah 56:3-5 and Matthew 19:11 both the prophet and Jesus honored eunuchs, clearly including them among the people of God. These two passages are game-changers, placing within the Bible itself the revelation of the full humanity and sacredness of nonbinary people—in fact, God saying they have been given “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:5). [4]

Previous sciences posited binary realities, but contemporary science now reveals nonbinary existence throughout the whole of creation. And like our Christian ancestors who integrated theology and science, we honor the same interaction today, learning that the creation is different than we used to think it was. The earth is not flat, it is not the center of the universe, and males and females are not the only forms of humanity. When scientific discoveries are allowed to speak, they portray a nonbinary creation, and we then declare that “the Bible tells us so” as well.

[1] Brian Thomas Swimme, ‘Cosmogenesis’ (Counterpoint, 2022). It is difficult to capture all that’s happening in the faith/science convergence because it includes discoveries from multiple disciplines. This book offers a broad exposure to many of them.

[2] Katherine J. Wu, “Alternatives to Heterosexual Pairings, Brought to You by Non-Human Animals (Smithsonian Magazine, 6/28/18).

[3] People born as eunuchs in biblical times would be those we refer to as intersex or transgender.

[4] Isaiah describes what the wisdom of indigenous people groups has affirmed. In the Native American tradition, for example, “two spirit people” are revered. The nonbinary “better than sons and daughters” is older than the limiting of normal humans to males and females.

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Engage: Journey #2

This Friday, we have our first Zoom meeting, in which we share our experiences while reading chapter one. Here is the link to the meeting that runs from Noon to 1:00 p.m. (ET)….


We have seen the ignition of faith, the inevitability of anxiety, and the necessity of neighborliness in our journey to the common good. They generate the decision to depart, the will to endure, and the effort to overcome evil with good.

Brueggemann concludes chapter one after dealing with the exodus narrative in some detail, making significant points. He ends by saying that journey from the mindset of scarcity (provision for elite) to the mindset of abundance (provision for everyone) demands tenacity, courage, and endurance. The journey will include anxiety that includes the temptation to give up and revert to the old order. But those who persevere will be those through whom neighborliness is created and the common good is pursued.

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“Heart Sounds”

Quite a few of you have subscribed to Oboedire recently. Just a reminder that the “Heart Sounds” podcast by Steve Harper is available on Spotify.

The series explores the spiritual life using short-episode programs, on average about 10 minutes each.

If you have not done so already, give it a listen.

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Engage: The Journey #1

In chapter one, Brueggemann takes the broad idea of journey and applies it to the common good. Wisely, he shows us that we move into the common good in stages. It is not a state as much as it is an evolution. It is not singular attainment as much as it is a varying reality more present in some places more than others.

He sees it as the journey from faith, into anxiety, and then into neighborliness. The Exodus provides the biblical narrative for this movement, a specific experience of the orientation, disorientation, reorientation pattern we described in the first post (“Journey,” January 31st).

The journey begins with faith that liberation from “the system” is possible. It is the faith we sing in the words, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” [1] Yahweh, not Pharoah is God. Jesus is Lord, not those who lord it over others. In the face of galloping injustice, it takes faith to believe this. We hear the call to leave Egypt while we are in it. We must have faith to believe the call is from God. Prophets are necessary.

The journey includes anxiety because the lure of the known is more powerful at times than the attraction of the unknown. Leaving is hard. Letting go is difficult. Uncertainty is discincerting. Birth is painful. The journey to the common good is filled with formidable challenges. Accepting that as normal is necessary.

The journey requires neighborliness. Life together is the only way to achieve the common good. Without it, egotism creates a new ethnocentrism which creates another “system” of inequality. The basis for neighborliness is love, as Jesus taught. Neighborliness is the disposition of God toward us; it is meant to be our dispisition toward others.

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At the Gate: The Gospel

Sitting at the gate, I see that the Gospel really is good news. In recent posts, I have explored the hermeneutical principles used by Jesus and the first Christians, showing that our declaration as Christians is more appropriately, “the Gospel says” rather than “the Bible says.” But in saying this, I realize it brings us to the question “What is the Gospel?” In this post, I offer the following aspects of it.

First, Jesus is the Gospel, the Word made flesh. As E. Stanley Jones said over and over, the Gospel is a person, not a principle—it is incarnation, not information. As person, the Gospel is not contained within a particular perspective. Theological labels are insufficient. When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we mean that no one else and nothing else is.

And right here is the radical nature of the Gospel. If Jesus is the Gospel, then we look to him. We follow him. We abide in him. He is the wine and the bread; we partake of him and are nourished by him. This means that no wineskin is the Gospel. The main question is not “What would Jesus do?” because when we ask this, we too easily overlay the question with our preferences. Rather we ask, “What did Jesus do?” And as we answer that question, we go and do likewise. That’s why the Jesus Hermeneutic and its continuation by the first Christians is foundational and energizing for us.

Second, the Gospel is what’s supposed to be. Jesus lived and taught the Real. He called it the kingdom of God, and he offered it as the transforming alternative to “the kingdoms of this world.” He gave the overview of this in his inaugural address in Nazareth, declaring he was connecting with God’s intention, voiced by Isaiah, “to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me 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 4:18-19) [1]

He amplified his initial declaration a bit later in his sermon on the mount/plain, and then went on to illustrate it through his life, ministry, and teaching. Again and again, he called people to recognize and respond to what’s supposed to be, teaching us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and then moving into the world as salt-and-light witnesses—restoring the “what’s supposed to be” flavor and removing the darkness.

Third, the Gospel is the reign of love. Looking at the kingdom of God, it is a manifestation of who God is, how God acts, and what God wills. Walter Brueggemann writes over and over that this is summed up in the term “steadfast love.” Given this is so, our response (he writes) is neighborliness—which is a counter-cultural, prophetic resistance to imperialism marked by radical inclusion and the advancement of the common good. It is the salvation-trajectory revealed in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 3:21, 1Cirinthians 5:22, Ephesians 1:9-10, and Colossians 1:20) with its clear Christological core.

This Gospel life is not a superficial rearrangement of things or even a reprioritizing of them. It is a transformation which establishes a new ethical basis for what we say and do. Decades ago, E. Stanley Jones wrote that transformation is the synonym for Christianity. [2] His assertion is a shining light as we seek to recover the Gospel from the lesser definitions (e.g. Christian Nationalism) which are choking the life out of it, and doing great harm to others in the process. Resisting this is now a clarion call, but not an easy or quick one. It is a long-haul endurance that requires an abandonment of the old order, a time of disorder, on the way to the new creation. We are in the New-Awakening phase of disorder, and this leads to a final aspect of the Gospel.

Fourth, the Gospel is an invitation to Christlikeness. In the liminal space of disorder, we are given eyes to see (Mark 8:18) and the will to make new wineskins to hold God’s Gospel wine. Jesus himself extended the invitation: follow me, learn from me, abide in me, go for me—a full-circle to the first point above, that he is the Gospel. The first Christians summarized Christlikeness in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christlikeness is both the lens for leaving behind “the old” and the motivation for heading toward “the new.” The fruit of the Spirit enables us to see what the Gospel life (loving God and others) looks like, and how it is lived. The fruit of the Spirit transforms both our character (inward life) and conduct (outer life), giving us the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:,5-11) and conforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Taken together, these things make the Gospel good news indeed—the life for which we are made and for which we hunger and thirst. The Gospel compels us to “have done with lesser things,” (Charles Wesley’s hymn, ‘A Charge to Keep’).and to live “a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

[1] Note that Jesus ended with “God’s favor” in his linking his ministry with that of Isaiah. He omitted the phrase having to do with vindication in the original text (Isaiah 61:1-2). This is significant, showing that his congruence with the prophet would nevertheless take a different turn and exhibit a different tone. His life and work would be in the flow of grace, not the letter of the law.

[2] E. Stanley Jones, ‘How to Be a Transformed Person’ (Pierce and Smith, 1951).

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At the Gate: Revive Us Again!

Sitting at the gate, I see the nature and purpose of revivals. In seminary, I took a course about revivals. The focus was on revivals in the Bible, with extra time given to those in Isaiah 6 and Acts 2. Some attention was given to revivals in subsequent church history. We learned that revivals always have personal and collective dimensions—individual and institutional impacts. When revivals are assessed, both aspects must be included.

Revivals change individuals. We refer to this as conversion, re-commitment, etc. When revivals occur, people affected by them may look back upon them for the rest of their lives. They will say, “It was there…it was then that I _______.” In revival, we give thanks for every good and perfect gift that God gives to individuals.

But if that is where our assessment of revivals ends, it fails to take into account the second factor. Revivals change communities/institutions. As Timothy Smith showed in his landmark study, revivals always ignite fresh waves of social reform. [1] They draw the circle wider, moving communities into greater inclusion where they “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God “ (Micah 6:8). In the Wesleyan tradition, this is social holiness

In the seminary course, the professor zeroed in on both aspects of revival, showing how people were changed (Acts 2:41-44) and the Christian community itself was transformed (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35, 6:1-7). The depth and breadth of collective change is seen in the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Christian community (Acts 10 and Acts 15), and in the counter-cultural dynamic of radical inclusion (Galatians 3:28).

From my course in seminary, I learned that when revival breaks out, if it is genuine, it will change people…and…communities. If it does the first thing without the second, it does not mean God did a partial work; it means that we dammed up the flow of God’s Spirit short of its intended, complete work. Changed lives are the commencement of changed communities. When we say, “Do it again, Lord,” we must mean both individual and institutional change. When we sing, “Revive us again,” we must mean the “us” part. Institutions where revivals occur must be changed along with the individuals who are changed during them—changed in deeper and wider ways, in ways that increase inclusion in the Body of Christ.

[1] Timothy L. Smith, ‘Revivalism and Social Reform’ (Abingdon Press, 1957). It remains in print today in a variety of formats.

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A Soil Prepared

The Northwest Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church leads the pack of disaffiliating congregations, and does so by a large margin. As I write this, the average disaffiliation rate in the USA is about 7%. In the NWTX Annual Conference it is about 75%.

Needless to say, many look at this disparity and ask, “How did this happen?” Some have asked me this question, knowing that I was born, grew up, was ordained, and served in the NWTX Annual Conference. This post is my response to the question. [1]. It is not a historical response; that would take time and primary research to achieve that status. What follows is more nearly a personal reflection rooted in my memory and experience. Hence, the title. Looking at the massive disaffiliation percentage, I would say it is the result of a prepared soil.

Farmers do not plant any crop without first preparing the soil. Every harvest is the end result of a much larger and longer process. Agricultural yields are related to soil preparation and tending. Given that the NWTX Annual Conference is largely agricultural, this metaphor works for me to respond to the question, “How did this happen?”
For a period roughly from 1965 to the present, several formidable “fertilizers” have been in play in the NWTX Annual Conference, preparing the soil for a 75% disaffiliation rate. In this post, all I can do is name them and leave it to others to explore each one in greater detail. But even in summary, it is a complex story.

The Republican Party

When Governor Ann Richards was defeated for re-election by George W. Bush in 1994, it was the first time in 120 years (except for eight years) that Texas had a Republican governor. Since then, it has only had Republican leaders, with a demonstrably growing political power at both the local, state, and federal levels.

But here too, there were decades of preparation to turn Texas from historically Democratic to solidly Republican. The Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas is likely the best source for seeing how the shift occurred. But the Texas GOP account (what they call moving the party from Point A to Point B) tells a similar story. Beginning in the mid-1960’s (some say when JFK was elected President), Texas Democrats began to distance themselves from the national party. Even Lyndon Johnson’s succession to the Presidency (as a Texan) did not span the widening gap (in fact, widening it further) as he supported the civil rights movement.

The 1970’s were pivotal, illustrated by Jimmy Carter’s win in 1976, but his loss just four years later to Ronald Reagan in 1980. The political shift going on in the country was mirrored in Texas. This radical shift “put the pedal to the metal” for a comparatively rapid rise of the Republican party in the state. It focused in Rick Perry, with defeat of Jim Hightower in 1991 as Agricultural Commissioner. Born and raised in Paint Creek (within the NWTX Conference), Perry combined agricultural savvy and an Air Force career to achieve election (as a Democrat) to the State House in 1984. But in 1989, Perry moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party (a telling story in and of itself), and he wasted no time in saying he would restore “cattle, corn, and cotton” to the center stage of Texas agricultural. That was an electable platform, and he became Agricultural Commissioner, thought by some to be a more powerful position than governor. Perry’s political meteor lit up the night sky, moving him into Lieutenant Governorship (under “W”) and then by succession and re-election as Texas’ longest-sitting governor. By the time he left office, Texas was positioned and powered to give its electoral college vote in both 2016 and 2020 to Donald Trump, an achievement which Trump rewarded by naming Perry Secretary of Energy in his administration.

Perry’s popularity (and that of his wife, Anita too—now with the Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing at Texas Tech in Lubbock named for her) is entrenched in northwest Texas, along with the Trumpian ideology that is present there too, bolstered even more by Perry’s declaration of Trump as “God’s chosen one” in a November 2019 interview on Fox News (Washington Post article by Eugene Scott, 12/18/19). Simply put, the rise of the GOP in Texas has played a substantial role in the demise of the UMC in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference.

The Good News Movement

Beginning in 1967, a group of United Methodist evangelicals began the Good News movement. It quickly became an unofficial adversary of the new UMC (1968), in its claim that the denomination was becoming (like the nation) demonstrably liberal, which meant non-Christian (perhaps even Communist) in crucial ways—initially illustrated in the General Board of Global Ministry, the United Methodist Publishing House, United Methodist Women, and the denomination’s thirteen official seminaries. The movement was “good news” for fundamentalist/evangelical UM’S who needed to know there were “true Methodists” at work to save the denomination. Over time Good News established alternative agencies: The Mission Society, Bristol House publishers, and the Renew women’s ministry. It did not need to start a seminary; it already had a de facto one, as will be seen in the next section.

When in 1972, the UMC began its 50-year tensions related to homosexuality (the one-word coverage term in those days), Good News quickly moved to the point spearheading resistance to the alleged “gay agenda” eating away at the UMC, like termites devouring wood. [2] The resistance has held firm to the present moment, rising to the level of a “cage match” in 2014 and to the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association in 2016 and the Global Methodist Church in 2022. The Good News movement has been embedded in both.

Here is where I enter the picture, sadly in retrospect, but not sadly at the time. I cannot write this account apart from a mea culpa acknowledgement. Before I graduated from McMurry College (now University) in 1970, I had been introduced to Good News. Attending Asbury Seminary (1970-73), I came to know more leaders in the movement. By 1975, I was on the Good News Board, chairing national Convocations in Anderson, Indiana and Dallas, Texas. I was also in the first class of John Wesley Fellows (1977), begun by A Foundation for Theological Education in part to address the alleged liberal takeover of UM seminaries. I later served as Executive Director of AFTE. All this to say, I saw Good News “up close and personal.” And that includes seeing and participating in its rise to power in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference. That rise occurred in tandem with the next “fertilizer”—in which I also played a role, back then—but no more. [3]

Asbury Theological Seminary

Founded in 1923, Asbury Seminary came into existence to fight liberalism and modernism in the church and society. Always multi-denominational, it was theologically in the Wesleyan tradition, albeit on the conservative side. Given where I was theologically in 1970, it was a natural choice for my theological (MDiv) education.

Graduating in 1973, I returned to the Northwest Texas Conference to pastor. Moving to Duke University for PhD work (Wesley Studies), I was subsequently invited to return to Asbury Seminary in 1980 as a faculty member, where I remained until I retired in 2012, except for a 1993-1998 ministry at Shepherd’s Care (a ministry to ministers and their families which Jeannie and I founded), at AFTE, and at The Upper Room (General Board of Discipleship).

During my “Asbury years,” I witnessed and contributed to the mounting influence of the seminary in the Northwest Texas Conference. During this time, Asbury Seminary came to train more United Methodist seminarians than any of the official theological schools. The seminary was careful to distance itself officially from the Good News movement (including my being asked to step down from the Good News Board when I came on the faculty in 1980), but there were affinities, including the fact that Good News had moved its headquarters to Wilmore, where the two Asbury institutions are located.

The marked increase in Asbury’s influence in the NWTX Conference is pervasive. Laity (donors) and clergy (pastors, superintendents, bishops, and seminary staff and trustees) alike align with Asbury’s perspective and presence, right up to the present. I taught many of the alumni, I have preached all over the Conference in churches that are disaffiliating, and I taught in some ”Asbury-ish” camps and conferences over the years.
In 2004, the NWTX Conference chose me to receive the Francis Asbury Award (the UMC’s recognition of excellence in educational leadership), and in 2012, I was one of two named Distinguished Alumni of Asbury Seminary. As late as that, my “Asbury stock” was still in recognizably good shape. In 2014, all that changed, and I became persona non grata in the Asbury network. But I cannot deny or leave out of this recollection the fact that I helped spread the Good News and Asbury Seminary “fertilizers” in the NWTX Conference, even though I have come to lament it, given where things have ended up.

All three of these “fertilizers” exhibit and promote an authoritarian style of leadership, where “bucking the system” is a show of strength, even godliness. This style played well in the social and ecclesial culture of the NWTX Conference in the decades leading up to disaffiliation. And to this day, in both the nation and church, political partisans and pastoral potentates exercise high control over others. In many places the splintering of the UMC is clergy driven more than laity desired.

Taken together, the three “fertilizers” have been put into the soil of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference for 50+ years (if not more), and they have been put there through a mixture of actions and motives. The 75% disaffiliation vote this past fall was the “harvest” of a soil prepared for it. [4]

[1] I have not lived or served in the NWTX Annual for some time. I asked friends there to read this piece and suggest any changes.
[2] Here’s an interesting sidebar: while many UM fundamentalist/evangelicals were not fans of the Revised Standard Version (1946) which was produced through the auspices of the “suspect” National Council of Churches, they were thrilled to see the word ‘homosexual’ in the biblical text (1 Corinthians 6:9). This ignited an accelerated anti-LGBTQ sentiment, raising their interpretation of ‘sodomite’ to the level of an actual Bible verse. [Note: the insertion of the word ‘homosexual’ into the text is now a recognized error, even by some evangelicals.]
[3] Some would likely add the Confessing Movement and the Institute for Religion and Democracy at this point, and they have respective supporters in the NWTX Conference. I am only mentioning them because I have not had a leadership role in either group. My guess would be that if the mailing/donor lists of Good News, Asbury Seminary, the Confessing Movement, the Institute for Religion and Democracy, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and the Global Methodist Church were compared, there would be substantial overlap. Over the past 50 years, all these groups (and more, even beyond the UMC) have become rooms in a larger Christian fundamentalist/evangelical house.
[4] My guess is that the same three “fertilizers” have been worked into the soil of United Methodism elsewhere in the USA, and in some foreign countries. I have limited my writing to what I know and have experienced. The point is, even these three things play in more than one Annual Conference, and are themselves part of a larger Christian Nationalism active today.

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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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