Practicing the Better: Good at the Source

The source for practicing the better is God, the One whose nature is love (hesed and agapé), and whose motivation is to redeem, rebuild, restore, and renew–as we say it in the liturgy, “whose property is always to have mercy.”  We will use this primal reality as our focal point for this entire series, and we will return to it directly and indirectly again and again.

This source became incarnate in Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), “full of grace and truth”–two words that create the better in every situation.  As we read the Gospels, we see Jesus practicing the better day-after-day, person-after person.

And after his resurrection and ascension, the Spirit carries on the same practice through the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)–bearing that fruit in us and through us, as we become instruments of God’s shalom.

This means that the practice of the better is no passing fancy or after thought. It is rooted in the heart of God and woven into the fabric of Reality.  We are meant to be threads in this eternal and cosmic tapestry,  offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1).

The practice of the better is the Way. At this moment, we are either on the Way–or in the way.

Posted in Practicing the Better

Practicing the Better: Introduction

Richard Rohr stopped me in my tracks with these words, “The best criticism of the bad is a practice of the better.” [1] 

From the moment I first read them nearly two years ago, they have attached themselves like velcro to my soul, and I have been moved many times to revisit Rohr’s words and consider what “practicing the better” might mean in a given situation.  I believe that a gentle abiding of a word, phrase, or idea is one way the Spirit says, “Pay attention to this.”. Rohr’s statement has been that for me.

And so…I have tried to be faithful to the calling to ponder these words as a rule of life, and particularly how they form behavior in specific ways.  To practice the better is to be the salt, light, and leaven Jesus told us to be.

This has always been at the heart of discipleship, but there have been times in history when the need for practicing the better was more crucial.  The need is greater when “empire” (Walter Brueggemann’s term) works contrary to virtue and deconstructs the moral and ethical foundations that create and preserve civilization…and make us human.

We are living in such a time–an egoic time, when egotism and ethnocentrism (incarnate in political and religious potentates) are eroding the base for godliness and the common good. Evil must be named, exposed, and resisted. I wrote about this in the archived series “The Prophetic Task.”

But it is not enough to call out empire; we must overcome evil with good.  We must live a positive, penetrating, and transforming ethic in both the society and the church.  The aim is not only identification, it is transformation.  Jesus taught us this in the metaphors of salt, light, and leaven.  They work with things as they are (meat, darkness, bread), but do not leave them as they are.

This is practicing the better, and it is what this series aims to describe and commend.  I hope you find it helpful in your own desire to practice the better and in your discernment of how to do so.

[1]  “The practice of the better” is Core Principle #3 for the various ministries of The Center for Action and Contemplation, which Richard Rohr oversees.  You can read more about it in his book, ‘The Eight Core Principles.’ 

Posted in Practicing the Better

New Series: “Practicing the Better”

​Next week (February 7), I will begin a new series here on Oboedire, “Practicing the Better.” In a time when negativity is expressed in so many places and ways, we need to root ourselves in the highest and best we know. I invite you to join me on this journey and to tell others about it.

Posted in Site Updates

Prophetic Task: And So?

I have come to the end of this series, and I will go back into hybernation.  I have ideas for possible future posts, but none are ready for publication.  Should a new series emerge, I will announce them here and on my Facebook. For now, final thoughts about this series…

My reading of Brueggemann has been one of the most engaging experiences of my life.  I can only wonder how my life and ministry would have been different if I had connected with him decades ago, when he began to connect his Old Testament scholarship to the need for prophetic ministry in our day, as ’empire’ has once again taken root politically and religiously in our world.

But rather than become paralyzed by “what if?” I choose to be energized (Brueggemann’s word for the effect the prophetic is meant to have on us) by the call to be an instrument of God’s peace in the particular place in which I live.  Brueggemann has helped me link vocation and location. I end this series with some of the ways each of us can be engaged in the renewal we so sorely need.

First, continue to connect with Brueggemann.  I have read some of everything he has written and a few
books completely.  But it will take me a while to go back and explore everything he has to offer–including video and audio presentations, as well as other resources on his website.

For starters, I have chosen Brueggemann’s book ‘Gift and Task’–his reflections on the year-two daily lectionary readings in ‘The Book of Common Prayer.’  This one book will keep me linked to Brueggemann through most of 2018, providing me with a daily and extended journey with him.

Second, pray for “eyes to see and ears to hear” where empire exists and is doing harm.  Be particularly attentive to manifestations in your locality.  Each of us located somewhere (our “coverage area”), and we are responsible for that territory precisely because it is where we live each day.

Brueggemann emphasizes locality.  There is too much empire to address all if it, and being swept into the enormity of the evil will only overwhelm us, make and produce what he calls “an overburdened self.” Without focus, we will become bitter and burned out.

Instead, God calls us to do what we can where we are, and “do little things for God” (Brother Lawrence) through the practice of ordinary holiness here and now.  Simply put, it is practicing the sacrament of the present moment and “doing the next thing you have to do, and doing it for God” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade put it.

We must familarize ourselves with the manifestations of empire in our locale, and then support ministries that are seeking to overcome evil with good.  Even at the local level we must be selective, finding focus and fulfillment in doing a few things well.

Finally, “practice the better” (as Richard Rohr puts it), and with respect to Brueggemann that means moving beyond a knowledge of his critique of empire to the ways and means of overcoming it (e.g. covenant renewal, neighborliness, the common good).  Brueggemann himself goes beyond causes to cures.  I want to follow him into that positive and transforming ethic.  I believe this essentially means rooting  ourselves in the two great commandments and bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

Whenever we set out to become those who profess faith, we must also become those who express it.  Brueggemann builds bridge after bridge from belief to behavior.  For me, this simple take away from his writing sets everything else in motion:  the prophetic task is needed now, and it is a task given to us all.

May God give us grace to be instruments of God’s peace (agents of God’s love) in our little corner of the world.

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: Reorder

Henri Nouwen became interested in trapeze artists shortly before he died, coming to believe that this circus act was a paradigm for the spiritual life: letting go of the first bar, hovering between the bars, and being caught by the person on the second bar.  As I have read more and more of Brueggemann, I see that he understands the prophetic task similarly…

Order (as in the “old order”)–letting go
Disorder–hovering between the bars
Reorder–being caught by God on the second bar.

Reorder begins with hope.  We would never let go of the “old order” without seeing the “new creation,” believing it is really there, and trusting God (the trapeze artist on the second bar) to catch us when we reach for it.  No hope–no leap.  The prophets always set judgment in the larger context of redemption–in the context of hope.

Reorder continues with down-to-earth action. It is essentially the undoing of empire. The main ingredients are the renewing of Covenant (the way of love), the practice of neighborliness, and working for the common good.  It is a joint effort of political leaders (monarchs), religious leaders (priesthood), and the general public.  It is the return from exile to the holy land.

Reorder began (or was meant to begin) with the rebuilding of the Temple, from which the renewal of Covenant would then take place.  Today we put it this way: the Church is the nation’s conscience, and renewal must start there.  Brueggemann describes the changes in worship and proclamation which must occur for such renewal to occur, rooting it in the Eucharist.

In society the renewal happens as elitism and exploitation (empire) give way to inclusion, generosity, and the promotion of wellbeing for all.  Using insights from social scientists (e.g. Jonathan Haidt) and combining them with biblical interpretation Brueggemann identifies building blocks for overcoming empire and rebuilding the foundations of the common good: caring, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. 

The prophets arose to be instruments through whom God worked to announce judgment on “the kingdoms of this world” (empire) and to point to a return to the Kingdom of God (shalom).  In a spirit akin to advocates of emergent Christianity (e.g. Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and leaders in the New Monasticism), Brueggemann shows how the prophetic task has needed to be repeated throughout history, and he sees the present day as another time in history where it is called for.

Reorder—Hope—Redemption

Further Reading in Brueggemann
     ‘The Covenanted Self’
     ‘Journey to the Common Good’
     ‘The Word that Rediscovers the World’
     ‘Mandate to Difference: A Challenge to the Church’
     ‘The Word Militant’ (prophetic preaching)
     ‘Worship in Ancient Israel’
     ‘The Practice of Prophetic Imagination’
     ‘Social Criticism and Social Vision’
     ‘Rebuilding the Foundations’

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: Disorder

Prophets minister between the times– between darkness and light, forgetfulness and remembrance, sin and salvation, despair and hope–between “the kingdoms of this world”‘and the Kingdom of God.  This in-betweenness is what Brueggemann calls disorder, a time of grief.

He uses many metaphors to unpack disorder.  But it comes from God, who is love, and who loves us so much that we cannot remain “out of our minds” and “away from home.”  Brueggemann says that disorder comes from an unsettling God, who extends disruptive grace–without which the Reality we noted in the last post will remain hidden under the illusion which egotism/ethnocentrism (empire) produces, promotes, protects, and preserves.

Disorder is the way change occurs. Richard Rohr describes it this way, “Transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart.” [1] It is in such moments, he notes, that we are best able to see the inadequacies of the past and be most open to a new future.

Disorder dislocates us, and that is always painful because the ego enjoys and thrives on “staying put” in empire. Once egotism/ethnocentrism has created its little kingdom, it views change as a threat. But God is the Great Physician, and like a surgeon always cuts in order to cure–the theological equivalent of “no pain, no gain.” This is the meaning of transformation, what Paul called the new creation, but one where the old must pass away before the new can come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But it is in disorder that prophets are met with resistance, for the status quo eventually becomes a “sacred cow.”  Whenever self-righteousness, self-regard, and self-gratification (empire) are challenged, fallen-world leaders always “stone the prophets”–and–gather to themselves religious leaders who will assure them that their egoic and ethnocentric ways are blessed by God–and even more, that they express the will of God. Prophets have no choice but to challenge empire.

Disorder is the unavoidable movement from the old creation to the new creation.  It is summarized in the word ‘repent’ (meta-noia)’which is about having a “large mind” (one above and beyond empire)–a mind open to looking at life in a new way; that is, the way God intends for it to be.  Change can come in no other way.

Disorder—Grief—Repent

For Further Reading in Brueggemann
     ‘The Unsettling God’
     ‘Out of Babylon’
     ‘Disruptive Grace’
     ‘The Threat of Life’
     ‘Torah Speaks to Power’

[1] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, December 29, 2018

Posted in The Prophetic Task

Prophetic Process: Order

Order is where the prophetic process begins, because just as there was original righteousness before there was original sin, so also there was Torah (Law) before it deteriorated into torah (legalism).  There was a time when (as with creation) the Law was ‘good.’  Reality is where prophets begin.

That time was when the Law was the revelation of God’s steadfast love and the indication of how we love God, others, and ourselves in response to grace.  But just as Adam and Eve gave way to egotism and made themselves their own gods, so too people emptied the Law of God, putting themselves as its mediators.  Eden was lost to pride, and so also was the Law.

The prophets entered the picture when Torah had become torah–when Eden had become empire.  They began the restorative process by reminding the people of God and God’s will.  You cannot go home if you don’t know where home is.  And so, they said, “Remember.”

Still today, we minister prophetically by “cleaning the lens” (a term Richard Rohr uses) so that we can see what life is supposed to look like–the life, as noted by Brueggemann, that was/is couched in the love of God and neighbor. 

Order—Reality—Remember.

Going Deeper in Brueggemann
     ‘The Prophetic Imagination’
     ‘Reality, Grief, and Hope’
     ‘God, Neighbor, Empire’
     ‘Spirituality of the Psalms’

Posted in The Prophetic Task