In-Formation: The Vision Doorway

Our exploration of spiritual formation is not haphazard, nor is our experience of it.  I am grateful to Richard Foster for creating the threefold paradigm that we will follow in this series: vision, intention, and means. [1]

We begin with Vision.  Today and next week we will look at the vision as-a-whole, and then in coming weeks, we will explore each main ingredient of the vision in detail. [2]

Long ago, Solomon wrote, “Where there is no vision, the people are wild” (Proverbs 29:18).  He understood that it is our vision which shapes and sustains the spiritual life.  We become like that which we see. 

The Hebrew in the verse is rich and insightful.  The word ‘vision’ is translated as ‘prophecy’ in the NRSV.  It is a vision which is not only seen, but also shared.  The Message is mediated by messengers.  It is not a private/individualized vision; rather, it is a proclaimed/communal one.

The phrase ‘the people are wild’ is equally powerful.  The NRSV translates it ‘the people cast off restraint.’  The CEB renders it, ‘the people get out of control.’  The idea is that without a center, we have no option but to make things up on our own, which in terms of the spiritual life means we take a part of that life and try to make it central, creating a partial, distorted, and deformative vision. 

The old story of the blind men and the elephant makes the point.  Each person interpreted their experience (i.e. an ear, the trunk, a leg, the tail) and mistook it for the whole elephant.  We do the same thing with the spiritual life if there is no vision inspiring and informing us.  Without a vision we settle for less than what God has in store for us, thinking all the while that “have it all.” 

The history of spirituality is rife with examples of deformative spiritual lives, almost always when an individual’s or group’s experience is touted as the whole picture and totally correct.  This “one stop shopping for all things spiritual” easily leads to partisanship and sectarianism in religion, just as it does in every other area of life when one view is alleged to be the entire one.

Our spirituality must be large if it is to be be genuine.  Vision is the doorway to discovery. Vision invites us into the world of God–a world that is deep and wide.

[1] The ‘Life With God Bible’ (HarperOne, 2005) uses this paradigm, and Richard wrote further about it in the book he authored with Kathryn Helmers, ‘Life With God’ (HarperOne, 2008).

[2] I remind you of something I said in the introduction: I am not in a hurry in this series.  We are intentionally taking a slow, piece-by-piece look at the spiritual life.  This more contemplative, little-by-little is as important as the content.  It will all fit together in the end; in the meantime, I am writing in a way that fits a blog-length style and a lectio divina spirit.  This is a long-haul series, not a quick-fix one.

Posted in In-Formation

For the Bride: My Journey

Here is a synopsis of my journey since 2014 of to being an ally with the LGBTQ+ community…

I met some of you last evening at First UMC Orlando for the first time, and you asked about my journey to becoming an ally with the LGBTQ+ community.  Here are some ways you can find out, as you like….

(1) My book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ (Abingdon Press, 2014) tells how my experience in Lent of that year opened the door to my becoming an ally…and…how the principles of love, non-judgment, and holy conferencing are given to us by God to enable us to create and sustain inclusive community.

(2) I followed the book with a yearlong series of blog posts entitled “For the Bride” (9/5/14–7/13/15), in which I expanded what I only began in the book.  These are archived on my Oboedire blog (www.oboedire.wordpress.com).

(3) About a year later (March 2015), I was invited to speak at a Reconciling Ministries Network conference on the subject, “How I Changed My Mind.”  Here is the link to the archived YouTube video:

(4) The ensuing years have continued to expand Jeannie’s and my involvement as allies, mainly at the local level and through conversations with LGBTQ+ friends and even strangers.  

(5) Last night’s presentation was one of only a few public engagements, but it was an opportunity I am grateful to have been given.

(6) In retirement, my ministry is focused in my Oboedire blog, where I write mainly (and have since 2010) about spiritual formation from a variety of vantage points.  Ongoing thoughts about human sexuality are part of that writing. Check it out as you like, and subscribe if you wish.

(7) Finally, I have been asked along the way to show the books which have developed my thinking the past five years.  Here are the ones I have compiled intona basic bibliography for inquirees…

A Basic Affirming Bibliography On Human Sexuality

Below are books which have shaped my theology of human sexuality.  The list began as an attempt to gather biblical references, but in the course of doing so, I realized that a full orbed Wesleyan theology must include resources pertaining to tradition, reason, and experience.

So, I have organized this list in relation to the Wesleyan quadrilateral.  Most books fit into more than one aspect of the quadrilateral.  I have placed each in the category it most helped me understand human sexuality…

**= suggested first book to read in category

(1) Scripture

       Mark Achtemeier, ‘The Bible’s Yes to

            Same-Sex Marriage’

       James Brownson, ‘Bible, Gender, and

            Sexuality’

       Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna 

            Dolansky, ‘The Bible Now’

       Luke Timothy Johnson, ‘The Living

            Gospel’ (Chapter 8)

       Austin Hartke, “Nonbinary Gender and the

            Diverse Besuty of Creation,” The

            Christian Century, 4 /16/18

       Jennifer Knust, ‘Unprotected Texts’

       William Loader, ‘Sexuality and the

           Jesus Tradition’ 

       William Loader, ‘Sexuality and the

            New Testament’

       Linda J. Patterson, ‘Hate Thy Neighbor:

            How the Bible is Misused to Condemn

            Homosexuality’

       **Dan Via’s section in ‘The Bible and

            Homosexuality’

       Walter Wink, ‘Homosexuality and the Bible’

(2) Tradition (General and Church History)

        (A) General History

                  Francis Mark Mondimore, ‘A

                       Natural History of Homosexuality’

       (B) Church History

                 **”Cheryl Anderson, ‘Ancient Laws

                       and Contemporary Controversies’ 

                John Boswell, ‘Christianity, Social 

                       Tolerance and Homosexuality’ 

 (3) Reason (Theology & Science)

         (A) Theology

                    **Megan Shanon DeFranza, 

                          ‘Sex Differences in Christian

                          Theology’  

                    Karen Keen, ‘Scripture, Ethics, and

                           the Possibility of Same-Sex

                           Relationships’

                     Jack David  Rogers, ‘Jesus, the

                           Bible & Homosexuality

                           (Revised Edition)
         (B) Sciences

                    Jaques Balthazart, ‘The Biology of

                           of Homosexuality’

                    Jerold Greenberg, ‘Exploring

                           Dimensions of Human

                           Sexuality

                     Justin Lehmiller, ‘The Psychology

                           of Human Sexuality’

                    Simon LeVay, ‘Gay, Straight and 

                           the Reason Why: The Science

                           of Sexual Orientation’

                           (Second Edition)

                    Dawne Moon, “Culture and the

                           Sociology of Sexuality,” 

                           Annals of the American

                           Academy of Political and

                           Social Sciences

                    **Michael Regele, ‘Science,

                           Scripture, and Same-Sex Love

(4) Experience (Pastoral Tone)

         **David Gushee, ‘Changing Our Mind’

               (3rd edition)

         Steve Harper, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’

         James Martin, ‘Building a Bridge’

         Tim Otto, ‘Oriented to Love’

         Matthew Vines, ‘God and the Gay Christian’

         Mel White, ‘Stranger at the Gate’

(5) United Methodist Focused…

         Phillip Cramer & William Harbison,

               ‘The Fight for Marriage’

         Reuben Job & Neil Alexander, 

               ‘Finding Our Way,’

         Kenneth Carter, ‘Embracing the Wideness’

         Karen Oliveto, ‘Our Strangely Warmed

               Hearts’

But more than these things are the friendships of LGBTQ+ people, who have loved, encouraged, and supported Jeannie and me (when others have not), showing us over and over their love of God and their lives of faithful discipleship–proving and demonstrating the power of grace to sustain them even when they were/are rejected by the Body of Christ. Along with other Christian friends, the gay Christian community has been Church to Jeannie and me in ways we have never known before.

Thank you!

Posted in For the Bride

For the Bride: Video & Outline

Here is the link to my presentation last evening at First UMC in Orlando, Florida on.the subject, “All Means All: The Bible’s Affirmation of LGBTQ+ Persons”…

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CyHF3CCRvPs
Here is the handout/outline given to those who were present…

“All Means All: The Bible’s Affirmation of LGBTQ+ People” Dr. Steve Harper

Introduction

 –context before texts

 –a “panoramic view”

I. Creator

 –God is love (1 John 4:8)

 –love for the sake of others (hesed/agape)

 –love for all (Jeremiah 32:24; John 3:16)

II. Creation

 –nonbinary (parings are not “twos”)

 –variety (“kind” and plural words)

 –goodness (Hebrew: tob)

 –godliness (imago dei)

III. Covenant

 –inclusiveness (Genesis 9:10; Genesis 12:3)

 –goodness (how the goodness of creation is expressed in everyday living)

 –life (Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 30:19)

IV. Christ

 –says nothing explicitly about homosexuality

 –models key elements of inclusion: 

 –invitation to all (Matthew 11:28)

 –valuing of eunuchs (Matthew 19:12)

 –prayer in John 17

V. Church

 –witness to universaity (Colossians 3:11)

 –inclusion of all (Galatians 3:28)

 –eunuch was first convert after the church scattered (Acts 8:27)

VI. Consummation

 –trajectory of God’s eternal plan (Ephesians 1:9-10)

 –vision of God’s accomplished plan (Revelation 7:9)
Conclusion

 –taking all six vantage points into consideration:  all means ALL (Psalm 150:6)

 –everything boils down to this: you are God’s beloved child!

For Further Reading

 David Gushee, Changing Our Minds (3rd edition)

 Steve Harper, For the Sake of the Bride

 Jennifer Knust, Unprotected Texts

Posted in For the Bride

For the Bride: Resuming Posts

Following last night’s event at First United Methodist Church in Orlando, I am resuming posts in this “For the Bride” category. Previous posts were essentially expansions on things I wrote about in my book, ‘For the Sake of the Bride’ (Abingdon Press, 2014).  You can go back to them as you like.

The revived posts in this series continue the journey, enabling me to add new thoughts to the series. I am beginning with reposting a few things I put on Facebook earlier today, so they can be archived in a better way.  If you have already seen them, skip them and wait for upcoming new posts.  Here is the reflection I posted earlier on Facebook about last evening…

Last evening Jeannie and I had the opportunity to spend time with LGBTQ+ folks, allies, and others who came to hear my presentation, “All Means All: The Bible’s Affirmation of LGBTQ+ Persons.”

It was a moving evening for me, because a planned segment of the evening included some Q&A, and I visited personally with some others as well.

In the span of two hours, I met people who had been kicked out of their homes by Christian parents when they came out.  I heard of someone who died by suicide within the past month because Christians had drained him of his sense of humanity.

And in addition to this, I heard again stories from LGBTQ+ Christians who were worship leaders, choir members, youth ministers, lay leaders, and serving Christ in other ways in churches……until…..until.  All they had to do was say, “I’m gay” and they were gone–told by pastors and fellow Christians (in a variety of ways) that they were “less than” people, no longer permitted to minister in the congregation.  Some were paid staff members, who were told to clean out their desks and leave the building.

And yet, here they all were last evening in First UMC Orlando–still coming to church believing that there is a difference between how they have been treated by the church and how God feels about them.  Still believing that the Inner Voice who says, “You are my beloved” is the true voice, not the voices they have heard from Christian parents, pastors, and friends who say, “You’re an abomination.”
The imago dei is in everyone, and nothing can snuff it out–not even the voices of those who claim to speak for God…but do not. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  And our LGBTQ+ friends know this at a deeper level than many of us “hetero-privileged”, “church-approved” people do.

Last evening, Jeannie and I were blessed to be with our siblings in Christ.  And oh my yes, there is a difference between our ragamuffin fellowship and the sanitized “pure church mentality” that does all it can to preserve itself.  Last evening, we were among God’s beloved children, who welcomed us with open arms, and who offered us Christ from a depth of experience that is always a thin place between heaven and earth when love prevails.  We “had church”–oh my, did we ever!

Posted in For the Bride

Here and Now: Sabbath

Sabbath-keeping is a sign we are living a here-and-now life.  But to see this, we must not view the Sabbath as one day in seven separated and isolated from the other six.

Jesus pointed to the right view of sabbath when he said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  He was talking about the flow–the sabbath into us, not us into a particular day.  Sabbath is a rhythm, not a day–a pattern, not a 24-hour period. So, how does sabbath influence living in the present moment?

More than anything else, it is a reminder that every moment is a gift, and it is lived by grace. Kimberly Richter notes that when we lose the sabbath, “we become enslaved to our economy and efforts. We come to believe everything depends on what we can provide for ourselves. To keep a rhythm of Sabbath rest is to remember that God is the maker and giver of all good things.” [1]

Out of this realization we live humbly in every moment, giving thanks to God who is the Source of the here-and-now, and offering ourselves in each moment as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) to be instruments of God’s peace.  We take on the disposition of Paul, realizing we are the servants of others for Christ’s sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).

This is precisely why the idea of rest is associated with sabbath.  In a literal sense, it is the renewal which occurs as we adopt the work/rest pattern in each day.  And in the figurative sense, it is the relaxation which comes (as Richter noted above) as we realize we are not the creators of moments, but only the beneficiaries of and servants within them. To be fully present in a moment is to live the sabbath, receiving from and giving to what that moment is.

[1] ‘The Life With God Bible’ (HarperOne, 2005), 69 nt.

Posted in Here and Now

In-Formation: The Essence

When I finished the previous post on the spiritual life as a dance, I saw in my mind’s eye the healed man outside the Temple walking, leaping and praising God (Acts 3:8).  I watched St. Francis dance down the road with Clare and their friends. I remembered that Paul put joy second only to love in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  And I recalled how my friend, David McKenna, always ends his letters by writing “With His Joy.”

Before we look at the elements of spiritual formation, we must see the essence of the spiritual life.  Among the many good descriptions, my favorite one is from Henry Scougal, “the life of God in the human soul.” [1] Here is our point of reference, and the rest of this series will revolve around it and unpack it.  Today, we look at the big picture.

When we do, we see the source of the spiritual life: God.  This should be obvious, but too much contemporary spirituality has been anthro-centric rather than theo-centric.  The human factor is there, as Scougal’s definition shows. But it is not the starting point, and it is not the central thing.  When this becomes so, spiritual formation is reduced to a religious self-help effort. [2]

Years ago, in a conversation with Eugene Peterson he told me that his greatest concern about spiritual formation was that it too often and too easily failed to begin with God.  In fact, he had just come from a major national conference where he felt that was the case.  We talked about the necessity of keeping God at the center, and the personal, ecclesial, and social perils which arise when we do not.

If you are familiar with his writing, you know his repeated emphasis on a God-sourced and God-sustained spiritual formation.  One of his most powerful statements comes from a comment he put into ‘The Message Bible’ in the introduction to Genesis, “First, God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don’t have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God.” [3]

In the Wesleyan tradition, we say the same thing directly in referring to God and indirectly in using the word grace.  My friend, Bob Tuttle, rightly notes that every time we read the word ‘grace’ in Wesley’s writing, we see God.  I mention this because it is the segway into the second big-picture feature of the spiritual life: “in the human soul.”
The life of God is present in us through the Holy Spirit (the indwelling Christ) as grace. Grace is the reminder that God is God…and we are not–another essential revelation if the ego (the false self) is to be dethroned so the imago (true self) can exist and mature.  Grace is the content of the spiritual life, and the human soul is the container.  God is the wine, and we are the wineskins.

This big-picture view reveals God’s invitation to abundant living, and our necessary response to grace.  It is not a formula, but it is a principle: grace + response = growth.  This is the dynamic described by Scougal as “the life of God in the human soul.”  The word ‘in’ is operative–engaged, not passive.  It is the dynamic that generates the dance between Lover and beloved.  It is the aim which spiritual formation seeks to establish and mature in us for our good, through us for the good of others, and all for the glory of God.

[1] Henry Scougal, ‘The Life of God in the Human Soul,’ originally written in 1677 a.d. it is still in print today in traditional and ebook formats.

[2] We are being spiritually deformed today by such things as fundamentalist (legalistic, retributive) religion, imperialistic Christianity, the prosperity gospel and an institutionalist view of the Church–all of which arise from egotism, enthroning the false self, preserving egocentric/ethnocentric power, and expressing the classical deadly sins.  Philip Yancey has written about this in his book, ‘Vanishing Grace.’

[3] Eugene Peterson, translator, ‘The Message Bible’ (NavPress, 2002), 19.

[Just a reminder: if you have only now found this series, you can go to the “In-Formation” category on the sidebar of the Oboedire home page and read previous posts.  The posts are periodic installments which will become a kind of ebook when the series ends]

Posted in In-Formation

In-Formation: The Dance

We have seen the appeal of spiritual formation through the metaphors of longing, homecoming, and living faith. There is another one–an ancient metaphor–which carries the tone of our formation even more clearly: a dance.  [1]

The idea of a dance comes from a vision of the Trinity, and it is important early on to note that our look at spiritual formation includes the persons and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Far from being an abstract doctrine that has little to do with us, the Trinity is a revelation of the essence of the spiritual life we are exploring.  By looking at the Trinity, we see the source, substance, and spirit of our formation.

In early Christianity this dance was called a ‘perichoresis.’  Essentially, it was a circle dance in which the persons of the Trinity went to and fro in a never-ending relationship of love, gliding back-and-forth in an orderly and rhythmic fashion. Because God is one, God was not only the dancer–God was the dance.  But it was/is a participatory dance in which each person of the Trinity had/has a part. [2]

All this might seem far afield from a series about spiritual formation, until we come to a mysterious and astounding fact, the entire creation is an expression of the dance.  What the Trinity is, the cosmos is too–both in its grandeur and in its particularity. Cynthia Bourgeault calls it “the law of three.” [3]

At the macro level, everything orbits around everything else.  It is a circle dance that goes farther into space than we can see, but it is a pattern we can detect through the entire cosmos. At the micro level, a dance is going on inside each of us at the molecular level–a circle dance–as atomic components spin and whirl around each other.  Life is a dance from the smallest particle to the fartherest star.

Being made in the image of God, we bear likeness to God.  The God who dances has made us to dance in our spirit, soul, and body.  Spiritual formation facilitates the dance.  But what does that mean?

Among other things it means that the cultivation of the spiritual life is natural, in sync with the pattern and purpose of our being.  E. Stanley Jones wrote that our experience of abundant life would move us to exclaim, “For this I am made!”  Experiencing God and maturing in God enlivens us at the deepest level of our being.  It writes the note of joy into every nerve, cell, tissue, and fiber of our being.

And so, the song invites what God hopes for in everyone and everything, “Dance, dance wherever you may be!”

[1] Richard Rohr & Mike Morrell, ‘The Divine Dance’ (SPCK, 2016).  The book revives the idea of the Trinity and restores it to its renewing power in our lives.

[2] Elias Marechal, ‘The Tears of an Innocent God’ (Paulist Press, 2015), 7.

[3] Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity’ (Shambala, 2013).

Posted in In-Formation