Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Little faith...

What do you do when your faith is at low tide? When prayer and/or scriptural meditation just don't dispel fear, doubt, or anxiety? When the words of Jesus "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" seem appropriate? I don't know about you but I listen to Bach. And not just any of his peaces but his organ fugues. For some reason that I can't articulate, Bach's fugues aren't just pieces of music for me they are descriptions of God's sublime majesty. And to my mind each is Bach's attempt to preach the gospel. Maybe one has to be a Christian to "get" this but I'm fairly certain that in all of Bach's organ music (even ones we might call secular, i.e not explicitly for worship) he was preaching to us through music.

It is a sorry state of affairs for Christians in the western world that we have so little sense of God's real presence -- the Holy Spirit -- in our lives. In former times we were very near the earth and all of its beauty and power (both good and ill) that getting in touch, spiritually speaking, was not so difficult. But not so much these days. Speaking of which, there is an interesting study by the Pew Forum on Religion and the Public Life that speaks about this issue, i.e. spiritual fulfilment, or lack thereof. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tradition and "The Purpose of Exegesis"

The appeal to tradition was actually and appeal to the mind of the church. It was assumed that the church had the knowledge and the understanding of the truth, that is, the meaning of the revelation. Accordingly, the church had both the competence and the authority to proclaim the gospel and to interpret it. This did not imply that the church was above the Scripture. She stood by the Scripture but, on the other hand, was not bound by its letter. The ultimate purpose of exegesis and interpretation was to elicit the meaning and the intent of the Holy Writ, or rather the meaning of the revelation, of the Heilsgeschichte. The church had to preach Christ, and not just the Scripture.

The use of tradition in the ancient church can be adequately understood only in the context of the actual use of the Scripture. The Word was kept alive in the church. It was reflected in her live and structure. Faith and life were organically intertwinded. -- Georges Florovsky, Chapter 8, "The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church"; Eastern Orthodox Theology, Daniel B. Clendenin, ed. (Baker Books, 1995) (emphasis mine)

The highlighted text made me stand up straight when I read it this afternoon. It was one of those "whoa, did I just read that?" moments. That the ancient church was to preach Christ didn't surprised me. But Florovsky's bit about preaching Christ and not just Scripture had me interested. How much of what we do as Christians is just preaching Scripture in a rote fashion, out of context to what it was ultimately exposition for, namely Christ crucified and risen. Without it one can do all the proof-texting one wants and, with apologies to the Bard, "it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Theology and Basketball?

So I'm bemoaning the fact that my woebegone Timberwolves got screwed *again* in the NBA lottery (no surprise there as that team can't catch a break ever!) and I think "Well, let's see who they might draft with the crappy neither-here-nor-there 6th pick". So off to ESPN's web site I go. After reading a number of pages of stuff I have already read, I go to one of the ESPN blogs called TrueHoop. And scrolling down the page I was flabbergasted to read a short paragraph get this..a theology blog! And it was about the hot button issue of homosexuality to boot! Never, in a million years, would I have ever thought I would have read about theology on anything related to sports and certainly not anything related to ESPN. I mean, are you kidding me?! This was just too astounding not to check out. So, I did. The owner of said blog is Brad East, a theology student at Emory University, and a darn good blog it is. He has links to really top-shelf theologians like N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Walter Bruggerman, Wendell Berry, Rowen Williams and G. K. Chesterton. That's a good list.

Anyway, I've read three or 4 posts and I like him already. I should be fun digging into all the posts on the site. Check it out.

Update: I forgot to mention that I have added Brad's blog to the RSS feed list on the right.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jesus or Dan Brown

Dan Brown's America

This is an interesting critique not only of Brown's novels (and the new movie based on his second), but about our generalized, fuzzy, DIY religiosity. I consider myself a moderately liberal Christian but I have to say that the older I get the more orthodoxy appeals to me. Maybe I'll spend some time unpacking that. But for now I commend this op-ed piece for your edification.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

From death to Good News

Eternal is the gift he brings,
therefore our heart with rapture sings,
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Now still he comes to give us life,
and by his presence stills all strife.
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin*), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe* that Jesus is the Messiah,* the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. -- John 20:19-31

It was a hectic week. On Tuesday my wife's grandfather passed away (death and taxes indeed!) . And so on Thursday, the family and I drove 4 hours to Marshalltown, Iowa to pay our respects the following day. I was honored to be a pallbearer and although I didn't know Paul all that well, what I did know of him was all very good. I'm getting to the age where I'm more acutely aware of the death of family and friends. It's not as though I was oblivious to it when I was younger, just that it didn't have the same resonance as it does now. Any number of my church congregation are reaching the age when death draws close at hand. I will no doubt attend some of their funeral services. Never mind that of my own, dear, 73 year old mother (hopefully not any time soon).

During the service (which, although nice, wasn't a liturgical service and therefore a tad strange to me) I was struck by the thought that Paul's death happened mere days after we proclaimed the central tenant of our Christian faith: Death has no sway for those who believe. Christ is risen! Alleluia! If there is a central tenant to our faith, it surely must be that. That has to be the Good News, right? That we don't end at death but carry on to eternal life with the Father.

Juxtaposing that is today's gospel lection. As Dr. Martin Marty said this morning in his sermon to my church (how about them apples!), when you read "Thomas", read your name in his place. We are the doubters. But just like Thomas, we come around -- eventually. Death has a way of focusing our attention on that central tenant. But one would think that 2000 years of witness to this tenant by all the saints would be enough of a euphemistic "clue stick" to get hit over the head if we only had ears to hear and eyes to see. I guess I take great comfort that even Thomas, one of the twelve had issues of doubt, just as we do. And yet, even though we doubt we are forgiven for that doubt. Because the one that forgives us has indeed "fore-given" his own Son as the one who will lead us, through doubt and even despair into our heavenly Fathers loving embrace at the end. Good News indeed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God. --Luke 24