Liberation and the Suck of Selves

The Centerquote

Having just reviewed a Pocket History of Theology (Roger E. Olson and Adam C. English, The IVP Pocket Reference Series) one of the last stops is the 20th century rash of Liberation theologies which all work out of crisis, fight very real oppression and look to bring forms of liberation to various peoples in a variety of situations who are at risk. As with many theologies there is much to laud here and much to learn from Womanist, Feminist, LGBT, Minjung, Black and Hispanic Liberation theologies to name a few. If taken from a sociological perspective one might also add other groups like 12-Step programs with their liberative agendas and theologies (for all you have to do is give a casual shake and they will let you know their views on God quite readily) as well.

But as always I have questions that move beyond the immediate.

My first question is a simple one: Are we essentially talking about freedom from or freedom to? This is crucial.

As silly as an example as you may find it I personally found AA uncompelling. For me, freedom to simply not drink was not going to be enough if it meant enslavement to three meetings a day and being utterly debilitated by a mental disorder (undiagnosed at the time). No, for me true liberation meant a freedom to live a life utterly unconcerned with alcohol at all – a freedom to devote my life and consciousness to everything out there in the world – not some myopic obsession with ‘not doing something” daily. When I found my freedom from joined to my freedom to –  I was truly liberated.

In the same way I wonder if these new theologies of liberation are liberations from or liberations to.  Do they have a goal beyond themselves to lead to real freedom of action or are they aimed at just delivering people to some static baseline?

I can skip ahead and tell you that a Christocentric (Theocentric) gospel has transformation – or metanoia – as its goal. So it is decidedly freedom from sin and death and freedom towards transformation into the “image of Christ” (2 Cor. 3:18)

As I survey the literature of liberation I hear much of the same talk: that those liberated must also make sure the oppressors are liberated too. Again I ask – liberated to do what?

Are not those who are thus “liberated” always somehow defined by their respective oppressors and how that has led to self-definition? Is this not like the alcoholic who, twenty years after his or her last drink, is still defining themselves primarily with the self-narrative of alcohol? How free is that? is that freedom to? And is it in fact even freedom from?

I come from a 2,000 year old cross-cultural pan-historical tradition that exults “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” (literal translation of 2 Cor. 5:17). This is no vain claim for those who have experienced it – or will.

This was the liberation theology of the 1st Century – a time every bit as dark and oppressed as ours under the heavy boot of Rome.

A Post-Christian World

But what do you do in a world where the the Church has effectively over-shot the runway (and I do place the responsibility at the feet of Mother Church – East and West, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – Liberal and Fundagelical). With rare exception we have all adopted anthropocentric theologies, treated Jesus as commemorative (rather than as active King and Lord), minimized the Holy Spirit (unless for parlor tricks) and transposed our “daddy Issues” from our own wretched fathers onto God the Father.

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There is just so much willfulness there I don’t even know where to begin. That is all on us.

And as Jesus promised, we have reaped what we have sown: a Post-Christian world.

And still we don’t get it.

In his long essay From Autobiography to Fellowship, Anselm Kyongsuk Min writes:

No group can claim exclusive particularity for its own context … Any retrieval of an ethnic past must confront the universalizing context of the present into which all groups are compelled to enter. In such a context no particular group can liberate itself by its own power or claim universality for its own perspective. All are compelled by the pressures of the globalizing world to enter into a political solidarity of others in order to create conditions of common life that would both enhance the identity of each group in its particularity of tradition and culture and promote solidarity of such groups in their interdependence with one another as human beings with a common dignity and destiny.

So in a sense, globalization insists on a grouping together of these “Theologies of Liberation;” but one which he argues no single group can hope to “liberate itself by its own power or claim universality for its own perspective.” Prof. Min view is entirely anthropocentric and seeks to form a power base to rival the inherent powers.

Life “in Christ” is not just a freedom from but a freedom to liberation that involves creative work, mission, and meaningful action in the world (where thief cannot steal, moth cannot destroy and rust cannot downgrade).

I am not suggesting that a pragmatic freedom from agenda (that is liberative and against oppression of any people) is not worth doing or is in any way antithetical to Gospel. It is not. What I am suggesting is that it is not a suitable replacement or even place-holder for a true Theology of Liberation that is truly biblical or even, for that matter, theological in any true sense.

It would be better to call what Professor Min is suggesting, and in fact, what many “Liberation Theologies” seem to come down to when you really ask “what is this really?” something like Spiritual Anthropology – or some such. Certainly you are bringing God into the equation (or at times and places) but the gravitational pull and defining rim of self-concern is all US.

In fact, what Prof. Min is arguing for is an admission that there are so many competing voices  and “centers of attentions” in a global situation that the true force is being lost.

I certainly think he is correct.

The CenterInfoTheologically, or more specifically – biblically, the New Testament documents like John’s Gospel and Paul’s letter to the Colossians present a Christ whose cosmic dimensionality is staggering. Not only has God “pitched His tent and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), but according to St. Paul, all of Creation was made “by, through and for” Christ (Colossians 1:16) and “all things hold together (v.17). In contrast to the proto-Gnostic “pleroma” (the entire created order from the physical to the spiritual).

It is in light of this – and not just redemption (that is far too easy to dismiss) that we rightly place Christ as the Center of universal concern.  A Christocentric world-view relieves us of the burden and unreality of every limited anthropocentric world-view or theology. It also happens to have the advantage of being a theology based in an actual living deity (having an orbit that is reality-based in the ontology of God).

Life “in Christ” is not just a freedom from but a freedom to liberation that involves creative work, mission, and meaningful action in the world (where thief cannot steal, moth cannot destroy and rust cannot downgrade).

The world that Jesus did His ministry in was under every bit as much oppression, slavery, usury, religious corruption and sexual perversity as ours – yet His ministry of liberation was not to fight power with another form of power. It did not seek to build a consensus to match Rome’s power or even unmask it. It would seem Rome ws to be toppled a whole other way – via spiritual revolution.

Jesus made disciples instead and preached stories about the Kingdom of God that required a change of being in the hearers, not an overthrow of Rome.

The Gospel of Us

As I read Professor Min’s expert analysis of the geo-political landscape and how to approach it through a conglomerate of aligned groups it suddenly appeared exactly like the sort of self-management the Evangelicals are attempting to perform in their church structures throughout America – commercializing Gospel.  They are just as convinced this is helping to free people and move them into “better lives” free from alcohol, drugs, porn or food addictions.

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Freedom from” is better than the “Suck of Self” (a vortex) but you are still stuck “in the blue” without the “freedom to…”

In all these cases the agenda is for the “betterment” of people and a freedom from (be it oppression from some outside force, or be it from some addiction plaguing them like food, drugs, sex or alcohol) – in all cases “betterment and freedom from” but never transformation and freedom to…

So is the Gospel of Jesus a “betterment” Gospel of freedom from that just helps us improve our lives; and are these “liberation theologies”  just meant to bring us all to equilibrium in this place of anthropocentric Self-dom?

I want to make it clear – once again – that I am in fullest support of any movement or group which is against oppressing human beings or diminishing the imago dei (“image of God”  which every human being demonstrates by simply existing) in them.* It is beyond the scope of this small reflection to go into details but it should be noted that at the very heart of group or ethnic oppression (scapegoating) and the evil and violence which always accompany it is the very same motive of attempting to create human meaning apart from God with human beings as the “Center”.

You won’t put a fire out with kerosene.

In utter contrast, the Gospel of Jesus is about putting to death of the “Old Self” and raising up new men and women via  metanoia  –  transformed selves who are becoming like Christ Who is – Himself the Living Center with new freedoms not just from things but freedoms to act in new ways.

In the same letter to the Corinthians I have been regularly quoting from Paul writes:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.   For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.   So death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12, italics mine.)

Paul spoke of “carrying about in the body of the dying Jesus.” Elsewhere he speaks of walking with the “death sentence” upon himself.

In our death-denying culture that may seem morose but I assure you Paul was anything but. He has a freedom to… in any given situation.

I have experienced this freedom and it is a place where you are no longer ruled or informed by fear.

If you want to find that kind of freedom you will not find it in any theology that is just an anthropology pf self-concern and a freedom from. What you need is a true Theology based in Christ’s living person pointed at freedoms to…

Christopher MacDonald

October 2017, Berkeley, Ca.

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* Despite my disappointment in the long-range goals of any anthropocentric theology I nonetheless prefer a highly imperfect “Liberation Theology” that seeks to give a voice to the oppressed and disenfranchised to the Church’s being co-opted by the dominant powers that be. To be sure, my preference is a truly counter-cultural Christocentric theology that is in harmony with the scriptures; but being something of a pragmatist and caring deeply for actual people I will gratefully take the best of what is available. I simply refuse to rubber stamp everything is “great” when it clearly is not.

Am I happy with my own personal theology? Yes I am. Van it be improved upon? Most assuredly – and the sooner the better. That is all I am suggesting here – in general – for the Church I dearly love.

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Christ the Center: Freedom of Thought

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All the hoopla around the country is about free speech which only elicits pondering Milne, then reflecting on Kierkegaard’s more apt reflection:

People demand  freedom of speech as a compensation for the  freedom of thought which they seldom use.

I could give you a thorough analysis as to why this is…but forget it. Enough talk about what is wrong. If people are investing in commercialized models of the “Gospel” – either a “Gospel of Betterment” (megachurches) or then the more private tastes of a personalized “Boutique Gospel” (which is sort of a mildly skeptical “pick and choose” ala carte that might include some Borg, Ehrman, Crossan…bits of Gnostisism (known or unknown ironically), some Eastern Mystism and pop psychology, and lots of hip social action/posturing) it is only because its really pretty much the only thing available.

No “thinking” version – which is truly Christocentric, socially conscious and billed as a “death” to what novelist Walker Percy aptly described as “The suck of self” in favor of complete “Transformation” (meatnoia) into the image of Christ has ever been put forward in my lifetime.

It just wouldn’t sell.

So I have watched a seeming endless cycle of “new theologies” with their anthropocentric “centers” come and go.

It is time for new direction and vision.

But at once we seem to have a problem – and this is where the ballgame is always lost – the “exception to the rule.” The second we make a declarative statement it is assailed by either an exception or by some parallel consideration that is, in fact, valid.

The error is not in eliminating the exception or parallel considerations (in fact, in due time let them ALL in). The error is in assuming a “one size fits all” approach to begin with when it comes to “Gospel.”

What do I mean by this term? I will simply say “Good News” and keep as close to that as possible. The more we veer away from it being “Good News” the less interested I am. If it is “Bad News?” Reject it outright.

If you wish to preach Bad News by all means do so: to yourself. For others? I take Peter to be spot on when he said we are to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about our “hope, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Anthropocentric centers have not worked and won’t work for Gospel. You all know the definition of insanity – so “sane up” and let’s get to work.

As Christ is the “Center” (and you can see my “math” elsewhere) I will just go directly to His pretty much never seeming to ever do anything the same way twice. There seems to be no discernible pattern for the healings (“here’s mud in your eye” in one; in another He heal’s long range with just words; in yet another He casts a load of demons out of a man into a herd of swine. Now that is variety.) Jesus seems directed by His Father, but at times “out of the loop.” Taken as a whole it is not the sort of thing any truly thinking person could build a “systematic theology” around – which is probably why it really wasn’t much attempted until the 18th Century and has been botched badly and routinely.

It doesn’t work. Why? Well I’ll give you at least one good reason: God is not systemic.

And one big result is that no new theology has really been done since C.S. Lewis kicked the bucket in 1963. I mean I like some folk for reiteration…but not a lot of original new thought or fresh exegesis because most folk have allowed themselves to be drafted into a protracted culture war (“War of the Fictions”).

I feel true compassion. The Reality of Christ as True Center is not something we easily adjust our eyes to for any length of time. I think that is why – while it is called for all over the New Testament – it is done so in a gentle manner. 

In the three places where Christ’s glory are held up most intensely (John 1; Colossians 1; and Hebrews 1 by my reckoning) it is in a near blinding swift flash…then all quiets down. Paul, when he is practically applying his cosmological view of Christ makes warm realistic statements like “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him ” (2 Co. 5:9)

Now that is not so complicated is it?

We also appropriate a lot of things best in song and via worship it would seem. Thimas Merton would add contemplation/prayer and he would be right. 

Einstein said “things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” The Universe was created in, through and for Christ (Col.1) but my simple joy today is to simply be “pleasing to Him.”

Our theology and new work is grounded in Christ the Center Who is alive – right now – and animated by the Holy Spirit. We are not limited to categories of left and right anymore than the places around the rim of a tire are at odds as they are held in tension to the Center-Hub. Our problem has been that we have tried to keep started from those rimmed areas.

Well, don’t. Anthropocentric centers have not worked and won’t work for Gospel. You all know the definition of insanity – so “sane up” and let’s get to work.

The Centre Holds: Beauty, Art & the God Who is There.

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“Drakes Bay” ceramic version of oil painting of God’s original creation.  Christopher MacDonald  ©2002 Azotus Arts. 
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

 

It is easy to misread the words of the poet in several ways. One can take a look at the world around us now – as many do – and quote this poem as a prophetic utterance. Things seem to be unraveling with innocence drowning, anarchy on the rise, the Good set to the sidelines and the Bad set center-stage in all their fury.

Or, one might approach this theologically and note that as the pursuit of God as Centre has dimmed over a few hundred years – replaced more and more since the Enlightenment by humanity – “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” the centre cannot hold because it is not recognized as such and there is a certain quiet dignified anarchy to all of our denominationalism and separatism that says that we will decide – we will be ‘the centre.” Er, centres not only outside the Church , but within it as well.

But we turn from this only to find we cannot manage even our own lives – not to mention the world.

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Yeats was an inverted Conehead. 

William Butler Yeats had none of this in mind of course. He was writing in the context of the end of the First World War and personally saw history and destiny itself is “conical,” (see graphic) with the “widening gyre” simply ending in destruction and being replaced with something like it’s opposite impulse.

So one imagines if Yeats is correct, a scientific, democratic and expansive/popularist approach in the West would now break apart and be replaced by something very opposite: non-scientific, authoritarian, exclusive and  isolationist.

I don’t care for two reasons: 1) I am not really political and that is all really beyond me; and 2) the issue Yeats’s poem brings out (unbeknownst to him) is larger.

Sometimes the poet speaks beyond himself and his philosophy. No one takes Yeat’s view of “Conical” history seriously at all – but this is one of the most quoted poems in the English language – especially right now.  Why?

Simple. We know we as a people are lost and before you leave thinking I am going to launch off into a typical rant let me assure you it is NOT COMING. You don’t need that and neither do I. We know, don’t we?

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“Drakes Bay” (partial) oil on treated board 4′ x 8′ Christopher MacDonald © 1997 Azotus Arts

Why don’t we talk about solutions to this mess instead? 

Okay, cool.

“The falcon cannot hear the falconer”

How can we hear in the ever-widening gyre as things are falling apart?  

Well first we have to know Who we are listening to.

We are listening to God.

We are not listening to Religion, our family of origin’s idea of God, or our upbringing (our stunted “whenever we stopped learning about God”-age ideas about God*). We are listening to the God of love Who is there and Who has chosen to freely communicate in specific ways that are simple (“to him who has eyes to see and ears to hear,’ says Jesus on many occasions.)

You are not sure God is there? That is okay. You only have to be open. People talk a lot about “finding God” and I do see “seeking” reflected in Jesus’ parables. But I also see Jesus “finding us” and not the other way around. Be open and willing to be found. 

What are some ways to see and hear?

The simplest way is through nature, though it is the least specific. It is through beauty and art that you can begin to re-calibrate your eyes and ears to hear and see God in the midst of this , well….maddening world.

Beauty and Art are major ways of seeing and hearing. These are always couched in Creation (in some way) and the fecundity of God the Master artist who creates for sheer joy; both God’s and yours. Let God speak to you via nature.

In Art, learn to see both the reflected glory of God in the women and men who make/create it and also their longing for God in it. It’s okay to see them arguing like the Psalmist with God – sometimes bitterly so– with God. This is what I call the “running argument with God.” Even their depictions of so-called “hate” against God are just misplaced love and the energy they use to produce these works comes from the True Centre Himself- Christ.

Beyond just viewing art, doing art (in whatever form you can) opens up God-given inner places of the heart, mind and body that are reflective of your being as created in God’s image. If open, you may experience yourself as someone who creates beauty in a way reflective of God. And it does not matter whether it is fine art or chalk art. Bake something that looks delightful.

Artist and theologian Makoto Fujimura, in his important book Culture Care, writes of “generative thinking” saying it is ,

“fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and utility in the foreground. In a culture dominated by this mindset generosity has an unexpectedness that can set the context for the renewal of our hearts.”

These simple words need to go on a lot of refrigerators… seriously.

We are not talking just about the survival and utility dominating those at the bottom of our socio-economic situation in America. In the Bay Area, we are talking about people in “Golden Handcuff” corporate jobs working 60-plus hours a week under duress and with no small measure of fear given the subtle and not-so subtle evaluation systems put into place to keep them slavishly and doggedly hammering away at tasks.

At times, I am almost tempted to call it a “Digital Gulag” but I know better. 

God Speaks More Specifically

I was recently in a theology class in seminary where the question came up for the first time: “what is theology?” That may sound funny – especially as it is my third year – but most theologies are so anthropocentric these days (and have been so for a very long time – this is not new) it is difficult not to adjust to the times while trying to address them.
 

My only contribution was a bit of a departure: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)

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I love this book so much I have both a hard copy and the Audible versions. 

It is an odd statement if you look at it (which is why I like it). Like Fujimura’s view of art as generative and generous (to an extreme), God has come down and become flesh that we might know Who God is – that God might be explained and seen. 

As Jesus says later “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14) 

God has revealed God’s own Self in Jesus. How do we appropriate that? I would contend that as He is resurrected you can do this directly – but this is often a process of coming into relationship. More often this begins by reading the words of Jesus. It also comes via prayer.

People will come at you from a variety of angles on the Bible – all of which will suspiciously keep you from actually just reading and exploring it for yourself.  Like art, it is best to just experience it for yourself, then explore it with others who love it. I am not sure I would explore art with people who hated it, thought it a waste of time or disparaged it at every turn. I am not sure that would make sense to me – so why would I do that with God and scripture?

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One advantage of a digital age is when you do need or want art, or to take an imaginative trip it is readily available. I use Pinterest because I can save the art to “boards.” Here I did a search and come up with a host of tours I could take and pieces of artwork to view…including my own!

Someone asked me recently what my view of the “inerrancy vs. infallibility of the Bible” debate was. I told them it was a 30 year waste of time not worth comment – and isn’t. Read the Bible for yourself and see if it resonates as the Word of God.

Lastly, God speaks through people. Jesus gave a plain directive (as recorded in Luke and also here in Matthew 7:17-20):

“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

Long ago I learned to watch what people do/did and not so much what they said. This has served me well. People who love and have grace for others in their lives? I listen to them – regardless of their religious training. God uses them in my life. I see God in them whereas, sometimes, in the religious I see nothing at all but Ego and Self-Rule.  Then I look at the fruit as Jesus instructed – not at their past (that would be judgment) but what are they choosing now- faith, hope and love in serving others and loving God; or some agenda of power and control based in fear?

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Drakes Bay © God. Photograph of live version by Christopher MacDonald. Comes complete with huge ocean and action accessories like birds, people and a red tailed fox.  

The Centre

My mentor, The Rev. Darrell Johnson, has as his motto “The Centre Holds.”  (he lives and teaches in Canada…thus the “Centre” thing instead of “Center.”) Right now, as everything is falling apart and anarchy is barking at our heels with its violence and the Church is lost in its own bad news – the Centre Holds.

This paper is the first of many papers and explorations on this theme because you; and I do mean YOU – are going to want practical, DOABLE things in this world as it runs more and more amok to both keep sane and also to retain a sense of direction and peace.

I am telling you today that you have real anchor points – rock to pound your pitons into. Beauty, Art, The Word of God, Worship, Fellowship, Service, Meditative prayer, and adoration of Christ (simple and pure devotion to the Living One).

It is okay to take some realistic stock of the chaos, but do not linger there or you will lose all hope in time. It is not a time to simply tread water…you will drown. You need to be going somewhere. You need to learn to swim. 

Next: Spokes: Your Life is like a Wheel

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* I little noted phenomenon where people stop their exploration or developmental understanding of God at some early age – often due to some crisis, but for some generations it was simply when they were first given the free choice to attend church or not. This is not to suggest they would have been given an adequate depiction or education in the nature of God from a church, only to note that developmentally their picture and understanding may be arrested at a very early time, i.e. I have met 50 year old men walking around with 13 year old boy’s notions of God and the Bible simply because that is where they stopped investigating – just like any other subject.  

Seeking the Living Among the Dead?

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Luke 24:1-12: Re-Cognition

The women at the empty tomb in Luke 24:1-12 marks Luke’s unfolding of the subsequent appearances of the risen Jesus. The rhetorical question put forward to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  stood as one of four larger rhetorical questions posed in Luke-Acts used by the author in an attempt to provide a “proper rhetorical standard when producing his narrative.”[1] Within that larger apologetic, we have this smaller and more personal crisis involving those nearest and dearest to Jesus. This study will examine those closest to Jesus and how they failed to anticipate His death or resurrection. This is evidenced in the narrative by their various actions, inactions and levels of mystification. What we find, towards the close of Luke’s gospel, is that no one expected anything but a “dead Jesus.” In Luke’s account, this failure to recognize Jesus’ true significance (which is normative in the entire narrative) or to connect the events of his passion now with his previous teachings issues in a profound ideological and theological crisis for everyone concerned. We see the first example of this crisis in the women’s response to the empty tomb, followed by Peter’s mystification when confronted at the same location.

For the purposes of this study guide, we will explore the various characters and the ideas of both recognition and remembrance which are displayed via the clarity which the women (at the very least) received in contrast with the continued confusion and mystification of the apostles. Additionally, ideological and theological crisis points are often points which lead to profound revelation —or breakthrough. If the empty tomb issued in a profound ideological and theological crisis (and it surely did) there was simply no going back to the old arguments and interpretations of Jesus with any vigor. Whatever the variety of “Messianic expectations” people had which had over-ruled the actual words of Jesus at the time he spoke, his physical resurrection swiftly revealed their irrelevancy on the third day.[2]

Luke’s Text: Luke 24:1-12

The Women Act, Find, and Remember

On this, the third day and after the Sabbath, the women arise and go to the tomb where they had seen Jesus laid dead two nights earlier (23:55-56). Their intention is to prepare the body for a Jewish burial with spices and wrappings. Luke constructs the narrative in such a way that they “find” two things in rapid succession: the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. They are shocked.[3]

Then Luke uses a new construction for presenting Jesus. It is now, and will continue to be in the Book of Acts, “the Lord Jesus” (Acts 1:21; 4:33; 8:16, “and in Acts 2:32-36 Peter will develop the logic of Jesus’ lordship by referring to Jesus’ exaltation by God.[4] ) According to Luke, the resurrection has modified Jesus’ title to some degree.

The women are dumbfounded, but are soon confronted by two men “glowing like lightening,” who appear with a message which begins with a question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The rhetorical question still stands for us today, but the two men (later identified as “angels” (24:23) are not finished. They tell the women that Jesus is not there and proclaim that “he is risen!”

But what is the meaning of this? They continue to speak with the women, asking them to remember what Jesus had told them when he was with them in Galilee— specifically that he would be arrested, crucified and be resurrected.” (v.6-8,). “The women are urged, even commanded, to call to mind, to keep present, a prophetic message, a revelation of Jesus,” says Maria Luisa Rigato[5]. Then it says they “remembered his words”(v. 9). The Greek verb mimnhskesqai (“to remember”) occurs six times in Luke and four times in Acts, and “it always related to God or Jesus”[6]  in significant ways. They had what we can best refer to as “re-cognition” a re-knowing of what they already knew.

This same phenomenon happens to the men who spent time with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Only after the breaking of the bread do they “re-cognize” Jesus (and it should be noted that the witness of the women had gone out beyond the immediacy of the apostles by word of mouth (v.22-24). Curiously, the evidence suggests that while the apostles did not believe the account given by the women, it did not stop them from spreading it.

Setting aside the confusion of the men, the “penny had dropped,”[7] for the women after they connected what Jesus had previously taught in Galilee (for example, Luke 9:22 and 18:31-34), with his arrest, the empty tomb, and the proclamation by the men who suddenly appeared to them.  Luke gives us no information how this conversation wrapped up, only that the women at the tomb reported back “all these things” to the apostles. This “cannot but include the message they had received from the angels, so that the men were given access to the significance of recent events.  The dismissive response of the men is therefore better explained with reference to the fact that those reporting are women in a world biased against the admissibility of women as witnesses.” [8]   The women now understood the connection between Jesus’ teaching and his arrest, trial, death and resurrection, but the men did not, or would not, comprehend it. The best that can be said for the men is that one of them, Peter, is found at the end of this narrative confused and bewildered by events. But he had not come to the understanding that the women had come to understand and were then able to articulate in full to the apostles (v.11).[9] As Joel Green surmises about the women’s move from perplexity to clarity, in contrast with Peter’s confusion: All of them arrive at an empty tomb and find the body missing, but only the women “receive heavenly communication about the goings-on…so only they receive insight into their significance.” He goes on to comment simply that Peter lacks what the women now possess: faith and Jesus’ key to interpreting the events.[10]

It is here that Luke is careful to name the women specifically as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James “and others.” Ironically, in our age, such testimony by women in a First Century context actually adds weight as unfounded accusations of biblical document selections to support the status quo make little sense when the documents themselves put forward bumbling male disciples, and women as primary witnesses (come what may, for it is the apostles who look foolish and spiritually inept).  Case in point, in Luke’s account we end with the women having faithfully discharged their duties as followers of the risen Lord Jesus and entrusted with the message by angels while ten of eleven apostles are in the dark and the eleventh one is wandering around mystified and guilt-riddled.

Where are the Disciples?

No mention is made as to what the disciples were doing on the morning of the first day. The last we heard from them in Luke’s gospel they had been fighting over who was to be “greatest in the kingdom” (22:24); the intimate few had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of standing watchful (22:39-46); Judas has betrayed Jesus with a kiss (22:47-48); and Peter had denied Jesus three times (22:54-62) in public then run off weeping. We do not see this pitiful lot again in Luke’s account until the women report back to them in hiding.

Where they prepared for Jesus’ death? It would be hard to suppose they were even prepared for his arrest given what is noted above by Luke. In John’s account we learn that it was Joseph of Arimethia and Nicodemas, two secret disciples of Jesus, who took charge of the body of Jesus after his death —not Jesus’ own apostles (John 19:38-42). It would seem a fair assumption that Jesus’ core entourage were not made aware of this as the women knew the location, but still showed up two days later to fully anoint the body. The apostles? They did nothing at all. It would seem they were huddled together somewhere “safe.” So, two relative outsiders (Nicodemas and Joseph of Arimethia) were more prepared for Jesus’ death than all of his closest allies: the chosen apostles and the women who had been his early financial supporters and followers (Luke 8:1-3). All of them had constant exposure to his teachings. This is not the first time that Luke clues us into their cluelessness.

Peter had denied Jesus three times and was riddled with guilt. The next we see Peter; he is with the other apostles hearing the report back from the women. He doesn’t believe it. But at least he sets out to investigate based on their report.  In an interesting side note, Peter’s first interrogator after Jesus’ arrest (by the fire) is “a servant girl” (22:56). If the witness of women had no power at all, why does Luke record this servant girl rattling Peter so?   All Luke tells us is after going to the tomb and finding it empty with the strips of linen lying about Peter “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (24:12).

Conclusions

Jesus’ arrest, trial, execution, burial and resurrection leave his closest followers and chosen apostles flat-footed and in various states of confusion and disarray. His appearances, which are enigmatically inaugurated by his non-appearance at the tomb, nonetheless begin the process of connecting the significance of his death and resurrection with all that he has previously warned them about. But it is only the women for whom the penny drops. Prior to being shocked by the empty tomb and being challenged to remember and recognize Jesus in a new way the women are stuck with a dead notion of Jesus — one where the appropriate response is to arrive with spices to anoint a dead body. Everyone’s concerns are anthropocentric. There is no Kingdom of God.

There are many ways to seek the “living among the dead” — to seek a dead Jesus instead of a living resurrected “Lord Jesus” as Luke begins to specialize the name. In the last Century good men like Albert Schweitzer insisted Jesus was not raised from the dead. They had a dead Jesus who was an ethical, but tragic hero of their own imagining—picking and choosing what they wished from the gospels to include/exclude according to their ideology.   A dead Jesus is far more manageable than a living one. It is still that simple.

Robert Tannehill sees in Jesus’ words a “path from rejection to glory,” marked by the word that is used in v.7 – “must,”  which means “it is necessary.” He notes that in two other post-resurrection appearances Jesus uses this in reference to scriptural fulfillments (v. 19-27; 44-49) concerning himself.[11] It is time for everyone to catch up to the reality of the risen Lord: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” (24:7). This is where the penny either drops or it doesn’t.

On a quieter note, the angel’s call to the women can also be seen as a call to meaningful biblical contemplation. Just as they made the connections between Jesus’ past teachings about himself and the realities of his death, and resurrection, we can approach the gospels as a way of doing the same. “Bible study” can be a powerful way of “remembering” (mimnhskesqai) and making fresh connections.

This contemplation on the “musts”  of the now resurrected Jesus both resolve the ideological and theological crisis constructed by a “misunderstood Jesus” (a dead Jesus) and they agree with the rhetorical question as if to say “We will no longer seek the living among the dead!” We have seen that the “musts” in this account by Luke are three-fold,  that he “must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (24:7). Thus, for the women, what started in bafflement ended in breakthrough or an “aha!” experience as they remembered what Jesus taught them about himself in Galilee.[12] It is important to note that this experience happened not via his resurrection presence at the tomb (at least in Luke’s account) but rather in his resurrection absence at the tomb coupled with remembrance and recognition.

Luke presents a variety of responses to the empty tomb and the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection in 24:1-12. It stretches from recognition and belief, through bafflement and mystification, and ends with some simply choosing to disbelieve the report. Sooner or later any would-be follower has to grapple with the question of Jesus’ resurrection. For Luke, there is no point in speaking of Jesus’ Lordship in any other context.

Luke records the apostles’ disbelief in the women’s report, but is swift to record that their witness went public (ten verses later). The two men on the road to Emmaus report “but also some women among us amazed us.” And then they go on with what they had reported— telling it to the “stranger” who journeyed with them on the road (24:22-27).  That Luke names these women is significant and their witness endures.

 

[1]  Prince, Deborah Thompson “Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?: Rhetorical Questions in the Lukan Resurrection Narrative,” JBL 135  p. 123-139. Prince goes on to say “the author employs these rhetorical questions in accordance with ancient rhetorical theory to help provide a cogent argument for the truth of Jesus’s resurrection in the face of skepticism.” .

[3] Joel B. Green notes that Luke’s account neglects a number of immediate details and questions because “he wants to move quickly to the pivotal discovery of an empty tomb.” (The Gospel of Luke, NICNT Grand Rapids: Eermans, 1997 p. 837.

[4] Ibid., p. 837.

[5] Rigato, Maria-Luisa A Feminist Companion to Luke, edited by Amy-Jill Levine (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002) p. 269.

[6] Ibid., p. 270.

[7] To be clear, the saying “the penny drops” is used to say that “somebody has finally understood or realized something that they had not understood or realized before.”  Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries (online: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/penny as found April 23, 2017). Used often with anticipating a realization as one might when putting a coin into a machine and having it temporarily stall. You wait for the coin to drop. This is its meaning in all subsequent usage in this paper.

[8] Green, Ibid., p. 839-840.

[9] We know from John’s gospel that John also ran to the tomb with Peter and found the same empty tomb (20:1-10).

[10] Green, Ibid., p. 836.

[11] Tannehill, Robert C. Luke, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)  p.350

[12] It should also be noted that the resurrection shifts the concerns from anthropocentric ones “what do we do with the body of the dead Jesus?” and “how do we go on from here?” to theocentric concerns “how do we relate now to a risen Lord Jesus who has fulfilled all he said?”

The CENTER HOLDS: The Sophia of God

 

jesus_christ_at_hagia_sophia_large__copy

Pantocrater – Hagia Sophia – Istanbul

 

St. Paul’s use of the term “sophia” – “wisdom” (Greek- σόΦια) is constantly modified by the adjectives it is paired with and the general context of the passages it is couched within.

Thus, Paul prays for the Colossians “that they be filled ‘with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’ (Col. 1:9) If the believers were not strong in the truth, they might fall prey to the ‘enticing words’ (2:4) of the Colossian heretics.” (S. L. Johnson, Jr. Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1961.)

 The “Sophia” of the day was most notably split into mind/body dualistic terms with the Dionysian cult embracing the body and the Apollonians more the mind in a Platonic fashion:

Merton_Thomas600The true spiritual life is a life neither of dionysian orgy [irrational impulse, spontaneous, associated with creativity and experience] nor of apollonian clarity [as opposed to the dionysian, the apollonian seeks order, rationality, pattern and explanation]: it transcends both. It is a life of wisdom, a life of sophianic love. In Sophia, the highest wisdom principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in His creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom. … by the Spirit of Christ we are incorporated into Christ, Himself the ‘power and wisdom of God,’ so that Christ Himself thenceforth became our own life, and light and love and wisdom. [1]

Elsewhere, in Proverbs 8, it is noted that wisdom is personified of God in Creation (and patently maternal as “Lady Sophia”).

F.F. Bruce, notes the similarities between the powerful opening theologies of Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:1-4 and Hebrews 1:2-4, sayings.

All three passages have an OT background, which is seen especially in Prov. 8:22ff., where Divine Wisdom, personified, claims to have been with the Almighty at the beginning of His ways and to have been His assessor, if not His agent, in the work of creation.[2]

Bruce, following C.F. Burney’s lead, says, “The title ‘first-born’ [of all creation”], used of Christ here and in v. 18, echoes the wording of Ps. 89:27, where God says of the Davidic king: ‘I also will make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.’ [cf. on Rev. 1:5] But it belongs to Christ not only as the Messiah of David’s line, but also as the Wisdom of God.”[3]

While there is still much debate over what constituted the “Colossian Heresy” that Paul is vigorously addressing in his letter, there is little doubt about the positive things he is stating about Christ concerning wisdom:

2b…and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. –Colossians 2b-3.

As with his letter to the Corinthians, Paul sees the wisdom of the world as antithetical to the “wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1); but here in Colossians he goes a step farther by couching the wisdom of God in the very person of Christ both as the “First born of all creation” and also as the one in whom “all the treasures of wisdom (of sophia) and knowledge (of gnosis) are found.” So it really matters little what forms of σόΦια (wisdom) or γινόσις (knowledge) were being sold to the Colossians as they had Christ Himself – the ground of all wisdom and knowledge; the active source of it.

Colossians_0001_NEWBruce summarizes this well saying,   Whereas, in the Wisdom literature of the OT, Wisdom is at best the personification of a divine attribute or of the holy law, the NT writers know that, whether they speak of this Wisdom expressly or only by allusion, they are speaking of a living person, one whom some of them had met face to face. To them all, as to Paul, Jesus Christ was he incarnate Wisdom of God.[4]

After grounding them in the deepest theological Sophia in Christ, Paul then says:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord,  so walk in Him,  having been firmly rooted  and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed,  and overflowing with gratitude.                   -Colossians 2:6-7

This Paul places in constant juxtaposition with the false teachers and their rituals, “empty deceptions and the traditions of men,” (Colossian 2:8) trouncing again their mere ideas with the fullness of Christ’s Deity (2:9).

Now this same Living Wisdom of God and Knowledge of God who is the CENTER, and who reigns supreme now holds the Universe together. So says Paul in the same letter:

For  by Him all things were created,  both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He [ b]is before all things, and in Him all things [ c]hold together. -Colossians 1:16-17

So why we are running around in fear trying to control everything – and getting either more Religious or more militant because we sense that all of our CENTERS that we have constructed are falling apart (and they are because they are not the True Center and are made-up and don’t have the power or ability to “hold” youreally can relax a but as the True Center Holds.

I know that Pat Robertson had a dream where he saw Donald Trump “seated at the right hand of God,” but he’s just a senile old man with too much money – enough to stay on the air and keep blathering on incoherently.

Moving on. This a wonderfully unique time. With all the false “centes” disintegrating” – or about to – it is time to chuch (and I mean shot-put – our anthropocentric world-views as far from us as possible and re-adopt; or newly adopt a theocentric/christocentric world-view.

The Churches of America could be revolutionized in months if they gave themselves up as their central concern and loved Jesus first and people second. And if they stopped arguing away what Jesus said and started acting on it – whoa!

And why not? Has running things YOUR way been a goo

Liveitprint8_10

“Christ Who is our Life.”

d thing? Has the Church running it its way been a good thing? Don;t you see what all this EGO, Me-ism – We-theCenter stuff has produced in the way of fruit?

 

Yeah…garbage, suffering, fear and more breakdown to come.

Nice goin gang.

Try something different. Be relieved of the bondage of SELF (and its suckage) and live free where God is the CENTER (not Religion – oh no) God. The Love and grace of God and God;s loving Truth.

Read all of Colossians – shortest book. Listen to how completely SANE it is in its completeness. Geez.

Then set aside your fear, dead religion and need to control others.

********

[1] Merton, Thomas “From Faith to Wisdom,” New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York, New Directions Books) p.141.

[2] Bruce, F.F. New International Commentary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans) p. 192.

[3] Bruce, Ibid., .” p. 194-195. See also commentary on Col. 2:3.

[4] Bruce, Ibid., p. 298

 

Free fall

ScreenHunter_164 May. 23 20.45FREEFALLING

On one of your days
A Thursday,
The universe
The whole damned thing
Just twists sideways.
And after some brief
Holding on
It gives you a
Little shake and
You just slip off
Neckwhip quick
Freefalling

Down through the rain clouds
The cool moon clouds
And thin evaporous clouds
Down falling
Through the wisps of winter smoke
Through the pothole in the ozone
And yood think
Yood land at some point
Or another
So you wait for that
Dull thud which
With so many others
Forms a dull
Alkaline rain.
But time passes
And the bottom doesn’t come
And you have these conversations
ON THE WAY DOWN
Lots of them
And others come
As you’re freefalling
To take large chunks
Out of your heart
Your time
Your mind
Your body
Your soul
And when they are done
Still others come
One by one
To pin their small notes
To your person
Which you can never remove
And which flutter
In the wind as you fly
On your
Way down.

Then you hit
Rock bottom
Emotionally
So you fly limp
Twisting and
Fluttering round and round
Spinning languid
Like a hollowed-out
Paper mache bird
With odd personal messages taped
To its wings.

So by now yood thing
Yood be through
What with the chunks missing
And the hope gone
And your life all
A flutter
Of insignificant
Personal notes
But its not.

You’ve only just begun
The freefalling
And after some time
One last chance
Begins to form in you
Just one last chance
To pull out of this dive
By sheer will
To climb all the way
Up and out
This long descent
And you imagine
What it would be like
Because you want that one last chance
So what do you do?
You look at the other poor bastards
Who fell just
When you did.

And you form
A support group
ON THE WAY DOWN
And I’m serious about this
You actually form a club
Of freefallers
And everyone who belongs
Gets a t-shirt
And with your remaining
Change you all send
A lobbyist ahead of you
To explain the nature
Of your falling.
And soon others come alongside
To help Y’all
Because
After all
You’re falling
And they’ve got some advice
On their hands
And you’ve got the time
Falling as you are
All the time with
No land in sight.
So you listen
And these men
(and they are always men)
Remind you
That there are definite ways
To navigate
While airborne
Even at your present trajectory
And you’re so tired of falling
And thinking of the inevitable
(which looks better and better
the more monotonous your fall becomes)
That you actually begin to
LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE
And what they say
Begins to make sense
Because you desperately
Want something
Anything
To make sense.
So, you listen to the frequent flyers
Who swear on a stack o’ bibles
That they can fly
Right through those ozone holes
And grab the world like a lover
Plant their seed
And reap the market share.
And they always zoom by
In their fancy cars
Just to prove it
(only you notice their cars
Are always pointed down)

But you listen
Because they offer to teach
You a new skill:
How to read your instruments
How to navigate and fly
And you’ve been falling for so long
Without any real variation
(except the twist and roll)
That you see the wisdom
Of focusing on
Your instrument panel.
For years and years
As you’re falling and freefalling
They teach you the panel
You’re learning the panel
And studying it as you freefall
Until you know it
Dammit, You really know the thing
And they give you
Your pat on the back
And a shake
And two pieces of paper
Which join you to them forever
Now that you know how to fly
And how to read
The panel.
Well,
After the party
After the graduation party
And after you’ve slept off
The nails raging and jangling in your brain
You settle into your seat
Grab the controls
Check your instrument panel
And say
“That’s enough of this falling shit!”

And as you pull
That wheel back into your chest
It snaps clear off
In your hands
And the lighted panel of instruments
Goes dark and dead.

And you hear only
The wind.

Freefalling.

Colossians 1:1-2 Apostles, Saints & Where’s Waldo?

Scan

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 

Colossians 1:1-2

 

 

 

Well we run right over these verse to get to the “main stuff.”

Not so fast folk – what is an “apostle?” and is Paul’s calling by the “will of God” different than deciding to go to Seminary and go into ministry as a profession (hey! I’m in seminary!) the same thing? And when he calls out to “saints” is that like the really “holy miracle-inducing” ones at Colossae or does Paul mean something else?

Here is my basic exegetical commentary from my rather staid and lackluster (but accurate) book: (you can skip this if you must – or skim for technical notes):

1 Paul, an apostle ( “one sent out,” “an ambassador of the King of Kings“ – Wuest on Ro.1:1. An ambassador represents the King or President of his country over his own interests—in fact, the interests of his government are his interests. ) of Jesus Christ (“transliteration of the Heb. ‘Joshua,’ meaning ‘Jehovah is salvation,’”—Vine’s. “Yahweh to the rescue” — Darrell Johnson. ) by the will of God, (God’s choice, not Paul’s. The significantly longer explanation is in Galatians 1 where Paul says something similar then follows with “…the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came by revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1:11,12). And, “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,” (1:16). This simply means he didn’t get it from the other Apostles or anyone else but via direct revelation – and we see this in the fact he goes from Damascus directly to Arabia to preach the very Christ he had been persecuting (Galatians 1:17). See Acts 26:19; 1 Cor. 9:16; Acts 22:14. “…he went forth as Christ’s ambassador, laboring under    no    human    banner.”     -S.L.    Johnson, Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1961. p. 336. “Ministers must be commissioned by the will of God” -Expositor’s Bible.) and Timothy our brother (This letter was probably dictated to Timothy.),  

col22 to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ (“in Christ” is the condition. Note that the brethren are addressed as both “in Christ” and “in Colossae”. They live both in Christ and in the world.) who are at Colossae: (Location: south of Laodicea and south-east  of Ephesus in Asia  Minor. While Paul  knew  several members, he had never visited this church.) Grace (“Unmerited favor”) to you and peace (According to William Barclay, peace has a positive meaning in Biblical usage; it is more than just the absence of pain and suffering. Barclay comments, “In the NT peace has one meaning more often than any other, and it is a meaning which was carried over from Jewish thought and usage. Peace is right relationships in every sphere of life.” (Flesh and Spirit, p. 85-86). Barclay’s assertion brings into focus the relationship between peace and  righteousness, as both contain the emphais on “right-relatedness”. It is also significant to note Dr. James Stewart’s observation that Jesus, having no possessions to leave His followers said instead, “My peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”— John 14:27. ) from God our Father (No matter how disguised or besmirched our personal or cultural notion of “fatherhood” is, God is our true Father, and“fatherhood” is defined by His character, not our earthly fathers, the very best of which “disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He [God] disciplines us for our good …”—Hebrews 12:10.   Even the best fathers of our generation have only done what they perceived was best—but our Father in heaven, by contrast, knows true good concerning us. ).

*******

I wrote it in the 90s hoping to inspire others to both study scripture and also to explore the true glory of Christ. You can see how successful I have been!

To be honest the only person who seems to be as captivated (besides Darrell Johnson who I spoke with recently) up in Canada) is me.

So I am happy with that. If you are going to obsess on something in this life I think the glory of the Risen Christ is a pretty good and healthy thing. No one else – not even my wonderful girlfriend so captivates me (nor do I her – which is one of the things we love about each other).

Back to Him.

Paul is the oddest of the Apostles. The others spent years with Jesus and loved Him. Paul hated Jesus and headed up persecution of the infant church until Jesus knocked him off his transport to Damascus and said “Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Then he made him the “ambassador” to the Gentiles.

You can imagine that for quite awhile wherever Paul (formerly Saul) stayed, his hosts slept with one eye open.

In many of his letters Paul mentions this divine call, but in his letter to the Galatians he goes into detail in the first chapter explaining that not only was his appointment divine – it was also taught him directly by Christ and not by any man. We know that shortly after his conversion he went away to Arabia – did not consult with the Apostles in Jerusalem – and then returned to Damascus to preach the Gospel (Galatians 1:16-18).

You might think he would want their approval. He doesn’t. In fact, he clearly distances himself from them making it clear that when he finally did meet them it was quick and cordial only.

Apostles?

We don’t really have “apostles” any more as it would seem they need any extremely direct calling to found churches and be discipled by Jesus Himself.

I have never met one.

I have heard of men who have claimed such in the USA – and they always seem to end up coming up cultic in the end. Some new doctrines. I think it is probably difficult enough to be a pastor and hold it together.

But having once been a pastor I can related in some very small degree (and I mean small) to receiving direct guidance in major situations. Of course I was under orders. It is a funny story.

The Divine Prankster

I was an associate pastor and an intellectual in a fairly charismatic church – proving that God has a delicious sense of humor and can be quite the prankster.

The senior pastor, knowing my propensity for logical argument and reliance on persuasive words of wisdom also recognized the gift of evangelism and wanted yo use me occasionally as the substitute speaker at the end of the free rock concerts we had on Saturday nights.

Oh, what to do with me and my handicap?

Well he ordered me not to prepare any notes or a speech/presentation. Ordered.

Back then the only thing I feared more than God was him (I know, I know…he is maybe 6 inches shorter but I thought he towered over me).

He said I had to just wait in the prayer room while the concert was going on and pray for the Holy Spirit to “give you the message.”

Oh great. I mean technically this is all fine and good…but so is walking up in front of 1500 people with absolutely nothing to say…which you can probably handle at 58, but is not so easy at 28.

But doggone it if he was not correct. I mean it was close a couple times (I felt pranked once for sure because no message till I grabbed the mic..I mean c’mon).

Here is what I learned – I learned how to use my cerebral/analytical alongside an absolute openness existentially to divine leading in the moment while “reading” the crowd empathetically. The key was just me “getting out of the way” – and you (me) are so scared that is really easy.

I mean at that moment you want no part of you.

So Pastor Louis Neely did me one of the greatest services of my life when he “forced” me to do that back in 1985 because I have been using it ever since in intense situations. They are smaller situations – like  a guy has a gun in my face in SF (2010); those guys with the golf clubs (last year) and the gun in Oakland; the guys in the Safeway in Santa Cruz (2012) – or the guy doing the hold-up on the light rail up in Portland (2011)- etc… I get the best “intel” ever. I am never in danger – not really.

In fact, in Portland I even complained when I heard the ruckass – “I suppose you want ME to deal with this?”

Uh-huh.

As I tell Laura – I am “not really smart at all – I just listen well.”

Now, to be clear. I am not called to even be a pastor. I lasted a total of 3 years total in two positions. I am very “pastoral” – true. But I could not do what my brothers and sisters do for even a month.

Now of course if you disbelieve in God none of this makes any sense at all – and if you do you may still be incredulous. Hey, all I can say is I am not all that happy about it most of the time myself. It is not like God’s “intel” is giving me Joel Osteen tips on getting rich or how to better polish me teeth. No – it’s usually how to keep some other guy from buying a bullet or a beating – and while I have never felt in danger – technically when a guy is waving a gun in your face and says he wants your wallet it could go off.

And then you are a mess if your are not finished off.

Saints

Now in the interest of both the peace and grace that Paul speaks of (“right-relationship in every sphere of life”) between all the brethren (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) let us dwell simply on the core Greek meaning of the word “saints” or “hagios” – “set apart ones.”

There is much to be derived from the rich tradition and views of all three strains, or what is called “hagiography.”

If you are a protestant and have a problem with some Catholics who pray to “Saints” then don’t do it and by all means show by example the supremacy of Christ. But, in fact, modern Protestantism does not show the supremacy of Christ at all – but the supremacy of  Personal Betterment – and the saints they venerate and speak of are Pastor Hagee, Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar (to name a few).

As my friend Stephen Scott use to ask “Is it Rome by name or Rome by nature?”

The Orthodox set the “Saints” before us largely through iconography, which in turn points us (or can) to some intense writings.

Again, Protestants object (well we are built to “protest” after all – which explains why we are constantly splitting over any objection – it’s just in our spiritual DNA). claiming that icons are “idoatrous” or “graven images.”

gregorythegreatNow this is really funny – because after doing THAT – the Protestant (Western) world lets in every imaginable idolatrous image in the front, side and back doors (and up through the basement, in through windows – you name it – let it ALL flood in!!)

We are awash in images – but keep out those little painted ones of St. Gregory the Great!

I’d scream if it wasn’t so funny.

So funny.

Rxtraordinary “Saints”

The lives of the “Saints” can be prescriptive – a remedy of sorts (Rx) in a thin and superfluous age of televangelists who model opulence and put their seal of approval on the idols of our culture.

Read of the Martyrs of North Africa and it will sober up your faith and it will inspire you. watch the televangelists and it will sink you deeper into your couch.

I random sampling (I had not planned to do this so I do not know the outcome – I just suspect it) of the top money-making Evanglists and how they expose people to the supremacy of Christ (which is the centerpiece of Paul presentation to the Colossians)  on their websites:

Pastor John Hagee (https://shop.jhm.org/shop#) comes in with an impressive array of Betterment books with everything from how to vote American/Biblical, to a a number of “prosperity while the world ends” books. Nothing about God front and center – or Christ – but an interesting book on David as a book on a “Rich man” in the Bible.

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By the way “Covenant” and “Foundations of the Faith” return neither.  It’s all Betterment stuff just as easily filed under self-help with no Christian message at all. . 

How to be “Happy in an Unhappy World,” “Desperate Wives” of the Bible – it’s all here and splashed with patriotic garb.

Jesus is like Waldo.

PerpetFelcross51

Perpetua, the noblewoman and martyr and Felecity her servant and faithful friend and martyr.

One thinks of the 22 year old martyr Perpetua who had her infant taken from her and was rejected by her father before her death. Her defense of the faith was amazing and beyond brave.

The Church still remembers Perpetua and her faith inspires us.

Joel Osteen tomorrow.