The Explorer’s Way of Discipleship

 In the face of the failure in the West of an anthropocentric “Gospel” which is a passive and consumer-based offer of “betterment” I am excited to put forward “The Explorer’s Way of Discipleship” which is theocentric, active, creative and “generative in its theology, and which embraces a living discipleship of transformation that can change all our lives.

BY CHRISTOPHER MACDONALD, BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA

I was shocked to learn in one of my last seminary classes that, seriously, the history of theology records that about 95% of theological writings have been written in reaction to or against something seen as harmful.  That means theology, By necessity, has been dominated by a negative polemic – always been framed as “against” this or that – and this is the way we have come to learn how to teach.

I am not going to suggest that this has not been necessary on many occasions, but it explains why we possess so little truly positive theology that is creative, exploratory and whimsical. It is why we don’t have a line of folk waiting to suit up as Explorers.

Lest I fall into the same trap, I am choosing to follow Focus Point Four in this paper and work off a “generative theology” that is creative, open, exploratory, and deeply biblical. It is time we got a grip and started to move forward in faith, hope and love.

To jump ahead and explain “generative theology” a bit. It is simply’ a theology based in agape (gift) love which is tethered directly to the cross of Christ as serious disciples but also but also free within His living Lordship and the Holy Spirit to explore the full gamut of Biblical Truth. As it is based in Good News that reconciles, it is creative and hopeful and carries with it disciplines that outwardly-imposed morality can never match. It is not based in criticising or being against others though it may find lines of clear disagreement and departure. It seeks peace and to serve through Art and Word. It looks for connections that are real and grounded in scripture, in nature and in relationship.

The word “generative’” points to its creativity but should not be mistaken to say that it is generating a whole new fresh theology or theologies. Rather it is finally mining those rich corridors of theological ore which have been available all along but have been neglected in our seemingly unending need to tell other people where they are “wrong.” It is the unexplored country of “rightness” and beauty which scripture has always been the sole repository of. I will return to its beauty later in this presentation; but hopefully, all that proceeds will be “generative.”

FOCUS ONE:CHRIST THE CENTER (THEOCENTRIC OVER ANTHROPOCENTRIC WORLDVIEW)

It seems that somewhere along the way ( I am guessing the Enlightenment) we shifted or adopted a larger anthropocentric world-view. So much so we can hardly see that it has become our sole way of perception and our reference point. But scripture presents us with a theocentric (in many cases more specifically Christocentric) world-view. How might that deeply effect the ways we perceive and interpret the world? What if this is, in fact, much closer to reality than any of the myriad of anthropocentric views?

A simple example from the Gospels would be Jesus’ refrain “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” (and the contrasts put forward) and His teachings on the Kingdon of God” in direct contrast with earthly kingdoms.

I would ask the reader to re-read the Gospels and ask honestly if they present a theocentric or anthropocentric worldview; and if the latter, how much are we missing by not adopting the same?

Isn’t it possible that our profound unhappiness, emptiness and even confusion in the Church isn’t just a by-product of our stepping into the central place?. Could we not all relax and more easily “accept and celebrate” our diversity of we located ourselves around a great rim whose spokes all led back to one core Center which was Christ Himself?

I have watched while large denominations have had “Re-Imagining God” conferences. While it sounds mildly hip. isn’t one core point that the God who is “other” chose to reveal God’s own Self in a way we could understand?  Isn’t “re-imagining” God while God is attempting to clearly communicate God’s own Self really at cross purposes?

And God’s attempt has been by becoming not just sympathetic- but actually by becoming one of us in all ways even gestating in a womb for nine months.

Of course more than this is revealed as well. God in Christ is revealed as the Center of not only Creation at its inception, but also currently (Colossians 1:15-23). He is also revealed far more as “Lord” than “Savior” – and important view as that is.that possibly explains why St. Paul would “bring every thought captive” to Him (2 Corinthians 10). There is no quarter given to an anthropocentric Gospel or even that general worldview. God does not exist for us; we exist and find our being in God.

Jesus wants to be the Center and, indeed is so while we are not. He said:

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

FOCUS TWO: TRANSFORMATION OVER A “BETTERMENT GOSPEL

Our crisis of theology and leadership has to do with our confusion over who we are, where we are going, and the nature of the “Good News.”

Doesn’t the Gospel, at its core, comes with an offer of rescue? Is there really any real talk in Jesus or any of the Apostles about “betterment” of our current situation and to somehow “Christianize” our worldly way of doing life? It seems to me rather that we are the Titanic and there will be no betterment of this ship only a variety of costly rescue and salvage operations meant to get as many people to safety as possible. A program of human betterment as the essential Gospel is like rearranging deck chairs on that tragic ship. It demonstrates a profound confusion over the state of affairs, where we are headed (for they would simply improve life on the boat and leave it at sea) and the nature of our passage (temporary).

Jesus, Paul and John never talk about “improvement,” only being “transformed.” Metamorphoses – the taking of us as one thing and transforming us into something different…

Rescue must come first. It helps if you have some idea of what you have been rescued from but it is not a requirement.

Jesus, Paul and John never talk about “improvement,” only being “transformed.” Metamorphoses – the taking of us as one thing and transforming us into something different is what they speak of.  St. John says,

See what kind of love the Father has given us so that we might be called children of God—and we are. Therefore the cosmos does not know us, because it did not know him. 2Beloved ones, now we are children of God, and what we shall be has not yet become apparent. We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-3) [1]

Paul speaks of this transformation using the same word Matthew uses for transfiguration:

Therefore I implore you, brothers, by God’s mercies, to present your bodies as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God, your rational worship; And do not be configured to this age, but be transformed by renewal of the intellect, so you may test the will of God, which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12;1-2) [2]

 

2018-04-13 02.09.02-2

Text-explorative related candles custom made weekly. First-Century oil lamp replica.

Here the contrast is specifically between a stylish “betterment” (the Greek word is a form of schema from which we get schematic, and a substantial inner transformation which requires one to place one’s whole self at God’s disposal (v. 1) as a means of personal existential sacrifice. This is said to be “transfiguring.”

On some level, we all know this is true and possibly just avoid Jesus’ words about “taking up your cross” to follow Him. We fail to see that this transformative way of life is really the only avenue open that breeds freedom and life. “Amen, amen, I tell you, unless the grain of wheat falling to the ground dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears plenteous fruit.” (John 12:24)[3]

Amid a subtle American prosperity Gospel that is repackaged in a stunning variety of ways and churches which choose to only offer principle-driven ways of personal “betterment”, we should note the decline of the Church in the West. It is as if by trying to compete as a Consumer product “Gospel” ceases to truly be vibrant “Good News” at all and just blends in with infomercials and the mass variety of other betterment products available to Americans with a disposable income, Suddenly Christianity is a personal “for me” investment not a calling and a relationship. You can see why it lapses into a kind of slow killing off of faith.

Isn’t the call to active discipleship (Students or Explorers for Christ in a school of transformation) much more apt to bring real change, enliven real faith and move people out of the roles of passive church consumers to active transformative life in Christ? A Student/Learner or Explorer is an active Disciple.

FOCUS THREE: DEPTH EXEGESIS/EXPLORATION OVER THE PASSIVE VIEWER CONSUMER MODEL

Jesus spent more time discipling His close group of followers than he did preaching, healing or doing anything else during His three years of public ministry. And through that discipling the world was changed. Aren’t we doing the opposite – selling Christian experiences like something you can buy in bulk down at “Christco in a 5 gallon drum via our pre-packaged theologies, betterment books and programs for “successful Christian living?”

Does Jesus present Gospel in this way or through enigmatic parables that challenge? Does Paul offer such a slick package or careful and heartfelt instruction meant to grow men and women up into maturity (Ephesians 4:11-17)

Megachurches are set up to accommodate mass audiences who will sit and passively watch a presentation. A few hours later can anyone recite the real content of the message or just the title?  It is a passive model – like television where the only relevant question is “did you like it?”

The Problem with passive viewership and consumer religion is that it leaves people unchanged and in many cases actually inoculated to transformation.

In contrast, an interactive, dialogical and immersive exploration of biblical texts and worship combined with active discipleship cannot help but begin to change lives. As Mike Breen points out “Most of us have become quite good at the church thing. And yet, disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and it’s the only number that Jesus is counting.” (Building a Discipling Culture) .

In our latest active study: Adventures with Doctor Luke: Middle Eastern Parables and Narratives of Jesus, we employ a dynamic format built for exploring the text in an open yet also disciplined fashion. Sticking to Middle Eastern (Hebraic) peasant roots, more technical notes on the text are sent out a few days in advance so we are not bogged down in the minutiae of language studies or spend all our time on Hebrew poetic form when we really want to get to what is being said in the text.

I act as a facilitator attempting to draw out as many comments from each Explorer as possible in each session of our “micro-exegesis.” I make sure to include quieter members of the group by asking questions or having them be the readers.

Participants are not only learning the Gospel of Luke over 15 weeks, they are also learning how to use the direct tool of biblical interpretation and how to think biblically while they explore.

There is always an immersive/interactive element. Examples can be found in the chart below for weeks 2-6.

WEEK 2        LUKE 7:36-50           RECLINING AT TABLE (MIDDLE EASTERN MEAL DURING STUDY
WEEK 3        LUKE 10:25-37         BANDAGE IMAGINED WOUND AFTER OIL AND WINE APPLIED
WEEK 4        LUKE 10:38-11:13     BREAD, EGG AND FISH BEHIND THE CURTAIN AS GIFT
WEEK 5        LUKE 12:13-21          GAMESHOW: “O MAN!”
WEEK 6        LUKE 12;22-39        ART PROJECT: LILLIES OF THE FIELD

Naturally, in such an open (but guided) format, theological and philosophical life questions arise which tempt the group to stray from the textual study. In this case, anything major is put on reserve for “Round Two” discussions after the exegetical study of the narrative. Parable or both has been concluded.

The study itself is scheduled each week for one hour only so as to not be burdensome, but Expolorers have ritually chosen to expand the time to three to four hours of spirited group exploration. I attribute much of this directly to the participatory and non-passive nature of the format.

It should also be noted that such a study method places exegesis and biblical studies prior to theology (horse firmly before all carts).

In our study time we are simply free to follow the text wherever they go  “come what may” – not in subjectivity, but rather against the firm bedrock of scholarship and embedded in 1st Century studies that keep the study contextualized.

One student., commenting on the team effort, said “I really feel like an Explorer!” And as every “disciple” is a “student of Jesus” we want to foster this reality.

FOCUS FOUR: GENERATIVE THEOLOGY

Taking direct cues from artist and theologian Makoto Fujimura (The Brehm Institute/Fuller Seminary) and his book Culture Care, I saw that the same crises that happened in the Arts under Modernity had struck Theology at the same time as well.  It was just that this last blow, starting at the turn of the last Century all but extinguished any fresh theology from consideration. It was either being deconstructed  and reinterpreted in a culture of Skepticism that reduced it to a bland liberal moralism; or it was being held hostage by “Funda-gelical” reactionaries whose dominant paradigms involved fear and power. In every case it all goes hand in hand with a deeply anthropocentric world-view and then attempting to compensate for that loss via creating consumer religion.

Fujimura has envisioned a way out of the tragedy of Modernity in his work through “Generative Art.” Given the close parallels and root disease for both the Arts and Theology, I saw no reason that  “Generative Theology” would not also be possible.

What does that term mean? A creative/explorative and generative theology is 1) free to proclaim prophetically while being faithful to the biblical witness and 2) does not jettison what is valuable in any of the work which has been done via the previous approach as if a new vision for theology can be done in a vacuum or is the end-all and be-all.

That also means it is more than a peace-at-any-cost ecumenicism. It truly sees all three major branches of the Church as common heritage and currently as One Body. Expolorers are free to draw from the entire catalog of Church history and should. This is unprecedented.

Does it mean we should not be on guard or there is no place for polemics or apologetics? Of course not. But let’s no longer be limited to only doing those things or thinking that is our only way of operating.

In searching my mind for theologians in my lifetime who are, or were Generative theologians the only person who truly comes to mind is Thomas  Merton. One can argue that C.S. Lewis – when not doing apologetics- was also doing Generative work in both his fiction and in books like Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer and The Weight of Glory.)  But really it was Merton who chose new themes to write on and explore which were 1) not against anyone, and 2) were not polemics or apologetics (or even a practical guide to a way of life).

Generative Theology would produce those books – like the new ones on Christ’s glory or on the Great Christological Hymn and how it might be connected with quantum physics as well as the search for human meaning. And a new generation of commentaries not adjudicated by immediate American concerns or reduced to pragmatic “principles” (I call this homogenization) for use as consumer products. Theological pursuits not determined solely by what is politically en vogue, but which can draw from the seemingly inexhaustibly suggestive nature of the 66 books we hold sacred.

It is here that the word generative once again becomes important. Just as God is to be worshiped for God’s own sake, so great theology is to be done because it is true and it is at the core of being human to explore and document the full range of human experience. This theological expression should not be dominated by a theology primarily “against.” but be essentially a theology “for” especially as the “Good News” it is at the core of that theology. That it retains an edgy polemic against falsehood is, of course, necessary. The character and witness of the New Testament demonstrate this, but it is not all consuming leading to the myopia and hair-splitting we have currently come to.

The summary call is to healthy discipleship as life-long learner/explorers of our living Lord. Let uus no long be derailed or distracted from our ciore cource materials in the Word of God but remain open to how God speaks through nature and one another dynamically through His living Holy Spirit. With Christ ever as the Center of attention things are kept both loyal and in balance. Seep roots can grow and richer soil be cultivated for the Word to grow.

We will find that people never did want to be entertained – not really. What they wanted was something meaningful to do and a sense of calling. As such they will be willing to give up the tricks and treats of Consumer Religion easily in favor of active discipleship that is purpose-filled, And you will see the grip of life-long sins weaken not through some dead moralizg (which happens to strengthen them in most cases) but rather because people will have a sense of the reality of being transformed into something new, not just briefly morally improved or made “better.”

Lastly a word for the bored and there are millions of you out there simply bored to tears. Exploring a Universe where Christ is the Center and doing generative theology is truly new country to explore/ Think of going to an Explorer’s Group that is not only not like some social obligation but where every week you – as a group – uncover new things about God and the Universe – things that directtly inpact your life.

That is what happens in our Adventures with Doctor Luke or C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves  studies. I may facilitate bit I doubt I speak up more than 20-25 percent of the time. The rest is drawing out the best work and thoughts from the class itself as we explore together.

UPCOMING CLASSES

God in the Dock (C.S. Lewis Book study) Summer 2018

Gospel of John: Book of Signs: Fall 2018

New Seeds of Contemplation (Book Study) “Morning with Thomas Merton” TBD

 

 

 

 

1] THE NEW TESTAMENT: A TRANSLATION BY DAVID BENTLY HART (KINDLE LOCATIONS 10762-10765). YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. KINDLE EDITION.
[2] IBID., (KINDLE LOCATIONS 7065-7068). YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. KINDLE EDITION.
[3] IBID., (KINDLE LOCATIONS 4717-4718). YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. KINDLE EDITION.
 [4] F.F. BRUCE REMARKS “THIS IS ONE OF THE GREAT CHRISTOLOGICAL PASSAGES OF THE NT, DECLARING AS IT DOES OUR LORD’S DIVINE ESSENCE, PRE-EXISTENCE, AND CREATIVE AGENCY. YET, HIGH AS THE CHRISTOLOGY IS, IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE ORIGINAL TO PAUL HIMSELF; BUT RATHER PART OF WHAT HE “RECEIVED” AS PRIMITIVE CHRISTIAN TEACHING.”
[5] BECKER, ERNEST THE DENIAL OF DEATH,. FREE PRESS 1975
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On Cemetary, er Seminary

American Baptist Seminary of the West.

American Baptist Seminary of the West.

When best friend Scott Mitchell used to come back through Sacramento from Princeton Seminary we would stay up late arguing. I couldn’t understand exactly why he was paying big bucks to have his faith ritually shredded by rabid skepticism. My argument was pretty much “would you go to a school to learn English literature where the professor’s actually hated Shakespeare?”

We got through it (the beer helped – plus good humor and a somewhat undying devotion to one another).

Over the years, although never the least bit “fundamentalist,” I still had some vestiges of self-righteousness to shake off – and that happened in the late 80s.

Did I say “shake-off?” Oh…I miss-spoke.

“Stripped off” – like thick skin off a body would be more apropos.

Years later I would encourage my ex-wife to go to seminary in Berkeley – to the GTU. I knew she had a fine mind for theology and would do well. She did well but somehow in the process decided God no longer exists.

She is quite matter of fact about this now. I think she looks at me like someone in some infantile stage who will one day outgrow a “phase.” Jung now reigns supreme.

Okay.

Me? I feel no need to address this at all. It would be like her disbelieving that Scott Mitchell exists. I don’t need to convince anyone. I do think it curious that one goes to school to study God (“theology”=”the study of God”) and one comes away with a degree in God’s non-existence. Do you really graduate? (Shouldn’t you anti-graduate? And shouldn’t they tell you ahead of time that it’s essentially a waste of your time and money?)

It is from such stories (and they are legion) that the term “Cemetary” has been applied pejoratively to seminaries. It is where you go to kill and bury your faith.

Really? Seriously?

Well no one really starts that way I do not think. But some professors, it seems, take it as a sort of mission to “disillusion” (and that can be a good thing if you take it at the root meaning “dis -illusion”) their students – many of which come from highly coddled church environments filled with as much christenized mythology and nonsense as they do actual real information.

These students may come from a Christian High School, then College believing in a 7,000 year-old Earth – that everything in the Bible is to be taken literally (that there are no literary forms to be taken as poetry, or metaphor etc…) and they have been force-fed a brand of  Americanized Fundagelicalism that merges power, money and even splices America itself into Biblical prophecy.

Oh my…

imageThey are not taught to think critically (like how can Moses have written the first five books of the Bible when they record his own death? Also, isn’t that prior to written language historically?)

Well depending on what institution they go to it it is just like shooting ducks in a small barrel – only the ducks fly in and pay to be there.

And most ducks come unarmed.

My Experience

I have decided advantages.

I’ve never been an unarmed anything. I was deadly even at 21 at CSUS. In fact I terrorized my teachers and made them quack.

But that was Sac State. Not exactly top notch scholars. I got into it with the New Testament Professor on the authorship of Ephesians. He came at me with a knife..I came back with a 14 page annotated summary of twenty-two scholars work on authorship that landed him in another time zone (er, bazooka).

In my current situation no one would be impressed. Maybe a “okay…and?”

Not here  I take serious issue with some of the assumptions that are being made prior to investigation. They effect the outcome of the research. In my last paper, the tacit assumption that the psalm (89) was a “psalm of lament” with a rhetorical argument was weak in my view. I made my case directly from the text.

[But I realized later I could have strengthened it with examples of strong “Psalms of Lament” that were not “disarmed” by subordinate considerations like in Psalm 89.. Oh well…]

I want to make it clear that I do not identify with either “Liberals” or “Conservatives” theologically. In both cases it seems to me you have to sign-off on party-line items that require you check your brain at the door.

Not on this suit.

The-Fugitive-Tommy-Lee-Jones-I-Dont-Care

“I REALLY don’t care.”

When it comes to issues like the “inerrancy of scripture”, I see that litmus test as a thoroughly modernist construct meant to divide and miss the point of the gravity of scripture as different than any other “Word” with which we have to do. When questions like that crop up I keep seeing myself in that tube with Harrison Ford in The Fugitive as Tommy Lee Jones where Ford keeps jappering away and Jones just says “I DON’T CARE!”

Is it harder to work in a situation where a priori assumptions have to be painstakingly investigated first? Absolutely.

There is no doubting that I am functioning within a deep “hermeneutic of suspicion” where the only thing not under suspicion seems to be that very thing.

Why should you get off scott free?

Why should a purely literary theory currently in vogue in the West  (in a highly dualistic currently deconstructionist mindset) hold court over Ancient Middle Eastern documents formed mostly through an oral tradition and formed in a holistic culture?

Seriously.

I’m getting okay with working within the “hermeneutic of suspicion.”

I have to work harder.

Frankly it would be a lot more FUN to work within a system of overt highly-informed belief (possibly at a place like Regent or Fuller) – but my M.A. looks to be in Beckerian studies – which inherently implies someone with the elasticity of mind to move across academic disciplines, bear with wildly divergent views – be deeply committed to pluralism – and all the while not back off one iota from the idea of ultimate Truth.

Let’s hope God brings along some like-minded individuals…

The Psalm 89 paper can be viewed as a .pdf here

 

Wha Happa?

Why we are teetering on the verge of Looney Tunes I cannot help but hear Elmer Fudd asking “Wha Happa?”

I mean if you went to culinary school and they really had a disparaging view of food and seemed to not wanna celebrate it you might think you were in the wrong place, no?

So I am reading “scholars” who think that they just made up the whole Epyptian capitivity slavery thing and that the Jews where Canaanites all along who just rose up at a certain time in social revolt but later wnated a better cover story.

Seriously.

And of course all the families with their rich oral traditions and family histories were just gonna buy into this later all at once… when it came time to write it all down.

Okay, “Duane, I’m due back on the planet  Earth now.”

And it is exactly there that I really do not care.

Believe what you want.

Let me give you two examples of why.

The first is from the world of psychology. In the early 80s I was struggling to get any kind of coherence out of the psychology department at Sac State. It became obvious it was a vain attempt so I gave up – much to the consternation of onlookers

But no one today tinks that was a mistake. I can say to anyone in the field that I studied during that period and they just just shale their heads “oh…yeah, well.”

The other example is the infamous Graf-Wellahusen JEDP Theory (Source Criticism) which was first plunked in my lap in 1977. It seemed contrived and thin then (but not without some merits) and when it was reintroduced this year it felt about the same. But now – some 38 years later it has come under a high degree of scrutiny – not from Conservative sources, but Liberal sources as well – especially since 1986.

Sure, a rookie comes into the league with a novel fastball that looks pretty tricky; but wait awhile until the real hitters adjust to it and see how long he lasts.

What’s it all about?

Seriously?

I think it is about being cool for the most part – about human meaning.

Me? I am so patently uncool as to possibly be cool. It’s ironic I realize. I truly do not care.

I came here (to seminary) to play ball. I came here to do serious work. I didn;t come to bunt, or take base on balls.

I believe – and I believe for good reasons; smart reasons. The facts are on my side and when there are no facts there is mystery and what Luther called simply ruthless trust in God’s grace and nature.

Waiting on the beach

breakfastHe had appeared to his Mary Magdalene and then the disciples twice. So, as recorded in John 21,  they do what they are good at…they go fishing.

I guess like all of us we are not sure exactly what to do after meeting God and coming into newness of life.

None of us really knows what to do with it, then or now.

Peter, either demonstrating leadership skills, or loaded with cabin fever declares he is going fishing. Others think this is a good idea and they pile in a boat and work all night at what they do best. They catch nothing at all.

Jesus calls to them from 100 yards away on the beach; close enough to hear Him but not close enough to really make out His face. He tells them to cast on the right side of the boat (just feet away from where they have been casting)  and the nets are immediately full of fish to the extent they should have ripped. This immediately takes John back to the earlier incident where Jesus said to do the same with the same result. He says to Peter “It is the Lord” and anyone who has read or heard the story remembers that Peter puts on his outer garment at that point and throws himself into the sea to get to Jesus faster.

Why the garment? Respect. He’s already failed Jesus three times and don’t think he’s not hounded by it.

What has Jesus done? He has prepared a fire and already has fish cooking on the beach. Peter is toiling in the water with a heavy garment on trying to get to Jesus as fast as he can while the other disciples labor in the boat to get to land with the load of fish.

Jesus, when he addressed them earlier used the term “padia” (“little infant friends” instead of “teknon” which are generally just children of the family 0f any age), asking them if they had caught anything?

It is a very sweet scene if you look at it from Jesus’ point of view.

When they do haul up on the beach cold, wet, and hungry there is not as much work to do as they thought. The nets from the huge haul of 153 fish are not ripped, and food and fire have been provided. They have only to secure the boats, nets and fish and come, sit and eat.

Is it odd for them? Sure. Peter is still laboring under the burden of guilt from his unconfessed betrayals; the others have cowered in the upper room and not believed in His resurrection. Only the women seemed to have believed and taken action. More than a few of the men have probably wished they had never met Him.

But as they sit there with Jesus eating the cooked fish and He speaks with them, they know He was dead and is now alive. Much of what He previously has said has started to drop…coin by coin… down into them from endless sacks of heavy change, each one changing them slightly inside, altering them forever and not a few of them suspect that the upcoming promise of the Holy Spirit will mean even more of this in ways unimaginable.

Jesus has told them that they are waiting for a significant event in the near future. But in the meantime He has been waiting for them on the beach to be with them. Yes, there is some business with Peter to be done within earshot of the others; it’s family business: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.

There are the significant actions to be done. But this is also the time to sit and be with Him.

Christ in “The Haunt of Jackals”

The Haunt of Jackals

No.1

Imagine a society where, instead of baking bread for hungry people, they produced mass quantities of pictures of bread and posted ads for them at every corner, and handbills were given out with pictures of different types of bread, hundreds of different types of bread. Pictures of wheat bread, pumpernickel, Jewish rye, banana bread, croissants, sheepherders bread, bread sticks, garlic bread…heck, even melba toast.

Now imagine that these images of bread not only became the dominant mode of exchange (some hoarding these pictures, others spending them as fast as they could get them), but were actually consumed on a daily basis despite the fact that they had no nutritional value whatsoever.

Imagine that, besides the handbills, posters and billboards which depicted the pictures of bread, the evening television news consisted of discussions and international debates over which of these pictures of bread were worth the most, and which were declining in value or had become disreputable as a true picture of bread. Imagine witnessing special interest groups arguing and protesting the advantages and disadvantages of consuming their particular type of bread-pictures. And, of course, in such a world, litigation would be intense over who had the actual rights to each type of bread picture, and there would often be disputes over counterfeit pictures or poor foreign copies had infiltrated the market.

And the entire time that men and women were viewing these billboards, wheat was growing up around the posts. And wherever they stapled posters, streams gurgled by with yeast cultures forming in the shallows and the sun.

What would you make of such a society?

No.2


Hold that thought while we look at another hypothetical situation… (for more go HERE)

Christ the Center: The Names of Christ

The Word spoke the cosmos into being as Agent, redeems it as sole Mediator, and is it’s consummation as Bridegroom. All “naming” –  human’s most profound and special gift, is derivative from the Word in Whom, through Whom and for Whom creation exists and his held together (Colossians chapters 1-2 in their totality).

As such, this One whose name is “above all names” has seeded Himself deeply not only in Creation, but in all the ways we approach it through language and try to understand and appropriate it. This Word (logos) is inherent in the multiplicity of interconnections that exist in Him. Yet, in His wisdom, the Word has come to us in the flesh (John 1 in it’s totality) and has explained the very character and intentions of God toward all Creation.

This God, who has a passion to be known via self-revelation, plants these resonate notes within our beings, then in grace overtly sounds those clear notes via the names that are so evocative of Him.

In the Old Testament,  these names are both deep  and expansive. In the New Testament we find new names given by Jesus to Himself that are even more viceral. Do you need bread? Do you desire wine? Do you need light, Peace, Rescue, Comfort, and/or Truth?

Unlike other great teachers we respect, Jesus presents Himself not just as Messenger but also the incarnate Message.

Know that this God is passionate about revealing Himself to you in Christ. God becoming flesh is the ultimate demonstration in time and space of the love of God. That this One would then die in our place for evil and human brokenness is almost too much to fathom. That this same Word incarnate is then raised tangibly from the dead and promises us the same is a glory and love we can never understand…only respond to and be thankful for.

These are but a few (a short list) that we will explore in the days to come.

Name above all names

The Alpha and the Omega

Author and Perfector of Faith

Wisdom of God

Image of God

Captain of Salvation

Chief Cornerstone

Head of the Church

Bridegroom

Chief Shepherd

The Way

Lord of the Living and the Dead

The Truth

Only Begotten Son

The Life

Light of the World

Sun of Righteousness

Savior of the Body

Sure Foundation

True Vine

True God

Word of Life

Prince of Peace

Bread of Life

Prince of Life

Master

Lord Jesus

Lord of Lords

Lord of Glory

Lord of Righteousness

Lord of the Church

Lord God Almighty

King of Kings

This just scratches the surface.

In an age that would deconstruct such a One (every Christmas season in Newsweek and Time); and a commercialized Christendom that would make The Living One “commemorative”  or part of some formula for personal salvation alone, these potent “names” for the Living One stand outside calling for depth, relationship and new ways of seeing reality and the Love of God.

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If your church is hungry for in-depth study of, and meditation on Jesus feel free to contact me via email and I’ll get right back with you. Weekly series for exploration are available in the Santa Cruz area. Weekend seminars are available to churches or groups in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Kierkegaard’s Christmas Director’s Cut

 

“O Lord Jesus Christ, I long to live in your presence, to see your human form and to watch you walking on earth. I do not want to see you through the darkened glass of tradition, nor through the eyes of today’s values and prejudices. I want to see you as you were, as you are, and as you always will be. I want to see you as an offense to human pride, as a man of humility, walking amongst the lowliest of humanity, and yet as the savior and redeemer of the human race.”


Kierkegaard’s Christmas 2000

Let me give you an example of what Kierkegaard is suggesting.

For the last 25 years I have heard Christians say, “Two thousand years ago..blah blah blah…” And, of course, they were rounding up or down time-wise.

But today is December 25, in the Year of our Lord 2000.

It is the ONE and only day we can say, “Two Thousand years ago TODAY, God…”

Yes, 2,000 years ago, today, the Creator of the Universe decided to crash the Human Party, which had turned damned ugly. If listen those who were there, they claim that God Himself, came bumping and birthing out of a young girl’s womb and spilled into the riot that is this world.

But it is right here that the folk Kierkegaard is talking about start to shout, “But Jesus wasn’t born in December! That was the way Christians appropriated the pagan holiday..blah blah blah…”

Or, gasbag scholars (with tenure) will go on and on about how Jesus was “more likely born 4 years prior to the date that was used in the formation of our current calendar” (thus Jesus was probably born in the spring of 4 B.C. …yea, yea…he was born four years before he was born.)

But when they go this route they are missing the whole point.

What about what happened when Jesus was born somewhere between the spring of 4 BC and our “traditional” (read “darkened glass”) date?

Kierkegaard says elsewhere that even if no historical records had survived about Jesus, he would still be the most important and central figure of human history.

Why?

Because he was God, and he willfully and deliberately dove into our mire for love’s sake. (Could it be that reality is more real than history?)

I mean, c’mon, what kind of God allows himself to become a human baby?

It’s either the most asinine
or the most beautiful thing
you’ve every heard your whole life.

The coming of Jesus, as God into our riot, is the radical opposite of religion–all of it, “Christian” or otherwise.

So, what do many churches do with this incredible miracle, this challenge to the whole way we view ourselves, our human history and our ultimate destiny and meaning?

They make a “religious service” out of it. And this is done in the most visual, audience, and entertainment-oriented culture in human history (“Damn Jim, I got 168 new channels on my new satellite dish…it’s unreal”) the Church with all it’s radical vision and devotion to Jesus does what?

The “Christmas services” many churches prepare serve to transform the naked amneotic reality of Jesus’ birth into an ethereal place of simple, rustic, “Country Home” beauty. In creating a visual and entertainment-oriented service, we are invited to sit and passively watch just like we do Will and Grace or last week’s episode of ER.

If, as Kierkegaard suggests, we should see Jesus for what he was, is, and will always be, then that would apply to his birth in Bethlehem.

So let’s strip away the “darkened glass of tradition and the current cultural prejudices” and ask, what should be up on the church stage for these Christmas productions?

The answer is obvious. Go visit a barn.

Go visit an American barn which is, by the way, a world away from a Bethlehem barn, and ask that simple question again: what should our Christmas productions look and feel like if we are to see Jesus for who he was, is and always will be?

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To start with, how about manure, and lots of it?

There must be a great deal of it and stench.

Then we must add slop for the animals and dirty water troughs on the sides of the church stage to maintain any accuracy at all.

In other words, the whole church should reek of dank poverty, or, at the very least, to make a legitimate cultural bridge, reflect a modern American barn (which has shit and piss and is cold and is a good, but dirty, business).

And instead of whitewashing the event into something about us, and our sentiments at Christmastime, how about talking about the real deal and asking good questions like “Why did God choose to come this way?” “What does it mean that there was no room available for God when he came? What does it mean that he was placed in a feeding trough after birth? (that’s what a “manger” is). What does it means that instead of lying quietly in a sweet designer/manger bed, the baby Jesus was screeching his head off like every other baby..EXACTLY like every other baby…laying inside a hard and putrid feeding trough and surrounded by the dank smell of animal dung?

This is what would be needed.

But no.

We have this clean and completely nonfunctional “manger”, and then a big production which is all about us and our artistic gifts, then a short message relating the beautifully decorated Christmas tree to how Christ needs to be in our homes. And on it goes.

It’s a show. We are the audience, God is an idea, and the performers are worried about how they will perform in the show, not about the glory of God or his incomprehensible love.

Kierkegaard said elsewhere, that our worshippers/audience are really supposed to be the performers, and that the audience is not us at all, it is God.

Wow!

Imagine if more modern American churches took that seriously! (And if you know of any, please email me info).

And we’re not talking performing to “appease” God. We’re talking performing for the sheer enjoyment of God and his glory and out of gratitude that this God has such love and such a passion to be known that he would do this radical thing (and we are not even talking about the exit yet, just the intro).

So, if the audience are really meant to be the performers, who then are the people on stage.

They are the “conductors,” says Kierkegaard, as is the preacher.

God is the audience on such a day, not us. (and heck, let’s just keep doing it all year long. It’s a Theocentric universe, so why not keep acting accordingly?)

How are we supposed to feel when the greatest event in human history, and one which is deeply personal for each of us mortals, is so utterly lost and covered up with layers of denial that the very crash of God breaking into human history is made into something like the sound of a digital watch alarm going off under a pile of thick blankets?

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Well, it’s about 9:30 PST on Christmas, year 2000. Philosophically, an interesting historical night, right?

But I’ve been tending four kids all day long, alone, because my wife is racked with a severe flu and is bedridden.

And in the meantime, our toilets all clogged up (it started Christmas eve) and so the bathrooms are plunged hourly.

This, in very obvious ways, hourly bilges up all kinds of flu-invested shit, vomit and piss. This Christmas, our normal “Country Home” existence stinks just a little like a barn.

It’s a perfect Gospel night. Just like 2,000 years ago, give or take, when God…