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

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
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
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
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
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
And what they say
Begins to make sense
Because you desperately
Want something
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.
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.



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


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.


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?”


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.


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 ( 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.

ScreenHunter_17 Jul. 06 10.36

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.


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.










Jesus, Sex, Chocolate & the Dust People


What can the world profit thee without Jesus? To be without Jesus is the nethermost hell, and to be with Jesus is sweet paradise. If Jesus were with thee no enemy could hurt thee. He who findeth Jesus findeth a good treasure, yea, good above all good; and he who loseth Jesus loseth exceeding much, yea, more than the whole world. Most poor is he who liveth without Jesus, and most rich is he who is much with Jesus.

~Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter VIII.

As is often the case in the world, things are not really as they seem. Having adopted an anthropocentric world-view (that is one in which we temporal “dust-people” are the center attraction and our little fictions pretended long-term dynasties) instead of the Kingdom of God – which is eternal and in which Christ is the true and Living Center (being the only One to actually have been permanently raised from the dead in glory) we have little or no ability to see things with their proper gravitas.  

So it goes with Jesus – who the Church itself has muddied our vision of by selling him like a commemorative stamp, or presenting Him as a fine example (although if He ever showed up in their church on Sunday He would be politely escorted out the side door with the other Homeless folk and given a few bucks.)

Further confusion is this idea of “making a decision for Christ” for we all know that we sit in such a seat – able to judge whether He is worthy of saving us and bringing us everlasting joy out of our absolute lostness and misery.

But there is some truth to this, for at the end of ourselves – and when He comes to rescue us from US, we still have to decide to get into the boat and get off the sinking ship. As obvious as the answer may have been, He still asked the paralyzed man, “Do you wish to be well?”

For  some people really don’t want to get better; don’t want rescue. Some people want their Hell. God doesn’t seem into violating our freewill – or not often (He does on occasion – like Saul had little choice in becoming Paul or not).

We really hate change – espcially not on our terms. We are prideful – and for no damned good reason. 

 The world calls people who love Jesus “Jesus Freaks” sometimes – and often these folk oblige (though no one has ever called me that – quite the reverse. I have been accused by people of people “too smart for my own good” – “too rational” etc… Hey, tough scabula) with odd antics.

I think that is just California to be quite honest.

I think West Coast Christians are way too afraid to say they love Jesus the Messiah – and why. I can assure you – one  and all – the possible opposing questions and arguments you may (possibly never) get are pretty simple, often earnest, and not really threatening at all.  

Most people’s complaints simply have to do with religious people who have done bad things in the name of Jesus – and we can simply agree with them. 

I do. 10 out of 10 times.


But this sidesteps A Kempis’ words which are so deeply true. This world is a sinking ship..and Jesus, in His love has come (His name literally means “Yahweh to the Rescue”) to bring true rescue. He has come with ships to save all who will come to a True Country.

Most of His parables are about the True Country – and how to desire it.  You can read them yourselves (Matthew 13 has a great collection). 


All that Thomas A Kempis says through the book is pretty much my exact experience near 700 years later.


But it is not just rescue from; it is rescue to. And the taste of that is our fellowship with Jesus now via His Holy Spirit.

There is, of course, no way to describe this to anyone who has not yet experienced it. C.S. Lewis likens it to trying to explain sex to a boy whose highest enjoyment to that point is chocolate. He would want to know, of course, where and when the chocolate was involved because it is the highest thing he knows.

Now granted, chocolate may indeed be involved (I don’t think Lewis brings this up, but I am) but it is really not the main point now is it? But you really can only give parabolic explanations until that person experiences sexual union – and then hopefully in the fullest expression – with someone dearly known and loved in a trusted covenant where there is true freedom – and not some guilt-laden and awkward situation with a strang2861xer with worries about STDs or some form of payment.

 So I can only tell people of my regular experiences with Jesus – the Living One – and that what Thomas A Kempis wrote so clearly and eloquently about in the early 15th Century (and this book is second only to the Bible in its popularity as a spiritual classic and the number of languages it has been translated into) is spot on. Now having experiences life with and in Christ, to be without Him would be Hell for me.

I have had my heart broken by not a few women – and recovered. I would never recover from His withdrawal. And that is because He is my “First Love.”   

All that Thomas A Kempis says through the book is pretty much my exact experience near 700 years later. In fact, if we had a good translator, I have no doubt the two of us would have a fine conversation if we met here and now in some remote (non-modern) locale to discuss his book, or say some passages of scripture. 

A Kempis was a lover of God and humanity. He was humble and kind – but bold too.

If Jesus is just an idea – then, well that is helpful – but not a real big deal – not really. It is the fact He is risen (and not just on Easter) and with us alive now.

We dust-people think we are eternal, but we are so fragile and if not for Him would just die and disintegrate into the soil – forgotten. But because He lives, life has meaning and we shall “get up” incorruptible. Rescue has come and we have already started life with Him. I live it today with Him. I’m not a dust-person anymore. ..and neither are you.



Let’s Set Nietzsche Straight….









Or us..really. He was a fine thinker and despite the fact he get’s trotted out as some “Enemy” of Christianity that is not really true. No. He once accurately described the “cross of Christ” as the “trabsvaluation of all ideals.

Bingo. I mean he meant it a slam I say… what’s next?

Brother Johnny wrote today about Hipsters still clanging the “God is Dead” thing around. Well God is as dead as you kill Him.

But He gets up.

And that is the end of the famous quote “..and we have killed Him.”

I mean we have – which is why so much hate, havoc and usury is rampant instead of faith hope and love.

When Nietzsche died – they found him in a cold cabin alone. He had bits of paper sewed into his coat. They said “the crucified one”” over and over.

An intellect just a notch or two below the staggering Kierkegaard – still impressive. But in the end thinking it was like math.

My Ex used to glibbly refer to Nietszche – like that could top a train  – or Jung. Children – brats really (smart ones – but still).

The real Exploer doesn’t ask for Truth on HIS terms and under HIS control. That is nonsense

And he ends up dead in the snow half-mad.

Humbled. favorite saint and martyr. And Feleti her servant and faithful friend.

Perpetua…my favorite saint and martyr. And Feleti her servant and faithful friend.


















I kinda promised friends I’d write on a real subject. Here it is: Paul in Philippians says he has goals.

Now there are HIS goals…not some dipstick in Arkansas with his “17 Goals for Your Life.” Nope. Paul’s in ina friicken dungeon and these are his goals.

His goals rule.

Forget Mr. Dipstick.

Laura and I read simply “ But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss [c]in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and [f]the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 iin  order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

I askd her after anyone too this serious?





Jeremiah Vs. Religion


Jeremiah, as depicted by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Jeremiah 7: The Prophet Against Religion

By Christopher C. MacDonald OT 8174 Fall 2015


If it is at first difficult to find a footing in which to approach Jeremiah’s sermon in chapter seven (due to the questions of sources and whether it is of pre- or post-exhilic construction) one may instead opt to anchor a view from chapter 26, or the simple aftermath of what was – quite arguably the sermon in question (given the unusual juxtaposition in the sermon between Shiloh’s destruction in the North and present Temple in the South which Brueggemann points put) [1] which was not well received by the people. In fact, they simply mobbed the prophet and wanted to kill him (Jer. 26:7 NLT).

Perhaps our understanding of the opening pericope (verse 1-15) should start there – for it takes it out of the realm of either a forced and conjectured nuanced political science that shrewdly foresaw future political events or as something back-dating prior events as some form of lessons for someone in the name of some dead prophet – as was somehow (this always mystifies me)  easily inserted as an authoritative story later amidst the oral traditions.

I think a far more interesting question – from the text –  is why God protects Jeremiah but allows the  other prophetic voice – Uriah son of Shemiah – to be brought back from the country he has fled to and (Jer. 26:23) to be run through with the sword and be buried in an unmarked grave? One of the characteristics of unredacted texts is that they are not neatly tied up – precisely because there is a very good possibility they are not “spin” at all.

Brueggeman sees the focus of the sermon as an explication of an “if-then” argument based in the Mosaic tradition and “distances it from the unconditional promises claimed for by David (2 Sam. 7:14-16).”[2]

It is in this that Jeremiah will shatter the “Zionist” security which embodies the current mindset both in their religion and in their sense of stately security.

Holladay takes a rather anthropocentric view saying “if the people do right, then Yahweh will be able to continue to dwell with them. This syntax of course suggests that Yahweh’s sovereignty is in this instance dependent on the conduct of the people and this perception of a dangerous limitation on his independence must have stimulated the vocalization of M.”[3]

Of course Holladay has it all wrong. It is a vain search for any corresponding data from the sermon itself which will say anything about God’s going anywhere.  That an M anywhere is spurred to vocalization moves beyond speculation into mere fantasy. What it does in fact say is that the people who were brought to the land will no longer dwell there, not Yahweh (v.3) It is their freedom which is in question, not God’s (v.6-7).

If anything it is in mentioning the doom of Shiloh, which as Brueggemann points out would have been utterly contrary to all expected metaphors – and a shock – that the prophet would have enraged his audience.  As Brueggeman says:

The position taken here by the prophet could only be treated as treason by the state, because it destroyed the ideological underpinning of the establishment (cf. 26:11). That dominant theology claimed that Jerusalem was inviolate because God had made unconditional promises. This royal tradition, albeit now distorted, is rooted in the temple and royal claims of David and Solomon.”[4]

Elsewhere Brueggemann has argued well that the temple had already been joined with political power and wealth under Solomon. That it was already a place of control opposed to Yahweh.

Brueggemann argues in chapter two of The Prophetic Imagination that “Solomon was able to counter completely the counterculture of Moses” in a three-fold manner by countering:

  • the economics of equality with the economics of affluence;
  • the politics of justice with the politics of oppression; and
  • the religion of God’s freedom with the religion of God’s accessibility. [5]

It is this last point especially (where “accessibility” is directly tied to the temple”) that God’s  freedom to act is in view.

That was the 10th Century, this is the 7th – things are only even more reified. Jeremiah brings out the metaphorical jackhammer for as Brueggemann argues in his commentary on Jeremiah:

It was part of the rationale and self-understanding of the southern royal community that northern Shiloh and southern Jerusalem are precise opposites.* Whereas Shiloh is rejected Yahweh and therefore destroyed, Jerusalem is chosen and valued by God, and therefore safe. The contrast between Shiloh and Jerusalem shows the power of self-serving, vested interest in shaping the truth claims of the royal ideology. The managers of the Jerusalem establishment could not believe that Jerusalem might be treated by God as Shiloh was. [6]


Brueggemann knows well the fully articulated views of sociologist Peter L. Berger (as cited in the beginning of The Prophetic Imagination) whose catalog of books starting with The Social Reconstruction of Reality (with Thomas Luckmann, Doubleday, 1966), through books like The Sacred Canopy, his The Noise of Solemn Assemblies and my own favorite, The Precarious Vision (Doubleday, NY, 1961) present a stunning explication of the religious enterprise in Ancient, Modern and Postmodern contexts.

It seems obvious to me that Brueggemann has missed the last book (which is easy to do as Berger has 12 others on the same theme) for he believes Berger presents only a “formal” sociologist’s view and not the “the substance of the prophetic ministry.”[7] Berger’s whole last two sections of The Precarious Vision, entitled “Zion”and “Exodus” are an amazing unpacking of a deeply Christian prophetic calling both “in the world but not of it.” His last chapter entitled  You are the Man  uses the exchange between Nathan and David after his failure with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite as a typological example. It depicts David attempting to hide behind his Kingship but Nathan stripped him of this self-deception with the story and declaring “You are the man!”[8]

Not the king, the man.

Like Nathan, Isaiah and every other prophet one can think of, Yahweh’s freedom to break through the collective walls of human self-deception – most powerfully embodied in the religious enterprise when joined with the state and most perfectly housed for Israel in the temple in a Zion theology of security comes through His prophets alone.

It is not a coincidence that the message of the prophets is so often tied to those outside the protection encasing of the established powers: the orphan, the widow and the foreigner (Jer. 7:6).

It is a curious thing.[9]

But it is consistent throughout the prophets. As Richard D. Patterson says:

 Throughout the Old Testament, then, the cause of the widow, the orphan, and the poor is particularly enjoined upon Israel as befitting a redeemed people who are entrusted with the character and standards of their Redeemer. Even in the last book the theme is utilized in pointing to the coming ministry of the forerunner of Messiah and of Messiah Himself and of the righteousness that would then be inaugurated (Mal. 3:1-6).[10]

Dealing with things straight up Jeremiah lives in Judah while it play vassal to either Egypt or Babylon under Jehoaikin. His concerns have little or nothing to do with anything other than Israel’s fidelity to Yahweh and its moral actions. Israel’s freedom or bondage is dependent on God’s will not that of the King (who is never mentioned.) In fact, other prophets would occasionally name who was going to be the instrument of punishment. In this case, it almost (not quite, because he will throw them out) seems a case of Divine apathy in return for their pretentious use of the temple as a “hiding place” for their own sin (Jer. 7:9-11).

Lessons from Jeremiah’s Sermon

Certainly one of the safest places to hide from God is in the Church or within the religious enterprise. In our culture one does not have to look far to see the Solomonic mix that Brueggemann pointed to from the 10th Century which combined affluence, political oppression and organized religion as a means of control. At first reading I felt I was reading an analysis of the Bush years (with no small reverb though the Obama years as well) – not the Sitz im Leben of the prophets in general or Jeremiah specifically. Military power, joined with monied interest and a quasi religious justification that ever-so subtlely subordinates the true demands of the Gospel to the pragmatic advancement of the State – world-wide.

But on a smaller scale  it goes like this: “I give my tithe, serve on the deacon board and attend my church regularly.” I may also in fact support Internet sites that pay for human trafficking as I am addicted to porn. I live a double life. But I am forgiven and feel my good outweighs the bad because I envision God as having a “scales” system. My Presbyterian church has encouraged me to “re-imagine God” and this is how I do it.

“I am safe in my church as no one really knows me, the sermons are on bettering my life in quick pragmatic ways that encourage my  best sides and never challenge true holiness or discipleship. I could never be honest about my life.”

I am no moralist. I only know this man is sick in heart and needs help that is not coming.

The prophetic voice does not now bring condemnation or the threat of outcast (though the man had best be careful who he shares this information with). The prophets were always for the freedom of their people and about matters of the heart.

It was for this reason that Jeremiah reiterates what God had revealed on the trek  into the Promised Land – that He did not want burnt offerings and sacrifices (Jer. 7:21-24) – but obedience from the heart. He says, in fact, that they are utterly “backwards.” (v.24).

I’ll end with the words of T.S. Eliot, born under modernity who speaks directly into our current postmodern situation:

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?[11]

Are the closing of many of the mainline churches a form of apathetic judgment by God for like some of the mirrored excesses or myopia of the templed state of Israel under kings like Solomon, Jehoikim and so many others?

When we replace heartfelt faithfulness to God with the benefits of membership in a religious institution that promises safety despite moral action – especially in regards to the disenfranchised and the call to do justice – is not possible we are inviting our own decline?

Secondly, if that same agenda (to represent the widow, the orphan and stranger) crops up through prophets from all ages and then again in Jesus as God’s fullest expression (Hebrews 1) it not a difficult inferential jump to adopt such a stance either personally or within any faith community concerned with biblically responding to the heart of God as it has been consistently been unfolded.



Berger, Peter L. The Precarious Vision: A Sociologist Looks at Social Fictions and the Christian Faith (Doubleday, NY, 1961)

Brueggemann, Walter A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Eerdmans, 1998)

Brueggemann, Walter The Prophet Imagination (Fortress Press, Philadelphia 2001) Ellicott, John. Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible as referenced online October 24, 2015.

Eliot, T.S. Choruses From the Rock as cited at  Cited on December 27, 2015.

Holladay, William. Jeremiah Chapter 1-25 Hermenia (Fortress Press, 1986)

Patterson, Richard D. The Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-Biblical Literature (Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary. Used with permission -July 1973) p. 23-34. As cited on December 27, 2015.


Additional resources

Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Anchor, 1990).

Berger, Peter L. The Noise of Solemn Assemblies: Christian Commitment and the Religious Establishment in America  (Doubleday, 1961).









[1] Brueggemann, Walter A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Eerdmans, 1998) p.74-75


[2] Brueggemann, Ibid., p.75

[3] Holladay, William. Jeremiah Chapter 1-25 Hermenia (Fortress Press, 1986) p.241.

[4] Brueggemann, Ibid., p. 74

[5] Brueggemann, Walter The Prophet Imagination (Fortress Press, Philadelphia 2001) p. 98

[6] Brueggemann, Commentary on Jeremiah, p. 77.* Brueggemann footnotes what he calls a “self-serving ideology” as articulated in Psalm 78:78:56-72, then points to Anthony P.Campbell’s “Psalm 78: A Contribution to the Theology of the Tenth Century Israel,”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41 (1979) 51-79; and Richard J. Clifford, “In Zion and David a New Beginning: An Interpretation of Psalm 78,” in Traditions in Transformation, Baruch Halpern and Jon D. Levenson (Winona Lake, INd.: Eisenbrauns, 1981) 121-141.

[7] Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination, p. 130.

[8] Berger, Peter The Precarious Vision: A Sociologist Looks at Social Fictions and the Christian Faith (Doubleday, NY, 1961) p. 227.

[9] And will be addressed in a second paper to submitted for possible extra credit given certain lapses and delays this semester. There is not space nor is it appropriate here.

[10] Patterson, Richard D. The Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in the Old Testament and the Extra-Biblical Literature (Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary. Used with permission -July 1973) p. 23-34. As cited on December 27, 2015.

[11] Eliot, T.S., Choruses From the Rock as cited at  on December 27, 2015.

Clement of Alexandria: The Third Alternative

Clement of Alexandria (150 - 215 AD)

Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215 AD)

Clement of Alexandria: The Third Alternative

By Christopher C. MacDonald  

Whether unearthing the mystery cults from the roots up by artful and learned argument or providing intellectual argument beyond anything one can call a mere “debunking,” Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)[1] is noted as one of the first true “intellectuals” to take on not only large philosophical questions, but also to work out a biblical philosophy that could be re-presented and used for future generations. As Shelley states:

“After him, Greek thinking united with Christian thought. In the great saints and theologians of later Eastern Christianity this bond was secured. Without it the staggering theological achievements of the first church councils would have been impossible.” [2]

To understand this quote in context one needs to perhaps reference an earlier one:

“Clement’s purpose was clear. He seized not only the external garb and forms of expression of the contemporary pagan philosophers but also their problems. If, for example, he discussed the universe and its meaning (cosmology), so loved by the gnostics, he did not do it with the intention of proving these ideas wrong offhandedly and then discarding them quickly, but instead he pointed out how the fundamental religious questions about the creation of the world, the existence of evil in this life, and the salvation through the Word, Jesus Christ, found their last and deepest answer in Christian revelation.”[3]


It is on this approach to the world of ideas, and with Gnosticism (as the most obvious test case of Clement’s day) as the backdrop that I would like to examine some of his Stromata (“miscellaneous”) – the third collection in his supposed trilogy of works – an unfinished collection of theology that has come down to us as seven books.[4]

Clement demonstrates a boldness few today would possess in his use of overt tactics. He will at once identify an oppositional category (like “Gnostic”) in a positive light then re-define it openly in what he will then refer to as a “true way.” Well versed in the philosophy itself (no novice) as he is in the poetry, philosophy and literature of the time (staggeringly so), Clement simply hijacks the philosophical question at hand.

Thus when it comes to the question of motive for moral behavior, Clement argues that the “True Gnostic” does good not out of fear, but in response to the love of God:

But he who obeys the mere call, as he is called, neither for fear, nor for enjoyments, is on his way to knowledge (γνῶσις). For he does not consider whether any extrinsic lucrative gain or enjoyment follows to him; but drawn by the love of Him who is the true object of love, and led to what is requisite, practices piety. So that not even were we to suppose him to receive from God leave to do things forbidden with impunity; not even if he were to get the promise that he would receive as a reward the good things of the blessed; but besides, not even if he could persuade himself that God would be hoodwinked with reference to what he does (which is impossible), would he ever wish to do aught contrary to right reason, having once made choice of what is truly good and worthy of choice on its own account, and therefore to be loved.[5]


In one fell swoop he both debunks the Gnostic view and far out distances it with something far greater for moral behavior itself is of no real consequence to the Gnostics. He points ot he good than supersedes it with the superior motive.

All of this he does in the open – in direct contradistinction of the secretive Gnostic teachings.

This is Clement’s pattern: fearless and intelligent confrontation, followed by commandeering the discussion/topic and the expansion of it.

It is a practice we can learn from today as opposed to what Shelley earlier referred to as merely disproving the offending ideas and “discarding them quickly.” That is to miss the huge opportunity to teach and go deeper – one which Clement was not willing to miss.

I cannot imagine facing Clement in any type of debate – he would swarm you with detailed arguments – but worse – pull your own argument up by its roots.  One author estimates that his works “contain over 700 quotations from some 300 pagan authors, an achievement which well justifies Cayré´s remark that his prodigious erudition was unsurpassed even by that of Origen.”[6]


That would be the postmodern equivalent of some real mastery of the top novelists, poets and cultural/musical icons responsible for shaping the current major symbolic/meaning structures that lead and inform our culture and the major subcultures.

I would assert that Clement would be well familiar with the world and science of the “New Physics” and rather than being dismissive or seeing it as antithetical, would be looking for ways in which the Logos was being revealed in such studies.

Christians have the tendency to run from new discoveries when they should do just the opposite. What Clement demonstrated in 2nd Century Alexandria – among the intelligentsia there – was not only the ability to hold his own – but actually advance given the advantage of divine revelation via the Word.

To be sure, Clement has what all good theologians have – the sure knowledge that Reality is not based just in a clever argument or any such sophistry. Or as C.S. Lewis so eloquently says of Christian apologetics – that we must be saved this “by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the reality–from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself.” [7]

Against the World, For the World

But embodying the age-old tension within the Church between being called to be “in the world but not of it,” (a complicated relationship that Jesus spent no small amount of time praying about in detail in what is now referring often to as His “High Priestly Prayer as recorded in John 17) – Clement engaged  the world; disregarded and dispatched anything useless but embraced anything worthwhile. Reminiscent of a modern teacher, Prof. Arthur Holmes same titled book, I think Clement would say that “All Truth is God’s Truth wherever it may be found.”[8]   Thus Clement affirmed the Greek philosophers where he could – just as I think we should do anyone who does good and solid work – not with some attitude of superiority as if we were the adults and they children – but rather as legitimate co-explorers who – at this time do not share faith as a spiritual “optic.” We should often expect to take a back seat.

Gregory saw faith as a gift and the start of all true in-depth inquiry:

Now faith is the ear of the soul. And such the Lord intimates faith to be, when He says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear;”(Matt. 11:15) so that by believing he may comprehend what He says, as He says it. Homer, too, the oldest of the poets, using the word “hear” instead of “perceive”—the specific for the generic term—writes:— “Him most they heard.”(Odyss., vi. 185.) [9]


One gets the real sense that Clement’s ear is attuned to this as he reads the pagan poets and philosophers that he so readily quotes – even on the subject of faith.  As such he needs to be revived as a stunning example for postmoderns for he both fearlessly wades into the culture at-large looking for Truth wherever it may be found – yet will not mute the Word or be caught in the despairing mire of relativism which ends – when pushed – in impotence.

Shelley writes of Clement’s situation: “The Christian convert often faced a choice between clever eloquently defended heresy or a dull, narrow-minded orthodoxy.”[10]

Is this not often our situation today? Where in the Church is the open academy for new belieers which gives instruction on how to understand orthodoxy while engaging the culture at large?

To this Shelley says “Clement was determined to offer a third alternative.”[11]

While a reading of Clement ‘s three collections shows a man caught in his time – and a man reacting and perhaps more effected by the Sophists than he would have been able to admit or see (for there is an asceticism in him even alongside his attack upon it), it should be remembered that he is, in fact, perhaps the first truly intellectual theologian of the Christian faith. It was with an uncanny boldness and faith that Clement took on top philosophical ideas and issues and sought to understand them, then push them to the farthest extreme in relationship to God in the world via the Word.

Thus he says:

Now, inasmuch as there are four things in which the truth resides—Sensation, Understanding, Knowledge, Opinion,—intellectual apprehension is first in the order of nature; but in our case, and in relation to ourselves, Sensation is first, and of Sensation and Understanding the essence of Knowledge is formed; and evidence is common to Understanding and Sensation. Well, Sensation is the ladder to Knowledge; while Faith, advancing over the pathway of the objects of sense, leaves Opinion behind, and speeds to things free of deception, and reposes in the truth. [12]


Clement saw Faith as providing the ability to advance “over the pathway of the objects of sense” and leaving “Opinion” behind thus speeding “to things free of deception.”

He did this while openly considering the works of those outside the “faith.”

Of course this is not all he says, or even a good summary. A review of his collection The Instructor (Paedagogus) or Tutor  shows with greater exactitude his fuller mind. But we can surmise that Clement – was far from seeing every vantage point outside a rigid and safe Christian orthodoxy as being antithetical to the Truth. He did this despite seeing the pervasive dangers of the popular Gnosticism of Basilides which was supported by Valentinus in his day.

We still face Gnosticism in a variety of forms from the ridiculous (Scienology) to the more sublime (The Secret) . In all cases – as with other issues requiring cultural engagement it does not have to be a question of capitulation and syncretism on the one hand – or utter withdrawal in fear of being besmirched. A robust reengagement with the dominant cultural forms, thinkers, poets and artists with a wise eye of discernment via living faith and the Word as revelatory epistemologies can grant not only safe passage – but real advances in exploration.

Clement made such advances in theology. Others throughout the ages have made similar advances in art, music, literature and philosophy. They did so by seeing a third alternative and by not being motivated by fear.




[1] As referenced in the Wlikipedia article Clement of Alexandra, as cited on December 21, 2015.

[2] Shelley, Bruce.  Church History in Plain Language, (Thomas Nelson, Nashville 1995) p.82.

[3] Ibid., p. 81.

[4] Wikipedia, Ibid.

[5] Clement of Alexandra, The Ante Nicene Fathers Vol. 2, (Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, Il), Philip Schaff, editor p. 919

[6] Wood, Simon P. (Translator and author of the introduction). Christ the Educator: The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Patristic Series. The New Catholic University Press, Washington, D.C. 1954),  Vol. 23. P. X



[7] Lewis, C.S. Christian Apologetics, as quoted at length on Dec. 22, 2015.

[8] Holmes, Arthur, All Truth is God’s Truth. (Eerdmans Pub Co July 1977.)

[9] Clement, Ibid., p. 747.

[10] Shelley, Ibid., p.81.

[11] Ibid,, p. 82.

[12] Gregory, Ibid,, p. 747.