If you haven't yet, consider watching some or all of these interviews with mission developers of the ELCA. Their stories and insights will inspire you.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
This week it was my great joy to bop around Minneapolis, MN, Monday evening with the great Lutheran rocker, Jonathan Rundman. Jonathan is a good friend, and I am inspired by his innovation and creativity. I've enjoyed his music for over a decade; I've been using his Heartland Liturgy as a setting for contemporary worship for about six years now. You can find it on his Protestant Rock Ethic album.
We stopped in at Cheapo Discs before a late supper, in order to see if they had put up a display for his new side projects' latest album, Arto Järvelä & Kaivama. They had. His side project is now in fact his main project in some ways. Finnish folk seems to be the rage in some places, so he is touring frequently with the release of this new album.
Jonathan, like many indie rock musicians, is trying to figure out what it looks like to make a living as a musician in the era of mp3s and Spotify. He recently released a new song I really like, Flying On a Plane, which you can download as a digital single.
On the way back to the airport, I had the honor of a ride and conversation with the amazing David Scherer, otherwise known as Agapé. David is pretty much the only Lutheran rapper out there. He's incredible. He sang his song Rise Up for us while at the LWR President's Advisory Council I was attending, and again, we spent a lot of the drive talking about what it looks like to promote the creative work of each other in our circles and beyond.
Finally, when I arrived back in Arkansas, in my stack of mail was the new album from Tay Wilson. Tay crowd-funded his most recent album, Stay the Course, via Kickstarter. This is one way creative Lutherans are finding a way to make and distribute new music. One thing I love about Tay's new album is I find it even more authentically "him" and "Lutheran" than his first album, Brand New People. The first album also has a lot of great Christian rock and worship music on it, don't get me wrong. But this new one seems simply more, well, Tay-ish.
There are a lot of other projects out there to support, like Humble Walk's Artist Compilation Kickstarter project. But by this point I think you get the idea. So post away. Tell the story of #lutherancreatives. Post their stuff in your networks, tag the posts, and let's get the word out. Then sit back and enjoy the show.
at 9:30:00 PM
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Given the scope and goal of David Fredrickson's wonderful new study on Philippians, Eros and the Christ (Paul in Critical Contexts)
some scholars might consider him "revisionist." So be it: if he is revisionist, he is so in the best sense of that term--he is re-visioning a text, and undermining the basic assumptions many readers bring to it. All in the service to the text and faith in Christ itself. The book is bold and brilliant in equal measure.
I have rarely (if ever) read a study in New Testament theology that so carefully situates a reading of the text within the wider sweep of Greek epistles/letters. It seems Fredrickson has read almost everything in ancient Greek literature that might compare to the language of longing and envy present in Philippians--language he believes invites us to re-consider Pauline Christology in a radically new mode.
What is the basic thrust of his book? Essentially, Fredrickson believes that the "I long for you" motif present as book ends in Philippians 1:8 and 4:1--a motif also prevalent in much epistolary literature at the time of Paul, before and after--is not only an indication of Paul's theological sensibilities and emotions in writing the letter, but is itself also indication of who Christ is as Lord, and therefore who God is.
Letter. Paul's theology. Christology. God. All of these are nested and inter-related.
Fredrickson therefore walks the reader slowly, very slowly, through a series of arguments that build his case.
The argument can be summarized like this:
1) Paul's letters as letters both express longing, and are themselves examples of the longing that happens through presence in absence (because the letters represent Paul's absence even while he is present in and through them).
2) Paul is actually pining away like an anxious lover for the Philippians. He longs for communion with them, and this is the dominant motif of his letter, rather than expressing a dogmatic or homiletical point.
3) The language of eros present in these kinds of texts gives evidence that the pothos present in these relationships creates an extraordinary form of human relationship: when two are in love but separated each is both host and visitant of the beloved other.
4) All of this modifies the traditional interpretation of kenosis. Instead of understanding kenosis as "self-emptying," limiting the power of the self, rather kenosis is a "melting" (see the Philippians hymn in chapter two) Christ's longing for union with mortals and his desire to share with them all that he is and has and all that they are and have, just as lovers longs to do.
5) In this sense, then, the best understanding of the Christ hymn is in the context of erotic abduction.
6) If this is the case, the "longing for communion" present in Philippians takes on new sense, both the longing and the communion. Intriguingly, Paul celebrates five leaders (who he considers to be apostolic leaders) even though they are of low status in Greek culture. Paul himself was a prisoner. Euodia and Syntyche are women. Timothy was young and Epaphroditus is a homesick slave. Because they are embraced by, and themselves participate in, the desire for communion with an absent beloved, they have status as apostolic leaders by virtue of their claim to participation in the Lord's (Christ's) body.
7) "A longed-for koinonia with Christ authorizes Paul's own ministry and undergirds his recommendation of Euodia and Syntyche, whose legitimation for leadership roles rested on their future sharing with Christ as a bride shares all thinsg with the groom" (130). "Paul uses nuptial imagery in 3:7-14 to delegitimize masculine hegemony and relocate confidence for ministry away from the possession of a male body to the sharing of Jesus' body. Presenting himself as a manbride of Christ, Paul both fractures the masculine structure of political legitimation and lifts up koinonia as the basis and goal of leaders in the church" (140) For Paul, Christ is the prize, the much-longed-for bride waiting at the end of the lover's struggle.
Intersubjectivity, the idea that selves (redeemed or otherwise) are on their way to becoming something (though we do not know what) through equal, mutual, and desiring relationships with other selves... and so they suffer the absence of each other. This despised frailty of longing, though apparently despised in one age, may light a fire in the theological imagination of other ages (including ours).
In his conclusion, Fredrickson states that he believes the poetry he examines (as well as some of the medieval theology) confirms a figure he had glimpsed in Paul's letters--an erotic Paul--and so he is emboldened to write about it having seen it confirmed in these authors. "They teach us there is no escape from the vulnerability to loss and to grief written inside of love. That is to say, there is no dichotomy that can insulate love from longing." For coming to know that awe-filling truth I am grateful. To project it into God is why I wrote this book" (151).
"The picture of Paul as mourning lover contrasts sharply with the one drawn by many of today's interpreters, who regard him either as a dogmatist, a rhetor, a disciplinarian, or perhaps a combination of all three."
"Paul's desire for communion with Christ opened a social space in which slaves, women, those imprisoned and those deprived of voice could reognizes themselves and be recognized as fully legitimate leaders."
at 10:46:00 PM
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Almost all of my theological training has led me to assume that eschatology (the doctrine of the 'last things') is about a future moment, a time, some time in the future, when Christ comes and consummates all things.
Although this future moment has an implicit spatial component (Christ is coming here, among us, establishing God's kingdom in our midst) the emphasis has consistently been on the chronological rather than the topological.
Think about it: when you see a placard carrying prophet screaming--THE END IS NEAR--do you think they are proclaiming the end as soon (temporally) or close (physically)?
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, there has been a minor and quieter discourse in things eschatological that focuses on the doctrine of the last things from the dimension of space rather than time.
I can thank Vitor Westhelle for finally clarifying this concept for me in ways I will never forget.
Westhelle's new book, Eschatology and Space: The Lost Dimension in Theology Past and Present, is wonderful for this reason alone--after reading it, you will think of eschatology more from a spatial perspective than ever before.
Westhelle is a fascinating modern Lutheran theologian for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that he himself teaches and lives in multiple geographical locations. He is from the global South (Argentina) teaches in the new West (Chicago) and the old West (Denmark), and is fully conversant in the theological traditions of all three locales.
In this sense, although this book is thoroughly theological, it is also, on another level, completely autobiographical.
The basic thesis of the book is that liminal space, choratic spaces between spaces, are places of judgment. So rather than the last judgment being a moment in time for which we are waiting, the last judgment is a boundary space, passage, through which we travel. Westhelle calls this "trial by space."
In the course of the work, Westhelle thoroughly engages the Western theological and philosophical tradition and shows why the temporal dimensions of eschatology take prominence in that academic context. He then uses metaphors of maps and spaces and boundaries (even clothes) to illustrate how to think of eschatology in more overtly spatial ways.
Westhelle's theology thus has a basic liberationist feel to it, precisely because when eschatology is considered in spatial terms, it lifts up and gives a preferential option to the marginalized, those who daily live in and through the eschata of choratic spaces and liminal places.
Westhelle reclaims almost every single term in eschatological discourse for spatial reasoning. So parousia, so often considered also in terms of time, is for Westhelle about space and presence precisely because the direct translation of the term is "essence by." Similarly "eschata," though so often used to speak of a future time, is actually first of all about a spatial location or a geographical boundary. It can also indicate an order or rank, but even this definition is not primarily temporal.
A few quotes to tease potential readers into considering the book:
"This migration to the south and the departure of the 'heliotrope' as the commanding figure for the eschatological discourse was headed and led by what could be called a 'paradigm shift in theology' led by liberation theology, as the global movement of thinking theology outside the North-Atlantic canonic parameters."
"Eschatology is a discourse on liminality, marginality, on that which is in ontological, ethical, and also epistemological sense different."
"The kingdom of God is so close and nearby that we might have overstepped it in our amusement in the playgrounds of promise."
"The eschaton is a space between spaces, belonging to neither, yet adjacent to both, which is best expressed by the Greek word chōra, which etymologically means 'to lie open, be ready to receive,' a space between places or limits."
"The 'spatial turn' allows us to focus attention not only on the longitudinal view of historical development, but also on little stories and the space they occupy in everyday life."
"Eschatology is, therefore, not primarily about cosmic catastrophes or abstract speculations about time and eternity; it names the experience of a crossing in which the messianic is an occurrence in time that becomes kairotic, and in spaces, choratic. Such messianic experience in space and time entails a faint promise of a weak epiphany, not a cosmic Armageddon. However, such epiphanies are not given to the common gaze, but those who have been at the eschaton have a claim upon them. This claim taxes memory and keeps the flame of hope kindled."
"Eschatological experiences are vaguely analogous to the behavior of subatomic particles: in the moment it is located and detected, it is no longer there."
at 10:29:00 AM
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Jessicah Krey Duckworth has written the "practice of Christian ministry" book of the summer! I can't praise it enough. If you've been pondering what it means for the church to truly welcome newcomers and be transformed by the encounter while simultaneously offering space for discipleship for newcomers and current members.... then learn from her. I hope to have our entire catechumenate leadership team read the book this summer. It's that important.
A provocative thesis: "The church is rightly church when newcomers are present." "The church does not seek permanence with established membership as the solid foundation, but fluidity and movement of newcomers and established members together. Thus, the life of the church depends upon a newcomer's presence within the body of Christ. Newcomers may be an unsettling presence, but they are saving the church."
This book functions well on a number of levels.
1)For congregational leaders re-thinking how they welcome, educate, equip, and disciple newcomers, this book offers extensive food for thought.
2) For those looking for a brief and accessible introduction to the catechumenate, this is the book. Middle chapters describe the way the catechumenate is practiced in a variety of congregations around the country, focusing especially on ELCA congregations reinvigorating the practice.
3) For those seeking a theological rationale for ministry not simply to assimilate newcomers, but to actually walk in the way of discipleship with them, this book is without peer. She fleshes out what an "ecclesia crucis" can look like in actual practice.
"For those tired of approaches to church that function with a bounded set understanding, where there are outsiders and insiders, this book offers a centered set approach, where the focus is on mutual engagement with the questions newcomers have, and a shared journey together. She writes, "Lest we imagine there is no distinguishing factor between Christian and non-Christian practices, it is important to clarify what a boundary looks like in a postmodern understanding of culture. The 'distinctiveness of a Christian way of life is not so much formed by the boundary as 'at it.'" When established members recognize their Christian way of life is distinct from other cultural, religious, and congregational ways of life, newcomers' questions are inevitably expected and anticipated... newcomers and established members construct a distinctive Christian identity with one another through the task of looking for one." (29)
Whatever you do, go out and buy this book right away... buy the print version, because you're going to want to underline a lot of great sentences, and make notes for yourself on "cruciform catechesis."
Particularly of interest to readers of a more academic bent will be middle chapters on the phenomenology of liminality, disestablishmentarianism, and social learning theory. I found these sections nuanced and helpful in evaluating the subtle aspects of the catechumenate that make it a rich way to weave together traditional congregational patterns in fruitful and faithful ways.
"Newcomers and old comers recognize their discipleship on the way as shaped by their mutual commitment to the task of figuring it out. At the same time, the ecclesia cruces becomes the locus--the space--in which communities of practice arise by designing opportunities for learning through a cruciform catechesis. A catechesis that is shared mutually among all participants, in which everyone's (catechists, sponsors, catechumens, pastors) knowledge is partial and incomplete, and that values the competence of the other as equal to and sometimes even more important than the competence of those who are already is present is cruciform catechesis" (75).
Perhaps the most intriguing chapter is fourth, on designing disestablishment. Churches that welcome newcomers often run into tensions between new incoming members and the existing membership. Duckworth offers an incredibly rich description of how congregations can address this challenge, which she sees as an opportunity for actually forming communities around the cross. Her exploration of the phenomenon of ongoing peripheral participation is particularly fascinating.
If I have one quibble with the book, it is that the ethnographic research she conducted as part of writing the book could itself have been a bit more scientifically rigorous, and represented more transparently in the book itself... not just stories, but data. But perhaps that is for another book. The strength of this one is its brevity, and the power of its interwoven narratives and analysis.
I'm especially taken by her concluding summary of how ELCA congregations practicing the catechumenate respond to newcomers and inquirers of the faith.
- We have a way to welcome you.
- We have a way to encourage and explore your questions about Jesus and the Christian faith.
- We have a way to facilitate your participation and belonging in this church and your baptismal vocation in the world.
Duckworth's book is an invitation to learn this way and deepen comprehension of and commitment to it. Then, the first step in designing a newcomer-welcoming process is to welcome the questions of the very next newcomer who crosses the threshold of your congregation. Bring Duckworth's book along as your companion and field guide in that great adventure.
at 11:49:00 PM
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
I did not make up the title of this blog post. It's the name of a web site designed to frustrate, educate and motivate the church to communicate well.
Today I visited Sam's Club in Bentonville, Arkansas. I was treated to lunch by an incredibly kind employee of Sam's Club who also worships at our congregation often.
On the way out, I stood in the foyer of the Sam's Club Corporate Headquarters, and looked around. You can see the photos below and to the right.
People often chastise churches for hosting unattractive web sites. And it is true, a lot of church web sites are ugly.
However, seeing the entryway to Sam's Club reminded me that we could do much more to make our own church facilities, hallways, narthexes, and offices look more like an excellent church web site.
So, two ideas to encourage you in your summer planning.
1) Have you printed really big pictures of the ministries you care about and graced your church walls with them? If not, why not? It communicates who you are.
2) If you have a mission statement, values statement, and strategic plan, are they displayed prominently in your church facility? Are you making plans to get them up there? If not, why not? It will tell your visitors who you are, and remind your congregation weekly of its core values and vision.
at 2:40:00 PM
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Here are the touching points:
1) Everyone is redeemed through Jesus, including atheists.
2) Everyone can do good, even non-Catholics or non-Christians
3) Pursuing that which is good is a a place of encounter... do good and we will meet each other there.
Here are two key quotes from the homily:
“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”
"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can... "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!".. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
So let me come out in full agreement with the general line of his thinking. I'll illustrate why I agree with him in what follows. Then I'll also try to illustrate why so many people will persist in misunderstanding his and my theological approach.
Caricatures Hurt, Listening Heals
Here's the rub. The reason why the pope's sermon is big news has mostly to do with outsiders to Roman Catholicism failing to listen to the subtlety and distinctions of Roman Catholic thought, and instead doggedly persisting in caricatures of Roman Catholicism.
The first misunderstanding tends to be this one: "Now the pope is saying you can be saved by good works rather than saved by Christ. It's the Reformation problem all over again. Here we stand. We can do no other. Draw our line in the sand. By faith alone!"
Except that is patently not what the pope is saying. Justification/salvation/redemption is still accomplished "through" or "in" Christ, both for people of faith and for those who lack faith in Christ. The pope is not saying good works save. He is saying those who do good works, even those outside the Catholic faith, are saved through Christ. We would need to enlist Thomas Aquinas to flesh all of this out in detail, but essentially, the good we do is itself already participation in the good that is Christ, so in the Roman Catholic theological system there is simply not a conflict between salvation through good works and salvation through faith in Christ. It's all "in Christ."
Now, this presents its own kind of problem I will come to in a bit, but for the time-being, let's consider it. What the pope is arguing is in alignment with a concept popularized by the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, that of "anonymous Christians." This is to say, some people (atheists, for example) in doing good are living life in Christ even though they do not (yet) know this. In this sense they are still anonymous Christians. There remains the possibility that at some time they might become overt Christians, but it is not required.
Protestant theologians have often argued something similar. Karl Barth is the premier example. For Barth, there is a difference between our cognizance of being saved, and our salvation. You can be saved without knowing it. The truth of your salvation is, in this sense, not dependent on your awareness of it. For Protestants of a Barthian stripe, then, the proclamation of the gospel is still an imperative, because it is a great gift to bring people to awareness of the salvation already accomplished for them in Christ. But their salvation is not dependent on their finally coming to awareness of their salvation in Christ.
So, returning to the Pope's sermon, it is fairly clear he is operating with the "anonymous Christian" concept in his sermon. As I mentioned, this does present one problem. What if the atheist he said is being redeemed by Christ doesn't desire to be redeemed? What if the atheist responds, "No thank you, I don't want to be a part of your eschatology." The model the pope is espousing is in this sense at least mildly presumptive. It assumes that his vision of the ends of humanity is wider or more true than the atheist vision. We'd need another blog post to cover this territory, but I raise it here just to note that not all peoples of the world are going to be reassured by the pope's sermon that ALL are redeemed.
But what else is the pope (or any Christian, for that matter) to do? If we believe Christ is the salvation of the world, it's rather hard for us to not at least hope that salvation in Christ is extended not just to believers but the whole of humanity, even the whole of creation.
But returning to the Christian perspective, I offer two additional insights that I hope will help readers understand more fully why this matters so much to us as preachers of the gospel, why Lutherans and Protestants can faithfully embrace the pope's viewpoint, and why it does require some creative thinking.
Extra ecclesiam nulla salus
So there's this really old Latin phrase, "outside the church there is no salvation." The most recent Roman Catholic catechism interprets it to mean, "All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body."
So, you could, if you wanted to, interpret the phrase to mean that you are only saved if you are in the church. But again, this is a failure of imagination. What the phrase really says is that salvation comes through the church, which is the body of Christ. In other words, the church is an instrument of salvation, perhaps the preeminent one, essential to the economy through which God is redeeming the whole world in Christ. Nevertheless, the church is for the sake of the world, not a bounded set all the insiders of which are guaranteed salvation.
So many people seem to interpret it in this second sense, and in so doing lack grace, and imagination.
Faith in Christ, Faith of Christ
In this last part, please bear with me as we get a little technical with some Greek grammar. Protestants have tended to put a lot of emphasis on salvation through our faith in Christ. The emphasis here is on our belief. You have to believe.
However, in the New Testament, the phrase often translated as faith in Christ can be with equal integrity translated as the faith of Jesus Christ.
For those who want all the fancy terminology, here's the opening paragraphs of a great blog post on the topic...
The interpretation of Iesou Christou as an objective genitive (faith in Jesus Christ) in Galatians 2.16 and 3.22 (cf. Php 3.9) is the overwhelmingly pervasive reading of that construction. Fairly recently, however, scholarship has had to come to terms with the work of many scholars such as Richard B. Hays, who argues most strenuously that our modern fixation on the freedom of the individual conscience distorts Paul’s concerns. In his article, “Jesus’ Faith and Ours” (Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin, 7 No. 1 [S-O 1983], 2-6), Hays argued that nowhere in Galatians 3 does Paul place any emphasis on the salvific efficacy of “believing,” and nor does he speak of Jesus Christ as the object of human faith. Paul insists that we are redeemed/justified by Jesus Christ’s faithfulness (pistis Iesou Christou) on our behalf, not by our believing.
The case for the subjective genitive interpretation (faith/faithfulness of Christ Jesus) is grammatically the most obvious. BAGD notes that translating the genitive as “in” is possible with reference to pistis, but acknowledges that pistis is usually found without an object. Moreover, translating the genitive as “of” is most commonly preferable with most other words. Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when pistis takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Matt 9:2, 22, 29; Mark 2:5; 5:34; 10:52;Luke 5:20; 7:50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom 1:8; 12; 3:3; 4:5, 12, 16; 1 Cor 2:5; 15:14, 17; 2 Cor 10:15; Phil 2:17; Col 1:4; 2:5; 1 Thess 1:8; 3:2, 5, 10;2 Thess 1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1 Pet 1:9, 21; 2 Pet 1:5). Douglas Campbell, an advocate of the subjective usage, has been accused of being too dogmatic or dramatic by Brian Dodd, who has sympathies with the subjective camp, because Campbell makes the statement that how we take Paul’s usage of pistis Christou Iesoumight “open up the possibility of a major reevaluation of Paul’s . . . theology as a whole.” However, Hays in both the article mentioned above and his dissertation,The Faith of Jesus Christ, highlights the significance of this alternative translation when he makes the statement that in Galatians, Paul insists we are justified by Christ’s faith/faithfulness, not our believing.
Steve Douglas concludes in his blog post, "The case is, then, rather strong for the belief that the faith that we stand upon is not our own, but that of Jesus, upon whose merit alone we may hope to be justified."
In other words, perhaps it is the Protestant tradition that has been in error all of this time, placing such strong emphasis on a misinterpretation and failed translation of a key concept in Paul. If we are indeed saved by the faithfulness of Christ rather than our faith in Christ per se, this frees us up for all kinds of things, including...
Do Good and We Will Meet One Another There
I love this line of the pope's sermon. He is seeking common ground between people's of various religious commitments. In the strict theological universe that sees stark lines between Catholic and Protestant thought, the job of the faithful is to draw lines in the sand, illustrating why the pope is so wrong, so troubling. But if indeed Christ's faithfulness is our salvation, then we are set free to go meet the other in the common ground we share in creation, in Christ.
Jesus broadens the horizons. Indeed. Jesus broadens the horizons to such a degree that we can no longer even see them. There is, in the famous lines of U2, No Line on the Horizon. The expansiveness of Christ's grace is so immense, it leaves us reeling and unsettled, until we stumble into our neighbor, whoever they are, and then we meet each other there.
at 10:27:00 AM