Friday, December 19, 2008

Slavery and justice

Last night on the radio program Marketplace, I heard a piece on slavery in Brazil. I was struck at the end of it how the labor inspector reflected on the reality he experiences and what God is like. As I prepare for this upcoming Sunday when I preach on the Annunciation, and sing the Magnificat, I am also struck that not a lot has changed and that we are still badly in need of God's redemption.

You can listen to the whole piece here.

"When God Makes an Announcement"

Another very good Advent devotion from Goshen College... the student today has a very nice reflection on the Annunciation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Why do we have Christmas trees?"

An article from Christian History

It closes with the following:
As many of us make trees and gifts the center of our own Christmas practice, we would do well to remember that they are ultimately symbols of the One who gave himself to unite heaven and earth, and who brings all barren things to flower.

Justice and toys...

This little radar gun has become a symbol of justice for me. Sometime I get caught up in thinking of justice on grand scale, like things Lutheran World Relief or Lutheran Disaster Response does, and I don't think I am alone in that.

But there are a number of us on our street who are concerned about the traffic, both in terms of volume and speed. Our street is a "cut through" street, a street that connects two larger main roads. In order to cut off some distance from their overall commute, people drive through our residential neighborhood, which wouldn't really be a problem if it weren't for the bad apples. Speeds in excess of 40 m.p.h. and rolling through stop signs are the main problems... although there are more. The street itself is narrow. The sidewalk is only on one side of the street, which means that waiting for a break in traffic can take a while. I won't even go into how many folks are talking on their cell phones while zipping along. And at the end of the street sits a primary school, so this road is used by many to walk their kids to and from school, including me.

So a little over a week ago, I bought this little device above on ebay. Yesterday was the first time I got to use it. It was amazing to watch the reaction. One neighbor said I was better than a speed bump. Every car that was passing was hitting its brakes. This morning most of the cars were behaving themselves since the snow was slowing things down, but there were still cars going over 30 m.p.h. according to my little friend.

But I realized last night on a drive down the highway. I am engaged in the pursuit of justice. I am living into the promises I made at Confirmation and every time I have affirmed my baptism when I was asked:
Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism:to live among God's faithful people,to hear his Word and share in his supper,to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus,and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

I serve the people of my community by helping bring to light the problems that this traffic has caused, and I work for justice by helping the city construct a plan for safe pedestrian walkways, and traffic calming throughout residential neighborhoods.

How often do we miss the ways we all work for justice in the world?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Y'shua and Esperanza... devotions from Goshen

I stumbled across Advent devotions from Goshen College. I was very taken by today's... maybe it's because my wife and I contemplated deeply before naming our sons... what the names mean, the connection to our families... and Bethany, don't call her Beth, reflects on "Name Him Jesus."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Augustine and the Jews

Fascinating interview with Paula Fredriksen in Time regarding her new book on Augustine and the Jews.

One of the most intriguing quotes in the interview that makes me want to read the book:
Augustine, in the course of arguing for Christ's incarnation — this intimate relationship between divinity and humanity — explicitly parallels it to God's relationship with the Jews. He writes that Catholics and Jews stand as one community over against pagans and heretics, that Jesus and his apostles, including Paul, lived as Torah-observant Jews for the whole of their lives. And he urges that God himself would punish any king who tried to interfere with the Jews' practice of Judaism.
Given my reflection at Morgantown's last community observance of the Shoah, where I linked Jesus' Jewish identity in the midst of his Ascension, I am pleased to see a link between incarnation and the Jews as they relate to God.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Again... the Trinity

Following up with some more thoughts on the doctrine of the Trinity, I came across a passage from David Bentley Hart's The Beauty of the Infinite. Hart is an Orthodox theologian who understands Western Christianity incredibly well. He speaks wonderfully here of the West's (primarily the West's Protestant manifestations) misuse or ignorance of this doctrine.
In Mysterium Salutis Karl Rahner enunciates a simple formula that should be regarded as axiomatic for all mediatation upon the Christian doctrine of God: "The 'economic' trinity is the 'immanent' trinity and the 'immanent' trinity is the 'economic' trinity." The modern return of Western systematic theology to the doctrine of the Trinity--to many eyes, the most metaphysical of Chrsitian credenda--has been the result, in point of fact, of a renewed and earnest attention to the particularities of Christian history, the concrete details of the story of Christ and his church, and the scriptural understanding of how God has acted within history for the restoration of the created world. The pathology of liberal Protestant theology's dogmatic wasting disease--of which no symptom could be more acute that the reduction of the doctrine of the Trinity to an appendictic twinge at the end of Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith --was one of progressive and irrepressible abstraction, a moralization and spiritualization that made of Christ the unique bearer (as opposed to the unique content) of the Christian kerygma; and the theological rediscovery of the Trinity has come about precisely because the salvific significance of Christ's historical specificity has been to some considerable degree recovered from the confining prejudices of modern thought.... In the early centuries of Christian thought, the Trinity was gradually apprehended as the mystery truly revealed in God's saving action, and not as a metaphysical secret imparted mystically to the church; it was not until three centuries and more had elapsed, councils had been called, and doctrine had been defined that a text like Augustine's De Trinitate, in which the doctrine assumed the aspect of faith's object (as opposed to its explication), was possible: and while such a possibility, in one sense, was the result of a certain ecclesial liberation from the anxiety of dogmatic dispute, in another sense it was arguably the occasion for the inauguration of a certain pattern of theological forgetfulness. Not that there is anything to be deplored in Augustine's magnificent series of brilliant, intense, and theologically necessary theoretical allegorieson the doctrine of the Trinity, but it is also the case that to some eyes they are not always obviously wedded to a deeper consideration of the story of the atonement. And later theology (Eastern no less than Western) sometimes obeyed the logic of the divorce of the doctrine of God from the story of God's manifestation of himself in history--with occasionally dismal consequences. Trinitarian thought uninformed by the gospel narrative results, inevitably, in an impoverishment of both that thought and that narrative; hence the importance of the affirmation that the Trinity as economic or immanent is the one God as he truly is, whose every action is proper to and expressive of his divinity.

The Beauty of the Infinite, pp. 155-156

Monday, December 08, 2008

Trinity--the starting point

One of the central tenets of orthodox Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. Formally established in 325 at the Council of Nicea, this doctrine gives us the language of "persons" and "substance" while helping us understand this God that we worship. All too often unfortunately, Christianity has reduced our notion of the Triune God to a mere requirement so that Christianity can continue to claim a seat at the table of monotheism. Modern Christians get hung up on the three-in-one examples, offering those up for proof. But the ice-water-steam examples are not at all proof, nor are they authoritative. In the end, these examples most likely do more than good, by building up a false sense of what is really important with Christians, and seeming like complete idiocy to non-Christians.

The doctrine of the Trinity cannot remain as just a set of logical deductions that exist independent of the early Church's experience of Jesus. All of the three in one language becomes absurd without understanding that Jesus made this discussion necessary. When the early followers of Jesus see this human being claim the authority to forgive sins, as well as the mastery over the powers of nature and chaos, they begin to contemplate who exactly this is. When Jesus is crucified and resurrected, these followers must enter into the mystery of the divine relationship. Jesus addresses God as "Father" and in addition claims a unity with him that is blasphemous for many.

Some Christians reject the doctrine of the Trinity because they do not find it laid out anywhere in Scripture. If we were to take Scripture at face value... no, it's not. However, there are plenty of implicit openings for our considerations of the Trinity. Along with Jesus claiming unity with the Father, there is also the passages where God speaks as a plural subject--"Let us make humankind in our image..." There is the baptism of Jesus where the voice from heaven speaks, the spirit descends, all centered on Jesus.

Ultimately to speak of the Trinity, we too must center our gaze on Jesus. In our continued experience of Jesus coming to us, we are left to wonder about what this Incarnate deity says about the nature and character of God. Of course, this position is unhelpful if all we want is rational argumentation to prove that God exists. Plus, we are left with a real human being who comes and claims us. An abstract deity that exists as some sort of Godhead might actually make us feel better, but Jesus changes our focus.

In her book The Triune God of Christian Faith, Mary Ann Fatula writes:
We need to recognize first of all that our Christian faith in a triune God did not come to us as a result of logical deduction about an esoteric, abstract truth. On the contrary, our faith in a triune God is rooted in our concrete human history; first of all, in the paschal event--the human experience of Jesus in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and pentecost; second, upon the Christian community's actual experience of the triune God in the past; and, finally, upon our own experience in the present. Our faith today, therefore, is not a matter of mere intellectual assent to the Trinity as if we were accepting the answer to a complicated math problem without understanding how the problem really works: "Yes, I believe that two plus two equals four, but in God's case, one equals three."