Tuesday, October 20, 2009

God's Story and Ours

I signed up for a daily quote to be sent to my email from Runner's World. They are meant to inspire and motivate. Sometimes they do. Sometimes, they don't. Today's quote, though, made me think. It read:

Nonrunners cannot see how they can afford the time to run every day. But runners cannot imagine getting through a single day without it. --Kevin Nelson, The Runner's Book of Daily Inspiration

Ok... granted, I don't run every single day (and I would include bike/swim in this list as well). And yes, the sloth within me REALLY looks forward to those rest days during the week, but I do understand this. And many people who don't run, often voice the opening part. "I just can't find the time..." Well, you're not going to find it. You make it. You rearrange your priorities so that you do it. You make time.

But today I thought along a parallel path. Replace the concept of running with "biblical reading." Daily biblical reading, time set aside in devotion and prayer, is something that few of us do. Mainly because it takes time. And there are always demands on our time. Work, family, life in general. How do we find the moment where we can squeeze reading the bible in? Well,
the answer is simple. We don't. We can't. We make it.

And I would like to make bold and audacious claims about by making a few minutes to read the bible and pray, everything going on in life will seem better and all the blocks of life will click into place. But I cannot. Sometimes things will go smoother. Sometimes they will not. Life intervenes. But by making time to read the story of God and God's people, I think we find one thing. That we too are in the midst of that story. That in all of those crazy distractions and hectic pace, we find that Jesus is there in our midst. Making time to read this great story of what God is up to, reminds us again and again that God is up to something even with us, even if we don't know exactly what it is at the time.

I am posting a weekly lectionary on my congregation's blog for the Confirmation class (It comes
out of Augsburg Fortress' Lutheran Study Bible. It's the Sampler Lectionary, just a few verses a day). Read along. Enter into this grand story and see where yours is interwoven with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moses and America

I ran across an excerpt from Bruce Feiler's new book, America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story in a recent issue of Time. The story of Moses, Feiler argues, is ingrained deeply into the story of America. Most notably, the pioneers and immigrants who came here felt a strong connection to a story about slaves being freed and heading to a promised land. Leaving the old world dominated by a Church that seemed heavy-handed and oppressive to them, gave them a kinship to the people of Israel fleeing the hard-hearted Pharoah. But more than that Moses keeps returning again and again. The slaves in America are drawn to Christianity through the story of freed slaves. The Moses story comes back during the Cold War. Moses is a mighty figure in scripture, as well as in this nation. Most entertaining is the connection between the quintessential American superhero and Moses. Felier writes:

With the rise of secularism and the declining influence of the Bible in the 20th century, Moses might have melted away as a role model. But something curious happened. He was so identified as a hero of the American Dream that he superseded Scripture and entered the realm of popular culture, from novels to television.

Superman was modeled partly on Moses. The comic-book hero's creators, two bookish Jews from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, drew their character's backstory from the superhero of the Torah. Just as baby Moses is floated down the Nile in a basket to escape annihilation, baby Superman is launched into space in a rocket ship to avoid extinction. Just as Moses is raised in an alien world before being summoned to liberate Israel, Superman is raised in an alien environment before being called to assist humanity.

I don't know if I will spring for a hardback, but I will certainly be keeping an eye out when it goes into paperback.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Unity and Schism in the ELCA

On an entirely unrelated discussion on an internet forum, I was commenting on the Conservative Bible Project, the misguided idea of creating a new biblical translation/paraphrase that makes the bible say what the group would like it to say (really, how do you twist parables to bring out free market principles?).

Well, in the discussion we were having, one member, an ardent Roman Catholic, was beginning to set up the argument that would lead us into debating where the authority of scripture lay, and for him it was bound up in the teaching magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. this was not a big surprise for me, since he goes there often in these discussions. In order to have the conversation, I picked up the sixth volume of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, Teaching Authority & Infallibility in the Church. It was there that I found a most intriguing comment. In the "Common Statement," it read,
On the Lutheran side, there seems at first glance no room for reassessment. The Reformers' attitude toward papal infallibility was strongly negative. They insisted that in proclaiming the Pauline teaching of justification of the sinner by grace through faith they had a biblical and catholic basis. Consequently they regarded the excommunication of Luther as an arbitrary act, an abuse of papal authority. They viewed the division in the Church as a tragic necessity, as the price they had to pay for fidelity to the Word of God. (p. 13)
While many in the ELCA are talking about leaving, I think this statement still bears repeating. Division in the church might be necessary, but it is tragic and each side must understand that they bear a cost associated with that division. Divide if you must, but don't think your stand is free of costs, even if your side is right. Schism damages the witness of the whole church. The loss of a visible unity, while perhaps necessary for whatever reason, is nothing to be take lightly.

Five hundred years after Luther posted the ninety-five theses on the church door at Wittenberg, the Lutherans and Roman Catholics still refrain from officially sharing the meal that Christ sets before us. In the midst of conversations about what it means to be the church (I am not sure the root of all the strife in the ELCA is just about homosexuality, but more about ecclesiology and the nature of the church), what will the cost of losing visible unity be for all of us?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Torture and faith...

In the October issue of The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan writes an open letter to President Bush ("Dear President Bush") detailing what he could do to deal with the legacy of the torture that he approved. The letter is well-balanced. Sullivan does not call for President Bush to be punished, but for him to follow President Reagan's lead and take responsibility as Reagan did in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal.

What I found most interesting though, was the appeal to faith that Sullivan levies. I don't know how convincing his argument is for all Christians, since clearly some Christians support torture or at least seek to redefine activities that clearly fall into the torture family. Sullivan writes,

The other value you have eloquently expressed as essential to your public life is faith. We share that faith, although I am a wayward Catholic and you a born-again evangelical. Our faith tells us that what you authorized is an absolute evil. By absolute evil, I mean something that is never morally justified. I have no doubt that you believed you were doing your duty in protecting the country, and every political leader in a dangerous world has to make decisions that haunt the conscience. But even war, with all its murder and mayhem and abuse and trauma, can still, in our Christian tradition, be deemed just, under certain circumstances. I am not a pacifist by any means. Defending free countries from the architects of 9/11 is just; bringing some semblance of democracy to Iraq was just; unseating the Taliban was just. Even those decisions that cost lives—of young Americans and countless Iraqis and Afghans—can be morally defended by Christians, in good faith and clear conscience, as a last resort. In fact, fighting terrorism and jihadism is, in my view, an eminently just use of military power, if that use of power is constantly subjected to scrutiny and reflection and revision.

But torture has no defense whatsoever in Christian morality. There are no circumstances in which it can be justified, let alone integrated as a formal program within a democratic government. The Catholic catechism states, “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions… is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” Dignity is the critical word there. Even evil men are human and redeemable. Our faith demands that, even in legitimate punishment or interrogation, the dignity of prisoners must be respected. Our faith teaches that each of us—even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—is made in the image of God. To violate that imago Dei by stripping and freezing him, by slamming him against a wall, or strapping him to a board to nearly drown him again and again and again, to bombard him with noise and light until he loses his mind, to reduce a human being to a mental and spiritual shell—nothing can justify this for a Christian. Nothing. To wield that power is to wield evil. And such evil is almost always committed by those who believe they are pursuing good.

One more voice calling for the understanding that each human being bears dignity simply by being created by God. Torture, which ignores that imago Dei, is simply unjustifiable.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Preaching and Christ... yes, it IS about Jesus

Over at Lutherans Persisting, David Yeago, Michael C. Peeler professor of systematic theology at LTSS, wrote a really intriguing piece about preaching. Ultimately our life should be rooted in an encounter with Jesus, not just theological propositions or truths or vague notions of what Jesus was about, but an encounter with Jesus. It seems like an incredibly tall order for this preacher to fill, to think about my preaching being a vehicle by which people might encounter Jesus, but it seems far more worth it than just getting them to laugh each week, or telling some tear-jerking story, or banging on toes with the hammer of the law constantly.

Yeago writes:
1. Most of the sermons I have heard or read over the past several decades have been based on the Gospel lesson, but a majority of them have not really been about Jesus. Sermons tend to get diverted early from the concrete figure of Jesus to focus on some truth, value, imperative, or experiential possibility supposedly represented by Jesus.

2. What good thing does God give us in the gospel? I hear very few sermons that follow Luther (in the Catechisms) in saying that the good thing is having Jesus as our Lord instead of the devil. Instead I hear a lot of abstractions about being accepted (but into what?), stirring but vague rhetoric about new possibilities, and a lot of generic assurance that “God is with you.”

Read the whole post here.