Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Identifying with fellow humans (though not Christians) and the trouble that brings

Last week, my Twitter friend Morgan Guyton wrote a provocatively titled post, Is damnation of the other a cornerstone of evangelical belief?, with a provocative hypothesis in regards to Larycia Hawkins firing by the private Christian college in Illinois, Wheaton. I think he is right. I think there is also a bigger issue going on, centered set vs. bounded set theology, a concept I wrestled with a couple years ago here on the blog. Dave Schmelzer of Blue Ocean Faith has developed this concept very well for me. I think it influenced me deeply in my commitment to open handed faith. I was reminded of this and made the connection to Prof. Hawkins situation with Wheaton while listening to the podcast of the Unquiet Life.

Professor Hawkins wanted to identify with her fellow humans, Muslim women, by wearing a hijab during Advent and affirming their shared belief in God. She has also been in trouble for being at a party with gay humans. She has affirmed Wheaton's statement of faith, but for whatever reason, which I will speculate on, Wheaton's administration was not satisfied. Guyton suspects Wheaton's financial donors of influence have a definition of Christianity that necessarily condemns to hell those who don't believe. Condemnation is a line to cross over in a bounded set theology. One must be in or out. But the other issues Hawkins drew attention indicate other boundaries she crossed or blurred. Here is why I think the bigger issue is that Prof. Hawkins has a centered set theology but works at a bounded set school.

Her center, her example is Jesus himself. His religious opponents constantly criticized him for breaking and blurring boundaries. He did not maintain their Biblical purity laws. His rule boiled down to love. He was motivated by his love for the world. He kept company with the outcasts. He identified with them. He wooed them with love, not with threats. His warnings were for religious rule makers and self-appointed officials.

Boundaries make one feel safer, but Jesus led a wild life of reckless love, always looking for the lost, and whole-heartedly embracing the prodigal and welcoming all to the party. Prof. Hawkins paid a high price for living the Jesus lifestyle out as she did. To affirm their pursuit of God, was not an attempt to convert them by condemning them but to love them. Love is evangelism. It is spreading the good news in action. It opens lines of communication. It allows the beginning of shared life and community. It is a product of a deep faith which trusts in God to fill all the gaps in our inadequate understanding not just in the other but in herself as well. It no longer deals with "us" and "them" but just us. We are all children of God in various stages of a journey into understanding of that love for us...But I'm speaking as someone whose theology is centered set or open handed.

Friday, January 15, 2016

John 2 and better wine

In this morning's reading from the Book of Common Prayer, in John 2, Jesus, his posse, and his mother, Mary, are at a wedding when the wine runs out. Mary immediately turns to Jesus, bringing this crisis to his attention.

Now this conversation is highly stylized. St. John is making a much bigger point than Jesus is capable of bringing the party or that Jesus is pro-alcohol. One thing St. John is doing is showing Mary's expectation for Jesus to do something, and it was not a package store run she had in mind, as his answer is also highly stylized, "My time is not yet come."

Mary apparently disagrees because she tells the house slaves to follow Jesus' instructions. Six large stone jars are noted, much bigger than beer keg size. Jesus tells the slaves to fill these empty jars to the brim with water.

Again, St. John is highly styling this story. Seven is used as the number of completeness and perfection in the Bible going back to Genesis when God rested from his creation. Six is the day when God made man. It's a step down, not perfect. The party is at a standstill. The jars for ceremonial hand washing are empty. They can no longer ritually cleanse people. This wedding is turning into a disaster. The night for consummation and uniting of families is going down in shame. These parties are public and the host needs to prepare for everyone and anyone. But he did not have enough either because of his poverty or short sightedness.

After they fill the jars, Jesus tells the slaves to bring a sample from the newly filled with water to the banquet master. Miraculously, the master tastes wine, and not the cheap stuff he was serving everyone earlier. He is tasting the top shelf stuff. the banquet master pulls the groom aside and scolds him for getting the order wrong. It should have been really good stuff then the cheap stuff. Instead he started cheap, not knowing the groom only had the cheap stuff.

St. John stylizes the banquet master's scolding to wake readers like myself up. However, I've only noticed the miracle, not the bigger story until now. “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” John 3:10

Here is what I heard from reading St. John this morning, which was new for me coming from a tradition that tended to focus on the trees and misses the forest. What I hear St. John saying is the old way from Moses is empty, the party is coming to a screeching halt. The old way's inadequacy is shameful. It can't even clean hands anymore. Jesus comes to the rescue. Mary knows this. His disciples get a whiff of it.

This falls in line with my ongoing series that not everything biblical is Christian. Before Jesus, it was the cheap wine of Mosaic theology. It was inadequate. But Jesus brings the real stuff....I admit I'm not a wine drinker. I know beer much more. So for me, before Jesus, it was a Milwaukee's Best party.

It would get you drunk if you could stand it. Jesus rolls in with kegs of Russian Imperial Stout. I used to think beer is beer. I used to think all verses in the bible are equal. Now I know, the "Beast" is for cheap alcoholics who have no taste buds and the stout is for a complex flavor and an awesome drinking experience.

Jesus' kingdom of love and mercy is far superior to the previous religious kingdom of judgment. Now I know what St. John was getting at with this story.