Thursday, October 20, 2016

book report - The Divine Dance by Rohr and Morrell 2016

This book is not one you want to blast through in a few weeks like I did. I really like Franciscan friar Richard Rohr and have been receiving his daily emails for about a year now. I have only read one of his books before this one, Simplicity: The art of living. Simplicity captures a series of lectures by Rohr from the 1990's. His new book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, has a similar origin. As described in one of the afterwords co-author Mike Morrell took material from two of Rohr's conferences, The Divine Dance and The Shape of God, wrote down, arranged, condensed, expanded, and subdivided them into this amazing book.

The chapters are short, usually two or three pages, which lends itself to more of a devotional read. In fact, I'm planning to re-read this as a spiritual supplement this next Lenten season. The Christian theology of the triune God distinguishes it from the other Abrahamic faiths, Islam and Judaism, and has been and continues to be a source of division within the Christian church. One of the metaphors the early church leaders used to describe the one God who is three persons is a dance, a divine dance. Rohr admits this is a mystery. He writes,
“Remember, mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand—it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you! “Circling around” is all we can do. Our speaking of God is a search for similes, analogies, and metaphors. All theological language is an approximation, offered tentatively in holy awe. ” Page 42 
This celebration of the God who is a trinity is not akin to the blind describing parts of the elephant, but more like the ants discussing the works of Mozart. It will always be inadequate, but never insufficient for delight to the degree one can apprehend with Rohr his adoration of the Happy Trinity. As a kind and generous Catholic follower of the way of St. Francis, Rohr is an inclusivist. He sees where God has revealed himself to cultures before and apart from Christianity. An orthodox Roman Catholic will say, "Grace perfects nature." What other cultures see in threes spiritually, Rohr can affirm those things and point to the revelation of Jesus as the culmination of those hints hidden in plain sight in nature. This book is also about the victory of God's love, which flows centripetally out from the dance into all of creation. The fallen creation is not greater than the love of God. He writes, “I think penal substitution is a very risky theory, primarily because of what it implies about the Father’s lack of freedom to love or to forgive his own creation.” p. 282 (That's some inside baseball talk for modern Christianity.) He is hopeful because his understanding of the trinity makes him exude with hope. The ugly parts of the Bible do not drag him down, because Jesus settles all the craziness that seems unloving in the Bible.
“We get the promise of free love (grace) now and then, but it is always too much for the mind and heart to believe.
The biblical text mirrors both the growth and the resistance of the soul.
It falls into the mystery, and then it says, “That just can’t be true.” Scripture is a polyphonic symphony, a conversation with itself, where it plays melodies and dissonance—three steps forward, two steps back. The three steps gradually and finally win out; you see the momentum of our Holy Book and where it is leading history. And the text moves inexorably toward inclusivity, mercy, unconditional love, and forgiveness. I call it the “Jesus hermeneutic.” Just interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did! He ignores, denies, or openly opposes his own Scriptures whenever they are imperialistic, punitive, exclusionary, or tribal.” p. 294
He has so succinctly summarized where I myself have struggled to attain after finding the Christian fundamentalist hermeneutic inadequate for the complex realities of life. Rohr's "Jesus hermeneutic" can also be called a love hermeneutic. Whatever does not reflect trinitarian love is not of God. What does that trinitarian love look like? I encourage you to buy this book and begin the dance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

I love Donald Trump...

...because Jesus loves Donald Trump.

However, I do not think he is presidential material.

  • I believe a president should desire the uplift of everyone in society and not by scapegoating some. He has scapegoated Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and African-Americans. 
  • I believe a president would make a good neighbor, not someone who brags about sexual assaults, seduction of married women, engagement in multiple affairs, lewd comments about his own daughter, and repetition of white supremacist conspiracy theories. 
  • I believe a president should have a track record of public service. He has none. 
  • I believe a president should have experience in negotiating the labyrinth of political bureaucracy with its intentional and constitutional checks and balances, not only decisions by fiat. The executive branch is not superior to the legislative or judicial branches. 
  • I believe a president needs a thick skin who will hearken to a rebuke without responding by attacking the messengers. on the contrary, Trump has believed it productive, despite all evidence to the contrary, that attacking parents whose child died in combat, or women who gained weight, or name-calling politicians, and bullying his opponents is more appropriate.

The nation's founders, for all their flaws had high aspirations for the republic. Their words are worth heeding.

GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-1799) "Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."

What is the character of this candidate?

ABIGAIL VAN BUREN ("Dear Abby") advice columnist "The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back."

WOODROW WILSON (1856-1924) "If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig."

CALVIN COOLIDGE (1872-1933) "Character is the only secure foundation of the state."

DWIGHT EISENHOWER (1890-1969) The qualities of a great man are "vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character."

Source of quotes.

Jesus says, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Luke 6:45
"But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person." Matthew 15:18-20

James 3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Despite all his obvious faults, Jesus loves Donald Trump. Jesus wants Donald Trump to know his complete love for him. Jesus wants to show him perfect love through neighbors like me. I completely disagree with Donald Trump. I think he would be a despot if president. He does not love his neighbors nearly as much as he loves himself. Yet, I am called to love him. This is my challenge, but one I am willing to accept.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Why are people so angry at IV-USA?

Time magazine broke a story by Elizabeth Dias yesterday with quite the headline, Top Evangelical College Group to Dismiss Employees Who Support Gay Marriage. Ed Stetzer wrote an article in reply for Christianity Today with the headline, Evangelical Campus Ministry (InterVarsityUSA) Decides Employees Should Hold Evangelical Beliefs on Marriage (Updated with InterVarsity Statement). Ed does not engage at all with the personal story of an IVCF campus staffer with a transgender child who was let go by IVCF for not agreeing to their statement. Even Jesus could agree with the gentile woman who had a sick child that the dogs can at least eat the crumbs from the table. The lack of compassion for the church's sexual minorities is what sets people off.

IVCF has made strides to not be a white fundamentalist sect as it engages college culture that encourages multiculturalism and minority empowerment. Women and non-white staffers are placed in positions of leadership. IVCF has reinterpreted passages seen by more conservative "plain readers" of the Bible that forbids women in leadership. IVCF let students of color proclaim from the stage at their missions conference that Black Lives Matter. However, they also backpedaled and released a statement for critics that all lives matter.

In short, IVCF has demonstrated a progressive, non-literal reading of the Bible and continually expanded the tent. LGBTQI students and their allies have seen this progressive stance on these issues as a potential opening into the IVCF tent for them and their spiritual journeys. But IVCF has closed the tent flaps. They write,
Regrettably, many Christians have not loved same-sex-attracted people as we ought. Too often, we have responded with exclusion and caused them shame or remained silent when hatred has been expressed toward them. We humbly own our past failures and offer genuine love.
At the same time, Scripture is very clear that God’s intention for sexual expression is to be between a husband and wife in marriage. Every other sexual practice is outside of God’s plan and therefore is a distortion of God’s loving design for humanity.
As I read this, from an ally perspective, I hear, "we are sorry we've been jerks, but God is a jerk about this, so it's not really our fault." They love you in the same way their jerk god does, who will send you to hell unless you keep your genitals out of the wrong places. Jerk god does not have compassion on his LGBTQI creations. He will only accept them if they choose celibacy or sham marriages that produce children.

IVCF's compassionate and intentional inclusiveness reached a breaking point. But Jesus will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. His compassion is greater. He does not have to worry about losing donor money from an uncomfortable majority who has a hard enough time with the affirmation that Black lives matter. Christian conservatives have a lot of money to give, but not to gay tolerant organizations, as World Vision learned. The financial base needs to be placated. Conservatives place straight monogamous marriage into the orthodoxy category even as the affirmation hurts their neighbors and does not treat them as they wish to be treated. It is truly unfortunate that IVCF does not list any affirming resources in their reading list at the end of their document.

Who has the courage to welcome and affirm the outcasts of the church who harm no one as they live out an essential aspect of their identity? Jesus says how we treat the least of these is how we treat him. New wine requires new wine skins.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

love and pastoral affairs

The New Testament epistle of 1st Timothy has a frequently neglected expectation of church leaders,
1 Timothy 3: 1-7 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
I said "frequently neglected" but it may only be to my limited perspective. What should the church do if a leader is not above reproach, disgrace? Elsewhere Peter's letter states, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 Should disgraceful acts by a church leader be covered up? This seems to be the approach repeatedly across many church groups, whether it be Catholic priests, Anabaptist theologians, missionary boarding school staff, civil rights leaders who were also Baptist preachers, and a revivalist preacher to California hippies among many examples and those are just of the sexual nature. When Christian leaders flaunt their wealth with expensive self-serving things, they have disgraced themselves and none of their followers care. Well, they care if their leader is called out for being reproachful.

Jesus had little tolerance for religious leaders who honored their god with words but not actions. He called them actors, hypocrites in Greek, and whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside and corrupt on the inside. If the "noble task" cannot be done with honesty and integrity by someone, and if God truly can sustain his church such that the gates of hell will not prevail against it, then why conceal what God is revealing? In each of the synoptic gospels Jesus tells his followers that what is hidden will be revealed. Light is a good thing when it uncovers evil. The scandals of the Catholic church, for example, show what happens when the first evil revelation is covered up. It only festers and spreads, making lives much worse when it is finally exposed.

It is loving for me to forgive a sin. But when I am aware of a church leader's hidden sin, which fails to meet up to it's noble task undertaken for the church, then my forgiveness is not enough. The leader needs to step aside and return to being a follower again. If the scandal comes to light after their death, telling the truth about their clay feet does not diminish what God is able to do with such weak instruments.

Later in the first letter to Timothy, Paul writes,
19 Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. 21 I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. 1 Timothy 5

A public reproof is an embodied sermon. And a favored teacher should not be given a pass, "favorited", when it comes to their stumbling. It keeps pedestals very low to the ground. Paul starts his letter with plenty of pedestal chopping.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1

The way of love is to keep the follower's focus on Jesus, and not a facade, a white washed tomb.