Prayer from a Peace Vigil

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This is my concluding prayer from the Peace Vigil we held on the church lawn Sunday night. We were trying to honor the complexity of matching Jesus’ call to radical non-violence with situations as de-centering as the Holocaust, as ethnic cleansing and genocide…

Amazing God,
You call us. You knock on our doors, you shout in our ears,
You whisper in the still small hours of the night.
Mary, you are blessed,
Samuel, you are called,
Moses, free my people.
We are called to do what we cannot do alone.
To dive into love,
To turn over the tables of greed
Of self-righteousness,
To build lives of justice,
Of kindness,
And to walk humbly.
Fills us God with your Spirit,
Let the Comforter be with us
As we walk this challenging path.
Narrow indeed the choice between justice
And between violence.
Open our ears to your call.
Open our eyes to what is real.
Unstop our tongues and
Like Jeremiah,
Let us be women and men on fire,
On fire in the love of God,
On fire in love for one another,
On fire for an end to the brutality of war.
We ask this in the name of your Son,
Himself a victim,
And yet also a sign to us always,
Of victory in love,
His love,
Your love,
Our love.


September 16 Service… Jake Revisted

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For those of you who sometimes read this blog (poorly attended as it is during the summer), you might recognize the story I use in this sermon from an earlier prayer service I did at St. E’s. It’s a good story! In any case, the lectionary is on sin and repentance… and God’s joy at finding the lost sheep… and I’m at a new congregation, so they don’t know the story yet! Blessings- Gary

Welcome and Announcements

We welcome you this amazing morning to this house of God, this community of caring and love and service, whether it is your first time with us or whether you are a longtime pillar of the church… welcome, welcome, welcome. My name is Gary Brinn, and I am the Pastoral Intern here at First Congregational, a part of this congregation’s teaching ministry to the wider denomination. Rev. Dominic has been away this weekend, but should be landing at Logan even as we speak, and will be with us again next Sunday morning.

Please join us in the narthex after the service for coffee and conversation, and please join us again next week, when after the service we will have a barbeque! You can find a number of other announcements in the bulletin about events and ministries of the church. Here are a few additional announcements:


God, we are your people, called to and calling out, cried for and crying out. Let your spirit fill this place as we weave our broken and incomplete lives, these fragile gossamer strands, together into a shimmering garment of love, of grace, of forgiveness. Force open our stubborn eyes, penetrate our stuffed ears, break down the doors of our hearts, so that we might receive the love you offer, so that we might offer it to one another, even as Jesus broke barriers with his radical love, even broke death itself. And so we pray the prayer that he taught us saying: “Our Father … trespasses … for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Prayer of Confession

Divine Healer, we are your people, but our senses are dull. We become busy, we declare things to be important, we chase and we acquire. We often fail to see our mixed up priorities, the subtle webs of evil that connect our comfortable lives with those oppressed, those exploited. When we do see the connections, when we feel our guilt, we often turn away, dull the pain with some token gesture, some small luxury. And yet you call us again and again. Open our senses and let us see things as they really are, acknowledging in prayer our failures, big and small, acknowledging the opportunities we have missed to love.

Assurance of Pardon

As we have failed, so also did the disciples fail, those who heard the Good News first hand, at the feet of our savior. And as they were forgiven, so too are we forgiven, called always to our better selves, to a radical love, a radical joy that triumphs over death itself. Know that we are forgiven, we are loved, we are children of the Living God!

Prayers of the People

Amazing God, we come before you this morning stunned. How can we ever understand the love that reaches out, the love that is Christ, the love that breaks through our most stubborn hearts? How can any honor we pay you, any praise we offer, bridge the gap between our weakness and your love? How can we look honestly at ourselves and still turn to you?

And yet you call us, in our weakness, in our failures, in our fear, into a life of radical and abundant love! And though our thanks and praise may seem small, it is offered with all of our hearts… a leap over the boundaries of ourselves into a community of love that knows no limits… we praise you and thank you for the overflowing of miracle that is this moment, the next moment… that is life in your church!

And now as your church we offer up our individual and communal praise and petition, both in the silence of our hearts and in the spoken words as we light these candles, knowing that you hear, that you love, that you are with us always, patient, loving, eternal.


The epistle to Timothy speaks about sinners. In the gospel, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. The one lost sheep in a hundred is a sinner, so is the lost coin. We are inclined to focus on the rejoicing, the party held when the lost beloved is recovered. We are all about the prodigal son… and sometimes about the prodigal’s father. But we are decidedly not about the prodigal’s sin.

Sin is a hard one for progressive, modern, and dare I say, post-modern Christians. We are all about affirmation, about living full and fulfilled lives. And we like our Jesus happy-clappy, our Jesus on the felt-board surrounded by lambs and little children. Now, to be fair, we also like our morally outraged Jesus kicking butt in the Temple, throwing over tables… we’d like to believe there is a little of that Jesus in us, in fact there might have been a little of that Jesus in us in our younger days. We like little baby Jesus, we love Resurrection Jesus, and in a pinch, we can even deal with Good Friday Jesus, though sacrificial atonement makes some of us queasy. But we decidedly do not like the Jesus who looks at us and says you are a sinner, you are greedy and self-righteous and you have failed to hear what God is asking of you, you have failed to live as God would have you, you must repent. That Jesus is the Jesus of the hellfire and brimstone preachers, that is a Christianity of guilt, we’ll have none of that nonsense here.

But there it is… that preacher who walked around Galilee, who made his way down to Jerusalem, and died on a cross, that man announcing the Kingdom of God, that man who broke open death itself, did so with a consistent message. Repent! Change your lives! You are a sinner, but God is calling you… God wants you back. You are the lost sheep and I have been sent to find you.

Yes, you are a sinner. I am a sinner. Those are words we don’t say very often… but if we are to be true to the preaching of Christ as recorded in the gospels, we have to deal with it.

So what does Jesus mean by sin? Are we willing to buy into a theology of original sin, a transgression passed from one generation to the other? We rarely talk about it any more, but most of us have thrown off the concept of original sin as we have thrown off the notion that Eve, the first woman of our creation story, introduced it into human history… with a little help from a talking serpent. Maybe we are willing to accept the narrow rule-based understanding of sin that we see in some scriptures, an understanding that makes God a petty judge whose ego demands our adherence to a lengthy list of rules and standards. But we can see Jesus rejecting exactly this sort of understanding in his interactions with the scribes and Pharisees. If we are to be honest, we must admit that our Christian history is filled with this understanding of sin, even in our reformed tradition, and our conservative sisters and brothers in Christ still cling to this way of thinking. Maybe we are comfortable looking to Amos, to Deutero-Isaiah, to Micah… to a definition of sin that is found in our failure to do justice, to clothe and to feed and to visit… this is much more our speed. We can deal with that idea of sin… it is generic, it fits well with our guilt, and we can still look ourselves in the mirror.

I’m not sure how long it has been since you’ve taken a look at the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ. It’s not a creed, and we don’t recite it like one, so it might get by some of us, might get a little rusty. In reflecting on our scripture reading for this morning, I turned to my copy of Roger L. Shinn’s Confessing Our Faith. In it, Shinn devotes plenty of time to the concept of sin. And well he should! No matter which of the three forms of the Statement of Faith you prefer, the word sin is there three times…

From the 1981 Doxology form of the Statement:
“You [God] seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.”
“ In Jesus Christ… conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.”
“You [God] promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace.”

Okay, Jesus speaks of sin and repentance. In our Statement of Faith sin is mentioned three times… and it just isn’t that long! Even as progressives, we’re just going to have to deal with the idea of sin… and not the generic “gee isn’t the world unjust” type of sin, but the down and dirty, look in the mirror, personal sense of sin. I am a sinner… and I must repent. I must apologize to God, to my neighbor, to myself, for my transgressions… the traditional sins of commission and of omission. We can deal with the details of what that looks like later… but sin and repentance are central to Christian identity. And that’s a good thing! The centrality of sin in the Good News is good news! As Shinn writes…

“The traditional doctrine of sin, so often assumed to be demeaning to human dignity, actually embodies a noble conception of self-hood. Sin is possible only for persons created in God’s image, empowered with freedom. The doctrine of sin tells us that we are not basically animals, dragged down by predatory instincts, insufficiently humanized. […] The Christian doctrine tells us that our deepest nature is love, and in sin we betray our true nature and destiny.”

When I was a boy, I used to hate report card day. I’d bring home perfectly good grades, average and sometimes above average grades, and my parents would look at me and tell me how disappointed they were. And the reason was always the same… “we know you are capable of better.” Now I’d never advocate this style of child-rearing… today we would find better ways to convey that message. But there it is… isn’t this what God is telling us? You can do better… and guess what… doing better leads to life in the kingdom, to a constant awareness of the divine… it’s more fun! I, God, want you to do better because I love you… just like your parents wanted you to do better because they loved you. Be more! Live to your fullest. Your sin is not in petty rule breaking… your sin is in not reaching for the stars.

As many of you know, during the summer I head off to camp. A couple of summers ago at camp I had an experience I’d like to share with you… one that might help us understand God’s call to us… God’s search for every lost sheep, every lost coin.

Now, summer camp isn’t about discipline, its about fun, so we try to be careful, to use a light touch. Jake wasn’t one of mine. He was an intermediate boy that year, and that year I was in charge of juniors, so this twelve year old boy was one with whom I had little interaction, and here it was, the night before a changeover. Changeovers happened every two weeks, when some several hundred of the campers would leave and a new batch would join those who remained. Jake was one of those leaving. I have to tell you, camp friendships are intense. You can spend more time with a friend in a few weeks at camp than you will another friend in an entire school year. This is especially true of your cabin mates. There are often a dozen boys sleeping in one room smaller than the bedrooms each of these boys have back home in their McMansions. So changeover is emotional. One custom the kids have developed over the years is to sign shirts for one another. But kids don’t just sign…

So there I am at flagpole, the glorious end of the day, and there is this boy with his signed white shirt. And boy is it signed. I don’t know who started it, whether it was Jake or a bunkmate, but this shirt was covered in profane, sexualized words and drawings. And he had it on in front of the whole camp, in front of the whole senior staff! I had to act. I pulled Jake out of the group, asked him to remove the shirt (he did have another underneath lest you think I ordered the child to strip!) and marched him up to the Cooler. The very name is ominous. The Cooler is the office of the camp owner/director. It is where serious issues went. And if you’d read this shirt, you’d have thought it pretty serious. Violent sexual images don’t belong on a twelve year old.

We never made it. Walkie-talkie traffic was jumping, things were busy. Jake’s shirt was not going to make it onto the radar of the camp director that night. So I turned the shirt in, and prepared to turn Jake loose. He was terrified. Was he going to be DNR’ed? Ironically enough, at camp DNR means “Do Not Re-admit.” Even worse, was I going to tell his Mom when she picked him up the next day? Now, this kid was bright, personable, good looking, but he didn’t know the ways of the world… he certainly never should have told me that he didn’t want me to tell his mother, because that became the very thing I determined to do. A mother who could inspire that sort of fear could certainly teach her son about appropriate language, especially given the attitudes toward women displayed on Jake’s shirt. But somehow, that’s not what happened. God happened instead, or the Holy Spirit to be exact, because I am convinced that I could never have done what came next.

I turned to Jake before he left and asked him one question. “Jake, is this the man you want to be?” His eyes teared up, he looked up at me, and quietly answered. “No.” And the words were put into my mouth again. “Jake, the man you want to be is already there. I know you don’t really know him yet, but he’s there. Let him out. Pretend like you are already him and you will be.” I’m not sure who was more stunned, me or Jake, but we both walked away in silence.
The next morning at breakfast Jake approached me. “Do you know what is going to happen to me?” I didn’t. I told Jake that he might get a free pass, that things were busy, that the shirt was gone and the lesson learned. He thanked me, and we spoke once again about the man he wanted to be.

Several hours later as kids rolled out of camp, this boy who I barely knew came running up, threw himself around my waist, thanking me, telling me goodbye, promising to be the man he knew he could be, that he wanted to be.

This, for me, is what God is saying to us, what Jesus is saying to us, when we are called to repentance. Are you the person you want to be? Are you the person you can be? Sure you fail… we make thousands of little decisions a day, and sometimes we get them wrong. I can be petty and self-centered, I can be lazy… I can sin and yet God is there, walking the fields, looking under the couch, calling my name… come back lost sheep, come back lost coin, I will rejoice when I have found you. Be all that you can be. I am calling you.

Sin is not some theological club used to batter and abuse us into submission… it is an understanding that we can be so much more, that to embrace the life that Christ invites us into we must repent of our failures and be scooped up into the arms of the Good Shepherd. I am a sinner and I rejoice in that fact, for it means I can do better. I can dare to love more, to give more, to be more like Christ. I have an opportunity to improve and to grow. Now that’s an idea that fits into our progressive way. God calls us into abundant life, Christ shows us how to live it, breaks through all of the barriers… all we have to do is say yes… dive into the waters of a baptism of repentance! Dare to be… and God will be there waiting, rejoicing. Amen.


Go forth into the world, meeting each day as a God-given miracle, each person as a universe of love, each challenge as an opportunity to dive into the radical and amazing life in Christ, for as he was with us then, so is he now, and will be forever. Amen!


Still on camp…

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We’re at a little past the halfway point in camp. Some great friends and great kids…

Of course, I’ve had little time to read the books I brought along, though I did manage to finish Harry Potter 7 before any of the campers spoiled the ending. There must be over 250 copies on camp! And I am leading the Protestant worship services on camp. Mike, an amazing worship musician, plays, and the scenery is God-filled. Tonight we moved out to the porch, overlooking the lake and the mountain beyond.

I hate missing the UCC General Synod and the Sig Ep Conclave, but these camp days are filled with such grace that I wouldn’t trade them away.

Blessings and Love,


Where I’ve Been…

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You might have noticed that posts have become infrequent in the last couple of weeks. The reason? End of Term- papers and exams! So the best I can offer is a glimpse at what I’m doing.

New Testament- we had a group project, a take home final, and an exegesis paper. I wrote my exegesis on the Greeks at the door in John 12:20, arguing that Jesus does reply, that the parable of the grain that must die to be fruitful is both an announcement of the Passion and a theology of mission.

Thessalonians- my exegesis was on my assigned passage, 1 Thess. 5:1-11. My thesis? That Paul intentionally takes up and plays with the eschatological language of the dominical, Jewish, and Roman traditions, but that in doing so he is first and foremost a pastor caring for his mission church. Oh, and I am going to bomb tomorrow when I have an oral exam of reading and translating a passage of from the authentic Pauline corpus.

Constructive Theology- final paper on what does prayer mean in a constructive theology that has rejected anthropomorphic and anthrocentric understandings of God, and that believes that what Marilyn McCord Adams describes as the “metaphysical size gap” between us and God makes the idea that we pay God honor absurd. I am especially interested in the pastoral application of progressive theology!

Buddhist Meditation Techniques- final exam Monday and final paper- on Therevada meditation practices and aesthetics.

And then it is all over and if I manage to pass it all I’m 2/3 of the way there!

Blessings to you all!



The Real Mother’s Day

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Dan reminded us in his sermon this morning that the US version of Mother’s Day was not about buying cards and flowers, in fact, it wasn’t really about mothers at all. It was a day of mothers, a day when they stood up against war. Initiated in the years after the US Civil War, we can best honor it by re-reading founder Julia Ward Howe’s original proclamation:

Mother’s Day Proclamation – 1870
by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.


Sunday Sermon- May 6

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The following sermon was delivered to Melrose Highlands Congregational Church. The reading was Acts 11:1-18.

My room is chaos. Stacks of mail and academic papers. Text books and library books. Shoes and clothes everywhere. The life of a seminarian can be chaotic, and I am afraid my life “runneth” over much like the piles that “cascadeth” over and off of my desk at times. I’m not happy about the chaos. I like things neat and organized and categorized, and by the way, could you put a label on that? The one area I feel I cannot allow into chaos is the kitchen. I’ve had food poisoning several times, and I’m a stickler for food safety. Which is fine if you live alone. But I don’t.

This year I chose to live in the Divinity School dorm, the last year the Div School will have a dorm. As an undergrad I lived in a fraternity house, but never in a dormitory, so now, in my mid-40’s, I’ve decided to see what dorm life is all about. And as a resident in a grad student dorm, I share a kitchen with a dozen other women and men from around the country and around the world. And I must confess, it drives me crazy. People don’t clean up after themselves, at least not in the same ways I would. And they eat food from other parts of the world that smells funny.

So I know how Peter felt. You want me to eat what? God, nothing personal, but this is a joke, right?

This was a critical moment in the history of our faith, this moment when Peter changed the dietary laws. The community of Jesus followers was evolving from a sect among many competing sects of pre-Rabbinic Judaism into an evangelical religion that welcomed all people, even the Gentiles as they are known in the scriptures, those who ate funny things and didn’t follow the same standards of cleanliness. And from their perspective, well, that’s pretty much us.

The four gospels, and here we have to include Acts since Luke-Acts was written as a single work, but had to be divided into two scrolls due to the limits of the technology of the time, these four gospels have very different understandings of the Law, that is the broad set of laws and codes we think of when we think of the Hebrew Scriptures, of the world of the “old” covenant. The author of Matthew seems to be all for the Law, although he records Jesus as extending the Law, including not just external practice but also internal and spiritual considerations. The author of John, on the other hand, seems to construct those who advocate the Law as the enemy, as advocates of what our own Protestant tradition condemns as “works righteousness.”

It’s all a bit more complicated than that, the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE had a tremendous impact on the formation of both Judaism as we know it today and our own Christian tradition. But it’s pretty clear that something happened in that early history, something involving Peter and Paul, that allowed the Jesus community to rapidly expand from its roots as a rural Jewish sect into an urban movement that crossed lines of ethnicity, gender, and class.

Luke records that Peter enters what the New Revised Standard Version translates as a “trance,” though the Greek actually reads “ecstasy.” And in that ecstasy, a voice instructs Peter to eat animals traditionally considered unclean, inappropriate for Temple sacrifice. We don’t know who is speaking to Peter, the text simply doesn’t say. And it takes three times for Peter to get it. Peter is a bit thick-headed at times, and three seems to be his magic number, three denials, three proclamations of love, each followed by an instruction to care for the flock, three instructions to eat. And so the most prominent of that group of women and men we call the disciples changed all of the rules, threw out much of the Mosaic Law, and opened the door to new believers.

But where did that ancient Law come from to begin with? I could bore you with theories, reconstructions, deconstructions. I could talk about the need to maintain markers of identity in a world with immigrants and conquerors, with external threats, in-groups and out groups. But I’m going to jump to the punch line. From my point of view, humans made most of those rules up.

Now the Neo-Pharisees, those contemporary Christians who approach the Scriptures with selective literalism, don’t agree with me. These are the people who oppose same-sex marriage, who have reduced Christianity to an obsession with homosexuality and abortion, who have constructed God as a gun-toting American capitalist. These Neo-Pharisees believe the rules came directly from God, over 600 of them, but they select which ones to take literally, and which ones to call metaphor. They believe that one of the reasons for these rules was to test the fidelity of the ancient Israelites. For the ancients and for the Neo-Pharisees, God was and still is a really really powerful human, one who like humans needs his or her ego stroked, who needs to test the faith of his or her followers. That his or her construction sounds awkward, but gender is part of humanness, and if we are going to try to fit God into human’s own image, we are going to fall into this gender trap. This God is petty and punitive, and it is not my God.

I have been very lucky this year to study with the constructive theologian Gordon Kaufman. Kaufman writes about the concept of God as a person in these words:

“Personhood is finite […] since a personal subject is determined by things outside of itself and becomes conscious of itself only in relation to other finite objects. To transfer the anthropomorphic category of personhood (an individual’s self-conscious self) to God goes against the infinitude of the divine.”

These musings, this mornings ramblings that started with my chaotic room and landed on Peter’s modification of the Law, all fall into a category theologians call the Doctrine of God. This is the realm of the omni’s. God is omniscient, omnipotent, eternal. It leads into problems like predestination, will you take single or double predestination? The more we try to attach human predicates to God, the bigger trouble we get ourselves into.

This is all a big fancy way of saying that I don’t think God cares whether I mix the fibers in my clothes, doesn’t care whether I put pepperoni on my pizza, and doesn’t care who I love. God, to be God, must be beyond these petty cares. And while we are at it, let’s stop blaming God when we do really really bad things, when we humans are at our worst. God the really big cop/judge in the sky might have needed to intervene as the Nazis raged through Europe. That God might dive into the seismic rift and stop the earthquake like a cosmic Superman. But the God I see every day, the God of our on-going creation, the God that lives in this community, in thousands, millions of other communities that try to live Jesus in this world, that God just doesn’t seem to work that way. God is mystery and amazing, but God isn’t a big white man with a rule book and a gavel.

This is all a bit awkward. Our tradition is built around notions of God’s conditional election of one people, an election that was later extended through Christ. This religious trajectory leads us to those who condemn others and picket at funerals, to Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps, to the self-righteous Neo-Pharisees who can’t wait for the Apocalypse, when they will be rewarded for obeying the rules, and the rest of us will be cast into eternal damnation.

But even in the religious trajectory of rules and judgment, there has always been a stream of thought that said, nope, we’ve got it all wrong, it isn’t about laws and its not just about us. God is bigger than that. It is about justice and love and peace.

This is the stream in which we find prophets like Micah, who says: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Okay, so we stumble on the concept of telling and requirement, but as progressives, we’re okay with the humbly part. In fact, the Neo-Pharisees could be a little more humbly and we’d be happy.

2nd Isaiah speaks for God when he writes “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

And yet we humans make rules and claim to know God’s will. We are terrified of things we can’t understand and can’t control, so we build little boxes to put them in. We make rules and categories, and we insist that science will figure it all out. We humans have always made rules. And we’ve made idols to explain the things that wouldn’t fit in our little cognitive boxes. In some ways, we humans have made God in our own image, we project our own desires and plans onto God, claiming divine endorsement for our human thoughts and schemes.

We have to be careful with God-talk. Very careful. It is so easy to fall off into idolatry, to worship a God we’ve invented! Even we progressives are at risk of constructing an idol, though ours might look more like a combination of Mother Jones and Gandhi. And if this was where things ended, where this sermon ended, we’d be in big trouble. We’d have no reason to consider God, God would be irrelevant to our lives. There’d be nothing to grab onto, just this beyond things that was scary and difficult. But it doesn’t end there.

God is unknowable. We are finite, we are like the ancient parable of the blind man and the elephant, trying to describe what he could not see, could not reach. And every time we encounter God, we perceive and conceive as humans, as finite beings. Divine revelation always gets remembered and recorded through the imperfect instrument of humans. And that’s okay! We are humans, and we are finite, and we are amazing miracles every moment. We are the inexplicable mystery of life and consciousness, we are love and we are transcendence. We are making it up, but we are doing it with humility and with love.

And then there is Jesus. Dashboard Jesus, Buddy Christ. Why can we depict Jesus in these ways? Because Jesus is an eruption of God-ness in the world. Because despite what Marilyn McCord Adams calls the metaphysical size gap between humans and God, Jesus is the bridge. Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the gospels is one of breaking the rules. Even in Matthew! Again and again Jesus seems to be saying, “Oh, silly humans. It’s not about rules and exclusion. It’s about radical love, radical selflessness. It’s about grabbing this amazing life by the horns and riding it for all its worth. It is about embracing life and letting life embrace you back!”

Kaufman describes it this way:
“The radicality of Jesus’ preaching and teaching (as we find it in the New Testament) simply cannot be lived out in any legalistic way […] it should also be clear that the radicality of Jesus’ demands may startle our minds into fresh thinking about how we humans need to reorder our lives and our world.”

There is the challenge before us. We progressives wrap ourselves in a blanket of tolerance and allow others to dominate the conversation, to recklessly claim divine endorsement, to claim America as the nation of the new new covenant. The idolatrous God-talk of the Neo-Pharisees is used to justify the destruction of other humans, of the very ability of the planet to sustain life. We need to sharpen our skills, screw up our courage, and take on those who claim to speak for God. We are the United Church of Christ. We are the church of God become human. Our God is not a petty and punitive dictator. Our God is the amazing radical love and service in Christ. We are a church that must preach the good news and denounce the idols. We must be one part Isaiah, one part Ezekiel.

Oh, I’ll still complain when I get home today that the stove top wasn’t wiped off, that the whole floor smells of fish. But even as I do it I’ll know that what really matters is Jesus. The Jesus who couldn’t color in the lines. The Jesus who was creativity and love incarnate. The Jesus who is with us when we gather around the table in the dorm kitchen and break bread together and discuss our sermons and our papers and our hopes and dreams. I hope that in the coming week I can embrace Jesus, that I can walk humbly with my God, that I can do justice. That’s all I can ask for. I hope that this week presents you with a thousand little miracles of life and love. And that’s enough to prevent us from placing God in a box full of rules.

I’d like to close with the finals words of a poem by one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.


Great Thoughts

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“A culture of self-deception can be useful. For example,the U.S. recently deployed a missle-defense system that doesn’t work as a deterrent against Iranian missles that don’t exist. In this age of asymmetrical warfare, it’s a welcome change.”
-Ed Spivey Jr. in the May 2007 issue of Sojourners


Apocalyptic- A Problem in Process

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I have recently been thinking through one model of how we respond when our belief system no longer coheres with the world around us, with our experiences. This is the ground of constructive theology.

A great example is the shifting “doctrine of God” in the Hebrew Scriptures. Layers of text show us a shifting understanding of YHWH. God begins as the warrior/tribal god of the Moses people that leads them out of Egypt and assists them in conquering the Canaanites. By the time of the Babylonian Exile, God has been reconceived as the Creator, the God of all nations. Faced with repeated defeat, the Israeli cultus could either abandon its god as weak, or change its understanding of God. The “doctrine of God” continued to change. It was transformed by Hellenism, by neo-Platonism, by the Enlightenment.

This theological trajectory represents one strategy for the crisis of incoherence. The other strategy is the prophetic call, the requirement that we change our experience in the world to bring it in line with our theology. We might think of the Civil Rights movement (and its predecessor, the Abolitionist movement) as one example of this strategy.

The final strategy is apocalyptic. I have been working this out in a number of papers, but the basic idea is that when the tension between experience and theology has become so great as to cause cognitive dissonance, and neither of the above listed strategies will resolve the crisis, reality (experience) is marginalized. Since one can assume that certain events in the real world are not responsive to prophetic demands (earthquakes, military defeat, plague), this is primarily an issue when theology has become too rigid.

The period after the Exile, especially the Hellenistic age, is a great example of this move. In the rise of apocalyptic thought, exemplified in the Book of Daniel, we see an abandonment of “real world” strategies. The “world” is understood as imperfect or corrupt, and our theology only need cohere with an “ideal world” as imagined by the apocalyptic author.

The resulting theology may well serve as a anesthetic, but it cannot motivate a people to be involved in the world, except where so doing will bring about the eschaton, the manifesting of the ideal world. And this is almost always seen as a crisis event, bloodshed and destruction.

Those who hold an apocalyptic theology in today’s world have no reason to work for peace, for ecologic sustainability. For them, actions that accelerate the crisis are good. They are among the elect, they need not be worried.

Today’s world is in crisis. Since the bombs first dropped on Japan, we have rapidly moved towards the destruction of humankind and all life on earth. Scientists tell us that this generation of children will live to see the oceans die. The “Left Behind”crowd must be rejoicing in the destruction and injustice so evident in human action.

Progressive Christians must renounce apocalyptic theologies as inadequate guides for living in the world. Like many important scholars, theologians, and clergy persons of the past, going all the way back to the Patristic period, we must question the canonicity of apocalyptic texts in Scripture. Martin Luther had his doubts, so can we. The Revelation of John and the Book of Daniel, both fictions, have little place in our pulpits. And when they are used it must be done with extreme care.

Apocalyptic as a theological strategy is dangerous. I am still trying to understand how this relates to other forms of eschatological thought, to Jesus’ own pronouncements of the kingdom. Surely Jesus’ call for social justice represents a theological model of eschatology that does not accelerate crisis!

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