According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Presence of God in an Open Bible




*Note: Today's post was originally titled "The Emergence of Prayer to that of Tradition" where I have made several edits and deletions from the former piece's discussion.

When considering the presence of God and the concept of an open Bible perhaps the best place to start is with the topic of "prayer" by comparing it to that of a dynamic relationship between two individuals - be it a friendship, or between dating couples, marital spouses, brothers and sisters, congenital twins, working relationships, or career service partnerships. From this familiar basis we might then posit what a relationship with the God of the bible might be like, and from there perhaps draw even further inferences to how the bible might be read as a dynamic, open letter from God to mankind. A revelatory letter telling us about God - who He is and what He is doing - to each succeeding generation, era after human era. And with that inference perhaps suggest a more open, dynamic hermeneutic (e.g, "study" or "interpretation") for biblical and theological discussions. For now let us call this approach an "open hermeneutic" so that with an open bible laid upon the hermeneutical foundations of (i) biblical study with help from (ii) historical Church testimony and (iii) present day experience we might acknowledge that God's presence is as real (or present) to us now - in our present lives and livelihoods - as it will someday be in the heaven to come to which each Christian looks forward to in resurrected renewal. With these few introductory comments let us then begin while saving for some future date further exploration about the presence of God in today's faiths, liturgies, and our everyday lives....

Prayer is as vitally important to the Christian life as God's living presence is to that Christian life. When we speak to friends we develop a relationship that evolves over time with one another. It grows and seeks to establish a resonance between the two individuals involved. The how-and-why-and-what that creates relationship is mostly undefined and simply acknowledged as the mindful presence of the one person with the other. We don't normally try to define that presence when actively participating in it. We simply receive it as it grows and expands through love, and loving participation, of ourselves to another, and that other to ourselves.

At other times a relationship may experience struggle, disappointment, misunderstanding, and the many other things that may cause a relationship to become static or to loose traction. Mostly it is through the ill-communication of words, intents, actions, or misplaced expectations, hopes and dreams (however necessary or needful those may be; if unmet they can sour a relationship's progression). But those who will walk with us and wish to be in a relationship with us (of whatever kind) will abide throughout those times to some degree or manner - sometimes in full participation and sometimes not at all. But by communicating and staying in relationship with one another, many of those difficult times can become understood, with backward insight and invited relational dialogue about those events. Perhaps forgiveness will be required. Perhaps patience and trust during periods of trial and testing. Perhaps a personal accountability must occur. But overall, a relationship is allowed to scuff along until it either ends or can begin again in promised renewal.

Parents experience this with their children... more especially with the development of that child into a young adult where the latter years can strain a family relationship. Where both child and parent actively learn to adapt and change to one another through relational reassessment, engagement, and lively interpersonal dialogue in order for that final stage to find its fullest independence and continuance. Different children go through it differently. And the same with parents. Each must be willing to lay down what once was to what is now occurring. It can be a very difficult time. God does this with us. Even as we do with Him. He grows with us in our turmoils and struggles as we sort out our personal identity, meaning, validation, and purpose. It can be messy but staying in communication with God oftentimes helps, not hurts. (Unless it's our imperfect image of God that needs destruction and rebirthing into a truer picture of the God of the Bible... as we grow God grows with us and without this growth God may simply become a fake reality. However, it is we ourselves who have made God fake - or perhaps allowed to become dissembled at the hands of other people's ideologies and belief structures grown static and impersonal, misleading or destructive, with time and tradition. God is as true as He ever was. It was we that have become untrue or have made Him untrue.)

Consequently, prayer is primarily about relationship. About presence. About sharing one's self with another and allowing that relationship to grow or die, to mature or break down, but through it all to attempt a kind of personal responsibility for that relationship. Many times children do not have mindful friends - they will play with anybody at any given time or place. They accept other children into their lives innocently and only withdraw through hurtful experiences or parental whisperings and warnings. By their teenage years children have grown up enough to have created a specialised array of guardedness and acceptance of others. They have been hurt often enough by disappointment or active harm to have a sophisticated set of personal barriers which a new relationship must march through in order to be safely accepted. By mid-life, and with maturity, those barriers may have been lowered as one's personal strengths, understanding, and bigotries have become lowered; or, has grown even higher, through personal mistrust, defeat, suspicion, or even because of the inability to handle any further disappointment.

This may result from an individual not having developed the personal tools of artful self-discrimination, self-love or self-acceptance. Later events and friendships might provide these tools and abilities for maturation and personal self-assessment and acceptance. But sometimes the damage has been so ingrained as to make progress practically impossible. Mostly because it is very difficult to love others when we cannot love ourselves. God's love for us is our beginning point. Understanding God's love for us can create a whole other reality that we have never known or believed possible.

This is the value of teaching the love of God in Jesus to others. Jesus' love was personal. It was sacrificial. Selfless. Atoning. Redeeming. Freeing. Liberating. Unbinding. Like fresh water to the thirsty. Like meat and bread to the hungry. It stands in our place against all our sin and lifts us up to God's very presence saying "This one is mine and so has this one become yours too." Jesus' love is kind, patient, long suffering. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things to those desperately needing God's love living on the edges of life's abandonment and dark hopelessness. It comes to the realization that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him, trusts in Him, accepts Him, or allows Him in, will not perish, but find resurrected hope and eternal life (John 3.16). This is a promise become a reality throughout this wicked world's history of pain and disappointment. A promise that makes all things new. Including ourselves. That sees the world remade in God's image of beauty and brightness. What once was godless is now filled with God's presence of life-giving promise, healing, and the certainty of His presence.

Overall, prayer is a two-way participation between God and ourselves. Just as a relationship is a participation between two individuals in the give-and-take roles that arrive at an intimate understanding of one another. The methodologies of communication will evolve over time but the primary methodology is that of speaking to one another and sharing one's thoughts, heart and mind. It may be in wordless conversation or in a spoken conversation. But it is a communication that learns about the other person's desires, thoughts, heart, mind and soul. And in this case, when that presence and relationship is very God Himself, we learn to listen and take in what He has to say to us through His Word. For His divine presence is everyday around us - from the people we meet to the world we live in.

However, it should also be realized that though Churches and Christian fellowships pray to God, and pray to seek God's face, they each are transitioning in their understanding of God as well. No one body of believers can be absolute in their knowledge, in their beliefs, or in their dogmas. If they are than they have become stagnant and closed off to God's presiding Spirit ministering to mankind. To pretend that everything that has been said and can be known of God has occurred by 400 A.D. (the Apostolic Fathers era and closing of the Canon), or by 1054 A.D. (Eastern Orthodoxy's dissolvement of ecclesiastical ties to Rome), or by the 1600-1800's (the Reformational movement), or even more recently, by the 1980's with Evangelicalism's disposition upon "inerrancy" (and with it, some form of interpretive "traditional/classic Christian dogma) is preposterous. Yes, we must pay attention to what the Church of the past centuries has discovered and taught (which also includes Catholicism as well!), but to say that God cannot speak any longer is to have arrived at a closed Bible instead of an open Bible. A Bible that is evolving with mankind and ministering to societal needs today and not to yesteryear's more austere (or is it revered?) doctrines. The Bible has room to grow - and we with it - this is the nature of language, of communication, of presence. This is the nature of God's abiding communication and presence with us in the here-and-now.

Consequently, we must realize that our subcultural belief systems, our personal alienations, our skewed theologies, even the events in our lives, can speak imperfectly of God. That experience, tradition, or societal mores should never be the final word about God. We are imperfect individuals each with a rich tradition of personhood and heritage. It is both the Church's strength and the Church's weakness. But proper self-doubt is necessary when approaching God through the eyes of His fellowship. Sometimes we are fortunate and will have fallen into a fellowship that speaks God's word good enough (in the classic or traditional sense, but this can also be its own undoing, as we have just noted). More often is the case that Church's fellowships are in the process of growing in their understanding of God just as much as we ourselves are on a personal level. And it is through the gifting of the body of Christ that God leads and directs His Church into the paths of His Word and unto the gifts of righteousness, wholeness and healing. And curiously, that spiritual gifting may be you, however young or inexperienced you are. You may be the key to your Church's spiritual vitality and health.

But it is vitally important to widely read everything from newspapers to best selling books, both popular and academic. And to widely study the traditions and the histories of the Church, of culture and society itself, and most importantly one's present era. And then to add to this wealth of knowledge the vitally important task of communicating with people - from the man on the street, to the person in the pew. To households and schools, to parents and children, teens and college students. To mechanics and pilots, businessmen and bankers, bluecollar workers, field hands and factory employees. To know and understand the very same people you wish to minister to. And to this effort one must research the newer theologies presently occurring. As is the case here in this Emergent blog with its emphasis upon the contemporary advancement of newly proposed theological ideas and researches that are occurring throughout various academic disciplines that are progressively evangelic, or what we are calling, emergent. Without new disciples the Church can (and will) stagnate and die. God's flock needs wise shepherds who can become good and wise leaders. Who can share the Way of Christ, or the Gospel of Jesus (or by whatever name we may call it) with others wherever they are on the road of life. Our belief structures (known as epistemologies) will change and perhaps must change. We are not God. Nor do we know everything about God. In fact, we know very little and must become as much disciples of Jesus, as we are to disciple Jesus to others. As Christians we are always in the process of growth and metamorphosis - learning to die to self while serving others. It is a hard road that often defeats us but must daily be encountered in the power of God and by His mighty Holy Spirit.

Prayer is but one of those relational tools that God has gifted mankind with through the presence of Himself by His Spirit. But that same divine relationship is everywhere around us in the daily events of our lives as we learn to listen and discern. God walks amongst us in the trials of the day and the beauties of the night. He is there. His loving guidance does not dim however harsh the paths of this frail life. However abandoned you may feel. God is there. However unheard you feel. God is listening. His love is yours - as fully in this life as it well be the next life hereafter. That faith-living requires living with some faith-tension. With the unknown. With the mysteriousness of God's plans and purposes. That we give up our desire for control and allow His will to be done. Not ours. And in return what does God promise? He promises to be always with us. He promises His presence in place of answers. He promises that He will walk through every dark valley and every high mountain with us. That He will never leave us nor forsake us. That the peace of His presence will be power enough to lead and to guide us.

And as we have the strength and ability, the gifting and resources, we must now share God's love to this world that does not know God to the furtherance of God's abiding Kingdom. For today is the day that we each must become like children of the Kingdom, seeking that our Father-God lead and guide us unto the giving of good gifts to those around us. Gifts that will birth life and not death. Hope in place of hopelessness. Fulfillment in place of disappointment and lost. For it is in the losses of life that we become rich. It is in the disappointments of life that we might grow. It is in the abandonment of life that we are delivered. Odd? Yes. But never so true as for the sinner saved by God's grace and the believer trying to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.

R.E. Slater
October 27, 2012


I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit....
- John 15.5
1 Corinthians 13
English Standard Version (ESV)

The Way of Love

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Footnotes:
  1. 1 Corinthians 13:3 Some manuscripts deliver up my body [to death] that I may boast
  2. 1 Corinthians 13:5 Greek irritable and does not count up wrongdoing


 
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