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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Certainty of Completion Against Despair




Certainty Against Despair

In life there is death;
and in death there is life;
It is here in this wilderness
where both life and death find,
Completeness from the other
despite the jagged shards within.

In our agony lies a greater finality,
a greater promise bound in the
Time worn promises of a
healing yet to occur,
Bound in the promise of God
Beyond death's reach.

Even as sorrow and tragedy
unbind wounded hearts,
So forgiveness in grief's silence
rebind broken souls waiting,
Eternally waiting for completeness
a'washed tears of grief.

Silence is the wisdom 
which comes from living,
Hope is the deep balm
which comes from knowing,
These, the severe gifts of the mortal
allowed the human breast.

And yet, there is another gift,
the promise of God to all who wait,
A promise that life and death
find meaning in His fellowship,
'Til the world ends and He comes
in the silences of grief's mortality.

- R. E. Slater
3.19,2019


We all bear a past even as we envision a future. One pointing forward to the present present while the other points backwards to the same. Each present present is made from all past presents even as each present present forms the basis for a future made from all past presents. For some, our pasts remain with us for a lifetime. For others the present doesn't stay with us long enough. Even as for others the future doesn't come soon enough, and when it does, doesn't last long enough, or satisfy fully enough. Mostly, we feel abandoned... of ourselves that disappear too quickly into the fogs of what once was, and could have been, to then as quickly slip clear of its own present time. A time we would but wish to hold onto a bit longer leaving a feeling of brokenness lingering in our bones. A brokenness that isn't quite complete, quite healed, quite ended. A brokenness needing more time to savor, to sit within quietly, beholding its sublimity. A sublimity requiring an ending, requiring a healing, or a fullness, and most always requiring melodic notes of completion in soothing choruses of comfort and embrace.

And it is in this sense that death doesn't come just once, but repeatedly through our present presents. Ending things before they are ended. Removing things that were wonderful to know and experience. Feel, and touch. Turning us forwards away from our steady backwards stare. Pushing us away from loved ones, glad times, and things we might hold onto for too long for their dearness of life to us. But in another sense, death holds the keys of life within its grasp. For wherever death is - so is life. Each defining the other with purpose and meaning. Otherwise there would be no present to move into. Nor a future to think about. There could be no other orientation than that of a black blackness, or nothingness, or lifeless silence. In each, both in death and in life, can be found the habitation of the other. Each defining the other with meaning and prose like two halves of the same coin without which there could be no coin:


55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
     Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin,
    and the power of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God! He gives to us
   the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
50[For] I declare to you, brothers and sisters,
that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,
nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep,
but we will all be changed -
52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound,
the dead will be raised imperishable,
and we will be changed.
53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality.
54 When the perishable has been clothed
with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality,
then the saying that is written will come true:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
- 1 Cor 15.50-57



In but a few short sentences and observations the Apostle Paul sums up the Christian hope. That life's completion and fullness is forever fulfilled in the Christ of the Cross where mortality is clothed with immortality, and the perishable with imperishability. It is Christianity's bold proclaim that God's divine presence will forever inhabit creation's seeming voids of presence with purposeful meaning. Its horridness and evil. Threading each broken life into the holy garments of re-creation where each suffering life may find its final completion and rest. Allowing no earthly work to be forgotten. No tearful prayer unheard. No rent passion unfulfilled. No relationship a final finality. Knowing that all who are broken may come through Jesus for immortal healing and life everlasting. And not simply in the next life but, if possible, to begin even now in this very life of our present present in which we live. Possessing lives filled with death with lives filled with eternal hope, love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. Bourne by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Christ, whose Spirit pervades and overcomes life's many deaths with life's intended sense of meaning and divine purpose.

This is the Christian hope. A hope that is present in our present present filling us with the knowledge that our pasts our neither meaningless, nor forgotten, but bound up in the presence of the God of life and breath. The God of immortality and purpose. Who holds each life dear though we may hold it too cheaply, and thereby abandon ourselves to despair, to hatred or jealousy, to unforgotten pains, thus allowing death to live within lives (made up of present moments) meant for life. It is this Jesus who brings life to those who are dead. Who wish to live lives filled with fullness and meaning. Bravely facing all future deaths with the promise of ever-present life overcoming each and every death and pain, sorrow and woe, separation, harm, and hurt. Nay, we are not abandoned. We cannot be. Not by a God of life who would overcome all evils with His love and wisdom. It is such a one to whom we would look to, to find life's meaning, and death's demise: "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? But thanks be to God who has given to us the victory through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

R.E. Slater
October 10, 2013

N.T. Wright, "Paul and the Faithfulness of God" (Vol 4) - Rome and Its Empire

Rome as Empire and Emperor Worship
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/10/10/rome-as-empire-and-emperor-worship/

by Scot McKnight
When Paul arrived in Ephesus, Philippi or anywhere else with his message about the one God and his crucified and risen son, he was not offering an alternative way of being ‘religious’ in the sense of a private hobby, something to do in a few hours at the weekend. He was offering a heart transplant for an entire community and its culture. If ‘the centrality of Artemis was part of what it meant to be an Ephesian,’43 it is not surprising that Paul’s ministry there caused a riot (255). 
By the same token, even the small beginnings of a ‘thick description’ of greco-roman culture such as we have made here indicate that when Paul arrived in a town and began to speak about the one true God, and about this God raising from the dead a man called Jesus who was now to be invoked, worshipped and hailed as kyrios, there was a whole network of assumptions, vested interests, long-cherished traditions, hopes and fears both personal and civic, which would be aroused. When the antagonists in Philippi declare that Paul and Silas are Jews, throwing the city into an uproar by ‘teaching customs which it’s illegal for us Romans to accept or practise’,122 and when the crowd in Thessalonica yell out that Paul and Silas have been ‘turning the world upside down’ by ‘acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus’,123 we can understand, in view of the evidence so far surveyed in this chapter, that these, though carrying an inescapably political dimension, were fundamentally to do with a strong, deep-rooted culture, and within that culture with something we may as well call ‘religion’. ‘Religion’ may not be ultimately the best category for describing or analyzing what Paul was doing, or what he thought he was doing. But it is certainly a key and basic element in what his contemporaries will have seen him doing and heard him saying. And with ‘religion’, in all of these complex senses, we are dealing with what today we might call ‘the fabric of society’, the things which held people together and gave shape and meaning to their personal and corporate life (273-274).
But a pressing issue in today’s scholarship is Caesar or, to ramp him up one notch, Empire.
The Roman empire was the great new Fact of the world which included the Palestine of Jesus’ boyhood and the Cilicia of Saul’s. It proclaimed itself as a bright new world: new roads with new soldiers to march along them, new taxes and new coins to pay them with, new administrations and law- courts, local officials falling over themselves to erect splendid, presti- gious new temples to the divine royal house. New crosses by the roadside, displaying the bird-pecked remains of rebels. Whole cities were redesigned to give honour to the emperor and his family, portrayed, often enough, in the guise of the ancient pagan divinities. Perhaps, after all, the gods had come down in human form. Rome took the eagle as its symbol; popular legend and iconography suggested a direct link to Jupiter, the highest god of all (279).
Now to Empire:
It was not by military force alone that Augustus consolidated his power, or that his successors maintained it. It has been shown in great detail that from the beginning the empire used every available means in art, architecture, literature and culture in general – everything from tiny coins to the rebuild- ing of entire city centres – to communicate to the Roman people near and far the message that Augustus’s rise to power was the great new moment for which Rome, and indeed the whole world, had been waiting. This is what I mean, in this broad sense and in the present context, by ‘rhetoric’ (294).
Wright provides extensive discussion of the empire narrative, the narrative that says history is coming to a golden moment in the Empire’s Caesars, at work in the Roman world among the Roman historians — from Horace and Ovid and Livy but especially Virgil, about whom Wright makes an important observation, one with which I agree:
There is every reason to suppose that an intelligent boy growing up in Tarsus, or for that matter in Jerusalem, would know at least its [Virgil's Aeneid's] main themes, if not its finer details (307). [And now to the conclusion:] “But his grand narrative stands to the grand narrative of Israel’s scriptures, together with their putative final chapter, at worst as a kind of parody, at best as another altar to an unknown god” (311).
Wright ventures into the Empire as religion, or the imperial cult, with a swirling set of paragraphs loaded up with nuances and claims that in spite of all this variety there remains something we can call the “imperial cult.”
  1. There was a long tradition in the East of a divine monarchy.
  2. There was a long tradition as well of worshiping the goddess Roma, Dea Roma.
  3. Hercules was long associated with someone transcendent, with the divine. Flanking him are intellectual and civic heroes seen as gods.
  4. There is the decline of traditional religion and the decision by Augustus to restore the ancient religion/cult, revealing the connection between the new leader and the old gods.
  5. Homes and some more localized settings had their own shrines and religious settings(Lares and Penates). By the use of one word — augusti — these got connected to Augustus himself, leading religious customs to be more connected to the emperor.
  6. Traditional deities were absorbed and renamed in new cultures, as when the Greek gods got new Latin/Roman names and became Roman gods. Kings got connected to these gods as well.  Augustus was portrayed as Jupiter or Zeus.
  7. And Rome’s power was absorbed when local elites, chosen to represent Rome, were unafraid in expressing gratitude to Rome for their gifts and protection.
Now we get to the “divinity of Augustus,” something ambiguously worded but seemingly clear in implication: the man was divine. From a decree in Asia we learn these things:  
Augustus has bestowed great benefits, including ‘salvation’; Asia has held a competition to see who can propose the best way of honouring him, which has been won by the proconsul who suggested this reordering of the calendar. Augustus’s rule has proved a new beginning for the world, and for individuals. He has been raised, as it were, to cosmogonic stature; the Roman imperial system has been equated with the cosmic structures of the world. The events surrounding Augustus’s coming to power are therefore ‘good news’, euangelia, a word virtually always in the plural in such contexts, though, interestingly, always in the singular in the New Testament. This ‘good news’ is not merely a nice piece of information to cheer you up on a bad day, but the public, dramatic announcement that something has happened through which the world has changed for ever and much for the better (327).
Wright catalogs the evidence around the Roman Empire. Everywhere cities had altars and centers for Augustus; space was shaped to focus on the emperor. Here is how Wright puts it together for a good reminder:
There was indeed, then, no single thing we can call ‘the emperor cult’ at any time during the reign of Augustus. However, from the hints in Horace and Virgil to the enthusiastic temple-building in Asia and Palestine, to the soldiers’ drinking-cups in Switzerland, Augustus was the name that was found, literally, on everybody’s lips. The cults worked their way into domes- tic and workshop shrines, and onto signet rings, oil lamps and numerous other small artefacts. Libations were offered to the emperor at every feast whether public or private, a ruling from as early as 30 BC in the enthusiastic aftermath of Actium. However varied the cultic phenomena, however piecemeal the development, however ambiguous some of the phraseology, people were doing with Augustus what they had long done with the ancient pantheon: building temples to his honour, invoking him in prayer, offering sacrifice to him (334). 
The cults, in all their variety, and for all their blending of Augustus with other divinities and especially with Roma herself, came down to a focus on Augustus himself as the lynch-pin to the whole symbolic universe. Thus all the lines, east and west and in Rome itself, pointed to one conclusion, which was confirmed shortly after the great man finally died on 19 August in AD 14. Numerius Atticus, a senator, declared on oath that he had seen Augustus ascending, like Romulus, into heaven. Livia, Augustus’s widow, paid him a million sesterces for his trouble. Augustus thus received in death what he had refused to receive in his life. Suddenly, therefore, what was formerly forbidden now became urgent. A shrine for Augustus was at last built in Rome itself, priests were appointed, with Livia herself as priestess and a new college of priests, the sodales Augustales, consisting of leading senators. A golden image of the late emperor was placed in the temple of Mars, the architectural focus of Augustus’s civic building programme. Other rites and ceremonies were voted. Whereas with Julius Caesar it had taken some time for deification to occur, with Augustus it happened very quickly. This was the final, public, dotting of the ‘i’s and crossing of the ‘t’s in the message that the world had been able to read for some time (335).
Augustus then had climbed to top of Olympus; Tiberius, his successor, was immediately “son of god,” or son of the divine Augustus. Tiberius was moody; Gaius Caligula an egomaniac. Claudius kept pace. Nero was unstable but he too was given similar honors.
 
This is the makings of empire ideology and counter-ideology on the part of the apostle Paul. Was Paul, then, using language to counter the imperial cult in its various forms and ideas?
 
You may know that Joe Modica and I were co-editors of a book called Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not, a book that examined claims made by scholars about anti-empire ideology at work in the NT authors. Our collection of authors routinely argued the evidence was overcooked. Not one of the authors under examination put together as much evidence as is put together here by Tom Wright, meaning we are in need of yet one more evaluation.

 

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