Month: March 2006

Praying the Scriptures … Encountering the Authority of God Mediated by the Spirit …

“How are you doing?” These words often uttered with little interest as to how one is really doing have been asked often lately. A few of my more recent posts referenced my own working through recent events in our faith community. I am appreciative of those who have asked and understood my replies. I fear somehow I may have communicated something of a “hopelessness.”

Quite the contrary. I am more hopeful than at any time in my life. The writer of Hebrews notes that faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb.11:1, ESV) It is the hope of Jesus in resurrection that holds me. While we grapple with the realities of life, we still do so with hope – just think of the Garden of Gethsemane. Most tip the hat at Jesus’ humanity. For many it only provides understanding to the “tempted in all things as we yet without sin.” Somehow we think the humanity of Jesus did not subject him to emotions we feel inappropriate for the “in fleshed one.”

I finished Robert Benson’s book, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True. I have posted a couple of times already on something written causing me to press ahead through he fog of my attempted understanding. If N.T. Wright is correct in asserting that we encounter the authority of God mediated by the Spirit of God in the reading of the Scriptures, what more would we find were we to pray the Scriptures. Many have had this habit for quite some time. I found the following a riveting reminder of just what may happen as we live under the authority of the King as we pray the Scriptures – just what kind of transformation that might mean for we who seek to live out the Incarnation of Jesus in our own lives.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he responded with a prayer that was largely constructed from the phrases taken from Jewish liturgical prayers. The words he groaned on the cross as he died – “Into your hands I commit my spirit” – were quoted from the end of the traditional prayers that had been said at sundown by the faithful for centuries before him.

Many of the parables and stories he told had roots in the Jewish wisdom literature that was contemporary to his times; others had told some of those stories before him as we tell them after him even now. It is less likely that he quoted from the scriptures and the psalms because he dictated them, as some would have us believe, than it is that he did so because he studied and prayed them in the way the faithful had taught him to do, until they had become a part of the very fabric of his thought life.

Say what you will about your quibbles with Benson’s take on the method of scriptural transmission. To linger there without hearing the call to pray the scriptures so they will become the very fabric of your thought life is to miss the point. Our occasion to live out what it means to be the “Body of Christ” hinges on our willingness to fall under the authority of the King – we meet it in the Scriptures and experience it by the Spirit.

It is “these words of life” that give hope when to do otherwise would be despair. Good News.

Talking “to” each other rather than talking “at” each other …

“What did you mean by that?”

I recall sitting in a Galatians 6:6conference and listening to the facilitators describe the need for more intentional “listening.” They may not have used this description but the intent was the same. You have likely heard someone suggest before drawing a conclusion about what someone else said, ask, “Is this what you are saying?” The process, though tedious, allows the conversation to develop with better understanding and less potential ire as we filter what we hear burdening it with our own “conceptualities” about a given word or description.

Quite a while back Desert Pastor linked to an article by David R. Blumenthal titled, “Repentance and Forgiveness.” I was immediately caught by this paragraph,

The spiritual task of interfaith dialogue requires each party to understand what the other teaches and what the other does not teach because, in reaching out to the other, we tend to assimilate what we hear to what we already know. It seems, therefore, prudent to note those conceptualities which Judaism does not embrace in the hope Catholics will, then, better be able to set aside ideas already familiar and reach out to encompass ideas that are not already-known.

Theological conversations are laden with the particular conceptualities each party brings to the dialogue. When one assumes to know what the other is talking about without listening we find ourselves being talked at in the response rather than talked to. I have watched the back and forth between those at Fide-O and the BHT. Since adversarial blood already exists “some” participants in the dialogue appear to be talking past others and so there is a talking “at” rather than a talking “to.” I admit to my own guilt from time to time when intensities run high.

Joe Thorn offers a most noteworthy post on the way in which we talk with and about each other – The Ninth. Among the many well written paragraphs, I found this one to be a consistent description when cooler heads fail to prevail,

Recently some men have been accused of being â??Ã?úliberalâ??Ã?ù theologians. Vague generalizations are being made, people are not quoted, sound argument is not made, but naked assertions and accusations are released in an effort to warn others to stay away. â??Ã?úThat guy is a liberal in evangelical clothing!â??Ã?ù My trouble is that in some cases these accusations amount to unrighteous distortions of the truth. And I have to say, I am grieved.

He adds later,

Look, if you think someoneâ??Ã?ôs theology is dangerous, then deal with it. Use the manâ??Ã?ôs words, and show where his words speak heresy or false doctrine. I believe this is one of the tasks of our pastor-theologians and professors. But it must be done with care and precision, not passion and presumption. This forces everyone to be honest and fair.

Misrepresenting the ideas of another is both a misrepresentation of the truth, and it is unbecoming of the church. Such habits are satanic, and the danger is double because it encourages others to repeat the lie and spread the sin. As Watson put it, â??Ã?úA false witness perverts the place of judicature; he corrupts the judge by making him pronounce a wrong sentence, and causes the innocent to suffer.â??Ã?ù

The carelessness of it all amazes me. Watson explains that men who would never steal anotherâ??Ã?ôs goods donâ??Ã?ôt think twice about robbing a man of his reputation.

Some appear to be all too quick to throw around the word “heretic.” Do the hard work. Do the tedious work. Listen with a view to understanding before violating the “Ninth.” Good post Joe.

IMB … Did not see that one coming … at least that way …

News out of Florida indicates the IMB Trustees determined a way to quell dissent. On my way to visit folks in a couple of hospitals a friend called who has observed the IMB developments as an “outsider.” [read, not Southern Baptist] Many would care little what an outsider thought but since our actions do not take place in a vacuum and the SBC represents the largest “baptist” denomination in the world we should pay careful attention to the way in which our actions are perceived by observers. He commented to me wondering why the Board of Trustees would flaunt their “authority” in everyone’s face. (He did not state is so diplomatically.) I admit to expecting something interesting but it never occurred to me a denomination with dissent in its history would shy away from such as we look for ways to grow and participate in the declaration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Many people dismiss the observations of Bill J. Leonard in his little book, God’s Last and Only Hope. It is too easy to label him a liberal. Too easy to consider him to be a person whose team did not win so he will “cast stones.” However, his assertion the SBC may one day splinter out of existence may well come to pass. The actions of the IMB, as reported by Marty (Pt 1,Pt 2,Pt 3,Pt 4) and noted by Wade (here [prior to the new communication policy] , here, and here) indicate the decision to maintain unity by coercion. I realize Wade could resign and so talk and write as much as he cares to regarding his brief tenure on the IMB Board. He notes well his consistent intent to comply with policies. I do not expect anything different as he has maintained his integrity throughout this unpleasant experience. But, the new policies do not allow for disagreement to be aired in any public way.

The irony lies in Marty’s post indicating the introduction of the new trustee policies replacing, “The Blue Book.” The way to keep discussion from the public arena is to quickly present actions for decision without time for healthy discussion – which may require more than a “sleeping on it.” When decisions are thrust on Trustees in this manner it plays well into the attempt to keep discussion in the public arena from taking place. Look for any major decisions to become public formalities. Caucus groups were not addressed and so will continue to operate. They will work to entrench themselves and move decisions to “Executive Session” and look for something of a public “rubber stamping” to occur quickly so Trustees will then be required to speak only positively.

We are left with no apology to Wade for the manner in which the board acted with haste and subjected him to charge without substantiation. We are left with a Board expressing an apparent impulsiveness to ensure its own power. I have not begun to express my thoughts about the treatment of Dr. Rankin as described by Marty and Wade. Suffice it to say, this too should not be surprising. If the level of integrity cannot rise to an apology for false accusations how could we expect this same group to do anything less than chase after Rankin because one person did not get his way. Why if the leadership in our local churches experienced this same thing we would find more looking to sell shoes, cars and insurance. We cannot abide the whims of one when the picture is much larger than that one person.

The correspondence with Trustee leadership at least implied a more forthcoming atmosphere. The only thing forthcoming is the solidification that nothing will be forthcoming that is not first spun to the liking of a coerced unanimity.

I did not see this coming. Carp on Bill Leonard all you want, he may well have been on target. Time will tell – if you have the time and care to tell.

Silence … and the Voice …

What to do about those times wherein we find ourselves overwhelmed by life and yet need not only to talk to God but to hear? Trite responses need not be posted in the comment section – they will be disallowed. Our finitude becomes apparent in crisis. Feelings of failure and the lack of success rush in keeping us not only silent but believing God is also silent. What to do about this silence?

We live with such a cultural expectation we should be successful and that certain occupations carry an inherent greater value than others. One youngish fellow I recently shared some time with noted his sibling to be successful, which also meant well-adjusted, as compared to himself. I wondered out loud just what do we mean by successful. The conversation carried with it a layer that suggested those who are successful and well-adjusted must by nature experience a “closer walk” with God. Just what does that mean anyway? I read about Abraham and Jacob and find God often near them even when they are lying, double-crossing self-preservationists. I understand what sin does to us as we hope to relate to God. I understand what we say it does to God. But, when reading the story of God in the Hebrew Scriptures I find a number of illustrations, including those just mentioned, where the main character lived in ways we would summarily dismiss as contrary to the intended manner for the people of God and yet God seems to be ready to talk and listen.

Facing the brunt end of a tragedy often leaves one wondering just what success means and at the same time wondering and wandering intent to hear the Voice – the voice of God. Silence is often the ominous specter of loneliness. Yet, it is often the silence we need so we may hear the Voice. Robert Benson ( see the previous post) offers what may be in back of the perceived silence. He writes,

The Voice that my little friends claim to hear and to recognize in the middle of the night is the same one that we grownups who call ourselves Christians claim to seek and to have found. It is the Voice that said, “Let there be light,” and removed the darkness in a single sentence. It is the Voice that whispered the Word that was in the beginning. It is the one that the Psalmist claims whispered us into being and the one that gives counsel in the night.

It is not a voice to be trifled with. The Israelites heard it once and promptly demanded that from then on Moses take notes for them. We have pretty much been doing that one way or another ever since.

We love to read and tell the stories of the way that God spoke to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Jonah, and the rest of them. However, we do not often remind ourselves that before they were heroes of the faith they were wanderers and wastrels, shepherds and stutterers, altar boys and mama’s boys, small time business folks and clumsy parents. Folks like us, pretty much. The difference is that they thought they heard the Voice and were foolish enough to say so and to act upon what they thought they heard.

We, however, claim that God speaks to us and then wait patiently in our pew for someone with a degree and a robe and a hospital parking pass to tell us what the Voice might be whispering to us deep inside. We pray for guidance and then worry about whether the voice we hear within us the Voice. (Benson,p.49-50)

Could it be the silence is our fear of the Voice and so we use our new fangled earphones to sample out the Voice and mistake it for silence as we live into the noise of trouble? Benson offers the thought that we just may be afraid of what the Voice will say calling us into something new and we would prefer an inoculating silence.

We need the Voice to whisper our name so that out of our trouble we find the newness wrought by the active Spirit of God.

Lifted above the valley … Dreaming of Coming True … Again …

In “Pervasive … Getting your mind around life …,”I mentioned a number of people with whose families I have walked through the valley of death. You never know just how you will respond emotionally to a sudden death. I felt myself feeling the way I had a few years ago when in the space of eight months we lost young folks a the ages of 18, 7 and 3. During those days I confess to feelings I had never had before. I had read about depression and even helped people wrestle through that very difficult experience. To that point I had never been able to say with any kind of integrity, “I know how you feel.” So I didn’t.

After about five months of feeling as though life may be a never ending fog I looked around for someone with whom I could discuss these new found uneasy feelings. During the week past week I felt the same feelings lurking. I recalled a book the late Mike Yaconelli mentioned in a talk given at the First National Pastor’s Convention in San Diego in 2001. He read from Robert Benson’s, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True,

I would almost rather we had died that day
than to have found ourselves here,
lost somewhere between the dreaming
and the coming true.

I picked up Benson’s book later that year and read through his story of battling depression. Last week I picked it up again. I found his description of the “hello” that follows the “good-bye” to remind the reader we cannot say, “hello,” if we have not said “good-bye.” Setting up his thoughts of loss that often precedes depression he wrote,

It then follows that forgiveness is not much of a concept without something for which to forgive and be forgiven. Healing has no meaning in the absence of illness. Peace is no treasure at all to those who have known no war and no strife. Saying hello has no joy in it without the saying of good-bye. (Benson,p.38)

We said good-bye to Lyle last week as we have said good-bye to many whom we love. Our understanding of the hope of Jesus of resurrection, and so our hope of resurrection makes the good-bye the antecedent to a soon coming hello. Benson describes his thoughts,

I am coming to believe that the thing God said just before “Let there be light” was “Good-bye, dark.” And that Noah could not say hello to the rainbow without first having said good-bye to the world as it disappeared beneath the waters of the flood. And that something deep and mysterious about saying good-bye from the bottom of a pit made the hello that Joseph spoke to his father all those years later all the more wondrous. “Good-bye, Egypt” turned out to be another way for the Israelite to say “Hello, Canaan.”
Good-bye, Jesus of Nazareth,” whispers Mary through her tears at the foot of the cross on Friday afternoon. “Hello, Lord of the Universe,” she murmurs to the one she mistakes for a gardener, on Sunday morning. (Benson,p.38-39)

He concludes the chapter,

Until there is good-bye, there is no hello. Until there is a journey away, there is no coming home.(Benson,p.40)