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Here’s two books that have got me über fired up lately-

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkart

and

Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, by Robert D. Lupton

They both deal with concepts of community transformation and development in addressing issues of poverty.  They are  excellent reads on transforming the wealthy  and the poor.

P.S.  I popped in on Jim Wallis’ book tour recently.  He offered some great ideas and questions around a cultural need for values reform as we face the causes and consequences of economic crisis, bail-outs, etc.  The new book is Rediscovering Values: on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street.  The talk was great.

The soup du jour for our last day of class was Pentecostalism.  Hallelujah!  This was a fun one for me.   We watched a little history of the Azusa Street revival of 1906.  I fully enjoyed it.  I found it to be a really interesting thing to watch a video and hear a lecture on what I consider to be my primary faith expression.  In ways it was liking hearing someone else talk about your family.  It was kind of affirming just to have my experience and tradition being discussed and it gave new language to what has been so common place to me.  It reminds me of when a funny and articulate woman was renting a room at my parents’ house.  She described my Mom as “deep and random.”  Man did she hit the nail on the head.  I always had sort of just considered my Mom to have a penchant for zoning out in thought.  But “deep and random” better encapsulated her delving deep into thoughtfulness and returning with treasures from which we didn’t know the source or context.  And there was that sense of seeing family resemblances too.  Like hey, that’s where I got my nose from and great aunt so and so liked to holler too.  Except the resemblances had to do with diversity, egalitarianism, worship, and gifts of the Spirit.  It also felt something like looking in the mirror after the getting a haircut, it was familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time.  I wanted to yell out in proud affirmation.  Kind of like, “Hey that’s me!  Would you look at that?”  All in all, it was a rather sweet note to end on.  

P.S.  Life has consisted of much more than just classes this past quarter.  I’ll shoot out some updates after finals.

He probably would have pronounced it "Cal-ee-fone-ya" too.

It was a dark day for John Calvin.   We had the equivalent of John Calvin fest 2009 (Bolger was lecturing on Calvin and the Reformed tradition) in class last Wednesday and none of the Presbytarians decided to represent.  What was the excuse for their absence?  Well, Wednesday class attendance was low due to the pre-Thanksgiving exodus.  And, as it turned out, of the 1/4 or so of class that showed up, none were Presbyterian.  Of all the insults to dear ol’ Cal, his own peeps don’t show up because they are off celebrating the survival of a bunch of church folk who were trying to get away from the state.  Nuts.  (Please see my apology and correction in the blog above for 11/30.)
As it turned out, Calvin practically wrote the vows and performed the ceremony for the Protestant wedding of the church and state.  Calvin, I learned, wrote the Institutes as a response to the existing marriage of church and state.  Not only was he calling, like Luther, for reform in the practices of the church, but Calvin was creating a coinciding reform for civic society.  Church and state were so intimately intertwined in the 16th century that reforming the church really meant one had to reform the state.  So he did, starting with Geneva.  Perhaps the Presbyterians in my class already knew this and therefor had no qualms of conscience about being absent.  I’ve only just recently started dabbling in Presbyterianism myself, so I really couldn’t say.  

Overall, I was thrilled to get this broad overview about Calvin and what all he was responding to, and a little bit of a picture of why Presbyterians  do what they do.  I love historical contexts!  I love learning stories and seeing how those stories connect to today.  Whacky business.

 

Please stand up. Please stand up.

The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, doesn’t cut any corners when it tells the stories of its heros.  (Well maybe a few corners- like we don’t know much about Melkizedek or Enoch, and how do Rahab get integrated into the Israelites, did Deborah have a role model, was Daniel married, did Samson and Absalom have dreadlocks…?)  In their worst moments, Moses murdered someone and figured his speech impediment could stop God speaking through him,  Jonah didn’t want the people saved that he prophesied to, and Sarah thought she could use people to speed up God’s promises.  In the OT we read all the beauty and honor and ugliness.  Every family had dysfunction, the majority of folks had skeletons in the closet or had experienced some intense hardship.  Why should leaders of the faith today or through the rest of history be any different?  We still see great leaders with nasty histories and some real blunders along the way in need of redemption.  And we can still appreciate the history shifting acts of God’s grace and learn from people’s follies.

All that to say that we studied a bit more of Martin Luther.  Why do these reformers and leaders have to be so complicated?  Couldn’t they just do the right thing through and through? Advocate for the Bible being put into the hands and language of the people? Yes!  Promote that every believer has direct access to God and argue against the selling of forgiveness of sins. Yeah!  Anti-semitism and promoting nationalistic religion?  No!  There seems to be no harm in Luther wanting to question celibacy as the best plan, but why must he disparage the roles of monks altogether?     

Luther, seen in the light of the OT reminds me of how God continues to work through us with all our triumphs and foibles.  I hate the mistakes.  Upon looking at the consequences of history’s tales of dissonance with God’s character, I grit my teeth and roll my eyes and seethe a bit over the paths of brokenness that need to have been.  But  thar they be.  There are a couple of responses we can have to this blend of the sublime and the foolish.  All the imperfections can lead us to give up on the whole endeavor.  We might ask, “Who wants to be part of this community of believers when God allows all these screw-ups to run things?”  Or we can thank God for using the fallible and weak and even ourselves to bring about His life-giving purposes.  And we can remember to walk with great humility and to trust God to overwhelm us with His redemption.   

 

Be brave!  Read this post even though the title looks terribly dry.   I’ll do my best to make it a bit interesting, though I’m feeling Monday  disorientation.  Monday is the morning of the week, and I’m a night owl.  It’s not that I don’t like the morning (or Monday), I’m just usually not overly coherent.  Mornings are the part of the day when I stare off blankly a lot as if I’m hoping to see my mind in the distance returning to me.  And Mondays are the breaking dawn of the week when I can tend to feel a bit  out of it all day.  So, my apologies on the last blog and perhaps apologies on this one too.

So here’s the short and sweet of it.  New Monasticism refers to a recently surging Christian movement where people are deciding to live in intentional communities together, sharing resources, and living among the urban poor.  There is an emphasis on community spiritual disciplines and simplicity.  I love this stuff like a hog loves slop,  like a chicken loves to scratch, and like Cher loves to perform- necessarily, habitually, and endlessly.  (Did I mention that I’m scheming up a community on the Mediterranean coast?  It’s something I like to think about anyway.)  If you like to read books to learn about these sorts of things, check out “New Monasticism” by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove,  or maybe “New Friars” by Scott Bessenecker.  A real good starter is “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne.  Ok, so I haven’t read the first two, but they would be good launching pads I think.  And Shane’s book may seem a bit overly chatty, but it has great ideas to engage with.  

And Reform.  It was interesting to look at the protests of the early Protestants and to consider the role that technology and societal structures played into getting the Bible into the non-clergy’s hands.  It is also interesting and sad to see the struggle that goes on in the midst of change.  Some of the people calling for reforms then turned harshly and violently on other reformers.  And it is interesting to see how today Lutherans are hardly seen as movers and shakers.  I wonder what  the New Monastics will look like  in a couple hundred years?

Well folks, I’ve run a bit behind on one of my blog days from class.  Better late than never in this case.  So here’s a little something on the Catholic Church.  This one’s a bit dry.  Sorry all.

This is admittedly a tough one to blog about.  Tough because this covers a pretty painful section of Christian history.  The class lecture covered a survey of the way the Catholic Church did mission work around the world.  Plenty of lessons to be learned.  Such a mixed bag.  The bad end of the stories are so bad its demoralizing and shocking.  But the positive way mission was done is exemplary  even today.  There is a contrast of inquisitions and slavery, with incarnational living among the poor and humble wisdom to not impose European culture as Christ-centered culture.  The era we covered was loosely the 16th centering, spilling over on both ends.  This would make a good study in and of itself on how the Gospel is shared cross-culturally.  

And flashing forward in history, we touched on Latin American Liberation theology as well.  This dealt with the systemic issues of poverty and sought to put the Bible in the language and hands of the people.  Its pretty political theology.  A friend told me about it years ago after returning from a Summer working in Central America.  The opinions on it seem to be all over the board.  I don’t think I can avoid running into it some more as I seek to be involved in addressing issues of poverty in a globalized economic context.

A few thoughts from a lecture on emerging church expressions.  The case study we discussed was a report put together by the Church of England.  The lecture centered around cultural shifts and 12 church forms that are being employed and developed in the midst of this shift.

 

There seemed to be a paradox going on within the models expressed.  They were both extremely diverse and decidedly monocultural.  The church forms ranged from participatory artistic worship gatherings, to community organizing style groups in poor communities, to organic gatherings in pubs and cafés.  Each form of church seemed creative and at the same time very niche related.  Artists fellowship here, the young over there, and neo-beatniks over here.  How do we integrate the pub goers, the artists, the young , old, hip, impoverished, well-off, immigrant and local?  I love love love the varying expressions of people seeking Christ together, but I also sense a sort of segregating or isolating going on in these expressions.  The Body of Christ, as described in the New Testament, is made up of all sorts of people living out God’s love in unity.  Unity in diversity seems to be a part of the life-giving manner of how God made us to flourish.  We need to encourage this in our midst as we reinvent and innovate the functions and expressions of being the “church.”  How might be encourage that in the midst of all these new expressions?

 

And as a side note:

There seems to be an underlying assumption in these sorts of discussions that the religious culture of the U.S. will follow in the footsteps of Europe.  Is America’s religious temperature necessarily going to emulate Europe’s?  Might immigrants (thanks Hanciles), raucous American Evangelicalism, and myriad of variables be shaping the faith landscape of America in ways that look nothing like England or Europe?

Followers of Christ are told to be known by their love.  It seems that in many ways we are known by the messes we make in which God breaks through with redemption.  That is not the only story, but it is a loud one in the history of the church.  We must humbly call out for and receive mercy from birth to death.  It is hard to see what a mixed bag Christianity can be.  

We discussed the role of European empire expansion and the spread of the Gospel.  Though many explorers went out in the name of the Church, what they did was appalling.  The mass murdering, enslavement and stealing by professed believers is shocking and hard to wrestle with.  Cortez kills the Aztecs, takes their gold and conquers Mexico as a man of faith.  How does that work?  How did he justify treating other human beings in this fashion.  Than you have Friar Bartolome de las Casas that goes to Mexico to preach the Gospel to those that weren’t killed.  He opposes the enslavement of the indigenous people, (yay!) but makes some major mistakes on the road to figuring out that all enslavement is wrong.  To my contemporary eyes these look like such glaring wrongs.  What were these people even thinking for a minute?  Mass murder in the name of Jesus?  Importing Africans to be slaves in order to stem the use of local people as slaves?  Heartbreaking. 

What can we learn from these situations?  What terrible injustices are we blindly perpetrating or justifying in the name of the faith?  How are we being more influenced by earthly kingdom ethos than by the values of the Kingdom of Heaven?

More on Orthodoxy this week.  My prof likes to use videos, so we get lots of visuals.  The video we watched Monday clearly had two presuppositions: Orthodoxy is the bizniz and the better the beard the better the man.  Whatever your opinion on Orthodoxy, you have got to admit they take the gold in the bearded Christian department.

Besides beards, I was struck by relationship that the Orthodox Church has had with Islam.  It has been a pretty rough relationship, but one that I thought perhaps the Western Christian church could learn some things from.  The West seems to be scrambling to figure out how to relate and the Orthodox Church has been in the mix with Islamic cultures continuously for centuries. 

My other thought was that the Orthodox Church has been one under persecution for years.  What might the Western Church learn from them and how might we better relate this part of the church?

That’s it for now.  I’ll try to get some beard visuals up for you all next time.

We opened class on Wednesday by praying the Jesus prayer.  It is this simple and poignant prayer from the Orthodox tradition.  The simplest form is “Jesus have mercy on me.”  I have prayed it in other classes and on contemplative prayer retreats.  My experience praying it has been a surprising blessing.  I don’t come from a tradition or experience that uses or esteems written prayers.  Praying it in class was quieting and sweet and help set my mind on what is good and true.

Praying it as a directed devotional time in class brought to mind the first time I prayed it spontaneously.  I had gotten to know a number of young hippies turned Orthodox monks, or at least they were in the neophyte stage of figuring out if they were going to become monks.  Anyways, I had been surfing and working on an organic farm with one such fellow who gave me the long version of the Jesus prayer on the back of an icon card.  I found it interesting and sort of kept it as a souvenir  from my contacts with the Orthodox tradition.  At the time I did not get the purpose or beauty of repetitive prayer.  However, months after receiving the card I was driving an old school bus to my home in San Francisco after just having gotten my bus driver’s license.  As I turned the bus down a narrow side street around the corner from my house, I heard a unnerving scraping sound.  I looked in the side view mirror to see a Mercedes sticking out beyond the rest of the parallel parked cars I had just braked past.  In a split second I concluded that I must have side swiped the Mercedes.  My response  was to start repeating over and over again “Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…”

I don’t know why the Jesus prayer came to mind just then.  But dang was that the best response I’ve ever had to a near accident.  Oh, and there was mercy.  I hopped out and ran back to look at the Mercedes.  There were no marks on it.  There was a Jetta just ahead of it that had its side view mirror collapsed backwards as it was designed to do for just such an occasion.  I think that was perhaps the sound I heard as it hit the side of the bus.  Yes!

Praying and recollections of God’s busdriving mercies were a lovely way to head into studying the development of the Easter Orthodox Church.  More on that next week and hopefully some responses to lectures on monasticism.