my new task :: working in tradition

I’ve given myself a new task.

I have come to the conclusion that my writing is actually Socratic. That might sound like self-aggrandizement. It’s not.

When I go to write. I usually set all my outlines, plans, and notes out in front of me, lay my hands on the keyboard, and then simply expect the latent brilliance that hides deeps inside me to come to the surface and display itself on the screen. When it takes a little while to emerge (as it occasionally does), I poke myself with a few questions, sure that a little gadfly-prodding will cause the aforementioned brilliance to produce itself in profligate measure. When that fails, I’ll read through my notes, come across someone else’s good idea, type it verbatim, and hope that this is the droplet which will then unleash the torrent of genius onto the page.

Seriously… I can do this for hours.

The final result is as Socratic as the method. In the end, all I’m sure of is how much I don’t know, how little wisdom is in me—on occasion that leads to bouts of depression…

So, I’m headed back to my roots, turning over a new leaf. From here on out, I’m committed to writing like a good Lutheran.

Here is how I imagine the process to work. I will start by confessing that I am depraved and incapable of writing a blooming thing. Get all the despair out on the table from the beginning. Curse the devil a few times in the process for good measure. If writing happens, it is surely grace through faith, and not anything that I’ve been able to produce on my own merits. Any good I write is the work of God in me, and not my own. In the freedom of writing like the sinner I am, I can labor away, lightened of the responsibility to exude brilliance from within.

This had better work. If my thesis takes any longer, I’m going to enter the late stages of Lutheran writing—and see if a cold pint or two helps…

the weakness of the word :: the great task

“The Word’s power is veiled in weakness. If the Word came in full, unveiled power, that would be the final judgment day. The great task of recognizing the limits of their mission is given to the disciples. But when the Word is misused, it will turn against them.” [Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 173]

As the Body of Christ, the Church is called to speak God’s Word in its entirety (not verbatim scripture!) to the whole world. The Church is called and constituted by Word and sacrament as Christ’s body. This is a great mystery. But the one thing that it does not do, is transform the Church into an entity that in itself transcends the limits of earthly life. Christ’s body is a human body like yours and like mine. Just so, the Church’s proclamation is a human word, formed by human thought, and set loose by a human tongue. It is subject to the weakness of human words; it is ambiguous, it is subject to misuse and misunderstanding, it is subject to circumspection and ridicule. As those who speak of God, to God, and for God, Christians do well to remember two things: one, their place in a body larger than themselves; and two, their own doubt, insecurity, and weakness. The Word of God is spoken on earth within the limits of being human (simul iustus et peccator), not by transcending them.

For all that, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church’s Word is no less than Christ’s Word, freely spoken. Lord, have mercy on us all.

a common word :: muslims, christians, and two commands of love

One hundred thirty eight Muslim leaders have sent a letter to the foremost Christian leaders of the world urging peace and reconciliation between the two faiths. Below is a summary of the letter, the longer version can be found here, or at the organization’s website.

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You
(Summary and Abridgement)

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The following are only a few examples:
Continue reading “a common word :: muslims, christians, and two commands of love”

personal belief and corporate confession :: creeds and community (part IV)

The last entry thinking about the creeds focused on the relationship between the creeds and scripture. As normative confession, the creeds guide the boundaries of our interpretation of scripture in order to enable us to read scripture well. The creeds stand as a history lesson about God’s people reading God’s word; they are our opportunity to hear and understand the thought of those Christians who down through the generations have passed on the gospel and put the scripture in our hands. We disregard their advice at our own hazard. We cannot even touch scripture until someone gives it to us – and that event (taking the book into our hands) links us to a long chain that reaches back to the roots of our tradition. Any loss of memory constitutes a crisis of identity, but especially an intentional ignorance with regard to tradition.

In this entry however, I’d like to dig into questions about the normative influence of the creeds within the church today – look at how we relate to these ancient documents, and how we are to look at them. How do creeds function within our communities? What do communities that move away from creeds replace them with? Continue reading “personal belief and corporate confession :: creeds and community (part IV)”

zimbabwe’s archbishop speaks out

The following is the text of a BBC article on Zimababwe’s outspoken Roman Catholic archbishop. Ncube (pronounced “N-ts-oo-bay”) is standing against a unjust government in the name of the church and the people of the nation. I’ve mentioned him before.

Zimbabwe crisis ‘threatens lives’

Archbishop Ncube says Zimbabweans are desperate

Archbishop comments
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube says the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe has reached “life-threatening proportions”.
He accused President Robert Mugabe’s government of not taking responsibility for the deepening crisis.

He says there is almost no fuel in the country, and every day, people are reduced to hunting for a loaf of bread.

The archbishop said it had reached a point where regional political intervention was now needed.

Talks between Zimbabwe’s ruling party and the opposition resumed in South Africa this week, with President Thabo Mbeki responsible for mediating.

‘Megalomaniac’

But Archbishop Ncube said he doubted that President Mugabe would step down as Zimbabwe’s leader, in return for an amnesty deal.

“Mugabe is a man who is a megalomaniac. He loves power, he lives for power. Even his own party are pleading with him – ‘Please stand down, you’ve done enough good’.

“According to Zanu-PF he’s done a lot of good, according to me, he’s done a lot of evil.”

Archbishop Ncube was speaking in Johannesburg as the Solidarity Peace Trust, a church-based non-governmental organisation, launched a new report on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

In its report, the Solidarity Peace Trust, says there has been increasing state repression against dissenting voices since March when many members of the opposition were arrested and beaten.

It also says the governing party in Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF, has lost much of its political legitimacy.

Mr Mugabe blames the worsening economic crisis on a Western plot to remove him from power.

moral (in)formation

The obsession with information in our culture has left us with a situation in which we each choose our own elders and role models.

Previously, your parents, your extended family, or your community would pass lessons on to you about the meaning of life and the proper way to exist in the world. One went through years of an “apprenticeship” watching one’s parents interact with all sorts of people, work in the field or the pasture, distinct from the vocational institution.

These days, we throw kids in front of a television, give them a library card, and put them on the Internet. The flow of information is relentless, and formative. We learn as we grow, but there are so many voices. Out of the cacophony one voice strikes a particular chord, or one piece of advice is particularly poignant. And for the moment, that voice, that advice is our pole star. We may be utterly disconnected from its author, but if it rubs us the right way we take the information to be revelation, and we are prepared to live for the idea.

This leads to the situation where our cultural “wisdom” consists of the patchwork quilts each of us assemble from the endless flow of “good ideas” we come across.

On the one hand it is a relief to think that we haven’t lost the practice of mentorship and eldership altogether. We still pass on wisdom. It’s still important to learn how to live. On the other hand it is disturbing that the whole process is so disconnected – and so individually selective. We listen to the voices that we want to hear and shape our behavior accordingly. Nothing compromises our personal sovereignty. Truth is what I want to hear – what sounds good to me.

pauperes and ecclesium :: memory and movement

The first things that get “forgetten” are the hardest things to do. To serve the poor, to look out for those in need, to give a voice to the voiceless. We do many good things. But when we abandon the poor, overlook those in need, and leave the marginalized in the silence of the periphery of our lives, we crack the foundation on which everything else stands.

“Extra pauperes nulla salvus,” says theologian Jon Sobrino, tweaking Augustine’s dictum, “extra ecclesium nulla salvus.”

“Without the poor [church], no one is saved.” Doing theology means hard thinking, it also means meeting widows and orphans, addicts and those abandoned as our brothers and sisters (not primarily as widows, orphans, addicts, and abandoned sorts). Theology that isn’t done in the overlap of Augustine’s “ecclesium” and Sobrino’s “pauperes” undermines its own content. “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

creeds and criticism (Part III) :: the Bible :: or why reading scripture apart from theology is like eating without food

Despite the contemporary desire to treat it this way, the Bible did not fall out of the sky. Christians are not “people of the book” in the same way that Muslims or Mormons are. The Bible is not eternal truth dictated word for word from the clouds to faithful scribes waiting pen in hand. Christianity’s attitude toward its book is significantly different.

As a starting point, we need to realize that the Bible wasn’t written for us. At least not primarily. Paul was not thinking of you when he wrote (or dictated) his letter to the Romans. We abuse scripture itself if we refuse to let Paul write to his friends at Rome, and recognize this as a conversation that we’ve been allowed in on. And if we start there, we had better understand what his friends would have understood from his writing before we start proof-texting individual verses out of context. That means hard work and study. Continue reading “creeds and criticism (Part III) :: the Bible :: or why reading scripture apart from theology is like eating without food”

zimbabwe :: worse and worse

I have a soft spot in my heart for the southern African nation being mismanaged into shambles by an octogenarian autocrat who has been in power for far too long. In the 1980’s Robert Mugabe helped to lead the people of “Rhodesia” to Western-style self-rule, distancing the country from the legacy of diamond-guru Cecil John Rhodes and the lingering imperial presence of the British. He has been in office ever since.

The soft spot in my heart has begun to tear in the last few weeks as almost daily I read some new bit of news on the BBC about the state of the country. Here are a few links:

— The country with the world’s highest rate of inflation (previously 2,200% per year), now has a rate of 3,791%. I’ll give you an idea of what that means. Average inflation in the States hangs around 4%. That means that the milk you buy this year for $2.50 will cost $2.60 next year. If you were to buy a half-gallon of milk in Zimbabwe today for $2.50 (keep in mind that inflation has been running at rates in the thousands for years now), a year from now, that milk would cost you just shy of $95 dollars. Your employer can’t afford to give you a 3,000% percent raise annually, so you are trying to buy this milk on the same salary you’ve had for as long as you’ve been lucky enough to have a job. Money isn’t even worth carrying as toilet paper in Zimbabwe. Thousand dollar bills are literally worth less than the shiny bit of aluminum wrapped around your chewing gum. Continue reading “zimbabwe :: worse and worse”

the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America

Of some relevance to the continuing conversation about theology and justice are the following: James K. Smith reacts to a NY Times article

I should probably offer my two cents…(hopefully it’s worth that)…

1. I’m by and large ignorant of the history of the relationship between Benedict (Ratzinger) and the liberation theologians of S. America – I know the basic outline, and not much more. So I’m hesitant to say much.

2. I’ll defend the prerogative of the church to discipline theologians whose teachings contradict the church’s gospel. Theologians are the servants of the church, not its masters.

3. I’ll adamantly insist that by and large, the global church has made invisible its one-ness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity insofar as it has been unconcerned (at least in practice) with the plight of the poorest and most marginalized of our brothers and sisters. As Bonhoeffer says, “this invisibility is killing us!” Continue reading “the pope and the populace :: liberation in South America”

creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)

It is the task of history, once the other world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.

Here, Karl Marx raises his disdain for any story that focuses its attention on an “other world” to ground the meaning of the life we experience. The truth of this world, as Marx sees it, is made of the power relationships expressed through money and control. The truth of this world is the subjugation of the working classes by means of ideology, coercion, and religion – that great opiate by which the masses are kept from demanding all that they deserve in this life.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of man is a demand for their real happiness…. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve around himself.

Properly then, according to Marx, history’s task is to write the real story of what goes on in the world, without reference to “higher” realities or other worlds. The task of history is to set down the meaning of the only world we know in concrete political and economic terms, cutting through all the bourgeois cultural accretions that obscure the real power relationships. Continue reading “creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)”