Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, June 24, 2016

What I was Trying to Say...

Jesus has been called a lot of things.  I think one of the most important things he has been called is what he called himself and what was echoed by the writer of Hebrews. 

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” And “I and the Father are one.” Both from John’s Gospel.  Both are Jesus asserting more than a similarity with God the Father, more than a familiar connection.  Hebrews 1 says it like this, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God…” (NLT)

A couple Sundays ago, I was wrapping up my morning message about the image of God and the idols we replace Him with. Jesus, I was trying to say, is the best revelation of God that we have.  One practical application of that truth, I was asserting, was that Jesus should be the lens through which we read the whole rest of the Bible. 

Here’s part of what I said, “If we look at any other parts of the Bible to determine what God is like we have to look at it through the lens of Jesus so that when it doesn't look like Jesus we have to go hmmmm I'm going to have to set that aside because that doesn't look like Jesus I can't ascribe that to God just because it says it because it doesn't look like Jesus. I need a greater understanding that I don't have right now because this is what Jesus said “have I been with you all this time Philip and yet you still don't know who I am.  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father so why are you asking me to show him to you. Jesus reveals the Father.”

I know this was confusing for some. You can give the whole thing a listen here, and let me know what you think.

What I wasn’t trying to say was that we should all go “Thomas Jefferson” on the Bible and cut out all the bits that we don’t like. I wasn’t trying to say that we should toss out some of the hard passages that ascribe horrible violence to God. I wasn’t trying to say that Jesus replaces YHWH of the Old Testament. What I meant by “set that aside…” was simply this, my understanding of the Bible is undoubtedly fallible and my capacity for interpreting its meaning pales in comparison to Jesus’ ability to accurately image what God is really like.  Therefore, when my understanding of a passage paints a picture of God that doesn’t look like Jesus, I need to “set it aside,” ie. don’t build a doctrine around it, don’t change my worship because of it and don’t tell other people my “word of wisdom” because I’m clearly missing something.  If Jesus and the Father are one (and I think they are) and Jesus is the exact representation of God’s character (and He is) then the flaw is in my understanding, not in Jesus’ revelation.

So how does that come up practically?

When I read that women are to remain silent in the church, and I read that through the lens of Jesus, something doesn’t make sense.  Jesus elevated women, included them and encouraged them to speak up.  He sent the woman at the well back to town with a story to tell, he sent the women back to be the first to declare the good news, “Jesus isn’t in the grave!” So, while the plain reading of the text is quite obvious, its actual meaning must not be.  Because it doesn’t look like Jesus.

When I read the Old Testament and the picture of a war-like tribal God is painted for me, it has to give way to the revelation of Jesus in arriving at the best understanding of what God is really like.  At least that is what Hebrews seems to be saying.  I’m not saying that those passages should be ignored or cut out or tossed in the bin.  I’m saying that we need to “set it aside” until we can come to an understanding about their meaning that maintains the integrity of the revelation of Jesus as the exact representation of God’s character. Don’t make big decisions, don’t develop theology, don’t change your worship, don't feel justified in doing violence to your enemies - if it doesn’t look like Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

In some ways, what I’m advocating is that we use the same hermeneutic that Jesus seems to be using in the Gospels when he says things like, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”

There’s a worship song that’s currently popular that says, “I’ve heard a thousand stories / Of what they think You’re like.” Well, God’s only told one story, Hebrews seems to be saying, that tells us what God is precisely like and that story is Jesus.

I hope this hasn’t added to the confusion, I know that’s one of my spiritual gifts, adding to the confusion.  Leave comments or questions below and I’ll do my best to sharpen the clarity on what I’m trying to say.  Or offer apologies if I’m somehow missing what the Bible says.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

When a Movement Stops Moving

What makes a Movement a Movement and not an Institution or Organization?

It seems like there are a few key differences but I think what best sums them all up is the presence of what Walter Brueggemann calls, “Prophetic Imagination.” A Movement possess it, an Institution eliminates it.

Initially, it seems that a movement begins when a grass roots felt need is met by a catalyst, develops critical mass and is captivated by prophetic imagination – things can be different than they are now. The danger, as Brueggemann points out, is that which is developed from the prophetic imagination tends to become the enemy of that prophetic imagination as it settles into an institutional rather than prophetic shape.

Herbert Blumer described the four stages of a social movement, these have been refined or simplified by other scholars but maintain the same basic meaning.  They are: Emergence, Coalescence, Bureaucratization, and Decline.  The story of Israel, Brueggemann says, illustrates this movement.  It started with Moses and a vision of a “free God” and that life didn’t have to be “this way.” Then, as this new Movement pursued the prophetic vision and a “free God,” they eventually morph into Solomon’s monarchy, and a consolidation of power wherein the former slaves became the oppressors and the Tabernacle was replaced with a Temple and God was ‘permanently’ anchored in place. The Movement experienced both its highest and lowest point at exactly the same time, albeit from two different perspectives.

Eventually, it seems, Movement becomes Empire.

Then, two things happen.  1) The Empire has to marginalize the voices of dissent.  Ultimately, the Empire must eliminate the dissenting or prophetic voice as they clearly endanger the well-being of the Empire. And 2) The prophetic voices begin a race to the bottom to be sure they aren’t the last one standing who is compelled to tell the Emperor that he’s naked.

To resist the gravity that pulls us towards being an Empire, Movements need to be able to carry on what the catalyst started, to nurture the prophetic imagination, to be self-correcting – like science – and invite dialog, facilitate the prophetic imagination and reform accordingly.  But this is almost impossible because the Empire is convinced of their rightness, their efficacy and their sense of an almost divine approval by which they do what they do.  We can tweak the Empire, but we cannot dismantle the Empire, we’ve invested far too much of our resources and our ego.

So, what do we do to get a Movement moving again?

1) Listen to the Artists.  I don’t mean to say that we have them submit papers or proposals or give them 30 minutes to present something to our board or executive council.  I mean that we create Artist collectives and we engage in conversation, listen to the music, observe their dance, walk through their galleries.  Where the Arts are not fostered you can be sure that Empire is gaining ground.  To move, we must let the songwriters and the painters, the dancers and the musicians, the wine makers and playwrights, tell us what sort of future they imagine for us.

2) Listen to the Scholars. Why oh why have a body of scholars developed within the midst of a Movement and then not consult and listen to them?  Empire develops scholars to legitimize themselves and their actions, as needed.  A Movement consults and seeks consensus, it looks for the synergy that comes from a collective who may not agree on every point but who embody the heart of where we are going with a deep knowledge and understanding of from where we have come.  Scholars, however, are often early adopters of the prophetic imagination and this, quite simply, makes them dangerous to the Empire.

3) Listen to the Story.  Stanley Hauerwas writes about the effort of modernity as, “the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.” We have a story but the Empire is a revisionist or a redactor or simply in denial because it suits the Empire to be what is, what was and what is to come.  We need to revisit the work of our storytellers and realize that what we had at the beginning of our story may be because of what we did at the beginning of our story.  We should not think the way forward is through nostalgia or trips down memory lane, these actually serve to reinforce the Empire.  Rather, we need to let our story remind us of the prophetic imagination that once served as catalyst for our Movement and let that be all the permission and authority we need to begin to prophetically imagine what can be.

4) Empower the Imagineers.  Most of us don’t like tension.  But tension is where all the good stuff usually happens. Gather the Imagineers and create time and space where dreamers can dream and sacred cows can be put on the grill for burgers and steaks. Yes, this is scary.  Yes, it may mean uncomfortable change.  Yes, there will be some people who are committed to the Empire and they will threaten to take their toys and leave.  You can’t be a Movement if you’re being held hostage by people who threaten to quit and neither can you be a Movement if you put a gag on the dreamers – overtly or covertly simply by never making space to listen or to act on what comes from them.

Final word goes to Walter Brueggemann, from The Prophetic Imagination, “…every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist.  It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”

What future are you dreaming of?