When Skies Preach

Immensity
been here before you
will be here after you
distant yet seen
consistent and unchanging
here for all to see
will you shine like me
say amen to the words we sing
words that have inspired countless bards and holy schemes

when skies preach
the cosmic choir sings

when skies preach
angels spit fire into our souls

when skies preach
nations bow before the Great

say amen to atmospheric prose
the kind that leaves you weeping
in the midst of helpful foes

when skies preach
they say:

O’ ye lil soul.
Satisfied with pusillanimity
Look at me

We are great
and still shine for others to see

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A Review-Reflection on Brian McLaren’s new book Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words


I am currently reading Brian McLaren’s latest book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. I’ve had three weeks to read it finding myself reading only a couple of chapters so far. I am encouraged by the direction that Brian has taken with this recent work. I’ve noticed a progression with Brian’s writings. There is this continual theme of deconstructing/reconstructing Christian faith. If you’ve been tracking his writings over the years you’ll notice the progression from deconstruction to reconstruction.

However, as you’ll see with Brian, it’s not enough to deconstruct our faith (Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida does say that deconstruction is justice). Deconstruction, it seems, is a necessary step towards a healthy vital spirituality. Deconstruction alerts us to the idolatrous beliefs and practices we stake our lives on even at the expense of others, our own souls, and the rest of creation. Without deconstruction or what I like to describe as calling-down-fire-from-heaven-to-burn-up-my conceptual idols is necessary to be able to name, discern, and learn to live in a more just direction than unjust living. But once fire has come down from heaven and I’ve landed on something more just and confident I can begin the journey of reconstruction. I can breath again. And Brian’s book begins this journey. I wish I had this book 10 years ago. I had to settle for St. John of the Cross at the time. But once one has deconstructed the next question is this: now what? What does life with God look now that Jesus is no longer, for me, a white Republican or a Genie in a Bottle, a human pyschological projection?

In this book Brian is talking about something simple: our life with God. It’s not enough to deconstruct our cherished beliefs and practices. We must reimagine our life with God in the wake of deconstruction. How do I tend to the fire of God in my soul without reverting to individualism or engaging the world without the flame of Pentecost? I believe Brian is accomplishing this in this latest book.

In the beginning of the book Brian shares with us his own journey through spiritual experience and experiences. He sets the narrative of his own spiritual journey within the larger context of tectonic shifts in spiritual, religious, and cultural beliefs and practices taking place in our time. This section is very dense. Oftentimes too much bio with too much cultural exegesis. Of course, if you are unfamiliar with Brian’s writings these portions are necessary. However, I suspect he is setting us up with a thick personal and social narrative that will have payoff in later chapters.

Next up…Chapter 1 “Spiritual Experiences and Spiritual Experience”

Readings

I have been reading and reflecting on a couple of things.

1. Just received a copy of The Teaching of the 12 by Tony Jones. This should be a great conversation partner with the missional community I am a part of, Mission House.

2. People of the Spirit by Graham Twelftree. An illuminating text on St Luke’s understanding of the church’s mission.

3. Gospel of Luke. Right now Mission House is in Ch. 4. We are learning that the gospel call us to continue what Jesus began ‘to teach and do.’

4. Hebrew Prophets. We are finishing up Elijah-Elisha now. I’m reading the prophets with a small community in Cooleemee, NC, New Harvest Ministry. Just as Elisha inherits the mantle of Elijah when he ascends we have inherited the mantle of Jesus after his Ascencion.

If I could pray to Saint Martin…Saturday Petition

https://i1.wp.com/www.ci.stpaul.mn.us/mayor/newsroom/images/mlk_sign.jpg

St. Martin,

Patron Saint of earth-shattering justice, peace, and love what do you think about all those monuments, streets, boulevards, parades, and highways named in your honor? How would you like to be honored?

I offer this petition to you while reflecting on one of the seven woes given by Jesus to the Pharisees in the way they venerated the prophets of Israel’s past:

Matthew 23:29-32:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

St. Martin I can not help but possess a bitter/sweetness in the way our society venerates you as a Civil Rights leader and prophet. It is sweet in that venerating you is a sort of invasion of the pantheon and panopticon whiteness that continues to pervade our culture. I see the foisting of your name, some of your words, some of your ideas, and symbols as an interruption of our regularly scheduled cultural broadcast. Your entering into the pantheon of American heros is an apocalyptic event that uncovers that powerful performance called race. The recognition of your presence by many seems to suggest that the ‘other’ is beginning to break through the tyrannical same-ness of Euro-centrism and white supremacy.  It also says that a level of goodness has progressed in our society.

But it is bitter as well. In the gospel story I mentioned earlier the prophets were venerated post-mortem by those interested in maintaining the status-quo. Jesus suggests that the prophets would have been killed by those same prophet-venerating Pharisees  had they  lived in their time. I see the way we honor you in this same light. There is a certain image of you that has been created by those at the center of things that has become quite comfortable. It is the Dreaming King they love. But what of the King that wanted to turn over the moneychanger’s tables of American political-economy? The King that mourned our cultural habits of thingification and crass materialism? The King that railed against a nation, in madness, in its use of violence towards others? The King that opposed the war in Vietnam and making the connections between imperialism, poverty, and racism? That King. Have we honored you faithfully?

(St. Martin responds)

Brother Anthony I can see that you have zeal for social justice. I too shared that zeal. It would culminate in my message about that Beloved Community. It would get me killed at a young age whereby I would miss out on the raising and growing up of my children and growing old with my precious wife. I know this zeal more than you know. It is like that old prophet once said, “its like fire shutup in my bones.” It is the drunkeness that comes from having tasted the goodness, mercy, and justice of God. That community that is but not yet. What Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God.

As I recall I never claimed myself to be a prophet. I just did the work of one. If you were to do a brief survey of the Hebrew prophets it was the ‘dabar’ of God (word of the Lord) of the prophet that made one a prophet. The prophet is a messenger sent by God to deliver a ‘word’. So the question is never really about are we honoring the prophet. The question is this: are we honoring the ‘word’ the prophet proclaimed before God and the people. I don’t really care if people honor ‘me’ perse. I care about whether or not people honor the ‘word’ that cost me my life.  A word that played a part in bringing about the liberation of millions of people. A ‘word’ that would inspire other movements of social change in my day.

My question to you brother Anthony and those listening in on your prayer session is this:

When they build those monuments, those street signs, special News reports, when McDonalds has a special meal deal in my honor, when the Postal Service creates a special stamp in honor of me….are they honoring the ‘word’ I was sent to deliver? If not, then I’d have to say that to the extent that they do not honor the word of the Lord I proclaimed then they do not honor me. For my life was given as a love offering to the world because of that ‘word’.

(me)

But Martin. What was that word of the Lord that was like fire shutup in your bones? What was the word that would cause you to proclaim in your last sermon, “I am not fearing any man…I am here to do God’s will.” What is that word of the Lord that may be partially honored today in our culture?  If we are not honoring the total word you preached, then what are we honoring when we say we honor you?

(Martin Responds)

I think we need to pray more on this brother Anthony. For the hour is late and you have a family to attend to. We’ll continue this prayer session tomorrow.  However, I will give you a brief answer to reflect on before our next session. Forgive me for answering a question with a question:  have mountains been made low and valleys raised?  To extent that we do not incarnate that word is the extent to which I am not honored nor the word of the Lord that I was sent to proclaim.  We’ll continue tomorrow. Shalom

Advent Reflection: Salvation Came From The Cut

 

 A Postcolonial Advent Meditation 

The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for the coming Messiah.  Like the Jews of Jesus’ day we are waiting as well.  We are also remembering the coming of baby Jesus and the anticipation surrounding his advent.  Along with waiting we are asking for both a personal and communal advent.  During this season we are longing to be renewed and reminded of the old, old Story.  We ask God to trouble the stagnant waters of our souls. 

As we meditate on this story we may hear a call to participate in this Story: 

And Mary said:  
   “My soul glorifies the Lord  
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  
 for he has been mindful  
      of the humble state of his servant.  
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,  
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—  
      holy is his name.  
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,  
      from generation to generation.  
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones  
      but has lifted up the humble.  
 He has filled the hungry with good things  
      but has sent the rich away empty.  
 He has helped his servant Israel,  
      remembering to be merciful  
to Abraham and his descendants forever,  
      even as he said to our fathers.”
 

Mary gives expression to a hope shared by many Jews of her day: a deliverer will come to defeat and plunder the powerful while simultaneously lifting up the poor, the humble, and the tortured victims of Empire.  In my experience such a reading is not commonplace in our North American Churches. Usually the advent is rehearsed as a celebration of the mechanical fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There will be many sentimental performances of the Nativity scene throughout the country this week.  There will be readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospels pointing out how Jesus ‘fulfilled’ prophecy.  There will be little mention of the very real historical situation of Mary and Joseph’s world.  A world ruled by the Roman Empire.  A world where 5% of the inhabitants owned 95% of the land and resources leaving the scraps to the other 95%.  Where the Romans reigned victoriously over its colonies.  The news of victory called the gospel. 

Are we being called to participate in the story laid out by Mary?   

In our meditation maybe we will remember that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were numbered among that 95%.  That these were folks who lived in the forgotten places of Empire.  In a word, baby Jesus was born in what would be a historical parallel to the ghetto.  It would take a book to lay out the development of ghetto life in connection to North America’s imperial reality. The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that Mary gave birth to him in a manger.  A manger was the last place a person would want to have a baby.  It would have been extremely unsanitary for a new born child.  We have heard this all before.  We get it.  Jesus was born of low estate.  What of today?  What are the parallels today?  If Jesus were to be born in our time and place locus imperiium where would he be?   

He would have been born in the cut 

What is the cut you may ask?  The cut is a space between houses in the projects (i.e. the ghetto).  It is a space where all kinds of inhumane illegal activities take place.  It is also a space where the homeless sleep.  A landscape of broken crack pipes, heroine needles, nihilism, despair, and many other domestic symptoms of Empire.  It is a space in the urban imagination, at least mine, where you are reminded that this is a forgotten place.  A place at the bottom.  But even in the midst of the bottom and despair resides hope and community.  It is not completely overtaken by nihilism and the many other leftovers of Empire.   

I believe Jesus would have been born in the cut.  The Word of God, God Incarnate, King of Kings, Lord of lords, Emmanuel would have been born in a space we drive by everyday in our gentrifying communities.  Those spaces we either know nothing about or care little for.   

Is this where your imagination takes you when you celebrate Advent?  If not, then I am afraid your imagination has been disciplined more by the story of Empire than that of the Advent. It is truly a subversive thought:  the salvation of the world came from the cut!

   

Lectio Divina: Luke 4:18-21

 

Meditation.  Initial thoughts: Jesus is hopeful.  I am too cynical.  Lord deliver me from this overly-cynical body of death!

In reflecting on this passage I realized where my postmodern sensibilities stop. I believe one of the most dangerous temptations of living in a postmodern age, believe it or not, is not moral relativism (a danger to be sure…but one that needs qualification…the relativist still believes in something!).

It is cynicism. A quote from African-American poet Maya Angelou is apropos:

“There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”

There is a fine line between being prophetic and being a cynic. The cynic can easily fall prey to a world void of hope with no possibility of a better day. Being suspicious of absolute truth claims can be a profound moral practice. Being overwhelmed by suspicion to the point where no ‘truth’ speaks and no one can embody the ‘good’ can easily lead one down a path of apathy…apathy towards life, the journey, walking closer to God, and participating in projects that make the world a better place (even if it is a small corner of the globe).

No! We can not let cynicism rule us. Be prophetic! Rail against the Powers! Imaginatively hope beyond the present boundaries erected by varied interests. Let us be hope-filled realists…not hope-less idealists.

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.” – H L Mencken

…and this too

  1. We believe that the triune God is the origin and the ultimate goal of all things; and that, through Jesus Christ, we are called to give our allegiance to God and to make the Church our true dwelling place. We believe that the claims of Christ have priority over those of the state, the market, race, class, gender, and other functional idolatries. “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). 
  2. We believe that communal worship is the heart of the Christian life. We seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to bring our everyday practices into greater conformity with our worship, such that our entire lives may be lived to glorify God. Similarly, we pledge to give and receive counsel about how we might better embody the Gospel in its individual and communal expressions. “Praise the Lord; praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord” (Psalm 135: 1). 
  3. We believe that the church undercuts its own vocation when it compromises with the institutions, allegiances and assumptions that undergird the “culture of death” in our world. We remind all Christians that, in rejecting the sword and other lethal means to advance His goals, Jesus set an example for all of us who seek to follow Him. While accepting rather than imposing death may still be foolish and scandalous in the eyes of non-Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23), it remains central to what it means to follow a crucified and risen Messiah. We believe that the process of renewing the church in our day requires Christians to rethink all those values and practices that presume a smooth fit between killing and discipleship no matter how disturbing or divisive this reappraisal may be (cf. Matt. 10:34-8). Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). 
  4. We do not accept the ultimacy of divisions imposed on the Body of Christ — whether they be national borders, denominational divides, cultural and social stereotypes, or class divisions. We seek to restore the bonds of ecclesial unity and solidarity that are always under threat from the powers and principalities of the present age. “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). 

From Ekklesia Project 

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