Girard and Galatians: Seeing what is hidden

I’ve been reading and working through the implications of Rene Girard’s insights into human relationships for years – particularly the way that Girard unlocks a new way of reading the biblical texts. If you’ve heard me preach or teach over the years you probably know how major an influence Girard has been on my thinking.

There’s a wonderful resource “Teaching Non-violent Atonement” that’s been posting a regular Wednesday sermon that demonstrates how a preacher can use Girard’s ideas to communicate the meaning behind the texts. For the last few weeks there have been sermons on Galatians (which we’ve been reading in the RCL on Sundays). This is a quote from this week’s sermon post:

We have always assumed “works of the Law” referred to Jewish religious practice alone but Rome was the real law-giver in the world and those who worked for Rome were doing the works of the Law. But you wouldn’t want to say that out loud. Who killed Jesus?  The Romans did, in cooperation with local Jewish authorities.  Both Roman and Jewish law attempted to bring what they saw as righteousness through violence, exclusion and death.  Their goal was to purge the world of evil as they saw it when evil was in themselves and in their method of bringing “peace”.

Jews along with all other defeated peoples know this, Paul argues.
And the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that Paul says is the alternative to law, what is that?  Notice I didn’t say faith in Jesus but rather the faith of Jesus.  The faith of Jesus is his allowing Roman and Jewish Law to judge, condemn and execute him as a criminal, though he is the Son of God, in obedience to his father and as an expression of their love for us.  Jesus did this to show us how the law works to condemn, knowing this was the only way to expose what we humans could not see.  Talk about faithfulness; Jesus goes to his death, forgiving us on the way, out of faithfulness to God and love for us all.  In this way his faithfulness seen on the cross makes us right with God.

Paul saw this on the Road to Damascus when he had an apocalyptic in-breaking of truth that turned his violent and law-working world upside down.

via Wednesday Sermon: Division Undone (go read the whole thing)

Given the events of our own day, where we’re seeing strange pairings of groups that ought to be in complete opposition to each other coming together to make common cause against the “other”, I’m finding that re-reading Galatians in this particular light is incredibly enlightening.

First we pray, then we move.

It’s beyond our bearing. Another mass shooting has happened, this one the deadliest in our country’s history. Someone was given access to enough weapons that 49 people were shot dead and nearly as many wounded in one attack by one man in one place. There was an armed police officer outside the club where the people were killed but that didn’t stop this shooter.

640px-Shooting_at_Pulse_NightclubThis time it is the LGBT community that is grieving their friends and their children who have been cut down. In the last few years it’s been the parents of school children, fellow parishioners after a bible study, social workers mourning their co-workers after a staff party, and the many others whose stories no longer have had enough shock value to gain national attention. No matter who it is, the tears are the same, the shock is the same, the elected leaders pledges are the same – and nothing seems to change.

This morning, after the shooting and killings in Orlando at Pulse, people are sharing their frustration that prayer isn’t enough. And by itself, it isn’t. But it’s the place we as Christians start. It’s the place from which we move. And that movement has to be out into a world that is reeling, shocked, weeping and devastated with pain beyond bearing. As followers of Jesus we are asked to move out toward the people who are persecuted and harmed and to take our place standing beside them. And we are asked to surround them with the kind of community that will start to slow the violence – to make these sorts of events a memory and not our future.

We do this with the simple tools God has given us. Prayer. Bread. Wine. Healing oil. And the tools that build community. Listening. Pot-luck dinners. Food drives. Homeless shelters. It’s nonsense in the eyes of the world, but it’s what God would have us do. Jesus showed us that these things change the arc of history.

Because as we stand with the victims and the persecuted, as we feed them and pray with them, as we give of ourselves on their behalf, we are creating a community that Jesus tells us will be impervious to the hatred and assaults of the evil forces of this world which seem to have the upper hand on dark days like today.

So today we pray. Tomorrow we move.

Prayer for Reconciliation

On Tuesday night I was asked to open a meeting of law enforcement and community representatives, and clergy that was set to discuss the federal grand jury process. It’s part of our Rhode Island response to what happened in Fergusson last year.

I used the following prayer to get us started. (I thought the prayer was worth sharing.)

God of Justice, God of Reconciliation, God of the outcast and the downtrodden; We come before you this evening as a community committed to finding a better way forward than we have yet seen.

Lead us out of our present wilderness with your strong sure hand into a new land that will empower us to live as a community that is known for living into our best selves, a community that believes and puts into practice the goals and dreams upon which our country was founded.

Be with our speakers now. May their words help us to see the truth of what we have and of what we lack. By the power of your Spirit give us the courage to change. By the gift of your Holy Wisdom help us to find a path forward.

We ask all of this in your Holy Name on behalf of all your Children.

Amen.

Grace for Creation: free!

We have a great tradition of holding classes for parishioners in Lent, but once Easter comes, and Spring springs, we tend to focus on other things. But, what would happen if we tried an Easter class – like a Lent class, but later?

Have I got a deal for you:

In 2011, the Episcopal Church House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter on the environment. In response, a five-week study course titled A Life of Grace for the Whole World has been created. The curriculum follows the five sections of this letter.

via Curriculum – Grace for Creation

This is the result of work done by the Episcopal Church in New England, spearheaded by Bishop Tom Ely and two incredibly talented priests, Stephanie Johnson and Jerry Cappel. It’s a perfect fit for a springtime course, and it’s basically turn-key. Download it and go. The only thing we ask is that if downloadbutton.jpgyou use it, you let us know how it went. What could be easier?

New video curriculum on Faith and Science

I’m really happy with how this turned out:

[Episcopal News Service] Are science and faith compatible? Ordained scientists in The Episcopal Church offer insight on this sometimes controversial question through a new groundbreaking video curriculum offered by Forward Movement, now available for free download. The curriculum, offered in partnership with the Committee on Science, Technology and Faith, invites a sense of wonder and discovery to play a part in building care for creation in our faith communities.

In the Beginning explores the Bible’s basic doctrine of creation, the modern scientific worldview, perspectives on the Big Bang and evolution, and the biblical roots for environmental care. The Rev. Stephanie Johnson says it is a “thoughtful, engaging invitation into a deeper understanding of all God’s Creation.” Featured clergy-scientists include Katharine Jefferts Schori— former Presiding Bishop and oceanographer; Nicholas Knisely—the Bishop of Rhode Island and physicist; Rev. Lucas Mix—evolutionary biologist; Rev. Alistair So—microbiologist; and the Rev. Stephanie Johnson —environmentalist.

via Forward Movement announces new video curriculum on science and faith

You can view the videos here:

(Here’s a taste:)

 

 

Tears are in the nature of things

Dan Edwards, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada writes in his Good Friday sermon this year:

We live in a world that worships success.
We have little use for the old religion of self-denial.
We practice disciplines of self-coddling.
The chaplain of a national Episcopal group this year actually wrote a Lenten letter urging us to go to a spa and relax in sensual delight for our Lenten discipline.
Our society averts its eyes from the poor, addicted,handicapped, and even those wounded in our wars.
A lot of so-called Christians are preaching a prosperity gospel: “Get your religion right,” they say, “and God will make you rich.”
It’s the religion for kings, the faith of winners.

But that isn’t Jesus’ religion.
The cross isn’t about that.
The cross is about “the tears in the nature of things.”

On this Holy Saturday, as Jesus lays dead in the tomb and the world is dark and quiet with grief and waiting, it’s worth reflecting on what our faith teaches us about the suffering that it is all around us. We can only see the hope of Easter through the lens of the Cross. 

Anything else is just another form of escapism.

The End of Moral Relativism

Jonathan Merritt writing in the Atlantic:

Thoughtful conservatives who are less concerned with waging culture wars have begun to admit that such a shift is occurring. In The New York Times last week, David Brooks argued that while American college campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.

A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming.

“Some sort of moral system is coming into place,” Brooks says. “Some new criteria now exist, which people use to define correct and incorrect action.”

I’ve been thinking that the pendulum has been swinging for a while now. Looking back at the 70’s and 80’s when there really was an “anything goes” season, we’re definitely in a very different moment.

I’m not sure if anyone can put a finger on the moment it changed, or what might be identified as the proximate cause, but we clearly are in a different moment.

Either way, this is certainly what we’re seeing happening on Social Media – which is probably the most effective window we have into the collective Zeitgeist.

What does the Church say in such a season?

Towards a theology and ethics of nanotech

Something for you to think about on the other side of the Triduum:

Russell Cowburn is Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge where he leads a large research team studying the physics and applications of nanotechnology. He is also a Christian. In this talk he describes what nanotechnology is, how it might be used to help solve global problems such as climate change and how we might begin to answer questions such as ‘what does God think about nanotechnology?

Prayers for Brussels, Tuesday in Holy Week

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 279)

I awoke to the news of another coordinated multi-site attack in Europe, with many people dead and wounded. And this following the attack over the weekend in Turkey, following the unspeakable horrors and carnage caused by the ongoing war in Syria. It seems to me the only response in this moment is prayer and service to the victims of this violence wherever it is happening.

A prayer for Monday in Holy Week

O Lord God, who gavest to wise men of old a glorious star to lead them to the Christ: Grant that we whom thou hast given a yet more glorious sign, even his holy cross, may follow and be led by it the whole way to our salvation and thy heaven, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

From “A Procession of Passion Prayers” by Eric Milner-White OGS, CBE, DSO, one time Dean of York Minster.

(Hat tip to the Rev. Ned Gammons)