Why the Bible is worth reading if you’re a progressive

Adam Eriksen on how a careful reading of the books of the Bible changes the way we view the world and redefines our neighborhood:

The Bible is progressive because it forces us to listen to the voice of the victim. Listening to the voice of the victim goes against most of human history, including the modern world. History is written by the winners, after all. The winners get to tell history from their perspective – a perspective which justifies their wars by demonizing their enemies.

But the Bible is told from the perspective of those who frequently lost in the ancient world. Cain killed his brother Abel and Abel’s blood cries out from the ground. The enslaved Israelites cried out under their oppression and God heard their cry. The psalmist, the prophets, Jesus and the early Christians, they were all victims of violence. And yet, for the first time in human history, the Bible gives voice to those who were killed, conquered, and tortured.

God hears the cry of the oppressed. The Bible is progressive because it forces us to listen to that cry. Sometimes that cry makes us feel uncomfortable, like when the psalmist prays that the babies’ of Israel’s enemies will have their heads smashed against the rocks. I squirm when I hear that prayer, but it’s a prayer with a historical context. Jerusalem was just conquered by the Babylonians, who destroyed the temple, homes, and villages. They enslaved and scattered the people throughout their empire. Before we get judgmental about such a prayer, we might ask ourselves how we would respond if anyone came to our nation, destroyed our homes, our way of life, and enslaved us. We might pray for a little revenge. We might even pray that the children of our enemies would be killed so that the generational cycle of violence might stop.

More here: The Bible is Progressive: The Bible Explained Part 3

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.

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?

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.

Statement on the Primate’s Communique from Lambeth January 2016

EpiscopalDiocese_Logo_RGB_lowres.jpgBy now many of you are aware that the Primates of the Anglican Communion, gathered in Canterbury this past week, have released a report that places temporary sanctions on the Episcopal Church. The primates voted these sanctions because of our decision this past summer to amend our canons to allow for same-sex marriage. There is a real sense of pain and sadness that the Episcopal Church is being censured for decisions it made in response to the pastoral needs of our members in our local contexts.

I believe it is important to note that the decisions made by our General Convention were done after decades of passionate conversation, biblical and theological engagement, by those in favor and those opposed, and with the understanding that no one is expected to uphold a position that their conscience cannot support. We believed that these decisions were made in response to the Gospel call to proclaim the news of God’s love for the created as far and as broadly as possible, and to listen to the voices of those whom the world has rejected. As a result of these decisions, the Episcopal Church was warned that there would be consequences. Today we have learned what they are.

In the news conference following the end of the meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed that the Episcopal Church was not “punished” or “sanctioned”. Episcopalians are invited to work beside Anglicans in other parts of the world on relieving the suffering of the poor and disaster relief. But it is the decision of the majority of the Primates that the Episcopal Church may not participate with the rest of the Anglican Communion in conversations about common belief and theology or in other wider ecumenical work, at least for the next three years.

Our Presiding Bishop has written of the pain that these decisions bring to many in the Episcopal Church, and in particular to those who feel they have been marginalized once again by the Church in which they long to fully participate. Bishop Michael has also reiterated his intention to remain at the table in what ever capacity is allowed and to work on maintaining relationships as much as possible. And he has said that he does not imagine that the Episcopal Church will reverse its course. I agree with him on this point. I stand by my vote and that of our General Convention deputation this summer. I want to assure the LGBT people of Rhode Island that you are fully welcome in our diocese.

Though I know it will be difficult for many of us right now, I would ask that you join me in standing with Bishop Michael and continuing to participate in the common work of the Anglican Communion to the degree that we will be allowed. When someone rejects you for doing what you prayerfully discern to be the right thing to do, the Bible teaches us that we are to respond in love, by staying in relationship, doing what we can to show God’s love to those who are rejecting us. Walking beside the rest of the members of the Anglican Communion is the best way for us to witness to the World what the Gospel asks us each to do.

Finally, I ask you to pray for our witness to the World. I ask you to pray for the Episcopal Church, for the Anglican Communion and for the whole Church of God.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy Holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen. (BCP p. 816)

If you would like to know more about the decisions that were made, the Dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale has done a good job of explaining them. And I’d close by inviting you to listen to these words from the final day of the meeting in Lambeth by our Presiding Bishop.

+Nicholas

Memory eternal: René Girard

René Girard, a major influence on my faith and theology, died yesterday.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.” The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

More here: Stanford professor and eminent French theorist René Girard, member of the Académie Française, dies at 91 | Stanford News Release

The article on the Stanford website is quite telling in that it makes little or no mention of Girard’s faith or his influence on modern theology. While Girard did seminal work in literary theory and art criticism, I believe it is his insights into the meaning of the Atonement that will have the most lasting impact on Western thought.

My preaching and the way I read the biblical narratives have been totally transformed by his work from the first day I read “The Scapegoat“.

My hope is that there will be a number of articles posted in the next few months that try to communicate what an earth shattering insight into human society his theories on mimesis and scapegoating have had. Those of us who have been studying his thought for years will have now look to his disciples Gil Baille, James Allison and others to extend his work.

Update: Additional articles are starting to be posted like this one by Adam Eriksen in which he writes:

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

 

“Science alone cannot save the planet”

Anglicans and Orthodox believers are organizing in advance of the upcoming UN Summit on Climate Change:

Science alone cannot save the planet the spiritual leader of an estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians has insisted, as he joined forces with the Archbishop of Canterbury urging followers around the world to fight climate change.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, insisted that global warming is a “moral crisis” requiring millions of people to change their day-to-day behaviour as much as politicians making treaties on the environment.

More: Science alone cannot save the planet, insists spiritual leader of Orthodox Church – Telegraph

Pew: Non-religious people see conflict between science and religion. Religious people don’t.

New Pew study on the perceived levels of conflict between science and religion in American culture:

While 59 percent of U.S. adults say they saw science and religion in conflict, that drops to 30 percent when people are asked about their own religious beliefs.

It turns out that the most highly religious were least likely to see conflict.

And those who said they saw the most conflict between the two worldviews in society are people who personally claimed no religious brand, the “nones,” according to the report.

So – it appears that Rowan Williams response to Richard Dawkins is more true than expected. People are rejecting a God that most religious people don’t believe in either.

Source: Do science and religion conflict? It’s all in how you see it | The Christian Century

Lucas Mix: Toward a definition of Life

My friend Lucas Mix, who is Warden of the North American Chapter of the Religious Order of which I am a member is working on a definition of “life” – a project which is taking on new significance now that we have found water on Mars…

He writes in introduction to a series of posts he’s planning:

I would like to suggest five prominent approaches to how we model life. I do not claim these five ways are exclusive or exhaustive. Rather they are five well worn paths that many have taken in search of the meaning of “life.” Specific models – such as Aristotle’s nutritive soul or Schrodinger’s delayed entropy – can be assessed by the work they do in each approach. Often they will have been designed with one approach in mind and be very successful in that way. Often they will then be appropriated by thinkers to do work in another approach – with mixed success.

Each of the approaches comes associated with a focusing question or two that highlights what I see as a central concern. I hope to better identify the place of these various approaches in specific conversations – for example scientific origin-of-life research or Catholic environmental ethics – as well as global conversations on the definition of life. I will return to these questions at the end with my own concerns – how to search for life in space and how to build healthy relationships between individuals and communities. First though, I hope to improve communication between a wide variety of people with a wide variety of concerns by talking about what may be at stake for them – and for all of us – as we discuss “life” together.

Read more at the source: Lucas’s Weblog | An Ecclesiastical Peculiar