Thursday, June 01, 2006

J&C 5: You Really Think That?

Lohfink’s discussion of the patristic-era churches touches on their self-understanding, communicated both through New Testament citations and contrast statements to the pagan societies of their day. Their writings do function as propaganda pieces, and their indicative statements “have hortatory character,” in the sense that “we are like this,’ always means ‘this is the way we should be, the way we would like to be’ (162).” Lofty statements which may not be in perfect alignment with the visible reality of the church, but I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that.

Simply put, I’d prefer to be in a community with sky-high ideals that we aspire to and measure ourselves by, even if we don’t always ‘get’ them, than one that has resigned itself to a ‘Christian inferiority complex (160),’ or which has toned down the invigorating words of our grounding texts because we think them unlikely or incapable of being taken seriously. Rather than cowering and saying ‘don’t look at us,’ why not say ‘look at who we want to be, which is, in a very real sense, who we are, and who we are becoming?’

J&C 4: It Starts with the House of God

Missionary activity often takes its impetus from the Gentile mission detailed in Acts, a much easier starting point for explanation than Jesus’ own conduct with the Gentiles. He didn’t deliberately seek them out, and instructed his disciples to confine themselves to the lost sheep of Israel (17). The post-resurrection commissioning of Matthew 28:18-20 sanctions a universal impulse, and I can envision the resurrection as the verification and accomplishment of Jesus’ programme of gathering God’s people, to be propelled outwards as a salvific community. Jesus’ focus on Israel didn’t indicate a retreat, nor a lack of universal spectrum, but was the presupposition for the universalized mission which would come after him (137).

I’m also inclined to think that there’s also a valuable precedent here for our own communities, particularly churches in transition. Renewal begins within the people of God, and it’s crucial that we rediscover our identity before moving outwards, particularly when we’re in flux. I tend to be a go-getter, always looking for the church on the move, and pushing continuously in that direction, so I don’t instantly think in this fashion, yet the value of concentration for a season on a community’s quality of life (with the intent of synchronizing our proclamation, activity, and relational rhythms) makes a lot of sense to me.

Love Lohfink’s words on 138:

Christian efforts to transform the world…[do] not correspond to the New Testament unless [they] have [their] basis in the people of God. The world can be changed only when the people of God itself changes. It is not possible to liberate others unless freedom radiates within one’s own group. It is not possible to preach social repentance to others unless one lives in a community which takes seriously the new society of the reign of God.

J&C 3: The Gift of the Spirit

Charismatic Christianity in its twentieth-century incarnations has re-focused attention on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and their operability within the present-day church. I’m grateful for this very real contribution to our corporate life, if slightly frustrated by the way in which the manifestations of the spirit are commoditized within our consumer culture.

Lohfink makes the logical connection between the early church’s experience of the spirit and the eschatological community’s identity, citing Luke 2 and the Pentecost citation of Joel (82), connecting experience with expectation. Miracles, while they legitimate the preaching of the gospel, are also signs of the Spirit’s presence within the community (85), and are connected to the ministry of Jesus, and the inauguration of the reign of God. Pretty straightforward, yet I, among others, consistently gloss over it. Were we to get this, that would put our activity (and proclivities towards idolatry) within its proper context, that of God’s redemptive activity. My hunch is that we’d see a decline in striving after particular gifts and manifestations of the spirit, and a downswing in related pastoral counseling. That’s a good thing.

J&C 2: Impossible Ideal or a Live-Able Ethic?

As a history of protestant theology would reveal, we tend to be really inventive and enterprising when it comes to escaping the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. One common approach is to read the Sermon against Paul’s statements on the role of the Mosaic Law, and to see it as designed to reveal our weaknesses and guilt, bringing us to a place of contrition over our inability to live God’s standards. I learned to read it this way early in my Christian experiences, and remember an instance where it meant that I completely missed the point of a bible study group. The whole focus of our time together was to read the Sermon on the Mount as a viable way of life, yet after a few weeks, I reverted to this interpretive matrix, which, when we think outside of our learned frameworks, requires some serious mental gymnastics.

Lofhink states that “Jesus’ ethical instruction must be interpreted against the horizon of his preaching of the reign of God. Only in this way can the problem of the possibility of fulfilling the Sermon on the Mount be answered appropriately (59).” In light of the inauguration of the eschatological kingdom of God, proclaimed by Jesus, it becomes possible to live in this way. Embracing this would mark a huge shift in the way Christian communities operate, one worth making, but which requires significant revision in our ingrained patterns of thinking and reading scripture. Anyone up to the task?

J&C 1: Jesus’ Intentions for Community

Having read Kingdom Ethics for a previous course, I’m substituting Gerhard Lohfink’s Jesus and Community from our recommended reading list.

Lohfink begins his book, much to my liking, by changing the questions about Jesus and the church. Both within critical scholarship and the protestant tradition, the links between Jesus and community are often severed, and I know many folks who insist that their salvation does not rest upon whether or not they are part of a church. When I hear this, my unspoken response is “well, yeah, but…you’re missing a huge dimension of God’s life when you follow that logic, and do you really want to call that salvation?’ IMO, our individualistic understanding of salvation needs some serious revision, particularly when it comes to being tangible and visible. Lohfink moves in that direction, pointing to the pre-reformation understanding of church as a ‘concrete, identifiable, salvific community,’ and making the links between what followed Jesus and what preceded him, that being the scattered, yet visible, people of God.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

JVG 5: “Tell us now! What, you won’t?”

Disclaimer: this piece is a bit more apologetic than practice-focused, simply because I believe Wright offers is a perspective that can shift an often-frustrating debate in a more constructive direction.

I often hear it asserted that Jesus never claimed much of himself, and that his followers have deified one who would never have accepted as much; haven’t seen the Da Vinci Code, but if it’s in any measure faithful to the novel, as the marketing suggests, I’m sure that this train of thought will resurface on screen, and become more common in popular discourse. The question follows of Jesus’ self-understanding, and whether he believed himself to be any sort of messianic figure. If so, why didn’t he just say it? That’s the way we tend to approach it, and Wrede’s messianic secret is among the most-disseminated scholarly opinions on a popular level. However, this presumes that Jesus’ context was akin to our democratic society, where a straight answer is expected, and where the consequences of honesty are, at worst, unpopularity.

Wright points out that a claim to messianism was a very politically charged claim in Jesus’ day, and that Jesus couldn’t just say, ‘yes, I am’ without arousing the rancor of an opposing king, in this case Herod (496). Hence, his discourse was cryptic, and when asked by John’s followers, Jesus pointed to the deeds he had done, alluding to Isaiah, rather than giving the ‘yes, I am,’ that, if it made its way beyond a small circle, would have prematurely led to his death. While Jesus didn’t say it outright, his activity was laden with messianic implications. We can see this throughout his recorded activity, and claim that Jesus possessed consciousness of a messianic vocation (hat tip to Wright and Ben Meyer), at least from his baptism onwards. After the resurrection and vindication of his person, reflection took place among his followers, and the necessary implication that ‘he was IT’ followed, eventually leading to Trinitarian discourse, which makes sense as more than a Constantinian power-play.

Religious conversation in popular discourse tends to be a mile wide and an inch deep, without much grounding in history; I’ll admit, I usually groan and say ‘it’s a waste of my time,’ and that’s what I dread about Ron Howard’s movie, anticipating that nonsensical questions and theories will be given leash, allowing us to indulge in fanciful speculation while a broken world groans for healing. Okay, off the soapbox…

Simply put, maybe the questions about Jesus’ self-understanding that conspiracy theorists offer up are a starting point for closer examination of the scriptures and illumination of the allusions within and their significance, as well as Jesus’ redefinition of Israel’s symbolic world, now centered around himself. What might actually emerge from this dialogue is a portrait of a Jesus worth following, particularly when we see him both with and against the currents of his day. From there, we can begin to think about his employment of direct and indirect speech, a practice which intrigues, yet baffles me, when it comes to appropriate timing and usage. When do we speak directly and prophetically, and when is prophetic speech to be veiled in parable? IMO, that’s a question worth sitting with.

JVG 4: What’s Wrong? We Are!

Among the questions that inform a worldview is the question ‘what is wrong?’ Often times, we ask this question and point fingers at others; I did so just this morning. What’s wrong? People in this city can’t drive, period! On a much larger scale, that’s what Wright sees going on in the Israel of Jesus’ day. What was wrong? The Romans occupying Israel’s territory were a convenient target, and the holy war tradition inspired many to short-lived rebellions.

Jesus comes against this from within the prophetic tradition, pointing to Israel’s failure to live within its calling; “they had misread the signs of their own vocation, and were claiming divine backing for a perversion of it. The call to be the light of the world passes easily into a sense of being the children of light, looking with fear and hatred on the children of darkness (446).” The pseudepigrapha and dead sea scrolls attest to this intensely black-and-white mindset which paints a picture of good guys and bad guys, divided neatly among battle lines. Only problem is, that’s not life, and Jesus sees that “that which was wrong with the rest of the world was wrong with Israel, too (446).”

That insight’s elementary, but easily forgotten, and we do it all the time. One example that comes to mind is the anti-Islamic bias that many Americans have carried since 9/11, often against more than the radical Islam that Bin Ladin represents. This tends to be fused with a ‘Christian patriotism’ which closely resembles, in my eyes, the violent nationalism which Jesus renounces (and was not alone in doing so). What follows is an endorsement of whatever means are necessary to eradicate the threat, and our foreign and domestic policy decisions testify to this, and to the dehumanization of the other.

Jesus pointed Israel to the real enemy, the satan, who had taken up residence within Israel. He engaged this foe in conflict, and it was within this struggle that his exorcisms were imbued with significance. While it’d take a lot of groundwork before we could begin to draw such parallels to our world (that’s what the paper’s for!), I do think that the satan is active today, and that accusation is one of his favored tactics. One counter-tactic that comes to mind involves churches standing behind those who are falsely accused, whether politically or through simple interpersonal slander. International students and immigrants, particularly those from the middle east, get a LOT of flak here, and it may be in coming alongside them and offering friendship that the church can join Jesus in his prophetic vocation.

JVG 3:Offensive Welcome

Wright’s discussion of Jesus’ welcome to sinners (264-274) is thought-provoking, particularly as it pertains to the effect of Jesus’ welcome. Jesus wasn’t offering mercy and forgiveness where others were not, but that he was offering inclusion in the restored people of God. The offense “had everything to do with eschatology, and little to do with (what we call)‘religion’ (272).” He announced the blessing of the kingdom of God, “outside the official structures, to all the wrong people, and on his own authority (272),” and that was the connection that frustrated his colleagues. Jesus welcomed ‘sinners’ on his own terms, extending the same challenge to all who would follow him, and sidestepped the common mechanisms for inclusion in the people of God.

Particularly in the southern states, there’re plenty of expectations of what a Christian should be, which are widely held, even though they don’t really match up well with what we see in the gospels. In fact, I’d say that these expectations are largely dictated by a particular culture, rather than by scripturally-rooted convictions. People who follow Jesus, but don’t necessarily wear the right clothing, use the right language, or vote republican tend to be looked at askance and written off. It’s not an easy road to walk, and it can’t be done alone; communal commitments are imperative. Yet will these communities ever be accepted as equals, or is it our lot to be outside the center? I’m inclined to think that, at least in the present state, these communities will be marginal, and that their posture will reflect as much.

JVG 2: Redefined Eschatology

Wright makes a strong argument that Jesus’ hearers “were not expecting the end of the space-time universe,” the traditional read on eschatology. Rather, what was expected was a series of climactic events in Israel’s history which would leave the world a radically different place. (206-209)

I’m with him here. Wright ‘gets’ apocalyptic language, often used to describe either impending (minor prophets) or recently-occurred (Daniel) events in Israel’s life. These people weren’t casual star-gazers pondering “the end of the world,” but a repressed people who wanted to see things change, and used strong visceral language to express this desire.

Adopting a similar posture in relation to eschatology would shake up much of the evangelical universe, which has adopted a premillenial position, and dedicated much mental energy to speculating when and how prophecy will come to be. Reading the scriptures differently would negate all of that, and would guide us away from a defensive posture of ‘holding out until the rapture’ and into a commitment to living in a radically changed world (given the assumption that Jesus’ activity was this climactic event in Israel’s history). I can’t not get into that, but I do wonder, “what attaches people to premillenialist fatalism, and why might they be resistant to giving it up?” Does that eschatology offer some sort of comfort to people living amidst discontinuous change, who don’t understand what’s going on and are searching for an explanation, a way out, and an anchor? As one who wishes to be a pastoral person who opens his life to all, not just one particular sociocultural division, how do I interact with that?

JVG 1: On the Retelling of Stories

Wright makes a lot of the role of story within an oral culture, and of the power of narrative in revealing and communicating one’s worldview (133-42). As such, he spends quite a bit of time with Jesus’ parables and the retelling of Israel’s story he sees within. In his words, “Jesus made a regular practice of retelling the story of Israel in such a way as to subvert other tellings, and to invite his hearers to make his telling of the story their own (174).” The prominent locus of this was in the parables, which told the story of Israel, but tweaked it, often shifting the boundaries and reversing the outcomes of the story. One prominent motif was the divine status reversal, with those well-off in the present often coming out not so well. These stories did something; they painted an alternative future, which countered the visible reality of Jesus’ day. We’d do really well to learn to tell such stories, and the arts are a great starting point for learning the craft, as is interaction with cultures of orality, particularly African cultures.

What strikes me is that the retellings of the story didn’t simply contrast the claims of the politically powerful, but that they also struck a chord against other power bases, nost notably Israel’s cherished self-understanding as God’s favored. The parable of the wicked tenants is a prime example, and it told Israel’s story in a way that would get Jesus in trouble with his own people. The oracles of judgment catalogued on 183-4 paint such a picture, and I get to thinking, ‘if Jesus’ followers were to regularly tell one another these stories, would this necessarily lead to rejection, or might it lead to the formation of a chastened people of God?’ The former frightens me; the latter invigorates this crazy dreamer.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Politics of Jesus 5: Faithfulness without Guarantee

Sorry this one's a few minutes me lazy and indecisive; could probably write on topics from chapters 8-10, as well as 12, 'The War of the Lamb.' I was inspired after reading this chapter, and in going back through it, I found myself drawn to the call to 'accepting powerlessness,' simply because it is faithful to the way of Christ, rather than as a means to an end.

In Yoder's words,
The cross is not a recipe for resurrection. Suffering is not a tool to make people come around, nor a good in itself. But the kind of faithfulness that is willing to accept evident defeat rather than complicity of evil is, by virtue of its conformity with what happens to God when he works among us, aligned with the ultimate triumph of the Lamb (238).

A few thoughts. I believe Yoder correct in qualifying the type of suffering that is commendable; this rules out the martyr complex as a viable option for life. I also agree with the point that suffering isn't something to be manipulated to coerce another, and appreciate the fact that he sees the problematic reality behind that. This isn't a panacea that is guaranteed to change everything, in the sense of 'presto chango, situation fixed, life is all better now!' It requires that faith that looks wrong-ness in the eye and refuses to let it go unchallenged, even when every visible sign points against things changing for the better. Even though we may not see visible results in the near future, we're convinced that Jesus' God wins out in the end, and will not back away from letting that define our reality. That's ballsy. That takes guts. That's something I can get behind, and those are people I want to stand with. That's a church.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Politics of Jesus 4: Tell Me You Did Not Just Say That

In light of the paradigm of divine deliverance established in Israel's story and expected in the time of Jesus, Yoder makes the case that his kingdom-proclamation "was unacceptable to most of his hearers not because they thought it could not happen but because they feared it might, and that it would bring down judgment on them (85)."

Those words are thought-provoking, and I'm inclined to wonder, 'if we listened to Jesus' words for a prolonged period of time, would we have a similar reaction?' In Israel's case, they held a cherished status as God's special people, and it seems like that functioned as a 'do as we please' card, condoning an overturning of the Romans 'by whatever means necessary.'

While churches in America are in a very different situation, in many ways closer to the Romans than the Israelites, I could see a similar reaction, both in the call to an allegiance which overrides others which we hold dear, and in the status reversal that Jesus consistently preaches. In many ways, white male Americans, of which I am one, are at the top of the food chain, and the thought of leveling that out or reversing it altogether is pretty unnerving, if not downright irritating, particularly in light of the Cold War rhetoric we against anything that reeks of communism.

That's the sort of message that gets somebody killed.

Politics of Jesus 3: Love Indiscriminately

Yoder's survey of the NT texts related to discipleship and imitation imagery, while it didn't linger on the scriptures, brought them into view. I stopped short at the header "Love indiscriminately as God does," under which sat Luke 6:32-36 and Matthew 5:43-48.

"If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you?"

I am so guilty of that, of expecting reciprocity and choosing whom to love based on what they can do for me. That's ample ground for repentance, yet when i take it beyond myself, i see the same phenomenon as something which threatens communities of faith from both inside and outside. Christ's people endlessly divide and squabble over our differences, both across churches and denominations and within particular communities, and we re-produce the clique mentalities that we see around us. In these cliques, we're selective about who we choose to engage and how we interact with them, particularly when it comes to those outside our ranks.

What might it look like to be different?
Maybe that means that our best move isn't to brush off 'that guy from church' or 'that weird couple' who we don't resonate with at all, but to engage and pursue friendship with the other. I may not get them at all, but God has loved them, and they're now family. We can choose our friends, but not our families.

Again, the theme of starting within comes to bear, with the hope that this will spread like wildfire (although with more constructive results!) and overflow into the totality of our relationships.

Politics of Jesus 2: Voluntary Society

"Jesus is here calling into being a community of voluntary commitment, willing for the sake of its calling to take upon it the hostility of the given society."

I think Yoder's onto something in linking voluntary commitment to following Jesus and the ability of a community to take upon it the cost of discipleship, and I'd extend it to the individuals-in-community. Apart from saying 'I believe in this, count me in,' can we really live this way of life, given the impingements on our level of comfort, both from within our communities and from the broader society which can be both hostile and indifferent to the way of the Christ?

I've got in mind the phenomenon of nominal Christianity, and the common reaction against a perceived-to-be repressive religiousity which often rears its head in the teen years and early twenties. I think this is linked to the imposition/expectations of certain standards and commitments, not necessarily bad ones, but nonsensical apart from a larger rubric. For the scholarly minded, I've got Sanders' term 'covenantal nomism' in mind here. The way-of-life of a follower of Jesus doesn't make sense on its own (granted, what i think about as the standards are very different from those of much of American christianity, as evidenced by the unwritten expectations of 'Christians' and the codes of conduct at Christian colleges). When compared to other societal norms, it makes even less sense, so we reject it, often with a great deal of hostile emotions. As for the consequences and implications, young folks don't necessarily see these, and I don't think this is necessarily their fault. In order to see a reality larger than ourselves, we often need people to point them out.

Summary of this rabbit-trail: Faith can be incubated, but i'm not sure that it is inherited, and a lot of the 'rebellion' issues that arise in youth groups and Christian colleges are linked to this phenomenon. Yoder stresses that Christian commitment is voluntary, and we'd do well to heed his words and wait and see if someone's in a faith-community by their own volition, rather than in response to a perceived expectation, before holding them accountable to our communal norms.

Politics of Jesus 1: Prophetic Jubilee

I admittedly am hesitant about wholeheartedly embracing Yoder's jubilee thesis, at least not as the overarching theme of Jesus' proclamation. I'd place it under a larger rubric of 'restoration and return from exile' theology, as a sign of the reign of God. Within that framework, a jubilee way of life is live-able, and I'd imagine that it would be demonstrably visible within the people of God.

As a relative newbie to his world, that's what I find attractive about Yoder's position, the thought that whether or not the jubilee had been observed, it played a role in a re-visioned ideal future. In my opinion, this 'prophetic use of the jubilee vision' (31) is of great value for contemporary christ-centered communities.

A glimpse into Mike's headspace: I'm a bit of a crazy dreamer, and tend to get really frustrated whenever i hear 'that's not going to work' or 'but is it practical?' IMO, most of the time, the proposal is do-able, although it may require intentional changes in our patterns of life; things can change, but we're to play an active role in changing them, usually beginning at home. That doesn't always go over too well.

Back to Yoder, here's what excites me. Whether or not it's been done, the economic ideal is tenable and practice-able, yet this practice, at least in the early stages, needs to be intentional, later becoming instinctual, and will be first visible within the people of God.

What might this look like in a community? What if we were to consider our possessions communal by definition? Here I've a memory and a musing.

I remember a friend showing up at a prayer meeting with extra fruit from his trees and random kitchen goods that he didn't need, offering them to anyone in the community who might be able to use them. That blew me away.

As for one possibility that comes to mind, I think about opening up our bookshelves and movie collections, making them into commmunal libraries; i think of my stuff in this fashion, but don't really make it widely known, so the goods tend to sit on my shelves, read by me and watched by roommates, but rarely leaving our living space. How do we communicate that we really do keep open house in a fashion which invites free sharing and modeling of it? Here's the hunch: this relates to knowing one another, asking questions, ofering suggestions, and taking reading recs beyond 'i read this book that you might like,' to 'i read this book that you might like; here's my copy, somewhat marked up. feel free to mark it up too!'

No comment on that one...

Yeah, about the last few lines of my final Shenk post...
I swear, there has been midweek diligence, albeit for another class.
Back to the blog...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Transfiguration of Mission 5: The Sacramental Everyday

My anabaptist leanings are strong, yet tempered by the concern that the ethic of discipleship tends to remove folks from society, particularly when they're infused with a strong holiness ethos (prominent in both charismatic and evangelical Christianity). Jesus didn't disengage from his society, so following him shouldn't necessarily lead to such disengagement, but this tends to happen, and frequently. As such, I appreciate the counter-example of Pilgrim Marpeck, both for his life and his theological approach.

One extension of Marpeck's incarnational logic that i found helpful was his extension of the sacramental character of the Christian life. The entirety of life is related to the following of Jesus, and God isn't absent from the mundane, yet vital, elements of life. When we take this into consideration, spiritual direction becomes a viable approach to everyday life, and the enacted barriers between 'christian' activity and 'the stuff of life' begin to dissolve. We then can begin to make the connections between our daily activities and God's activity in our lives, and mundane conversation can take on meaning. Here's where I'm guilty of missing the point; i tend to make those connections internally, and assume the same on all counts, but don't articulate as much. As such, none of life appears to be infused with divine energy, when the reality is that all of it is, and that 'hanging out with a friend' is actually an extension of discipleship. Got a story behind this, but little time to spare, so i may expand on this in the comments if there's sufficient interest.

For now, my adieu to the blog comes alongside a resolve to be more diligent with my mid-week postings, so as not to have a long stretch of inactivity followed by a burst of creative energy. That's not the rhythm i want to cultivate, but the ever-present 'deadline-driven' mindset. After twenty years of education, i have yet to shake it...

Transfiguration of Mission 4: Macro-Level Change?

Larry Miller's chapter on the church as a messianic society deeply resonated with me, and I particularly appreciated the closing words "only churches which are alternative societies, transformed in relation to existing society because they are already conformed to Messiah's vision of the future, can demonstrate the nature of life in the coming kingdom."

Much of the church seems to have exchanged a messianic vision of the future for end-times charts and graphs. For these communities, there's a tension between a theological pessimism and a patriotic optimism, which signifies a co-opting, IMO. The question of an alternative society within a culture where the church is largely co-opted into the vision of another society is a point of deep internal tension for me. I'm continually frustrated that the perception of Jesus' people tends to be shaped by the co-opted church, and continually find myself having to do deep deconstruction to separate myself from Falwell, Robertson, and the less-prominent 'church down the street' or Christians from someone's past.

Ideally, I love what Miller's saying, and the idea that a church really can demonstrate an alternative reality. However, when many churches promote the dominant perception of reality, this gets awfully sticky, and I worry about how much effect these small communities really have. I can see change happening on the micro level, but when it comes to the macro, my 'what if's tend to be muted. Any help here?

Transfiguration of Mission 3: the Uncontrollable Spirit

Kuitse's chapter makes the necessary connection between pneumatology and missiology, and I found him insightful, particularly in making the breath and wind imagery used of the spirit come to life. It seems to me that a healthy perspective on the uncontrollability of the Spirit, which moves unmanipulatively beyond our borders to reconcile people to God, to one another, and to themselves, could be a valuable aid for a community seeking to follow Jesus' way of non-coercion and the giving up of power.

Granted, it's a major challenge for us to begin to see God's activity beyond our provincial borders. We tend towards infighting, both within specific churches and across denominational borders, so the thought that God is at work outside the church (123) will stir up opposition, particularly within exclusivist-minded sectors of the Christian tradition. Yet this is very defensible in light of the missio dei, and it seems to me that the starting point for making the connection would be God's mission of redeeming the world and Jesus' role in this. When we start there, we can see the spirit of God at work outside our bounds more readily than if we take other entrance points to the question of mission (ie - proselytism as the goal).

Transfiguration of Mission 2: Teaching Servanthood?

Shank spends a good bit of his chapter on Jesus' messianic mission focusing upon the servant-elements of Jesus' mission, taking into account his relationships with God and Israel, as well as his ways and means of interaction, including servanthood, openness to the other, and the rejection of coercive use of power. As I read this material, I think about how this might be learned within a community; is this best modeled and intuited, and how vital is focused instruction?

Somewhat of a provocative question here: can the ethos of servanthood be 'taught' in a top-down fashion, without itself taking on a tinge of coercion? At what point does the pedagogy shift, and can we teach the giving up of control without giving it up ourselves in the process?

Transfiguration of Mission 1: Messianic Language

In chapter two of The Transfiguration of Mission, David Shank suggests that we have historically drawn our Christology from Greek thought, and have tended to ignore the Hebraic soil on which Jesus walked. He makes a point of using ‘messianic’ language, rather than ‘christological,’ so as to re-center our understanding of Jesus in a fashion more in line with those who first heard these words spoken.

IMO, this is a vital first step towards a re-visioned understanding of Jesus. ‘Christ’ has become a surname for Jesus, rather than a title, and we tend to gloss over the messianic import of his activity when we speak of Jesus Christ, rather than Jesus the Christ. Intentionally speaking of him as ‘the Christ’ might open up a forum for dialogue concerning meaning, which could then lead to participation in the messianic mission of Jesus. The simple use of the article could give pause and lead to the question, ‘why’d you say that?’ and that could allow for more intentional conversation.

Friday, May 05, 2006

05.04.06 (respite)

Tonight I was reminded of just how much a two-week intensive class changes one's routine. After class this afternoon and evening, I returned home around 9:45 to find my roommates clustered around a pair of computers, GameCasting the final few minutes of regulation (and then overtime) of the Lakers/Suns game. I dropped my bags upstairs before returning to ground level, grabbing a beer from the fridge, and exchanging banter and laughter with Chris, Oscar, Joe, and Njeri. Loads of fun, and it was great to interact with my roommates about matters unrelated to maintenance for the first time in a few weeks. I really do love these folks...

Time for bed; picking up bagels for an early morning group meeting tomorrow, so expect a class-related post around mid-day, when i've the time and consciousness.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Came in a few minutes late today (actually 30), and entered an ongoing discussion about time. Jesus' proclamation of the anticipated kingdom of God as HERE in his day fundamentally shifted a widely-held expectation. We dovetailed a bit into a discussion of time in modern and post-modern societies, before asking the question of what a community would look like that proclaimed the in-breaking of the future into the present, and lived within said message.

To speak candidly from my group, this was hard to get our minds around, since we tend either to not have deeply-held hopes for the future or to have increasingly pessimistic views of what will come. As for the first, when you grow up with a mindset of entitlement, what's to hope for? Spinning the coin around, we look at the things that have been promoted as worth hoping for and the ways in which we've been let down...and the phrase 'hope deferred makes a heart sick' comes to life. Quite frankly, if the American Dream's all there is, we might as well just go home now, since that doesn't really inspire me.

Yet the perspective in the church isn't much more inspiring. Since the advent of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century, evangelicals have tended to take a very pessimistic view of the future, in keeping with a premillenial theology that paints a picture of things getting worse and worse, and an apocalyptic future of gloom in which the church plays no part, since it's been raptured, given a virtual 'get out of hellonearth free' card.

How's this play out? Widespread pessimism regarding our societies, and a tendency to see the worst in things, despair, and dig into a trench where the mortar shells won't get in.

This is so deeply ingrained in much of Christianity in America that to proclaim the sort of message we're starting to think about requires all sorts of deconstruction before we can even get to ground zero. Similarly, the nonsynonymous relationship between the church and the kingdom of God subverts our mindsets, and forces us to ask the question, 'what if individual churches were to see themselves in a more decentralized position, both within society and the activity of God? If we're at our best when we participate in what God's doing, might that mean that redirecting our resources, giving away our buildings, and similar activities are actually kingdom focused, even if they mean the death of a church or a thousand?

Now the corrollary that comes immediately to mind is the closing of churches which've been co-opted by megas, 'are they not participating in what God is doing?' Yet there's such a strong resemblance to the Wal-Mart effect that I can't but protest my thoughts as they escape my lips!

Here's where the kingdom question comes to bear. What if the numbers don't necessarily serve as adequate measures of kingdom activity?



Wess taught today, going through some material he'd put together around the Lord's Prayer, and bridging missional practice and community formation, which tend to be divided, but are actually quite closely intertwined.

Our book discussion panel started getting into John Howard Yoder's Politics of Jesus. Had I more sleep the preceding night, questions might have come from my chair, maybe even insightful comments...but at near-delirium, all that came out was a MST3K-tinged summary of the content. Kept me awake and quasi-engaged, but not something i want to do regularly. If anyone wants to see the final product of my furious typings, LMK.

04.28.06 (pt 2)

The last post centered around practice theory; this one centers around that theory practiced. Ryan asked the question of what redeemed kingdom-focused practices might look like.

Here's what circled my brain. When it comes to things already done in churches, the phenomenon of accountability and recovery groups, especially with guys and porn, comes to mind. What if this became kingdom-driven, rather than self-help or a spinoff of AA? My hunch is that rather than solely focusing attention upon the guy in his bedroom, we'd start to see the broader ripples of behavior and reciprocal causation when we take the systemic and practice elements into consideration. Might this give us eyes to see beyond, to look over and out and see the porn industry for what it is, rather than navel-gazing and guilt tripping? Could men's groups become missional presences in a seedy realm? I'd like to think so.

Second, the question came up about practices that aren't necessarily oppressive. What might a redeemed cooking experience look like? Food is huge, and it’s also where we exclude people; it's worth considering eating as hospitality, a central kingdom practice, particularly visible among emerging churches. Share your food, share your life, invite and include…that’s counter-cultural.

A few implications:
What sort of practices would heal folks who've struggled with body image and related eating disorders? That's a gospel matter.

Think that we could suggest something along these lines to any high school (or college, as Tim pointed out) student? Extending hospitality in the lunch room, where cliques and out-groups are typical...that's both simple and powerful.

I thought back to my school days, and wondered if i ever really experienced (or even initiated) this sort of invitation. Not sure if i ever wondered 'why are you doing this?' I tended to misread that, particularly acutely my freshman year of high school. I typically ate alone outside, so when a group of girls invited me to join them, my first thought was 'yeah, they want me.' That led to some cringing when I realized that wasn't quite the case.