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"We Christians are a Bunch of Scheming Swindlers".

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The matter is quite simple. The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.
--Søren Kierkegaard (Taken from Dr. Richard Beck)

To read Kierkegaard’s words might lead one to conclude that we ought to read the Bible literally. Even Kierkegaard would disagree. Rather, the call of Kierkegaard is the critique to read the Bible then use various rationalizations to avoid the ways we are convinced by the Truth and Love of the Good News. Time and time again we read about how God recklessly forgives. We find justifications to measure forgiveness. We hear Jesus place a priority on accepting the “others” the authorities rejected, we prioritize our own acceptance.

We are all able to cite the Bible to justify our current positions and feelings. We are less able to cite the Bible to challenge or critique our current positions. And when we do find scripture that challenges us, we are clever enough to cast it aside.

Sell all your possessions? Pick up the cross? Welcome the widow, orphan and sojourner? Keep the Sabbath? Prioritize love at the expense of truth?

Instead, I find myself saying, “The Bible is so cryptic and difficult to understand.”

Catechism is not enough...

From his book, The God Who Comes, the late Carlo Carretto sates: 

The catechism is not enough, theology is not enough, formulas are not enough to explain the Unity and Trinity of God. We need loving communication, we need the presence of the Spirit. That is why I do not believe in theologians who do not pray, who are not in humble communication of love with God. Neither do I believe in the existence of any human power to pass on authentic knowledge of God. Only God can speak about himself, and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us. When there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here: a crisis of contemplation. 

In all the conversation about the future of the UMC. The concern about people not "following the Discipline" and those who "unequally apply the Discipline". The chatter about Love Your Neighbor and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The chatter around the UMC is one emphasizing the practical, relevant and the immediate. To put it another way, we focus on the things that are not contemplation. 

When we are have the same vigor around the need for silence that we do around protesting. When we are concerned about what pastors are "being still" than where they are marching. When we are more concerned about the Church's relationship with Christ than who is getting married. Then we are beginning to see a Church that is moving from our crisis. 

Until the days of loving and humble communication, we will be in crisis. 

"Reading the Statisticians of Our Predicament Rather Than the Prophets of Our Deliverance"

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R.R. Reno

Give and Take is a conversation podcast that can be very heady and wonky for those who love theology. Frankly, the people on this podcast are too smart for me to always follow and I am humbled every time I listen - I just am not as smart as I want to think that I am.

Recently, Scott Jones (the host) had a conversation with R. R. Reno (AKA Rusty). I was introduced to R. R. Reno in Seminary via a book he wrote called In the Ruins of the Church. When I heard this podcast, I wanted to just jot down a few great ideas that came from this conversation, so that I don't forget them. I hope these notes are as inspiring to you as there are for me. 

Among the gems that I found in this conversation was the idea that too much of our time is spent reading the statisticians of our predicament rather than the prophets of our deliverance. I am aware of how much I spend reading about the "predicament" we are in. I know that it is critical to diagnose the illness before treatment can begin. It seems clear to me that too many of us (self included) are parsing diagnostic words but few prophets are discussing what the treatment is for such ills. 

We are not able to listen to these prophets for at least two reasons. First is human nature. Prophets call us to account and call us to change. Humans have done a very good job at killing prophets in our world; this is an ancient problem.

The other reason we don't listen to prophets sharing solutions feels newer. We may not listen to the prophets of our deliverance because we do not have consensus on what the problem is. 

Moses was a prophet and he was not killed by his people. Why? Perhaps it is because there was a consensus on what the problem was - the people were enslaved. There was a deep agreement that slavery is the "predicament" and so it is easier to hear the prophet who is speaking deliverance to that predicament.

I grow frustrated about how much time I spend on understanding the predicament, I also know that until there is a sense of what the "problem is" we will never be able to hear the prophet lead us toward the path of healing.

The Failings of the Church Justifies Her Existence Not Eradication

Over the weekend, while the Judicial Council of the UMC made a big decision, I could not help but think about Lillian Daniel's book When "Spiritual But Not Religious" Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places Even the Church. While the whole book was fine, it was the first chapter that spoke to me. I share a short excerpt from that chapter with one modification. While Daniel is critiquing the "Spiritual but not religious" category, I offer one slight modification to her writing here. The addition is what is in (parentheses). 

"The church has done some embarrassing things in its day, and I personally do not want to be associated with a lot of it. But, news flash, human beings do a lot of embarrassing, inhumane, cruel and ignorant things, and I don't want to be associated with them either. And here, I think we come to the crux of the problem that the (progressive/conservative) spiritual but not religious people have with the church.
     If we could just kick out all the human beings, we might really be able to do this thing and meet their high standards. If we could just kick our all the sinners, we might have a shot at following Jesus. If we could just get rid of the Republicans (exclusionary language in the Discipline), the Democrats could bring about the second coming and the NPR would never need to run another pledge drive. If we could just kick out all the Democrats (Discipline disobedience), the fiscally responsible would turn water into wine, and the church would never need another pledge drive.
     But in the church, as everywhere, we are stuck with one another, and being stuck with one another, we don't get the space to come up with our own human-invented God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In church, in community, humanity is just way too close to look good."

Perhaps ironically it is the divisions in the Church that keep me connected to the Church. I know it is the Church, with all of her divisions, that help us from creating a God in our own image. Humans are too peaty to model a God after. The failings of the Church justifies her existence not eradication.