Eden’s Gardener…

The following is a paper for my New Testament class at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.

“God spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, and he spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways, and he spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways. And he speaks in our days in our ways—and it is our responsibility to live out what the Bible says in our days. We do this by going back so we can come forward.”[1]

Scott McKnight

I began this project with a pretty contemporary assumption: Jesus’ practice of poverty and celibacy was an attempt to address the economic inequalities of his culture, and any culture, really. My Research Question was:

Were Jesus’ economic practices meant to confront the economic practices of the Empire, so as to give voice to the disenfranchised?

However, after going through the Gospels, and writing down a list of the stories and sayings of Jesus related to economic issues, I noticed something I hadn’t expected: Jesus was a mooch! His practice of poverty seemed either not a practice of poverty at all, or an economic practice with a completely different intention than I had expected. So, (although I know I am not supposed to do this in the traditional academic research method, I did it anyway…) I changed my Research Hypothesis:

The economic practices of Jesus were a method of confronting the economic and social systems of his day in prophetic fashion, so as to call all people to God, and the mutual covenant of the Garden.

Research:

Social Context:

Jesus was born and raised primarily in Galilee, a region in Palestine of roughly “…’two hundred villages’ (Josephus)” with a population of “no more than a hundred thousand.”[2] The region was mostly rural and agrarian in nature, where the social identity was collectivist in nature and practice.[3] The most significant structure in life, work, and economic survival was the family/clan and village. Families lived at the subsistence level, being mainly self-sufficient:

“As in earlier centuries, the fundamental social-economic forms were still the family and the village community. The household was still the fundamental unit of production and consumption. Families consumed most of what they produced and produced virtually all of what they consumed. Clothing and other necessities were produced in the household or in barter with other households. There was little need for trade between villages except for products such as ceramics, which required a supply of clay that few villages had in their vicinity. Families lived in village communities where they cooperated in various ways, such as the construction of houses and maintenance of a community water supply. The form of local governance as well as social coherence was the village assembly (synagogue in Greek)[4]

The agrarian economy was built not only on farming, but also on fishing, due to the proximity of the Sea of Galilee. Each family would normally have lived on ancestral home sites:

“Kinship in ancient Israel and Judah, as well as in first-century Palestine, was affected by the political sphere especially in terms of law, for example, incest, rape, marriage, divorce, paternity, and inheritance. But kinship also affected politics, most notably in patron-client relationships, and developing networks of “friends”. Kinship was affected by religion in terms of purity, for example, regulating who could have sex with whom and the ethnic and religious status of one’s spouse. And kinship affected religion (embedded in politics) in terms of descent, especially in the importance laid on the lineages of priests and their wives, but also by regulating membership in the political religion for the laity. Finally, kinship was interactive with the economic sphere in terms of occupations, dowry and inheritance, and land tenure.”[5]

Within the family, gender roles are designated by areas of responsibility: Males-Outside and Females-Inside:

In this arrangement, the wife normally becomes financial administrator with the key to the family chest when and since the husband must go out—to fields, to other villages, on pilgrimage.”[6]

“This division of the genders is also made clear in the fundamental Mediterranean values of honor and shame. Males are expected to embody the family’s honor in their virility, boldness, sexual aggression, and protection of the family. This is symbolized in the male’s penis and testicles. Females are expected to keep the family from shame by their modesty, restraint, sexual exclusivity, and submission to male authority; this is symbolized in the female’s hymen. All the social roles of husband/wife, grandfather/grandmother, father/mother, son/daughter, brother/sister, uncle/aunt, male cousin/female cousin take their definitions from these assumptions about male and female roles, behaviors, dress, and attitudes.”[7]

Marriages are arranged as a “…sexual, economic, and (at times) political and religious relationship contracted between families (or segments of the same family) for a male and female.”[8] Divorce was permitted for men or women to initiate; however, since marriages were financial arrangements between families as well, it was (as now) costly.[9]

Honor was a guiding principle of first century Palestinian culture:

“Honor is the value of a person in his or her own eyes (that is, one’s claim to worth) plus that person’s value in the eyes of his or her own social group. Honor is a claim to worth along with the social acknowledgement of worth.”[10]

Honor in the culture can be ascribed, due to family status or position, or it can be acquired. Acquired honor is gained “…by excelling over others in the social interaction that we call challenge and response.”[11] (The genealogies in the gospels might be intended to define Jesus’ ascribed honor by showing his earthly relationship to the Davidic monarchy, as well as the clan of Abraham.)

 “The challenge is a claim to enter the social space of another. This claim can be positive or negative. A positive reason for entering the social space of another would be to gain some share in that space or to gain a cooperative, mutually beneficial foothold. A negative reason would be to dislodge another from his social space, either temporarily or permanently. Thus the source sending the message—always interpreted as a challenge—puts out some behavior, either positive (like a word of praise, a gift, a sincere request for help, a promise of help plus the actual help) or negative (a word of insult, a physical affront of various degrees, a threat along with the attempt to fulfill it). All such actions constitute the message that has to be perceived and interpreted by the receiving individual as well as the public at large.”[12]

Honor doesn’t necessarily relate to economic status, though. In fact, wealth could signify dishonor.[13] (I will further explain this below.)

Economic Context:

Galilee and most of the world they would have known, was under the boot heal of the Roman Empire. Beginning in 37 BCE, the Romans appointed Herod the Great as indigenous ruler over Judea, Galilee, Perea, and the Northern Territories of Iturea, Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanea, and Auranitis. In fact, even the high priests in Jerusalem were appointed by either Herod, or the Romans.[14] These layers of the Empire also imposed layers of taxes:

Rome:

“After their initial conquest in 63 BCE, the Romans had laid the Galileans and Judeans under tribute, as a punitive humiliation as well as source of revenue. According to Josephus, Rome required a quarter of the harvest every second year, that is, roughly 12.5 percent a year (Ant. 14.202-203). This was in addition to the tithes and offerings already due to the Temple and high priestly aristocracy, which was charged with collection and delivery of the tribute.”[15]

Herod:

“Herod quickly became the Roman’s favorite client king, partly because he kept a tight control on Judea and the surrounding districts of his realm with repressive measures to stifle any dissent. But it was also because he mounted intensive economic ‘development’ in the areas under his rule.  

Herod built or lavishly rebuilt fortresses around the countryside that he staffed with garrisons of mercenary troops. He built whole new cities named after Caesar, the seaport city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast and Sebaste (=Augustus) in Samaria. He built temples to Caesar in new cities and Roman institutions such as a hippodrome in Jerusalem. His most impressive building project was the massive expansion and rebuilding of the temple complex in Jerusalem, which became one of the wonders of the Roman imperial world.”[16]

In order to pay for and build these projects, Herod “had to generate revenues far in excess of what the territory he ruled had previously produced. The demands he made on his subjects to meet his extensive expenditures ‘stimulated’ the almost exclusively agricultural economy, but they also threatened to ruin the economic base.”[17]

Not only were the people of the region forced to pay for these projects, they were also conscripted to actually build them. (Horsley suggests that Joseph, Mary’s husband, could have been conscripted to work as a carpenter on one of the projects in Galilee, such as Sephoris or Tiberias.[18] This might account for Joseph’s absence in the Gospels after the beginning sections of the birth narratives.)

The Temple:

“Revenues of the Temple and priesthood included tithes, offerings, and sacrifices. All priests, regular as well as aristocratic, received a portion of their support from the tithes and offerings. Certain choice cuts of the sacrificial animals were reserved for the priests. Many of the ordinary priests lived in villages outside Jerusalem. But all participated in the Temple sacrifices and offerings during the four weeks of pilgrimage festivals such as Passover and during two other weeks of alternating service. The pilgrimage festivals, during which Judeans (and presumably Galileans as well) were supposed to bring sacrifices and offerings to the Temple, meant considerable additional income for Jerusalem generally as well as for the Temple and priesthood.”[19]

If these economic burdens weren’t enough, the people still had to feed themselves:

“An important additional source of income for the wealthy priests, Herodian officers still resident in Jerusalem, and other wealthy families was to make loans at hefty rates of interest. It has been reasonably surmised that resources coming into the Temple from Diaspora communities as well as from local revenues created a surplus of funds. High priestly families and others with access to such funds drew upon them to make loans to villagers who were struggling to feed their families after meeting their obligations for tribute, tithes, and offerings. From the interest charged and from foreclosure on loans, well-positioned families increased their wealth. Archeologists have found a dramatic increase in the construction of mansions in the section of Jerusalem just to the west of the temple complex during the first century.”[20]

After the death of Herod in 4 BCE, his son, Antipas, was chosen to rule Galilee. The effect of this was that it moved the seat of local governance and taxation from Jerusalem into Galilee proper. Antipas continued his father’s building ways, and as land was acquired or foreclosed upon, he built a city to honor Tiberias, the city of Sephoris as a military outpost, a lavish palace for himself, as well as estates for political allies and trusted underlings.[21]  Richard Horsley sums it up well when he states:

“With two and sometimes three layers of rulers simultaneously making demands on them for tithes, taxes, and/or tribute, it is understandable that the Galilean and Judean people were poor, hungry, and in debt.”[22]

An economic concept which put a further squeeze on the Galilean people, and one closely tied to honor, was that of Limited Good. Because the people had limited power for self-governance, economic viability due to being subjects of a massive empire, and a perceived lack of mobility because the land they were occupying was ancestral land; they perceived any good to be limited in nature.

“Thus broad areas of behavior are patterned in such a way as to suggest that such persons believe that in their social, economic, and natural universes—their total environment—all the desired things in life, such as land, wealth, prestige, blood, health, semen, friendship and love, manliness, honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety—literally all goods in life—exist in finite, limited quantity and are always in short supply.”[23]

Limited Good is connected to Honor, because the person considered honorable is one that can maintain his/her hold on the Good in their care and stewardship. The only way to gather more Good is to take it from someone else through deception or coercion, and that is dishonorable. This concept is especially important when one considers the economic pressure on the people to keep the land they have inherited from previous generations, and yet have enough food to keep their families alive, let alone find good marital relationships for children which are generative for the long-term well-being of the family. Secondly, a family can still be considered honorable, no matter what their economic condition, as long as they are keeping what they have been given by preceding generations. Poverty is a “non-economic status,”[24] and with it comes dishonor, or shame.

“A poor person seems to be one who cannot maintain his inherited status due to circumstances that befall him and his family, like physical accident… Thus day laborers, landless peasants, and beggars born into such situations are not poor persons in first-century society, and poor would not be an economic designation.”[25]

 

The Confrontations of Jesus:

 

Social Confrontations:

The virgin birth of Jesus is the first confrontation of social structure of first century Palestine, and is the most confrontational act of God in human history. It confronts all humanly contrived systems of validation of  humanity and all of creation.  God becoming human in the intimacy of conception, 9 months of gestation, then in the crisis of labor and birth; redefines and re-imagines in the most fundamental terms the statement that we are formed in the Image of God. It states that redemption is possible due to the personal nature of a loving God. If the virgin birth is not historically true, then there is no reason to believe any of scripture. The universe, then, is nothing more than math and accident, with a little chemistry thrown in. If the virgin birth didn’t occur, then Christians are the most deluded tribe of people on earth. Killing us would be cleansing the gene pool. But if it did happen, then God walked in our midst in an attempt to redeem us from ourselves and our diseased relationships… the thorny wilderness we  have created for ourselves… and restore the orderly, manicured beauty of a Garden of mutual, growing relationships between God, humanity, and the rest of Creation.

The virgin birth challenges the patriarchal system of ascribing honor due to human, family heritage; changing the human perception of Jesus being a Son of David into the Son of God. It also challenges the tradition of seeking to acquire honor through manipulation and upward mobility by seeking downward mobility instead, through the action of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.[26]

Jesus appears to confront the priority of familial, and clan cohesion which wars against all other commitments by stating, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;”[27]

Further, Jesus confronts the definition of family:

“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”[28]

A partial consequence of these confrontations might have been the impetus for his rejection in his hometown.[29] The town’s people were apparently so offended by his highly public actions, and the honor bestowed on him by the numbers of people following him, that they were not able to get past his “father’s” occupation, nor that his sisters, brothers, and mother lived there.

Jesus used the system of acquiring honor to his own confrontational purpose as well. In Luke 7:36-50, a story is told of an invitation Jesus received from a local Pharisee: an act which seems to have bestowed honor upon Jesus. However, within the actual visit, there is also a subtle challenge to the honor of Jesus, as he is denied the common courtesy of providing water with which he can wash the dirt from his feet. As they are surrounding the table, “…a woman in the city, who was a sinner…”[30] barges into the Pharisee’s house carrying an alabaster jar of ointment. She comes behind Jesus, begins to cry deeply, and washes his feet with her tears while wiping them clean with her hair and kissing them. She then pours the ointment over his feet. The Pharisee takes great offense at both the intrusion and also to the actions of the woman. He also challenges the honor of Jesus, at least in his estimation, by his inward question why Jesus would allow this type of woman to touch him in such an intimate fashion. Jesus’ parable of the debtors and creditor in response to the Pharisee’s attitude, confronts the system of challenge and response as a means of acquiring honor, by reframing the woman’s actions in terms of forgiving love, and receiving love from one forgiven.

Another confrontation of the Honor system by instituting a Mission of Receiving and Giving, is the story of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at a well, told in John 4:4-42. Actually, there are several confrontations in this story. Jesus is travelling through Samaria, on his way from Judea back to Galilee, and he stops near a well on the outskirts of a city to rest while the rest of the group go into the city to purchase food. As he rests by the well, a Samaritan woman comes to the well with a jar to draw water from it. Jesus is a stranger and alien, so would be approached with a sense of suspicion by the woman, due to the clannish nature of that time. Jesus speaks to the woman asking for water, and the woman responds. Both actions are confrontations of typical, social behavior. A stranger does not invite himself into sharing the resources of a region, he would need to be asked, or it would be considered a threatening action. The woman is bold enough to respond, and even gets into a pseudo-religious discussion with him. Both of these actions are also confrontations with accepted social practice, which expected her to stay silent as a means of protecting her purity, and leaving religious discussions in a public setting to men. When the disciples return, and find Jesus talking to the woman, they “were astonished.”[31] The woman then leaves, without her water jar, and becomes a “missionary” to her own village. The woman is again confronting social structure by publicly proclaiming the news about Jesus. There is no textual record of Jesus sending the woman back into her village, and yet she goes. Nor does Jesus invite her to follow him, as he does on several occasions with other people, primarily men. It appears that the woman’s excitement about Jesus’ words pushed her to jettison the social proprieties of staying in the inside world of a woman, and spread the news about Jesus. She received the words of Jesus, and then gave voice to her neighbors. She was on a Mission of Receiving and Giving.

Economic Confrontations:

Feeding the 5,000:

The first of three confrontations I will mention is that of feeding the 5,000, from Mark 6:30-44. The story is placed just subsequent to the twelve disciples’ return from a mission which Jesus had sent them on during which he commanded they take no personal provision. As they return, Jesus invites them to “a deserted place by themselves”[32] where they could rest, and decompress. Their time and place is interrupted by large crowds of people who had followed them along the shore as they travelled on the Sea of Galilee by boat. Jesus, moved by compassion, began to teach them when he and the disciples came ashore. As the day drew to a close and since the location was isolated, there was no place from which the crowd could get food. The scene is a very nice symbol for the concept of Limited Good as perceived by the economic culture at the time. Jesus first suggests the disciples feed the crowd, but the disciples’ response directly relates to Limited Good: “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”[33] The suggestion is: “We have neither enough bread, nor enough money to buy it!” Jesus directly confronts the attitude of lack by sending them to find what they DO have. When they return, the amount of loaves and fish appears to be dramatically insufficient to feed the numbers of people there. Jesus’ response is to have the crowd sit down… not get busy travelling to get food, nor bargain with each other for whatever insignificant provisions their neighbor had, nor even search for food… but to sit down and do nothing. By taking the loaves and fish and looking to heaven, Jesus subtly confronts the concept behind Limited Good that the provision in life comes from human activity. The act of  “looking to heaven” suggests both that God is the provider of Good in life, and the proper response from humanity is acknowledgement of that fact, and thankfulness for what God has provided; no matter how meager it seems.

Another confrontation of the economic structures common at that time is the operation used to actually feed the people. I would suggest that as Jesus broke the bread, he would keep one piece for himself, and then pass the other piece to a person next to him, who would then respond in the same manner. In so doing, each person would be nourished by God’s provision and blessing, while also being a conduit of blessing to those around them. This action models the mutuality of Eden, the receiving and gathering of manna during the Exodus, and the request in the Lord’s Prayer to “Give us, this day, our daily bread…” The result: “All ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.”[34] The process and result also symbolically fulfills the Abrahamic covenant of being blessed in order to be a blessing.[35]

Jesus the Mooch:

As a first son, Jesus’ responsibility to his family, and especially his father, would have been to manage and secure his father’s inheritance, which would eventually become his own inheritance. While I believe that is what Jesus was in fact doing, as his Father’s inheritance was and is people, the perception would have been that Jesus was not being a good son to Joseph, nor fulfilling his responsibility to his mother or siblings. In fact, it doesn’t appear that after Jesus began his ministry, he ever generated any economic revenue through his own physical activity for his own support, nor that of his family. He actually seems to have been a mooch! He:

…asked a woman for water when he was travelling…[36]

…told a tax collector he was coming to his house for dinner…[37]

…received his support and provision from women, even a woman married to another man…[38]

…received extravagant gifts from women…[39]

His manner of living off the provision of other people was an economic affront to his socially perceived responsibility to his family and clan.

The Cleansing of the Temple:

The Cleansing of the Temple becomes the foremost confrontation with the established empire… that is with the manner in which it worked. The various methods used to keep the ”…people poor, hungry, and in debt,”[40] were in a large part symbolized by Herod’s Temple. The temple tied the current economic structure of the empire to the worship of God, and expression of covenant worship. But the society did not reflect proper, practical living out of the covenant. In fact, although the Year of Jubilee seems to have continued, ways around it were being practiced:

“The sabbatical release of debts had also become regularized and widely accepted as binding on creditors. This is indicated by the famous prosbul devised as a bypass of the debt release by the Pharisaic sage Hillel, a somewhat older contemporary of Jesus. By placing loan documents into the hands of a court, creditors could then ignore the year of release. The motive for the device is often explained as the need to make credit available in the last years before the scheduled year of release. The effect over a longer period of time, however, would have been to drive the poor more deeply into debt. What the device of the prosbul indicates is that covenantal mechanisms meant to protect the people’s economic viability had become so widely accepted as law that those seeking to benefit from making loans to the poor sought ways to bypass their implementation.”[41]

This practice also enlivens the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”[42] The temple, then, becomes a focal point for economic contention. It is just this confrontational act of Jesus that led to his death, which is an act of confrontation in itself:

“The ministry of Jesus is, of course, criticism that leads to radical dismantling. And as is characteristic, the guardians and profiteers of the present stability are acutely sensitive to any change that may question or challenge the present arrangement. Very early Jesus is correctly perceived as a clear and present danger to that order, and this is the problem with the promissory newness of the gospel: it never promises without threatening, in never begins without ending something, it never gives gifts without also assessing harsh costs.”[43]

In the same way, the death of Jesus confronts the empire because it models that the new life and promise of resurrection does not come without a public crucifixion, even if the crucifixion is of an empire.

Conclusion:

Through this exercise, I more fully understand Jesus’ statement that he came to “fulfill” the covenant, not abolish it.

“The kingdom of heaven is not, for the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth, a piece of real estate for the single saved soul; it is a communal vision of what could be and what should be. It is a vision of a time when all debts are forgiven, when we stop judging others, when we not only wear our traditions on our sleeve, but also hold them in our hearts and minds and enact them with all our strength. It is the good news that the Torah can be discussed and debated, when the Sabbath is truly honored and kept holy, when love of enemies replaces the tendency toward striking back. The vision is Jewish, and it is worth keeping as frontlets before our eyes and teaching to our children.”[44]

We must understand the culture of Jesus’ world in order to imaginatively scrutinize our own culture, to find how Jesus speaks to the empires of today. Levine’s statement above identifies the ultimate goal of God’s people is. We must understand our own tendency to fall comfortably, and “numbly,” as Brueggemann describes it, into the dysfunctional and unsustainable cultural practices of the kingdoms of humans. Breaking through the numbness, is painful. But…

If we want the new life of resurrection…

If we want the kingdom of heaven…

If we want a “communal vision of what could be and what should be”…

We will have to experience the death of our current kingdom. Our tables must be turned over and temples cleansed, even to the point of being dismantled before something new can take their place.

Bibliography

Brueggemann, Walter: The Prophetic Imagination; Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2001

Hanson, K.C. and Oakman, Douglas E.: Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts; Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Press, 1998.

Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version; New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2007

Horsley, Richard A.: Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and The Rabbis; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1996.

Horsley, Richard A.: Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice For All; Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Levine, Amy-Jill: The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus; New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2006

Malina, Bruce J.: The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology; Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1981.

McKnight, Scot: The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008.

Stegemann, Wolfgang, Malina, Bruce J., Theissen, Gerd, editors: The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels; Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 2002.


[1] Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008], 57.

[2] Richard A. Horsley, Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All [Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2009] 87.

[3] Richard L. Rorhbaugh,  Ethnocentrism and Historical Questions about Jesus, in The Social Setting of Jesus and The Gospels, edited by Wolfgang Stegemann, Bruce Malina, and Gerd Theissen [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 2002] 30.

[4] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 89.

[5] K.C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Fortress, 1998] 21.

[6] Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology [Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox Press, 1981] 43.

[7] Hanson and Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, 26.

[8] Hanson and Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, 31.

[9] Hanson and Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus,  43-44.

[10] Malina, The New Testament World, 27.

[11] Malina, The New Testament World, 29.

[12] Malina, The New Testament World, 30.

[13] Malina, The New Testament World, 82-83.

[14] Hanson and Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, 66-68.

[15] Horsley, Covenant Economics,  82-83.

[16] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 83-84.

[17] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 84.

[18] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 87.

[19] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 85.

[20] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 86.

[21] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 87-88.

[22] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 88.

[23] Malina, The New Testament World, 75.

[24] Malina, The New Testament World, 84.

[25] Malina, The New Testament World, 85.

[26] Philippians 2:6-7; Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version [New York, New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2007] 258

[27] Matthew 10:34-37; NRSV

[28] Matthew 12:46-50; NRSV

[29] Matthew 13:54-58; NRSV

[30] Luke 7:37; NRSV

[31] Luke 4:27; NRSV

[32] Mark 6:32; NRSV

[33] Mark 6:37; NRSV

[34] Mark 6:42-43; NRSV

[35] Genesis 12:2; NRSV

[36] John 4:7; NRSV

[37] Luke 19:1-9; NRSV

[38] Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3; NRSV

[39] Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8; NRSV

[40] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 88.

[41] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 93.

[42] Horsley, Covenant Economics, 95, 99.

[43] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2001] 84.

[44] Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus [New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2006] 51-52.

Thoughts of a Theological Bi-Sexual…

I wrote a friend recently about some thinking I have been doing about the Liberal and Conservative arms of the church. Below is the email:

“I attended a conference here in St. Petersburg a couple of weeks ago. The name of it was A Sustainable Faith Conference. Brian McClaren, Doug Pagitt, and Tripp Fuller were the headliners. (OK, so it’s a Vegas term, but many conferences some churches put on are really Vegas shows anyway, right? Or is that a little too sarcastic? I’m a preacher’s kid… religious sarcasm is my blood.) The conference was really good (despite my sarcasm…) and was really more progressive, as you might expect by the headliners. I really enjoyed the conversations during the conferences, when there were breaks, and especially at dinner with a beer or two. Good times.

I have been thinking about the liberal and conservative arms of the church. The conservative church always refers to God as male, while the liberal church either uses non-sexist language, or even more feminine language in reference to God. It occurred to me as I thought about it, that many of the stands of each wing politically, socially, and even religiously or emotively could be either stereo-typically Male/Conservative, or Female/Liberal. I must confess that I am not comfortable with either. Maybe this is some reflection of my forced celibacy…. I find myself blaming almost all my current ills on this…. or a genuine observation. At any rate, I find myself wanting to bring the two together. (I mean, if I can’t have sex, I might as well be a theological matchmaker, right?) The church I have been attending, Missio Dei, was a sponsor for the conference, and I feel most at home there. But there aren’t many single folks close to my age. So I attended a church my brother found this past Sunday: Bridgepoint. I feel at home in the first, and like what I heard from the pastor of the second this past week. I think I can wrangle hitting the first service at Bridgepoint, and then make it to Missio Dei right afterward. I know, I know, I know….. how consumeristic of me…. I’m telling you, celibacy makes you do CRAZY things!

Anyway… it occurred to me that I would like to introduce the pastoral staff of each church to the other, and have a party at my house. While I realize that pastors live VERY busy lives, I also think this is part of the problem in the church today. Pastors need time to breathe.

 

 (Ok…. just overheard a woman at another table talking about her friends that are HEALTHY Christians…. you know, like bean sprouts? I know I need to lose a few pounds, and I WANT to and live a healthier lifestyle, blah, blah, blah; but I don’t really make a priority of being a healthy corpse. A corpse is a corpse and we are all destined to get there one way and time or another. I wonder what judgement she will make when I get up in a second and go outside to smoke a cigarette?) SEE, celibacy makes me more easily distracted… and irritable, Damn-it! Whew…. glad that rant is out of the way….

 

Anyway, I am finding my way through the middle of both these ideological camps. Does that mean I am a theological bi-sexual? DAMN…. there it goes again…..”

The idea about attending both churches on Sundays has gone by the wayside. I have decided to attend where I feel more at home: Missio Dei. My point about pastors of conservative and liberal churches needing to get together is still in the back of my mind, though. I find that when people with different viewpoints get together with food and conversation, we find how much we have in common rather than dwelling on our differences. I remember when Rob Bell was publicizing his book, Love Wins, with a video that asked questions about conservative viewpoints about God and hell; and John Piper, a conservative theologian and pastor attacked Bell on the internet; I commented on a blog that I wished the two of them would go for a hike in the mountains of Colorado and talk out their differences. The high altitude of the mountains would bring air so thin that yelling would be impossible, and the beauty of God’s creation would inspire wonder, and a sense of exploration, rather than self-assurance. Sometimes, I think our arguments about how we understand God is rooted in our own issues, rather than being open to understand God better. We fight to make our point because our whole identity is wrapped up in a neat understanding of religious systems which work for us. So, the fight is more about ME than about God.

Another issue relating to our understanding of God is based on our interpretation of the scriptures. Scot McKnight does a great job of exploring this issue in his book: Blue Parakeet. Our interpretation of scripture, in my view, is influenced by at least three things:

The culture within which we live…

The cultural perspective of the language which the scriptures are translated into from the original languages…

The culture of the original authors.

All three can be hidden lenses which color our understanding of the meaning of scripture, when we don’t take them into consideration. I grew up in a fairly conservative tradition of Christianity, especially in our expression of life in relation to God and scripture. My tradition usually referred to God as He, and Father. (One of our speakers at the conference threw away a hilarious thought, in a flurry of quick, Groucho Marx-like phrases: “…I always wondered why the Old Testament authors decided to give God a penis…” LOVED that line!) This was a strongly paternal view of God and family, which was orderly, yet not always kind to women as it related to opportunities which were considered to be the responsibility  of men. The contrary was also true about men. There were pretty strong stereotypes about what men and women were SUPPOSED to be and act. I continue to see these patterns in stricter forms in the more conservative, evangelical denominations and movement.

The more deeply I get into a more liberal/progressive expression and theological understanding of God and scripture, I find a more maternal view of God and family. As I mentioned in the email, God is referred to in non-sexist, or female terms. (So…. a vagina is better than a penis?) The trend is towards the use of  non-violence as a means of responding to aggression or injustice. Talking rather than acting. The idea is that people will act differently if they understand differently. I also think that masculinity is redefined in ways that are less threatening, and in ways that involve partnership rather than leadership.

While these are both general descriptions of conservative and liberal viewpoints, I mean to see them at a thousand-foot view rather than get lost in the minutiae of each perspective, especially as it relates to my own recent thoughts and experience.

I am coming to see that each position sees God in their own image in some ways, then expresses their shade of Christianity into the world in ways which are somewhat congruent with their views. I like that, actually. If we think of conservative as male and liberal as female forms of Christianity, I think great value can be found in the what they bring into the world. However, what if they learned to work together in a dance of intimacy and love? When a man and woman love and respect each other, then become intimate… something generative and creative happens.

What if we learned to work and love together, in spite of our differences. I know, this is not a very original thought. But I am finding that neither perspective fits me very well, yet a combination of the two works great! I could go into specifics about views from each form that work for me, and I think are practical ways to live and love in the world; yet I also see attempts from each form to deny the totality of the other. How generative is that?

In my own journey, I am finding  God as BOTH male and female rather than NEITHER male nor female. Scripture uses language in referring to God which show both male and female roles and qualities. I believe the church must talk in more depth about sexuality and about what it means to be male or female. I think in so doing, we will find ourselves questioning the values of our own culture as we realize how deeply they are ingrained within our own views of life and love. As we compare our view of gender, sexual roles, and experience; we might be introduced to God in more depth than we formerly perceived.

If your church decides to engage in such a conversation…. get in touch with me…. PLEASE!

Hidden Toxins…

Below is a paper I submitted for the class: Spirituality, Shame, and Grace. Some of the formatting may be a little messy…. Sorry.

Hidden Toxins

 

 

In 1962, author Rachel Carson published a book that was to become a hallmark in the environmental movement: Silent Spring. The book outlines the effects of chemical insecticides of that time period, in particular DDT, on not only insects, but also upon the entirety of a biological ecosystem. At the time, DDT as well as some chemical defoliants were commonly used not only for industrial applications, but also for home use. Silent Spring began with the premise that environmental systems were linked in an intricate dance in which all living things were connected, and when toxic chemicals were used for the control of one organism, they didn’t stop in their toxicity with just the intended species, but continued to poison all the way up the biological line until their effects contributed to the ill-health of humans, as well. The intension of becoming free from relatively minor irritants, caused the unintended consequence of actually limiting the healthy freedom of a balanced environment, which provided for the physical needs of a multiplicity of living things.

The freedom of disease killed the freedom of health.

In Genesis 2:7-3:24, the story is written about another instance where the perfectly designed balance of the creation is burdened with the choice of a freedom which kills over a freedom which heals. The scene is a garden where the inhabitants live in harmony within an environment linked in healthy balance, not only in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual, and emotional sense as well. The relational balance is generative and co-creative, with each being sharing and expressing their unique, and innate value in the beauty of love and mutual respect. As with all designs, there were boundaries with delineated responsibilities, and where mutual respect was part of the design. The overarching value was one of love and trust. God created the beauty of a garden, and invited people to be partners in its maintenance and expansion: a healthy freedom.

However, as the story goes, an adversary approached the people, offering a larger, more expansive freedom; or so the marketing schpeel went. The promise seemed to be attractive, yet it was based on the toxicity of lies:

“Did God say, ’You may not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

“You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The toxicity of these lies is in the deviance of their hiddenness. They are pervasive and invasive lies:

You cannot trust God to have your best interests at heart.

You are not enough, as you are. You should be more than you are.

The people freely ingested the lies, and the fruit of these seeds of doubt was shame.

Although the story is set in antiquity, it is always a present story, because the toxicity of shame is hidden within each of us. In these few pages, I will attempt to explain how this class has revealed to me both the disease process of my own hidden shame, but also the freedom I am finding in new understandings of grace which are clearer now than before the class. I will also write of how these new understandings have helped me in a ministry context.

 

 

Personal Experience:

It seems like I have spent most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter how I presented myself, the success I experienced, the loves I shared; my feeling was that sooner or later, it would be gone… I would be found out. The voice in my head assured me of that. I’m not sure the voice was originally mine. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. But as the years progressed, the voice became mine. Sometimes the voice spoke in words, but most of the time, it was just a deep feeling of personal, innate failure. I never really knew what to call it. I called it guilt for most of my life. However, I am now able to call it by its real name: Shame. Jeff Van Vonderan defines it nicely:

Let me clarify something. Shame is often confused with guilt. But they’re not the same. God created you and me so that when we do something wrong we experience a sense of guilt. Guilt is like a spiritual nerve-response to sin, an emotion in response to wrong behavior (“I acted in a way that was wrong and I feel guilty”). Those uncomfortable impulses that stab our conscience are meant to turn us away from the wrong we’re doing and turn us back to God. In that sense, guilt is a healthy thing. Because guilt comes as a result of something you and I do, we can do something about it–change our behavior– and the guilty feeling will go away.

Shame on the other hand, is not just a feeling, though we often speak of it that way (“You ought to feel ashamed of yourself!”) Shame is the belief or mindset that something is wrong with you. It’s something you can live with and not necessarily be aware of. It’s not that you feel bad about your behavior, it’s that you sense or believe you are deficient, defective, or worthless as a human being.

Consequently, you develop a shame-based way of looking at yourself. You accept the view that others might slip up and make mistakes once in a while, but they’re still basically worthwhile people. You, however, are like a mirror image of that: No matter how many times you get it right ( whatever it is, according to the standards of your environment) you will never be acceptable. Deep down, you believe something is wrong with you.”

My parents were wonderful people. Dad was an old-school evangelist during the beginning of my life. That meant that the whole family would travel by car from one revival meeting to another. I have two older (much older… and I love to remind them of that fact) siblings who were essentially raised traveling in this fashion. It was a difficult life for my mother, especially. About every 9 years, she would have an emotional break. We have since learned that she has Bi-polar disorder. Speaking to my siblings, I learned that she was different after I was born. She was an older mother when I was born, and had one of her depressive breaks shortly afterward which required hospitalization, so I was cared for by friends of the family while my father, brother, and sister traveled to revivals. I noticed throughout my life, that I had emotional peaks and valleys periodically. Although they are not extreme enough for me to question if I am bi-polar, they have been a fixture from childhood. Infants learn emotional habits from their primary caregiver. These ways of feeling about the world and themselves are the first messages they receive about whether they are safe and if their efforts of communication will be successful or not. While the intellect isn’t developed enough to understand these messages, their brains make neural connections in the limbic region. Since this region is also the center of the emotions, the messages are related to feelings, rather than thoughts. I believe my fluctuation in emotions through the years are simply emotional habits carried over from infancy.

In contrast to these inward, emotional habits; I learned (as does every preacher’s kid) how to perform and make a good first impression. While this wasn’t something I remember being verbally taught, it just seems something I have always known. From the age of 2, my siblings and I began to sing publicly, as part of the music in each revival service. I was somewhat shy as a child, and since we moved frequently, I never really developed skills of intimacy which long-term friendships require. My companions were my immediate family, or most typically, myself. I now see how these two contrasting experiences developed a type of emotional dissonance within. I became good at performance, and could get along with people for short periods of time, but knowing how to allow someone to come inside my private world to the feeling level was especially difficult. Understanding the normal give and take of relationships was not something I learned. My perceptions of what others thought of me, was based on surface issues.

The faith tradition I was raised in was conservative, focusing on legalistic outward appearance, all the while preaching a message of pursuing God, and holiness. Evidence of personal holiness was especially defined in external life style. However, the emphasis was placed more on what we didn’t do, rather than how we lived as Christ would in the world. I must say that my father didn’t preach in this manner, or live that way either, and although Mom wouldn’t have held other people up to these standards, she constantly fought her own demons of shame. I have always said that Mom always fought feelings of guilt in her own walk with God, and was a great purveyor of guilt to her children, but in a very subtle way. I have always been very intuitive, so it wasn’t hard for me to catch her subtle references that there was something wrong with me.

Actually, I now see that there have been both inward and outward voices of shame in my life. The origins of these voices have remained hidden until recent years. As a result of these voices, my ability to feel God’s love for me became essentially non-existent across the totality of my life. I felt God’s love for me when I performed well, but in the weak areas of my life, or in my sin… I waited for the other shoe to drop.

I lived most of my adult life by an equation:

Church + Family + Performance = Worth.

Eventually, after years living in the “Try harder/Give up” cycle Van Vonderan describes, an unsatisfying marriage that ended in divorce, difficulty in being able to stay in a career I seem best suited for: ministry, and recurring financial issues; all the factors on the left side of the equation collapsed in a heap. I was left with a deep, personal sense of failure, and huge pockets of hidden, toxic feelings of shame.

Through the midst of it, though, God has been speaking to me in metaphors which reach to the deepest parts of me, to redefine fundamental terms of the Christian faith in ways I can understand, and feel. I have found that shame is peeled away, layer by layer. God has spoken to me in powerful ways through the natural world, through the bible– yet in ways radically different than I learned before– through books– both secular and religious– and in popular media– including movies, plays, and music. God has also used both old and new friends to allow me to see glimpses of the value God sees in me and created in me: the Imago Dei. These friends have spoken good into my life. I have finally come to know that I worship God, while before, I worshipped god: a religious figurehead of morality, who is quite emotionally unstable, and unrelenting in his expectations. The God I now know is both Father and Mother, although it is taking time for me to relate more fully to Mother God.

I found the most powerful ideas for personal change within the class, to be:

Van Vonderan’s discussion of the Rest cycle. Although his manner of communicating the message of renewal of our mind to the actions of Christ on our behalf, was so close to what I’d always heard that I had difficulty stepping outside my tradition; the diagram was helpful.

Justification by Grace. David and Sandra Rhoads’ article in Robert Jewett’s compilation was powerfully helpful to me, especially David’s explanation of the different models of redemption:

Justification by grace is not the only, nor indeed the most common view of redemption in Christian churches. The most common view of redemption among Christians is that Jesus died for people’s sins to be forgiven. This is the abbreviated formula: All people have sinned and, as such, they deserve judgment and death. Through Jesus, God forgives their sins and saves them for eternal life. There is a tendency to collapse justification by grace into this popular formula of forgiveness, as if they were the same thing. After a recent lecture I gave on this subject, a former Lutheran bishop acknowledged that it had never occurred to him that justification and forgiveness were not the same.

Justification and forgiveness are, in some sense, quite different models of redemption. One way to understand the difference between justification and forgiveness is to realize that forgiveness works within a system. Forgiveness leaves in place the legal/moral system that is used to make ourselves right with God and others. It affirms our successes in meeting the lawful standards and addresses only our sinful failings. So, we do our best to follow the laws and be good moral humans– and God forgives us when we fail to live up to that system. The system remains in place and also our efforts to justify ourselves before God remain in place. We make it in the system because we get help from God, who forgives the failings. The status of the legal/moral system is reinforced in the process of forgiveness. And the performance principle– our efforts to justify ourselves before God by our actions in living up to a system of law– is also reinforced.

By contrast, justification by grace is an action by God (not by us) that justifies (sets us right with God) by (God’s) free choice to do so as a gift– based neither upon a system of standards nor upon human performance.”

I find Rhoads’ description of justification by grace most powerful because, while the forgiveness model of redemption views humanity as being innately wrong so that we need a system to be right with God, the justification by grace model views our perception of our value as the problem. Justification by grace speaks with powerful clarity regarding God’s belief in our value. Justification by grace with action by God, speaks and acts powerfully to address the Edenic lies of the snake:

“You can’t trust God…”

“You aren’t enough…”

by accepting the consequences of believing and living out those two statements: death alone, and shame. Thus, the need for the cross of Christ, and the resurrection which acts like a bridge to a return to relational Eden, with the values of love of God, love of self, and love of others.

Although this counteracts the power of shame, and neutralizes the hidden toxins within; living in the new reality takes practice, as Van Vonderan states:

“ The battle to recover from shame and live a life of freedom and fullness is waged in two primary arenas: the renewal of the mind, and the fight of faith.”

Ministry Experience:

A major source of the power of shame is that it is hidden. There are at least two aspects to this:

Sometimes it is hidden to us…

Other times it is known to us, but hidden from others…

It is God’s grace to make known to us the origins of our shame. Until we can know why we feel shame regarding our body image, for instance; we have great difficulty counter-acting the inward and outward voices which reinforce it.

Secondly, it is important for us to find a safe place with safe relationships where we can reveal our places of shame. Being honest about our pain is the first step towards healing. I believe this courageous action on our behalf, and the gracious listening of another person, is a practical act of confession. Twelve step groups have learned the power of shared incompleteness and shame, without the need to try and “fix” the other person.

I led a divorce support group where we tried to provide just such a safe place, where people could be honest about their feelings and speak openly about their perceptions of reality as they saw it. Just the act of listening can release the power of shame.

Another way the community can counteract shame, is by speaking good into the life of another. I don’t mean trite statements which deny the experience of another– as in pithy, syrupy statements to those in the middle of personal devastation and crisis– rather honest observations about the value and strengths of another person. While these statements may be caught in the “shame grid” of the other person, and they may have difficulty believing your observations of good in them; the Holy Spirit can keep them in the unconscious mind, until they are ready to be retrieved and “heard” by the person.

The church in the individualized West has lost the power of a shared community of faith. I believe we are so acculturated by both the redemption system of forgiveness, rather than justification of grace, and we each feel that salvation is an individualized act of individual faith; that we have denied the power of collective faith. Edward Wimberly explains this powerfully:

“As indicated before, the experience of guilt is not the dominant experience in our contemporary society. The experience of shame is by far the most prevalent experience. This lecture takes seriously that our contemporary experience is not the need for forgiveness for wrong behavior. Rather, ‘our contemporary experience is one of disconnection, of being unloved, of being overwhelmed by information, of experiencing nihilism or the loss of meaning, and of being inept and clumsy in human interaction and interpersonal relationships.’ The age of shame is the loss of love. It is the loss of meaningful community. It is the feeling that one is unlovable and will never be loved. The point is that a juridical model of guilt over sin and wrong behavior makes no sense when the dominant experience is being unloved. The guilt model presupposes an intact community where one’s sense of connection is not threatened unless one commit’s a heinous crime. Shame, however, is based on disconnection and a breakdown in community. Moreover, shame is a fundamental experience and is prior to guilt in the developmental cycle. Guilt, however, comes later in the developmental cycle when relationships are better formed.”

We currently live in a culture of division at every level of American society. Disconnection is a component of everyday life for many, if not most of us. And we feel alone because of it. Could it be that this is the natural outgrowth of strident individualism gone to seed? However, rather than face the pain courageously, embrace it, and allow it to drive us back into community; we seem to be self-medicating. In fact, I would contend we self-medicate in at least three ways:

Consumption as Self-Medication:

-We seem to make a commodity out of everything external… people, experiences, food, alcohol, tobacco, religion, art, career, etc… It seems that we feel like if we can just consume enough, the emptiness on the inside will be filled. While the emptiness is actually an echo of believing the Edenic lies of the snake. It is our innate value that we feel like we have lost. While that isn’t true, we are created with innate value… the Imago Dei… we can’t seem to believe it, so we cover our shame with consumption.

2. Money as Self-Medication:

Wimberly puts it well:

“The predominant impulses behind our desire to rise in the social hierarchy may be rooted not so much in the material goods we can accrue or the power we can wield as in the amount of love we stand to receive as a consequence of high status. Money, fame and influence may be valued more as tokens of–and meant to– love rather than ends in themselves.

Love is no longer defined relationally. Rather, it is defined as the pursuit of things, and such a pursuit starves the soul and makes people shallow.”

3. Morality as Self-Medication:

This seems to be especially rampant in the church.

Now when people ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ they mean ‘What would a twenty-first century American Jesus do?’ The fact is there never was a twenty-first-century American Jesus. With a sense of anachronism and ethnocentrism, the question means what would a first-century Mediterranean, Israelite Jesus do. For most Bible readers, this is an insuperably unanswerable question. The only Jesus they know is one in their own U.S. image and likeness.”

The American church often seems to act towards the larger culture in fear that our value is being threatened, especially as it relates to what we say we believe, and our over-arching world view. We respond in anger to voices within our culture which espouse ideas which we interpret as being counter to our world view. Why would there be a need for anger, if we believed in a God who is perfectly capable of protecting Godself, and if our belief system were based in reality, rather than an attempt to protect our own beliefs, and perceived self-worth which is based on these faith-assumptions? Is our anger really about Truth, or about what we believe to be true? Is it about God, or ourselves? Do we fear that what we believe is not true? If all Truth is God’s Truth, why are we not open to interpretations different than our own? We act like a “truth junkie” who must do everything possible for our “truth fix”, no matter what we have to do and who we have to hurt in order to get it. Are we trying to make religious clones of ourselves in order to impress upon ourselves our worth?

One of the ways I hope to minister to the church is by encouraging and engaging in conversations about the manner in which we in the individualized West interpret the culture of the bible, and the cultural context in which Jesus lived. By learning the world and society in which Jesus moved and spoke, I think we are better able to identify the differences in our own context, and enliven our message to the cultural voices of shame in our part of the world. Perhaps one of the reasons Christianity is growing in the technologically emerging world is due to the communal nature of their society. Maybe they understand the bible better than we because the cultural contexts are similar. It might benefit us in the West to engage in cross-cultural conversations with brothers and sisters in these world areas about how they read and interpret the bible.

In conclusion, I would like to see communities of Christian faith which redeem and reframe our experience in ways that hold interpersonal respect, responsibility, and healthy, personal boundaries in tension with grace, unconditional love, and personal freedom. How does that happen? God knows, but I suspect it looks suspiciously like Eden, before the snake. A redeeming community allows exploration and embraces the dissonance of the moment in hope and assurance of future resolution in the Kingdom of Heaven, whether that be on earth, or in the next realm

1  http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Silent_Spring/Silent_Spring_Rachel_Carson04.html 

2 http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Silent_Spring/Silent_Spring_Rachel_Carson03.html

3 Genesis 3:1; New Revised Standard Version, HarperOne, San Francisco, CA; 2007

4 Gen. 3:4-5

5 Jeff Van Vonderan; Tired of Trying to Measure Up; Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN; 1989; Pg. 18

6 A General Theory of Love; Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.; New York, NY, Random House, Inc., 2000, Pg. 148-153

7 Van Vonderan, Pgs. 90-103.

8 Van Vonderan. Pg. 115-117.

9 Justification by Grace, David M. Rhoads and Sandra Roberts Rhoads in The Shame Factor: How Shame Shapes Society, Edited by Robert Jewett; Cascade Books, Eugene, OR; 2011. Pg. 88-89.

10  Van Vonderan, Pg. 109.

11 “The mind begins with the belief system, or what I earlier referred to as the ‘shame grid.’ This means that you have a belief system that perpetuates shame.” Van Vonderan, Pg. 92.

12 Edward P. Wimberly; No Shame in Wesley’s Gospel, in Jewett. Pg.107.

13 Wimberly in Jewett. Pg.108.

14  Bruce J. Malina, Anachronism, Ethnocentrism, and Shame: The Envy of the Chief Priests; in Jewett. Pg.144.

 

 

Unplugged… 15 Minutes at a Time…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K6_ZtTcMQI

In 1992, Eric Clapton played a segment of MTV’s Unplugged. The album became one of his most popular. The concert included many of his classic hits, but also became a model for a style of music that was stripped down from a preponderance of technology, and delighted in the simplicity of musicians sitting around and just playing. The model was so popular, that Clapton began to include an unplugged segment in most of his concerts after that. Although not exactly true; the “accoustic” instruments were still electricly amplified; the unplugged model points back to an earlier day when musicians would play music with no help from electric amps and speakers.  People listening to these relaxed concerts had to develop keen listening skills, and maintain a perticular concentration to the music’s subtleties. The audience had to stay fully involved in the moment, and that meant the performance was a collaborative effort: the performer not only giving to those hearing his/her music, but also receiving feedback from the others in the room. Kind of like street musicians, who ply their wares and watch for passers-by to stop and turn their attention to the music being played, and away from the distractions of the surrounding noise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMyXfdk_Fp8&feature=fvwrel

As the above link shows, not many people are willing or maybe even able, to set aside the distractions of their immediate life to recognise and listen to beauty when it enters their world. It is so much easier to be entranced by our press forward into the urgency we perceive to be necessary. Sometimes, our distractions are less important than necessary tasks we need to complete. Sometimes, the distractions are a tad more frivolous…. like Facebook.

The other day at work, I went outside to take a 15-minute break. It was hot, but the wind was blowing and I really like getting out of the store into the natural (or as natural as JoCo suburbia retail is) world for a little while. I took my phone out in order to check Facebook… also a habit. As I pressed the button for it to load, a question suddenly occurred to me:

“How many more posts about people adding 83 new friends, or telling about their new blog do you need to see? The wind is nice, why not sit down and enjoy it?”

Now I really don’t have a problem with friends adding friends, or marketting their new blog posts… this post will run across your screen if you are one of my Facebook friends… but really… do I HAVE to know that information every free minute of the day? When does habit run into addiction? So I determined to unplug, at least for that 15 minutes. That 15 minutes was like pushing in the clutch on a manual transmission vehicle. It allowed the engine of my mind to disengage with a busy world, and enter a more tranquil one where the wind blew and cooled my body. I could hear the high school marching band practicing nearby. By so doing, I continue the practice of allowing myself to see, hear, and feel the beauty around me.

In the link about Joshua Bell’s Washington, D.C. subway concert, there is one woman near the end of the clip who stands in the middle of the entryway, transfixed by the beauty of the music played by a modern-day master. She knows who the “street” musician is, and stops her mad rush through the world in order to receive the beauty of the Master.

What a great idea… 15 minutes at a time…

When Boundaries Collide…

I normally walk 3 blocks to the library of my alma mater to check my mail and blog. It’s been awhile, because they had limited hours over the holidays, so I used the public library instead which is further away. Finally, however, the library closest to me has returned to normal hours, so I went in on my day off to do my tech stuff. Before getting on the computer, however, I went upstairs to make a telephone call. I didn’t want to disturb anybody in the main areas and wanted some privacy. There are a couple of couches off to the side of the second floor, surrounded by shelves of books, enclosed privacy rooms to be used by college staff for quiet study, and enclosed group study rooms with doors on each. There was nobody close when I first sat down, but eventually, a girl student sat down on the adjacent couch with her stack of reading material. Her books didn’t appear to be textbooks, but more for personal, spiritual enrichment: devotions. I had been there for a little while and didn’t feel compelled to leave while she sat there.

While I talked, I noticed she would read for awhile, change books, read a little more, shift positions, change books (one of which was Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz), and then shift positions again. While I was in the middle of speaking, she said, “This is the quiet section of the library. There are comfortable couches downstairs if you’d like to use them…”

I interrupted my conversation and responded, “Oh, I’m sorry. I will move.”

Gathering my stuff, and continuing my conversation, I moved into an adjacent, enclosed room, and closed the door.

 I didn’t make a smart ass comment…

I used a polite voice tone…

I didn’t stay…

I moved.

But while I sat in the room, my irritation began to mount. I started to imagine the girl was a library science major. Or from Iowa. Or a black and white thinker. Furthermore, I never saw the sign designating the area as a “quiet area.” After my phone call was over, I looked at the top of the stairs and the bottom of the stairs. No sign. Eventually, I found the signs on two pillars in front of the couch area, facing away from the couches…. She was right. But I was still irritated by the manner in which she spoke and that she didn’t excuse herself for interupting my conversation.

In my view, she crossed my boundary. In her view, I crossed her’s. Eventually, I began to imagine what it would be like to live in a rowdy dorm surrounded by an active college campus, in the middle of winter, and find a place of solitude and silence for some alone time. Of course, the library. I understood her desire for privacy. But it still rankled.

As human beings, we are so used to viewing life from our own perspective. Even when we try to intellectually disengage ourselves from our own narrow view and try to take a broader view of life around us, we still feel things according to what is important to “ME.”  How I see things. Our emotional mind is quick to respond to a perceived threat to something personal to us and about which we care, and we respond. Sometimes before our rational mind can slow us down and make a choice as to the BEST action to take.

We have all been transfixed by the enormity of the tragedy in Haiti following the earthquake a couple of days ago. An incredibly poor nation unstable in so many ways, finds that the very ground under their feet is unstable. This country is rushing to help. CNN, Twitter, Facebook act as means of communicating the agony of those on the island, and of Haitians around the world seeking information on their friends and family.

So many in crisis.

So many in response.

And then yesterday, while on Twitter, I read about a comment Pat Robertson made on television. I have seen a recording of the comment. My mind immediately responded in anger, remembering the same pronouncements from Robertson when Katrina hit New Orleans, and after 9-11-01. In fact, I responded by writing a pithy status on my facebook account and then making a comment on Donald Miller’s blog: http://donmilleris.com/ It was interesting to watch the comment board fill up with differing opinions and takes on the correct “Christian” response to Robertson’s comments. There was no disagreement on how we should respond to the Haitian crisis, however. Prayer. Giving. Action.

So I must ask: Do we cross the boundaries of God by daining to speak for him in times of crisis?

I would point to the story of Job and Henri Nouwen’s perspective on the responses of the characters in the story. Job’s life is in ruins and he sits in agony, asking why. His friends come to where he is and sit with him in silence for 7 days. The narrative doesn’t speak of any action they took other than sit with him. Eventually, Job proceeds to give a monologue filled with grief and pain asking why he was ever born only to live his days in this way. His friends, one by one, begin to answer his questions by preaching to him. In effect, they say he must have sinned for God to lay his life to waste. (I must say that God did NOT bring the destruction on Job’s life, according to the biblical narrative.) His friends protected their perception of God’s reputation, by blaming Job… the victim. However, God remains strangely silent. I wrote a previous blog about Nouwen’s take on this story and my interaction with his words of wisdom in 

Living Our Questions.

And I also must ask:

What should our response be when we believe someone else is speaking on God’s behalf and we believe the message to be destructive?

Do we then speak for God against the other one speaking for God?

Or do we do what is loving, take care of the hurting, and live our own questions for God?

Ideas….

I love ideas. Especially new ones, or old ones with a different spin. I love ideas for churches that help them reach outside their doors to help others. And ideas for churches that help teach old concepts in a new way. I also love to look at culture and try to determine what God is saying in a secular venue that the church may be hard of hearing towards. So I will periodically list some ideas I have or have come across that I’d love to see communities of faith implement. Here is the first list:

Partner with a community service organization to winterize homes for low income households in your community.

Bring back old school food poundings: taking food to the homes of low-income families or individuals throughout the year.

Develop a group of writers, photographers, and videographers to help senior adults tell their life stories. Then distribute the finished product to their extended families.

Open your church facility for 12-step groups from the community. Supply the coffee…

Start an “Off the Grid” month. Do your services completely acoustic… I mean COMPLETELY ACCOUSTIC. Encourage the congregation to bike to church every Sunday, car share, walk, or meet in smaller community groups with an outline of the pastoral sermon. Pastors bike to work for the whole month…. INSTALL BIKE RACKS ON YOUR PROPERTY. Have a picnic outdoors at the end of the month. Doing this will encourage better listening for the crowd and the beauty of  human voices in collective harmony will be another example of simple beauty. It also reinforces our understanding of the beauty of the natural world and the loss we have in not living according to its rythms.

Use part of the church property to plant a community garden. Open the garden up to anyone willing to take part and then have a support team to water and care for it. Ask congregants that have a space to donate a portion to be taken to the local farmer’s market on a weekly basis.

Start a “Wind Down Cafe.” Rent a restaurant in a local entertainment/bar spot, and open it from 3am to 6am to be used by the employees of night spots to relax and “wind down” after work. Supply live music, beverages. simple food, and people to talk to. Make friends with these folks.

Buy pizzas from pizzarias when they close, and then take them to homeless folks on the street. (Thanks to my son, Baird, for this idea. He worked at John’s Pizza in the Westport community of Kansas City, and took all the pizza they were going to throw out at the end of the night and gave it out to homeless folks down the street.)

Provide a spot for local high school booster clubs or Quarterback clubs to hold their meetings. Set up video equiptment so parents can watch game films with coaches and players.

Hold car clinics for low income families where their vehicles can have regular maintenance done. Have experienced technicians on hand to assess the mechanical “health” of their vehicles.

Partner with another community of faith on several “Habitat for Humanities” projects.

Use previously used materialy whenever possible in building projects.

Google “Meet Up Groups” in your community. Develop one that meets either in your building, or has members of your faith community.

Open a coffee house somewhere in your community other than in your building.

This list is just a start. If you have experienced a great, effective idea for being the body of Christ in your community, comment on this site. Creative ideas designed to engage the culture are especially welcomed.

Good Morning… May I Help You?

I got a second job a couple of weeks ago. I now work part-time at Babies R Us and part-time at Target. The Target job is seasonal, working nights, 3-4 nights per week. I have worked retail for the past 3 years and have found it a very mixed bag of biscuits. For some reason, people who work in retail, stay there. I’m not sure why, but they seem to.  Maybe they like helping people or the adrenaline rush of the game… trying to push up store sales. The fast pace can be both draining and exhilarating at the same time. While there is a down side to retail:

Low pay.

Companies who treat their employees as if people were commodities.

A constantly shifting weekly schedule.

Argumentative customers.

Constantly being pushed by corporate execs to always squeeze  a little more juice out of the orange…more….More…MORE…

A schedule where you are pushed to wrap your life around your job.

There are nice times as well:

The feeling of being on a team in your store.

The gratitude of a customer when you have helped them solve a problem.

Getting to see the new stuff first!

There are more of both good stuff and not so good stuff, but you get my point. Barbara Ehrenreich, a journalist/author and social activist, wrote about the difficulty of living in America while working in low-income, service economy jobs in her book: Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She paints a very familiar picture of people not making enough money from one job to live on a financial even keel, let alone make headway. The answer becomes more jobs and the complexity of juggling schedules with competing companies as well as, in some companies, an animosity between management and employees. In my case, the management staff at Babies R Us, have been great to work with. They are under just as much pressure to perform, even when the corporate offices put significant obstacles in the way, and then hold them accountable for low sales numbers and lowering  customer satisfaction scores. The problem is, partly, the first place corporations seem to make cuts is in the hours of their employees. Yet, these same corporations have created an environment preaching that an increase in employees means an increase in sales, due to selling customers other items they may need, but not know they need, or by selling a product which is better… and more expensive. One complaint by customers is that the shelves are empty, yet the hours are cut from the employees who unload the trucks and stock the shelves. It can become a downward cycle.

Last spring, I was “down-sized” from full-time to part-time, with a loss of health benefits. Sales have been down, so finding another job has been difficult and my hours have gone lower… and lower… and lower… Until November. Many retailers this year, cut staff hours during the early fall in order to save the wage dollars to spend during the holiday rush. To me, that’s like cutting your finger nails off at the first knuckle. Your own staff can’t work enough hours to buy their own families holiday gifts because they aren’t getting enough hours, so the retailer’s are losing money their own employees would spend during the holidays. People working retail may either be supplementing their income earned in a primary career, or students, or senior adults supplementing retirement income, or people hoping for a career in the field. All of those people walk a very tight rope, financially. Therefore, the holiday season becomes an incrediby hectic time with tired people serving tired people. Holiday retail can be an all-consuming, tiring and frustrating place to try and make a living. And it all begins on Black Friday… the day after Thanksgiving… the busiest shopping day of the year. Retailers explode into a frenzy of competition for sales dollars by openning earlier; I’ve heard reports of as early as midnight and 4am is common. Special sales on popular items meant to lure customers into the store so they can see each retailer’s own particular brands and styles. Sometimes, people get caught in the crossfire. Schedules that  take employees away from their family due to financial necessity. Tired and frustrated customers who take their frustrations out on store employees not responsible for either the company policy or the short-sightedness of the customer.

Blah

Blah

Blah

And… the church sits back and clucks their tongues on Sundays at the utter foolishness of materialism run amok… yet either fights to be first in line as the store opens or takes their money out of the system to do good in other world areas. In both cases, the retail employee can be the loser. Religious people can be the angriest, black/white legalist, always right customer taking their own frustration out on the employee with very little responsibility or power other than to wish them a clenched-teeth, “Have a nice day… and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” But Christians taking their money out of the system can also cost jobs to the lowest paid retail employees. If the retailers I work for don’t have good holiday sales… I’m a seasonal employee at Target, hoping to get on in some form of permanent position in January. And that depends on how I work, but also on holiday sales. At Babies R Us, if the company doesn’t do well, hours will be drastically cut after the first of the year. So…. I have to make hay for the next month and a half, as do my retail brothers and sisters.

So…. I had a thought the other day….

What if churches brought in meals to retailer employees on Black Friday?

What if they brought in breakfast, lunch, and dinner…. served the meal, and stuck around the breakroom to meet the employees and make friends?

What if churches decided to fund both water treatment programs in Africa and bought gifts for each other, too?

What if church-run day cares actually lengthened hours and developed scholarships specifically for retail working parents?

It is sometimes easy to overlook the needs of other people standing right in front of you. Maybe there are reasons for the attitude of the cashier servicing the long line you’ve been standing in and who will continue to service the long line behind you. How can Christians become Christ standing in line? Maybe the “least of these” carried the tray of pancakes you had this morning at IHOP. Maybe they cleaned your house? Maybe they sold you the caffeine fix you needed to start this morning?

Can you hear between the lines of, “Thank you for shopping at Kmart”?

Do you see the lines of weariness on the face of your server at Olive Garden?

Do you see the long line of people coming out of Target in the morning when you are entering, and know they have been there all night putting stuff on the shelves for you to buy?

One of my facebook friends, Tim Keel, a marvelous preacher and christian thinker/communicator, posted the following status the other day:

Just read the following: “The poor tell us who we are. The prophets tell us who we can be. So we hide the poor and kill the prophets.” – Philip Berrigan. Wow.

It has been said that if you want to hide something, hide it in plain sight. And that is true. The “least of these” are hidden in plain view. The poor are hidden in plain view.

May God help us to view the plain…