Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paul Tillich and The Eternal Now: Giving Thanks - Part II

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks." 

Part II

We’ve all experienced it! This is how Tillich describes it:
"We are simply grateful. Thankfulness has taken hold of us, not because something special has happened to us, but just because we are, because we participate in the glory and power of being. It is a mood of joy, but much more than a mood, more than a transitory emotion. It is a state of being. And it is more than joy. It is a joy that includes the feeling that it is given, that we cannot accept it without bringing some sacrifice – namely, the sacrifice of thanks. But there is no one to whom we can bring it. And so it remains within us, a state of silent gratefulness."
Could this be an aspect of prevening grace that Tillich is describing? I feel so, based on how he continues:
"The abundance of a grateful heart gives honor to God even if it does not turn to Him in words. An unbeliever who is filled with thanks for his very being has ceased to be an unbeliever."
What do you think of Tillich’s reasoning here?

And what does "pray without ceasing" mean? To Tillich, it does not mean "imposing oneself on God", which he calls "a perversion of religion."
We are not to tell God without ceasing what we wish Him to do for us or what He has done for us. We are asked to rise to God always and in all things. He shall never be absent from our awareness."
This sets up his discussion of justifying grace:
"One of the great and liberating experiences of the Protestant reformers was their realization that our relation to God is not dependent on the continuous repetition of words of prayer and thanks directed to God, on sacrifices and other rituals, but rather on the serenity and joy that is the answer to the good news that we are accepted by God because of His seeking us, and not because of anything we can do or say in and outside of the church."
How would this change your understanding of what a "seeker" church is?

We learn to whom to express our previously inexpressible gratitude and joie de vivre. We also learn that the sacrifice of thanksgiving does not bring about justification/salvation – it is a natural result.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Paul Tillich and The Eternal Now: Giving Thanks - Part I

Part I
The final sermon in Tillich’s 1955 to 1963 collection focuses on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks."
Tillich wonders why St. Paul makes such a big deal out of something that seems to come so naturally to us? We say "thanks’ automatically, we are uncomfortable when people thank us too extravagantly, yet we are offended when people don’t thank us enough! Saying thank you is a major social convention that greases interpersonal interaction and social living. Tillich writes: "In every act of giving and receiving thanks, we accept or reject someone, and we are accepted or rejected by someone." Think about how we sometimes use the phrase; haven’t we all seen what Tillich has seen? "But probably in most cases, it is a polite form of saying that he whom we thank does not really concern us very much."
In the Bible and hymns, we read about the "sacrifice of thanksgiving". Is grunting a thank you as you squeeze past a stranger holding the door for you a sacrifice? You could have opened the door yourself right? You’re not helpless! Is thanking God for your success and wealth a way of dismissing Him from the equation? "Thanks God for making me so awesome" As humans, it is not easy for us to fully accept that we need help form other, even from God; hence the sacrifice:
"A man who is able to thank seriously accepts that he is a creature, and , in acceptance, he is religious even though he denies religion. And a man who is able to accept honest thanks without embarrassment is mature. He knows his own finitude as well as that of the other, and he knows that the mutual sacrifice of thanks confirms that the other are creatures."
The sacrifice of thanksgiving is giving up our coveted strength and independence in exchange for dependence upon the Father, and interdependence with the Father’s creation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Shiblin Rivalry

Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
Dr. Seuss

The tribe on the east side of the Jordan and the tribe on the west side of the River were feuding. The men of Ephraim were mad at the men from Gilead for not letting them join the fight against the Ammonites. The men of Gilead were made at the Ephraimites for not coming to their aid when they needed them. So of course they fought each other. The army from Gilead took control of the Jordan, and would not let anyone from Ephraim across. To tell who was who, they used a pass word: "Shibboleth". In their slightly different dialect, the Ephraimites couldn’t make the "sh" sound, so anyone who said "Sibboleth" were killed. "Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time." (Judges 12:1-7)

What is my Shibboleth - my Star? How do I know an alien from a neighbor?

Friday, June 25, 2010

If Life Were a Sport

The recent three day marathon match at Wimbledon got me to thinking about how we often see life as a win, lose or draw situation. We (or is it just men?) commonly say that sports reflect life’s struggles, or use sports analogies when talking about life. But if life is a game – what game is it?

Is it like soccer where you get a point just for tying? You play the game first not to lose, and then sneak in a win if it offers itself?

Is it like baseball? Do we live with no set time limit until someone finally has more points than the other? Or like poker where the winner gets all?

Is it American football with its Sudden Death? College football chosen by computers? Reality TV chosen by popular (or unpopular) vote? Olympic gymnastics decided by judges?

There is already a sport analogy in the Bible; Paul tells us that it is a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, do you think he is saying that only one, a select, can win? Or, is he saying to act as if we were athletes focused on winning? Then in Hebrews 12:1-13 he describes life as an endurance race, a spiritual ironman watched by a cloud of spectators. Enduring the disciplines of life makes us stronger.

What sport best represents your life so far?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Who Ever Has Will Be Given More?

“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."  Mark 4:25 (NIV)

This could be the motto of the lottery or mega-banks! Instead it is one of Jesus’ many “hard sayings”. It really doesn’t seem fair when we confront it one-on-one like this. In The Eternal Now, Paul Tillich thought of the inequality expressed in this verse as a mystery, and said “But this we can do: we can explore the breadth and width of the riddle of inequality; and we can try to find a way to live with it, unsolved as it may remain.” Is Jesus talking about money, the Spirit, wisdom, faith, or what? Standing alone, the verse could apply to either earthly things or spiritual gifts.
The verse is part of the Parable of the Lamp, lying sandwiched between the bookend parables: The Sower and The Growing Seed. By implication, one might assume then that it is related to the message of planting the Word and harvesting Spiritual Fruit. Looking at the verse in context and using a different translation we see an interpretation towards the reference being about knowledge:
Jesus said to them, “Does anyone bring a lamp into a room to put it under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it put on a lamp stand? There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. There is nothing kept secret that will not come to light. Let the person who has ears listen!”
He went on to say, “Pay attention to what you’re listening to! Knowledge will be measured out to you by the measure of attention you give. This is the way knowledge increases. Those who understand these mysteries will be given more knowledge. However, some people don’t understand these mysteries. Even what they understand will be taken away from them.
Mark 4:21-25 (God’s Word Translation)

Paul Tillich thought: “Those who have receive more if they really have what they have, if they use it and cause it to grow. And those who have not, lose what they seem to have, because they really do not have.”This idea comes from the Parable of the Talents which warns: To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29, New Living Translation)

This parable follows the Parable of the Bridesmaids on the preparation for judgment time, and precedes the Parable of the Separating of the Sheep and Goats on the criteria for final judgment. In this context, the reallocation of money seems to refer to a heavenly reward based upon both - faith and acts, rather than a Jobian concept of earthly rewards based on acts.

What do you think? To what treasure are these stories pointing? When we look at these teachings through non-materialistic lenses do they become less hard?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Are We the New Jerusalem?

And so God says, 'These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.' Isaiah 29:13
Sound familiar? Is this written about the Church today? Is this a sign of the end times? You can not find unless you search, and you don't search unless you know something is lost. You can not be found unless you are lost first in the Wilderness. Note that this is neither judgment nor punishment; it is grace.
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep. He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. Isaiah 29:10
How often in the Bible has God closed eyes or hardened hearts so that something could be known all the better later? We are made to be a searching people; when we think we have all the answers, we become a sitting on our laurels people.

Praise be to God for confusing me frequently!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ornitheology 101, a Field Guide to the Pew Dwellers

Strange birds these Christians be; but fascinating none-the-less to the avid watcher. Many feel that the entire Family is endangered, but I think it is just some of the species that are at risk.

Migratory Species

Winnebagos nomadicus; The Visitor
Description: Looking to share a nest and temporary flockship during annual migrations. Called Snowbirds in their home territories.
Care and Feeding: The presence of such an exotic bird is an event worth chirping about. Feels most at home if the host flock’s foods, songs and rituals are familiar.

Habitata comparicus; The Shopper
Description: Always looking for a new nesting site where they can feel more comfortable and welcomed. It is a timid species, which can easily be spook by aggressive moves. Can be attracted by flashy displays, warbling and novelty.
Care and Feeding: Safest when first approached by one or two patient scouts in an open and non-threatening manner. Once calmed, feed generously until too lethargic to flee!

Spiritus questor; The Seeker
Description: Looking for a niche to fill. Evolved from a solitary species, they are uncertain about becoming a member of a flock. At a certain age, the instinct to settle down becomes stronger.
Care and Feeding: The host flock must allay its natural territoriality if the flock is to grow by incorporating Seekers. This may require the creation of new niches rather than the forcing of new flock members into poorly suited niches. Hunger may cause them to over-eat at first, there may be short-term dominance squabbles and there is a high initial rate of wanderlust.

Resident Species

Spectatoris immobilis; The Audience
Description: Similar to bowerbirds, they are attracted to shiny things, but in plumage they are inconspicuous and blend into their environment. Ambush predators, they can remain motionless yet hyper-aware for hours. Deferential to more aggressive species.
Care and Feeding: Most comfortable when well fed and placed in a stimulating environment. Can be coaxed into open displays and vocalization with subtle and patient encouragement.
Status quophilis; The Member
Description: A highly territorial species which avidly defends and maintains the nest. May misconstrue changes in the nest or the environment as a threat to the flock. Highly social and loyal to others in the flock, but is prone to squawk at other species or even other flocks.
Care and Feeding: Likes mass communal feedings with plenty to choose from. Forages for, and shares within, the flock.

Christos proximus; The Congregant
Description: A highly gregarious species with an open nest. Always the first to approach a newcomer and take them under wing. Often observed singing with enthusiasm, chirping excitedly and actively fluttering around.
Care and Feeding:  Stands back at the feeder until others have had their fill. Active forager which readily shares with all.

Christos simulatus; The Disciple
Description: A mimic species, which endeavors to emulate its creator. Has a strong drive to procreate. Does well away from the nest and in mixed flocks. Known to occasionally build new nests. Considered mythical by some.
Care and Feeding: Frequently eats on the wing. Partial to bread, grape and water.

“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near Your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You.”  Psalm 84:3-4

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Freedom to Be Me

I was a free-range child, sylvan elf;
Dawn to dusk, absorbing the woods.
Positive to the core - some someday,
I would rise to a life that mattered.
An astronaut.
A cowboy.
Marlin Perkins.

Then I crashed upon puberty’s shore;
Hormonally rabid and driven by angst.
Negative to the core – never any day
Would anyone know that once I was.
Alien to myself.
Chinless wonder.
Self quarantined.

My horse, my dog, and my creek,
They comforted me most patiently.
Taught me to see beyond this me
That I had never wished me to be.
Not bound for outer space.
Not riding the open range.
No wrestling anacondas.

I bossed around fellow work units.
Fell hard for one and married her.
Taught me to care beyond this me
That I had never wished me to be.

Unbidden I found a God unhidden.
Fell hard for Him and so followed.
Taught me to care beyond the we
That I’d wrapped around myself.
Linus’ blanket.
Down-filled parka.
Kevlar vest.

Unbidden I found a self long hidden.
Worthy of joy, love and friendship;
Way beyond the dying ember dreams
That I could never make myself to be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Holy War

This age of first-strike or even pre-emptive strike goes against the grain for me. As a kid I was taught that when you fight, you’d rather land the last blow – not the first. Exodus 7 to 12 gives us a Biblical example of an escalating call and response interaction.

1. Bloody Nile. Yes it killed wildlife, but it probably seemed pretty benign and cosmetic at the time: it seemed like a natural event; it was localized to just the one waterway, it was humanly reproducible; and the impact could be ameliorated by digging wells. There was no direct or immediate human harm.

2. Invasion of Frogs. Fine while they were alive, but stinky after the population crashed  when the environment couldn’t support such a monoculture: seemed natural; expanded impact to multiple waterways; was reproducible; but the best Egypt could do was to mitigate the damages after the fact by burying the little corpses. No direct human harm but some immediate discomfort.

3. Little Biting Things. Being bit is not fun! Natural appearance; expanded impact to the entire land of Egypt; not reproducible; and nothing could be done. Moderate direct human harm, and moderate immediate discomfort. Too bad all the frogs had died!

4. Flies. Bigger biting things are worse than little biting things! Less natural seeming due to geographic targeting by excluding Goshen; non-reproducible; and nothing could be done. Major direct human harm, and moderate immediate discomfort.

5. Anthrax and Other Animal Diseases. Not good! Supernatural appearance due to ethnic profiling; non-reproducible; and nothing could be done. Moderate direct and immediate human harm, and major non-immediate discomfort.

6. Human Disease. Supernatural appearance by infesting only Egyptians, even the court magicians; non-reproducible; and nothing could be done. Moderate direct and immediate harm to humans, and major immediate discomfort.

7. Burning Killing Hail. Supernatural fire coming from the heavens on animals and people; non-reproducible; and nothing could be done. Major direct and immediate harm, and major short term discomfort.

8. Locusts and Desertification. Supernatural scale never seen before; non reproducible; and nothing could be done. Major direct and immediate harm, and major long-term discomfort.

9. Three Days of Darkness. Supernatural change in the Egyptian cosmos while the Hebrews had light; non-reproducible; and nothing could be done; a major psychological and theological long term ramifications threatening to the survival of a society ruled by a “god”.

10. Death of the First-borns. Supernatural targeting of specific people and the exclusion of Israel; non-reproducible; and nothing could be done. Direct defeat of Egypt’s god-king, the destruction of the royal line of inheritance, and the death of a future god.

Isn’t it amazing how hard God tries to get our attention and how many chances He gives us to accept grace, to repent, and to do the right thing? God doesn’t sucker-punch!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road?

I stopped on my way home from work last night to help this little fella cross the busy road. as you can see, he was very warmed by my compassion.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Up a Tree; Luke 19:1-27

Jesus and his students were passing through oft-cursed Jericho on their final trip to Jerusalem. As usual, some of the disciples trailed behind in horse-play.

Jim: As he had his little brother in a head-lock, “Check it out! There’s a little dude up in that big fig tree; he must think we’re a parade.”

Pete: “Squirrel?”

Tom: “I didn’t see anything. Maybe it’s just some a cluster of fruit?”

John: “You’re in me and I’m in you, so the branch can’t bear fruit if it’s not in you, nor can you if you’re not in him – the branch that bears fruit is pruned to bear more fruit, but the branch that bears no fruit is pruned!”

Disciples: “Uhhhhhhh, sure; whatever you say Johnny…”

Andy: “I sure hope he doesn’t bother the Ma… Oh, crap!”

Bart: “Don’t have a cow man!”

Phil: “The Master said something to him. Look, he’s climbing down. He looks like a tax collector.”

Simon (The Zealot): “Where’s my shiv?”

Matt: “Hey!”

They run to catch up and get the low-down. They can hear the crowd shift into mob-mode, muttering about how they’re always partying with sinners and such. As they ducked through the doorway into the Rabbi’s new friend Zac’s house, he is so overwhelmed that they came that he vowed to give half of everything to the poor! “Cool” they thought. The Master pronounced salvation upon the household; saying that he came for such lost ones. He then went straight into one of His stories. His students loved to sit at His feet during story time, even though the tales were over their heads sometimes.

A Lord was leaving his estates for a while until he could come back as king. He called his staff to him, and gave them each ten minas to invest on his behalf while he was gone. He was away for so long, that many had given up on him. When he finally returned, he gathered the remaining staff for status reports. The first had doubled the money he had been given! His boss was impressed and gave him ten cities to manage. The second had also invested his stake wisely and had made a 50% profit. The pleased Lord put him in charge of five cities. The third servant stepped forward, and returned his master’s principal untouched. He had worried that he’d get in trouble if he lost money, so he had played it safe and buried it where he could keep an eye on it. If he had thought his boss was so mean, you’d think he’d at least put it in a bank to earn some interest, but no. So the Lord directed his people to take the money away from the fool and give it to the one who had made the most!

Jimmy Justice: “That’s not fair! He already has a boat-load of bucks!”

Judas: “Sounds like sound stewardship to me. Specially the part about giving more to those who have more and taking away all from those who have less. Hey Jude, what do you think.”

Jude: “Are we sure He’s even talking about money? And what’s with the part about the cities? I don’t get it!”


We often think that this parable refers to the return of Christ, or Judgment Day. What do you say? What treasure are we to invest? How?