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The Blog of Bo Sanders

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January 2010

>3 old ways to read the Bible

>In Thailand there is a site that is strange to Western eyes. They are called Spirit houses. They look like elaborate birdhouses (sometimes mansions) on the top of tall poles. They are set at the corners of properties. Then small bowls of food will be left at the base to appease the spirits so that they don’t harm the property or the family that lives there.

I bought a book while I was in Thailand that explains some of the cultural differences like this. It was a really insightful moment in the book when it focused on the Spirit House at the Mercedes-Benz dealership. It is quite a contrast between the steel and glass building of the 21st century that house and display creations of luxury and precision, marvels of human design and enlightenment production. While on the corner, There is a remnant of the eleventh century in order to ward off these sometime demonic entities in the spiritual realm.

It is a powerful and intriguing mix of ancient and future. I love these Ancient -Future paradoxes and pictures. ( For more on this see Robert Webber’s series on Ancient Future for the church : here)

I was reminded of this when I was looking into Jon Knox’s study of the last century of Marcion’s 2nd century view of reading the Bible. Marcion was ultimately condemned as a heretic but the problem he was trying to address continues to be a problem and in the end he did push the early church to have a Christian canon that became the New Testament because of this concern.

The main concern & area of contention were these 3 ways to read the Bible.

The predominant way was to read it was Allegorically. It cannot be overstated how pervasive this reading of the Bible was – especially the Old Testament. Because this is out of favor now, and has been really for the last couple of centuries, it is often completely off of people’s radar and frequently left out of the conversation. But this approach had a powerful effect for so many centuries of church history. It has radically impacted the way we read the Bible and the way we talk about God.

Marcion wanted to get away from that way of reading the Bible. But once you do that you run into a very serious problem. What do you do with the seeming discrepancies between the portrayal of God in the Old Testament and the New.

One way was to read it for Dissonance. When one looked at the disparity between testaments, it had to be accounted for. So theories were developed – some illustrated that God had changed. Some thought that Jehovah was not the same God that sent Jesus and whom he called ‘Abba’. Another had God stepping down from Heaven to become Jesus and then returning as a different sort of God. There were lots of theories and many of them were ultimately deemed unacceptable by those who came to power as Bishops in the third and fourth centuries. Which is understandable enough , but it still doesn’t reconcile the differences that even a cursory reading brings to the surface.

If one undertook this, folks like Marcion believed that one would either be left with a Bible you can’t believe or a God you can’t believe in.

This is unacceptable and untenable to most people of faith so we attempt to read for Congruence. This often gets generously labeled as a “literal” reading. The problem is that it requires one to simply ignore the differences that Marcion was addressing. This is what most choose to do and the exact situation that most evangelicals find themselves in trying to reconcile the differences.

People who are really into the Bible often say that they read it literally. But let’s be honest here: no one reads the Bible literally. We are fooling ourselves if we think that we do. It’s not even mostly meant to be read literally. No one actually thinks that a beast with 10 heads will rise up out of the sea. No one thinks that Jesus actually meant to cut off your body parts if they caused you temptation. We all know that there was not actual ‘good Samaritan’ – that story was not a newspaper style account or report, it was a parable. and no one actually thinks that God is a shepherd. It’s imagery – it’s poetry.

No one reads the Bible literally no matter how much they protest and insist that they do. When faced with this somebody might say ‘well, we read the parts literally that are meant to be read literally’. But that is different isn’t it. You can’t say ‘I read it literally’ and by that mean ‘I read half of it literally and the other half as poetry, allegory, prophecy, parable and apocalypse.’ That – by definition – is not literal. No one reads the Bible literally. It is not meant to be read literally. Those who insist that they do are fooling themselves.

So Marcion was dealing with this in the 2nd Century. Then we took it up a notch in the last 3 Centuries in an era called Modernity which introduced a whole new set of concerns and considerations. The past 300 years have seen massive shifts in the way that we read the Bible. This is why I find Ancient-Future so intriguing. It is really helpful where we are.

And now I am even moving on from that and trying to get ready for the next century. I want to participate in the Post-Modern conversation and I want to see what the Bible has to say to it and what it has to say to the Bible.

You can call the approach post-modern or progressive or whatever you want – but my 3 interest are as follows:

3 new Ways to read the Bible.

a) you can’t read it like a contract
b) what is hermeneutics ?
you have to factor in TheoPoetics

That will be our topic in Part 7: Three New Ways to Read the Bible

>Tribes

>A couple of years ago I had an interesting exchange with a good friend of mine. We were looking at clothing stores and she made some disparaging remark about ‘tribes’. It took me by surprise and so asked for clarification. She explained to me that she – and many people at her conservative bible believing church- was sick of this New Age-y push to get everybody to see themselves as part of a tribe. (We happen to be looking at a store that carried a brand of sportswear called ‘Tribal’.) I listen for a little bit about how this led away from a biblical worldview and toward New Age definitions of community and allegiances that compromised the church and getting our identify from focusing on God – instead, focusing on ourselves and what ‘tribe’ we were a part of.

I thought about it for a bit and then I said to her ‘ ya know, Tribes are not New Age-y but rather ‘Old Age-y’. They’re very ancient – from the Old Age. They are not a New Age invention. In fact, Tribes are quite biblical. The Hebrews were divided in to 12 of them and even the New Testament talks of ‘every tribe and tongue’ (Rev. 5:9). So I would think that God sees us far more in Tribes than as the Enlightenment did as Individuals.”

I am really worried about how we are conceiving of things that allows us to call ‘New’ what is ‘Old’ and ‘un-biblical’ what is clearly Biblical. Sometimes I suspect that we called good what is bad and God what is not- God.

Jared Diamond tells a fascinating story in his book “Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed”. He details the trials of the early settlers to Greenland in the 12th Century.

By using written letters, church records in Europe and archeology he draws a picture of people struggling to live in a place because of how they picture themselves and resisted a new identity for the new land and environment.

By looking at the bones in their settlements it is clear that they did not switch from beef that they ate in Europe to the seal meat that the Inuits in the area survived on. They barely ate the fish that they could catch in the waters of their shores (bones were 1:10 ratio compared to Inuit settlements nearby) and there were almost no bird bones even though Ptarmigan were plentiful. It is a tale of refusing to the adjust to the new place or adopt the practices of the indigenous population.

Writings showed that they treasured the view of themselves first as Europeans, second as Christians and third as settlers (Greenlanders). This shows up in there persistence to raise cattle on soil that was not suitable for it. They insisted on using large boats that they got from Dutch designs instead of switching to the canoes utilized by the Inuit. They also put large amounts of time, money and energy into making stone cathedrals with stain glass imported from Europe and costly & distant wine and wheat that were not Native so that the priest would have communion elements.

Their unwillingness to re-imagine their identity and adapt to the actual surroundings and circumstances allowed the experiment to creep along for two of centuries before eventually failing.

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This is why I am interested in re-imagining ourselves as the people of God and re-inventing our conceptions and constructs of God: a global God who works for the next century.

I have been talking about God’s relationship to Haiti [link] over a month before the Earthquake.

I will be honest with you, i have no interest in Pat Robertson’s God who causes an earthquake in Haiti in order to warn the rest of the world or punish them for something that someone else did. (Or any of the famous white preachers who said similar things about the Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Minnesota Tornadoes [link] or the 911 attacks).

That is a concept of God is leftover from when we thought that the world was flat and that heaven was just behind the clouds. That was our conception of the world and of the universe and subsequently how we conceived of God and how ‘he’ worked in the world.

I want to invest in constructs and frameworks (conversations and conceptions) of a Global perspective of God that works in the next century and for the world that we actually live in.

We need a better picture of God. I believe that. I do not think that what we need is to master concepts of God from the centuries past. That is not what we need. We need a Global God for the next century.
That is what I am hoping for here – to concieve together of an Everyday Theology.

Just remember – I am not advocating a new type of Christianity,
I am acknowledging that Christianity is always being made new.

>Irony in King and Cross

>Summary:
1)If Jesus was being ironic and the Kingdom is actually un-Kingdom and his rule and reign are nothing like a King of his day or the Caesar of his day… how would we know?
2)Does the fact that the two most recognized symbols of Christianity in our culture are icons that represent Mosaic Law and Roman Violence? Does that signal anything about our brand of Christianity? The fact that the 10 Commandments and the Cross are the two most visible signs of Christianity… which ,as stand alone icons, are not the problem but they symbolize a Christianity that is legalistic, legislates morality and employs coercive power structures.
3)If we didn’t learn from Jesus what we were suppose to learn from Jesus then our faith might be more Colonial than Christ, more Caesar than covenant love, more strength than sacrifice and more sword than servant.
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If someone were being ironic, how would we know that?
How did you separate out what they SAID from what I MEANT ?

If I said something outlandish like “ Of course the church should be in charge! Of course we should kill & violently put down those who oppose us. We have to explode the Holy Land and expel those who who occupy it for it is WHERE God lives!”

How did you pick out my sarcasm and absurdum?
It is because you know me? Did you use the way I live as a lens to interpret?

This brings me to my first suggestion:

Maybe when Jesus said ‘Kingdom’ he meant ‘not kingdom’. and when he said ‘I came to bring a sword’ he meant ‘the opposite of a sword’.* Maybe he was being Ironic… riding in on one side of town on a donkey while Rome’s Man rode in on the other side with a full detachment of powerful and armored horses.

We miss Jesus’ irony because we think as Romans (Citizens of Empire) by default.

This is why people think i am doing a semantic flip when I am not.
I actually think that God is weak. I think God loves weakness and I think that God works weakly… through us.

I am not being ironic about that.

Jesus ‘sword’ that ‘divides up families’ does the opposite of what real swords do which is to defend one’s OWN family and countrymen and make people do what YOU want them to.

“What rises up in majesty from the cross is not a show of might but rather forgiveness, not power but a protest against the unjust execution of a just man, a great prophetic “no” to injustice and persecution, a prophetic death rather than a sacrificial exchange that buys a celestial reward. Something unconditional lays claim to us in that weakness – something unconditional but without an exercise of force. He is tried, convicted, tortured, and paraded though the streets in shame on the way to a particularly gruesome public execution, although a common enough display of imperial power in the Roman world.” – John Caputo

I don’t mind Paradox & Mystery – I believe in those things. but I am not going to play that card for an Imperial Lens or Antiquated Construct.

So let me just ask you the question: Do you think that God is really strong and just ‘playing’ weak as “self-limitation” ? So far, this seems to be the line that people are comfortable going to. And I get that. That is the God that I grew up with and preached for 15 years. I know him well. There is built into that ,however, a dichotomy – a binary implication that leads to round and round arguments that last for centuries and show no sign of resolving. ** ( Us – them, either -or, in -out, Calvinist – Arminian, etc.)

I’m not sure that it holds together either philosophically or experientially but – I get it. I get that conception of God and I understand how that God is compatible with our institutions, denominations and structures. I’m not trying to be a ‘stinker’ for the sake of being a stinker. I’m just saying that it makes me nervous that… well. It seems to me as we conceive of God now, that he is far more interested in helping Christians find their keys than he is in stopping child abuse and domestic violence.

Which leads me to my second suggestion:

There seems to be a fascination in Christianity with restoring the order that is symbolized by the 10 Commandments. This is ironic because they represent Mosaic Law and if anyone has read one of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the letter to the Galatians, the Hebrews or the Epistle of James you will know that, for the Christian, the Law is … well – to say it kindly – not the fullest expression of God’s desire for his New Covenant community.
The other dominant icon seems to the be the Cross. This is ironic because it is a sign of Roman violence and coercive power and domination. I’m not sure that those who wear gold plated – jewel encrusted icon around their neck have thought of this.

But you have to think: it is more that intriguing that the two universally recognized symbols of Christianity in our age are representative of Mosaic Law and Roman Violence. And while someone my protest and say that I am making too a big of deal our of nothing, the diagnostic seems pretty clear.

Is our expression of Christianity rules based and does it participate in militarized force? Or does is legislate & legalize morality and does it baptize violence in the Name of God?

When people think that the Ten Commandments have anything to do with Christianity… and when they think that the cross is just a means to an end…
it is no wonder to me why they refuse to even engage the Weakness of God.

Here is my suspicion:

If we didn’t learn from Jesus what we were suppose to learn from Jesus then our faith might be more Colonial than Christ, more Caesar than covenant love, more strength than sacrifice and more sword than servant.

So what would I suggest in it’s place? Well, I think that one should be The Bowl & Towel. This represents washing feet and a servant attitude. The second is a hole in the ground. It could represent the hole that was dug in the earth for the cross to be dropped in, the hole in his hands and feet and even the Virgin womb that says ‘may it be unto me as you have said’. It represents receptivity and participation.

I know that they may not be as impressive as the classic icons but neither is our gospel as concern with being impressive as the Imperial view of power that it is replacing.

“The kingdom of God is the rule of weak forces like patience and forgiveness, which, instead of forcibly exacting payment for an offense, release and let go. The kingdom is found whenever war and aggression are met with an offer of peace. The kingdom is a way of living, not in eternity, but in time, a way of living without why, living for the day, like the lilies of the field – figures of weak forces – as opposed to mastering and programming time, calculating the future, containing and managing risk. The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.” – Caputo

>Is God Weak or Strong ?

>Is God strong or weak?
People generally seem to think that if there is a God then that being is very ‘God like’ and encapsulates all of the things we generally hope and assume that God is. “My God is so Big so strong and so mighty – there’s nothing my God can not do” seems to be the predominant thought on this. Most people, I think, are under the impression that God is strong. So I am not going to spend a lot of time on that. I think that people know that construct well.

I want to put forward a different theory. I believe that God is weak, that God works weakly and that we have to partner with that God in order for it work.
Here is my theory in the form of a word picture (Someday I will make it into a narrative or parable): it’s as if God broadcasts a signal weakly into the world. Picture a radio tower sending signals out into the surrounding area. There are three conditions or scenarios involved in this.

We have the right ‘equipment’ and often we have to learn to dial it in. You have be tuned into the right signal. This is often made easier by being around somebody who it ‘tuned’ in – or for that matter, who is not just receiving but relaying the signal ( a reflecting dish that radiates the signal)

The second component is that the signal is faint enough that some people don’t think that the signal even exists and others explain away or attribute it to something else. The signal is weak enough that some people don’t even think that there is a signal.

The third is that the signal is weak enough that you also have turn down other competing signals and sources of noise, in order to really tune in. Even those who want to tune in, often have to tune out competing signals or technologies.

Now I know that this is a radically new concept to some and it does not get the best reaction at first. People often want to quote passages from the Old Testament in order to reinforce the conception that God is strong. But I sort of feel like saying “You have heard it said that God is strong, but I tell you that what we see in Jesus is weak”

Two passages of scripture here just to think about how God works :
1 Corinthians 1: 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me

I think that Jesus is the best gift that humanity has ever received- better than life itself for this gift transcends life. What we see in Christ is the ‘Weakness of God’ (as John Caputo calls it) and it is counter to everything that this world upholds a praiseworthy and worthy of glory.

When most people talk to me about God it seems as if they are describing Zeus from Mt. Olympus, Thor from Valhalla, Ra of Egypt, Baal of the Cannanites, Dagon of the Assyrians, or Apsu and Tiamat of the Babylonians. When people talk to me about God I rarely hear them talk of the manger, the foot washing model of servant leadership, the shame of the cross, the questions around the resurrection or the small crowd of the ascension. All these are understated, off the beaten path, out of the spotlight … weak.

It’s almost as if we have the ancient ways that people talked about God, like Zeus. Then (as it appears chronologically to us) God revealed the fullest expression of the divine nature in Christ. We love what Jesus did for us. Then we went on talking about God in Caesar terms. Almost as if Jesus is a hiatus of weakness from the regularly scheduled program of Zeus and Caesar – sandwiched between the two.

Just think about the incarnation – the humility of the birth story.
Think about the foot-washing at the last supper.
Think about the non-violent response to the arrest.
Think about the cross.
Think about the events surrounding the resurrection (on this side of the stone) and how understated and gentle it was.
Think about Pentecost – this powerful redistribution of God’s spirit – and how it was interpreted as something else.

I think that this is how God works and I think that this is how God is.

Just to be clear: I do not believe that God is really strong and just pretending to weak (self limitation) and I am not playing semantics by redefining ‘strong’ as ‘weak’ in a theological flip-a-roosky or switch-a-roosky. (those are official Theological terms by the way and even if the weren’t real, they ARE actual things that I have been accused of).

I actually think that God is weak. It explains so much. It explains why He didn’t stop the atrocities of the Second World War (or any war for that matter). It explains why rape and child abuse are allowed to go on. It’s not that god, who is said to be ‘all knowing’, knows and doesn’t care. It is that God is weak. God is not outside of time watching things unfold and picking and choosing which situations to intervene in. God is here with us – in the moment – and God works through us. That is the weakness.

Sure, people long ago conceived of God in Kingly way. The Scholastic Theologians of church history had to answer the question ‘If God is all Powerful and God is all Loving, then how can He abide evil.’ The problem is called Theodicy, but it is predicated on the assumption that God is all Powerful (omnipotent).

I think that it is a conversation worth having and a concept worth revisiting. I am willing to redefine it but I know that others are quite apprehensive about making any changes to the old formula.

The truth is that I am really nervous. I am nervous that when people talk about God they are really talking about expectations of Caesar. That modern christianity is far more Rome than christ, far more Empire than kingdom.

I know that people react to the notion that is God is weak. We want a God who is strong. But I fear that what we really want is a Caesar, Zeus, Thor, Ra and not a Christ at all.

If you want to read a paper on John Caputo’s ‘The Weakness of God’ [HERE]

I will close with a quote from that.

“ The kingdom of God is the rule of weak forces like patience and forgiveness, which, instead of forcibly exacting payment for an offense, release and let go. The kingdom is found whenever war and aggression are met with an offer of peace. The kingdom is a way of living, not in eternity, but in time, a way of living without why, living for the day, like the lilies of the field – figures of weak forces – as opposed to mastering and programming time, calculating the future, containing and managing risk. The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.”

P.S. A great book to read is “What would Jesus deconstruct” which is Caputo’s interaction with “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon.

>God isn’t who we thought

>God isn’t who we thought- 3 problems with the Big 5 God:

1.When we make God too big and too pure and too heavenly – the Incarnation becomes impossible. It just doesn’t make sense how God could have bridged that gap. Maybe it’s not that we’ve made good too big but that we have over emphasized the gap between Spirit & Matter, Heaven and Earth, God & the Creation.

2.If that God is all powerful then he is not all loving. And if he is all loving then he is not all powerful – and no amount talk bout ‘mystery’ or ‘tension’ is going to cut it. Sunday school answers about just ‘trusting that He knows what is best’ don’t work in the face of the atrocities that we saw in the 20th century. Either we outgrew that god, or he died or he isn’t who we thought he was.

3.Even if we do believe in that old concept of God (and keep in mind – I am not talking bout the God of the Bible. I am talking about the God that emerged in the first three centuries around Christ and continued to evolve throughout church history). If we do stick with that God then we have to address the the obvious question: where did he go? He hasn’t done much in a while. Maybe after Jesus and the writing of the Bible his work was done and now it is up to us to figure it out. Maybe technology, education and civilization steal his powers and he can only work where those things are not.

Now of course – and I hope that this is obvious – I don’t believe that. I believe in God and God’s present work in the world. But this concept of God is incoherent and irrational as well as impractical in the modern world. I don’t mind taking things by faith. I am a person of faith. But I am not going to use the ‘Faith’ card on something that is nothing more that a poorly conceived construct.

The thing that I want tell you, in the way of good news, is that Deconstruction is not Destruction or Demolition. It is simple admitting that we need a new model and getting about the business at hand.

And I think that maybe a good place to start is making sure that the one we call ‘God’ is that one that Jesus called ‘Abba’.

Next time… we go for it: let’s just have it out and tackle the question – is God strong or weak? and then we get on with it.

OK – so there it is in the new format. Short and sweet. I jammed it into a couple of short paragraphs!

If you want to stick around for Overtime -I will unpack it a little bit and flesh it out. But there you have the seed here and the framework.
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Overtime: the old style big Essay (or just go to post a comment at the bottom)

I know that it is a new year so I hate to start it with a negative but I have some unfinished business from the past year. So…

I want to start this year with a confession.
I don’t believe in this configuration of God: Omni-potent, Omni-present, Omniscient, Impassable, Immovable.
It doesn’t matter whether you call him the God of the Creeds, the God of Church History, the God of Orthodoxy or of ‘Classic Christianity’. It’s just not who I pray to, who I sing about or who I participate with… not when it’s configured like that.
And here is why. Here are my 3 big problems with the Big 5 God.

The Incarnation becomes an Impossibility.
When we focus too much on God’s transcendence, try to make God too big and too ‘Other’ we paint ourselves into a corner and it actually become logistically impossible for Jesus to have come in the flesh! When we talk about God in too grandiose terms we often borrow for Gnostic language and say that ‘God can nothing to do with this sinful world’ and then someone says ‘what about jesus ? If he was fully God and fully man, how did he bridge this massive gap that you have set up?’ And the answer that is given rings hollow. “It is a Mystery.” Now listen , I am ALL about mystery and the mystical and the supernatural… but I object to using ‘mystery’ to defend our illogical and incongruent conceptions of God.

Which brings me to my second point…

Theodicy – “a response to the problem of evil in the world that attempts logically, relevantly and consistently to defend God as simultaneously omnipotent, all loving and just despite the reality of evil.”
In the past this has been a real problem. If God is all powerful and God is loving and he’s just then why is he evil allowed to persist? And this IS a real problem. I just have two quick thoughts about this:
The 20th century was brutal for God. Not only did he take a beating in the classroom (and sometimes in the courtroom) but he was often nowhere to be found outside of evangelical and Pentecostal worship services. But in a very real sense we saw a what evils people were capable of in the name of God. In movements like the the Nazis of Germany, the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia ( Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia) and the god-soaked language of African atrocities in Darfure a(not to mention the cults of Jonestown and the Brach Davidians among countless others) we saw little difference from the godless regimes of Communist Russia, the Fascist, the Totalitarians and the Utopians. God was seemed to make little difference is how we treated enemies, combatants
We have much better ways to think about this now! Ya know – we are not limited to the way is that they thought about God in the second and third centuries. We are not limited to the constructs of the plagues any crusades of the 1100’s. we aren’t not limited to the constraints in thought of the 16th and 17th century. This is a new day. And there are much better options now for thinking about how the universe is constructed and how reality functions, how history progresses and where humanity participates.

Theodicy is a problem of constructs and conceptions of the past. when you beef God up too much and over-inflate your portrayal of your conception, you have to come back and defendant at construct when things don’t go well. We have concepts and frameworks now that incorporate the evils of things like the second world war and the atrocities of the 20th century into a working configuration that integrates the presence of evil with the way of the world actually works and the belief in a loving God. We are not limited by the way people have thought about and talked about God in the past. There is a progressive, emerging, innovative and thoughtful way to approach this.

The old God is nowhere to be found.
This is perhaps my biggest problem with the old big 5 God. He hasn’t done anything in a while. Either he did some really cool stuff in the Bible and then he retired, or he is a regional deity that can do cool things with the weather and some miraculous things in a very small locations with small groups of people.
People who voraciously defend the literalness of the Bible run into a problem if they do not have those kind of experiences to detail of biblical proportion. If you want to say that the kind of things that we read about in the Bible literally happen, that’s fine. But there had better be a self validating expression and experience that coincides with it. It does no one any good to have a passionate defense of the literalness of the biblical account if there are no self validating evidences in the community. Some people split history into dispensations and say well that was then and this is now, and that really happened then but it’s not going to happen now. So that’s kind of a dead-end. Apparently the big five God changed. After he did his big impressive stuff he retired into some recess of the universe — having written a bestseller with the Bible he had enough to live on for the rest of history. but these people usually come back and say “God never changes – he is the same yesterday today and forever” so that gets confusing. because while God never changes apparently his interaction with the world does. He doesn’t change but the times do. So the fact is hard to figure out.
Other people say that everything we read about in the book of acts is available to us today. But the really awkward question quickly surfaces. Why do so many of this god’s miracles seem to happen in places of poverty, no electricity and little education. Is it that he prefers these out-of-the-way places where people haven’t figured out not to believe in God yet or is it that way electricity & education show up his power diminishes.

I’m not trying to be a jerk here. I believe in God. I believe in the miraculous. I believe in Jesus and the Gospel of grace. I am a believer. What I am saying is that our conceptions of God from the third century the 11th century and the 16th century may not work for us in the modern era. We live in “ a world come of age” and our conception of God has to grow up too. we live in a world that is progressing and changing and evolving into something that it has never been before. Our faith has the capacity to speak to, interact with and to learn from that world in a way that is mutually edifying and empowering. But that will not happen if we insist on remaining and reinforcing these constructs and conceptions of God of centuries past.

Here’s my bottom line: it hasn’t worked to bring about either the world we hope for or the one that we promised in our message. We have, up with lots of ways to explain it away – most of these focus on human sinfulness,the fallenness of mankind or the work of the devil.

The only thing that I can tell you in the way of good news is that Deconstruction is not Destruction or Demolition. It is simple admitting that we need a new model and getting about the business at hand.

And I think that maybe a good place to start is making sure that the one we call ‘God’ is that one that Jesus called ‘Abba’.

OK – I just needed to get that off my chest. and now I can move on and get down to the task at hand!!

Next time we go for it: let’s just have it out and tackle the question – is God strong or weak? and then we get on with it.

>God’s Weakness in Haiti

>This is a conversation that I was having at the Website with Dan

Dan:
I find the conversation here at Everyday Theology very helpful and incredibly interesting.  Before I ask my questions though, let me say, as gently as possible:  God is not the author of death.  He is not sending anyone a message through the earthquake in Haiti.  If there is a spiritual component to this horrible event it originated in Hell, not Heaven.  Don’t worry, the Pat Robertson’s of the world will continue to marginalize themselves by saying anti-Christian things like his latest, until no one is listening to him anymore.

I do however have a couple of unresolved questions.  ET says that this disaster was caused by shifting tectonic plates and unresolved poverty.  Yes, this is the vehicle through which death was delivered.  But I do believe that there is a spiritual component to this event.  I am not sure what it is, but I suspect it has something to do with Satan’s desire to kill, steal and destroy and my failure as a follower of Jesus to bring redemption to the people of Haiti.  Is there a spiritual component to this disaster?

Second question:  While Jesus displayed a glaring lack of human power he did display an incredible amount of heaven’s power (healing sick, feeding the hungry, raising the dead and so forth).  While the weakness of Jesus has got me thinking about what the Gospel really is and how it is totally and utterly opposed to empire, I still see a power offered to his disciples that inserted the impossible into human tragedy.  Where does this authority over sickness and death fit in this emerging theology?

Me: – wow. you have quickly gotten to the heart of the matter. I really like what you said in your first paragraph. Powerful statements.

First question: I can only tell you what I think. I think that the tectonic plates are ‘natural’ in origin. I think that the systemic poverty is ‘human’ in origin. and I think that IF there is anything ‘spiritual’ that it is people’s response to tragedy and hurt. Christ’s body reaching out, holding the hurting, healing wounds and reaching into the wound.

second question – this is a tough one. I want to believe. I do not want to be a cynic. If we have the power to raise people from the dead and heal the sick, why are we not flying ‘miracle teams’ over there to raise the dead and heal the sick? IF EVER we were going to step up into an ACTS like authority and take ‘dominion’ (as someone else has said) then THIS would certainly be the time do that!! The world is watching – it would be publicized on GLOBAL TV. The world would SEE and BELIEVE.

please understand me. I have seen miracles. I believe. I just don’t know that it is predictable enough to ‘go public’ with it. I think that we:
1) show up
2) love without condition or judgment
3) serve
4) pray and see what happens.
That really is the best I have right now. I mean, if you feel called to get on an airplane and fly down … or better yet – just pray from where you are that the dead in Haiti will get up and start to tell of God and his power, you can do that right now.

I am just saying that I do not think that is that way it works. I think that God is weak. I think that God loves weakness. I think that God works in our weakness. That is why I think we go (in weakness) and serve (in our weakness) and embrace others weakness and that is how God is made manifest, in our weakness.

>Tribes

>A couple of years ago I had an interesting exchange with a good friend of mine. We were looking at clothing stores and she mad some disparaging remark about ‘tribes’. It took me by surprise and so asked for clarification. She explained to me that she – and many people at her conservative bible believing church- was sick of this New Age-y push to get everybody to see themselves as part of a tribe. (We happen to be looking at a store that carried a brand of sportswear called ‘Tribal’.) I listen for a little bit about how this led away from a biblical worldview and toward New Age definitions of community and allegiances that compromised the church and getting our identify from focusing on God – instead, focusing on ourselves and what ‘tribe’ we were a part of.

I thought about it for a bit and then I said to her ‘ ya know, Tribes are not New Age-y but rather ‘Old Age-y’. They’re very ancient – from the Old Age. They are not a New Age invention. In fact, Tribes are quite biblical. The Hebrews were divided in to 12 of them and even the New Testament talks of ‘every tribe and tongue’ (Rev. 5:9). So I would think that God sees us far more in Tribes than as the Enlightenment did as Individuals.”

I am really worried about how we are conceiving of things that allows us to call ‘New’ what is ‘Old’ and ‘un-biblical’ what is clearly Biblical. Sometimes I suspect that we called good what is bad and God what is not- God.

Jared Diamond tells a fascinating story in his book “Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed”. He details the trials of the early settlers to Greenland in the 12th Century.

By using written letters, church records in Europe and archeology he draws a picture of people struggling to live in a place because of how they picture themselves and resisted a new identity for the new land and environment.

By looking at the bones in their settlements it is clear that they did not switch from beef that they ate in Europe to the seal meat that the Inuits in the area survived on. They barely ate the fish that they could catch in the waters of their shores (bones were 1:10 ratio compared to Inuit settlements nearby) and there were almost no bird bones even though Ptarmigan were plentiful. It is a tale of refusing to the adjust to the new place or adopt the practices of the indigenous population.

Writings showed that they treasured the view of themselves first as Europeans, second as Christians and third as settlers (Greenlanders). This shows up in there persistence to raise cattle on soil that was not suitable for it. They insisted on using large boats that they got from Dutch designs instead of switching to the canoes utilized by the Inuit. They also put large amounts of time, money and energy into making stone cathedrals with stain glass imported from Europe and costly & distant wine and wheat that were not Native so that the priest would have communion elements.

Their unwillingness to re-imagine their identity and adapt to the actual surroundings and circumstances allowed the experiment to creep along for two of centuries before eventually failing.

___
This is why I am interested in re-imagining ourselves as the people of God and re-inventing our conceptions and constructs of God: a global God who works for the next century.

I have been talking about God’s relationship to Haiti [link] over a month before the Earthquake.

I will be honest with you, i have no interest in Pat Robertson’s God who causes an earthquake in Haiti in order to warn the rest of the world or punish them for something that someone else did. (Or any of the famous white preachers who said similar things about the Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Minnesota Tornadoes [link] or the 911 attacks).

That is a concept of God is leftover from when we thought that the world was flat and that heaven was just behind the clouds. That was our conception of the world and of the universe and subsequently how we conceived of God and how ‘he’ worked in the world.

I want to invest in constructs and frameworks (conversations and conceptions) of a Global perspective of God that works in the next century and for the world that we actually live in.

We need a better picture of God. I believe that. I do not think that what we need is to master concepts of God from the centuries past. That is not what we need. We need a Global God for the next century.
That is what I am hoping for here – to concieve together of an Everyday Theology.

remember – I am not advocating a new type of Christianity,
I am acknowledging that Christianity is always being made new.

The world does not work the way that people use to THINK that it did. That is what I am saying. That something fundamentally shifted in the New Covenant.

At minimum – we should agree that Jeremiah 31 says that in the New Cov. that people will not die for what their forefathers did ( v. 30) That is what Pat Robertson says this is from – a curse of the 19th Century.

Heather, we need to grow out of our elementary ways of thinking and move into the real world and stop talking about ‘deals with the Devil’ and the ‘end of the world’. We need to talk of tectonic plates and systemic poverty

>3 ways to think of God

>The Simple Way to talk of God

Some things are complicated. Admittedly, this is not always fun or desirable. It is so nice sometimes when things are simple: like There is one God. Some like to say “there is no name under heaven or earth by which men can be saved” .Or as our ancestors said “Hear oh Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one”. Or like our religious cousins say “There is no God but one and this is his prophet”.
And we see that even amongst the Abrahamic faiths, this one simple confession has already made things unimaginably complicated.

I have to admit, I think that it is better if things are realistically reflective of how complicated and complex things really are! I don’t think that it serves anyone when we overly simplify something that is, by necessity, complex. Like when we say ‘pray this little prayer and you will go to heaven’ or that “grace is the free gift of God” without mentioning that the free gift will cost you everything – like a free download that once downloaded unzips itself and re-formats your entire hard drive, replaces your operating system and deletes all your favorite files. ( That, by the way, is what most people refer to as a virus – but that is for another day)

But today is about the Name of God, or should I say the Names of God. This is one of those areas that you do not want to over simplify and that we do a great disservice to by boiling it down to a bare minimum. There is such richness is a study of the multiplicity of Names for God – even just those that are found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

Three quick groupings of these:

First, there a number of lists and resources that will show you a whole array of these names. Some will catalogue the Hebrew names for God is Scripture – Jehovah, Elohim, Adoni, Ancient of Days, Jehovah Jireh, etc. Some will detail names for Jesus or titles he inherited in our ‘old’ Testament. These a great photo albums of different snapshots of God’s story.
The only thing to be mindful of is that they are lifted out of a narrative and are thus missing their context that so often gives them their meaning.

Second grouping is Titles that we know well but may not know where they come from. For instance, many people know that Jesus is called both the Son of God and the Son of Man. But it is helpful to ask ‘Is Jesus the only person called the Son of God” and the answer is ‘No’. Many people in the Bible are called Son of God. It was a political term and it turns out that Israel may have borrowed it from Egypt, Babylon or Rome – all of which had it in their records before it shows up in Israel and we know that Israel had contact with these places.
The Son of Man, though is interesting because it is a prophetic title that Jesus borrows from the book of Daniel and other Hebrew writings that are not in our canon. Jesus uses it so many different ways and if you only did a study that focused on that phrase, you would probably learn so much and have such a developed picture of how Christ embraces it’s many facets.

The third grouping is phrases or ideas that are lost in translation. They are concepts that did not come over when the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic transitioned to English. It’s like how there are seven Greek words in the New Testament for love , but in the KJV, New American and NIV they all come out simply as ‘love’.

Well, there are all sorts of interesting words left back in the pre-translation texts like for instance ‘Wisdom’ words like Hokma in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek, or how Spirit in Hebrew is Ruach. The interesting thing in these examples, as in many other places, is that these words of feminine. The fact that in the original language used in the texts of scripture has both Spirit and Wisdom not just with feminine words but contain feminine word pictures and concepts.

It may be helpful to recognize that other things have been lost in translation too and some of them contain gender issues. The phrase ‘help mate’ is often used of the relationship of Eve to Adam or of a wife to her husband. The word is ‘paraclete’. This phrase though only occurs one other time in scripture. The other time, it is about God. Holy Spirit is promised to us as a ‘Helper’. That word is a God word and reflects God’s relationship to us: Helper.

So, no – things are not simple. But, if you embrace that complexity, you can actually emerge into a place where there is great clarity and perspective. It won’t be any simpler , but it will more accurately reflective the complicated nature of the reality that we are dealing with.


Say God three times

I got permission to pick out two clips of a conversation between Elizabeth Johnson (author of “She Who Is”) and Tripp Fuller (of Homebrewed Christianity) to help us really appreciate the classic formulation of the Triune God .

We listen to Elizabeth Johnson and take the opportunity and say God’s name 3 times in 3 different ways.

God beyond us
God with us and
God within us

John 14:16-18
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth … you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Dancing with God

One of my favorite pictures of the relationship of the Trinity ( the Triunes Godhead if you prefer) – is found in a word picture that pre-dates the formulation of our New Testament. It is called the Perichoresis (it is popular in the Eastern tradition and dates back before the 4th century but it was not the preferred picture of the Three Fold nature of God for the Roman West and thats why so many of us Protestants have never heard of it) and I have to tell you – it has revolutionized my prayer life, my Bible reading and my view of society.

The term Perechoresis comes from two words: Peri (where we get our word perimeter) and from the same word that we get Choreograph from. So Perichoresis means that dance of God or the movement of God and it is a picture of the relationship that is a little different than the Father sitting on the throne, the Son at his right side and the Holy Spirit doing all of the work. It is not static – it is dynamic and full of motion.

One of things you will run into in early church history is that there are hundreds of ways to picture the Trinity incorrectly. There were so many councils and creeds that tried to address all of the wrong ways to picture this and talk about. It you read a theological dictionary you will find names and titles for all sorts of errors and heresies regarding these formulations. You are not allowed to say that the Son proceeded from the Father or that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and Son. They all have to be equal. The Son was begotten but not made and comes from the same substance as the Father but is not the same person. You can not say that they are 3 substances in one person but you have to be careful with them being one substance in 3 persons. On could go on and on about how complicated and complex this is, but suffice to say that when you are done with the whole exercise… you want to be left with more than a Organizational chart detailing the hierarchy of the Godhead.

That is why I love Perichoresis. It has movement – is sees God as a divine Community – as Relationship in it’s purest and best and that for which all other relationships are but shadows and reflections. It is the fountain from which all our expectations for community flow and the source of our relational expectations.

Here then is how it works:

It is coordinated dance (choreography) around the perimeter. It is each member taking it’s turn to move into that central place and then deferring of defaulting to the others. It is the Father saying “this is my son” then the son saying “I do only that which I receive from my father” and of the spirit “I will send you another who will teach you all things” and Spirit calling back to our memory “everything that Jesus said”.

It is the humility and patience of God to not occupy that central place and to rotate and turn around the others, moving to allow the other a place to come and be central. It is a chance to prefer and find importance in other. I love this picture. It speaks to me. It moves my soul. It inspires me to community and relationship.

It want to take it further, you can go ahead and ask the question. If they are moving around the outside (the perimeter) then what is in the middle?
And that is the question. What is in the middle? If you know me and how I construct these essays – you can probably guess.
It is Sophia. The wisdom of God for humanity is that place. But here is the thing: It is not an empty space. It is actually a pregnant place, for it is the womb. It is Mary saying “may it be unto me as you have said” in daring response to the initiation of God. It is place that the Bride is held. It is not an empty space but a place of possibility and potential. The womb is where the knowledge of God is born. Sophia.

Isn’t that an amazing picture? It is such a gorgeous metaphor for the moving of God. For humble community and dynamic relationship.

So, In closing. I just want encourage you to try something new. That might be researching the Names of God, or the background of just one of the Names.

Or, you might trying what Elizabeth Johnson suggested and try saying God three times each time you invoke the Name in prayer : God who is beyond us – God who is with us – God who is within us.

Or, you might close your eyes and let images of God dance in your head and in your heart as they move and turn and dip and recede in coordinated humility and preference. You may even want to go that extra step and incorporate the picture of the womb, the ministry of Spirit as ‘Helpmate’ , Jesus’ mother heart or God as She.

We end where we began: this is not simple and trying to make it so is dangerous. It is messy and necessarily complicated – just like life and exactly like faith

>Is God a Man?

>God as She – Some people get upset if others refer to God as ‘she’ when they are talking.

and I kind of see why, as I think I use to be one of the one that would twinge, but in the end I just chalked it up to the person either wanting be novel and cutting edge, or irreverent and challenging.

But there are two things that that come out of the Bible that have made me reconsider this
(and a third thing out of church history that almost convinced me).

The first thing to notice is that God is bigger than gender definitions or human parameters that we have. In the beginning, it says, he made them male and female, he made them in his image: both male and female are in God’s image. If we were to draw a Venn Diagram (those overlapping circles) and put “male” in one circle (yellow) and “female” in the blue, we would notice two things right away: first, there is an overlapping section (let’s call it ‘green’) of share traits between the genders and this is shared humanity. In my opinion, this green section is very large as I think that males and females have more in common as human than they do that is distinct to their gender.
But it is the next thing that really makes you think. Not only would you have these three categories of Human, Male and Female but you would also have a fourth category called ‘other’ or ‘none of the above’ and that is the area around the two circles. This represents the things that are true about God that are not contained in humanity. Because I think that we could all agree that God is bigger than God’s creation and that saying ‘God’ is not just saying ‘human’ loudly. God is not just the collection of all our best hopes projected onto the heavens. So while God made them – male and female – in the image of God , God is not entirely defined by what they show or reveal about God. While they reveal something about what it is ultimately true, what is ultimately true is not shown in it’s totality in them.

Women are created in the image of God. Men are created in the image of God. Humans show some of what God is like, but God is not only or entirely found in or defined by what we see in humans.

The second thing to notice in the Bible is that the authors used masculine pronouns when talking about God and even where the original language might gender neutral the translators into English went ahead and used the masculine ‘He’. Now some people let it rest there and say ‘Jesus called God “father” and that is enough for me’ as there capstone. Cased closed. Period.

It is also interesting to notice what else the Bible calls God. More than 40 times the Bible says that God is a rock. It is interesting because we would not say that God is a cold inanimate object. We don’t think that God is actually a rock! We know that is metaphor, it is a word picture, a language device – some call it ‘Theo-poetics’ or the way we talk about God. The Bible also says clearly that ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5) but we don’t think that the Sun is God. We don’t flip the light switch on and say ‘oh God is in the room’. It is a metaphor – a word picture. It’s how we talk about God. It is not revealing the totality of what is true about God. Other places in scripture talk about God having wings (5 times in the Psalms alone) but we don’t think that God is a bird. We don’t have hearing about what kind of feathers God’s wings are adorned with. There are not denominations that insist on pictures of God being in flight and others that prefer the flightless picture of the penguin version of God. Come on -that would be silly. It is a word picture – it is metaphor – it is the way that we talk about God. So we understand these as cultural expressions of different conceptions of God in their language. Yes God is Father , just like God is a rock. But God is not actually a rock! and that Rock is not God. It is Theo-poetics. Yes, God is light – but God is not actually defined in totality by light. It is a world picture. I could add tons of more examples and I’m not trying to get ridiculous, but if we hold too tightly to these, we have a picture of the Rock Father flying with his wings at the speed of light – or something.

We all know, at some level, that this is the gift of language. It allows us to use comparatives (whether metaphors or parables) to say ‘I will use this thing that you know to tell you something that you don’t know.’ That is the message.

Bottom Line : God is bigger than our conception of God and it not totally defined by our ability to conceptualize or communicate it.

Some people are going to object. They are going to say
A)the Bible reveals God as male and
B)B) when Jesus came, he came as a man. (a big ole’ hairy man)

But I would just like to point out that A) the Bible is the expression of a culture and time. It is a story and not everything in that story is good. Sometimes God’s people do things that God is not sanctioning or validating. It is simply telling us what people in that time and place thought. It was a very patriarchal society and some of the views express that. We need to be careful we don’t make women second class citizens in our churches and families BECAUSE they were when the Bible was written. If we do that, we might be missing the entire trajectory of the story: that redemption…and restoration… and reconciliation had come to earth and that after the veil was torn in two (the first symbol of what was to come) and then the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. and the people of God were dispersed (Diaspora) – they were not to import the old order but to initiate a new order. That would even outgrow that Apostles writings (the Epistles) as this message crossed rivers and into new lands it was to invite the Kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Unfortunately – it got co-opted by actual Kings and brought into the kind of hierarchy and authority structures that earthly Kingdoms are defined by and built upon.

But that is a story for a different day.

B) As far as Jesus coming as a man… well – that is really something worth considering!
Stop and think about why that might be so important.
Is it because God is a man? No – we know that everything that is feminine is also found in God.

Is it simply cultural? No, I think that is too simple and misses that point entirely.

Could it be that Jesus came as a man to give us new model for masculine?
An invitation to a different way to be a man?
The possibility for a new picture of humanity?

I think that it is noteworthy that if Jesus came as a women and did the sort of things that he did in the culture to which he came, two things would have happened. A lot of people would not have even noticed. Women were expected to serve and take care of the hurting and be compassionate. Most people would not even have marked how remarkable it was that God had come as a parable – to use something we know in order to show us something that we did not know.
Some people would have confused the message and would have focused on the fact that God was female and would certainly elevated Female to god and began to worship the feminine. Missing that that too was a metaphor and would have thought that it was the message. This was a common conception the cultures all around Israel- Babylon to the East, Egypt to the South West and Greece & Rome to the North West. This was actually a real danger in that region in ancient times.


I think that it is significant to note two things about Jesus in this regard:

1) The gospels record at least 4 significant interactions with women. In all four of these cases, Jesus challenged or broke the cultural expectations, boundaries and barriers. He clearly was not that interested in reinforcing, maintaining or even abiding by the gender categories of his culture. (see John 4, Luke 10, Luke 7, John 12 – Mark 14- Matt 26)

2) Jesus’ radical non-violence, his heart for service (I came not to be served but to serve Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28) his use of mother hen imagery “Oh Jerusalem Jerusalem how I longed to gather your children like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” Matthew 23:37) borrowed from the prophets, and so many other examples portray Jesus as a different sort of man. It is actually a portrayal that gets some people quite riled up. I have actually heard two different pastors – both nationally famous – say recently that this portrayal of Jesus bothers them. One said that if Jesus had come as a women and did the sorts of things that he is reported to have done, most people would not have thought much of it. That is what we, generally speaking, expect from women : self sacrifice, service, etc. I don’t think that he meant it in a bad way. The other guy however… said that he hates the modern portrayal of Jesus as an effeminate and the bottom line is that he can not worship someone that he could beat up.

Here is the thing. This isn’t the 1600’s anymore. You just can’t pine for the old days and claim that you are being faithful to traditions of the faith. The core of this religion we call Christianity is this thing called the Incarnation. It is a manifestation of God in a given place in a specific time. We have to manifest that message in this place at this time… and Jesus modeled for us how to do that. He not only showed us what God is like, told us what God values but he released us to do the same in our context in our community.

Having said all of that, I close with this. Women are made in the image of God. They show something amazing about God. They are not second class citizens.
God values women just as much as a man. Sure, our physiology is different. Biologically there is uniqueness. We have different parts. We play different roles sometimes… but in the end – with generalities aside – every human contains, reflects or portrays the Image of God (choose you language). God created them , male and female, in God’s image. Yes, the Bible may use the masculine pronoun in reference to God. and we can debate if that was cultural or if that was simply limitation of language. But in that debate – to say that God is Father is no more of less true than saying that God is a rock or that God is light or that God has wings or that God is love or – if someone were so inclined – saying that the Great I Am is not the great unknown but is instead – She who Is… That the I am who I am and the Un-namable Ground of All Being is one and the same with ______ . Whatever language you choose… is no more true of false than saying that “Jesus lives in my heart” or that “God is on the throne” or whatever else you want to say.
In the end this is Theo-poetics (at some level).
This is metaphor and parable and word picture.
These are not exact formulations or legal expression of definitions in their totality.

God is a much a Mother as He is a Father. My mother is as good a picture for me of what God is like as my father is. My wife is far more like God than I am – and anyone who knows me will know that that is true.

We are missing something about God because of the way we think about God.

Our communities are missing something because of the way we talk about God.

Our world is missing something that it desperately needs because of the way that we think and talk about God.

So in summary :
God is bigger than God’s creation.

God is bigger than our conception of God.

God is not defined by or contained in our ability to talk about God.

I look forward to hearing from you on this. I welcome you posts, emails and comments.

>The Most Important City in the World

>What will be the most important city in the world this year (and decade) ?
Jerusalem? Beijing? Moscow? Bombay? Washington DC? Baghdad because of the war? Tokyo because of the economy? Johannesburg, South Africa because of the World Cup? Maybe that old favorite Rome & it’s Vatican City.

I say “none of the above”. But for I tell you why let me tell you why cities are important in general, why they are important to God and then I’ll tell you what I think will be the most important city in the world this coming year.

To listen to the Podcast of this CLICK HERE

Why Cities Matter:

Whatever ever reason we would have given that cities are important in the past – for instance that they are place where people and ideas collect and collaborate so that (I have heard it said) “The future is created there”.

For us there is a much more practical reason. 100 years ago only 13% of the worlds population lived in cities. Statistics are saying that by 2050 over 70% of the worlds population will live in cities. IBM Has compared this (in a recent advertisement) to adding the equivalent of seven New York Cities to the planet every year.

The challenges for education, commerce, safety and health concerns are massive. I think that the ramifications and implications for spirituality and the way that we are the church. Christianity historically is based in community constructs that come from a far less urbanized and far less transient world. Christian Spirituality, by necessity, needs to look different in cities than it did for farm communities or monasteries out in the country. Christian community will need the same.

Just think about how much things have changed in these areas in the past 150 years. literally in the late 1800s (150 years ago) you could set up a big tent and – I’m not kidding about this- if it had light it would be a huge attraction. The revival meeting was born. people didn’t have electricity. So a big gathering of people in the evenings with live music and good preaching was an attraction. Just think about how to different church Community now that people have cars. think about how different the services now that people have television and get their entertainment elsewhere. think about how to different communication has become with cell phones. The Internet, e-mail, FaceBook and texting have really affected how people spend their time, their expectations for where God fits in.

Technology has radically impacted most peoples devotional life. the Industrial Revolution did – when people don’t work at home either in their trade or on their land – it will impact how they spend their day. Electricity is another example. When people can read at night, watch TV and set their alarm in the morning – they behave differently. In fact impacts their spirituality. This move towards cities will do the same.

How God relates to cities:

Laodicea – in Revelation Chapter 3 there is a message from the Lord to the church at Laodicea. One of the things in the message is that they should be “neither hot nor cold — but if they are lukewarm they will be spit out”. this has become a pretty famous passage though it is not the only thing in the message ( there are many other parts including where they have grown rich and arrogant and think they need nothing).

When I look at this passage with people after I read it I usually stop and ask “what is the most important word in this passage”. There is always a huge array of answers ( mostly ‘lukewarm’ though). then I say “its Laodicea”. To whom the letter was written is the most important thing. Not universal principles that we can draw out of it. Not modern applications. All content happens in that context. This letter was written to the church at Laodicea. If there is some principle or lesson that we can draw out of it as modern readers and communities that’s great. But we need to understand that it wasn’t primarily written to us or for us. It was written to a specific place and a specific time.

Leodicea is the most important word in the letter. It is here that we understand that the city to whom the letter is written had built an elaborate aqueduct system. They brought the famously cold clear water from their neighbor city to the east ( Collosea). They also brought water from a hot springs 6 miles awat into the city. The aqueduct system was magnificently designed and impressively constructed – hot healing water from one place, cool drinking water from another – but by the time the water got to Laodicea – guess what ?

Now however you want to interpret the message to that city ( I think it’s about usefulness) that thing I most want you to see in this is that the message was in a language they can understand. God was speaking to the Laodiceans using Laodicean imagery and metaphor. God was not using something general but something specific. Not something universal but something local. And my theory here is that this is how God relates to the people in any location.

This is my theory: that God does not speak in general principles as much as specific examples. That God is less concerned with communicating something universal than something local. And this makes sense because love happens locally. Truth is known contextually. Faith is experienced relationally.


Athens –
mean Acts chpt. 17 Paul visits Athens. There’s this famous story where he gives a presentation based on one of their many monuments and statues that served as idols to gods. He found one that had an inscription below it entitled “to an unknown God”. This has generally been preached that they were so fascinated with idol worship if they wanted to make sure that they didn’t leave any gods out so they had this one token cover all. The problem is that this story happened in Athens. Paul’s message was to a specific people in a specific place in a specific time. All content happens in the context.

And if we were in that place we would know that Athens had as a part of its past a legendary battle. Hundreds of years before Paul walked into Athens there had been a miraculous event. In that event of their salvation from a plague and the war had come after they had made sacrifices to every god they could think of. Having no relief from the sickness they said ( as people in that day did) is there any other god he may need to appease – any god we have left out – any god we don’t know about? it turns out that they had to Hebrew young man among their ranks who told them of the Hebrew God. they made sacrifices and the curse was broken. In remembrance of that day they erected a monument. So ask yourself why didn’t they know that God’s name? Because Hebrews don’t say the name of God. This is the unknown God.

Paul walks into that place and says “ I can see that you are very religious people.” And then proceeds to tell them what the great God of heaven had done on the earth through the son. Most people don’t know about that story behind that encounter in Acts 17. I think it’s because we try to read everything as a universal story. But that story happened in a specific place in a specific time and if we miss that we miss the point of the story. God had a message for Athens that day, but it was not the first time God it done something for Athens or in Athens. The message that day was not universal, it was local. it was not generic it was specific.


Bethlehem –
In John chapter 1 we have the Hymn of the Logos. this is John’s ‘ Christmas story’ and it says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. That word dwelt would be the equivalent word to the Old Testament idea of Tabernacle. A tent that moves with the people. The idea is that for a time God camped with us – where we were. not generically but specifically. Not just universally but locally. God became one of us. This is a very powerful idea (obviously – as if that needed said) and still draws a negative reaction from some people. now the debate is probably more about how his followers behave more like the Romans who killed him then they behave like him – but that is for a different podcast. The point I want to focus on today is that the incarnation – what Christians believe to be the central event in human history and the one we attempt to orient all counting of years around – the incarnation did not happen generically it happened locally. It did not happen universally as much as contextually.

It has been pointed out that Jesus could have come to earth as a baby and appeared in Antarctica. He could have never talked to a single person — in fact he could have never even learned a language — and still accomplish the atonement. God comes and indwell flesh, then dies: the righteous for the unrighteous. And that would have been enough. But that is not how it happened! Jesus came to a specific people who lived in a specific place in a specific time. He learned their language. He learned their scriptures. He used examples from their lives. He touched their bodies. He talked through their stories with them. He called them by name.

He did not call everyone “earthling” and wave his hand over crowds and everyone was magically healed. He taught each each person in a way that was significant to their illness and understanding. to the blind man he touched his eyes. To the woman ostracized from the community for 12 years he called attention to her as a restored one. To a fisherman he pointed out where the school of fish was and made breakfast on the shore.
Jesus’ content happened in a context.

The Most Important City:

So this is my theory: that God does not speak in general principles as much as specific examples. That God is less concerned with communicating something universal than something local. And this makes sense because love happens locally. Truth is known contextually. Faith is experienced relationally.

Which brings us to the question: what is the most important city in the world to God?

And the answer is: the one you live in. Where you are… There — Now.

Some people who think the old way will stick with the answer that Jerusalem is always the most important city. I would say that Jerusalem is the most important city — for those that live there. God has something very important and unique for them. But God also has something important and unique for Rio de Janeiro and Soa Paulo, Brazil… and it might not be the same thing as Jerusalem or even as each other.
Some people will always think that Rome is the most important city because the most important person in their faith lives there. The good news is that God doesn’t only live your ( because he does live there) but he also lives in Sarajevo, Paris, and even Riga Latvia. God has something important and unique for each of those cities. The specific people in fact specific place in this specific time are of interest to God.

Maybe the gift is to ask God, not what God wants to say universally but locally. not what God wants to do generically but specifically.

When we think in generals we are in danger of missing how important our city is and either trying to important something that God did in a different city (say like a model of church that works in suburban Chicago called ‘Seeker Sensitive’) or something God did in a different time (like the stuff we see in the Book of Acts).

I think that what we see in the Book of Acts is that God works in context in each place. THIS is why I think that the books of the New Testament Bible are entitled after the cities that they were written to! Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, etc. and why they are not entitled topically “Haven & Hell” “How to run a church” & “Salvation”.

They come out of a narrative that comes out of a context.

To God, the most important city in Earth is where you live. This is true even if it’s not a city. Your town, county and neighborhood matter to God.
Not generically but specifically.
Not just universally but locally.

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