Thursday, March 30, 2006
A catholic community
Christian Ethics reading this week has to do with race and racism. This is from "A Vision of Embrace: Theological Perspectives on Cultural Identity and Conflict" by Miroslav Volf, published in the Ecumenical Review:
A catholic personality requires a catholic community. As the gospel has been preached to many nations the church has taken root in many cultures, changing them as well as being profoundly shaped by them. Yet the many churches in diverse cultures are one, just as the triune God is one. No church in a given culture may isolate itself from other churches in other cultures delcaring itself sufficient to itself and to its own culture. Every church must be open to all other churches. We often think of a local church as a part of the universal church. We would do well to invert the claim. Every local church is a catholic community because, in a profound sense, all other churches are a part of that church. All of them shape its identity. As all churches together form a worldwide ecumenical community, so each church in a given culture is a catholic community. Each church must say, "I am not only I; all other churches, rooted in diverse cultures, belong to me too." Each needs all in order properly to be itself."

posted by Peter at 12:07 AM
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
In memoriam
I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?

--Hosea 13:14

From this evening's liturgy:
Remember our brother, who has fallen asleep in your peace,
bring him at last to eternal life.

Pray for us, Palmer.

posted by Peter at 12:59 AM
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Thursday, March 23, 2006
When monks interpret the Bible
In the midst of writing a paper in which I must explore the role of the literal sense in the interpretation of Scripture, using selected historical readings on the Song of Songs as a case study. Finding some wacky stuff.

Like this from Martin Luther's "Lectures on the Song of Solomon":

For Your breasts are more delightful than wine. [1:2]

Breasts refer to doctrine, by which souls are fed so that "the man of God may be perfect for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17). He compares doctrine with wine, of which Holy Scripture declares that it makes the heart glad (Ps. 104:15). Wine is thus metaphorically used to for all the world's delights and gratifications.

And this is, so to speak, the voice of an outstanding faith, which declares, "I prefer Your Word to all the pleasures of the world." For we must refer everything to the Word.

Yeeeeeeah. Voice of an outstanding faith. That's what I was gonna say.

posted by Peter at 7:35 PM
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Sunday, March 19, 2006
Some thoughts on divorce and discipleship - Mark 10:1-31
The following are thoughts formed and informed by the reading community of The Rock / La Roca UMC that meets Sundays at 10 a.m.

Lift this section of Mark, particularly verses 1 to 12, from its literary and cultural context and you've got an iron-clad, black-and-white soundbyte of Jesus on divorce. No divorce. Not ever. No exceptions. Divorce equals adultery. But might there be something more going on here in the Gospel of Mark?

Consider, we find ourselves in the midst of Mark's third major movement in his narrative, structured around three different moments where Jesus predicts his death and resurrection. In fact, between 8:22 - 10:45 we see a cycle repeated three times: firstly, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection; secondly, the disciples act out in such a way as to display that they just missed the point completely; thirdly, Jesus engages in teaching that illuminates the harsh reality of discipleship.

Observe: At the close of chapter 8, Jesus has predicted his Passion, and Peter rebukes him. Jesus fires back and announces that the way to discipleship involves denial of self and taking up a cross. In 9:30 Jesus announces his fate a second time, and the disciples respond by bickering over who is the greatest. At 10:32 this happens a third time, and James and John in essence call "spiritual shotgun."

So what's the material on divorce doing in the midst of this cycle?

Let's go to the text. Jesus has gone to the region of Judea, beyond the Jordan. The Pharisees arrive to pick a fight. Location is important - who else in Mark appeared in Judea beyond the Jordan? John. What happens to John in Mark? He gets his head lopped off by Herod. And why is that? Because John speaks against Herod's unholy union to his sister-in-law Herodias.

The Pharisees aren't interested in divorce. They're interested in the "Impossible Question," the question that will be Jesus' undoing. From Mark 3:6 we know that the Pharisees have been conspiring with Herod's cronies to eliminate Jesus. In 8:15 Jesus warns his disciples against the "yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod." We're meant to associate one with the other. When we see the Pharisees approach Jesus, we are meant to see the associates of Herod there in the background. If Jesus answers, "Yes, its lawful to divorce," he validates a cultural practice that exploits women. If Jesus answers, "No, it's not lawful," he indicts the political authority and signs his death wish.

Again, the Pharisees aren't interested in divorce. Should that be our main concern with this passage? Jesus instead affirms marriage. He jumps the Mosaic commandment from Deuteronomy and goes all the way back to creation.

In private Jesus takes the opportunity to make his political commentary. The passage ends with "and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (10:12). Without the historical context, this maxim is nonsense. Jewish women cannot divorce their husbands. But the upper class and royalty lived above such rules. Herodias had divorced her husband Phillip in order to marry his brother Herod. Imagine the gossip.

But what does this mean in the world of Christian living? And again, why does Mark put this material here?

As the text continues, Jesus encounters a rich young ruler who wants eternal life, but can't quite sacrifice his wealth for it. Peter (who else?) the blue-collar fisherman wants to know what he's getting for all he's given up. Look at Jesus' response: "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, who will not recieve a hundredfold now in this age" (v. 29, 30). Look at this list: house (the Greek can also mean "household" or "home", connatating not necessarily a building but a social structure), siblings, parents, children, livelihood. What's missing? There is no mention of sacrificing one's husband or wife for the gospel.

Which leads me to wonder... is the juxtaposition of these passages an indictment against Christians would would abandon their spouse for the gospel, "The Ministry," or the mission field? Is Mark observing in his community Christians who would leave their marriages behind for the sake of Jesus' kingdom and speaking to that situation?

The call to discipleship is hard. It requires sacrifice. It requires denial of self. It requires re-ordering our priorities such that the Kingdom is more important than many of our social relationships. But not marriage. Discipleship is no excuse for walking away from one's husband or wife. That is not an option.

Matthew will redact Mark's words to include sexual infidelity as an exception to the "no divorce" policy. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians will provide an exception if an unbeliever abandons a believer.

But Mark is clear: Discipleship is not license for divorce.

[for canonical dialogue on divorce, cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:1-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-16]

posted by Peter at 11:59 PM
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Friday, March 17, 2006
Schoolwise, I'm ready to run away and hole up in a cave.

Oklahoma lost today. That just totally screwed my bracket.

Team USA was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. So much for America's past-time.

I've received a partial scholarship to go to Israel this summer and dig in the dirt. Dr. Stone has pictures of the site. I'll probably write more about another day. I may even beg for money on that day.

Ever wonder what Jesus did for those 40 days in the wilderness? I guess this guy did, too.

Get ready, get set... an emerging cohort is coming to Wilmore/Lexington. You should come.

Terry tells us what St. Patrick's Day is all about, Charlie Brown.

For those that practice the discipline of praying the Psalms, I offer this choice nugget from Athanasius:
And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul.

It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given
. Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Savior's coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these thing, you learn about yourself.

You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed.

(from "The Letter of Athanasius, Our Holy Father, Archbishop of Alexandria, to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms")

Now, go Golden Eagles! Expect a miracle!

posted by Peter at 12:44 AM
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Friday, March 10, 2006
Greatest story ever told
From The Evangelical Moment by Ken Collins:
In light of all this, the unavoidable question must be asked of postmodern philosophers and literary critics alike: Is there a greater story than this, more poignant in its details, more glorious in its outworking and conclusion? In the face of all the evil and suffering of a very troubled world, can anyone worship a God who has not come to us or who has not so thoroughly identified with the human condition? And if the Christian community is wrong in its teaching of the incarnation, that the Word became flesh, then it must be affirmed that God, precisely to be God, a being of which a greater cannot be conceived, should have come.

Yeah, so take that, postmodern anti-metanarratival hippies.

posted by Peter at 12:02 AM
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Sunday, March 05, 2006
Brother Tom

Found a Merton quote I particularly like. From the daily reader. Perhaps it stands out to me today because of +alan's visual homage to Brother Tom. Honest. Vulnerable. Holy. Self-deprecating. This is from his journal, March 6, 1949, just following the publication of Seeds of Contemplation:
The Passion and Precious Blood of Christ are too little in this new book--only hinted at here and there. Therefore the book is cold and cerebral. What is the good of trying to teach people to love God without preaching through Christ's wounds? The reason I do not do so is because I am still selfish. I find myself thinking about what we ought to get for dinner in Lent; about how to distribute signed complimentary copies of the deluxe edition of this book. I should never have gone into such a thing as a boxed special edition. I must be nuts.

posted by Peter at 5:08 PM
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Saturday, March 04, 2006
Ash Wednesday: IV
Ash Wednesday: I
Ash Wednesday: II
Ash Wednesday: III

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

--T.S. Elliot, 1963

posted by Peter at 2:14 PM
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Thursday, March 02, 2006
Ash Wednesday: III
Ash Wednesday: I
Ash Wednesday: II

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
but speak the word only.

posted by Peter at 5:03 PM
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Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Ash Wednesday: II
Ash Wednesday: I

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

--T.S. Elliot, 1963

posted by Peter at 4:38 PM
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Ashes for me, ashes for you

"Ash Wednesday is all about you... because it is all about sin. Ash Wednesday is all about God, because it is all about sin. Now go forth and love as madly as you can the God of Ash Wednesday."
--Ellsworth Kalas, Asbury chapel, 3/1/06 (link forthcoming)

Two years ago was the first time I had ever been exposed to the practice of the imposition of ashes. I arrived at the office, where perhaps half my co-workers were Roman Catholic, and saw them with black smudges on their faces. I was this close to saying, "Dude, you got some printer toner on your forehead." But I caught myself just in time.

I would very much like to provide some deep and profound reflections about what the big idea about is about Ash Wednesday, but my friends have done that so much better than I could. For that, I direct you to Terry, Kyle and Alan.

As for myself, I'm chest deep in Hebrew grammar books, exploring an exegesis paper on 1 Samuel 7:2-4, which as it turns it, is quite an apropos reading for the season.

Many days passed since the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim--twenty years. All the house of Israel mourned after YHWH. Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, "If you return to YHWH with all your heart, then turn away from the foreign gods among you--the Ashtoroth--and prepare your heart for YHWH. Serve Him only, and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines." And the sons of Israel turned away from the Baalim and the Ashoroth, and they served YHWH alone. (my translation).

Interestingly, this phrase "after the YHWH" occurs uniquely in this passage. Ten times it appears in the Old Testament. This is the only time it is used in a context of mourning. Every other time it appears in the context of obedience, with the verbs "to follow" or "to walk."

So may we not mourn the absence of YHWH, as the Israelites did. But rather see our God in the mundane, ordinariness of life and follow after YHWH.

Christ have mercy

posted by Peter at 1:54 PM
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