Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Will to Communicate

From time to time, I get frustrated and start feeling that it is not really worth trying to put my ideas into words and print, because what does it really lead to anyway? But, something in me continues to believe in the importance of communication and something inside rekindles my will to communicate with others.

And, I get the idea that many people just don't share that desire to really communicate with people about what is most important to the heart and mind. For me, it is part of my will to live. The desire to think, understand and communicate what I am thinking and understanding or not understanding - this is a desire that is really at the heart of life for me.

I guess that's why I keep getting back up to teach another Bible Study or preach another sermon or type another email to someone or post on this blog or have another open conversation with friend or someone from my family to share my confusion or clarity and to be able to see and hear their thoughts and feelings. There is a drive inside me to engage with others in the process of seeking understanding. Even when I get tired and feel like it's not worth writing and thinking and listening and talking, I still go right on thinking of why it is I feel that way. Pretty soon, I am back to writing and listening and reading and talking, trying to make sense of things again. It is like breathing for me. It is just something I do. I do it much better sometimes than others, but seeking to understand: others, social forces, myself, and the One above all beings is what keeps me going in life.

One of the old saints (I think it was Anselm) spoke of "faith seeking understanding" as being at the heart of theological work. And, I remember the words of the spiritual: "Sometimes I get discouraged, and feel my work's in vain. But, then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again . . . " Maybe that is a lot of what faith is, a perservering movement in the heart to seek understanding, even when misunderstanding and confusion are all that you can feel.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Growing up in the Southern Presbyterian Church

I grew up going to church at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN. At that time, Cedar Springs Presbyterian was in the old P.C.U.S. denomination, which was known as the "Southern Presbyterian Church." Our ministers were Rev. Capel, and then Rev. Robert Ferguson, a Scottish pastor.

To be a Southern Presbyterian Church meant two things: one, that you were Presbyterian, and two, that you were not "Northern Presbyterian."

Looking back on it, there was a strong sense of being Presbyterian in a Scottish sort of way as the sermons and service were shaped by our Scottish minister, who was the pastor in the years I remember best. The best I can describe it is that it was a Presbyterianism that had a strong sense of celebration of the goodness of life, a deep sense of trust in God's goodness and sovereignty, together with a strong sense of personal, individual piety. There was also a certain intellectual character as well, though not in the rationalistic sort of way, more in a poetic sort of way.

These are just some feelings I have as I remember what it meant to grow up in the church that I did. Most of the influence when I was young came through my mother's way of being a church member, and through the Sunday School teachers I had. As I grew older, the sermons themselves were important. I remember listening quite carefully most of the time to Rev. Ferguson, who was always an interesting and meaningful speaker from the pulpit. He would tell the stories of the Bible in a way that I could identify with, and I got the sense that these stories were very important and sacred to him.

In a Southern Presbyterian Church, as I said above, it was clear that you were not one of the Northern Presbyterian churches, which meant that you didn't go in for too much politics or talk of social reform in church, though you still were reasonably open to consider social movements individually. And, I have learned through later experience, it meant that we weren't too interested in liturgical services (a lot of responsive readings) or the church calendar (emphasis on what special church holy days were being observed, other than Christmas or Easter).

I was very much influenced by the positive experience I had with communicants class as I prepared to be baptized and become a church member at age 12. I was in a class with two other children, and we were taught by Rev. Ferguson. Our pastor got along very well with us, and encouraged us to ask any questions we wanted, and he would respond very freely with his answers. I got the sense of the openness of faith and the intellectual part of it as well. And, I think I got a sense that our pastor was a genuinely good and deeply spiritual person as well.

One other influence was very strong and that was my parents teaching by word and example that deeds were most significant in religion, and that concern for those in need was the first matter of a genuine religious faith.

As I endured my high school years, I distanced myself at first from church and then came back to matters of faith with a powerful awakening to an adult faith towards the end of high school. As I came back to my roots, I did so through engagement with some very conservative movements of Christianity, much more conservative than the church I had been raised in. But, my roots in the Presybterian Church always caused me to have certain misgivings about the conservative parachurch groups I was participating in from time to time. I was deeply influenced by the broad reading of the Bible from my Presbyterian tradition, so that where one passage was over-emphasized by this group or that, I would go to my Bible myself, and figure that I would find another passage or other passages that would give a more clear picture of the issue at hand. I was also deeply influenced by my Presbyterian upbringing in that I believed in the graciousness of God, and I didn't believe in the need of an impressive religious leader or emotional appeal in preaching. Which is another way of saying that I was immune to the revivalistic techniques of many preachers. As they appealed to me to come forward and make sure I was saved, something in me rested and rejoiced and trusted in God's Word deep within me that couldn't be messed with by human beings.

These are just some of the things I went to college with. And, in college, I had an awakening to the "life of the mind." My background allowed me the freedom to really read and study religion and philosophy, no reading I did was very more important than the reading of Soren Kierkegaard's books. I will try to trace that influence next time.

As I go through this exercise in trying to remember where I came from religiously, I do so to understand better how I have come to believe as I do, and also so that i might begin to understand the deep influence that our experiences have upon us. Then, instead of assuming I have all this common ground with people, I might listen a while to where they came from, and come to understand what ground is common and what is not.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Divine No Containing the Yes: Barth's Experience and Crisis Theology

With Barth, there was a deep sense of celebrating the JUDGMENT OF GOD. There is a sense of being shaken to the core by a reality beyond us but somehow concerned with us. It was an awakening to sanity, a deep realization of our creatureliness, and a confession that we were not the "masters of our fate," nor free to command on the earth. For Barth, it was a profound experience of the Otherness of God and the reality of that otherness as something that could be experienced both in prayer, thought, and deed that changed his course in life, and changed the course of many in the 20th century through his influence.

And, in contrast to Nietzsche who took any signal that human beings were not the gods of the earth as movement against life, Barth received this message of judgment upon human arrogance and presumption with gladness. Having gotten used to standing on the shaky plank of human wisdom and learning, Barth rejoiced as the plank had broken and he found himself falling into the deep waters of God's grace. Waters chaotic and powerful, but waters that were commanded by the One who ruled wind and waves.

For Barth, God had unveiled the falseness and emptiness of human wisdom, presumption and confidence. And, to receive this judgment put a man or woman in a crisis of the soul, because there was no going back to a vision of life that was not broken, no going back to a world in which human learning and science would get us through.

I have almost always experienced God's judgment as redeeming, as good news. It may be hard, but it is real and restores life and a sense of reality. In my next post I am going to back up a little, and trace where I came from religiously before encountering this new word from Barth and the existentialists, especially Kierkegaard.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Living in the Faith of Jesus, the Christ: listening to the early Karl Barth

In this post I am continuing the reflection about what it means to share the faith of Jesus. That may sound a little different to you as you might have expected me to say: "what it means to believe in Jesus as the Son of God," or "what it means to be a Christian." I certainly could have used either of those other phrases, but I purposefully choose "what it means to share the faith of Jesus, the Christ."

And, it will take me some clarification to say what I mean by this phrase. First, by share the faith of Jesus, I mean to "participate in the faithful response of Jesus to God, but also to participate in the faithful response of Jesus to humanity on behalf of God." It is this two way faithfulness of Jesus that creates the reality that we participate in, which we call "faith." In several parts of the New Testament, Paul writes that our reconciliation with God and our redemption from destructive forces depends on the faithfulness of Jesus, and our participation in that faithfulness which begins with complete dependence and trust in God's faithfulness towards us and in the miracle of Jesus' human faithfulness to God (and, humanity). Somehow,Jesus, whether acting for humanity towards God or acting for God towards humanity, is the revelation of true God and true humanity. What Jesus opens up for all people is a pathway to a deep communion between God and human beings. What human beings come to share in is the relationship between the Father and the Son. It is like humanity is being adopted into this close and genuine communion between the Father and the Son, with human beings being the adopted brothers of Jesus.

This sounds less like science fiction, or if it still sounds like science fiction, it has such a sense of family and intimacy that it begins to feel very "close to home" for us human beings. Maybe it just begins to sound "too good to be true." For, now we are talking about the Creator of the Universe treating small, limited creatures like us 'like family.' From outside the community of faith, and maybe also from inside, this might sound delusional, or at least like the imaginings of humans who greatly exaggerate their importance in the cosmic scheme.

But, this familial language really gets to the heart of the experience of faith. Paul says that we no longer have a spirit of bondage and fear, but that God's Spirit cries out from within us, "Abba, Father!" expressing the ecstatic love of a little child for his or her Daddy (or Mommy). This is written in Romans, chapter 8 in the New Testament.

But, in the early days of neo-orthodox preaching and writing (at the end of the First World War), this biblical image of the profound experience of unity between God and humanity was emphasized to reveal (expose) the depths of alienation that we experience between ourselves and God. And, this existentialist emphasis on alienation went further to describe the alienation between human beings and the alienation even within individual human beings from their own self. I think Heideggar(not a theolgian, but existentialist philosopher) used the term "thrownness" to describe the consciousness of 20th century human beings in the West. Thrownness is something like finding yourself on the ground in a strange place, not knowing how you fit in, how you got there, where you are going or how you really relate to anyone or anything around you or how to understand yourself.

For Barth, and the early 20th century existentialist thinkers, whether Christian or not, it was this deep sense of alienation that we all shared in the depths of our beings. For them, the confidence in modern science was shaken, the confidence in traditional religious orthodoxies was shaken as well. And, Barth thought that the sense of alienation was experienced in an even deeper way when a person caught a glimpse of this profound unity and meaning expressed in Paul's preaching about God's gracious embrace of humanity in Jesus, the Christ. Because, as Barth said, this profound sense of meaning and unity is exactly what we don't have in modern life, within or without the Church. And, Barth experienced and believed that it was in facing this existential crisis or truth of our existence that the way towards "faith" was opened for us.

As I have studied more about mystical writers in Christianity, and as I have become more and more drawn into the tradition of apophatic theology (deep emphasis on the experience of "unknowing," and of being "undone" and entering into a darkness of thinking and knowing and believing as the way of faith), I feel more and more that the early Barth was really giving expression to a deep "apophatic" experience, and that he was clearly and faithfully in the old sacred "negative theological experience" in the Church, but living it out in a new age.

When the young Barth spoke of this deep sense of alienation as it related to faith, and as the expression of a faith that so many 20th century human beings could relate to, he protested against the prevailing theologies of his day. Barth's position was overagainst the confident academic liberal theologians who felt their beliefs fit comfortably within the modern scientific culture, and overagainst the dogmatic and somewhat less academically secure conservative theologians who felt that their beliefs, though not well accepted by scientific culture, were nonetheless true to the old tradition, whether that tradition was found relevant or not by the modern world. And, Barth's position clearly arose from a powerful sense of the reality of God in conflict with the modern age, but also deeply in conflict with the Church in the modern age. And, there was no retreat from this reality of God, either by hiding out in some worn out orthodoxy of days gone by or by hiding out in some new orthodoxy of the contemporary culture. For Barth, who was shaken by his experience of the living God as he "reread" scripture and re-experienced what it was to live before God and with his fellow human beings, there was no avoiding this earthshaking, soulshaking reality of God's presence. And, the first thing Barth heard from God to himself and the modern world was a profound 'NO," a NO to human arrogance and presumption that had thought it was above God, or at least, thought it was self-sufficient. What Barth saw in the 20th century was at the very point that human beings thought they had conquered the mysteries of the world through science, human beings were on the verge of destroying themselves. In the most cultured, scientifically advanced country on earth had arisen the greatest enemy and evil of humanity, the Nazi regime. Barth's theology arose out of this experience as he was teaching in Germany at the time, and as he was exiled from Germany for his teachings against the way of the Nazis.

This extreme sense of alienation (thrownness in Heideggar), was an expression of life in the modern western world, and was an important part of how Barth and neo-orthodox theologians were finding their way to an authentic understanding of faith that they were communicating to people both within and outside the Church.

I'll continue these ramblings later in a third part, and with the next part I will try to say how Barth experienced the great "NO" of God to himself and humanity as the beginning of meaning in the modern world, as the beginning of a new creation from the ashes of the old.

If you have time to look on the internet, see if you can find a copy of Barth's sermon which reflects on the sinking of the Titanic. It was around 1916, I think,and he was a young pastor at the time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus, the Christ?

I am thinking now about how we live out our lives and don't take the time to examine the meaning of our lives. One part of the meaning of our lives that is extremely important is what we believe about the universe, human beings, the reason and destiny of both. As I think of these things, I think from the experience of faith.

But, what is this faith that I feel a part of as it is a part of me? As I start to explain, some images come to mind: Jesus, the prophets of the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, and a long line of witnesses to a living faith that began with holy experiences on earth. But, how do I know about these holy experiences on earth? What is the source of my knowledge? There is certainly a living tradition that has been passed down in the Church, written and oral; there are the Holy Scriptures that are at the core of this tradition, but represent a norm to guide the tradition; and there is my individual and communal experience of "the Holy One." The Holy Scriptures speak of foundational events such as the Creation of the Earth, the creation of a people out of Abraham, the redemption of the Hebrew people from their bondage in Egypt, the calling of prophets and the witness that they bore before the people about the truth and will of God on earth. And, with the books written about Jesus and following his witness on earth in Judea around 2,000 years ago, we hear of a creative act of God of a new sort, the calling of a prophet like the old, but also unlike those who had gone before, and then we hear of the destruction of Jesus by the authorities of his day, but this destruction/execution/death becomes the revelation of God and the unveiling of a new relationship between God and human beings. The resurrection of Jesus is celebrated as the dawning of a new age, as God's Spirit comes to the earth among human beings in a new and personal way.

For someone listening to all of this from outside the religious tradition, it might sound a lot like science fiction. Someone might think: "this sounds a lot like some of the ancient mythologies . . . can a person in our day really believe that this "holy history" describes reality?"

In the 20th century, there were two basic approaches taken among Protestant theologians who responded to questions like these. One approach was the approach of liberalism which was to apply the tools of modern historical research and literary criticism and discern the kernel of truth in the ancient traditions and documents from that tradition. Often, all that was left was some moral teachings, with no real claims to truth about the basic core of reality. The other approach was that of neo-orthodox theology, which arose out of liberal theology but in protest against it, relying on a new dynamic way of reading the scriptures. This theology had its precursors in both the Reformation and in an existential type of theology like that of S. Kierkegaard in modern times, which rejected liberal theology while not reverting to a fundamentalist type conservative theology. To understand neo-orthodox theology, you need to read Karl Barth's writings, especially his early ones like his first edition of his commentary of Romans or some of his early essays like 'The Strange New World of the Bible,' and you also need to study some about the political and social circumstances out of which this neo-orthodox protest arose. Liberal theologians in Germany actually provided support for the Third Reich as did the conservative theologians, whereas neo-orthodox theologians formed subversive movements seeking to undermine the Nazis and remain true to the way of "Jesus, the Jew," as they called him in protest and claimed that this Jesus was the unparalleled revelation of the very being and truth of God and the truth about humanity as well. But, later in the movement when it came to explaining their beliefs to those outside their religious community, the neo-orthodox answer that Barth gave was that none of it made any sense until you had taken the "leap of faith" and were standing within the tradition. You either take that leap or not, but no one can give you any assurances or guarantees about truth before you face this crisis in your own soul, a crisis about the depths of existence, both within and without you.

However, I really think that the early Barth was talking to the world both within and outside the Church in the same way in the beginning when he spoke of "Crisis Theology," as an existentialist theologian (although he later distanced himself from existentialist thought). And, I want to go back to his early writings and the holy history of this movement of neo-orthodox or crisis theology in the early 20th century. Because, in those days, Barth bore witness to an emptiness of meaning in human thought and life, and he bore witness to it in such a powerful way that something holy was opened up - a new way was opened between the human and the divine, a new way that was a very old way, grounded in the troubling claim that God was not just involved in some way, but had revealed the Divine Self and Character in the execution of Jesus of Nazareth.

The power of Barth's early language and protest was so strong that it convinced many that his critique of modern thought and life came from "The Truth," from God. I am convinced of this too, and was stunned when I started reading Barth in college, along with the reading of Kierkegaard. There is something in the modern soul that feels a genuineness and a freedom in Barth's protest. I don't know how to discuss belief in our day without talking about Barth's thinking and preaching.

Well, to bring this to a close for now, I had meant to say that the neo-orthodox answer to explaining faith to those outside the religious community was that the neo-orthodox just quit trying to make sense of faith to the world. But, as I was about to write that, I remembered that early on there was some real and earnest communication going on with those within and without the Church about the foundation of what it means to be human and what it means to live before God. So, I want to start with this, when I continue to speak of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, the Christ in the next post.

Liberals, Conservatives and the Bible in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

I have never felt like a liberal, at least as far as theology goes. Because, for me, the liberals were always too much like the conservatives: they really weren't committed to the truth,but were more interested in their religious/political ideology.

I will have to say that I end up on the liberal side of most debates in the political realm in our day, but it doesn't bother me to be on the other side.

In terms of the views within my denomination, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., I clearly fall on the liberal side of things, but tend to have some real understanding and fellow-feeling for some of our conservative members who really are serious about understanding the Holy Scriptures. Because our liberal Presbyterians often fail to acknowledge some basic understandings expressed in scripture that are, well, very conservative if applied directly to our day.

I am very thankful to have the Bible, because even though some of it needs some serious reinterpretation by the Holy Spirit at work in us in our time, the Bible in general has so much room for freedom of understanding. When I have been involved in debates over the meaning of scripture in my denomination, the liberals just don't seem very interested. I wonder about this, since I know that many of the liberal Presbyterians are quite intelligent. I wonder, at times, whether liberal Presbyterians have not quit reading their Bibles, because they think they have got it all figured out. That is, they have it all written down in their ideology, and don't need scripture any more. Nor do they need the Living Word of God which is certainly above scripture as Jesus was above John. The conservatives in my denomination don't understand that the Word of God is above scripture, pointed to by scripture, but not contained in it. But, I can't fault them any more than the liberals, since neither group in its stronger elements knows what it is to stand before the Living God and feel a sense of nothingness. "Be still and know that the Lord is God." That is the advice I have for liberal and conservative Presbyterians. Enter into the "cloud of unknowing," in order that a knowledge might be born anew from the Spirit of God.

Thinking on a Sunday Morning

As I prepare for our worship service this morning, I am thinking about people who are trying to find their way to peace and a real experience of God, but just don't see the Church as any help in that holy quest.

These are generally people who stay away from about all religious assemblies. Now, there is another large group of people in our day who leave churches that are somewhat unclear in their teaching in favor of churches that lay it all out in black and white. Those who are looking for a church/pastor that is confident to the point of arrogance, and those who are looking for someone to tell them what to do are not the people I am thinking about this morning.

No, I am thinking about those whose spirits are alive and seeking understanding and seeking a way of reverence and celebration in God. And, what they hear coming from our pulpits and writings in the Church just doesn't ring true for them anymore, if it every did. I identify with these seekers, because in many ways I am one of them. For me, the ring of truth comes in worship and at Bible Study at times, and in conversations about faith and life at times, but for much of the time, what we do at church doesn't have the ring of truth for me. And, by saying this, I am saying that often what I say and even teach doesn't have much living truth in it - but, sometimes it does, but those times are just not often enough.

As I think on this, the "ring of truth" comes when we start admitting that we don't know much about God's ways and that we don't know much about our fellow human beings and how they experience God. Somehow, in this experience of not knowing, which is a genuine inner humility, a light comes on inside, and a living way of thinking and feeling returns. I believe that what happens is that our spirits become open to the Spirit of God who begins to breathe life back into us, from inside out.

And, it is this very experience of "not knowing" that opens the doors of our hearts and our churches to others. Because, when people see that you really want to know truth and live in truth, they want to join with you. When people see that you care enough about what is really true to admit that you don't possess the truth, then people begin to feel their burdens ease around you. Because the people of this earth who are seeking what is true and who are sick of falsehood (including their own) are tired of arrogance and deception and pretense in human life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Complaining, but also Believing: Remembering Psalm 73

I look around me in every area of life: politics, religion, economics, education, etc., and the victory seems to be to deception and falsehood (i.e., bullshit). People rise to prominence and power because of their ability to avoid the truth and their distaste for what is honest and true and just in life.

All around us lies evidence of the victory of bullshit, as people who have authority shouldn't have authority, but they were talented at bullshit, or at least able to satisfy those who like bullshit. And, these are our leaders - or, at least the great majority of them. I am sorry to put it out there this straight, but that is the truth. I have seen it first hand. But, this is not all the truth, just a very bad part of it.

And, there are always so many talented people of character who could have held those positions, but they just couldn't stomach the pretense and self-deception. I know these people in every field. As you get older, it makes you sick in your stomach, because you see that people that have no business exercising authority are exactly the ones who get to exercise it. That is the way it goes generally.

As I am complaining now, I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 73, when he is in the middle of complaining about how the corrupt prosper, etc., and then he stops, gets a hold of himself and says: "but, if I had continued to complain bitterly like this, I would have been untrue to the children of this generation."

And, he gets a hold of himself and goes to the sanctuary to worship, and all the sudden things become clear.

What becomes clear to him is that it is not human beings who really have authority, even though it sure does seem for all the world that human beings are the 'gods of the earth.'

And, the freedom of worship somehow got into his soul as well, this freedom to experience something outside the limitations of our social training and experience. He says: "It is good to me to be near God. . . My heart and my flesh my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

And, thank God, I don't have to accomodate myself to human authority all week long. Sunday is supposed to be a great reminder of that freedom to worship, that freedom to defy human authority by reminding oneself that there is only one God of heart, mind, body and soul.

I know where my allegiance lies and for that I am grateful, even if I do get a little off balance and angry at times in struggling with the "want-to-be" gods of the earth. I pledge my allegiance to God who binds me to the humble and decent people of this earth. And, who steels my mind and heart to oppose the arrogant and power-abusing people of this earth. All those who think it is a good idea to put the ten commandments in the public square better hope that not too many people come to understand the first commandment, because if a person does, then that one will become free from all the false gods of our society. And, what a blessing it is to be free deep down in your soul - made free by the fire of the Living God in your soul.

Sometimes it is very disappointing to think about the condition of our society. But, there is a society within our society that makes my hopes rise, a society of decency and courage and integrity and humility. And, I see this society within our society more strongly each year I live. There is a society that knows the freedom of the soul from human rulers.

So, don't wear yourself out trying to conform to the expectations of a false society, a society that didn't create you and can't save you. What emptiness there is in the struggle to conform to false expectations! Grow up in the grace of the wild and rebellious Spirit of the Living God that hates falsehood (i.e., bullshit) and that calls you to show allegiance to no party, no country, no religion, but to pledge your allegiance only to the One God of All Creation and to love what God loves - all the creatures of this earth. Grow strong in the Spirit that inspired Elijah and John the Baptist and Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Orthodoxy and Heresy

I have been thinking a lot the past week about the heresy of "Adoptionism," which was a belief advanced in the early church that Jesus had not been the pre-existent Son of God, but that God had "adopted" him as his Son because of the amazing righteousness and faithfulness to God demonstrated in Jesus' life.

As my professor in seminary, Charlie Cousar, used to say: "Adoptionism is one of those 'biblical' heresies," which is to say there is a good bit of scriptural support for it.

Adoptionist belief emphasized the true humanity of Jesus and the genuineness of his faith and obedience to God. And, these are a couple of deeply important matters of belief that the orthodox church didn't teach very well. Adoptionist belief also affirmed that God had chosen Jesus and raised him up and humanity with him to form a whole new relationship between God and humans. So much of this belief seems to fit with much of scripture, especially Paul's letters and the Gospel of Mark. But,there is one point in Paul's letters when belief in the pre-existence of Jesus, the Christ is proclaimed (Phil. 2:6-11). Most scholars think that Paul took this passage from a hymn of the early church, and didn't write it himself, but nonetheless, Paul affirms this belief by using it in his letter to the Philippians.

As I think about these things, I have started thinking about a dynamic way of thinking that alternates between raw historical experience and reflection on the relationship of that to God. These two poles of religious emphasis are not contradictory, but mutually interdependent. Without the raw historical experience of Jesus life, teachings, death and resurrection, there is no core of revelation to reflect on. Without internalization of this experience through theological/spiritual reflection, there is no transformation of human life by the core experience. Both aspects are part of a living faith, but in the history of the church, we have opposed theological reflection to primal experience. Truth is, both are aspects of a living faith which encompasses heart and mind, body and soul.

The problem with church history is that it excommunicated those who often emphasized a lost element of faith, whether that lost element was of the more reflective sort (Origen) or the more primal sort (Adoptionists or Pelagius).

As a result of our history in the church of not being able to appreciate the dynamic relationship between primal, historical experience and theological/spiritual reflection, we have lost critical elements of our religious tradition.

And, this line of thinking has brought me to a new view on the doctrine of strict substitionary atonement. I am always criticizing this teaching as antithetical to the Gospel, and as a false representation of the character of God. But, there is something right in this teaching, that standing alone is not right. And, that is the emphasis on Jesus' human righteousness before God and the truth that God recognizes it and credits it to humanity as a whole. Paul's letters promote this emphasis, but then take it up into a greater reflection on the involvement of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

If you have a belief that loses touch with the historical experience of faith, you begin to speak of a God who is not in relation to the "Word made flesh." If you get stuck in the historical experience of faith and fail to draw that into reflection on how the life of God relates to that experience, then you end up with a religion that speaks of Jesus, but forgets the God he gave his life to serve.

I guess these thoughts may not mean much to readers who haven't taken an interest in Church History or haven't puzzled over how to understand the theological teachings of the Church in relation to the Bible and experience.

But, I will close saying that when the early church sat down to speak to the "Adoptionists," the church should have said: "Thank you for emphasizing something we were overlooking - and something that is precious and sacred to the church's faith: belief in the humanity of Jesus and belief that he struggled in every way that we do, but without sin. And, also, celebration that something new happened on earth through Jesus' victorious life, something new brought about by God's vindication and exaltation of Jesus after the crucifixion."

The missing piece of modern theology is a real belief in Jesus' humanity. It is a radical belief, which the early church took for granted, and which modern Christians have very little appreciation for. Christians speak easily about Jesus' divinity, but uneasily about his humanity. If you aren't proud of his humanity, you have no business speaking of his divinity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Presumption of Religious Belief

Sometimes I wonder about how crazy it must seem to a person who is not religious to listen to someone who is religious make these incredible claims about God and the unseen things of life. And, I am one of those religious people who makes these claims to know things that no one can possible verify that I or anyone else knows.

And, sometimes, I think that God may really like these very irreligious, agnostic people who are saying things like: "well, there may be a God, and all that, but how would I be able to know, and how would all these crazy religious people be able to know what they say they know?"

That's why I have to get back to deeds over words, deeds over creeds. Because, that is what is comes down to in the end for God. And, people that have no religious creed are on equal footing when it comes to what is most important: deeds.

I believe very deeply in the day in which everyone will account for their deeds before God. And, I believe that there will be so many who have never been religious who will hear God's blessing: "Blessed are you because you had mercy on those who were hurt, who were lonely, who were in need." And, there will be so many who were religious who will hear a real disappointment from God saying something like: "I was with those who were outcast, and lonely, and poor and hurt, and you turned away from me for some reason. Why did you do that?" And, there won't be any answer that we can make.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Evening: A Few Thoughts

It's Sunday evening and I'm sitting on the couch listening to music from the 1970's. I remember the music from those years so well, and still listen to it. That's when I first started listening to music, and it has been something I have deeply loved ever since.

And, on Sunday evenings, especially when I have preached, I usually spend some time thinking about God and faith and how we understand each other in this world when we talk about such sacred things. And, I am really thinking about those things this evening.

And, as I think about preaching, I am wanting to preach to a congregation that is from everywhere; religiously, economically, racially, morally. I am fortunate to have a congregation to preach to that reaches across a lot of divides in society, but I would like to stretch it even more.

If the revelation of God in the history of Israel, and in Jesus, the Christ, is really the center of truth in life, why do people need to be so nervous about discussing it, and why do people need to be so pushy and defensive about it?

If I were to preach some Sunday morning, and there were several Muslims and Jews and perhaps Buddhists and an atheist or agnostic or two scattered around in the congregation, what I said should speak at some level to everyone there or else what I said would not be true. Obviously, Christians and Jews have so much in common, that it is easy to celebrate that common heritage if you try a little. And, I guess there are certainly some commonalities with Islam as well, though I don't know enough to say. And, with Buddhists, the ethical common ground is huge and the connection of mystical traditions can form a strong bond.

But, the point I keep coming back to in my thinking these days is this: the greatest uniting force I know of in human life is Jesus,the Christ. To me, the claim of God on all people in Christ is the uniting force and power on earth, whereas for so many who say they are Christians, commmitment to Christ seems to oppose them and separate them from others who are not Christians. I see it and feel it so differently from these "Christians" that I am not sure I share the same faith with them. And, I am bold enough - I hope it is not arrogance - to claim I am right on this and that I am faithful on this point.

I could spend a lot of time discussing this right now, but I will refer to one section in the New Testament of the Christian Bible: Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapters 9-11. Paul addresses the problem of Gentile Christians thinking they are somehow above Jews (and, perhaps above Jewish Christians), and Paul expresses his continuing love for God's people, the Jews, his kinsfolk. And, Paul expresses his belief that eventually Gentiles and Jews will come together and praise God in faith. That is his hope in Christ. Paul's faith in Christ unites him to Gentiles and Jews. That is what I am getting at.

The Church has ignored Romans 9-11 as if it didn't exist. Because, the Church has largely missed the universal reach of the faith of Jesus Christ, a faith that is opened to all the world. Jesus' faith found kinship with Gentiles, outcasts, Samaritans and Jews, because Jesus' faith was grounded in the reconciling Spirit of God. Those who follow Jesus find the same thing. Those who call him Lord but dont' find kinship with people everywhere in him are deceived about their faith. It is not the faith of Jesus Christ, but some projection of human need.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Youth, Justice and Giving in Way too soon

One thing I have experienced my first couple of years as a young lawyer and a young minister is that you have to go a little over board at the start on issues of fairness and on your willingness to challenge authority and the way things are or else you will never amount to much at all. After 20 years as a minister and 16 years as a lawyer, I can usually find a milder, gentler way to get where I need to go, but in the early days, you don't know the territory as well, and if you are going to seek what is just, you have to stir the flames a little.

Ministers who come to their first church ready to compromise on every issue, and who appear "to be wise beyond their years" are usually gutless and don't do much good for church or society. Lawyers are the same way. If you don't get a little out of hand as a young criminal defense lawyer and get a judge mad at you or get into a flat out battle with the D.A. or get some law enforcement guy to really hate your guts . . . well, if none of these happen in your early practice, it is probably because you don't have the guts to really push for justice. Because, judges and established attorneys get pissed off when new attorneys come forward and challenge them. Law enforcement officers, though sometimes a little more level-headed about the challenge, can be the same way. And, then at church, it can be ever more pronounced, because feelings run high about the relationship of religion to matters of social justice.

I am really worried about the young ministers and young lawyers I see coming into our churches and into our courts these days. But, then I have also seen some young lawyers come into the Public Defender's Office who really have a deep commitment to justice and will "go to the mat" for their clients. So many other young lawyers I am running into - well, they are not going to rock the boat. Apparently they have learned that the number one goal is to keep everybody in authority happy in the church and the courthouse, not to seek justice for your clients or in the community.

In many ways, I think it is up to us older lawyers and ministers to stir things up in our day. But, most of us are getting a little tired, and the younger generation is just a little too smooth and well-adjusted to cause much trouble. The middle aged lawyers and ministers and doctors and probably all kinds of other service professionals need the inspiration of a new generation coming along and reminding them why they became lawyers, ministers and doctors in the first place.

Of course, I do have two children coming along in professional fields that serve the needs of others. And, that gives me some hope. I think they both have enough of me and my Dad and their own individual rebellion to make conformity an impossibility. Thank God. I wish there were more young people like them. Our professions are dying out because of a lack of guts and independence and true commitment. Now, we have so many ministers/lawyers/doctors who are savy in business and politics, but not committed to caring for their fellow human beings. I remain grateful to those committed doctors, lawyers, and ministers who continue to give their hearts and minds in devotion to guiding their patients, clients and parishioners towards health, justice and wholeness.

What really lifts my heart is seeing a young minister or young lawyer get so upset they are ready to explode over one poor person getting treated badly or over one injustice or another in church or society, and sitting down and resolving: "not on my watch . . . this is not going to happen on my watch!" Resolutions like that might be hard to keep, but they sure do make life worth living.

One More Day in Court this Week

It has seemed like a pretty long week, with some ups and downs in court, two nights at church. What is difficult as a criminal defense lawyer, and especially as a public defender, is that you have to work very hard to keep your client's interest at the forefront of what is going on in court. Because, at times, it gets to be about finishing court quickly. So often, you get your best deals by pretending you are just part of the court system, and want it over quickly like everyone else. And, truth is, you get to where you do want to be done with a docket where you are trying to represent 20 people.

But, in our public defender's office, we want to get a good result for our clients. And, sometimes that means pretending a lot in front of other people, but telling it straight to your clients and to each other. It takes a lot of humility to become a good public defender, because your best work is usually something that is never seen, and depends upon your ability to focus almost exclusively on how the case is going for your client, and not how you are looking or seeming to do professionally.

The best public defenders are the ones the D.A.s only think are pretty good lawyers, but who are cleaning up in reality. Because a good defense attorney forgets a great job once he or she has it finished and focuses on the next case at hand.

Humility and concern for your client are the two big characteristics you need. Most other things come out of that. If you are humble enough, you won't mind others hating you some or even mocking you some if you need to take that on to uphold your client's rights. And, if you care enough, you will find the guts to stand up to authority in a way that doesn't toot your own horn, but in a way that stands fast by your client's rights. In the end, it is really about if you care enough. If you do, you will find a proper dose of humility - the dose that helps you remember that you won't back down from anyone who thinks they are going to run over your client.

Sunday, November 28, 2010



I think a lot about what is fair in my dealings with other people, whether it be family, clients, parishioners, co-workers at church or public defender, opposing counsel, judges, law enforcement, and others I deal with less regularly - like someone who is doing work on our church building or on my house. Trying to reach a fair way of doing things is a deep concern for me. Maybe it is somewhat of an obsession, and it is certainly a challenge, because I find that the normal and accepted course of life in this world leads me into ways of unfairness with others.

My Dad and I used to talk a lot about what was fair in this or that situation we were dealing with, and I know my Mother worries about things like this as well as we have had many discussions about fairness over the years as well. My concern over fairness comes from the deep influence of my upbringing. In my family fairness was emphasized as a matter of duty to God. And, when Sue (my wife) and I discuss things over and over, we are almost always trying to reach some result that we feel is fair. Sue has reminded me over the years as I respond to people’s requests for help that fairness to family is something that should not be lost sight of in the process of responding to the needs of others outside the family. My Dad was big on always keeping family first in his heart and mind, but Mom and Dad found a way to help many outside the family as well.

Often when you are a person who is concerned with being fair to others, you have to watch out because it can end up not being very fair to you and your own family. Because a large majority of people think it their duty to be fair to themselves first or to a couple of their favorites and then let everyone else get the leftovers. If you always consider fairness in your dealings, it can result in limiting resources to yourself and your own family. I have learned this over and over in my life. It is just the way life is. You can learn some things and minimize the damage, but fairness doesn’t maximize your financial profits, nor does it usually help you climb the ladder of success. It does tend to produce a stable life, and a few good, reliable friends. And, peace of mind.

It is a challenge to gain a perspective that fairly considers others interests. Certainly we all see through cloudy lenses on this issue. But, I don't know anything else worth striving for quite so much as fairness in all of one's dealings. And, there is no area in which the test is quite so severe as in dealing with money.

Besides the emphasis on fairness in my family, I was also raised with a Calvinistic sense of the tragic nature of sin in human life, which is to say, I was raised knowing that no matter how much you try to be fair, you are certainly going to be unfair at times, but that doesn't mean you don't strive as hard as possible to be fair and that doesn't make it any less painful when you realize you have been unfair with someone.

Why Many People Stay Away from Religious Gatherings

I am coming to believe that there are a lot of people who avoid church (and, probably other religious assemblies), because they don't like being around people who try to do violence to their souls.

This is just a sense I have been getting lately.

There is something that smacks of force and disrespect and psychological violence that characterizes much of the Church's preaching and teaching. And, people feel it when you are trying to mess with their souls whether you know them well or barely even know them.

Another thought about this: So many people for good reason feel very confused about God, faith and religion. And, when you are confused in an area of life, you can be quite disturbed by people who try to convince you of their philosophy about that area of life, especially when their efforts to convince are very forceful.

The truth of God, however, comes showing respect for each individual person, and does not come as manipulation or force in any way, but as the opposite of such psychological oppression. When people begin to feel that their souls are being honored and respected, those people begin to recover a sense of deep self-respect. The truth of God comes through a humble approach to other people, whether those other people claim to be religious or irreligious or somewhere in between. If my approach to another does violence to their soul, then it is not of God, from God or about God, but from some dark place in me that sadly needs to raise myself above others.

Jesus said that his "yoke was easy and his burden light" compared to the "heavy burdens" the religious leaders of his day put upon people's souls. Instead of trying to manipulate people into following him, he warned them that it was going to be very hard, and that they should count the cost before making up their mind. Passages like this are almost never preached about, because these teachings of Jesus expose our arrogance in the church and then "the game is up." Then, we would have to start treating people with respect - all kinds of people that we have no idea how to understand and so continue to alienate and put down.

Some Notes from 17 or 18 years ago

Here is the Preface for a proposed book entitled the Unproclaimed Gospel. I wrote this preface when I was in law school around 1992 or 1993. Then I have included some rough notes after this preface setting forth the topics I intended to cover in this book.


“In my teenage years I began to experience a contradiction between my attraction to both the life of the church and the life outside the church’s faith. I experienced God as somehow free to move in both realms, equally at home on this earth within or without the church. I felt the goodness and mystery of God with believers and with unbelievers, but found that there was no place to express such a feeling.
“In highschool, I attended Younglife meetings, but the character of the fellowship simply mirrored the social structure of high school. Besides, I was particularly offended at the way they packaged and sold God to suit young people. I attended revivals where preachers tempted me to distrust God and “be saved.” But, I trusted God and I loved God. I was looking for a way to please God and to know God more fully.
“In college years, I was told by those who considered themselves ‘spiritual’ Christians, that I needed to attend their Bible studies and forsake friendships with atheists and worldly people. They told me that I needed to live a disciplined life for God. But, their discipline demanded that I close myself off from much of God’s creation that is good, and to close myself off from much of the mystery of God. I knew God to be an incredible, surprising and wonderful God. And, I found that the more I experienced God’s presence and calling, the more I was drawn to all sorts of people, including believers, unbelievers, moral and immoral persons.
“Those who knew nothing of the church’s teaching and renounced the faith often seemed to me closer to God than many believers. Of course, I began to develop my own clear set of beliefs about God, and I am sure at times that I began to think that my beliefs about God were quite infallible. This confidence in my own beliefs was eroded again and again by experiences of God’s judgment and grace. Deep down, what I would not let go of was my experience of God as lover of humanity and as mysterious and wonderful ruler of all life.
“Through Biblical study, relationships, and struggles, I have taken hold of a powerful and deep experience of faith especially through contact with the Reformed tradition of Christianity. In this historical expression of faith, I have found expression for the wonderful longing, love and hope that God has touched me with. “To glorify God . . . – that is the purpose of human life within which human beings realize who they are and what type of community they can be. As I see so many persons running far away from the church, I am struck once again with a seeming contradition: many of these non-church people seem to be exactly those who are ready to celebrate the God I know – the God who wills the salvation of all people, and the God who brings the princes down from their thrones and raises the needy up to places of honor. Of course, there are many non-church people who do not want God’s kingdom of mercy and justice to come. But, there are a great number of “unbelievers” who do hunger and thirst for righteousness, and I believe that it is God’s will to satisfy this hunger and this thirst – and, so I write The Unproclaimed Gospel. Perhaps, it will be of some help to believers in clarifying the nature of Christian faith. I have given thanks to God for the kindness and integrity and love of so-called “unbelievers” for years. And, now I am determined to express as clearly as I can – the living faith in God which I believe is already at work in the hearts and minds of all those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, whether they confess Christ in word or not. For all who yearn for goodness and justice and mercy in human life, Christian and non-Christian, I write this to celebrate the hope we share. For all whose hearts have lost such desires, I write to reawaken such hope. I write to emphasize Jesus’ teaching over against the confused “evangelism” of our day. Jesus said: “Not all those who say, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my father who is in heaven.” Sadly, we in the church have often twisted the truth of God so much that the gospel we have proclaimed is not the gospel revealed in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The beginning of evangelical faith is the sure and certain belief that all human beings are one in Jesus Christ. There are no outsiders and insiders, only those who celebrate this unity in Christ through showing mercy and love and those who deny it by showing condemnation and hatred. Through Jesus Christ, each and every person is claimed by God to live in his kingdom. In this faith I write. In repentance and hope, I offer this.”

Notes for an Outline of a Book to be Called “The Unproclaimed Gospel” (notes written around 1992, 93, and never developed further). The preface explained why I was interested in writing this book. Problem is I can’t write too well once what I am writing gets any longer than six or seven pages. But, I may see if I can write something longer someday.


1. “Making the good bad?” (challenging the theory that everyone has to be brought to the point of a groveling, nasty sinner before he or she can experience the grace and claim of God). Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges this and refers to this type of evangelistic practice as “Methodism.” See Letters and Papers from Prison. Also, if I only know God’s grace when I’m in the pit, perhaps my religion leads me to the pit over and over again.
2. “Selfishness raised to an eternal plane” (challenging the idea that my own personal salvation is the primary issue of faith, and setting forth the Biblical emphasis on the glory of God). Westminster Shorter Catechism 1st Q and A: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The emphasis on the kingdom of God is a thoroughly communal vision of salvation, the salvation of this creation of which I am a part. Rudolf Bultmann (German Theol.) summarized the freedom of the Gospel as “freedom from self-concern.” It is very important on this matter to realize that the Biblical hope is for the kingdom of God to come as this creation is redeemed. As the Blumhardts never tired of saying: the gospel is not about us leaving this world for heaven but about God and heaven coming to this world.
3. “God, the enemy” (challenging the evangelistic practice of portraying God as our enemy, Christ as friend, as if God and Christ were/are at cross-purposes). The evangelism of Billy Sunday epitomizes this, but I think it is still very popular on the evangelistic circuit and in conservative churches. The “God is out to get you and is ready to send you to hell,” but Jesus stands between you and God and satisfies God with his blood sacrifice. Now, I know the judicial imagery is present in the Bible, with Jesus’ death set forth as propitiation for our sins. But, the Bible is quite clear that Jesus is sent directly from God, is actually the presence of God, reconciling the world to God, etc. And, as John Calvin so clearly proclaims: “God so loved the world that he sent his only son . . . .”
4. “God, as a means to our ends” (challenging the role of religion as a help in achieving human goals, as the icing on the cake of human culture, with a lack of reverence for God and God’s name). The practice of thinking God is always in our camp, on our side, for our team, and tacking God’s name onto everything we do. The misuse of God’s name for nationalistic purposes, etc. is involved. The violation of the third commandment is at the heart of this. The Barmen Declaration of Faith (written to oppose Nazi take-over of churches).
5. “Morality that produces hatred” (challenging the teaching of Christian morality in such a way as to make oneself feel superior to others, and as a way to judge, condemn and control others). This ethical stance creates a strong ‘insider-outsider’ outlook. Also involved is the feeling that “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” and a little uncleaness contaminates a lot of cleanness which is the opposite of the teaching of Jesus in which holiness has the power to mix with unholiness and sanctify.
6. The Unproclaimed Gospel/The Liberty of the First Commandment (The freedom of the gospel begins and ends with praise and reverence for the One Living and Holy God of all creation) The first three commandments contain the power of freedom from all oppression within human life. It is the particular force of the first commandment – politically, socially, theologically, psychologically – that sets free human beings, internally and externally. I have expressed this faith in protest and anger often, in defiance of those who arrogate authority to themselves. “The Lord alone is God,” is always part battle cry against unjust authority. It is this one allegiance and the destruction of all false allegiances, and the demotion of all other allegiances that paves the way for human freedom and dignity. This is a positive expression of the theology underlying the critique in other sections set forth above. I have not really developed this theme, except that I have written a preface which gives a summary of the positive themes I wish to express.
* I suppose the whole theological point could be summarized as “Christology begins and ends with the Doxology,” i.e., The first three commandments find their supreme expression in Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection which leads to praise and honor and glory to the One Holy God of all creation.

I will reflect in my next post on some things these notes bring to mind now.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks for the power of one: remembering Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard was a philosopher who wrote around the middle of the 19th century in Denmark. His writings didn't really fit into any category of that time, as he wrote his philosophy from a very personal, subjective perspective, as one who was seeking a truth that was not just out there (objective) but inside (subjective). Kierkegaard spent a good deal of his writing criticizing the philosophy of his day (Hegel), and the religion of his day (State Church in Denmark). But, Kierkegaard's perspective was profoundly religious and Christian, but in a way that confused both believers and unbelievers. He was very appreciative of the ancient Greek thinkers, often speaking of Socrates.

In a real basic way, Kierkegaard focused attention on the individual human being as the measure of value and the locus of purpose and truth overagainst the systems (social, religious, political, educational) of his day. At the center of his thought was a profound vision of each individual standing alone before his or her Creator. That is where thought and understanding of life must begin and that is where it ends. Kierkegaard spoke depreciatingly of the herd mentality of his time as Nietzsche later did. Human beings had their dignity in standing before the judgment seat of the Eternal, and human beings were demeaned in standing before the judgment seat of society. I can't think of a more healthy and desperately needed message for our youth today who seem so socially oriented and so in need of continual social affirmation (e.g., "please text me every three minutes and let me know I still matter," etc.). To need the approval of the herd was the height of falsehood and the loss of humanity for Kierkegaard.

And, Kierkegaard lived out his life as a solitary individual who could not be shaped into a part of any system. In his autobiographical writings, he reflects on how difficult it was for him to find companionship in this world, talking at times about the ending of the hope of marrying. Kierkegaard kept thinking and trying to find a way through his creative and wonderful mind to find truth and how to live truly as a human being. And, his work is a testament to the dignity of human beings, as his struggle and efforts to find an authentic way to live raise the banner of "the individual" and remind us of the "power of one."

There was something within him that simply would not give in to all the forces and powers that wanted to define him as "strange" or "wierd" or "antisocial" as one who just didn't fit in society or in the academic world, though he was brillant in both his intellect and ability to express it in writing. He had the nerve to stand up as one sole individual and accuse the religious and philosophical establishment of being wrong. And, he felt a prophetic urge to express a true way of believing and thinking. Looking back on those times, this solitary individual, Soren Kierkegaard, seems to have been way more right than wrong about Christianity and Philosophy. His writings were inspiration for so many thinkers in religion and in philosophy that followed him. And, as I read his writings today, I feel comforted as if I have a friend from back then, who was deeply human and touched with the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of the Living God. He reminds me that life can be lived without giving in to the herd. He arouses a protest inside me and on behalf of some very beautiful and wonderful people that society would crush. And, as I think on Kierkegaard, it reminds me of some of the deepest things that make life worth living, and the one it reminds me of most right now is the "power of one," the irreducible dignity of the solitary individual who finds the guts within to stand alone and protest that he or she has the right to live freely and to develop as he or she is meant to develop and does not have to conform to any dictates of society that go against the holy seed within, the holy fire of God that only resides in the individual who dares to stand alone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Committee of Selves

My friend, Mack Garner, said to me one day: "Each of us really has a committee of selves: the self responsible to family, the self who wants to have fun, the self who needs glory, the self who is compassionate, the self who needs to produce something, the self who just wants everyone to leave it alone, etc." And, then he went on to say that as we live out our lives, one self shouts out the others, while some selves remain fairly passive and get run over. If a person has 8 or 10 selves, there are usually two or three that dominate, maybe even one. But, each self has its day, and its situation. That's why some people can surprise us so much. We have only known them in one context, and so only known one of their selves. Then, in another context, they completely surprise us, because one of their selves that we have never seen appears.

Of course, with a person who is somewhat whole, there is a strand that connects and orders the selves - i.e., a well-functioning commmittee. Which is another way of saying that the selves have a basic agreement on what is important and who is in charge of what. I guess this basic agreement or constitution is what makes us who we are.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Marking the Passing of Time

Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday, I am 50 years old today, and Advent will begin next Sunday. These things that help us mark the passing of time: holidays, birthdays, holy seasons. And, as we move into the Advent season, Thanksgiving stands as a welcome.

September and October flew by before I even noticed, and now we are at the end of November. And, quite a few years have passed by so quickly as I am now 50 years old. I remember as a child thinking that when it was the year 2000 I would be 40 years old, which seemed very old. Well, 2000 came and went, and here we are 10 years down the road. "Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away," as the hymn goes.

A very important thing about special days, like holidays and birthdays, is that it marks the passing of time, and somehow seems to slow time down just a little. These special days help us to slow down and realize where we are, who we are and what is going on in our lives and in the lives of those we love. It is a good thing to slow down and mark the passing of time before our time passes us by.

A day can seem so long when you are anxiously waiting or full of sorrow, and then thirty or forty years can seem to pass before you know it. But, we carry what has passed within our hearts and minds as memory. And, so what has passed still makes up who we are and remains part of our living. I guess our memories in a sense are always marking the passing of time, honoring what has happened within our lives, and giving us a sense of meaning through it all. It is an amazing thing that human beings generally are able to sort things out as well as they do and have some sense of purpose and hope in life. We can thank our Creator for that. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Confusion, Clarity and Somewhere in Between

I am confused in my thoughts about my experience in court these past couple of weeks. I am confused in my thoughts about my experience in church the past couple of weeks as well. Having been away from both court and church for most of three weeks, neither one seems to make as much sense to me as it did before I took a vacation from both for a while.

One thing is clear: I am noticing what is going on and feeling what is going on more clearly than I was previously. This presents me with a situation related to legal cases and to church in which I need to take certain actions because of what I have noticed going on. So, I am not sure I am that confused, but just not sure yet what actions to take. I am in the process of seeking understanding of my situation at church and in court. Instead of just going along from one work day to the next, I am looking at the whole of it to assess what is going and how effective I am being in my work as a minister and a lawyer. My conclusion is that I am not being as effective as I would like to be, and perhaps, I am not being as effective as I used to be. But, that is hard to tell, since it is hard to compare one time period to another.

But, what exactly have I noticed that has bothered me and caused me to rethink how I am going about my work? In court, I have felt the deep need of clients to be listened to and to have their legal situation plainly explained to them. And, I have felt the real burden on my conscience when I am unable to provide any real help to someone the government wants to punish, especially in cases where the punishment just doesn’t fit the crime at all. When I can’t really stop my client from getting “run-over,” I begin to feel like just another part of a system that is crushing certain people. At church, I feel like I am trying to figure out how to preach for the first time, which is strange after having preached for over 20 years. Over 1,000 sermons, and now I am wondering what preaching is all about. And, I have really appreciated the formal, solemn parts of our worship service, and am not appreciating the informal parts of the service, and I include preaching in this. I like the scripture readings very much. Though I have never been too much on ritual, I am taking some comfort in ritual. I particularly like the times of music and no words being said in our service. On some days, I complain about traditional religious language, but often I find great comfort in tradition. I really think that I am uncomfortable about religious language, whether traditional or contemporary. I want to speak about God and faith and people in a way that is closer to where I live and move and have my being. And, I can speak in this way around a few friends, but not too well in church.

My religious speech these days is full of questioning and wondering. I did try a little of this out at Bible Study two weeks ago, when I said: “I was thinking about the great distance between my intelligence and God’s intelligence as I was talking to my dog. Because, it occurred to me that my dog’s understanding and my understanding are not so far from each other, whereas my understanding and God’s understanding are worlds apart. Of course, there is the fact that God is able to think from within my human frame of reference, as Jesus is part of God’s being, whereas I cannot think from within my dog’s frame of reference, since I have never been incarnate as a dog. “ Now, a few people looked at me like: “what have you been smoking?” but others seemed really interested in this line of thought, and appreciative of it as we went on discussing in a new way. And, that sends me out on a different train of thought: “Just think what it would be like to be incarnate as a dog?” You have to fit in and submit to a creature that doesn’t think like you think. And, then, you have to live among dogs, who will kill you over a piece of meat, and whom you will fight to the death against for a piece of meat. And, there are leashes to be walked on, and if you get loose, there are cars to be hit by or big dogs to be attacked by. It would be very scary to take a couple of steps down the chain of being. Life is a little wilder and scary down on the lower levels of existence. I guess that’s what God went through in his son when he took an almost infinite step down the chain of being to humanity. It reminds me of the song by Joan Jett: “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on a bus trying to find his way home . . . “ Maybe Ms. Jett was not too far from what it was really like for Jesus who while in human flesh shared the very being of God. Sharing the being of humanity and the being of God – that would have been enough to drive someone crazy, but somehow it didn’t. Somehow he was the sanest of all. That is something to think on. It has normally made Christians think that we humans are very close to God in the chain of being, ‘the image of God,’ as it says in Genesis. And, although we may be quite “high” up the chain of being in creation, it seems to be that we are quite close to our fellow creatures as far as intelligence goes, and an almost infinite distance away as far as God goes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thinking on a Sunday Evening

Sometimes on Sunday afternoons and evenings, I start thinking a little more clearly. And, this evening, I am thinking about church and realizing that I feel very different about church than I have in the past. I feel no anxiety about church matters, and about church in general, I feel somewhat confused in a fairly positive way.

Since I was gone from "church" for a few weeks, I feel like an alien at church. I just don't feel like I am "back" yet, and I don't feel much compulsion to worry over that feeling. Preaching has been a strange experience the past couple of weeks. I enjoyed the preparation this week, but the preaching - well, I think I'd rather sit down and talk with people these days. I don't have much to preach about, but a lot to discuss with people these days.

I enjoyed one of our hymns very much today: "Now Thank We All our God," # 555 in the PCUSA Blue Hymnal. That is a great song. "Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices."

I liked hearing Keith recall the plight of the Hebrews in Egypt and celebrate God's deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom. And, then the reading of the Ten Commandments with our responses in between:"Lord have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us" and at the end.

I particularly liked these two parts of the service. My sermon - well, it would have been better to talk about than preach. It was about memory and rewriting our pasts from the perspective of faith. It was probably a fairly interesting sermon if you wanted to think of things in new way. Probably a little disappointing if you were looking for a good, solid expository or doctrinal sermon. I hope it was helpful to some people. I think it might have been, but it appears from what a couple of people said to have been a little disturbing as well.

Memory and memories are pretty tough things to deal with. And, I did talk about Paul's difficult memory of his cruel treatment of early Christians, and how that memory was something he had to make sense of from the perspective of a new commitment to the way of Jesus, the Christ.

Well, I have to say that my two post-vacation sermons have been a little different. I am not sure whether to give them a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. I am going to revise my sermon notes from today on memory, and post them in the next couple of days on this blog. These days it seems that some of my sermons are more fit for posting on the blog than preaching from the pulpit.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dogma and Truth

Over the past few months, I have had an experience in preaching and teaching at church that is a little hard to express. But, I am going to try. Because, I find myself drifting in and out of meaningful speech and interaction, and I am beginning to get a feeling for what is going on. As I am preaching, I will be honestly speaking, and then I drift back into traditional, doctrinal language, and the sense of meaning disappears for me. I don't know what happens for those listening to me.

I am not saying that all traditional speech is meaningless, because sometimes the old language, the old creed is very, very meaningful, and says it so much better than contemporary language can. But, there is just this stock of trite, worn out religious phrases that just kill my soul when I say them, and may be numbing the souls of those I am speaking to or with.

Dogma and truth. Orthodox teaching and present experience. How are they related?

I think what really bothers me is when I start taking up this attitude as a preacher (I rarely do this as a teacher) that I have some sort of special knowledge of God or that I can tell people just what the Lord intends. I am not saying I do that a lot, but I fall into as it seems to be the expectation of Protestant preachers. The best preaching I do is when I feel "undone" by the truth of God and humbled to a pile of ashes and unable to do anything but connect with the humanity of others and the deep mystery of our Holy God. I will have to say that there are a few times when I do feel a clear, positive voice and message to assure others of God's goodness and justice, and I don't mind voicing that. But, so much other preaching is just play acting in church. We gather before a mystery on Sundays for worship. A mystery that has brought all that is into being. We gather before the mystery of God who has taken interest in our plight for some reason, and even chosen to bear it with us. There is not a whole lot else to claim to know beyond that. But, there are praises to sing, and prayers to be said, without presumption and there are cries for help to be expressed as well.

I keep remembering what the Quakers taught, at least in their early days, which was that a person should not get caught up in "notions (thoughts about religion and God)," but should stick close to their genuine experience of the Holy. They used to say: "Stay low in the Seed." The Seed meant for them the inner Christ, which they believed was planted in every human being. You had to be very still to hear this inner teacher. You had to be very humble or the inner Christ wouldn't speak. And, when you had heard a true inner word, you were very careful to not speak beyond what you had experienced, and you were very careful to not speak it unless it was truly called for.

The Quakers were more afraid of speaking bullshit than failing to speak about God. That really seems the opposite of Protestant Christianity. Most of Protestantism is more afraid of not speaking about God, and very little worried about speaking bullshit about God.

Post from Russian Orthodox Website: Cataphatic and Apophatic Theology

The following in bold was printed on the website for The Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britian and Ireland


When discussing the names of God, we inevitably conclude that not one of them can give us a complete idea of who He is. To speak of the attributes of God is to discover that their sum total is not God. God transcends any name. If we call Him being, He transcends being, He is supra-being. If we ascribe to Him righteousness and justice, in His love He transcends all justice. If we call Him love, He is much more than human love: He is supra-love. God transcends all attributes that we are capable of ascribing to Him, be it omniscience, omnipresence or immutability.

Ultimately we arrive at the conclusion that we can say nothing about God affirmatively: all discussion about Him remains incomplete, partial and limited. Finally we come to realize that we cannot say what God is , but rather what He is not . This manner of speaking about God has received the name of apophatic (negative) theology, as opposed to cataphatic (affirmative) theology.

The traditional image of Moses ascending Mount Sinai to God, surrounded in darkness, inspired both St Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius the Areopagite to speak about the divine darkness as a symbol of God's incomprehensibility. To enter the divine darkness is to go beyond the confines of being as understood by the intellect. Moses encountered God but the Israelites remained at the foot of the mountain, that is, within the confines of a cataphatic knowledge of God. Only Moses could enter the darkness; having separated himself from all things, he could encounter God, Who is outside of everything, Who is there where there is nothing . Cataphatically we can say that God is Light, but in doing so we liken God to sensible light. And if it is said about Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor that 'his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light' (Matt.17:2), then the cataphatic notion of 'light' is used here symbolically, since this is the uncreated light of the Divinity that transcends all human concepts of light. Apophatically we can call the Divine light, the supra-light or darkness. Thus the darkness of Sinai and the light of Tabor are one and the same.

In our understanding of God we often rely upon cataphatic notions since these are easier and more accessible to the mind. But cataphatic knowledge has its limits. The way of negation corresponds to the spiritual ascent into the Divine abyss where words fall silent, where reason fades, where all human knowledge and comprehension cease, where God is . It is not by speculative knowledge but in the depths of prayerful silence that the soul can encounter God, Who is 'beyond everything' and Who reveals Himself to her as in-comprehensible, in-accessible, in-visible, yet at the same time as living and close to her - as God the Person.
Web Address:

Now, a couple of comments from me. First, I think these words about the relationship between apophatic and cataphatic theology are deeply important, and I think that the priority given apophatic theology is very, very important. One thing I noticed though, was that as the point was being made that God is "beyond all names," the masculine pronoun (capitalized) is maintained throughout. Seems like the apophatic theology still has some work to do. One writer on the apophatic tradition of Western Christian Theology has suggested that a proper cataphatic theology uses such a variety of names for God that everytime one image is put up, it is knocked down by another, giving way to the 'unknowing' of faith. This writer, Denys Turner, suggests by example in his writing that the feminine and masculine names/images ultimately give way to a name beyond names that bursts the bonds of language and certainly the category of gender language.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Radical Negative Epistemology of the Apostle Paul: To know nothing, but Jesus Christ and him crucified

"I decided to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified." 1 Cor. 2:5

Paul knew many different things as we know many different things, so what did he mean when he said, "I decided to know nothing among you?" Does he say these words to describe a particular stance or position about knowledge that he took in relation to the Corinthians and their conflicts? Or, is Paul describing a normative way of knowing, a way of knowing that applies to all who share the faith of Christ? I believe Paul is doing both: describing the particular position he has been pushed into by the Corinthian challenge, but also affirming that he has discovered in this time of necessity the way of knowing for all those who want to share the faith of Christ. I believe Paul has discovered a way of true understanding amidst the competing interests and allegiances of life.

"I decided to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified." Paul says: "I decided to know." Paul could have demonstrated his knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures and the law, displayed his visionary experiences of faith. He could have told about the miracle working powers God had given him. But, Paul was afraid to trust in these ways and humbled himself to being a witness to the true way of life - the way of Jesus, the one who was crucified.

Paul could have debated philosophies, shown evidences of his superior intellect, but he was wary of all this. And, so he made a clear decision in his soul - to give way to speaking of Jesus' way, the way of complete love and obedience to the living God. Love of God and people; obedience to God's ways and will above all - the cross. Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Paul meant for his life, his deeds, his words be transparent to the crucified Jesus. That people might forget Paul and remember Jesus Christ and him crucified.

But, why does Paul focus his eyes and heart on the crucified Jesus? Why not speak of the Risen Lord here?

I think it is because you can get carried away with talk about Jesus' resurrection and victory and forget the way of Jesus and that way is a way of ultimate and costly love and obedience. Jesus asked/begged of God, that the cup of suffering and humiliation pass, but then knew it could not. So, he said: "Not my will, but thy will be done."

And, until we have have come before God and experienced something like this, some deep experience about how much love and obedience cost, until we have felt this urge to flee and then felt even deeper the resolve to obey out of love - until we have really said in the depths of our being: "Not my will, but thy will be done," in a particular crisis of life . . . until then, we might be believing, but when we pass through this test in faith, we begin to know - we become a disciple, one who is walking on the way of faith, the way of the crucified Lord.

Paul had experienced this way, been humbled and amazed by this way. And, it was his touchstone with reality and truth. He was going to stay close to this way. He would stay humble in knowing of Christ's faith.

In a religious culture that speaks the name of Jesus loudly and celebrates Jesus' victory, it is a radical way of believing to "know only Jesus Christ and him crucifed." In a triumphalist religious culture that knows about all parts of life and can tell you what to do about everything, it is a radical way of knowing to say: "I decided to know none of this, except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

In a religious culture that encourages you to become something, it is a radical stance to vow to become nothing so that Jesus might be known in his suffering.

In a wider church that celebrates the Risen and Exalted Jesus, it is a radical thing to proclaim the executed Jesus as the revelation of God's glory and power.

It is a way that denounces the strong, and encourages the weak - a way that puts to shame the wisdom of human beings and celebrates the shocking way of God that makes no sense in the world.

It is a way that finds Jesus present with the imprisoned and abandoned, but absent from the powerful and esteemed.

And, this is the way of Jesus, the glory and revelation of God on earth. The way Paul has experienced and the way he holds to in life. It is like Paul knows that any stepping away from this narrow way could lead to delusion and disaster.

The Quakers have a saying: "Stay low in the Seed." They mean what Paul means here. When you have a true experience of God - when the Christ has moved within your soul, stay close to that and don't move beyond it by either forgetting or saying more about it than you should. There is a reverent humility in faith that keeps us close to the crucified Jesus.

"Where you there when they crucified my Lord? Where you there when they crucified my Lord?" the spiritual goes. Let your faith , your way of knowing, stay in this holy song, for the feeling and reality of faith is in this spiritual. Stay in these words and don't go beyond them.

This is the way of life - the seed that brings new life. Be humble in this way of Jesus - let the way of Jesus become known in your living and your refusing to trust in any way of knowing or loving or living than the way of Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

This is the way of truth and life and salvation in this world and the next. This is the way of unity for the entire human race. There is no other way that is strong enough to draw together all the disparate parts of humanity. And, it is a way that goes through the crucified Jesus.

For those who will come to know God in this suffering of Jesus, God wills to be known. For those who would come to know God through the ways of victory and power, God simply withdraws in his wonderful humility.

The humble God cannot be known by arrogant humans, and this true God will not be remade in the image of arrogant humans, but graciously seeks to refashion us in the image of our humble God, an image that is born in our hearts when we embrace the crucified Jesus as the truth and glory of the living God. Amen.

The Problem with Compliments

Jesus' response to the young man who called him "good teacher" was first to recoil from being called "good." Jesus quickly replied: "There is no one good but God." There is something in us when we are in touch with reality that has the same reaction to a very strong compliment from another. For Jesus, I think it was that he was simply doing what he was supposed to do and didn't think that set him up for any prizes, awards or honors. I can't help but think that Jesus was the most surprised of all when God exalted him as God did. And, that is exactly why God exalted him. And, Jesus remains humble, unassuming as he identifies with the lowly because he is truly the Messiah of God, the reflection and being of God, united to human flesh.

When someone understands us, they know our weaknesses and perhaps have suffered because of them. When a person understands us like that and comes to appreciate us and pays us a compliment, I guess it is safe to accept it and say: "thank you," because you can trust the whole thing is not a sham. When someone really knows us very little and pays us a big compliment, beware - they are either trying to pull one over on you or you have pulled one over on them.

I remember what my Dad said to me one time: "If someone is complimenting you a lot, you better watch out - they're probably trying to get something off of you."

What to expect from other people

There might be a few people in life from whom you deserve good will, and there might be a few people in life from whom you deserve ill will; but, from most everyone else you deserve neither good will nor ill will. If you don't expect good will or ill will from relative strangers, you are more likely to receive good will and less likely to receive ill will. Often an open, somewhat tentative approach to people brings out the best in them. It might even be a good approach to try with those we are close to. Maybe we aren't particularly deserving of their good will or ill will either - just a little understanding.

What we really deserve from each other and owe to each other is a chance. To give each other a chance - if you do that things tend to work out. An unassuming attitude, a waiting openness towards a new moment in time. Where that is present, there is always the chance that something very good will happen between one person and another.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Something on T.V. and some thoughts about faith and doubt and truth and the way of the mystics

I very rarely watch t.v. except for watching Braves baseball and Tennessee football or basketball. And, I watch some other college teams play too. But, I don't watch anything else, except every once in a while.

One show that Sue watches that I have watched a few times is called Glee. It is about high school kids in a music class/club at school. Tonight it was a particularly good show focused on the trouble one male student was having because his father and only living parent had had a severe heart attack. And, interwoven with this concern was an emphasis on spiritual music which was performed throughout the show. The boy with a critically ill father did not believe in God, whereas many of his classmates were involved in praying for his father. At one point, a girl who was a friend of his got him to go to her church and she led the whole church in a song for him ("Bridge Over Troubled Water"). She said before she started singing that she knew he didn't believe in God and that that was alright, but everybody had to find something to hold onto beyond what they could see. And, then she sang a song for him, and they all sang the song for him. He was white, and his friend was black as was the rest of the congregation.

That song seemed just right for me. It made room for him with his not-believing, but needing love, right in the middle of the believing community. There was room for him in that church as he was.

I have felt for some time that there ought to be room for atheism in a community of truth. Where there is no room for unbelief, I don't think there is room for belief. Since my college days, I have been struck with something solemn and almost sacred about doubt and even a lack of belief, when it is honestly expressed and felt. To me, it seems that with some people it is an sincere effort to struggle with the deepest things in life. Sometimes I don't think there can be any faith in our day, at least for the young, unless it has passed through or even been born in doubt and even unbelief. And, for some time now, it has also seemed that God's beliefs about us are much more important than our beliefs about God.

I know we think we can surround our children with faith and a community of faith and that will carry them through life. But, our children have to go out into the world soon enough - to school,to the playgrounds, and at some point to parties, workplaces, etc. Some go to wars, others to violent homes, others to jail,and still others to more secure places. And, I agree with passing on faith in God to our children the best we know how, but I don't know any way of really passing on anything without teaching our children to love the truth, and to love it even when it is hard to face. For me, faith was always about the search for truth, and a somewhat fearless search at that. It still is. That's why I always think it is good to teach children as they grow up that not only is it alright to doubt some things, but it is necessary to go through some doubt in order to find the way to some truths that will last in one's life.

I will turn 50 next month. And, I am thinking my way through to some new thoughts about faith and life and God. I have become interested explicitly in apophatic theology (mysticism of the "negative way of theology" as it is sometimes called), but implicitly I have been doing/experiencing this type of theology since I was a teenager. The apophatic way of believing is based on the conviction that true knowing and communion with God comes from reaching a profound sense of "unknowing." For mystics who follow in this way, all categories of belief end up collapsing into a mystery, the mystery of the Divine Presence, which may be more deeply experienced in the darkness than the light. All of my thinking pushes towards this mystery, which causes me to push every line of thought until it collapses or reveals its limits as it opens to something greater, as it points to something more.

There has always seemed to me something completely inexpressible about God, which common worship overlooks. I have always liked the solemn songs of praise that point to something way beyond our normal thoughts and experience. And, I have always loved the silence and the music without words in worship services. I have regularly found myself saying of Christian theology and Christian worship and Christian viewpoints through the years: "but, that isn't filled with the experience of God's holiness, God's love, and God's OTHERNESS." That's why I was so uplifted by Barth's early theological work about the HOLY OTHERNESS OF GOD,THE SHEER TRANSCENDENCE OF THE HOLY ONE. And, that's why when a couple of my friends in college expressed their lack of belief in God, it didn't seem so strange. It doesn't bother me that people are confused about God, and feel overwhelmed with trying to understand God. For me, that is part of faith. So, sometimes when a person expresses to me their doubts, I start feeling like they might be really coming to a true experience of God.

Once Thomas Aquinas said: "We do not know what type of being God is."

And, this week as I get ready to preach, I am reading over and over again the passage about Elijah hiding in the cleft of the great rock formation, waiting for God. And, there is a rushing wind, but the scripture says: "But,God was not in the wind." And, then there is a burning fire, but the scripture says: "But, God was not in the fire." Then an earthquake, as Elijah hides in the cleft of the great rock formation. Again, it is said: "But,God was not in the earthquake." And, then the scripture says something very amazing: "And, then there was the sound of sheer silence, and Elijah wrapped himself in his mantle."

In this profound silence, Elijah felt the presence of God and was in awe.

And, it is out of that silence that God speaks to Elijah. "The sound of sheer silence." Not the great wind, or fire or quaking of the earth, but in the sheer silence. So quiet it was arresting to the senses. Taking Elijah's focus within instead of without.

This passage makes me think about "what God is not," and how we ought to spend much of our spiritual teaching on "what God is not." Because, it is a little much for us most of the time to be able to say what God is. It often leads us into arrogance and a false sense of familiarity with the Divine to be talking all the time about what God is like. It would do us well to talk more and learn more about what God is not like.

And, that is what I am probably preaching on this Sunday. God is not the fire, the wind, the earthquake. God is not in the impressive demonstrations of power in this world - whether displays of beauty or wisdom or strength or magic or agility. In fact, God refuses to be found in these great displays, just as Jesus refused to be found in his wonder working. God chooses to be known in the weakness of the world, chooses the weak to shame the strong, chooses foolishness to shame human wisdom, submits to death to bring life. This is what Paul says in 1 Cor. 1. You can read it for yourself.

Paul's was a profound mysticism. He decided to "know only Jesus Christ,and him crucified." Jesus crucified is the image that breaks down all images or imaginings about God,and opens to a mystery that makes us tremble. "Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Where you there when they crucified my Lord? O ... o . . O.. . sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble . . . "

God is not . . . , God is not . . . , God is not . . . That's what the cross does for knowledge of God - deconstructs it before it constructs it.

The mystics discovered a movement of thought and feeling in which one could enter into a new way of experiencing, understanding God and self. It was the way of interiority, a way of finding a place of thought that is beyond thought, a place of feeling that is beyond feeling,and that is free from the downward pull of social and psychological struggle. For so many, this holy way was found in silence. Exterior silence, but more importantly interior silence in which the self felt itself folding into God's silence and presence.

But, you can't find this way without the interior experience of silence - which means a coming to rest deep down. Outer silence can be a help in finding inner silence, but outer silence may be accompanied by inner noise and fitfulness and distress and turmoil. Sometimes it takes outer silence to come to the point of realizing just how loud it is inside of us.