Monday, August 2, 2010

reconciling images in the Bible

A friend recently asked me, “How do you reconcile the different images we're given of a kingdom, a bride, a dance, and the Old Testament sacrifices? I guess the first three can sort of be reconciled, but it's hard to get a coherent picture out of all of this. I read Michael Horton's critique of the idea that salvation wasn't a legal issue as much as it was a health issue. As much as I love the trinity, I find some of these ideas as less obvious in scripture than the reformed interpretations.”

My response: Good question!

Images of the Kingdom are about the fulfillment of God's community, the reconciling of all peoples at God's table, living within God’s peaceable kingdom as the fulfillment of an expectation that goes back at least to David.

The Bride is also about the fulfillment of God's community in the language of covenant relations toward which we are drawn to feast at the great banquet and then in the life of intimacy that follows.

The Dance is also about the fulfillment of God's community, first as the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son (perichoresis) and then we enter the dance as we are in Christ and He is in us. This is also the language of the life of intimacy and recursion (have you read my article?)

Old Testament sacrifice is also about the fulfillment of God's community. Atonement is making at-one that which is fractured. On the Day of Atonement, the most holy person, the high priest, enters the most holy place, the holy of holies, and speaks the most holy word, the name of Yahweh. All Israel sees herself in the High Priest (symbolized in the breastplate) going in as a mediator to restore intimacy and a forgiven community. The outcome is a restored community at one with God in grace and forgiveness that creates renewed intimacy.

Each of the sacrifices is realistic in acknowledging the alienation of sin on our relating to God and one another. All envision an overcoming of shame and a return to loving community. This is especially true of the shalamim offering. Part is offered to God to eat (burned); the rest is shared with friends and family to celebrate the fellowship and peace that is the outcome of God's gracious community.

I have not read a lot of Michael Horton, so I cannot critique or comment on his views. But I do think it is about health as the proper function of the people of God in restored relation acting out that love in the community and world. Our modern legal thinking should not be transposed back on that time. I do think that guilt, shame, and a clean conscience are not as time-bound.

The Triune life of God is the life of the Kingdom lived in heaven for which we pray that it come to earth. The Triune life of God is God’s husbanding to embrace his bride in fulfilled intimacy. The Triune God lives the Dance of God that acts from eternity to eternity and invites humanity to participate that our joy may be full in that koinonia. The Triune God is the self-sacrificing God who fulfills the sacrificial system, offers forgiveness and restoration, and reconciles the world in acts of atonement.

The Trinity makes sense of it all ...


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

thoughts on icons

Inscape Gallery is hosting an iconographer who sees herself as rebellious. Yet she is drawn to the rich traditions of the icons as a meeting place where faces speak and emotions are brought out to create a kind of encounter that shapes our story.

Icons are foreign to most Protestant Christians. Paul says in Colossians that Christ is the image (icon) of the invisible God. The Reformers took this to mean that no other image was allowed. Even in the Calvin reading group I attend, I hear strong resistance to manger scenes and other pictures, based on the Reformed idea of Christ as the only image.

But it seems that songs create images, stained glass windows are images, and basically anything we use to communicate uses some mode of images. Why resist Icons?

Icons are strangers to us. They have faces we do not understand. But if you live within an iconic tradition, they are the faces of the family. Walking into a church is like walking into a family room. The people are there; the stories are embedded in the depictions. This creates a depth of community that is unparalleled in most of our experience. It creates a remembering who we are and what it means to live in the Gospel narrative.

I use the Rublev icon of the Old Testament Trinity to depict God in hospitable community inviting us to join in. Somehow, the image says more than many books and definitions by portraying relationships and inviting us to sup.

Do you resist, rejoice, or remain undecided on the value of icons in your journey of faith?

Friday, July 16, 2010

reflections on white-water rafting

I donned clothes of protection against the icy, ravaging river and climbed into the raft. We were white-water rafting for the thrill, but I got more than just thrills as I thought about similarities to the church.

I quickly noticed that we had to work as a team. We had to stroke together sometimes; other times, it was backstrokes on our side and forward strokes on the other. We had to be unified in our intent to survive and go for the goal -- what a great picture of what a church could be! The mission is to be a community who goes into the rapids of the world, gathering to prepare to work together in our different ways.

The guide was clearly knowledgeable, but used that knowledge to serve us and find the path to the goal. We “obeyed” his commands, not because we had to, but because he knew where we were going and could coordinate our working together in a way that empowered us and required little of him other than to keep us directed.

The raft was designed to go somewhere. We could sit in it on the shore, but it is best fitted for the water. The church can be a retreat from the world, but is best served when we are loving each other and those we meet in the rocky places of our daily journey.

Fear of the cold water kept us in the boat. We were all watching the others and how they moved so we could align with them. Most people in churches are afraid to get in the boat because of the sacrifice that might be required. People show up for the safety videos but miss the trip, sitting on the shore decked out with all the paraphernalia.

We were not in control, but were riding an incredible power that moved us forward when we positioned ourselves to be moved by the surges. The church is often like a wading pool with synthetic waves that minimally replicate, but could never come close to approximating, the real work of the Holy Spirit to launch us forward.

We bumped against a lot of rocks. Life with God is not safe and comfortable. We may feel out of our zone in listening to our neighbors. But we are not stopped or thrown out by these exciting interactions.

We had fun because we took care for our own part and supported the rest of the crew with a helping hand or supportive words of encouragement and clarification. We all wanted to make it to the goal, and hence had to stay in the boat, taking care not to drink water if we fall in. “Together” was a proximal term as we each did our unique part in cooperation, not replication.

Sometimes we just stopped and enjoyed the ride. Other times, it was all-out energy invested on a very specific task. Maybe churches would do well to get out of the comfort zones and climb on board, ride the waves, and tell the stories afterward to invite others into the adventure.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

reflections on Princeton

Princeton is a town of academic brilliance. Princeton University is a jewel in an historic setting where people like Einstein have lived. The Karl Barth interest at Princeton Seminary is due to his prestige as the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. What qualifies one for this title?

Barth saw with clarity that theology had become a mere reflection of humans looking at human interests and questions, only to project these snapshots onto God. He insisted that God must speak for God, and that that is not a literary archeological dig, but is a fresh hearing of the Bible as enabling us to encounter the Living Lord, Jesus Christ.

The conference I attended in June was focused on Karl Barth’s critique that the church often becomes an institution that refers to God and worships as an inward-focused community. He proposed that God is a Missional God, witnessed in the Father sending the Son and the Spirit. If one reads with Missional eyes, one becomes aware that everything being communicated is intended to mobilize the community to be sent out. We think of Missions as an extra program of the church. For Barth, the church is Missional: hence it gathers, builds up, and sends EVERY WEEK. If churches miss being Missional, only the storm troopers will go out, and the norm for most will be to maintain and protect existing structures.

Is your church Missional or in Maintenance mode? What would it take to re-direct its course?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

going beyond Candide

Watching the musical Candide at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater was an interesting discovery in interpretation. Voltaire, the author, is questioning how optimism and the church interpret the world. He intended to strip away the naivety of “hoping for the best” to see the depravity of men, the cultural stuckness of women, and the need to get used to being disappointed.

I wonder if this philosophy of the Enlightenment is not a common vision. Though the theater was full and delighted in the quality, people seemed equally happy to dismiss the hope of a creative God engaged in this world. Candide communicates much truth about the uses and abuse of humans toward one another, which I took as an apt description of the state of fallen humanity. But I left wondering why we have to give up hoping and focus only on our garden of survival.

Churches have a great task in creating hope in the alreadyness of God’s activity in the world. Yet so much is focused on what we can do, and we dismiss the story of God in creating our own. Yes, we need to be honest about our weaknesses and failures, compassionate toward the needy, and active in loving those who dance around us. But we also need to be able to speak of God’s future with a grounded optimism that extends beyond the mental twisting portrayed in Candide. How do you live the story of God’s hope in your context?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

finding our story

I finished reading Who gets to Narrate the World?: Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals by Robert Webber. He contends that through a story of Allah’s conquest over all non-Muslims, radical Islam is on the rise in our world. At the same time, the Western church and culture are weakened and fading as they accommodate civil religion, rationalism, privatism, and pragmatism -- meaning that as we are all about our individual selves and what works for us as individuals, we are losing a unifying story that holds us together. Competing stories will determine the future of the world.

For better or for worse, a culture is sustained by having a story that gives meaning to the existence and direction in which a people live and dream. A dream where everyone does his or her own thing is a dream of disintegration. It is kind of like people wanting to say there is no truth (a unifying belief) and then wanting others to believe their truth about this. If we aim at giving everyone their own truth, there is a built-in self-destruct for everyone to disregard what others think and to become insensitive and indulgent. One definition of hell is everyone serving himself or herself.

Webber proposes that we need to regain the Christian story, to sing, pray and enact God’s creative, nurturing, and restoring work in the world. Our stories find meaning within that narrative. We need to go to church for more than a fill at the gas pump. We need to find meaning in the context of God’s ongoing story. What story does your church tell -- its own, the story of individuals on a private spiritual journey, or the story of God’s Creation, Incarnation and Re-creation? What story do you live in?

Friday, May 28, 2010

reconciliation tears

Reconciliation themes in movies almost always leave me in tears. Last night I watched Mao’s Last Dancer, part of the Seattle International Film Festival line-up. It was the first time the festival used an Everett venue, meeting at the Everett Performing Arts Center, in a city blossoming with the arts. Mao’s Last Dancer was directed by Bruce Beresford, the director of Driving Miss Daisy. He was actually present for the showing and answered questions afterward, which was wonderful.

The film is based on the autobiography of a boy who was born in rural China, separated from his family at a young age, and who became one of the great ballet talents of our age. Growing up apart from his family, dealing with the culture clash of American life, and defecting to the West were compelling themes of struggle and survival. But the deeper themes for me were his reunion with parents after decades; the dance in the village square for his first teacher, who had been taken away; and finding identity as a person with many national loyalties.

I am currently reading Who Gets to Narrate the World, written by Robert Webber. Webber asserts that we are losing the Christian story in the ways we think about who we are, what gives life meaning, and what is our destiny. Watching Mao’s Last Dancer, I am convinced we need to watch, tell, and live stories of reconciliation within God’s big story in order to make visible the glory of the gospel that brings tears for the right reasons. What themes touch you deeply in movies?