Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Baby, Power, God, and Joy

It is Christmas time and I have been thinking about the babies. My wife is due on Good Friday, and the Christmas is about how God became incarnate as a human. More than just incarnate, God chose to reveal power as human baby. Seldom do we consider a baby as power because power tends to be tied to control. A baby has as much control as young pine has over an incoming avalanche. Baby must be fed, clothed and cared for, the very demarcation of what we mean by weakness. Yet, somehow, the Christmas story does distinguish power for us, and also shows our notions of power as control are a false idol. As I prepare for the coming of God as baby, I am also preparing for the coming of our baby. The picture comes from one of our ultrasound.
Our baby has already turn our lives from a self-direction toward the immanent arrival of the our other. Our lives have become one of anticipation, fear and above all joy. Our baby has made us alive. Along the way, we have to understand how little control we have. My wife tested positive in her quad screening, which raised our chances of Downs. We then waited as if on a weak branch of on old oak for our first level two ultrasound to see if there were any other markers of Downs. There was only one, a hole in the heart. A hole so large that it would not close on its own. Our baby would probably have surgery after birth. Our chances for Downs increased again. We were helpless, and we had to trust. We were weakness incarnate. No matter of worry could help. We prayed. Our Church prayed. Our community prayed. My wife continued to play with our baby. She patted on her tummy and our baby answered by kicking and patting back. Love formed. We had to meet a specialist and what we found:

Religion Practice and Forms of Attention
On learning the hole in the heart of our unborn child had healed


Rejoice for our God chose to be born of flesh
And become material. The power of our baby
I have seen in Ultrasounds, faces and maybe
in our God’s reflection in googoo and eyes afresh.

Pregnancy at Christmas has become an Abbey
Of faith for us as we prepare for the change
That a child brings. Modifications whose range,
Friends, family and others have let on in gabby

way, will permanently alter our lives and exchanges
Beyond anything our imaginations can reveal.
Yet from invitro, I have learned love does heal.
We have chosen to bring in life’s interchanges,

And the Word became a baby dwelt among us
Transforming our love and animating our dust.


God showed power as a baby. God revealed love. Christmas came early.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My First Session of SBL - Religious Experience


Our first session of our first annual SBL was on Religious Experience. The project was looking to see if they could locate Religious Experience within ancient texts. The presenters are part of a project that had published its first book, so the energy was both giddy and cautious. They were children in the ecstatic joy of creating. My first impression was they were fighting and engaging of the ghost of William James. He has to be the starting point, but could he also be the departure point as well? The strength and weakness of his work was breaking down religion as a unit of religious experience. He then pushes the distinction as a category of religious lifestyle. Experience by its nature located in the individual, even if the experience is shared experience such as worship. The dangling question is does a Christian mystic have more in common with Buddhist mystic or a non-mystical Christian. It is clear that he shares something with both.


The first up was Colleen Shantz of St Michael College. She set the stage for the discussion by asking in her well thought out paper about what the project was looking for in ancient text on what constitutes religious experience. What I heard was the curse of the old Cartesian dichotomy, which opposes the individual with the group. The more I have mediate on it, the more I see that an individual can only exits in a community. The individual can locate herself in the group. Descartes wrote in response to the divide between the Protestant and Catholic. She answered the charge that there is no religious experience without culture that many use oppose the category of Religious Experience. Both her answer and the criticism lie in the bed of Cartesian dualism. Funny, if you think about those who oppose a study of Religious Experience on the grounds of Culture being primary, do so out of their own Cultural blindness. If you do not oppose the individual to the group, then their criticism fades into background. The question it raised for me was the how does experience relate to the rest of ones life, or does it construct the whole of ones life. When talking about Religious Experience, the temptation is to just look at intense mystical experience or to point out the whole of religious life as equal to the intense mystical experience. The problem for the person who has this experience is how to communicate it to others. As Karen Armstrong pointed out that while the mystics claims that their experience is beyond words, they constantly talk about the experience. What her paper left me was what do we miss out of our own cultural blindness? Tomorrow I will look at the three other papers, and what the session fired in my imagination.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SBL and the life of the Christian Mind

We are back from SBL in Boston. Most of the sessions I attended were profound for me, though I missed many I would have love to have seen. We saw some of the seasoned scholars as well as many of the newer young guns. I will comment on the diffent sessions in the coming days, and for now I will limit myself to general impressions. The area around Hynes Convention Center was thick with the swarm of bright minds enegaging the Bible. I look though the thousands of eyes as I try to understand the whole of the annual SBL meeting. I look for the face of Christ in all I met, and I was surprised by what I found. And life moves on.

This morning I got up thinking that we all are born into the question of human life. I hesitate calling it the "human condition," as that is so loaded a phrase with no particular meaning. I think of life in terms of a question. We are born and as we learn the language of our parents, community, and the ever growing circle others, knowledge and being, we confront this question at every turn. Whether as a baby seeing the various unnamed shapes, to hearing the voices of new and previously known others, we are asked what are we to make of it all. We try to bring the shapes into ourselves by the use of language. It is the question that we must begin with everyday and almost every moment, with the temptation being to avoid it by means of giving an already given answer. The false self is the false answer. We are always called to bring the shadow impressions into our understanding. And life moves on.

I saw scared scholars unsure of themselves and wanting to play the game they think that is real to move up the career ladders by meeting the right editors and befriending the famous scholars. I saw scholars burning with curiosity, passion and suffering for their work. It showed it sweat of their scholarship. Others tired of the games of the Academy, and disgused with the whole enterprise. I met many people and thought of the sweep of history's hand upon the person, the group, and life. SBL gathered voices from around the world all in search of the question to the bible. I got to thinking that that small strip of land bridging Africa, Europe, and the Middle East which we call Israel has to be the most studied piece of real estate in human history. Yet, it still holds tight to its secrets. The whole remains impentrable if by nothing else than by the size and scope of the project. I felt this myself as we had to always make choices as to which sections to attend. Each morning we had to choose from all of the plethora and since I am more interested in the whole, it was difficult. In the coming days I am going to post of everyone of the sessions I managed to attend. The impressions they left me and what shapes I learnd to decern from the background. And life moves on.

We went to Dr. David M. Scholer memorial. He was my wife's mentor in her PhD. The stories attempting to summerize a life where both touch and too small to capture the man. The beauty of them lies in the endeavor to remember and give voice to the individual human voice lost to this life. His life moves on with God, within the memories of his daughter, and wiht the love he gave. The measure of his or any life is how profoundly they proclaimed love and give away. The pierced living hand of God sweeps across us in love, and then it is up to us to respond. Boston again taught me the glory of life in Christ as life moves on.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SBL day One (Society of Biblical Literature National Conference, Boston)

The first day of SBL conference in Boston, and Lace and I are getting the feel of the land. We had to learn the commuter rail system and the T subway. Most the meetings are closed. We are staying with friends from in West Chester and had our first great adventure with Boston’s Mass transit. Both the commuter train and the T subway broke down and it took us 2 hours to get to the Hynes Convention center. I have been reading the Desert Fathers. I have been inspired to be aware of others as a spiritual practice. Searching for the Face of Jesus in everyone I engage. I have been surprised as to how helpful people have been. Does it have to do with my practice searching for Jesus? I am uncertain, though I am inclined to say no. I have only been to Boston only in passing and have found the people friendly. What I have noticed is how much I have to work in myself in the practice. To search for Jesus in the face of others reveals how unkind I am. I see the search for love that we all are engaged in. I wonder if longing shapes us as human being. What we long for defines us.

It is interesting to be here as the markets still are crashing. SBL is center ground of academic theology, and the question for me is does academic theology have questions that can help us illuminate the crisis we face today. I am inclined to say yes, if we can bridge the some of the insightful mediations with the current modern thinking. We do have to figure out how to get out of our own ways as theologians. We limit conversation by defining it within specialties and surrounding it with terminology. If theology is to matter, it must widen the conversation. It has to find simpler language to convey the complexity.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Principalities and Powers: Our addition to Hollywood, Wall Street, and Washington

I have written before about power before looking at the principalities and powers as seen by Matt 22.15-22. (Power I and Power II)Distinguishing the three world powers in the story, I went on to look at the powers represented by money, popularity, and control. These meditations have continued to preoccupy me, especially in the current environment. What came to me is that those three powers are easy to identify in our culture by the geographical names we given them. The powers of money we sum up by calling it Wall Street. The power of popularity we call Hollywood. Finally the power of control or Government, we call Washington. Wall Street, Hollywood, and Washington are the powers the Pharisee tried to capture Jesus with their riddle of paying the Roman tax. These powers have their own spirit and are part of what Paul called Principalities and Powers.

When I was at Fuller, there was a concerted effort to use the power of Hollywood to proclaim the Gospel. If get Hollywood to make the right movies, television, and music, then we could convert the culture into a Christian culture. There were initiatives to engage Hollywood by opening up dialogs, programs for Christian screenwriters and actors. Another camp claims that any attempt to convert the culture is fools gold and that we should make every effort to avoid culture. If we engage Hollywood and the power of popularity, then Christians open themselves to be corrupted. The allure of Hollywood and fame are powerful. I remember meeting a roommate’s friend, who came to Los Angeles to peruse a career in Hollywood, and called the chasing the career as her ministry. I was never quite convinced about her conviction of ministry, though I could see her longing for fame. About the question, I realized both camp gave Hollywood the power. The power to convert if Christians harness it or the power to corrupt Christian if they got too close both reveals a trust in that power, rather a trust in the power of the Trinity.

I have seen similar attempts or beliefs about use the power of Washington, or the power of Wall Street for the proclamation of the Gospel. If we could get Christian politicians or Christian businessmen, then we can convert the whole. Christian politicians will give us Christian policies and then the Kingdom of God would be at hand. Again, Washington and the power of government are thought to be were true power manifests itself. I remember once attending a program about a missionary program. The missionary shared about an African pastor experience of preaching, and founding churches and helping people pull themselves out of poverty by various methods. He end his story by asking us, and he called us the “princes and princesses of the Church” to help. Why did he call us the “princes and princesses of the Church,” because we have the riches. Again, we believe true power comes from money.

If we have learned anything from the last month, it is that these powers are not true power. Wall street is in meltdown and Government seems powerless in the face of this. As I wait the birth of my child, I understand true power. Life is sustained by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said render what is God’s to God. If we are to experience power, we experience it by loving our neighbor.

Part I
Jesus answers the Public, Economic, and Political powers
Part II Jesus represents the true Power

CCblogs

I have gotten word that I was accepted to Christian Century's network of Blogs. Looking at the various others in the network, and I am humble at being in such a community of thinking Christians. I am grateful for the recognition.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Christian thought, Cold War, and Manicheanism

As I have been surveying the current theological and intellectual world, I have noticed the good guy/bad guy motif. President Elect Obama is viewed as either Savior or Demon. The fact that he is probably neither hangs like an insult to both sides. Both sides seem to think that the middle lacks conviction and really the other side hiding. Conservatives and liberals view anything out of their ideology as really belonging to the other side.
This thinking has prevalent throughout the culture, both in theological circles and in secular culture as a whole. Red States/Blue States are put as diametrically opposed, as are Government and Business, Socialism and Individuality (or if you care community and consumer). Once divided as such, the other whether republican or democrat, Church goer or secularist, "Taste great" crowd or "Less filling" crowd stands as light against dark.

There seems to be a great divide between us. I am hardly the first to point out this Manicheanism in our current worldview. The question I want to raise is how did Manicheanisn come to dominate our culture? First things first, I should begin with a definition of Manicheanism. It is based on an ancient religion that saw the world divided by two waring Gods, a good God and a bad God. The religions founder, Mani 210–276 CE was from area of modern day Iran, and borrowed from Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Elcesaites, and even Buddhism. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact beliefs of the religion, it has come down to us as a belief in a clash good and bad (light and dark) Gods fighting for control. It also, and this is important, a clash between the good people of the light and the bad people of the dark. A person is either good or bad in their being. This stands in opposition to the Christian view of humanity, where all are sinners and only by God's grace are we redeemed and sactified. This is important as in orthodox Christianity, a bad person can be transformed into loving person. In certain Christian circles this fundemental insight has been forgotten and replace by a functional Manicheanism, where the Devil is raised to the level of another God fighting Jesus and the armies of the lightl. There was good reason that the early church rejected the tendencies of Manicheanism. In Manicheanism, there is no room for forgiveness, grace, or redemption. Agian, you are either good guy battling with the good God against the bad guy and bad God.

Back to my question of how did Manicheanism arise in our country. What comes to mind is the Cold War and the fears it bred in our thinking. I still remember the fear I grew up that at any point the USSR was going to launch a missle strike. Movies like Red Dawn and The day After reenforced my fears of the bad guys ready to kill the good guys. For over forty years the US and USSR faced of with each other, and this conditioned us to think in terms of us and them. Further in the spy games the two sides played, there where revelations of trusted people actually working for the enemy. People could be closet enemies. Forward to today, and that thinking is still in us. We have grown up thinking in terms or Right guys and Wrong guys. The legacy of the Cold War entangles our theology, politics and worldview.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Theology and Speech Act Theory

I just published a article titled Speech Act Theory, Linguistics, Theology and a New Revolution of Understanding. I believe that Speech Act Theory will create a new way of understanding both human language and human experience. Lace did her dissertation of the subject. I few words about hoe Biblical Scholars have used and misused Speech Act Theory. The founding insights of Speech Act Theory are that speakers do action with language and that these actions can be categorized in a limited number of types. Many contemporary theologians have attempted to take up Speech Act Theory such as Kevin Vanhoozer, Richard Briggs, and many others. I say attempted in that they understood the first insight that a speaker/writer does action with language, (though some collapse speaker's action with language and language as agent of action, but that is for another post), but that neglect the second insight of having limited number of categories. This has led to some potholes in the project of using Speech Act theory as a tool for understanding, rather it has led to using it as a tool of defense and Apologitics.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Poem about my wife

Here is a poem I wrote about my wife. I am over come with love for her, and felt the need to express it.

Father’s Day at the Del Coronado Hotel, San Diego

L M

The ocean’s

breath

is muggy

from the water,

the waves,

and the sun.

You stand

with a black

waif-like cell

phone in the middle

of a gaggle

of Sunday tourists.

With one finger

in your left ear,

you call home. The one

finger is not meant to ignore

those around you, but to highlight

a far faint voice in your right

ear, as you say, "Happy.Father's

day." A hundred plus year old

hotel stands witness

as you greet the other.

Around us,

the voices of the famous

phantoms who stayed

at this Hotel are obscured

by the living

chatter,

and by a store-

bought folk singer

performing a set of

recycled old

Bob Dylan songs. I wait

my turn to speak. You gracefully

smile at his humor.

A retired lighthouse standing

on a far off cliff is in our

horizon. This light-

house became a museum

not too long ago. Below it

the replacement modern lighthouse

channels modern steel ships

past dangerous rocks.

Carefully,

you hand me the phone

to speak to your father.

I say thank you for this, his day.

I honor him for his gift and life and... The surf

adds rhythm to the families

loafing on the shag carpet sand.

Your father deliberates

about his barbequing

the perfect pork chops. Today,

he will host two

of his three children. I stand

with you, his second-born, thousands

of miles away. Yet, I can see him

in your flesh, your eyes,

and being.Grateful

for the warm day,

and the natural breeze,

we say good bye. His life gave

you your life. Freedom. Crossing

the threshold

of the hotel’s big

wooden entry, I look for our

future children in your eyes,

and I find your father’s

eyes. I rejoice

in our instant memory

being made. Love, there is

a breath that moves

through our time

together.

And our ancestors have

their share in the blood pulsing

through our veins.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Freedom, Jesus, Life and Love

Yesterday at Bible study we took on John 8:31-36:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

33 They answered him, We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?

34 Jesus replied, I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it for ever.

36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The key to the passage is understanding what freedom is. Many times the definition of freedom is reduced to "freedom from..." or the concept of Liberty. To be free is not to have the shackles of an outside force, whether that be government, church, or other power. Such an understanding underpins much of the libertarian thinking and it is not surprising that such thinking rejects government, church and ultimately God. It is also very problematic. As one member said yesterday, she wants to be free to do want she wants. Does she then become a slave to her wants and also what if her wants go against another desires. She is free only to the extent of her desires and others. In such a system of thinking, the other is only valid in so much as they align. Since most of our desires are fickle, our freedom becomes fickle. The next step becomes adding reason to the mix, and saying we should be free to follow our happiness tempered by reason and the other's happiness. In such a worldview, love cannot exist because the other is the limit of my freedom. Soon, resentment arises about the other, and a human wants to liberate himself. To limit freedom to only "freedom from..." is to create a prison of self and desire under the illusion of freedom. What it ignores is the word, "freedom" comes from the same etymology of friend and love. Freedom main meaning is "free to ..." and the to is love. To be love or to love frees us, and so powerfully that no government or outside force can take it way. With God being Love, the highest form of freedom is relationship with God. This is the truth that sets us free.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ayn Rand and the missing sense

A parable about Ayn Rand.

Once there was an artist, who lacked the sense of smell. She loved the look of red onions. Soon, she would start making beautiful coats out of the onions. She would step back and admired her work. How beautiful, she would claim.

"Only a fool could not see how great a work of art I have created." She said.

She took her work to the market place. Most who saw her coat, quickly left as they could not stand the smell. Angry at them, she would yell at them yjay they were fools lacking artistic and rational understanding. Soon, she gathered a small group of disciples who also lack the sense of smell. No matter how much people kept tell them her work reeks, they would wrap themselves in her coats of red onions and their anger. They became angrier and angrier. Everyone who can see the beauty are fools.

"Fools, fools, fools." They would chant. "Why won't see the masterpiece of coats?"

Since they would not listen to anyone but themselves, they could never understand why most people could not stand the beautiful coats. They were left alone with their coats. The artist never understood why most held their noses when they are around her coats.

What is the lack of sense: A is A, a hatred of Altruism and Compassion, and finally misunderstanding of Freedom. Freedom is more the freedom from... it is freedom to...

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Jesus represents the true Power

The power of Love
  • God as the God of Genesis-Power as the power of Creation
  • God as the God of Exodus-Power as the power of Freedom
  • God as the God of the Cross-Power as the power of Reconciliation
Two days ago, I preached on Matt 22:15-32. I wish I would have been able to preach after last night. Last night I was privileged to be invited by Rabbi David D’Auria to attend a Sukkot service at Kehilat HaMashiach. I am grateful to Rabbi David, and the rest of Messianic synagogue of Spokane for a better understanding of power and Jesus. I my sermon, I made the point that Jesus viewed power differently from those who aimed to trap him. Jesus distunguished between the power of Ceasar and God. Looking at the trap, The power of Ceasar is the powers of Reputation, Ecomonic, and Politcal. God's power is the power of Creation, Freedom, and Reconcilation, as seen by the Scripture. What I learned by the worship, dancing and joy of last night was that God's presence sustances us. Freedom comes from love. The warm congregation swarmed us and made us welcomed, as our church does every Sunday.

It is in community that life is at its fullest. Yet, one cannot know this until one experiences community. I realize many of the people I talk to (including the Objectivist I have communicated) with recently have never experienced it. That is sad. When we stood under the homemade Sukkot and experienced the power of the L-rd, and when our church has rallyed around us, I experienced the power that comes when two or more gather in Jesus name, he is there. When I have help others in my community, I have also felt the glory of Grace. The etymology of the word Freedom comes from a system of words that mean love, friendship, and peace. These words that are relational. The difference between mobs, groups, crowds with community.

Part I
Jesus answers the Public, Economic, and Political powers
Part III Principalities and Powers: Our addition to Hollywood, Wall Street, and Washington

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jesus answers the Public, Economic, and Political powers

What Jesus view of POWER?
  • Public oppinion?
  • Economic?
  • Political?
  • None of the about
The last answer pushes to understand the nature. I am preaching this Sunday on the text:

Matthew 22:15-22: Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

What I love about the text is how relevant it is to what is going on with our markets. The passage is about power. What is power? The trap set for Jesus was simple. By asking him about taxes, they set him up for what they thought was a no win proposition. Either he says yes to paying Roman taxes and undercut his power with the people, or he says no, which would be treason punishable by death. Their problem was they fundamentally misunderstood the nature of Jesus' power. It would be a mistake to think Jesus answered by thinking about how to get himself out from under this trap. Rather, he answered by understanding what true power is.

The first part to understanding power as Jesus understands it is to look at what the Pharisees though of as power. Their trap comes from seeing Jesus' power as based on his popularity. They thought if they undercut this power, they would undercut Jesus. They go about it by using their next belief about power, the power of money. Should I pay taxes, or should I give away my hard earn money to the state? The question would put Jesus in conflict with a third and fourth power, the power of the state and the power of the military. The power of the Military as Israel was under the control of Rome was thought to be last word. Jesus answers their question of power by pointing to the real power, the power of God.

I will post on what Jesus meant by power and God tomorrow. Right now I want to show how nothing has changed. We still view and engage what we think real power is: Public, Economic, and Political. Public is what others say about you both in Macro and Micro. The economics is the stuff you have or potentially can have or in short hand your money and your stuff. Political is your ability to make others do your bidding or how you are force to do others bidding. They are very observable power but ultimately powerless. The test is death and time. With death and time, all three fade. The best proof is Rome itself. The greatest power of that generation became history. We will see these powers also fade in our current crisis. We will be told how we all should seen it coming, and how the current collapse puts us in dire straights. If we understand power as the above three, then that is true. But what if their is another power that is larger than the three?

Part II Part III

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ayn Rand, Illogical Nonsense and the Market meltdown

I got response from my last post from a supporter of Ayn Rand. It claimed that Atlas Shrug was a work of genius and had I read it. I am familiar with Atlas Shrug, and my mistake was to think that most intelligent people would see through its glarying emotional irrationalism. While I don’t have the space to go through most of its internal logical flaws, I will give one of the most obvious one. First, I do have to admire Atlas Shrug as a masterful work of rhetorician appealing to emotionalism, but it is exactly that that precludes it from be a work of genius. Brothers Karamazov, Marcel Proust’s work, and Moby Dick are works of genius, and by that standard, Atlas Shrug fails miserably.

The bookshelf of polemics as novel next the work of Upton Sinclair rather than bookshelf of great novel is a better place for her work. Upton Sinclair's work is very similar to hers as both are very Manichean in their worldview. The only difference being that he chooses the workers to be the Children of Light and capitalists to be the Children of Dark, while Ayn Rand chooses the opposite. They both still suffer from simplistic view of human beings divided by Good guys and Bad guys. Contrast these works with Brothers Karamazov’s view of human nature is enough to refute any claims of genius about Atlas Shrug.

Saying this, let's back it up by exposing just one of the illogical flaws (of the thousands I might add) in Atlas Shrug. One of the major forces, if not the major force is her character John Galt's dislike of the collective, or any collective movement. He is the hero standing for the power of the individual. He gets tired of being pushed around by the "looters" and "moochers" (her shorthand for those who are for the power of the collective), and decides to do something about it. He will pull out of the world and watch it fail, because without his genius, world will fall apart. If that premise were followed through to its logical conclusion then novel would be about a Ted Kazinsky type character, but a crackpot out in the middle of Colorado would be a honest, yet boring novel. What Ayn Rand has John Galt do is to gather and convinced other rugged individuals to join him in his strike, and then when the world collapses, they would come and take over the world. The famous gesture of making a dollar sign at the end of her novel is her exclamation point. So where is the flaw? John Galt gathers the power of the collective to battle the collective. It is not Galt who has the power, but his movement that does. And how do you join his group? You recite a creed against becoming part of a group and your belief in the individual and join the anti-group group.

His creed: I SWEAR BY MY LIFE AND MY LOVE OF IT THAT I WILL NEVER LIVE FOR THE SAKE OF ANOTHER MAN, NOR ASK ANOTHER MAN TO LIVE FOR MINE.

Huh? You stay on the good side of individualism against the power of groups by joining a group and losing your own individuality to the mass agreement spewed by John Galt. Again, Huh? You join John Galt's movement for the sake of John Galt in order to prove you stand for yourself and not another even if it bennifits john Galt and not yourself. (Long live double think, would have been a more honest creed for Galt) Galt is only powerful in the novel for violating his own creed. Only by joining the anti-group group can you fight the power of the group with … (You guessed it) the power of the group. We have entered into an Orwellian world where war is called peace, poverty is called wealth, and illogical nonsense is called Reason. So goes the Circus world of nonsensical thinking that Ayn Rand pass off as Reason, which would be funny entertainment if her views was not taken seriously. We are in middle of largest Randing experiment when Alan Greesnpan fought for and won the principle of no regulation for the derivatives markets. It is this market and its underlining greedy irrationality causing the meltdown. Who is John Galt? A fictional character who embodies illogical double speak.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ayn Rand - How bad romantic fantasy took down the Global Economy

Back in the late nineties concern grew about the Derivatives markets. You can read about in this NY times article. What is shocking to me is how we Christians allowed ourselves to be so hoodwinked into supporting a Godless and clearly unbiblical as unfettered Free Market System. Do not misunderstand me, I am not a socialist in the least. The picture that is now emerging is Alan Greenspan, influenced by his Randian philosophy, push for Derivatives Market like Credit Default Swaps and the rest to remain unregulated. Consistant with his philosophy, which values greed in the form of "rational self interest," he argued and won. Both Democrates and Republicans joined in an unholy allience. So the Biblical passage of 1 Tim 6.10 came true. The derivivate market grew to dwarf the stock market, bond markets, and securites market combine. Thnk about that for a moment. The prymid scheme grew larger that actual production. Now the biggets problem is the vipers don't trust each other (imagine that) and the economy is sinking faster that Titanic. Greed kills. In the next few days, I will be taking apart Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Christian respone to the market's meltdown

Jesus offers us away out of the madness. We Christians have forgotten that we are not to be comfortable with this fallen world. If the heat on Wall Street the last week and the Christian response has proved anything, it is how much Christians in America have turn away from our classical theology and gone to one formed more by Adam Smith and the promise of Wealth. I have heard in the past day that the problem was caused by the banks being forced give mortgages to the poor who are irresponsible. So, these voices say, the problem is the poor.

The prosperty Gospel both in its obvious and sublte forms are not the Gospel of Jesus. Christ was and is about the freeing the world from its oppression spiritual and econmic. Jesus calls us today to repent and turn back to him. We have witness the how deep human sin in this grand Ponzi scheme that has been the financial world in the last four or five years. Yet, it looks like the banks, Hedge Funds, and the large financial institutions were selling to each other the same insurance securities over and over. They insured to the tune of $45 tillion dollars assest worth about 4.4 trillion. They created a pile of false money that was only a matter of time before it collapsed taking all of us with them. 1 Tim 6.10 and the Bible again prove to be write. As Christians, we have to repent, pray, and get into action.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sin and the Markets: Another Frightening Show About the Economy

These are crazy times. The Markets are imploding and their looks like hard times ahead. The question is how did we get here? Being a Christian, I understand the problem in terms of my faith.
Listening to This American Life (It was a very good a explaining the greed that us in this mess) last night, the Spirit prompt me into seeing the problem has been what 1 Tim 6.10 always warned us about that the "love" of money is the root of evil. We have see a loss of one of the founding principle of this country. We are all taught the notion of Checks and Balance in civics class or High School. Government works best when you split up power. What most people are unaware of is that it is based on the Presbyterian Church, which in turn derived it from Christian Anthropology. Christian understand the all humans are sinners and as such we always need to watch over each others shoulders. The Market philosophy of trust in greed and self-interest to do the job of self regulation is anti-Christian. Does that mean I advocate a socialism. Of course not, for the same reason, you can't trust Government because it is full of Sinners. You can't trust Markets because it is also full of sinners, as the headlines are now making all to obvious. We have to set up a series of Checks and Balances because the markets will follow the way of any institution and become corrupt.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Psalm and Spirituality

Here is a psalm I wrote for a class on Tanak (The old testement) Spirituality
Such an Account of My Soul in Time…
Lord, I have been hurt
again.
I need to hide, need to cover my face
from the others. To hide this hurt for I fear
and I am ashamed. To be with you
is too painful. I hide from you.
Come into my being. Protect me
from the good intentions of others.
Come,
Lord,
come to the place

of your hurt child, your servant.
I am mad at you
Lord.
Why have you not broken through
to their hearts that oozes out blood of hate,
pointing fingers at me as I point
at them. I join them in the wasteland
of wild shrubs, afraid. Where
in hell can we go? Punching each other
in the underbrush.

Lord,
I need you to seek
me. I need to be told. I need to be
untold—past my blackness. In the
dark places, it hurts
more, but fear of comfort, fear of power,
fear of my own weakness conceals my
right and my wrong, keeping me. Lord,
Cradle me in your damaged palms
lullaby me to peace, stay by my side,
keep me save don’t go, don’t you go,
find me, call me back
to your new singing in others. Lord,

take my bruised blue hand from under
the wild black rose undergrowth. Call me to your lap,
from I am too weak. May the grace of your gestures cross
and offer me a place back in the light of your sun, your
day,
again. Your are my only hope
Again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mary's pregnancy

Luke is the only Gospel that gives us what Mary's experience of her pregnancy. Her pregnancy story is tied so much with the Holy Spirit that it can be thought of as a pneumatically event. She is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills her cousin Elizabeth upon seeing Mary. Her song tells of her great love for the God, who would bring up the humble, and raise the lowly. All of this as her own social position is very precarious, being unmarried woman pregnant with child not her betrothed. She is aware of the social order as her song celebrates how God breaks the human social order with her pregnancy. New life seems to break down human oppression and the corrupt social order. The Holy Spirit turns man's world upside down. The experience of the Holy Spirit gives her a certain aliveness. She spirit rejoices for her God. This is how the Holy Spirit moves in our world.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Theology of Pregnancy

"My soul magnifies the Lord."

Mary’s great words, the beginning of the Magnificat sung after she has received the news of her pregnancy. It would be a troubled pregnancy—trouble by the judgment of others. It is her own understanding of a theology of pregnancy. It is her words that I want to use for a theology of pregnancy. Before I start with her words, I will quickly review what the Gospel accounts have to say about the pregnancy of Mary.

Mark starts later with the public ministry of Jesus. Since I think the theologian Richard Bauckham has it correct and Mark's Gospel is based on Peter's testimony, this to be expected. Peter would have little access to the pregnancy stories of Mary.

Matthew’s tells account of the pregnancy of Mary almost completely from Joseph’s point of view. His betroth is found pregnant and the baby is not his; he will be shamed by this but loves Mary. He plans tp quietly take care of the situation. The angel appears to Joseph’s dreams and saves Jesus. Then the account moves to the sociopolitical world of King Herod. We then follow how man’s love of control and sin kills off life, in the killing of the innocents narrative.

John account is the shortest, “The Word became flesh, and lived among us.” Like all of John, small words are pregnant with rich meaning. (I couldn't resist) The power of the verse comes from the word, “became.” Jesus did not “appear,” “reveal,” or any other way of saying he just show up. Jesus became flesh in the way we all do, he became flesh through the process of pregnancy. He started as a cells dividing and forming into an embryo leading to a birth and infancy. He took on the weakness of humanity. John focus on Jesus in the pregnancy and his few words speak volumes.

Luke’s account of the Mary's pregnancy is the longest. It tells the story from the Mary's perspective and the only one of the Gospels to do so. From the angel appearing to her, her time with her cousin, Elizabeth, and her great poem of joy and love, the magnificent, we follow Mary story through her eyes. The narrative gives what Mary thinks when the angel gives her the news, and in her great song she sings about her pregnancy. She sings it when she is with Elizabeth, and while scripture is not clear whether Joseph knew or not at this point, one could easily make the case for this fact. She has visited her cousin early in her own pregnancy, and would not hav been showing yet. If Joseph does not know about the pregnancy yet, when Mary sings her song, then it show the trust she had in praising God because her future would be uncertain. More on the content of her song later.

Previous post on Theology of Pregnancy: Post I Post II Post III Post IV

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Vengeance is mine, says The Lord

Yesterday, I was listening to This American Life The program was about how certain three Americans took it upon themselves to take revenge against a Nigerian email scammer. They led the Nigerian into a Chad by luring him with the promise of money. They help strand him there. What was most disturbing about their account was the pleasure they took in torturing the scammer. They almost had the scammer go into the Western Union office with a note that was antimuslim and could have led to their death. It was evil. Evil in that they enjoyed the torture, and their justification of waiting to do justice rang false. Like a boy pulling off the wings of a bug for the jolley of watching it suffering, the three laughed at pain of another. When they were asked about whether it was cruel, they always justified their actions by saying the scammer brought it upon himself. It made think about Jesus' asking us to forgive and love our enemies. It is too easy to become a monster.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Faith, Love and the Way

Faith makes us. One of the weaknesses of the Enlightenment comes from identifying belief with agreement to a set of propositions. Pray the sinner’s prayer and heaven is yours. This creates a crack from ones ideas and being. Most of us know a person who says one thing and lives by another. The frightening feature of their way of life turns up when you realize they see no contradiction. They have the right answers. Answers imprison them in false confidence, a prison that puts trust not in Jesus, but in their ability to give answers. Humanity’s perchance for self-delusion is our history. We find no peace.

No one can love Jesus and hate another. The love of Jesus when it floods ones being, leaves no room for anything other than his peace. Many moralists have held this criticism of Christianity that questions a Faith based on forgiveness. How can you stand up to evil if you are always excusing the others evil way? They miss the nuanced view of Christianity. Christians go beyond condemnation and believe in radical transformation. Paul gave us the yardstick to evaluate another’s faith and it had to do in how one lives one’s life. The nine fruits of the spirit are ways of being, which go beyond ideas. Jesus’ love touch us and makes go beyond ourselves and we enter the Kingdom of God.

The early church was known as the Way, where the Way meant a particular way of living. The way was following Jesus. We told to be known by our love, and not our answers. For Jesus, faith involved turning away for your present direction (repent), and following him to new place of love (Kingdom of God). God’s love transforming, and as a believer, we open ourselves to experience of true peace

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Forgiveness and the power of Love

Areas and Spaces in Silence.

Is there a theology of fatherhood? I am soon to become a father and I have been thinking about being a father. My father disappeared from my life when I was young until...

...There was this strange silence at the other end. I said hello and introduced myself. I asked for forgiveness. He answered with Silence. I suddenly found myself reacting to this Silence. Were all the stories I told myself for so many years true? Did my real father not love me? Was I the reason he left. All of my fears of not being “lovable,” were being proved in this Silence. The whole week before I had his phone number on my desk. Fear of calling shaped me that whole week. I found every excuse not to call, and my week was horrible. Edgy and mean, I created ugly for the people round me. Then I called...

....So I called to reconcile with a man who I had lost contact for twenty-four years. I would be hard press to point out my own father in a room of strangers. It took every bit of strength I had to call. And how was my gesture of reconciliation greeted? Silence...

...Then he spoke. He spoke to me in Spanish, his language. He asked me about my life. I asked him about why he cut-off connection. He answered. For about an hour we conversed, and something transformed in me through this process of engaging the Silence. I was present to love. As I started to look at the life I had been leading, and what I would be like after this conversation, I realized I entered into a realization that would permanently alter who I am. This happen ten years ago, and I am still in this process of engaging the Silence. I knew that my father was a man, flawed and yet...

...I found God. I am also flawed man, as all men are flawed. Humility means understanding and accepting this truth. Prayer can be entering the Silence being aware of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A poem for 9/11

Ode to Compassion
-a Lament for September 11th

Do not
refuse
my tears
for I am a man
and I need
to weep I need to weep
because I sit and watch alone: alone
being not the point the point being
the coarse salt of an unyielding dirt storm
and the personal salt
of my nephew from waiting
for news of his father
the salt of the world being the point being pored being the taste
being the cause of tasteless concrete dust
being the uncertain point
of where to begin of where to place ourselves
in our own uncertainty
uncertain future uncertain place
uncertain time uncertain tears
my nephew’s father is alone
for four hours in a dust storm of man-made ash
not being able to phone home to speak to his children his three boys
speaking with his family later he has no words no tears no place to stand
he is a rich stockbroker who is poor and he cries and he cries for a word
any word to place his life any word to answer the black flames of death raining from his transformed sky he needs
life pass the tears pass the past he needs
a word
of love of life to restore him he is alone
alone with his thoughts alone with his
children he is a father with his sons and his ex-wife alone for dinner after
he fought to reach home alone
he answers his nine year old in his thoughts not knowing any answer pass silence.

Alone being the uncertainty of the world of history, uncertain on how to be
in his home that is no longer home
alone not being the point
or the only point of his tears are the world’s tears
the world looking for its son,
its sons and daughters
who have died alone in a cascade
of cement in a war that no one knew was happening
Not knowing who,
who is gone, gone is a world
in mourning
a world looking to war to answer death
with death choose life you say choose it all
solitude tears aloof alone
God we need home again
I need to cry to be alone.

Alone
I need
to cry crying to be with
the mothers and fathers and with a message
of “I love you, mommy” left on a cell
phone from a twenty-seven year old girl
in a tower soon to be rubble towering above her
solitude
her mother
is alone with the daughter’s voice
mail
I need to be
with the dead daughter on the plane
planning to be in Los Angles only to leave
her father and mother in San Diego
leaving her parents to us, we in
solitude
loneliness
and I need
I need to cry.

Alone
alone God
God I am standing
at this modern cross, our cross
And we stand at this foot
of your Cross, cross-eyed, and powerless
in front of our television sets without
a vision standing in front of a box empty
nailed to the ground standing inept
offering useless tears standing
Alone.

And I need
to weep again, and again and again and
stand with Mary Magdalene with Mary your mother
offering only their tears our tears
our tears to mingle with your blood, their blood
with your sweat of the eternal cross they are standing
together alone
on the march toward the cross with their cross
on your beaten shoulder alone
alone in the sudden realization of death
stinging the choice of life they are
Alone
with you, God dying before them before us

Crying
Tears
powerful tears of lamentation for their Lord
our Lord the Lord dying offering up our
tears alone.
What is the use of this transformed water?
This salty water? This living water trailing down our cheek staining our over priced shoes? What good to those dying before the eyes of a powerless world? God,
we need you now. Do not say no
to the sobbing to the teardrops forming a shield
forming a river two-thousand years
long and new as this day needs answers
needing to give answers
to the nine year-old wanting his father to have
a safer job. Safer? Safer than financial planning? Safe not being as real as those many dead
God knows the truth of the so long ago tears tears being the point the point being so much blind hatred of men lost into their own blindness fools making sense
of a New York City mourning of New York State mourning of our Nation mourning all those fearing war
and calling for forgiveness as if forgiving would be
big enough. Forgive?
Alone
not knowing
what we can do.
Do?
God crucified for us,
together for each other
Alone.
Oh
Mary Magdalene
we stand with you who
can only offer your tears to the one
who saved you from your demons
we need saving from our demons
crying the tears of being so lost so
alone
weeping for our losses we are
powerless as we try to crack open
our helplessness our hopelessness
hatching out in our meekness
to mourning to praying
Alone.

Before God we wail, we rend our clothes with ash-buried faces
we pray for peace we weep
crying out for your good news
of reconciliation
of new relationship
of the resurrection
of a transformed world
as one

alone

we are
Alone

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Agape and Awareness

“Do you know him?” The question posed by a stranger sitting next to me at the beginning of a long flight back to Pasadena. It was about to become an even longer flight. I knew the “him” the stranger was referring to, Jesus. He was dressed in a gray business suit and was at the dawn of his middle ages. His suit was neither cheap polyester nor expensive hand tailored, but one purchased in a department store. We were on coach so I figured he was a middle manager on a business trip. He had an air of the middle about him. We were coming from Denver, so I pegged him for a Promise Keeper doing his duty by evangelizing me, or anyone who happen to sit next to him. I was fresh meat. He gave me a track, which showed two pictures. One half show the word, self at the center, and the other had the cross at the center. Then I told him I am believer, and I was attending Fuller Seminary. He seemed disappointed. I wanted to gather in Jesus name, and he was convert hunting. Evangelism was to be more than convincing.

I remembered this story, as I was talking to a friend. She was concern about the direction of politics in our country. In course of our conversation, I shared my faith. She asked me what Agape meant as she had friends sign an email with it. Agape was a mystery for her, as it is to many people including me. She and her husband are such a loving parents that I explained it through my experiences of them as parents. Evangelism has to be more than convert hunting; evangelism has to be about befriending and being aware of others within Christ. It has to about Agape.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Gospel of Life

"From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Matt 4.17

Jesus proclaimed this Gospel through the country. It was his first message after his baptism. While this seems simple, Jesus started down the road to the cross and in these words contains the greatness of his ministry. Jesus tells us to repent or to turn away from the direction we are going. Then he says to follow him. Why? Because the Kingdom is at hand. The Kingdom of love, the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven is closer than we think. Closer than our blind chasing of control, self and loneliness. We can follow to grand adventure of love, and we do not have continue do the predicable road. It is surprising to me how many times the Christian life characterized as boring, when the New Testament fills us stories of extraordinary men and woman.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Love Poem

Love Prayer
My Wife


I live poorly. Love, may my Lord empty me.
Give me the release to embrace you. I am full
with stories, estimations, and opinions. Dull,
I sting with boredom. A self-important bee,

buzzing around fear, proving my loneliness.
The stinger falls out of my eyes revealing
your working servant hands scrubbing the mess
in stainless steel kitchen sink. Believing

faith stirs to the circular movements of your
joy. I pray for a poverty of heart to teach
me how to rivet to you beyond qualms, and breach
the fortification into a consoling water. The door

flings open, flooding my life with the passion
of a man upon cross creating love’s refashion.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Here I AM - part II

Part Two: Here I am
Continued for Part one

Most of the art, music and literary output based on "I am here" tends to be weak. “I am here,” did not let them make room to hear others. They could not comprehend that true art begins in dialogue. I met poets who did not like to read poems, just write them. They expected others to hear and read their poems, while they did not hear the best of their own art form. They asked for something they were not willing to give themselves. They could not even see the irony in their process. I met painters, who knew only couple of painters, and hated even those few painters. They did not respond to their history and art; rather they had a complete ignorance of what went before, or was going on around them. Around them were students who had survived genocide, and lived in countries where being a Christian might mean prison or death. There were stories of courage, and self-sacrifice all around them, but they could not her them. There were many opportunities for dialogue and relief from their own personal hells. Few of the art people at the seminary took those opportunities. They could not see past their, “I am here.” They became very bored people. They were also very lonely people.

“I am here” provides no room for love to present itself. Maybe Milosz has a point. “I am here” is all we can declare by ourselves. Maybe it is the simply the limit of isolation. What it says is how little we can actual say by ourselves. It calls for the need beyond the “I” as declaration. “Here I am,” is a different phrase. It presupposes a relationship. It is a response and not a declaration. “Here” is the center, and not “I.” The ”I” is one of response. “Here” is at various times life, others and ultimately, God. “Here” forces us to see the reality of life, others and God. Life is here before us, and life will be here after we are gone. God is before us, and God is eternal. We cannot declare our existence to God and expect God to respond to us. It is God, who speaks first, and we have to respond, not the other way around. The fruitful life is a life of responding to life, others and ultimately God. We need to first acknowledge our culture, our history, our religion, and all of what makes us human to even begin to locate the “I.” Only in response can love be possible.

It is interesting to notice “I am here” is not in the biblical accounts, but Scripture is full of the response, “Here I am.” I have imagined the prophet Isaiah seating in the first temple. A sight of God on his throne suddenly shakes him out his world. He sees his own foulness. He cannot response in the revelation of his own “I.” A touch of hot coals, and he can hear God, and now he can respond. “Here I am,” he cries out to God. In this moment, a prophet comes into being. Isaiah’s response makes him a prophet. It is comical to even imagine a self-made prophet. Isaiah is not the only one to respond to God with “Here I am.” Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Moses and many others have answered the call of God with, “Here I am.” It is how they answers that they find their identity and freedom. What if we stop living as if we have to declare ourselves to God, and realie God declares to us and we respond to that call? By placing the attention first on God, we have to respond and not declare. When Moses asks God’s name to tell the Israelites who sent him, God answers, “I am that I am.” When we answer, “here I am,” to the life and God we unconsciously or consciously understand our place in creation.

We have to always respond to God, and it is here we enter prayer. Prayer understands that our lives can only response to God with “Here I am.” We could no longer simply from whim to whim, but our life have purpose in response. The shift from “I am here,” to “Here I am” is the center of conversion. In other words, the life of faith is moving from selfishness to love, illusion to prayer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Here I Am - part I

Part ONE: Here I am

“I am here.” In these words, the Nobel Prize winning poet Czeslaw Milosz claims, contains all that one can say. As fearful as it may to say, I am not sure he is correct. “I am here,” declares our stand, but not our relationship to the life and God. “I am here,” dominates our contemporary world. As a declarative clause, it locates us as an individual to our place in the world. It is both modern and post-modern statement in that it focuses on the “I.” The center of the statement is its beginning, the “I.” It announces the arrival of the self in the “here,” a particular point in place and time. A declarative proclamation, it demands the world to take notice of this “I,” even if it is an enigmatic “I.” The “I” is both the subject and object, and the measure of experience. For moderns, this “I” identifies its self by its capacity to reason. For postmodernism, the “I” is defined by the amorphous individual. They are both on the side of the individual as opposed to the “here.” For both stances, the “I” as the measure of experience. “I am here” forces the rest of creation into reacting to the “I.” Where is God in “I am here”? God can only be within the experience of the “I.” Within this stance, is there any wonder why the religious imagination has fallen into such ruinous reputation? We have lost the relationship to God where we are in God’s expression.

I went to seminary with a friend, who would show up to events and classes in various color clashing clothes. Orange and purple would combine to broadcast his need to flaunt social mores, or so he would say. He wore skirts. He wore leopard-patterned top hats. Most of his classmates accepted his eccentricity. It was just Brent being Brent. (not his real name) The social mores of fashion he was fighting against had disappeared. He wanted to express his individuality, and uniqueness. “I am here,” was his constant cry to his fellow seminarians through how he dressed. He was mostly ignored. He naturally gravitated to the artists, or those who wanted to be artists. Was he playing the clown for us? I do not know his motivation. But through his clothes, through his demeanor, and through his speech, he was continually crying, “I am here,” and take notice of me.

His problem was simple. The rest of his crowd was also attempting to declare, “I am here.” To draw attention to themselves, they could not pay attention to anything else. Most of his outlandish costumes would go uncommented on. His group would be too busy constructing their own methods of grabbing attention. Some used the telling of their life stories as a soap opera to declare, “I am here.” They would complain about how their mother and father ruined them, and how they are now slowly healing. When they would take a breath, the person listening would jump into their own act to declare, “I am here.” They would share monologues, ignoring and buying time to when there was a break and they could speak. It was no wonder that Brent could never achieve his aim. He wanted to make a statement to people to busy making their own statements to listen. Listening becomes a lost art.

There is a second related problem to “I am here.” There was poet at the seminary would act as a jukebox with his troubles with women. Put a nickel in and he would play how his latest love interest oppressed him. The newest woman could see him just as a friend, while he wanted more. He would not ask for more, he only wanted more. When questioned if he asked the girl out, he acted as if you just wounded him. He thought you did not understand his suffering. His suffering, as insignificant as it was, was his “I am here.” He did not act to make his romantic life work. If he did, he would lose his personal, “I am here.” He trapped himself by thinking his “I” was his identity. His “I” became his prison. The saddest aspect of his world was that his “I” was a mere illusion. Many of the women he forced into the role of rejecter would have given him a chance romantically if he could see past his “I.” He could not give up his story and see something new. “I am here” robbed him of freedom, and impoverish his imagination.

Part II

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Knocking on doors through theology

My quest, I see now, involves integrating history, spirituality and something beyond what I knew into a world of love, compassion and affirmation, the Kingdom of God. Answering the call of Jesus, I need to ask new questions, and stay with them. I want to tell a theological history of my life through spiritual questions. What is a human being? What is love? How do I define myself? What are the experiences of true freedom? How to live?

The American philosopher, George Santayana tirelessly quoted, “Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it” offers insight into the dangers of escaping history. No amount of negating the past can negate the past, hence, the problem. The more we aim to change the past, the more we remain within our same old self. We just have a better wardrobe. The past will make an appearance with or without our acknowledgment. Unacknowledged history risks controlling us like a marionette. You think your life is your own; only to find a sled named “rosebud” pulling your strings all along and making you dance to unheard music. A baritone whisper of your last words makes your life a black and white spectacle beyond your own control. Taking Plato’s advice, to examine your life means you have to enter your history with awareness. Exploring the Spirit’s questions through my experiences and finding the divine working within my life drives me into the deepness of history and not away from it.

The five questions shape a skeleton where the meat of my story can attach itself. They are all theological questions. The reality is that the last question was the one I needed answered the most. The first four form the foundation of answering the last. These questions are personal as they are universal. Theology’s valuable must be contained our experiences of life. We meet Jesus at the well gathering our daily water. I avoid practical theology, which uses theology in living, rather theology to illuminate living. For too long, theology disconnected itself from living. Augustine wrote both Confessions and City of God. One was about his life, and the other about God. If I am to see God in the center of life, theology must speak to my experiences. The proof of God must be in my story and my future. Any theology, any talk of God for me exhales in the act of my daily breathing. I ask these theological questions through the hard contact lenses of my life.

My first hurdle in my spiritual odyssey—just what the world needs: another overwrought, overwritten story blaming parents, God, Country, fellow humans, Prozac, or whatever else is handy for their own failings; all the while trying to create a new self out of the wreckage. What use is taking a wrecking ball to ones history? Am I trying to join that most American of past-times, reinventing myself? Am I trying to rewrite my history? Shattering history? If I am to live within a home in myself, then I have to overcome the tendency of blaming. Furthermore, if I am asking you to journey with me for the hours and days of reading, how boring will it be for you to spend it with me continually whining. I cannot escape my freedom and responsibility by retreating into excuses from the past. I have to acknowledge this tendency within the culture and more importantly within myself.

Today, the negating of personal history and culture of a self-creating stifles us. Reinventing one’s self has moved from the exclusive fare of celebrities, politicians, and authors and has gone mainstream. We see it on TV everyday. We all can have a makeover, and the cameras keep rolling. I must admit that most of these stories bore me. The self collapses into fashion. A frumpy librarian, pluck off the streets on her way home, becomes a glamorous woman who looks like a movie star. We see her get a new haircut, and a new wardrobe. In extreme cases, we see flesh hacked off her—nose reshaped by scalpel, and fat sucked out. She is revealed as a new woman in a moment of happy transformation. Her friends and family, surprised by her transformation, gawk over her as if she were a newborn. Interviewed, she raves about how her new look changed her life. Men with six-pack abs swoon over her. Women find her fascinating and line up to befriend her. Style has finally shined on her and resurrected her life.
Presumably, her worldview has not changed. If she were a Catholic, then she remains a Catholic. If she were a democrat, then she remains a democrat. She has not fallen off an ass on the way to Damascus because the voice of God called her. She is not physically blind for a few days, needing the help of other believers. Her beliefs are still intact, but she claims to be different. No, her conversion comes from costumes and repackaging. She, with her new image, can now be shelved at eyelevel with the best products. Her salvation and new life arrive as a hip hairstyle and up-to-date wardrobe. Her thoughts and ideas, her story, and her passion, none of it matters in the creation of her new life. She is Jay Gatsby without the tragedy, a blockbuster movie with a feel-good ending. How sad that all she needed was so superficial. Could it mean her life was always superficial? And still is?
Hers is the final negation of story in preference for style. Her history is unimportant, and easily ignored like street people pleading for money or food. What matters is the moment of her reception as a new self. The source of her happiness lies with her packaging, and not her thoughts, feelings, faith, or anything classically conceived as a human being. Her life turns out to be less important than her happiness. Supposedly we want to be like her, wait our turn when we will be swept away in black vans and have our history made irrelevant by slick hairdressers who know the secrets of ecstasy and eternal good hair days. All the while, the cameras roll capturing the only transformation left us. I, uninterested in being like her, find it worthless turning myself into the new and improved self, the new me. To negate my story does nothing in affirming my life. It is ugly in all of its seductive beauty.
It does tempt me. Escape from the Egypt of my past, and make myself into a sweet tasting soda of a man. Ironically, the American tendency to ignore History has its origins in American History. Americans seldom reflected upon the implications on reinventing of self. America, founded by groups wanting to escape the violence of European History, remain untrusting of History. The founders came from places like York, London, and Amsterdam. They set up cities and colonies like New York, New Haven, and New England. They unwittingly started the cult of new. They wanted to reinvent the old Europe into a New Jerusalem, or a new aristocracy. “New, new, new…” became the beat of our new country, and still is.
Later, waves of immigrants also followed in attempting to escape their own history into the land of opportunity. The asking price was the loss of the old way of life. The push westward was a push passed History into new possibilities. Our historical process is escaping the past. The delicious irony, our past conditions us to deny our past.
The larger historical process finds itself into how Americans live their personal lives, and hence my temptation. We admire self-made men. We will want to get a new start after a personal fall; we brush off the past’s dust off our jeans. We ask for feedback about the “… new me.” Freedom for us means both freedom from the past and freedom to create a new future. Freedom based solely on actions. Family, friends, places, home, all are malleable and changeable. Any American can become rich and famous or even the president despite their background. It is our greatest historical myth, even as most of us recognize it as unrealistic. Yet, we believe this myth as the source of our freedom. Could it also be our unrecognized prison? Our concepts make us slaves to a false freedom, and to the crushing self without a history. Jay Gatsby dies in his attempt. Daisy dies a spiritual death in her marriage. The greatness comes in the telling of the tale.
We believe we can simply cast off the old self by reinventing it through negating the past. The first act of reinventing is destroying what came before. It is no accident that the largest section in our bookstores is the self-help section. Here, we can find any number of books promoting the hope of escaping from our pasts and starting over. These books, enclosed in the thousands of colorful covers, advice us on how to repackage ourselves into a shiny new product. We can rebrand ourselves. The self-help industry neglects the main trap of erasing your past, which even fashionable clothes remain helpless to transform. Denied history morphs into a recurring future of that same past. We diet to lose weight only to gain more fat on our frames. My past is part of my life, and to destroy it in the name of new and improved remains unworkable.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Art, poem and transformation

I have always fascinated by the story of Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:4-42. Her life was transformed by the Jesus and his words: A poem about her:

Sun's Highest Point


I imagine, at times. I fill the large bucket
with only my words. I keep throwing the out
the bucket. It never fills. The noonday sun
pulsates into prayer beads of sweat strung
like a thorns along my forehead. Alone,

the salt forms a crystal coaster along my forehead.
Time has past and my words are funny, unheard.
Without a listener, my words keep gathering
in stagnant pools throughout my life. I keep going
and talking at those men: husbands and lovers

who could not hear me. I talk when no one is there.
I talk because talk is cheap and I am poor,
and can afford my words. The rest talk behind
my back and in front of me. I have descend so far
in their eyes, I will not listen to their vacuous

words any longer. I keep talking. I bath
in empty words—mine and theirs. Then,
I listen to my life flowing out of stranger's
mouth. Because he spoke, my words

gather weight. My towns unites,
and the son goes higher.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Love and being alive

Reading Moltmann's The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation

The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation

has given me a perspective on experience and methodology. Moltmann argues that the scientific method values repeatability and leaves unique experience undervalued. Yet, it is the experiences that are unique that are the ones that transform us. I understand as I experience the pregnancy of my wife. I feel different from just a few weeks since we found out. My thoughts move myself and onto the child forming and soon to breath on this earth. The title of Moltmann's bool speak to me. The spirit of life is the universal affirmation. Just like Jesus affirms life with his blood. The poem for today:

When the Word Spoke No Words
... but this man has done nothing wrong.
-Luke 23.41

I find a rest in your calm, in your presence
and in the listening you provide. Beloved God,
I recover in the bed of your quiet silence. Where?
Missing? You? The warmth of you piercing

questions nail me and I dream past my enigmas. I
lay down in your innocence. You give the afternoon
sun to my sleep. You give me air to breath. Your ans-
wers I receive and know dignity. What is your secret?

What ancient present text can I read to retrieve
you? Beloved, I feel my broken body repairing it-
self, feeling my heart slowing its pounding, my blood

moving in new paths. Your balm is working. My con-
versation moves with a reborn wind of clarity. I am
awakened to know the vastness of my unknowing...You


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pregnancy, Ultrasounds and love.

Last night, I saw the first pictures of our child forming. I though about the future, my child and Jesus. At one point, we all looked like that inch long being on the way to birth, including God incarnate. G0d started moving into our world to be with us as a group of cells. The future of how this child will move through the world is a mystery. It is when we let the mystery of life penetrate deep with our being that it changes us and forms us. Faith is also allowing the mystery touch us deeply at our core. When we try to control the mystery, we fall into the temptation of the first sin of trying to be like God without understanding God is love. Picking up my cross is picking up my weaknesses and vulnerablities and allowing love to form me. I have to go for now and here is a poem about being at the beginning of my marriage. It is about eternity:


The Collapse of Time, or How Eternity Exists in the First Year

A quiet illumination happens
within the waking, the walking
to errands, to our workouts, to the listening
to the radio, to our working
at different jobs and our speaking
at lunchtime. and always
the silence of sleeping
through the darkness
in a large bed we bought
together. We are newlyweds,
which means we explore
each other’s glossaries
and our mutual meanings. Moving
pass the bathroom as you
dry your hair, I hear you
ask a question. I answer,
and wash the dishes. You
tether the king sheets
and comforter (a wedding
gift) to our large mattress
each morning as I am on a bus
heading toward my current
position. Love, outside
our apartment there is two pools,
a clubhouse, and barbeque grills.
We live on the third floor,
and from our upper room,
we can view the colors
of the sky changing
during the different
parts of the day.
We dream and plan
for our own house. Our
loose ends are being
knitted into a elastic rope.

Suddenly,
I see

we are being rooted
in black soil. There are
buds forming between
us, which makefor sweet fruit.

Pregnancy post

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Pregnancy, heartbeat, and Life

Then we became aware of our child's heartbeat. Lace had her first ultrasound today. She got to see the rapid heartbeat of our child within her. As she told me, I felt the sweep of Joy overcome me. Joy differs from happiness as Joy is rooted life. Unlike happiness, generated out circumstances, Joy meets us in the experience of life when it is at most profound. A job promotion may make you happy, but life noticed, whether it is a child playing, a smile given, or love recognized, joy meets us with the beauty of life.

I have been rereading Jurgen Moltmann's The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation. His book on the Holy Spirit has had a profound influence on my faith and how I look see my faith. In the section I read last night, he made the case that an experience has to find expression to be fully realized. When Lace told me her experience of her first ultrasound, I found her expression of joy contagious. I write to express my joy in learning of a heartbeat.

Pregnancy Post

Monday, September 1, 2008

An Exile Discovers Home

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” I told them that the hand of God had been gracious upon me, and that the king had spoken to me. So they said, “Lets start building!” So, they committed themselves to the common good.
-Nehemiah 2.17-18 (NRSV)

Disillusioned, Joel wondered why. He served the Lord. It was so little to ask for. After all those years, was it too much to expect a little in return?

Miracles are all around us; we are simply blind to them. I saw Joel unwrapped more of the Gospel’s mystery for me. He and his wife dedicated over twenty-five years to the African mission fields. The raised their children in a country of leaping African tribesmen. Whey they returned home from their self-imposed exile, they found God fashioned them into faithful people by years of living out the Gospel, feeding the hungry and making peace. The problem was that the prime of their lives, where most their friends and neighbors use to buy houses, build equity, create careers, and save for retirement, was spent living in huts, building schools and helping people who could never return the favor.

Coming back to the US in their early fifties gave them little time to catch up. They came back with undervalued skills like peacemaking, digging wells, and building houses without modern equipment. They both worked entry-level jobs. She worked as an academic advisor at a seminary. He worked as part-time chaplain at three different hospitals. They were making do with what was in front of them without complaining.

So when after a few years, one of the hospitals had an opening for a full time director of chaplains with benefits, he thought his prayer had been answered. If Joel got the position, they could even think of buying a home, and forget living in an apartment. The position went to someone fresh out graduate school. His spirit fell. He would serve under a younger manager. He felt like an exile in what he thought was his home. When he shared his struggles in our prayer group, his eyes filled with tears of fear, rage and frustration. Then came a wonder and miracle.

“Exile” the word Nehemiah knew intimately. Even after he and his people return to Jerusalem, the city was broken and they had to start again. It was hard times rebuilding as rebuilding always is. God remained with them comforting, coaxing, and compelling the returned exiles on their mission. Their faith carried them. Jerusalem returned to glory from their river of sweat. The common work reunited a nation. It was the same faith Joel showed as he composed himself within a deep silence after his outburst. A peace descended on him. In a quiet voice, he said that he would support his new manager. He would make sure she would be a success despite his disappointment. Love was too important to sacrifice on the cross of regret. When we asked him why? He said that he knew that no matter what God would take care of his family. The new manager had committed no crime against him, and to hold his frustration over her would be unchristian. God may not give him everything he wants, but God provided more than enough.

“I may never own a house. Yet, I have seen children-soldiers guilty over murders and massacres redeemed into peacemakers. I know God has used my life. What could be greater?”

We all find at one point in our lives that we are returning exiles just like Nehemiah. We return to what was our home, and we hope to make that place home again. The rebuilding process will be demanding, but like Joel and Nehemiah, we may find out that our real home rests in the loving squeeze and embrace of God.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Love, Lectionary, and the Call of Others

On Sundays, I like to meditate on the weekly lectionary. Today, I am reading at my Spokane Valley church, Holy Trinity Church, so I have read the passages before actually hearing them at church.

The theme in all of the reading is about the nature of Love. Love, Romans 12:9-21 says, comes from how we relate to others. By answering our engagement with others with love, we proclaim love. Now, this seems to be at the heart of the Gospel, God's Love. It also shows how strong of a Christian I am. Through the passages is, to quote the Beatles, all you need is love. Love your friends, love your family, love your neighbors, love people of lower socioeconomic status, love your enemies and think other better than yourself. Here the Gospel reveals itself as counter-culture. We are taught to love ourselves first and think of ourselves as the ground to love others. For Christians, the ground is God's love, of our love.

If I am honest with myself, then I understand the weakness of my love. I love until I am hurt, judge, or ignore the other. The Gospel reminds me of this and makes me give up my hurt, judgment, or unawareness and love those that I would reject.

Faith meets real life when I am forced to do something I would normally not do. Most of the time, we construe faith as propositions to say yes to. Yet, Faith that is only agreement, reduces to simple opinion. When I work at homeless shelter, and I see someone who stinks from being on the street, who has made choices that landed him without a home, my natural inclination is to shake me head for a distance. God calls me to give him my presences, and engage him with my whole being in the moment. I remember hearing his story and sharing with him the story about the woman at the well in John 4. Sharing my own experiences as a Christian and he sharing bond us under God. I understood faith as pushing myself beyond my own pettiness
.

Todays poem is about my own faith journey:


I stop within the dangers of memory not to find God, but
for my times as a boy at the old cathedral of Juarez. I find memories of little
boys—not me—belonging to another congregation—living a life not
mine. The candlelight highlights the brown skin against their white garments.
I remember the Christmases and Easters when I went to church
on the high holy days companying my Uncle Chacho. I recall the strange
feeling of seeing those alter boys and having no part to play—coming to church
after seeing my stepfather angry with alcohol—hearing my stepfather ridicule
God who abandoned the little boy he was in Nazi oppressed Poland.

I sought a home among those boys who spoke in Spanish, my first language
Which I have trouble speaking Yet, they seemed not to notice my eyes, (one blind and cross-
eyed, the other weak) or my life. The Christ figurine hung naked on the cross
remains in my imagination—carved in the dark hard wood, his head down
and the red paint. Its shadow tangoed in the sepia lights.
I remember being tried being up late in the night.
My Uncle had shaken me awake earlier, as not to be late for the mid-
night mass. The weight of my clumsiness feared the evil of my being, and my eyes.
The eyes of the boys in white averted not to see my deformity,
which made my sight look fractious and ugly. The Church’s low light beauty filled
my head, as did the smells, those tasteless wafers, and the knelling bells.
With no place to understand the service, I followed my Uncle when he rose,
when he sat, and when he knelt. The liturgy without a context left me
isolated. Sermon, wine, music, bells would greet the new day. We return home to sleep.

Later in the morning, as we would eat brunch, or open gifts, I was uneasy.
Playing with loud beeping plastic of freshly open presents, I, and the other
children of my family created a soundtrack to the beer, the glasses of wine,
and the shots of tequila—Chacho’s home becoming a place of faith I did not have
a map for. The geography of God was uncharted and as strange
as those group prayers aping across my ears, as strange as stepping
over my stepfather’s drunk body plopped in another epoch across the threshold
of Uncle’s library. Books, books, books I left unread. Grace tricks
my memory. Today, I cannot fully trace back from the wood-carvings of Christ hanging
on the cathedral’s walls to my classes at Fuller Seminary. I now belong
but with a history Ashamed of crimes not mine, God finds me
in a Lutheran Church. My crimes incorporate into another time
of Easter, into the eternal birth of Christmas. Nothing simple—finding the crosses
of my current church empty, I find I still need,
at times, those other filled wood crosses of the little boy I was
in another age. The lights of Sunday morning worship are now bright,. I unearth
the beauty in the dusk-like lighting of that old cathedral in Juarez, Mexico.
I remember those times with my Uncle as a child—the dower bells,
and those wooden pieces showing the suffering of Jesus, the God
incarnate—fleshing out my future. The brickless place of worship becoming
my rock support propping up a enigmatic atlas of life. After a Sunday service, I breathe
n the air and feed my skin. The constant wind blows around me as it did in childhood.
Leafs make noise. It blows over the waters of my memories. The peace
That comes from finding God sweals within me.