Category Archives: after-class musings

after-WEAVE-ings: what is a spiritual life?

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We spent some time talking last night about spirituality, what it is, how we have it (or don’t have it), what’s easy and what’s hard about our spiritual lives, etc. Some of us think of spiritual life as something other people have, some of us aren’t entirely sure what it means, for some of us it’s heady and for others of us it’s emotional, for some of us it’s easy for others it’s so difficult as to appear impossible. All of us admitted that it takes practice.

That sounds about right.

One of the difficulties with trying to talk about our spiritual lives is that they are so individual–our personalities, our backgrounds, our context, our knowledge all play into how we experience God and the life we build around that experience.

One description I used (which is admittedly incomplete, and breaks down almost immediately, but is the best I can do right now) is to think (but not too much, lol) about God as the air–always there, but rarely noticed until the moment we gasp for breath. Nurturing our spiritual life is a little bit like nurturing our awareness and gratitude for the air–being aware of its presence around and within us, and working with the air to continue to build that relationship. (see what I mean about the metaphor breaking down? Though I suppose our bodies work with air on a subconscious level….what we’re trying to do here is bring it to a conscious level.)

In order to nurture a relationship, we have to put in time and energy, right? We talk to our friends, we spend time with them, we do things together–can we also do that with God? It requires thinking a little more abstractly since God is not a physical presence, but I think it can be done.

So we’ll be spending the next few weeks exploring ways to nurture our spiritual lives, to connect our spirits and God’s Spirit. Some ways will be old–people have been practicing these disciplines for centuries. Some will be new–no one will have even heard of them (except you) until my book comes out next spring. Some may take time and lots of practice, some may come easily. The idea is not to add even more things to packed lives, it’s to change our vision and attitude so that our whole lives are spiritual practice. In a quote from the essay I handed out last night (stop by the office this weekend for a copy if you’d like one!): “it doesn’t take time, but it does permeate all of our time.”

See you next Wednesday!

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peeking in on the Men’s Breakfast talk…Church and State

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John is the speaker for the Men’s breakfast this morning. Here’s what he’s talking about…
In UK today is Guy Fawkes Day when kids all over the country light bonfires and set off fireworks to “Remember, remember the 5th of November” when in 1605 Guy Fawkes was arrested, tortured and executed for attempting to blow up King James I and all of Parliament in an act religious terrorism.
This led me to think on the subject of the “Separation of Church & State”, a foundational principle of the Constitution. Yet today we hear more and more about politicians and their religious viewpoints.
Recently I have heard media reports about “Do not support X. He will take his religion into the White House.”
At the same time I have also heard “Do support Y. He will take his religion into the White House.”
The subject has cropped up before but usually in isolated cases (Lieberman and JFK). Now it seems to be required of every candidate to showcase their faith values.
I find this fascinating and disturbing at the same time. While I can see that it is important to know a candidate’s values…are we now being asked to vote depending on religious affiliation as opposed to (or as well as) policy and strategy positions?
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As a history fan I have for a while now been interested in the culture, politics, and church in Germany in the 1930’s .Particularly in the various churches response to Hitler and Nazi beliefs. Many of the books I have read suggest that there are similarities between the situation then and now, i.e. high unemployment, global financial crisis, collapse of economies, wide spread unrest with “ the present situation”.
Can we learn anything from that time? How did the churches react?
Two short opposite examples.

“Stay out of it”–The Roman Catholic Church

According to new internal Vatican documents, released in 2005/6, the key issues for the church were:

1) Germany was the only nation in which the Pope did not have sole and exclusive power to appoint bishops. Since the Reformation the German RC’s had the right to choose their own short list of candidates. This list was send to Rome for “agreement“ or “alteration” and then there was an open vote. This situation was intolerable to Rome and there had been numerous attempts and schemes to end it.

2) This had caused political friction between Rome, the German church and the government. In certain regions, during 1870-80, the government banned the appointment of new priests and bishops resulting in thousands of parishes and numerous bishoprics lying vacant for years. This meant generations of Catholics had lived and died without ever having had priests, sacraments or instruction. Theologically this meant they were all damned with no hope of salvation. The Vatican was determined to avoid a repeat of that situation.

3) Pope Pius XII took the position that he was “vicar of all Catholics world wide” and support or criticism of one nation over another was not possible as his primary duty was international pastoral care of his flock.

By the end of WW 2 absolute Papal authority had been established and the Vatican had taken minimal political participation.

“Complete Immersion”–The German Christian Movement
The German Christians were an inter-denominational pressure group of 600,000 Protestant pastors, bishops, professors and teachers of religion and laity with the stated aim of proving that “National Socialism and Christianity were not only reconcilable but mutually reinforcing.” The movement was based in the “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church” at the University of Jena.

Their main teachings were:

1) Church should be based on race and ethnicity.
2) Universal in that it was open to all Germans, exclusive in that it was only legally defined Germans.
3) Christianity is “universal” in the next world but “national” in this world.
4) Jesus was a descendant of Aryan invaders, not a Jew.
5) Paul was chiefly responsible for Judaizing Christianity.
6) Absolutely anti-Semitic and attempted to de-judiase Scripture and all aspects of religious life (even Christians descended from Jews should be purged from the church, no matter how long ago that ancestor lived).
7) Abandoned Old Testament and re-wrote the New.
8) Christianity/Jesus was the final rejection and destruction of Jewish faith NOT the culmination of it.
9) Church had to be anti-doctrinal and anti-creedal. Therefore anti-denominational and anti-ecumenical.
10) Church had to be “manly” a place for “warriors and soldiers “and all emotional “softness and femininity” was Jewish influence which had to be routed out and destroyed.

Although not technically supported by the Nazis, and sometimes even attacked by them, the German Christian movement was very influential throughout the War. It collapsed in 1944/45 and after the war all its members were re-absorbed back into German church life with no official penalties or correction of its teachings.

A third way: the Confessing Churches

We’ve been talking on the blog about this history, and the (relatively) small group of pastors, congregations, teachers, and Christians that stood against both these options and sought a third way–a way faithful to the gospel, not to a political ideology or an institutional religion. To learn more about that, follow our series on The Theological Declaration of Barmen, posted every Monday. The historical background, info about the people involved, and the way they worked is here, and the first installment of our study of the statement of faith they wrote is here. Check back each Monday for the next month as we continue to explore the faith they clung to and even died for, and what they have to teach us 70 years later.

WEAVEings: hunger and poverty

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Last night Bill Weller talked with us about issues of hunger and poverty–which are, of course, interrelated. Hunger is a symptom of poverty, usually. Sometimes it’s the only symptom, sometimes there are others (homelessness, lack of clean water, limited access to education, etc).

Scripture is pretty clear that it is our task as the people of God to care for people in distress, to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, to give bread to the hungry and water to the thirsty. The question is: how do we do it?

One of the most obvious ways is through direct assistance–we give food to people, or we support a food pantry or soup kitchen or other program that gives food to people. This is good and important and meets immediate needs. It doesn’t solve the problem of how come people are hungry, though.

Another way is through advocacy–we can lobby our government to stop allowing people to fall through the cracks, we can continue fishing people out of the river even as we go upstream and ask why they’re falling into the river in the first place. One action by a government can do more to help end poverty and hunger than thousands of meals given away. Access to education, childcare, job training, food assistance, affordable housing, etc can mean the difference between hunger and having enough.

A third way is through raising awareness–Bill talked about his students hosting a Hunger Banquet, for instance. In this awareness raising event, people experience the disparity between the poorest of the world (50% of the world population) and the 15% into which most of us fall. Knowing and seeing this firsthand is a great way to jumpstart our compassion and our willingness to act. Reminding people that 1 in 4 families in this country is food insecure, and even more than that when we start talking about the global south, while it may be depressing is still important. As long as we are able to close our eyes to the problem, no solution will appear.

We talked quite a bit as well about what to do when food aid is not effective–for instance, when we send American grown (and government subsidized!) grain to a village where people are hungry, we often undercut the market for local food, putting local farmers out of business. Often we give away food at first, but then start charging for it later–after local producers have gone under and the population relies on food assistance. How can we better use our dollars and sense to ensure that communities are able to feed themselves?

For more information, a few resources Bill talked about are:

Bread For the World

The Friends Committee on National Legislation

Sojourners

Enough: Why the World’s Poor Starve in an Age of Plenty

WEAVEings: faith in public life

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Tonight Rick Johnson kicked off the Compassion-Peace-and-Justice series at WEAVE with a class about how faith and public life intersect. In the conversation, we acknowledged that we don’t want to be the people trying to create a theocracy, we don’t want to be the people stridently pushing our single-item agenda at the expense of others (or at the expense of the God of love!), and we also don’t want to segregate our faith from our political lives. Remembering that the greek word polis is a particular kind of community arrangement, politics (from the root polis) is about how we live together in community. In other words, “politics” and “partisanship” are not the same thing. Our faith should definitely inform politics–how we live together–even as we keep partisanship out of our faith community. We seek the kingdom of God, and that is our agenda…not a particular party or ideology.

We were reminded tonight that the agenda of the kingdom of God is about justice–in the sense of everyone having a place at the table, everyone having enough (not in the sense of punishment or retributive leveling). Over 2,000 verses of the Bible are about economics, justice, and caring for the poor and oppressed. That’s a lot of God-talk about something we often prefer to avoid. The arc of scripture is toward justice and compassion, and within that arc we strive to live our faith lives in the public square.

We talked for a long time about our human propensity to “mine Scripture for tidbits that will fit our particular agenda.” I’m sure we can all think of examples of this kind of proof-texting, where we take a few words or maybe a verse out of its context and use it to prove our point. This is done by people of every ideology, of every partisan stripe…and it’s not okay. We have a whole library of Scripture (66 books!) for a reason. If it were so simple and black and white, we’d have just a few chapters and be done with it. Instead we contend with stories, biographies, rules from ancient cultures, letters, visions, and the mythology of a people, and we work to interpret it in light of the love of God made known to us in Christ, for our time and context. It’s a big job, not one easily reduced to a few words taken out here and there.

We also talked about how many in our culture seem to believe that faith and politics should never mix. The difficulty, of course, is how much of Scripture is devoted to political issues. Most of the prophets and a fair chunk of Jesus and Paul’s teachings have to do with how the government cares for (or doesn’t care for) its people, with how the community is organized, with God’s concern for the poor and oppressed. How can we disregard all of that in order to keep our faith in its Sunday morning box? Well….we can’t, really. Jesus calls us to follow him wherever he leads, and he spends an awful lot of time hanging out where the leaders are, calling them out on their anti-kingdom-of-God actions and policies. What does following Jesus mean in our day?

What do you think? How does your faith inform your public or political life? How does your faith affect your understanding of the economy, the role of government in helping us work toward the kingdom of God, etc? What do you think a community that pleases God would look like? What would you like to learn more about so that you can more readily put your faith into action?

WEAVE-ings: prayer, grace, and predestination

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Last night at WEAVE we started off talking about some of our difficulties with prayer–does God actually change things when we pray? If not, why do we do it?

That led us into a long conversation about predestination (the idea that God chooses who is saved long before we come into the picture, so we cannot earn or lose our salvation), God’s love and justice, whether justice and punishment are the same thing, and the nature of grace.

I know we’ve talked about all these things before, but it’s so interesting to continue the conversation! Of course, the greatest difficulty with this conversation is that we can never know for certain who is right…God is mysterious, and we see only a little bit, through a glass dimly.

So–continue the conversation here. What do you think? What does prayer do–either to God or to us? How does prayer help you, as the pray-er, or as the pray-ee?

What do you think about grace? Is it Irresistable (as the Reformed tradition teaches) or do you have to accept it in order for it to work in your life? What does being saved have to do with how you live now? What does how you live now have to do with being saved? (a subtly different, but different nonetheless, question!)

How do you deal with the mystery of God and the idea that we don’t have control over so many of these things we wish we did?

 

update: I came across this quote from Desmond Tutu’s book “No Future Without Forgiveness” this afternoon, and it reminded me of last night’s conversation. emphasis added is mine…

“God does not give up on anyone, for God loved us from all eternity, God loves us now and God will always love us, all of us good and bad, forever and ever. His love will not let us go, for God’s love for us, all of us, good and bad, is unchanging, is unchangeable. Someone has said there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, for God loves me perfectly already. And wonderfully, there is nothing I can do to make God love me less. God loves me as I am to help me become all that I have it in me to become, and when I realize the deep love God has for me, I will strive for love’s sake to do what pleases my Lover. Those who think this opens the door for moral laxity have obviously never been in love, for love is much more demanding than law. An exhausted mother, ready to drop dead into bed, will think nothing of sitting the whole night through by the bed of her sick child.”