Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Mask of God"

Pentecost, for Christians, is a celebration of the presence of the Holy Spirit. According to Acts 2:1-4, the disciples were gathered together on the day of Pentecost, when suddenly they were filled with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak many different languages. Obviously, the Holy Spirit had been with them before this day also. But Pentecost was a moment where the disciples experienced a fresh and renewed awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit acting in their lives. Suddenly they were able the speak a diversity of different languages. In other words they could do ministry in many different cultures. Today some people even celebrate Pluralism Sunday on Pentecost in order to recognize that the Holy Spirit works through all languages and cultures.

One image that reflects the presence of the Holy Spirit is fire. The image of fire is important because it suggests that God is always changing, dancing, and moving. The Spirit of God moves and acts through all people, languages, and cultures. God is not limited to any particular place or people. God moves freely, like a flame. The image of God as fire is an image that avoids becoming a stale idol. It's an image that is continually fresh because it's an image that evokes many images. Therefore, a dancing flame is important image of God. The author, Nikos Kazantzakis, even says: "Fire is the first and final mask of my God."

Sara has written a song based on that quote by Kazantzakis. Since it's Pentecost, we thought this would be a good time to share this song. Here are the lyrics and video:

"Mask of God"

Come set a fire within me
Be the flame that gives light in the dark
Illumine the pathway before me
This kindling is ready to start

Warm me, God
Melt me, God
Send me, God
Help me, God
Hear all these things that I ask
Fire is the first and the final mask
of our God

Give strength for the days without sunshine
Promise you'll never depart
Light for the journey before us
Fire to burn in our hearts

Warm me, God
Melt me, God
Send me, God
Help me, God
Hear all these things that I ask
Fire is the first and the final mask
of our God

Fire keeps burning
Though I'm still learning
You call out my name, my name
From the flame

I know that you love will not fail me
It shines on in the darkest of nights
Fan the flames in my soul
that dance with your joy
Lift me up and show forth your light

Warm me, God
Melt me, God
Send me, God
Help me, God
Hear all these things that I ask
Fire is the first and the final mask
of our God

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Source of Life"

We have written a new song inspired by the Lord's Prayer. It's meant to help us pray the traditional prayer with renewed interest and passion. The lyrics are by Brian and the music is by Sara. Enjoy!

"Source of Life"

Our Source of Life
You fill the Heavens and the Earth
May all that has breath praise your sacred Name
Throughout all Creation, may your Kin-dom come
And throughout all Creation, may your will be done

as it is in Heaven

Give all people the bread that we need
And forgive our debts as we forgive the debts of all
Lead us away from hatred and injustice and evil
And lead us toward your vision of mutuality

and love and justice

For the Kin-dom and the power and the glory are yours
For the Kin-dom and the power and the glory are yours
For the Kin-dom and the power and the glory are yours

Now and always
Now and always
Now and always

Please note that we use the word "kin-dom" on purpose. We agree with Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, who says: "The word kin-dom makes it clear that when the fullness of God becomes a day to day reality in the world-at-large, we will all be sisters and brothers, kin to each other."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Science and Religion are both Biased and Faith-Based

Science and religion have one main thing in common. They are both influenced by subjective interpretation. They both are biased systems of thought. Thus, they both need some more humility - especially toward one another. So let me knock them off their high horse by stating the obvious. Science is not objective - and it doesn't lead to objective facts. Religion is not objective - and it doesn't lead to objective truth. Everything is subjective because everything is interpreted. And our interpretations are influenced by our culture, environment, context, etc. Therefore, there is no such thing as objective facts, truth, or observation. Reality is always shrouded in mystery. As Apostle Paul says, "we see through a glass dimly" and "know only in part." The best that either science or religion can do is interpret what they see - with their bias in store. This means that religious fundamentalists and scientific fundamentalists both make the same mistake of assuming (wrongly) they have access to The One objective "Truth." This is the topic that is making the rounds in blogs and newspapers recently. They all suggest that believing in scientific positivism might be as faith-based as believing in religion. And that suggests that science isn't inherently better or more objective than religion. I thought the following quotes were especially insightful.

Stanley Fish writes in his essay "God Talk":

" for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world."

"All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment. Meaning, value and truth are not reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them. Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them."
Stanley Fish writes in his essay "God Talk 2":

"...evidence comes into view (or doesn’t) in the light of assumptions – there are authors or there aren’t — that produce the field of inquiry in the context of which (and only in the context of which) something can appear as evidence."

"...there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take placewithin hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur."

"...what is noticed and perspicuous will always be a function of what cannot be noticed because it cannot be seen. The theological formulation of this insight is well known: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11). Once the act of simply reporting or simply observing is exposed as a fiction — as something that just can’t be done — the facile opposition between faith-thinking and thinking grounded in independent evidence cannot be maintained...the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a na├»ve and untenable positivism."

Paul Campos writes in his essay "The Atheist's Dilemma":

"No believer will find his faith shaken by evidence that is evidence only in the light of assumptions he does not share and considers flatly wrong."

"...evidence must always be interpreted within the context of interpretive assumptions which necessarily determine what that evidence is understood to signify, and which by their nature are themselves matters of faith."

Postmodern thinkers, such as these quoted, suggest that religion is not an inferior way of knowing. Science and religion are both biased and faith-based. And they're both important. Perhaps it's time for religion and science to sit together at the table of ideas. They both have much to teach each other - and learn from one another.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Work Less and Play More

I wonder if busyness has replaced money as North America's greatest idol. Seriously. Too often I run into people who look rushed and/or brag about their packed schedule. With eyes darting toword their watches, they say things such as:

"I woke up at 5:00 am again today so I could put in some extra hours."

"Retirement is for lazy old people. I'll rest when I'm dead."

"I don't have much time for anything other than eating, sleeping, and working."

"Working full time means putting in at least 50-60 hours a week. It's just the way it is."

"Kids should be in school all year. They need to figure out how to work."

This list could go on and on. Comments like these make me wonder about the health of our nation, families, and selves. Our brains need a certain amount of creative play and renewing recreation. Our bodies need a certain amount of physical exercise. Our families need a certain amount of fun time together. All work and no play is not the way it has to be. And it's not the way it is in other nations.

Many European nations have a work week that is less than 40 hours per week. Norwegians work 37.5 hours per week - and are talking about dropping it even lower. They believe that working less hours per week has many benefits including: reducing sick leave, increasing productivity, and making it easier to raise a family. The ironic thing is that despite people in the US working longer hours, Norway's hourly productivity was 10 percent higher. It seems that working less is more productive - and better for everyone involved.

Since working less is better for productivity, family, and health, what inspires the propensity to overwork? Is it an addiction? Is it affected by Free Market fundamentalism? It is affected by the ol' protestant work ethic? Is it affected by local need? Is it affected by local greed? Is it affected by an underlying need to look "busy" in order to feel "important"? Is it affected by all these things and much more? The last question probably gets to the problem. All of these things work to encourage us to be busy, busy, busy.

John De Graaf, a filmmaker I met at Holden Village, argues passionately that North Americans need to work much less. He says: "Europeans have made a tradeoff between quality of life and hours worked. We Americans have chosen to trade all our increases in productivity for more stuff. And to pay for it, we need to work even more." Ouch. I know this speaks to me. De Graaf goes on to ask a powerful question: "Do we care about having enough leisure time to enjoy some of our production?" In other words, he saying that we don't even get enough enjoyment out of life to make all our work worthwhile. Prophetic, challenging words. But these may be words we need to hear. Myself included.

De Graaf doesn't say this stuff to make us feel bad. He wants us to do something about our "poverty of time." In fact, he is the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time, an organization that seeks to help people find more balance and enjoyment in life. It's good stuff. But obviously the idea of finding balance and enjoyment is not original to De Graaf.

In the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau said: "I wish to suggest that a person may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living."

Several thousand years before Thoreau, the writer of Ecclesiastes reflected back on his life at an old age and confessed that busyness, education, popularity, etc. were all vanities that mean nothing in the end. One thing is very important in life: enjoying it. So he concludes his reflection with this message to young people: "Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the people whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life." Okay, white clothes and an oiled head may not sound so great to us today. But the point is that we're supposed to fully appreciate the things we have in our lives. And even more important than that, we're supposed to fully appreciate the people we have in our lives.

People on their deathbeds, like the author of Ecclesiastes, don't talk about their desire to be richer, busier, smarter, etc. The only things they mention are friends and family. They say things like:

"I wish my wife and I would have taken that big vacation together."

"I wish I would have spent more time with my kids."

"I wish I would have said 'I love you' more."

"I wish I had made more time to spend with friends."

"I wish I would have taken more time to have fun."

These end-of-life desires don't have to be things we that we wish we would have done, but didn't do. They can be things we do right now. We can hang out with our loved ones - today. We can spend time with our friends - today. We can exercise our bodies - today. We can relax our minds - today. We can take a vacation - this year.

We all need to play a little more - and work a little less.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jesus called David Wilcox a hypocrite. What would he say about you and me?!

John 15:9-17 is part of the lectionary readings for this week. It's about loving people. But not just any people. It's about loving other Christians. In fact, John 15:12-14 says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." Jesus commands us to love people in the Church. This sounds like an easy thing to do. But sometimes it's just not.

The history of the Church is filled with theological banter and fighting. Martin Luther fought with Pope Leo X. Karl Barth fought with Friedrich Schleiermacher. The Puritans fought with the Church of England. The list could go on and on. And the bickering continues today. We fight over things such as worship styles, practices of Communion, and napkin sizes. It's all too often easy to end up in one of these fights, claiming that your side if the only right side. Unfortunately all this fighting over sides leaves Jesus sidelined. The vision he gave us for the future of the Church was to love one another.

Loving each other can be tough. In fact, Gail O'Day says: "There are many circumstances in which it is easier to love one's enemies than it is to love those with whom one lives, works, and worships day after day." We're all passionate about our faith - and with that passion comes conviction. And sometimes the conviction of one person bumps up against the conviction of another person. This is why you're not supposed to talk about religion in polite conversation. It can get too personal and heated.

It's actually harder to talk with people who are similar, than with people who are different. A Jew can talk to a Christian about Torah without much controversy. In the same way, a Christian can talk to a Jew about Jesus without much controversy. But if two Christians are talking about two different understandings of Jesus, then it can get ugly. That is why the words of Jesus in John 15:12-14 are so important. They remind us of the importance of loving each other, even though it can be difficult.

In David Wilcox's new song "Beyond Belief," Wilcox explores what Jesus might say to us about our fighting with one another. The lyrics point out that when Jesus told us to love one another he meant it. Anything less than love is hypocrisy.

The first verse talks about all the exclusionary things we do when we think we're forming communities of correct doctrine. Jesus calls us away from exclusion and into love and mercy.

Jesus - called me hypocrite.
When I said that I believe
He said, how can you follow me
Without a willingness to leave
Leave the gates and the passwords,
Known by just your kind
Walk beyond the divisions that religions always finds
And be the mercy, my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief

The second verse talks about all the hurtful things we do to each other when we think we're teaching others about love. Jesus calls us away from fighting and into love and mercy.

Jesus - called me a hypocrite,
When I said I'd spread the word
He said, how can you teach of love
Unless you live what you have heard
Hear the hearts of the people, crying out in pain
Pain caused by dominion, and fighting in my name
So, be the mercy, my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief

The third verse talks about all of the self-righteousness we exude when we think we're being faithful. Jesus calls us away from self-righteousness and into love and mercy.

Jesus - called me a hypocrite,
When I said that I was saved
He said, how will your soul be judged
With all the judgments you have made
Faith can't be your fortress, arrogant with pride
Come walk here beside me with the humble ones outside
And be the mercy, all my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief

Wilcox's song reminds us of the importance of following Jesus' commandment. And that commandment is as simple as it is profound. In the words of our Savior: "love one another as I have loved you." This love is hard work. But God will strengthen us in our efforts to love each other. Then, like the early days of the Church, people will look at us with amazement and say, "These Christians, see how they love each other!" That is the kind of love that will bring all people "complete joy" (15:11). And that is the vision of Jesus for all of us. Share love. Have joy. Amen!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Creative Theology, Transformance Art, and Peter Rollins

Art is powerful medium for spiritual expression. Okay, we admit it. We're biased. We started this blog in order to share artistic expressions of spirituality. We've followed this idea down the rabbit hole. And we're happy we did. In this postmodern age, art is a way to affirm and express the enigmatic nature of God and the pluriform nature truth. It's a way to give theological expression without giving theological dictations. And that makes art a thing of beauty for the Church. Thankfully many other people are also honoring the special role of art in spirituality.

The "Matter: A Creative Theological Event" conference organized by Shechem Ministries is one example of people who are committed to the artistic expression of theology. The conference seeks "to create a space for meaningful conversation between working artists, theologians, philosophers, theorists, and anyone else interested in the vital intersection of faith and the arts." And there are few people who are more qualified to discuss the intersection of theology and art from a postmodern perspective than the keynote speaker, Peter Rollins. Rollins is the leader of the Ikon community, which is an experimental church group that engages in theodrama and transformance art. If you'd like more info on the conference click here - or if you'd like to contribute a paper or artwork click here.

We submitted several works including a poetic, psalmized expression of Romans 12. Here is "Psalm R-12" if you are interested.

Psalm R-12

"Psalm R-12" is a poetic, psalmized expression of Romans 12 for Matter: A Creative Theology Event.

Praise be to God
For God made my body a temple
An abode of the Holy Spirit
No greater gift could have been given to me
In gratitude, I vow to keep it clean and holy
So the Spirit can dwell inside with ease
And lead me according to God's wisdom
This is not easy
This is not comfortable
It means I have to renounce the wisdom of this world as foolishness
It's foolish to be prideful, selfish, and inhospitable
Even when it seems so right at the time
And it does feel good sometimes
But, in the end, it really is foolishness
So I stand at the crossroads of conformity and transformation
Conform to the world or be transformed by God
I must choose which path to take
The path of conforming is wide and easy
The path of transformation is steep and narrow
Slowly I take a step toward transformation
And there it was
The wisdom of God sprouted within me
The beckoning voice of God called me onward
It turns out that the steep and narrow path is a holy adventure
God's abiding presence is with me, within me, and all around me
The Spirit is a constant guide that leads me to new and exciting heights
And the difficultly of the climb is made easier by the other adventurers
Together we share God's divine wisdom of love, hospitality, and peace
Our love is genuine and rooted in mutual respect
Our hospitality is overflowing and is founded in shared service
Our peace is deep and is grounded in communal harmony
Sure, we're all different from one another
But that what makes it work
Harmony requires different sounds
Diversity is vital
Just as a body has many different parts that all work together
We also work together with our different gifts and abilities
Our goal is to walk together in sacred unity, not false uniformity
We honor our differences as part of God's created order
We use our differences in good faith
We celebrate our differences with cheerfulness
God made us into a village of temples
All abodes of the Holy Spirit
Praise be to God