Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Was I Just Emergent?

It's the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary today, and my turn to lead morning mediations for my fellow chaplains.

I decided to do things a little differently. So, last night I searched the iTunes music store and found a setting of the magnificat by Arvo Pärt, a contemporary composer with some ancient sensibilities. I searched Google Images with the search string visitation, and found about 3 dozen images of ancient ikons and contemporary sculpture, some mundane and American, others odd and international, some traditional representations of the visitation, and others called "visitation" but probably not of Mary or Elizabeth. I uploaded them to my iPod, along with my new music.

I got to work, pulled out my cables, and attached my iPod to our TV, we read some scripture, I said a few words on the Visitation and the Christian life, we listened to Arvo as we watched the images fade in and out. Then we prayed together for our own visitations, that the Holy Spirit might visit us as we ministered through our day.

Then I thought to myself, "Dang. Was I just emergent?"

It wasn't on purpose. It just happened that way.

For Bob, to whom I've e-mailed at least one lengthy missive against emergent worship. Thanks for something, my friend, though I'm not sure yet what that is!


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Salvation and the Ascension

In celebration of the feast of the day, a short essay on salvation, life in the body, and the ascension.

If it is in Jesus that we see the fullness of salvation, what does the body of Jesus tell us about what needs to be healed? I would like to explore this question through our four narrative elements of the life of Jesus in succession, that of incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. We will pay specific attention to the consequences of the life of Jesus on how we understand our own bodily existence, and how this impacts an understanding of the salvation of the world in its universal sense, that is, the salvation of the whole material cosmos.

In the incarnation we have the embodied entrance of God into the world. Jesus, according to the Chalcedonian formula, is fully God, and fully human. That is, in the incarnation we do not have some portion of God, but all of what is God is present in the world in Jesus. Concurrently we have the fullness of humanity being assumed by God. And by assuming humanity ‘as-is,’ assuming the material of a fallen humanity and a fallen cosmos, Jesus also takes on the consequences of material existence; Jesus, by the fullness of material participation in the world as it is, will die.

And Jesus does die. In the crucifixion we see the end of all flesh as it is known now, its end in suffering and death. In the crucifixion we have the identification of God, as Jesus, with the depths of human suffering as embodied persons. Jesus bears this suffering as he bears the cross towards Golgotha. And when he is nailed and raised on the cross, Jesus cannot descend from the cross on his own, despite the taunts of onlookers. Jesus is totally disabled in the nailing of his hands and feet, perhaps the ultimate expression of sickness. These are the consequences of life in the body; each of us are eventually unable, each of us, as Jesus does, dies.

But Jesus is resurrected, and this is the hinge of salvation. In the resurrected Jesus we see what bodily salvation is, and we see what is lacking in human being experienced as material and embodied persons. Jesus has become a person in a way that we evidently are not. In the resurrection we have a transformed body, where the body remains material but a finer material, one able to pass through locked doors, yet material enough to eat fish. The resurrection inaugurates and shows us the future of material life, where material existence is not shed in favor of a spiritual one, but our material existence and the material existence of the cosmos is one unmarked by corruption and death. Only the emblems of suffering remain, in Jesus’ nail-marks in his hands and feet.

And it is this transformed body, redeemed humanity and the redeemed cosmos, that penetrates the Godhead in the ascension. This is why the greatest of atonement symbols is the ascension: not only is all of humanity entering into the fullness of divine life, but the whole world is also made at one with God. Fullness of relationship among humankind finds fulfillment in Jesus, fullness of relationship with our world is found in Jesus, and all this ascends into fullness of relationship with God in the participation of all this in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.

Following this, we can say that a major part of the human predicament is life in the body. Life in our bodies are characterized by sickness and disease. These are symptoms of the universal experience of death: sickness and disease are part of what it is to be in the process of dying. Sin lies as the anterior link on this causal chain; not the sins that we participate in or perpetuate as moral agents, but the sin that is expressed in a fallen cosmos, a sin that is not necessarily connected to the human guilt of each individual, but is nevertheless a definite experience of the not-quite-rightness of our lives. As embodied and material persons we unwittingly wear this coarse material, and suffer from our own personal dying-ness as a result.

But salvation entails a different kind of life, eternal life. Salvation is not only a deliverance from disease and death, but is also bodily participation in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. Our inability to transcend sickness and death by our own power has meant that God has had to take on sickness and death in his own person, transform the body and all material existence, in order that humanity and the world may be re-introduced to Godself. We are not abandoned here, without salvation, Jesus the only one participating in the life of the Trinity. In Christ, following the ascension, we are already participating in the life of the Trinity by the ubiquitous nature of Jesus's participation in the material, and Jesus's material participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Scholarly gripes about The Da Vinci Code, by Larry Hurtado

Larry Hurtado chimes in on the DaVinci Code, at Slate:

" . . . the historic Gnostics and the gospels often linked with their circles did not emphasize Jesus' human nature at all - quite the opposite. Typically, Gnostic Christians portrayed Christ as a heavenly being who came down to earth to awaken them from their spiritual slumber by disclosing their own divine inner nature. Regarding the physical world as a source of delusion and place of confinement, Gnostics were deeply negative about bodily existence, including their own. So, they tended to treat Jesus' body as simply the temporary vehicle for his revelatory mission, believing that he discarded it before returning to his heavenly status in the realm of pure light. It was actually the Orthodox Christians who made much of Jesus' full human nature and the reality of his death as the essential redemptive act."

Read this and more.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

None Can Guess its Grace

Karen and I got back from CDSP's baccalaureate and commencement last night, where my Master of Arts. degree was presented. It was for this degree that I wrote my thesis, on Gregory of Nazianzus, which I defended in September. (Yes, I do expect you all to address me this way. I may not be clerical, but I might be imperial.)

It's curious to look back at that post about my defense. My future may have been mapless then, but it's not anymore. After almost a year of chaplaincy, Karen and I are now planning to move back to Winnipeg in August. I'm putting in applications at some parishes there, and it feels right. My hope to study in a doctoral program is intact, but the advice to do a few years of parish ministry before further study looks like my best option. I am getting excited about regular preaching, beginning some long-term pastoral relationships in a parish, and continuing to cultivate the friendships we already have in Winnipeg.

It has been a very good week, not just going to Berkeley to graduate, but also to see so many friends, and to have the chance to do some proper good-byes. There are many people that I will miss very much, but proper good-byes are always better than slowly losing touch. As for those we plan to see again, Karen and I have great excuses to visit Baltimore, New York, Boston, and many other places across the continent. I even promised some dogsledding lessons to anyone willing to make the trek north to visit us!

The week has also been one of rest and reflection after my CPE burn-out. I feel like my internal organs have been combusting slowly for about six months. At first I thought it might be ok to live without a kidney, because I do have a second one. And then when my lung went, that was ok too, the other just had to work harder. When my heart caught fire, though, I began to think something could be very wrong.

The combustion was relentless, and it has left me hollow. I feel like skin and bones. So now I'm thinking if they go, I'll be left with nothing - and I'll only be haunting this place, a sleepy and cranky ghost.

Then at baccalaureate we sang "Come down, O Love divine". It left me speechless. We sang

Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till Love create a place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

I was left with a new perspective on my expereience, with special thanks to the author if this hymn, Bianco da Siena. I may feel like this first year out of the seminary been a failure, but I am not without hope. May my burn-out be the purifying fire of the Comforter; may my emptiness make a space within for a new flame, the flame of grace that illuminates my way; and may the hollowing be by the kind of love that makes me a dwelling-place for the Holy Spirit.

Amen and thanks be to God.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Faking it Easy

Ever felt like this guy? He's not really Guy Kewney, but the cabbie sent to pick up Guy Kewney. Don't miss his face, it really is priceless.

You gotta give him credit for being such a good sport!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Burnout 101

Are you experiencing job burnout?

"Do you find yourself dreading going to work in the morning?
Are you regularly experiencing fatigue and low energy levels at your job?
Are you easily bored with your job?
Do work activities you once found enjoyable now feel like drudgery?
Are you depressed on Sunday afternoons thinking about Monday and the coming week?
Have you become more cynical or bitter about your job...your boss...the company?
Do you find yourself easily annoyed or irritated by your co-workers?
Are non-work relationships (marital, family, friendships) affected by your work feelings?
Do you find yourself envious of individuals who are happy in their work?
Do you now care less than you used to about doing a "good job" at work?

If you answered yes to five or more of the above, you may be suffering from job burnout."

What does it mean when you score a perfect 10?


Monday, May 01, 2006

Disobedience: Setting the Stage

The Rev. James Ward writes:

"On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote an open letter to fellow clergy from the Birmingham Jail. It is the best-known documentary contribution of the twentieth century to the American tradition of civil disobedience and conscience. He wrote to explain why the movement couldn't yield to pressure to let up on its non-violent campaign civil disobedience-why they couldn't wait.

Written nearly half a century ago, that letter sheds light on why the Diocese of California (Bay Area) would provoke further crisis at their General Convention, and why the national Church could very well provoke the international Anglican Communion to suspend the American Episcopal Church from full participation. Because in the American context the civil rights movement models the struggle for full acceptance of homosexuals. It also suggests why the moratorium on consecration of bishops living in same sex unions will neither be honored by California as determinative of its election nor extended by the House of Bishops as the Archbishop of Canterbury has requested. More compelling than any sermon of the past century, the 'Letter from the Birmingham Jail' is embedded in the American conscience."

Read the rest at titusonenine.

I worked with Jim at St. Stephen's for about a year, in the first year after my ordination to the diaconate. I am blessed to call him a friend. So, after reading this article in the St' Stephen's parish publication, I was happy to see that it was published in The Living Church (paper edition), and is now appearing over at titusonenine (I hope Jim is ready for a short firestorm!). Jim does an excellent job of connecting the dots here, between the American church tradition of engaging the democratic process through direct action and our current ecclesial difficulties.

While I appreciate Jim's insight, I am left with this question: is disobedience (civil and otherwise), a way that the church has engaged the state, an appropriate way for the church to engage the church? I'm not so sure it is. The church has always had an uneasy relationship with the state, and when the relationship is smooth, many of us become uneasy. This is for good reason, as we are not called to be one with the state. The church is, however, called to be a witness of unity to the world, living together as one. My hope is that as we trudge through this particular conflict, our witness to the world is of both justice and unity.