new post at new site

I have posted a new entry at the new Absolution Revolution. The new entry welcomes users to the new site and outlines some new projects I’m interested in exploring through it. Come on over and check it out!

New site up and running!

I have had a fantastic time blogging with you all here at WordPress.com, but the time has come to move on. I have the new site set up now to the point where I think it’s ready to release, even though it is certainly far from being done. So from now on, I will be blogging over there, though for a while at least I will post here about new updates with a reminder to update your links. I’ll see you at the new site!

Homecoming or Going-Away Party? Questioning the Rapture through the lens of homelessness

This is the sermon I gave at Patchwork Central’s Sunday evening worship on July 26, 2009. Of course, these texts are not the only ones pertinent to discussion of the so-called “end times,” but 1 Thessalonians in particular is of major importance since it is the text most-often used to discuss “what the Rapture will be like.” Judging by the number of bumper stickers and t-shirts with stupid slogans like “in case of Rapture, this car will be UNMANNED,” it is a matter that is sorely in need of an injection of good, contextually-informed Biblical theology in the popular arena.

As this is the full text of a sermon (approximately 30 minutes in length), it’s considerably longer than my usual entries.

First reading: Isaiah 40:9-11
Second reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

[I started the sermon by recalling a story from my time at Harlaxton, when I spent the better part of an afternoon in Cambridge having dinner with a homeless man named Ian. Rather than try and recall exactly how I told the story on Sunday, here is my description of the event upon returning to Harlaxton that evening.]

Of course, as we all know, homelessness is not just something that happens in England. I remember growing up in Petersburg, a town of considerably smaller size than Evansville, and every few months I would hear advertisements on the radio for programs to benefit Street Relief and other efforts to serve the homeless in Evansville in some way. Now, being from a small town and having never seen a real, live homeless person before it was all a bit of an abstraction for me. It was hard enough for me to just get my head around the notion that there were people out there who didn’t have a stable place to go every night to sleep. Homelessness was something that, for me, only existed on the radio or television, or maybe I would have a teacher mention something about it in class. By the time high school rolled around I had a little better grip on things, having taken a few trips to cities such as Washington D.C. and seen first-hand people whom I knew would be sleeping under the stars that night – and not because they were on a camping trip with friends.

When I moved to Evansville for college I began to get a fuller picture of things, though being a dyed-in-the-wool Reaganite conservative I assumed homeless people, or at least most of them anyway, were there because they wanted to be, or because they were just too lazy to get a real job. Needless to say, since then my thoughts on the matter have changed a bit. I have had a few rather significant interactions with homeless people, like Brian whom I mentioned earlier, a guy named John who used to hang out with us around what is now the art colony, back when it was still Synchronicity, who fancied himself a bit of a traveling preacher for one. He and I used to sit on a bench either on Haynie’s Corner or on Main Street and talk about all kinds of stuff, and boy did he have some good stories to tell. I’ve been a part of the crowd at the Rescue Mission, both during times when I volunteered or coordinated groups that wanted to volunteer, and during times when in fact that was the only place I could afford to eat. I’ve never actually been homeless myself, but there have been at least 3 occasions when I’ve been anywhere from a few weeks to a few days away from not having a place to call home. Perhaps some of you have been in the same boat, eh?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about foreclosures and people not being afford to stay in their homes and all that kind of stuff. Not just people on the lower end of the economic ladder, but increasing numbers from the middle and upper-middle classes as well. No doubt the number of certifiable homeless has increased in the past year, though I have found reliable statistics predictably hard to come by. But even before there was talk of a mortgage crisis, a housing sector crash, Wall Street shenanigans, and the “R-” word (not to mention the “D-” word, which you’ll never hear out of any politician’s mouth unless he’s talking about how we’re not going to have one), the fact of the matter is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% of the US population, depending on what studies you cite and which methodologies you accept, went from day to day not knowing if they were going to be able to have a shelter to sleep in that night. That’s around 3 million people, if you’re counting. Continue reading

Big changes!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, since you’ve all no doubt been checking this site every day, and perhaps even multiple times daily, there hasn’t been an update in nearly two months. That’s because there have been and are some pretty big changes going on both with my life and this site. Here is a brief rundown:

1) I got married! My now-wife, Gretchen, and I were married on June 27. We still have the site for the wedding here, though we plan to update it one day to be more of a personal web site. Because of planning for the wedding, in addition to my ongoing computer problems (I’m currently running my computer off an Ubuntu 8.10 USB live disc because my hard drive is kaput), adding content in June was pretty much a no-go. Then we had the honeymoon, which we spent at the Cornerstone Festival, and then we were off to South Bend for a few days before heading over to Chicago for the Ekklesia Project gathering. Then it was back to South Bend, with a stop by Elkhart, a night in Indianapolis, and then back to Evansville. By the time all that was done, it was time to start planning for the next major change.

2) At the end of this week, on Friday, June 31, we will be moving to South Bend, which is why we were up there after the honeymoon – we were looking for a living space. We found an apartment in decent shape on the south side. The occasion for the move is my acceptance and decision to enter into the incoming fall ’09 class at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart. Gretchen will be continuing her studies in library tech at a state college, for which there is a branch in South Bend, which is why we’re living there. I was accepted for the first year of the M.Div, which is really more like a pre- year, as formal acceptance into the M.Div is granted at the end of the first year, but I am fairly confident that it’s the right path for me – and if it isn’t, initial acceptance is into the seminary, not a particular program, so changing programs should be relatively painless.

I have a peace about attending AMBS that I have never experienced with any other program to which I have applied, and I am positive (as much as I can be) that this is the right move both for me and also for us. Gretchen supports it wholeheartedly and is excited about some things going on up north, hopefully I’ll have a chance to blog more about that in the near future. Evansville has been home for 10 years, so it’s not easy to leave, but I really feel this is the correct path. This will put us in northern Indiana for at least the next three years, and if I decide to do doctoral studies and get in at Notre Dame we could end up being up there as long as I’ve been down here. For that matter, I could not go into doctoral studies and we could still stay for a long time – the future is as yet unknown.

3) Gretchen and I are in the final stages of incorporating a nonprofit under the auspices of The Missionary Church International, a church that provides shelter for ministries and missionaries. The purpose of the nonprofit will be to establish a prayer-centered ministry within the city seeking to connect people to the mission of God in ways that flow out of the needs and experience of people in the city itself. The inital goal is to start groups (prayer, Bible study, and other types of discussion) with the intent to move towards a 24-7 kind of thing, though the hope is to connect with good things that are already going on in the city to make it something that makes sense naturally in South Bend, rather than overlaying a preprogrammed ministry plan over the city and trying to make it fit. Once the incorporation is complete I will make sure everyone knows plenty of ways they can help us meet our prayer and material needs. Translation: donations will be accepted. ;-)

4) This site is moving! I have a new domain, at http://absolutionrevolution.com (not yet operational). The “prophetic heretic” thing was the idea I had when I first started this blog, with some connections I planned to develop between Bruggemann’s conception of the prophetic imagination and Northumbria Community’s heretical imperative, but I never really developed that train of thought. Right after I registered this WordPress.com subdomain I coined the phrase “absolution revolution” and decided to use it for the blog title. Over the past three years I’ve been sporadically maintaining the blog, that has become its identity both on the web (at least mostly so) and in my mind. While theological explorations of social and political issues have always been part of what I have done here, over these past years my “Christ-archy” leanings have becomed more refined and developed, and what was originally intended to be more of a quasi-emerging kind of thing, with more connection between things like pop culture and the Gospel, became this thing that it is today.

Moving to a new site gives me more freedom with what I can do with it, hopefully moving beyond just being a blog to incorporating other forms of online publishing. I’d like to maybe post larger essays and possibly even host something like a radical Christianarchist wiki, or something along those lines. There are many possibilities. This will, of course, necessitate being more diligent about updating content. I’ve resolved to make contributions to the content of various internet sites to which I’ve contributed in the past, including this one, more of a discipline in the future. I think it’s something for which I have a knack, and my thinking has always been sharper when I’ve been writing and publishing and able to get (hopefully mostly constructive) responses to my thoughts. I also plan to attempt to generate more traffic to the site by participating in other online fora, making comments on blogs, and otherwise finding ways to make myself more visible on the web. I’ve realized more lately that I really do have significant contributions to make to the sorts of discussions that are going on around the web, and part of that realization is the feeling of responsibility to do it in whatever measure I am able – without, of course, compromising my family, school, and ministry life.

I preached again at Patchwork this past Sunday, Gretchen’s and my last with them, and I’ll be posting the manuscript later, when the flash drive on which it is saved is immediately accessible. For now, I’m off to work a bit more on the new site and then call it a night.

Shalom!

My message for Pentecost, May 31, 2009

The following is the message I’m giving for the Sunday evening service at Patchwork Central this evening, which is Pentecost. Feel free to use it if you like, give credit if you wish.

Well, we’ve had a reading from Acts, a Psalm, and an Epistle, so those of you who know how this pattern usually goes will be expecting a Gospel reading here. I hope you won’t be disappointed, but we’re actually going to turn back a few centuries or so to an older story.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, with tongues of fire and the ability given to the apostles to speak and have others hear in their own languages. This is really the beginning of the church, where the Jesus movement moved beyond a small circle of a few, frightened disciples who had taken to hiding in closed rooms waiting to see what would happen next – and really, who can blame them – what a whirlwind of events over the previous month or so! Their leader, Jesus, whom they believed to be the Messiah, had been tortured and killed, only to reappear a few days later, claiming that the new era of God’s liberation and peace had begun. This same Jesus had spent many days teaching them, and finally, instead of taking charge of things to lead the disciples in glorious conquest to the ends of the earth, ascended into the heavens with the parting command to go forth to all nations with the message of the Gospel. And finally, on this day, the descent of the Spirit gave them a new boldness to speak of this Jesus, and the same Spirit gathered into their number over 3000 in one day. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never preached a sermon with that kind of effect.

It’s a wonderful story, one we should always keep in our hearts to remind us that God can do amazing things, that God’s ability to work wonders is greater than we can imagine. But the story I’m going to read, in lieu of a Gospel reading, seems at first glance to be precisely the opposite of the one we heard earlier. I’m speaking of the story of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, where instead of God’s work in changing languages and understanding leading to a new gathering, an age of understanding and hope, it leads to separation, confusion, and apparent chaos. The two stories have long been thought of as polar opposites, and while I won’t dispute that entirely I think we have generally missed some very important things the author of the Genesis story was trying to convey. But before I get into that, let’s hear the story again, and pray that God will open our ears to hear it in a new way.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar [near the Euphrates river, in present-day Iraq] and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that they were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth (Gen. 11:1-9, TNIV).

We think we know this story pretty well. Late medieval interpreters, living in a time when common use of Latin was beginning to decline, set the trend to read this as a story of judgment in which a golden age of enlightenment is shattered by the curse of difference, the confusion of languages, and for the most part we’ve followed their lead ever since. But is that really what’s going on in this text? There are a few clues in the story, and one whopper of an ancient Assyrian royal inscription, that indicate otherwise. First, isn’t there something fishy about their using bricks to build the tower? The text makes it a point to mention that they used bricks instead of stone. Who else do we encounter in the Bible who used bricks, and under what circumstances? If your answer is the Egyptians, you get a gold star. The Egyptians used bricks, made with slave labor, to build their cities. The notion of using bricks to build a tower would NOT have had positive connotations according to the historical memory of the Israelites. Continue reading

Seminar at Cornerstone Fest 2009

Once again I am presenting a seminar at the Cornerstone Festival. This one is less focused on theology and politics per se, but the topic could definitely be considered related.

Description: “The (Home)Coming of God: Homemaking as paradigm for postmodern ministry.” Exploring Biblical themes of covenant, land, and exile to articulate a theology of mission in the midst of a “homeless” culture.

My topic is strongly influenced by Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger’s Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, which I consider to be one of the most important books published in the last couple of years.

If you’re going to be at Cornerstone, try and come by! There are a lot of great presenters this year, including Tony Jones and Phyllis Tickle, and a lot of important topics being discussed. Homelessness seems to be kind of a theme, though I promise we didn’t get together beforehand to arrange that!

Shalom.

All things created for God’s pleasure: reflection for Earth Day

Revelation 4:11 can be legitimately translated thusly:

You are worthy, our Lord and God
to receive glory, honor, and dominion
for you created all things.
For your pleasure they came into being
and continue to exist.

Yesterday was Earth Day, a day when many people reflect on the health of the natural world and the relationship between human beings and the planet. Even though awareness of ecological issues is probably higher now than at any time in recent history, as awareness has increased so has the gravity of the situation. Estimated effects of anthropogenic climate change (also known as “global warming”) appear to be heading towards the more extreme end of the potential disasters, with warming feedback loops taking effect more drastically and quickly than previously thought. Studies over the last couple of years have argued (in my opinion persuasively) that increased ocean surface temperatures due to global warming are largely responsible for the increased intensity of hurricane seasons in recent years. The combination of global warming and peak oil scenarios seriously threatens nearly all sectors of the planet’s population, human and nonhuman.

I’ve written before about problems with the economic scheme that requires perpetual growth to stave off collapse and its devastating effects on the ecosphere and human communities. That isn’t new. But I have been remiss in my explorations into the Biblical concepts of creation and new creation and their implications for ecology and economics by neglecting the principle espoused by the above verse: all things exist for God’s pleasure.

In the evangelical circles I’ve frequented much of my adult life the idea that God gets pleasure from our existence, from our dependence on God and our desire to serve, is hardly controversial. I have heard a few dozen sermons on this idea, the idea that God loves me for who I am, and that my life is something about which God is passionate. Ok, so the italics may be a bit much, but I’m sure you get my point. Like other things, the idea of God’s passion and pleasure has been largely presented to me as a matter that affects me as an individual, but anything outside the scope of “me and Jesus” is largely neglected. Loving one’s neighbor is a good thing, but really it’s about my spiritual journey and growth.

Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is a hugely important concept for Christian faith. It’s the second-greatest commandment, after all! But love of neighbor is not a free-standing command that can be imported easily into any context. While it is a concept found in many different religious and ethical traditions, some of which are not necessarily genetically related, we cannot understand the basis of Jesus’ teaching on this subject unless we grasp deeply the Hebrew notion of creation as done by God’s will and for God’s own pleasure. Indeed, each of our acts towards the Other, be it the human or nonhuman other, must be rooted in this truth: I love the Other because the Other is God’s own creation and her/his/its existence and well-being gives God pleasure.

How much different would our ecological and community lives be if, instead of self-interest, even “enlightened self-interest”, our relations were born from a deep realization that all of creation exists for God’s pleasure? How much more would we seek to honor the Creator and Sustainer of our own being by seeking the best for all beings? I believe a key role for the church in this age is to create real communities where we do not look to other created beings, whether human, vegetable, animal, mineral, or other, to sustain us without being concerned for their own sustenance. This need is particularly acute in this time of crisis, but it is written into the Biblical narrative of creation and new creation. All things are from God, and at most we merely have them on loan. For us, Earth Day should be a day of repentance for the ways we have colluded in the murder of God’s creation, as well as our creation of social, political, and economic systems that oppress, exploit, and murder human beings.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

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