Be Salty: Jesus’ Top Ten Teachings

Be Salty: A Top Ten Teachings List for Jesus     (for Kate)
January 16, 2020 – David R. Weiss
Access as a pdf

Every “Top Ten” list is a bit of a farce. In any category rich enough to merit a “top ten” list, there’s likely such an abundance of richness as to make choosing the top ten both challenging and debatable.

But maybe that’s okay. One of the great insights our Jewish siblings can offer toward Scripture is that it’s an excellent place to start an argument (or at least to spur an impassioned conversation). While many Christians see Scripture as offering a definitive last word on some topic, Jewish rabbis are adamant that Scripture is so ambiguously (divinely?) rich, that its greatest gift is often to spark conversations in which the voice of “the God who is still speaking” can be heard. That last phrase is from the United Church of Christ, but it seems to echo that same Jewish rabbinic wisdom.

Thus, without claiming that it’s definitive, here is my list of Jesus’ Top Ten Teachings. Hopefully, it will offer a bit of insight into the richness that swirls around Jesus from a progressive Christian perspective. And if it starts a few arguments, all the better! NOTE: I’ve provided a few reflection questions and a summary of biblical sources at the end of this piece.

At the heart of Jesus’ ministry is his call to discipleship. The gospels agree that there was a circle of disciples who directly responded to Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me.” But beyond this, within his own ministry, within the early church, throughout history, and into the present moment, the power of Jesus’ message is that is calls out again and again, asking us to join in God’s loving transformation of the world. So, one way to think about this list is to frame it thus: If you hear the call of Jesus in your life, and if you’re considering his request that you “Come, follow me,” this is an inkling of what it might mean to say, Yes. But also with this caveat: It’s easy to back away if all you consider is the “end game,” the culmination—the cost—of discipleship. But Jesus is inviting you on a journey—and one undertaken small step by small step, and in the good company of others. Saying Yes is choosing not only to follow Jesus, but to join the fellowship of others who’ve also chosen this life-affirming Yes.

Here’s my list. What would yours look like?

#10  God loves you. Unconditionally. Extravagantly. Now. You might say this is really #1, and I won’t argue. It is absolutely the driving force of Jesus’ ministry and message. This is the gospel. I put it at #10 because it makes all the others possible. Everything else Jesus teaches hinges on this declaration. We see this as much in his deeds as in his words. Particularly in his healings and in his table fellowship (the company he kept and the community he built over food). In both cases Jesus chose to restore wholeness to persons who were social outcasts and often seen as cursed by God. This pronounced and practiced declaration of God’s love is the absolute heart of Jesus’ teaching. If he doesn’t say this, nothing else he says matters. And, if this is true, then everything else he says spells out the difference this makes.

#9  The two great commandments: To love God with all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. With these words Jesus affirms and embraces the depth of his Jewish heritage, asserting that these two commandments sum up the teaching of the Torah and the passion of the prophets. But the word “commandment” falls … a bit short. Even in Exodus, when Moses receives the Decalogue—literally the “Ten Words”—on Mount Sinai, he records these ten divine utterances using verbal forms that can be translated either as imperatives (commands) or as future indicatives (promises that declare what will be). Likely nuances of both meanings ring true. The prophets rail against Israel for failing to live up to these expectations, and yet they also imagine a time—within history—when these words of command/promise are written on our hearts. Powered—liberated—by God’s unconditional, extravagant love, these two Promises sum up what life can look like.

#8  Be clear on your loyalties. Loving God with all your being doesn’t mean you can’t love others; in fact, it compels you to love them, too. But Jesus also instructs us to be clear on where our loyalties lie. This matters because loving God and neighbor is essentially and unmistakably a political agenda. Politics is just a fancy word for how any set of people (from small community to nation-state) chooses to hold and share power. God’s politics (from the Exodus through the prophets on to Jesus) are about breaking systems of oppression and placing power in service of the most vulnerable.

Jesus says quite starkly, you can’t serve two masters: if your loyalty lies with a liberating God, you have to be “all in” because God is “all in.” When Jesus is questioned about paying tribute to Caesar, his response is a master class in loyalty. After asking whose image is on the coin, he responds, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” It seems like a way of carving out a sphere where human rulers reign supreme, but that’s because we listen from a place that assumes, of course some things “must” belong to Caesar. But in Jewish thought all things belong to God; humans especially bear God’s image. For Jesus, obedience to any Caesar is always provisional, and whenever earthly rulers or structures act to harm humanity or creation they intrude on God’s sphere, and our loyalty is at play.

#7  Live simply, that others might simply live. The phrase is attributed to Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), and later echoed by both Gandhi and Mother Theresa, but its pedigree goes all the way back to Jesus. Perhaps most memorably in his admonition to be mindful of what we treasure because our heart will follow. He also observed that children, in their simplicity, wonder, and trust model virtues for discipleship. He cautions against letting anxiety over daily needs keep us from being present to this moment. In fact, the petition for “daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer reminds us to let enough be enough. (The words may well echo the sense of manna, which was literally “daily bread”: sufficient for a single day, but rotten if you tried to hoard it.)

The parables of the Rich Fool and the Rich Man and Lazarus both show the folly of misplaced priorities. And the rich young man, who is “this close” to the Kingdom, falters when he realizes how material things have entangled the best aspirations of his heart. In Matthew’s account Jesus prefaces his counsel to the young man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and then follow Jesus, “If you would be perfect …” We hear it as the bar for sainthood, unrealistic in its invitation to most of us. But wait. Acts tells us the early Christians were convinced that holding all things in common was possible. Then again, they customarily addressed fellow Christians—ordinary folks like you and me—as saints. If you take #10, #9, and #8 seriously, it’s hard to see how the accumulation of personal wealth becomes a sign of success. For Jesus it appears to be the measure by which you have missed the mark.

#6  Sometimes anger is holy. True, Jesus’ message is characterized as “gospel,” as good news that reaches down into our souls and wraps us individually—but more so communally (we were after all, created for community)—in God’s extravagant love. But occasionally we see Jesus “lose it.” The most dramatic occasion is when he enters the outer courts of the Temple and sees those selling animals for sacrifice and changing money for paying Temple taxes. He responds in a holy fit of frenzy, overturning their tables and driving out the animals. His complaint—which would ring even more true of many mega churches and TV evangelists today—is that such practices aim to profit on God’s freely-offered extravagant love.

The same anger fills Jesus’ words against the Pharisees. But a word of caution is in order here. Matthew amplifies the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees as part of his gospel spin some five decades after Jesus lived. Let it suffice to say that in every religious tradition there are persons and propensities that are willing to twist divine grace into a transaction and set themselves up as gatekeepers able to pocket profit or power along the way. In fact, when Jesus sends his disciples out to preach and heal, he tells him, “You received without pay; give without pay.” That may not be a workable model in a modern economy, but when it comes to how religious traditions “communicate” God, Jesus displays a focused fury: if you are not declaring in word and deed the gracious, free, welcoming love of God, well, prepare for your tables to be overturned. And sometimes turning over tables is what it looks like to follow Jesus.

#5  Do. Or do not. There is no try. Okay, that’s Yoda (in The Empire Strikes Back), but it could’ve been Jesus. In a multitude of ways he says that faith—following Jesus as an improvisational riff on the truth of God’s love—is finally a matter of what we do, not what we say or what hear. Even in the context of his healings he notes that pronouncing forgiveness matters little if one’s stigma and isolation are not overcome. The doing is the fruit, and it reveals the health (or its lack) in the tree. This doing—this enacting good news to others—involves ready attentiveness … but without any clear signs. What ought I do? And when? Jesus intimates that if we see him in each person we encounter we’ll likely have little doubt about what to do. Though perhaps the real miracle—should we dare to imagine it—is not to meet Jesus in “the least of these,” but to meet each least person as themselves.

#4  Go ahead, be cheeky. These instructions from Jesus about turning the other cheek (followed quickly by surrendering your cloak and walking that second mile) seem to suggest that discipleship is just another way to spell “doormat.” But nothing could be further from the truth. Each instance—being struck by a back-handed slap on the left cheek, being required to offer your own coat as collateral for a “payday” loan, and being “asked” to lug a Roman soldier’s backpack for one mile—lifts up a readily recognizable occasion for oppression among Jesus’ peasant followers. Humiliation was often the ante for navigating a Roman (and at times Jewish) society distorted by power and status. Each bit of counsel offered by Jesus suggests one possible way of transforming the situation into something new by unveiling the hidden power structure and by nonviolently asserting one’s humanity in relationship to one’s adversary. When Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and tell the Baptist what they have seen and heard, including among things, that “the poor have good news preached to them,” this is part of that preaching. It is the invitation … the urgent instruction to imagine ways—still today!—to transform oppressive dynamics so that both of those greatest commandment-promises can shine through.

#3  Look, here’s a cross … with your name on it. But. We’ve been told too often and too long that Jesus came to offer personal salvation—a guaranteed trip to heaven on the far side of death, if only we believe in him. And that belief in Jesus was set up as something that played out without reference to matters of this world—unless, of course, as the early Christians sometimes were, we were told to renounce that largely abstract conviction that Jesus is my personal savior. This isn’t the place to review all the problems with that thinking. But those first Christians were not martyred for an abstract idea—they were martyred because both they and Rome recognized that following Jesus put one at odds with following Caesar and Rome.

This is the point at which being clear about your loyalties can get costly. So we need to recognize that when Jesus talks about “taking up your cross,” he isn’t suggesting you invest your personal suffering with religious fervor, he’s specifically acknowledging that discipleship means acting out of love in situations where such actions may cost you dearly. That’s what “the cross” is about. (Which is not to say that religious faith cannot help us in facing personal suffering—it’s just not appropriate to use “cross” imagery in that regard.)

And yet. (You saw that “But” above didn’t you?) There is a mystical irony here. And by mystical I mean something more than natural but not less than real. Jesus also says it’s precisely in these moments that we gain our life—that meaning and purpose and fullness overflow. The Beatitudes stand as a counterpoint to the cross, a declaration of sacred cosmic logic—an arc that bends slowly but unfailing in the direction of justice and grace. No doubt these words are heavy, but already alongside them in the gospels we find the exhortation to be fearless, because the God who loves us extravagantly and whose love we mirror in ways that set us at odds with the world—that God accompanies us in every moment, and most especially when there’s a cross involved.

#2  I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. This is the only “teaching” drawn from John’s gospel. That’s because virtually every biblical scholar agrees that John’s gospel (the last to be written) carries the least echo of Jesus’ historical life and shows the greatest theological interpretation done by later believers. I put this saying here because it’s often been used to harm other persons of faith, Jewish and otherwise, and it’s time to reclaim it for good. The immediate context in John’s gospel is the disciples’ anxiety about losing their bearings, so to speak, after Jesus is gone. Jesus replies by telling them, “You know plenty to keep moving forward on your own. You know me—and I am the Way …”

But, before you presume this means confessing Jesus as your personal savior and ticket to heaven, review #10 through #3 (and maybe take a peek at #1). To say that Jesus is the Way is to say, “Loves wins.” No, it isn’t to say that, it’s to DO THAT. Which is, in fact, why the earliest Christians were known as “The Way”; because of the pattern of their lived love in community. Jesus is reminding his disciples that his life—his embodied extravagant love for others—is both the presence of God streaming through him and also the sure pathway for them to follow. A sage no less than Winnie the Pooh knew that he could trust “the rumbly in his tummy” to guide him home to his honey pot. Jesus says the same: if we are lured by love for God, neighbor, and especially “the least of these,” we have found the Way and the Truth and the Life—and we are moving in the direction of God.

#1  Be compassionate … as God is compassionate. This is the bookend teaching: the culmination of Jesus’ announcement of God’s extravagant love. God’s love flows from compassion: that being moved so deeply in one’s bowels, that one dares to stand in solidarity with another—no matter the cost. No distant deity, this God—Jesus’ God—chooses to be in our midst. And every other top ten teaching is simply one facet on the surface of this gemstone, this being-in-our-midst God. Indeed, while Luke has Jesus use the word “compassion,” Matthew uses the word “perfection” in the same place. “Be perfect as God is perfect.” Really? Well, “perfect” also means to reach final/destined form, fulfilled. The fullness of God is compassion. And we, who are in the image of God, we also are destined, finally, for compassion. It is equally for us as for God the fullness of who we are. In Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Jonathan thinks he can reach heaven by flying faster and faster. The wise seagull guiding him tells him, “Heaven is not a place, nor a time. Heaven is being perfect.” And then he adds, “Perfect speed is being there.” Which sounds a lot like compassion: the art, the commitment, the act of discipleship of being there.

So—if you hear the call of Jesus in your life and consider answering his request to “Come, follow me,” with a Yes—this list gives you a small taste of what might be in store. But it’s hard to imagine ahead of time. Discipleship is an immersive communal experience. Certainly among the best, scariest, most meaningful, most mutual, riskiest, most creative, and life-affirming choices you can make. I don’t think Christianity is the only redemptive-transformative power afoot in the world. It’s simply one distinctive path of wisdom. (And one all too frequently distorted today!) Jesus asks us to be “salt of the earth.” From that vantage, perhaps Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Indigenous spiritualities, etc., even Humanism, all offer their own distinctive transformative “spice” to the world. My “top ten” list is one way to imagine what it means for followers of Jesus to “Be salty.”

If you haven’t noticed, the world could use a little salt today. I say, start shaking it out.

 

PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in public theology. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith

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David Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (2013, www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, http://www.tothetune.com). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. He and his wife, Margaret, make their home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Their blended family includes six children and nine grandchildren. They like keeping close company with creation and their household has included dogs, cats, birds, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, and even worms. Their home, like their life, is fairly cluttered with joy. You can reach out to him at drw59mn(at)gmail.com and read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”

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Seeds for reflection and conversation

(Just a few questions that might help spark some inner dialogue or conversation with others in response to “Be Salty: A Top Ten Teachings List for Jesus.” Use as many or as few as you find useful.)

  1. Before we think any further about my “Top Ten” list, take a moment and consider what yours would look like. Don’t worry about coming up with exactly ten, but pause and pose this question to yourself, “If someone asked me what were the most important things Jesus taught, what would I say?” The first few things that come to mind will reveal a lot, both about how you see Jesus, but also about what you were taught about Jesus.
  2. Looking at your list, can you distinguish between teachings you listed primarily because you learned them from someone else while growing up and those you listed because you’ve poked, prodded, doubted, challenged, wrestled, and lived your way to them yourself? Is there a difference in tone or theme between those two sets of teachings? (Having studied both the Bible and Jesus across 12+ years of college, seminary, and graduate school—and having spent the last 20 years as a working theologian—my list is the result of lots of thoughtful wrestling and looks very different than it would have when I was confirmed as a teenager.) It’s also worth thinking about how your list might have changed over time—and what prompted those changes.
  3. My list rests entirely on teachings supported by the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke). While even those gospels are not biographies and reflect the unique theological spin of their authors, they’re still much more likely than John’s gospel to carry real echoes of Jesus’ actual teachings. (And my list actually draws from a lot of scholarship that tries to get back to those original teachings.) When we think about Jesus, is it important to get as close as we can to what Jesus himself taught? Or is it enough to know what the four gospel writers chose to report? What do you think drove their choices in how they portrayed Jesus? What drives yours?
  4. Thinking about my list, were there teachings I named that you were surprised to see there? Were there teachings I named that you didn’t even know Jesus taught? Were there any that you would disagree with? What would you say accounts for the differences—or similarities—between my list and your list?
  5. Does being Christian mean following Jesus’ teachings? Or does it mean something more or different than this? How many churches do you know where my Top Ten list is a good summary of what the church teaches and what the members believe and practice? Is it possible to follow Jesus’ teachings without being a Christian? (Someone might argue that Gandhi did a better job of following my Top Ten list than most Christians do—what does that say about Gandhi, about most Christians, … or about my list?)
  6. Jesus lived and taught about 2000 years ago. Even if my list captures some of the essence of what he taught, does it still matter for today? Thinking about the challenges we face—such as: climate crisis, economic inequity, racial/gender/LGBTQ injustices, political freedom, challenging medical questions, guns rights, war-terrorism, treatment of animals, artificial intelligence, and more—and the claims of churches like the United Church of Christ that “God is still speaking,” do the teachings on my list offer usable guidance for today? How do such teachings relate to a God who is still speaking?
  7. What did you learn, or what do you see more clearly about Jesus—or about yourself—after reflecting on my Top Ten list and these questions?

 

A note on sources

I’m not keen on “proof-texting” (the notion that a some set of specific verses can prove a point); no surprise there, given my introduction to the Top Ten list. Nonetheless, all of the teachings I name do have roots in Jesus’ life as portrayed in the gospels. For ease of reading, I chose not to clutter the list itself with a set of citations, but here’s a sense of the passages that support each theme on the list.

10 God loves you. Unconditionally. Extravagantly. Now. Saint Francis famously told his followers, “Go, preach the gospel. Use words as needed.” His point was that the radical good news brought by Jesus was more deed than declaration. If you follow the action in the gospels this theme becomes unmistakably clear, not so much as a specific verbal declaration, but as emblematic of his lived ministry as a whole. One place it finds clear verbal expression is in the parable of the Prodigal Son—where it’s really the father who is prodigal (Lk 15:11-32).

9 The greatest commandments: To love God with all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. (Mk 12:29-31 | Mt 22:37-40 | Lk 10:25-28); on a law/teaching/promise written on our hearts (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 36: 24-28; 2 Cor. 3:3).

8 Be clear on your loyalties. On not serving two masters (Mt 6:24 | Lk 16:13); on paying tribute to Caesar (Mk 12:13-17 | Mt 22:15-22 | Lk 20:20-26).

7 Live simply, that others might simply live. On treasures and hearts (Mt 6:21 | Lk 12:34); on children and the kingdom of God (Mk 10:14-15 | Mt 19:14-15 | Lk 18:16-17; also Mk 9:36-37 | Mt 18:1-4 | Lk 9:47-48); on daily bread (Mt 6:11 | Lk 11:3); the parables of Rich Fool (Lk 12:13-21) and Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31); the rich young ruler (Mk 10:17-22 | Mt 19:16-23 | Lk 18:18-24); on holding all material goods in common (Acts 2:42-47).

6 Sometimes anger is holy. No dens of thieves and no vipers. Clearing the Temple (Mk 11:15-17 | Mt 21:10-16 | Lk 19:45-46); on woe to Pharisees (Lk 11:42-43; also Mk 12:37-40 | Mt 23:1-36 | Lk 45-47); on offering God’s grace … freely (Mt 10:8).

5 Do. Or do not. There is no try. What we do matters more than what we hear or say (Mt 7:24-27 | Lk 6:47-49; also Mt 21:28-32); to say ‘I forgive’ matters little if we don’t do what we can to make others whole (Mk 2:1-12 | Mt 9:1-8 | Lk 5:17-26); knowing by fruit (Mt 7:16-18 | Lk 6:43-46; Mt 12: 33-35); on not waiting for a sign—it’s not coming (Mt 12:38-42 | Lk 11:29-32; also Mt 16:4 | Mt 12:38 | Mk 8:12 | Lk 11:29); watch, yes, (Lk 12:35-38) but act now—for the least of these (Mt 25:31-39).

4 Go ahead, be cheeky. On turning the cheek (Matt. 5:38-48 | Luke 6:27-35); that the poor hear good news (Mt 11:5 | Lk7:22).

3 There’s a cross with your name on it. But. Picking up a cross … losing life … finding it (Mt 10:38-39 | Lk 14:27-28; also Mk 8:34-37 | Mt 16:24-26 | Lk 9:23-25); and yet the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12 | Lk 6:20-23); on trials for disciples (Mk 13:9-13 | Mt 10:17-25 | Lk 21:12-19); on fearless confession (Mt 10:26-32 | Lk 12:2-8)

2 I am the Way … no one comes to the Father except by me. (Jn 14:5-6); early Christians as the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22); on “the least of these” as “the way” to Jesus (Mt 25:31-39)

1 Be compassionate … as God is compassionate. (k 6:35) That is, be willing to suffer with others for their well-being. This is the essence of God’s nature. In fact, it’s the “perfection” of God. (Mt 5:48).

Lastly, on the overarching call to “be salty” (Mt 5:13).

 

Ash Wednesday Litany: Ash & Oil

A Litany for a Season of Ash and Oil – Overview

Stanley Hauerwas wrote that one of the church’s fundamental tasks is to create people capable of experiencing what is radically new, people “capable of being challenged by the story of Jesus and God’s kingdom.” (The Peaceable Kingdom, 1983, p. 108). Liturgy plays a central role in that task (at least when it is driven by the passion and vision of Jesus’ ministry). In the face of our climate crisis, liturgy must help us not only to hear the good news, but also to hear the bad news, because only as we face the depth of our present crisis can we respond authentically to this moment.

I would love to see this litany used in many worship settings. With Ash Wednesday still six weeks off (Feb. 26), there is plenty of time to share it with the worship planner at your church — please do! It is available as a Word document or as a PDF file.

This Call to Worship / Litany supports the United Church of Christ (UCC) Council on Climate Justice “Karios Call to Action (www.ucc.org/a_kairos_call_to_action). It draws on images from both the Kairos Call and the lectionary texts, placing Ash Wednesday within the context of Climate Crisis—and vice versa.

Note that while one version makes explicit reference to the UCC “Kairos Call to Action,” I’ve also prepared an ecumenical version with alternate opening words for the Leader making the litany appropriate for use in any Christian church. (Both versions are included in the Word doc and PDF file.)

The images drawn from Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Isaiah 58:1-12; and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 are from the assigned lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary.

Abraham uses “dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27) to express his humble human state. It serves the same purpose in the litany. “Dust” also occurs in the words of curse spoken in the fall story (Genesis 3:19)—but, though many might assume so, we were not “cursed” to be dust. It seems imperative today that we see our finitude—the fact that we die and return to dust—as falling within God’s good intentions rather than being due to some primal sin. Indeed, our habit of seeing ourselves separate from creation—now amplified by industry, technology, and ad-stoked consumption—is a primary driver of both climate crisis and social inequality.

The Season of Oil image aims to directly and unmistakably highlight this as a kairos moment. If we act well in kairos time, we seize it for promise rather than for peril. In these cases, kairos moments become messianic moments, moments in which humans place themselves in service as ones chosen by God. Such moments might rightly be seen as anointed, oiled.

Frequently, ashes are blended with oil for marking worshippers foreheads, so many Ash Wednesday services already include both ash and oil (although the oil is rarely mentioned). If the oil is explicitly acknowledged, one might choose to employ a single anointing. However, given the dire urgency of the moment, one could with good liturgical-theological reason choose to employ a double-marking (at two stations) to emphasize the additional depth of this as a kairos moment.

If done as ashes blended with oil, these or similar words (which shift the focus slightly from personal penitence to global solidarity) might be used:

“Remember that you marked by both ash and oil—at one with all the Earth, and bearer of God’s image.”

If done as two separate markings, these or similar words might be used:

“Remember that you are ash and dust—at one with all the Earth.”

“Know that you are marked by oil to bear God’s image and hope in this moment.”

 

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UCC Version

A Litany for a Season of Ash and Oil

Ldr: As we begin our Lenten journey this year, we join with fellow Christians who have walked this season before us for over a thousand years. This 2020 Lenten journey moves once again through that same season—reminding us of our own mortality and our complicity in the world’s brokenness. It is a Season of Ash.

But this 2020 Lenten journey is also unlike earlier Lenten seasons. Recently our national UCC Council on Climate Justice declared this present moment a kairos moment, using a biblical word for time that indicates time that it is overfull with both peril and promise. Think of it as a God-charged moment, one anointed with possibility for persons of faith. The Council has called on churches, beginning in 2020, to develop ten-year plans for mobilization responding to the intertwined brokenness seen in our worsening climate crisis and deepening social inequality. So this is also a Season of Oil.

Please join me in our opening litany.

Ldr: We confess that, like Abraham and Sarah, we are but dust and ashes. (Genesis 18:27)

All: And yet we are grateful to be dust that breathes, ashes that live, even though our days are numbered.

Ldr: As we enter Lent we hear the trumpet sounding its alarm, announcing the day of the Lord and calling us to rend our hearts. (Joel 2:1,13)

All: In this season of lengthening days, let us return at length to the One who waits for us, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13)

Ldr: In the prophet Isaiah we hear the God who is still speaking ask, Is not this the fast I choose? To undo injustice, to break oppression, and to recognize all who are in need as your own kin. (Isaiah 58:6-7)

All: And we acknowledge that we are entangled, both by personal impulses and by societal forces that invite us to disregard the needs of the world today.

Ldr: We hear the cries of the poor and the migrant, of family farmers and communities of color, even as the rhetoric around us seeks to pit one child of God against another.

All: But now, O Loving Creator of all that is, remind us that it is through deeds of compassion and in communities of love that light breaks forth like the dawn. (Isaiah 58:8)

Ldr: We hear—in the voices of scientists, in the screams of wildfires and extreme weather, and in the quieter anguish of dying animals and ecosystems—the pleading cry of a planet whose peril is more real today than at any moment since humans have walked the Earth.

All: And we, who are but dust and ashes—we are also ones made in your image. And perhaps we were born for just such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

Ldr: O Liberating God, break the spell that tells us we are separate from the Earth. Teach us the truth that by grace you created us out of dust and ashes. And anoint us in this kairos moment to be your church.

All: Let us be marked by ash—made one, like Jesus, with all the precarious Earth. And anointed by oil—to act, alongside Jesus, with urgency and compassion for our human siblings and the whole of creation.

Ldr: During this Season of Ash and Oil, may we make humility, solidarity, and action for justice the treasure we store up. For where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. (Mt. 6:21)

All: AMEN.

 

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Ecumenical version

A Litany for a Season of Ash and Oil

Ldr: As we begin our Lenten journey this year, we join with fellow Christians who have walked this season before us for over a thousand years. This 2020 Lenten journey moves once again through that same season—reminding us of our own mortality and of our complicity in the world’s brokenness. It is a Season of Ash.

But this 2020 Lenten journey is also unlike earlier Lenten seasons. Because of the intertwined brokenness seen in our worsening climate crisis and deepening social inequality, some have suggested this present moment is a kairos moment, using a biblical word for time that indicates time that it is overfull with both peril and promise. Think of it as a God-charged moment, one anointed with possibility for persons of faith. So this is also a Season of Oil.

Please join me in our opening litany.

Ldr: We confess that, like Abraham and Sarah, we are but dust and ashes. (Genesis 18:27)

All: And yet we are grateful to be dust that breathes, ashes that live, even though our days are numbered.

Ldr: As we enter Lent we hear the trumpet sounding its alarm, announcing the day of the Lord and calling us to rend our hearts. (Joel 2:1,13)

All: In this season of lengthening days, let us return at length to the One who waits for us, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:13)

Ldr: In the prophet Isaiah we hear the God who is still speaking ask, Is not this the fast I choose? To undo injustice, to break oppression, and to recognize all who are in need as your own kin. (Isaiah 58:6-7)

All: And we acknowledge that we are entangled, both by personal impulses and by societal forces that invite us to disregard the needs of the world today.

Ldr: We hear the cries of the poor and the migrant, of family farmers and communities of color, even as the rhetoric around us seeks to pit one child of God against another.

All: But now, O Loving Creator of all that is, remind us that it is through deeds of compassion and in communities of love that light breaks forth like the dawn. (Isaiah 58:8)

Ldr: We hear—in the voices of scientists, in the screams of wildfires and extreme weather, and in the quieter anguish of dying animals and ecosystems—the pleading cry of a planet whose peril is more real today than at any moment since humans have walked the Earth.

All: And we, who are but dust and ashes—we are also ones made in your image. And perhaps we were born for just such a time as this. (Esther 4:14)

Ldr: O Liberating God, break the spell that tells us we are separate from the Earth. Teach us the truth that by grace you created us out of dust and ashes. And anoint us in this kairos moment to be your church.

All: Let us be marked by ash—made one, like Jesus, with all the precarious Earth. And anointed by oil—to act, alongside Jesus, with urgency and compassion for our human siblings and the whole of creation.

Ldr: During this Season of Ash and Oil, may we make humility, solidarity, and action for justice the treasure we store up. For where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. (Mt. 6:21)

All: AMEN.

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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet, and hymnist, doing “public theology” around issues of climate, creation, sexuality, diversity, and peace. Find his 2019 collection of fifty-two “Gospel in Transition” essays on Faith and Climate and subscribe to his blog at www.davidrweiss.com, where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Learn how you can support him in doing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith. David is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (2013, www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, http://www.tothetune.com).

The Feast of Epiphany

The Feast of Epiphany
January 6, 2020
Holy Feasts for a Fragile Planet #1 – by David R. Weiss

The season of Christmas has ended. What comes now, after those quiet moments at the manger? First, perhaps we need to remember that while the manger might have seemed a quiet holy place in many of our church sanctuaries—even a cute holy place when populated by our own children in pageants—that first manger was holy in ways quite other than quiet.

Its holiness was because it was musty, dusty, filled with the smells and sounds of animals (and likely people, too—most first century mangers were a bit like open bay windows linking a living area for humans to the adjoining stable). Its holiness was because in this place—in the very midst of poor peasants and their livestock—came the claim that Here, too, is God. That’s Christmas.

Now we turn to Epiphany, which means “manifestation”: to appear or to become apparent. It’s often linked to the visit of the Magi. Led by the star, their visit to the infant Jesus signals his “manifestation” to the wider world via these sages from the East. No longer known only to his family, shepherds, and those who follow the local gossip, with the Magi Jesus is thrown open to the world.

But don’t get tripped up by historical questions. (If Jesus was really visited by astrologers at his birth who gave him precious gifts, then wasn’t his specialness evident to everyone from then on?) These tales reflect truth cast backward into the story from its end. And the truth is that the ripple of Jesus’ life longs to reach outward from Bethlehem and Nazareth, from Galilee and Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth. The Magi tell us that.

But Epiphany also is about the “appearance” of Jesus into his adult years. In this season we’ll recall his presentation in the Temple as a child, where he is blessed (made manifest to others) by the elderly Simeon and Anna. We’ll hear about his baptism in the river Jordan, where along with others he chooses to immerse himself in the repentance John calls for. We’ll see him collect his first followers, and hear him offer the Sermon on the Mount. Each act is a glimpse at Jesus becoming more and more himself—which is to become the whirlwind of God’s compassion moving in the midst of this world.

As we move into the season of Epiphany in 2020, our world is literally and figuratively on fire. From the bush fires of Australia to the incendiary unrest in the Middle East to the angry polarized voices in our news media and on our social media. We are wise to seek out moments of epiphany, glimpses of God’s presence in our midst today.

But where? I’ll hazard a few guesses. In the midst of the poor, including those displaced by or fleeing the bush fires made so much worse by climate change. Alongside the nearly 500 million animals killed by those fires. Because Epiphany begins with the declaration that in Jesus God’s presence reaches to the ends of the world. Among those of us who dare to immerse ourselves in acts of repentance for a wounded planet today. And among those of us who gather to follow Jesus still today, choosing to become the selves we are called to be. Daring to echo the Sermon on the Mount in our lives, willing to become the whirlwind of God’s compassion moving in the midst of our world.

Epiphany happens in the midst of climate crisis, reminding us that God is here, not as some hero, but as One stepping alongside us and calling us into discipleship here today.

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Holy Feasts for a Fragile Planet is a series of occasional reflections linking Feast Days and Commemorations of the church year to the work of healing our planet. Find my 2019 collection of “Gospel in Transition” blogs and subscribe to my current writing at www.davidrweiss.com. Contact me at drw59mn(at)gmail.com. Learn how you can support me in my endeavor to do Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

Christmas means Revolution!

A Christmas Abecedary
David R. Weiss – December 20, 2019

NOTE: you can access a formatted pdf of this post here.

An “abecedary” is often a primer that uses key words arranged in alphabetic order. My Christmas abecedary follows the alphabet and uses a series of words—some familiar, some unexpected—to remind us (or reveal to us) that before anything else …
Merry Christmas means May the Revolution Begin!

Editor’s note: A couple quick words in advance.

I could have picked multiple words for each letter, but I forced myself to select just one to keep it as brief and focused as possible. I occasionally cross-reference to a word elsewhere in the abecedary, but although many of the words reappear in other entries, I only cross-reference where the meaning I offer is significant in another entry as well.

Some readers will worry about whether I believe the stories happened as Matthew and Luke relate them. (And some readers will worry that I DO believe. While others will worry that I DON’T.) I say, it doesn’t matter. The Christmas accounts carry weight as tales offering windows of meaning in the life of Jesus. Finally, where fact and fable start or stop doesn’t have one whit to do with the power of these tales. The meanings I explore here are truthful either way.

Lastly, the ironic “spark” for this piece was a concert of Christmas music by Billy McLaughlin and Simple Gifts. The music was ethereal in its beauty and certainly genuine in its good will. But I couldn’t help but wonder, as we enjoyed the songs whether that first Christmas had meant—and still means—to offer something more unsettling and more needful to our world. I pulled out my notebook and began jotting down words for different letters of the alphabet even as the carols played … and this is what grew from those scribbles. ~ David

 

A is for Annunciation. When the angel Gabriel comes to Mary (Luke 1:26-35) to tell her that she will become pregnant and bear a child who will change the future, it is the announcement of an illicit impossibility … suddenly declared desired and possible. The fact that Mary has not yet slept with a man is the least of the difficulties. The far greater difficulty is that Rome occupies the people’s land and that fear and limitation occupy their minds and hearts. But annunciation declares that everything is about to change … because God is like that: revolutionary.

 

B is for Blessed. Specifically, “blessed are you among women,” which is how Elizabeth greets her cousin Mary (Luke 1:42). The phrase sounds innocent enough. To us. But in oral Jewish culture this phrase was dangerously evocative. Just twice in Hebrew Scriptures are women addressed this way, but the moments are memorable—and bloody. Jael earned the words (Judges 5:24) by driving a tent peg through the head of a general who was oppressing the early Israelites. Later, Judith received them (Judith 13:18) after beheading a general whose troops had besieged an Israelite town. These words hail heroines whose bravery helped overthrow oppressive power. Now Elizabeth’s greeting becomes unsettling yet clear: somehow Mary—not via a tent peg or sword, but by the child in her womb—would join in breaking through oppression. Far from simple congratulation, Elizabeth’s words affirm Mary’s role in the revolution. (Think I’m overstating things? Wait until we get to Q …)

 

C is for Christ. We sometimes think “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. It’s not. More title than name, Christ means “chosen one” (if you want to be neat about it). Christ identifies Jesus as a person chosen by God for a special purpose. Although we think of Jesus as the Christ, other persons in Hebrew Scripture were also called Christ, including Cyrus, a Persian king. Which just shows that when the moment is right, God will use anyone. But I said, “if you want to be neat about it.” Christ really means “anointed one,” which, going back to the Hebrew really means “one smeared with oil.” It hearkens to the Hebraic practice of the priest anointing someone chosen by God by pouring a flask of oil over their head. So to say that Jesus is Christ is to say that Jesus—having been smeared (figuratively, at least) with oil, is God’s chosen one. But also: any of us who’ve been baptized were likely also “sealed” with a bit of oil on our foreheads at the same time. That was our own anointing—marked as chosen by God. For many of us it will be years, decades even (Jesus, after all, was about thirty when he began to preach) before we begin to understand what being chosen means for us. But here’s the unruly thing about Christ: Jesus doesn’t keep it to himself. If Christmas means revolution, all of us are Christ.

 

D is for Dream. Three times God speaks to Joseph in a dream (Matt. 1:20; 2:13, 19). Each dream guides a crucial choice for Joseph as he embraces Mary despite the potential scandal of her pregnancy, leads his family to safety from the murderous pursuit of Herod, and returns with them to Nazareth after Herod’s death. Also, as Matthew tells the tale (Matt. 2:12), all of the Magi seemingly had the same dream warning them not to return to Herod after their visit to the holy family. But dreams aren’t only for nighttime or when we’re asleep. At the end of his account of Jesus’ birth and all that was part of it, Luke adds that, unlike the shepherds who told everyone they could about their experience, Mary chose to “ponder all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19). That, too, is a type of dreaming. Investing one’s imagination in the dream of God: which is always to protect the vulnerable, promote justice, and to remake the world as a place where all might flourish. Dreams are the womb of revolution.

 

E is for Emmanuel. It means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23) and this, the presence of Sacred Energy in solidarity with oppressed persons, is the dynamite—the power—that drives Christmas as revolution. Over against all the worldly systems that claim to have the first and last word over our lives, Emmanuel is the name that declares, at Jesus’ birth, “all bets are off.” Let the mighty mock or tremble. Black lives matter. Immigrants belong. Worker’s right are human rights. LGBTQ persons are holy. Because God is with us. Without Emmanuel, there can be no revolution. But with Emmanuel revolution is destiny.

 

F is for the Flight to Egypt. Sure, Herod was paranoid (look him up; he was!). But the truth is that even the barest wisp of genuine hope for freedom and dignity and flourishing for all—which is the revolution Emmanuel seeks—will be perceived as a threat to the powerful. And they will seek to stop it. So the flight (Matt. 2:13-14) reminds us this is no simple or safe journey; even revolutions sometimes take cover. And yet, like a meandering river, they flow on sure of their way, ultimately unstoppable on their course.

 

G is for Glad tidings. Like “Blessed …” these words are also loaded … for revolution. When a new emperor was born, couriers were dispatched to carry this excited news to every corner of the Roman Empire. Entering each town or village the herald would call out in the streets, “I bring glad tidings of great joy … that a savior is born today.” (“Savior,” by the way, means Protector, but just as easily Healer, World-Mender; it shares an etymology with our word salve.) The angel in Luke’s Christmas story claims the emperor’s birth announcement and offers it for a peasant baby (Luke 2:10-11). Because this revolution is about glad tidings that start at the bottom (see U).

 

H is for Heavenly Host. Right after the angel announces glad tidings “a multitude of the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13-14) appear singing “Glory to God … and peace on Earth …” We picture angels, but that Greek word (angelos) literally simply means “messenger” and says nothing about wings. It could’ve been a flash mob. Just sayin’. At any rate, those first heavenly host—holy messengers—remind us that the Christmas revolution is about us—all of us—declaring God’s glory and proclaiming peace for the entire Earth family. No wings required. We become part of the heavenly host every time we act (or march or vigil or sing or petition or strike or work) for peace.

 

I is for incarnation. It sounds like some heady doctrine or some mystical maneuver by God. But this is really simpler and messier than that. We’re talking enfleshment. The claim that God’s yearning for our well-being … and most especially the well-being of the least among us—the pushed down, brushed aside, bent over or broken-hearted—that yearning led God to leap from Beyond to right here in this moment right now. And while we see that leap with astonishing clarity in Jesus, incarnation is the revolutionary leap of God into our bodies—every last one of them—again and again. Asking to be born in each of our lives. Because this revolution includes all of us.

 

J is for Joseph. If you think of him as a sort of shadowy figure hovering in the background, that’s about right. He has not a single word of dialogue in either Matthew’s or Luke’s birth accounts. But he listens. We’re explicitly told he listens to the holy impulses delivered to him by dreams, and we might assume he listens to Mary as well. This is a quiet revolution right here. The man in this story holds his tongue, and holds space for both the holy presence of angels and the human needs of his family as well. Joseph listens and then acts decisively to protect the vulnerable ones at hand. That’s revolutionary.

 

K is for King. Except not. See, the only king in this story (Herod) is a villain. And, in fact, the only villain is the king (Herod). And while the baby Jesus is viewed as a future king by the angel Gabriel and the Magi, when he grows up it becomes strikingly clear he means to empty the word “King” of any worldly meaning. Jesus’ parables, healings, and boundary-breaking table fellowship (eating with outcasts) all work so hard against the worldly notion of kingship that he seems bent on remaking the meaning of the word into something entirely else. Jesus choreographs kingship AS kinship. In God’s beloved world there are no kings, only kin. And Christmas marks the beginning of that revolution.

 

L is for Liberation and Labor. I could come up with multiple words for most letters, but these words are entirely intertwined. In Exodus when Moses asks to have a name for the voice speaking to him out of the burning bush he’s told, “I am that I am,” or “I will be that which I will be” (Exodus 3:13-22). On one hand it’s a declaration of freedom and surprise. No boxes can contain this God. But it’s also an existential pledge: because God reveals it in the midst of commissioning Moses to lead the people out of Egypt it’s as though God is saying, “I will be whoever I must be to set you free—in fact, my very divinity rests upon setting you free.” Through the holy labor of liberation, God births Godself. And Mary, when she carries Jesus in her womb for nine months and then labors to birth him, that labor is the continuation of God’s pledge to Moses. At Christmas, labor is for liberation and in this world liberation means a revolution.

 

M is for Magi. We tend to call them “wise men,” (even “kings,” which they surely were not) because “magicians”—close kin to wizards!—hardly seems Christian enough. See, Magi “read” the sky, though not as astronomers seeking to understand what’s up there, but rather as astrologers looking for portents of things to come down here. Whether fact or fable (most scholars say fable), Matthew’s tale tells this truth: he sees Jesus’ birth as such a moment of turning that it must’ve been echoed in the stars, where, of course, magi would notice. We domesticate them in flowing robes and crowns. They were closer to mad men crowing about deep changes coming our way. (Hence, Herod’s reaction.) Across the safety of our years, we see their gifts as fit for a king (and they were!). But when such gifts are made to a peasant baby who will soon be hunted by royal death squads, those gifts signal the start of a revolution.

 

N is for Nipple. No, it’s not mentioned in the text, but this is where incarnation (See I) gets real. It’s too abstract to simply say God became human. The claim—which is less about metaphysics or theology than ethics—is that human flesh can cradle holiness. That, curled up and squirming, with eyes tightly shut inside Mary’s womb, is the hope of heaven. That, rushing forth in blood and water, serenaded as likely by Mary’s screams as by any angel chorus, is a child deemed divine. And that, wholly—and holy!—vulnerable, now held in human arms and sucking hungrily at Mary’s breast, is one who will later announce (right through his death on a cross!) God’s extravagant grace. And this child receives his first sacrament, his first communion, in the gift of milk from his teenage mother’s nipple. When we see this fleshy messiness as the miracle of incarnation, it changes everything. If God weds Godself to humanity so intimately as this, then that love has surely leaked, like warm sweet milk, all over creation. And from now on our lives must surely reflect that.

 

O is for Omen. Which is, after all, exactly what the Christmas Star was. We sing about a “star of wonder, star of light …” but in the ancient world such a “star” (likely a comet or supernova) was no cause for calm reverence. Omens were … ominous. Harbingers of tumult. Magi (see M) were regarded with some measure of dread precisely because they treated omens as objects of curious inquiry rather than cause for panic as the populace preferred to do. Here, too, Matthew’s choice to include the star is rendered almost quaint by all the carols we’ve sung. But in the narrative itself—in the world of his first readers—this star declares, “Anything might happen now!” If you’re a king, like Herod, that type of star might precipitate a murderous tantrum. If you’re part of the masses it will surely put you on edge. But if you’re part of the very least of these, you just might think, maybe that strange feeling of being on edge is a prelude to hope.

 

P is for the Peace of God. When the heavenly host sing “Peace on earth …” to those shepherds on the hillside, their words carry far more weight than the same words printed on many Christmas cards. Because the backdrop for the angels’ song is the Pax Romana—the peace of Rome. Bluntly put, that peace was Rome’s version of Donald Trump’s twisted dream to “make America great again.” Rome’s “peace”—like Trump’s “peace”—rested on authoritarian rule that oppressed anyone the empire deemed “other,” and that relied on military might (displayed and deployed) to bend the world to its will. Many who lived under the Pax Romana knew it as the least peaceful aspect of their life. That peace was for the favored members of the empire—and neither shepherds (see S) nor Jews in general were included. So to hear these heavenly voices announcing God’s peace, well, there’s a word for that: revolution.

 

Q is for Queen … and then some. Mary isn’t conferred the title until several centuries later, but she receives it on account of being Jesus’ mother, so it begins here at Christmas. As a non-Catholic, seeing Mary as Queen of Heaven wasn’t part of my upbringing. But if the tradition quibbles over just how “much” Joseph was Jesus’ father, it’s unequivocal in declaring Mary as the person who carried Jesus in her womb, bore him between her legs, and suckled him at her breast. So I suppose that counts as a sort of reverse royal pedigree. But it’s her platform that persuades me she merits the title. Have you actually read the Magnificat? This queen is Queer. The heavenly vision she sings of features radical reversal, overturned privilege, uplift of the needy, and impeachment of those who pretend to rule. This is the revolution that makes a new world possible. And that alone makes Mary queer enough and queen enough for me.

 

R is for Room—of which there is none at “the inn.” Interestingly the Greek word translated as “inn” usually referred to the “spare room” in most simple homes where guests were put up. Since Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because it’s where his family came from, he likely had relatives there. In that case, it’s also likely there was “no room in the ‘spare room’” because it’d already been filled by other relatives who’d also come to Bethlehem for the census. So Mary and Joseph were crowded into the family’s common living area, which would’ve had a manger at the very front where it met up with the adjoining stable. A whole different picture. Unproven, but probably more plausible—and no less compelling. This baby is still born on occupied land, in a house crowded because of an emperor’s edict, and still sleeps with the heavy breathing of animals nearby. The deeper question about ‘Room’ is whether we have room to set aside old inaccurate ideas despite their familiar comfort. Because revolution requires that.

 

S is for Shepherds. Granted, shepherds do get some positive biblical press. David was a shepherd-king; indeed he credits his time in the fields with shaping his young character. And in John’s gospel Jesus even calls himself the “Good Shepherd.” But in the grit of daily life shepherds didn’t fare so well. They were mostly at the edge—or just past the edge—of poverty in an already poor society. Many had lost their ancestral lands—think displaced farmers reduced to being hired hands on someone else’s estate. In a society where most everyone was scraping to get by, shepherds scraped lower, dirtier, and for longer hours than most. So to have angels deliver their “glad tidings” (see G) to shepherds is no mere hint that things are changing. It is the declaration that with this birth the revolution has begun.

 

T is for Toddlers. Undoubtedly the most tragic entry of these twenty-six. Matthew reports that when Herod realized the Magi weren’t coming back to help him pinpoint the child whose birth posed dread to his lust for power he flew into a rage. Sent death squads to kill every Jewish boy two years or less living in or near Bethlehem. Who knows—were Herod alive today perhaps he’d have dispatched those troops by tweet. Perhaps he’d cage them under the pretense of sorting out who’s a threat and who’s not. Whatever. In this story he simply slaughters them all. Determined to erase any threat to the world as it was (he had hundreds, including members of his own family, executed satisfy his own paranoia)—even if it meant killing toddlers. Make no mistake. Christmas is a dangerous time. It challenges the way life has (not!) been working so entirely that the powerful will lash out. Keep your children close in this season of revolution.

 

U is for Under. Which is where Christmas begins. Under the Emperor’s order for census—that is, under the thumb of Rome. Under the king’s radar (until the magi arrive). Under the notice of Bethlehem (until the angels sing). But more than this, Christmas begins from below. God’s name and liberating activity (see L) are indelibly linked to concern for the least of these. Those who are under are always—and I mean at all times and in all ways—God’s first concern. Emmanuel (see E) is not trickle-down theology. It is theology—audacious good news, glad tidings (see G)—that begins under. Where revolution always starts.

 

V is for Vigil. It’s what the shepherds were doing in the fields that night: keeping watch … against the dangers of the night. It’s also, no doubt what Joseph did on the journey to Bethlehem and on the much more perilous flight to Egypt. It’s what the Magi did on their wandering route across the dessert to find the baby Jesus. But no less, vigil is what Elizabeth did for decades before her baby John (later, the Baptist) erupted in her life (and ours). And vigil is what Mary did every day of her life from Gabriel’s annunciation to her Magnificat to the labor (see L) that brought Jesus into this world … all the way to the crucifixion that tried (unsuccessfully) to push him out and nail the door shut behind him. Vigil is remaining tenaciously present to both threats and opportunities. Because revolution will bring both in abundance.

 

W is for the World. As in “Joy to World,” the carol whose 300th anniversary is this Christmas. It refers to the earth, on which the angels have pronounced God’s peace (see P), on multiple levels. It’s the inhabited world, the world where people dwell. This is the world most hungry for peace as the vast majority of unjust suffering happens in this world, at the hands of other people and the systems they’ve put in place. But it also means the wild world. The untamed edges where the wild asses roam, the eagles soar, and where Leviathan swims. That world, increasingly, is also marked by unjust suffering as the impact of humanity reaches far beyond the ground where our feet touch. And it means the world as universe (in Greek the word for “universe” is literally “the all-things”). From this fragile green and blue orb to the galaxies spinning across the distant realms … and the elements that comprise all-things. If Christmas is joy to these worlds, it is only so because it heralds a new way of being with the inhabited world, the wild world, and the universe itself. Justice and awe are equally revolutionary—equally essential in this moment.

 

X is for Xmas. Only a tiny stretch here—and quite legitimate. We regularly see Christmas shortened to Xmas. Some people worry this shorthand crosses “Christ” right out of Christmas. But no need to fret. The X comes from the Greek letter Chi (written c), the first letter of the word Christ. So the X actually puts Christ at the heart of Christmas. And it reminds us that this season drips with oil (see C), smeared by God as it were with restless hope and joyful longing for revolution.

 

Y is for Yes! The exclamation mark is optional, though I think it’s implied, even when offered in a whisper. When Mary says to Gabriel, “Then let it be according to your word” (Luke 1:38) she’s saying, with all her being, “I’m in this, too.” Meanwhile, Joseph never says anything that we hear (see J), but from his quiet accompaniment of Mary to his fretful flight to Egypt, he, too, says Yes to everything the divine dreams and his wife and child ask of him. As do the Magi and the shepherds. Each according to their own vocation says, Yes! Revolutions will always encounter plenty of No!s, whether from those trying to preserve their power and privilege or those simply scared at the prospect of change and tumult. But revolutions happen because of those willing to say Yes! And, for Christians, Christmas is the season of Yes!

 

Z is for zeal. I suppose, like “Yes!,” zeal is present in most of the Christmas story. This isn’t a tale for the timid. But zeal is also the arc toward which this tale leads. If all the characters here need zeal to help launch Jesus’ life, as an adult that zeal becomes his life. His public ministry embodies Mary’s Magnificat, shredding the boundaries that kept oppression in place and announcing unconditional grace from the Author of all to the very least among us. When Jesus drives the money-changers out of the temple for thinking to sell access to God (and make a tidy profit on the side) John’s Gospel explains it by quoting Psalm 69:9 “Zeal for your house shall consume me.” True. But don’t mistake “house” as the building. House is the family of God. You. Me. Everyone else. All creatures and all creation. The-all-things (see W). That’s where our zeal belongs. And that zeal is what makes Christmas a revolution.

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PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in public theology. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith

 

David Weiss is the author of When God Was a Little Girl, a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book (2013, www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com) as well as To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, http://www.tothetune.com). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. He and his wife, Margaret, make their home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Their blended family includes six children and nine grandchildren. They like keeping close company with creation and their household has included dogs, cats, birds, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, and even worms. Their home, like their life, is fairly cluttered with joy. You can reach out to him at drw59mn@gmail.com and read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”

Speaking of Christ … as King … or Not

Speaking of Christ … as King … or Not
David R. Weiss – December 2, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #52 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

Okay, enough on sin. Of course, it’s far more complicated than the past couple essays could fully discuss. There are legitimate challenges to distinguish between those earth-wounding actions and attitudes in which we are entangled almost against our will … and those with which we acquiesce out of habit or selfish convenience … and those which we embrace with spiteful disregard for the ones who will be impacted. Likewise, there are real differences between choices at the individual/ community level and those at the corporate/government level.

I don’t underestimate the nuance needed to actually have thoughtful conversations in which we speak of sin as the rending of creation’s fabric. But whether these tears in nature’s web are outright spiteful or “merely” structural doesn’t really matter if they doom our collective future. There is no solace in making a time capsule marked “Open in case of climate emergency” that holds the message, “Sorry, mates, we didn’t mean it. We really hoped our actions wouldn’t lead to this. Oops.” Which is why it’s exquisitely important that we take our lives—and other lives across the globe, and other species, and lives not yet here—seriously enough to start speaking of sin in ecological earnest. Now.

But the conversation can’t stop there. That conversation gets us to the start of Transition. But the inward and outward transformation that is Transition will require something more than just repentance (more than simply “turning back”) from the dire not-rightness of our … whole way of life. Indeed, it will require such a thorough transformation, one might even say we’ll need to be reborn. That’s why I think religious language—in my case, Christian language—is not just helpful, it’s uncannily accurate and evocative. It may prove crucial in closing the gap between nagging/depressed awareness and committed/active responsiveness in regards to climate. And if it does, that won’t be a curious side-effect of a tradition supposedly focused on another realm. It will reveal the truth of Christianity all along: that God so loved this world as to risk everything to show us how to be at home here on Earth.

I started this year-long venture the first week of Advent 2018. Fifty-two weeks later, the last Sunday of the church year is the Festival of Christ the King. So I’ll close this blog with some ecologically provocative reflections on Christ … as king.

The festival of Christ the King was added to the church year by Pope Pius XI in 1925.[1] It was intended specifically to counter the rising ideologies that were seeking to assert their totalitarian reign in the world: communism in Russia, fascism in Italy and Spain (which soon after shape-shifted into Nazism in Germany)—as well as secularism in the West, which allowed capitalism to grow unfettered, in effect colonizing the minds of consumers and re-colonizing much of the world through the globalization of market forces. The impulse was perhaps noble—each of those ideologies has wrought havoc on humanity and the planet—but the messaging was also off the mark.

Even when invoked as a way to challenge other dangerous regimes, the church’s notion of Christ’s kingship has been deeply problematic on its own terms—shaped far more by the church’s own authoritarian aspirations than by Jesus’ actual life. The church has rarely had a problem with top-down or absolute power; it’s just preferred to have a monopoly on it. But Jesus’ own teachings and his lived practice stand in stark contrast to that preference.

Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus talked—a lot—about “the kingdom of God.” It’s recorded as the lead-in to quite a few of his parables and shows up elsewhere in his discourse. He never sets himself up as king, but setting that aside, it does seem that he imagines God as king—only big, better, more powerful than any earthly king. And if the church later saw fit to transfer that crown on to Jesus, that’s maybe legitimate. EXCEPT. To the extent we allow Jesus to reveal God through what he says and does, Jesus seems to be so severely critiquing the worldly notion of kingship as to announce that, when it comes to kings, the world has it ALL wrong.

Jesus’ focus on compassion, inclusion, humility, nonviolence, and radical transformative love as the manifestation of God’s kingdom suggests that earthly kings—almost to a person—are mere tyrants. They traffic in the sort of power rejected by heaven: power that belittles, exploits, excludes, others those who are different, and in general operates as though disconnected from all else. Omnipotence is NOT a trait of God; it is cosmic heresy (it flies in the face of everything the universe reveals about the nature of inter-related reality). It’s rather the sinful desire of humans who project it onto divinity and then think they have permission to image it themselves.

This archetype of kingship became the ideal for every person in their own sphere (even as the spheres were themselves misshapen by gender, racial, ethnic, sexual biases). Under the influence of this notion of kingship whole peoples have been colonized, Christianized, and decimated. The toll on other creatures and ecosystems has been no less devastating. Even when the church makes Jesus “King” for the “best” reasons, it betrays the message he brought—and it compromises the transformative power he sought to share.

When Jesus employed the phrase “kingdom of God” the way he filled those words with meaning exorcised them of all their royalty. The phrase is, in a sense, declared meaningless. From God’s perspective there is NO SUCH THING AS A KING. It’s a parasitic expression of humanity; a way of being that rejects the human vocation to image God … whose image IS compassionate liberating relationship.

I often shift the phrase “kingdom of God” into “kin-dom of God.” Jesus’ parables, healings, and perhaps most of all his boundary-breaking table fellowship (eating with folks that the social-religious rules of his day dictated he ought not even acknowledge) all work so hard against the notion of kingship, that he seems rhetorically bent on remaking the meaning of the word into something entirely else: choreographing kingship AS kinship. In the world God created there are no kings, only kin. Every corner related to every other corner, from microbes to mountains, from humus to human beings, and everything else as well.

We don’t need a festival for some Imperial Christ who only seems to challenge earthly rulers but ends up ultimately reflecting their own worldly dynamic made divine. No. Just as we don’t need (and the world can’t afford!) a merely reformed capitalism, we don’t need (and the world can’t afford!) a Christ who is King. Luckily, Jesus didn’t offer us that. He offered us a Christ who is Kin. A Christ who chose to be in relationship with all he encountered—because how else to embody the wisdom of God who wove the cosmos as one seamless garment? Let Christ be Kin—and let us follow his lead.

The Transition Movement is working hard to imagine, to experiment, to discover what it would look like to live from an awareness of radical kinship. It’s time for the church to join that work as its holy work. In truth, it always has been our work. Jesus didn’t come to save us. He came to heal us. (It’s the same verb for “save” and “heal.”) The difference is that we’ve assumed his goal was to save us to another life in another place. But I’m persuaded that his real hope, like most other great religious teachers, was to heal us so that we might dwell well (pursuing meaning, joy, and justice) as kin in this holy place. Earth. Our home. The place where all our relations are. May it be so. Amen.

PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith

*                *                *

The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing our climate crisis, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.

[1] Frank Senn, an eminent Lutheran liturgical theologian, offers a concise helpful history of the feast here: www.lutheranforum.com/blog/2017/11/11/the-not-so-ancient-origins-of-christ-the-king-sunday

Speaking of Sin

Speaking of Sin
David R. Weiss – November 30, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #51 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

I don’t harp on how entangled (GIT #49) we are in sin (GIT #50) to make us feel bad. I suppose at one level I do it to make us feel at all. Day in and day out our lives are profoundly out of sync with nature. Some of this is on account of the choices we make; much more is due to the myriad choices made for us by the way our society is structured. In either case, that out-of-sync-ness, that not-rightness, that SIN, is killing the very ground of our being. But we barely notice; it passes so easily for normal: for “the way life works.” And we won’t address the not-rightness of our lives until we feel it. So I harp.

By the way, “ground of being” is used sometimes in theology to name God: as that sacred presence that is the very foundation upholding us in all that we are. True enough. But at the mundane level of our flesh and blood bodies, it is Earth—its elements, ecosystems, and interconnected life forms—that physically-chemically-biologically upholds us as the ground of our being. And our current way of life (even if in ways mostly unseen, unknown, and hidden from us) is ripping asunder this web that upholds us. I won’t go so far as to say we’re killing God by our actions, but we ARE assaulting the wisdom of God woven into the fabric of nature … and doing so on a scale that threatens to render the planet unable to support us any longer, unable to ground our being. And still, we barely notice. So I harp.

Sunday, on the eve of the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged that global efforts to address the climate crisis have thus far been “utterly inadequate.” He warned, “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”[1] In fact, some scientists warn that we may have already crossed that ominous threshold on several fronts. That is, we may have passed the first tipping points that would set in motion unstoppable and cascading changes leading to climate catastrophe.

Writing in the journal Nature (Nov. 27, 2019), they said we are on the precipice of “an existential threat to civilisation.” Earlier studies had suggested that these irreversible and interconnected “tipping points” (melting ice, rising seas, thawing permafrost, burning forest, drought, coral reef die off, ocean circulation, etc.) were only at play in a worst-case scenario—if temperature rise reached 5C. However, subsequent and more accurate studies now indicate we could pass these tipping points even before we reach 2C. We’ve already warmed the planet by 1C over the past century, and we’re currently on track to heat it by total of 3-4C within the next hundred years. One British climate researcher soberly commented on the piece in Nature, “The prognosis by Tim Lenton and colleagues is, unfortunately, fully plausible: that we might have already lost control of the Earth’s climate.”[2]

However, if you’ve watched the news as its offers “glowing” reports of record holiday buying-and-flying over the Thanksgiving weekend, you’d be excused for not realizing those very same records are driving us toward a glowing planet that will extinguish—or at least wreck—organized human society during the lifetimes of today’s children. I personally think that’s newsworthy, but somehow it never makes the cut for our ten o’clock news. That’s why I harp on sin.

But, again, the point isn’t to make us feel bad. It’s to wake us up so that we feel. Period. Walter Brueggemann, in discussing the Hebrew prophets described them as poets ransacking their language for words and images to evoke a spiritual-emotional response from a people who’d largely surrendered their capacity to feel.[3] Similarly, I’m not interested in using sin language to leave us wracked by guilt. We need, rather, to be wakened to perceive (viscerally!) the truth of our situation.

The Transition Movement is comprised almost entirely of persons who have already (largely) awakened to this truth. Churches, however, are comprised mostly of persons who have not. We might think we’re “well-informed,” but if we’re not ready to all-out weep, rage, and act over climate, we’re not yet awake. But as we awaken (and we WILL awaken—either quickly now or frantically in an over-heated future), sin language of the right sort, will help us link the not-rightness of the present moment to the tradition from which we get our wisdom and healing.

The right sort. Which is to say, sin language that is NOT focused on the risk of going to hell or the fear of pissing off God or even the need for personal salvation. Rather, sin language that is more directly descriptive of the earth-bound consequences of human action (and inaction). Sin language that speaks from the sacred-cosmic truth of absolute-relatedness and planetary-finitude. And sin language that declares simply, unmistakably, and (at least initially) without judgment, that we’ve stepped out of place with respect to the sturdy-delicate web of relations that is our home.

Perhaps there are good psychological-historical reasons for why we long ago hitched “sin” to otherworldly hopes or anxiety over divine anger. (Although I’d argue we should have also long ago grown past these linkages and refined our thinking. Instead, those holding power found ways to use those primal, but immature impulses to control others … But I digress.) Yet in this kairos moment, on this finite planet, sin is the welcome recognition that we’ve “missed the mark.”[4]

Welcome, because when we recognize Earth as our home, and as we become “literate” in the language of sin, we can use it to name “negative feedback loops”[5] that help us re-true our attitudes and behaviors (ultimately, our cultures and societies) so they “fit” our finite context. Well-declared, sin calls out the places in our lives that need attention—that need “repentance”: literally “turning back from”—so that our lives actually support the web of worldly relations and pursue meaning, joy, and justice in ways that strengthen the whole fabric of creation. That’s the original purpose of sin language. And, as Christians, we either reclaim it in this sense or we let it distract us (perhaps with deadly results) from doing the work to which God calls us: the healing of ourselves and the world.

To employ sin language in its proper role means that in our churches and in our daily fellowship with others we’ll actually ask together the welcome question of what constitutes sin today. And we’ll avoid the cultural press to indulge in holiday flying-and-buying—because that behavior is deadly to others. We’ll ask honest and restless questions about how much we drive, how we heat our homes, how we shape our diets, etc.—because those behaviors are directly related to a reeling climate. And, as faithful citizens, we’ll ask about plans for new pipelines, gas fracking, nuclear plants, etc.—because those societal-corporate behaviors drive the planet toward a dangerous future.

This isn’t about finger-pointing (in any case, most of the fingers would point back toward us). And it isn’t about making blanket claims (e.g. “Eat vegan or else”); it will require seasoned ethical nuance. It’s about recognizing that our future is in peril and we are wiser to ask about our behaviors with authentic earnestness now, rather than find our conversation driven by frenzied panic after a decade of sinful procrastination. Speaking of sin is essential as we seek to navigate finitude with grace.

PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith

*                *                *

The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing our climate crisis, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.

[1] www.apnews.com/7d85d6d7b05c4436b6f4d162f6c06566

[2] www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/27/climate-emergency-world-may-have-crossed-tipping-points

[3] See Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Fortress Press, 1978, especially pp. 44-61.

[4] The biblical words for sin in both Hebrew and Greek mean “to miss the mark.” I might suggest, “to act off balance.” Another Hebrew word carries the stronger connotation of “rebellion,” as though to deliberately “miss the mark” … out of spite, vengeance, even desire for profit.

[5] See, for instance, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope (New World Library, 2012), pp. 66-68.

Sin: Ripping the Fabric of Creation

Sin: Ripping the Fabric of Creation
David R. Weiss – November 26, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #50 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

My last post (GIT #49) left us entangled. But if we’re so thoroughly caught in systems that pit us against each other, our fellow creatures, and even our planet, what hope do we have? We’ll get there (to hope), but the first step toward that hope is realizing how not right things are.

I used the word sin to describe our entanglement—the not-rightness of our current situation—but that’s hardly an uncomplicated word choice. “Sin” feels too religious for folks not connected to a faith community and too oppressively moralistic for many who are in faith communities. I could pick a different word, but I think sin is our word for a couple of reasons.

First, for better or for worse, sin is the word used in the Christian tradition to name the not-rightness that afflicts human experience. And if we’re going to leverage the wisdom of the Christian tradition to address the not-rightness evident in the climate crisis, we should at least ask whether we’re dealing with sin, since that’s the not-rightness that Christianity aims to address.

Second, sin is also the word misused in the Christian tradition to narrow down that not-rightness to matters of personal morality, sexual shame, rule-based obedience, and othering (disvaluing those who are simply different). While there are legitimate expressions of personal morality and times for rule-based obedience, overall in its misused form sin has largely reinforced power relationships without ever asking about the not-rightness of the relationships themselves. In this manner sin has actually distracted us from recognizing the not-rightness that really matters. Because of this, it seems wiser to reclaim sin than simply coin a new term and allow “sin” to simmer away in the background—pointing fingers, sowing shame, and otherwise making noise that doesn’t help us address the crisis in front of us.

Third, I’m convinced that a reclaimed understanding of sin can help us understand what we’re up against and help us see how our tradition can guide us in this kairos moment (GIT #46). That is, only by being clear on what sin is, can we begin to draw on Christianity as a faith with the power to transform us both inwardly and outwardly: this is the work of Transition.

Let me be clear: the Transition Movement does NOT require a background in any faith tradition. And I’m certain faith traditions other than Christianity can benefit from engaging with Transition. My assertion is more modest but important: for Christianity to engage Transition in a meaningful and constructive way we need to recognize the “touch points”—places where Transition and Christianity come together. And what Transition sees as the not-rightness of the current moment—the crises of peak oil, climate chaos, and a misshapen economy—are the result of what Christians name as sin. We have much to learn from Transition, and we begin with remembering what we know about sin.[1]

A mini-theology. Reality is relational. Nothing is on its own. (Perhaps not even God; that seems to be one core intuition in the doctrine of the Trinity: even God is intrinsically intimate before anything else at all is.) This begs the question of ultimates: who/what is God? I’m not going there. I’ll say this much. “God” is absolutely beyond our words. The very best we can do is seek words that capture shadows of the divine—God’s “backside” so to speak (Exodus 33:19-23).

I regard “God” as the name given across multiple faith traditions to the energy that pervades all that is: the “pulse” of the cosmos, the “spark” behind the big bang, the “impulse” to evolve, the “webbedness” that characterizes the very nature of reality. Our minds tend to personalize and anthropomorphize this energy. I’ll admit I’m agnostic-skeptical toward this. I doubt “God” is personal, but I’m inclined to affirm a purposiveness that comes right to the edge of sentience, and I’m adamant that I don’t really know. But, even if you prefer a fully personal God, my assertion stills stands: whoever/whatever God is, God’s creation—the cosmos—is relational through and through. This is, I believe, both a theological truth and an empirical fact; a happy place where religion and science simply concur.

This claim is the canvas for any serious religious cosmology. Cosmology (more/less in both its religious and scientific form, though I’m speaking religiously here) means the big picture of how/why things came to be as they are, where WE fit, and how WE ought to act in light of this big picture. In this sense, cosmologies are inescapably “self-centered” in that that they orient US—the ones who fashion them, toward the world around us. But they need not be destructively self-centered. It is possible (I’d say critical-essential!) for a cosmology grounded in a big picture of cosmic relationality to be self-centered in a humble, searching posture that places us within—interwoven with—a web of relationships rather than atop a pyramid. At its best, that’s what Christianity might offer.

In this cosmology, every facet of the cosmos from birth to death (both individually and as a whole) is naturally in ebb and flow with everything else. Life and death, renewal and rebirth, are the respiration of the universe. This is a far more modest picture than Christianity has often proclaimed, but it’s more consonant with what we know scientifically. “Paradise” may be a useful myth-metaphor, but there’s never been a time when any corner of the universe, least of all “Eden,” has been without the tumult that is nature. That tumult—which includes predator-prey relationships and lots of death—isn’t a moral problem. It simply is the way this universe works.

But at some point, on this particular planet, life evolved to the point that self-consciousness dawned. And with the notion of a self came the notion of an ended self—the anticipation of death; then anxiety over this finitude and then all manner of methods of trying to avoid death, many of which come at the expense others. As the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (d. 1971) said, contrary to the “fall narrative” in the Bible, we don’t die because we sin; we sin because we die. Our failure to respond maturely to the challenges posed by finitude (and they can be mighty!) is the primal trigger for sin.

But it’s critical to note, this isn’t sin in the form of disobeying God. It’s sin in the form of acting against the cosmic relatedness in which we “suddenly” found ourselves, a cosmic relatedness in which our personal-communal finitude posed extreme anxiety. It isn’t surprising, perhaps, that self-consciousness caught us off guard in that primal past. But each choice to act or live against the relatedness of the entire cosmos threatened to rip us as a human species—as a human culture—further and further from the host of (finite!) connectedness that is our home.

The present crises of peak oil, climate chaos, and a misshapen economy are all distant but distinct echoes of that primal refusal to knowingly embrace our place in the (finite) web of life. By now that chosen refusal has been clothed so well in culture, myth (in fact, religion in its worse expressions), and systemic-corporate structures that we can barely imagine it as a dysfunctional choice. It passes so easily for normal. But it will kill us. All of us, if we don’t stem that anxious impulse.

Religion—at its best—has served since ancient times to help us navigate finitude with grace. And that’s an essential double entendre: “grace” as with humble poise and “grace” as with a sense of the sheer giftedness of life itself. From the earliest Goddess religions and aboriginal/indigenous traditions, on through the Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, and up through the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, religion in its wisest moments has offered us patterns for embracing this life as sacred in the midst of finitude. That’s the wisdom we need to plumb for today.

PS: I’ve set up a Patreon site to help fund my work in this area. I hope you’ll invest in my thinking and writing. You can learn more about how to support me here: www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith

*                *                *

The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing our climate crisis, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly essays consider climate change, Transition, and faith—using biblical images, liturgical seasons, science, and theology, as conversation partners. Writing in a voice a bit too restless to call “devotional,” I aim to be insightfully evocative and usefully provocative. I’d be delighted to have you join me on this journey. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week! Contact me at: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.

[1] People write entire books on sin; I have just a couple paragraphs. I’m most indebted to Sallie McFague (The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, Fortress Press, 1993, esp. pp. 112-129) and Carter Heyward (Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right, Fortress Press, 1999, esp. pp. 82-88) for helping me articulate my own intuitions more clearly.

This entry was posted on December 3, 2019. 1 Comment