Tag Archive | At Home on Earth

Maundy Thursday – Meeting the End with Love

Maundy Thursday – Meeting the End with Love
David R. Weiss – April 16, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #21 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

John 13:34-35 – “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are followers of the Way: because you love one another.[1] Part of Jesus’ long farewell discourse in John’s gospel, these words have given us the name for Thursday in Holy Week: Maundy. The Latin behind “commandment” in this verse (echoed again in 15:12-17) is mandatum (from which comes our word, mandate. This is “Mandatum Thursday”: “Commandment Thursday.” It might better be called Love Thursday, since Jesus calls his friends[2] to love many times more than he uses the word “commandment.”

Overall John’s gospel is noteworthy on several counts. Considered by scholars to be the last of the biblical gospels authored, his telling is often regarded as the least historical and most theological (which is not to say that he ignores history, that the other gospels ignore theology, or that the others present history the way we think of it today). But, even a surface reading of John reveals no parables, multiple lengthy discourses, and a self-focused Jesus (as opposed to a focus on God’s kin-dom), all of which place him in stark contrast to the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so-called “synoptic” because they view Jesus through the same lens).

One might make the case that John is thus less interested in historical fact, but he remains supremely interested in Truth. John’s gospel—which, like the other gospels aims to communicate good news to his original readers/hearers in a way that fosters the experience of good news in the hearing itself—is finely crafted and reflects both the lived experience of his community and John’s own nuanced theology. Of particular note is John’s commitment to “realized eschatology,” a fancy theological mouthful for saying that John believes that the redemptive/liberatory impact of Jesus on us and our lives begins right now—in all its fullness. Whether John regards another layer of fulfillment in an afterlife is not the point. He believes that the full power of the gospel is unleashed in the world through the Spirit moving in our lives today.

Two features of John’s Maundy Thursday narrative stand out to me. First, contrary to the Synoptics (and likely contrary to history), John does not have Jesus eat the Passover meal on Thursday night. He pushes Passover back by day: a small bit of “historical license” with theologically seismic implications. Not much is changed about Thursday evening, but the absence of a Thursday Passover means that on Friday afternoon throughout Jerusalem Passover lambs are being slaughtered in preparation for the meal … a slaughter that aligns with Jesus’ death on the cross. It is John’s way of profoundly linking Jesus to the Passover lamb (whose blood, in the original Passover tale kept Jewish homes safe during the final plague in Egypt).

It’s a symbolic connection that (in my mind) has disastrous echoes in atonement theology for millennia to come: in assertions that say our forgiveness/redemptive hinges on the spilling of Jesus’ blood. Given the scandal of Jesus’ death on the cross—which surely rocked his friends’ and followers’ worlds in way we cannot imagine—John’s daring interpretation of the death is understandable. His logic, I suspect, is quite different from ours. We often begin the story of Jesus with the assumption he came to die and skip over the very messy theology that undergirds that assumption. The earliest communities of believers began with the inexplicable fact that he DID die—for which they were utterly unprepared—and then find themselves making daring efforts (that are hardly consistent across the gospels or the early church!) to reconcile the profound goodness of Jesus’ life to the irreconcilable(!) character of his death.

It’s possible—in light of John’s realized eschatology (where redemption happens NOW, among the living)—that he identifies Jesus with the Passover lamb not to make his blood key to redemption, but to include his bloody death in the redemptive power of his life. As though by finding a place for Jesus’ death within the Passover story of God’s liberating work, John insures that the cross cannot become a cause to doubt the power of Jesus’ life. Like the Passover lamb, his death is one piece of a much larger tale of liberation.

The other intriguing feature of John’s Maundy Thursday account is this. We commemorate Maundy Thursday as the night when Jesus instituted Holy Communion at the end of his last supper and before his arrest and crucifixion. But, although Thursday in Holy Week gets its name from John’s gospel, in his telling Jesus never celebrates Holy Communion. He has a final meal followed by a famous foot-washing scene, but there is no lifting up and breaking bread, no pouring and sharing wine. How can it be that this meal—so emblematic of our faith … so sacramental … is simply missing in John?

No one knows for sure, but I’m persuaded by a suggestion I heard decades ago (alas, uncredited because my memory recalls the insight but not the origin): in John’s community they gathered to read aloud pieces of this gospel each week. And each week they did this while celebrating communion, themselves taking and breaking bread, pouring and sharing wine. John wrote for their lived experience, so he wrote a gospel to compliment the meal already at the heart of their gathering. No need to describe the meal itself.

Whether that’s the real reason or not will likely never be known. But it fits with how I see this night in this week intersecting with our experience of climate change. Put yourself, even if just momentarily, in Jesus’ sandals. He sees the end—his end—rapidly approaching. It’s not that he wants to die, but that he will not compromise the power of compassion that dwells in him. And he sees the rising powers of the world determined to preserve themselves at the cost of his life. This isn’t divine foreknowledge. It’s simply the sober commonsense insight accessible to most every person who’s been a prophet/martyr.

But Jesus’ primary concern on this night in this week is to ensure that the compassion birthed in and through him continues to be realized in the world after his death (that’s realized eschatology). And how does he do that? He tells his friends to love one another. Relentlessly. Fiercely. Even at great risk. Love. Jesus’ death would seem to undermine the usefulness of this counsel. But before we race ahead to the resurrection and see there some miraculous overturning of death, before we do that—just wait. Because on that first Maundy Thursday there is as yet no resurrection. No gospels have been written. No Sunday School lessons learned. No Hallelujahs hurled heavenward. No Easter lilies bought. None of that is “real” yet. There is ONLY a daunting, messy, chaotic end racing toward Jesus. And he meets that end by sharing a meal and asking his friends to persist in loving one another.

Perhaps that love is central to what happens on Easter morning. (I happen to think it is, though in a very unorthodox way.) But I want to hold us in the shattering uncertainty of Maundy Thursday for a moment. There is a strand of eco-awareness today that looks at the unnerving science and the damning math and assesses it with the same sort of sobering certainty that Jesus did on Maundy Thursday: we’re screwed. And who knows whether it is alarmist (as we like to hope) or just … inconveniently honest. But I ask you, today, to put yourself in an ecological Maundy Thursday moment. What if there’s ONLY a daunting, messy, chaotic end racing toward us? If so, how will we meet that end? Here is the thin, profound, powerful good news of Jesus: Let’s meet it gathered with friends, sharing a meal, and pledging love.

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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. In fact, I hope you’ll subscribe (go to the top right sidebar!) Thanks for reading and see you next week!
drw59mn(at)gmail.com

[1] This is mostly NRSV translation, but I have replaced “my disciples,” which is certainly what the Greek says, with “followers of the Way,” which is what the church came to understand and which resonates with my sense that Jesus never saw himself as having a monopoly on “the Way.”

[2] There’s a whole theology behind this one word, which links Jesus directly to the Hebrew notion of God’s Wisdom. Jesus says his ministry will be (can only be?) carried on, not by followers or disciples, but by friends.

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Palm Sunday Politics and Planet Earth

Palm Sunday Politics and Planet Earth
David R. Weiss – April 11, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #20 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

In just two days we’ll remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of what we now call Holy Week. Often commemorated as a “triumphal entry” followed by the Temple “cleansing,” both frames understate the power of Jesus’ actions.[1] By seeing them for the richly provocative actions they were, we might also see them as suggestive for our response to climate change.

Jerusalem. Not just any place on Earth, in Jewish tradition the city—especially the Temple—stand as an axis mundi (literally: “Earth axis”), a point where transcendence and immanence touch; where Mystery and mundane meet. Such points are known in every faith tradition. That the events we consider today play out here makes them more than history: they’re holy drama.

Additionally, they’re located in time as well as space. Jesus doesn’t enter Jerusalem in a vacuum. It’s Passover, the Jewish festival of liberation, no doubt “celebrated” with bitter irony under Roman rule. Still, the memory of liberation is so fresh at Passover, that Rome dare not let it be celebrated under anything other than a watchful and well-armed eye. Thus, Pilate (Rome’s appointed governor for Jerusalem) would’ve ALSO made his entrance into Jerusalem around the same time Jesus did, though coming from the opposite direction.

And his entry would’ve been triumphal in the most militaristic way: soldiers on foot and on horseback, weapons, drums, banners, and poles bearing a golden eagle—symbol of Jupiter, the god of Rome. His procession and presence during the week was meant to remind Jews that the Passover meal would be the only liberation they could expect to taste anytime soon.

Once we realize Jesus’ palm-strewn pathway into the east side of city happens over against Pilate’s procession from the west, it becomes evident that Jesus is making a visibly anti-triumphal entry. He comes, mounted on a donkey in a deliberately embodied echo of Zechariah 9:9-10. His “kingship” is marked by humility … and the promise of genuine (that is, just) peace. As with his parables on the “kingly activity of God,” his Palm Sunday procession makes an intentional critique of Rome and its regal pattern of domination. Though some of his listeners may have wished otherwise, Jesus presents no call for violent revolution, but offers an unmistakable summons to a whole different way of life.

But Jesus wasn’t just taking issue with Rome or with Pilate. In 6 CE (during Jesus’ youth) Rome made the Jewish Temple authorities responsible for collecting imperial taxes and maintaining the debt records frequently invoked to foreclose on Jewish land. Even prior to this, the Jewish Temple had been twisted to serve those holding religious power and economic wealth, but from 6 CE onward it also became the religious edge of Rome’s political-economic oppression. Even if they did somewhat begrudgingly, the Temple elites were chaplain to Empire. (How deeply the Jewish public resented this is shown at the start of the Jewish Revolt, when besides driving out the Roman army, they immediately burned the records of land debt kept at the Temple.)

So when Jesus clears the Temple on Monday, he isn’t just temporarily displacing money-changers and animal vendors. Something much more decisive is playing out. He’s pronouncing a judgment against the Temple for having allied itself with the forces that are stealing both land and life from God’s people. As much as the Temple was seen as the very throne of God, a whole string of Hebrew prophets spoke out in the harshest words possible whenever they saw Temple rituals carried out in the absence of justice in Jewish society. They knew God wanted nothing to do with worship cut off from justice.

Some 700 years before Jesus, Jeremiah accused the people of presuming the Temple somehow guaranteed their security despite rampant social injustice, saying “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14 || 8:11) Thus, when Jesus invokes Jeremiah’s words about “a den of robbers,” (which, his original hearers knew, culminated in the threat that God would destroy the Temple), there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone present: this is no mere “cleansing.” It’s a prophetic action that symbolically destroys the Temple. Not the building itself, but the systemically twisted relations it had come to divinely authorize. If you’ve heard Black Lives Matter protesters shout “Shut It Down!” as they move on to an interstate highway, you’ve heard the same tone of protest that Jesus used to shut down the Temple that day.

It’s hard to overstate the provocative depth of Jesus’ action at the Temple. No doubt, even some of his own followers were uneasy. It was a symbolic act that reached DEEP into primal emotions, not unlike burning an American flag. Or, to “bring it home,” like pulling the vestments off your local church altar and burning them if your church has been silent (or, worse, complicit) in any of Rome’s more recent deeds: caging immigrants, bashing queers, killing black bodies, or belching CO2. Most of us would hesitate to go there. Jesus does not.

Let’s be clear. Palm Sunday was no innocent pageant of Jewish peasants lining the road with palm branches as Jesus rode through on a donkey. There was, I’m sure, genuine joy in the air. But every cheer of “Hosanna,” every cry of “King,” every salute to “Son of David”—these were all dangerous words. No wonder some of the Jewish leaders tried to get Jesus to quiet the crowds. But recall his reply: “I tell you, if these people were silent the rocks and stones would cry out.” (Lk 19:39-40) Earth itself longs for a rule other than Rome’s. And that scene in the Temple? It isn’t a judgment of someone else’s religion. Jesus is calling out our religious tradition anytime it offers even silent complicity to rulers or systems that plunder land, impoverish people, imperil ecosystems, or promises “Peace, Peace,” while catastrophic climate change comes at us. And there’s plenty of both of those going on in churches today.

These two events at the start of Holy Week remind us there are real choices in front us, too. And they don’t show up out of nowhere. From Jesus’ first announcement that God’s kin-dom had come near, his ministry consistently posed a stark alternative to the politics of Rome and the Temple. One grounded in compassion toward and reverence for all life. That alternative asks for our allegiance still today.

Palm Sunday’s politics long to be good news for planet Earth. But it will take more than a few half-hearted Hosannas while we wave our palm fronds to convince the rest of creation we’re ready to show up … for all of us. So if you find yourself feeling a bit foolish, limply waving a palm frond in church just a day before our President’s “triumphal” visit to Minnesota, remember, for Jesus, Palm Sunday was neither triumphant nor tame. It was confessional and confrontational: the communal enactment of pledging loyalty to God and, on that account, withholding it from Caesar.

For Jews, eating the Passover makes that experience present to them right now. For New Zealanders grieving the mosque shooting last March, the Maori haka dance joined the mourners (across their diverse cultures) to New Zealand’s deepest past. Our Palm Sunday worship ought to have the seriousness of a Jewish Seder and the resolve of a haka dance. Dare we? The rocks and stones will be waiting.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!

[1] The texts are Mk 11:1-22 || Mt 21:1-21 || 19:28-48. For a full treatment, see Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week, HarperOne, 2006, pp. 1-53.

Resilience – Without Waiting for Permission

Resilience – Without Waiting for Permission
David R. Weiss – March 28, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #17 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

From catastrophic flooding in the U.S. Midwest[1] to Cyclone Idai’s devastation of southeastern Africa[2] to the recent confirmation we’re living in the warmest decade since records have been kept,[3] the reality of climate change is hitting us everywhere these days. Except in Congress, where we continue to be regularly embarrassed by politicians who take the floor to mock climate science and ignore the suffering being multiplied all around us.[4] Taken together, these two observations explain the fourth core insight of the Transition Movement: that we should (1) enliven imagination, (2) tap into deep agency, (3) reclaim and share earthbound skills … (4) without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.[5]

Convinced that climate change is already upon us—and that any livable future will necessarily look different than the past-present that brought us to this point—Transition believes that the faster we embrace that different future, the better off we and all future generations will be. And Transition affirms that the fastest, healthiest way to transition is local. Local transition leverages the energy available among people in neighborhoods and communities as its own natural resource. Resilience in the face of climate change arises not only by changing how we live but also by strengthening the bonds the join us to each other as we work for a human community more in harmony with the planet. Resilience is as much a social deepening as it is a technological transformation.

Transition’s fourth insight is critical because the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us are often conflicted—so entangled in profit interests or the preservation of power that they actually become tools in preventing the changes needed for our survival. Only rarely do they actively foster positive change. And if we wait for their permission to transition, our worlds—both social and natural, both local and global—will be in a shambles before we’re officially “permitted” to change. This is yet another place where Christian origins can inspire us today.

The Jesus movement unfolded in a society … without permission. In Jesus’ day, Roman society espoused values that ran wholly contrary to the radical hospitality and compassion that Jesus taught and practiced. Even the dominant expression of Jesus’ own Jewish tradition—deeply grounded by the prophets in hospitality and compassion—was persistently tempted to seek ways to preserve a measure of its own power under Roman rule so that it also worked to suppress its best impulses. Indeed they both exerted enormous political, social, and religious pressure to conform to values designed to keep society fragmented and stratified between a variety of in-group/out-group divisions that left no room, no permission, for community that didn’t come at the expense of some “other.”

For Jesus to announce the good news of God’s grace—radical acceptance-welcome-affirmation—as the basis on new community could only happen by not waiting for permission. Across my last four essays I’ve given just the barest glimpses into some of the ways that the ministry of the historical Jesus and the earliest patterns of the Christian church were far more this worldly in their focus than many of us grew up thinking. This is not to say that Jesus and the earliest Christians did not have truly deep convictions about an Ultimate and Gracious Reality they knew as God. But it is to be clear that they experienced God as impinging graciously in this world: redeeming … renewing … altogether remaking the conditions in which human life found possibility. And that aspect of Jesus ministry and the early church is profoundly worth reclaiming today.[6]

A few snippets. In a classic exchange with the Pharisees (Mk 12:13-17 || Mt 22:15-22 || Lk 20:20-26), Jesus is asked whether it’s lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. It’s a trick question. To say, Yes—as Roman law demanded—would break Jewish law by paying the tax (as required) with a coin that proclaimed Caesar as god. To say, No—as Jewish law demanded in its strict rejection of any actions that gave even the appearance of idolatry—would break Roman law. Jesus’ good options are reduced to none. But in a move that perhaps anticipates James T. Kirk’s response to the Kobayashi Maru dilemma in Star Trek,[7] Jesus … cheats. Well, he alters the frame.

After asking whose image appears on a Roman coin, Jesus responds, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” The catch is two-fold. First, for a Jew all things are God’s, leaving—in truth—nothing that belongs to Caesar. Second, for a Jew, because every human being bears the image of God—and together in our common humanity and infinite diversity we bear witness to the unity and infinity of God—and therefore, that paltry Roman coin, with its cheap attempt to replicate the very finite image of Caesar endlessly across the empire … well, actually it just shows how far short Caesar falls of the greatness of God. So if you must pay the tax to survive, you will not be judged for that. In fact, your payment might even be made as something of an insult to the Emperor.[8]

But that is not to say that every hard choice has an easy out. When we consider new mining initiatives in Minnesota’s northlands or the Line 3 pipeline project: whose image is reflected in the boundary waters? Whose life-giving nature appears in the aquifers beneath the land? Whose sacred presence is known in the wild rice? Whose character upholds the weight of treaties (even if we choose to break them)? These questions do not resolve on so neat a turn of wit. But to recall that Jesus reframed dilemmas to reveal both their stakes and our other options is critical for us today.

Walter Wink (among others) reveals the extent to which the Jesus’ famous words (Mt 5:39-42 || Lk 6:29-30), about turning a cheek, giving a cloak, or walking an extra mile are all exhortations to not simply trust in the long arc of the moral universe, but to bend it with nonviolent human action.[9] Perhaps because, if the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, it will be because of those who bear the image of the God of justice jumping on it with all their might. With all their hope.

Perhaps that’s the place to pause today. More about Wink’s discussion—and how we jump—next time.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!

[1] www.thinkprogress.org/deadly-flooding-midwest-nebraska-climate-impacts-ac8865fd6160

[2] www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/19/cyclone-idai-worst-weather-disaster-to-hit-southern-hemisphere-mozambique-malawi

[3] www.truthout.org/articles/were-living-in-the-warmest-decade-since-record-keeping-began

[4] www.commondreams.org/news/2019/03/26/if-guy-can-be-senator-you-can-do-anything-progressives-mock-mike-lees-climate-speech

[5] I introduced these in GIT #13, “Redeemed for Resilience.” They were identified by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

[6] There are multiple sources for this. I’ve found Marcus Borg particularly insightful and compelling—across all his writing, but most clearly presented here: Jesus: A New Vision (HarperSanFrancisco, 1987) and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

[7] www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobayashi_Maru. Far be it from me to call Kirk a messianic figure, however he does seem to share with Jesus the confidence that there is no such thing as a no-win scenario.

[8] www.theshalomcenter.org/content/god-caesar-image-coin. There’s a lot more going on here than I discuss above.

[9] Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (NY: Doubleday, 1998), pp. 98-111.

Resilience – as Deep Agency

Resilience – as Deep Agency
David R. Weiss – March 17, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #15 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

As I begin week 15 of my yearlong pledge, I’m keenly aware that each post I write begs for further development. Many of these short essays contain the seeds enough for an entire book chapter in them. Perhaps eventually I’ll come back to selected posts and fill them out further. For now the discipline of weekly blogging is helpful in getting a wide array of ideas out of the table, and I trust that as I devote myself further to this work, next steps will present themselves.

In this post I want to consider the second of four key facets to the Transition movement: that we must tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities.[1] Transition names the necessary commitment to shift away from the dominant expression of modern life insofar as it depends on intensive fossil fuel consumption. It seeks this transition because it recognizes that fossil fuel use is directly tied the catastrophic climate change currently occurring around the world, and also because it asserts that we can actually live fuller lives when we choose social patterns that are more in keeping with the planet’s natural limits.

Such patterns will produce lives that are overall necessarily (and rewardingly) more local in meeting the whole range of human needs. Precisely because these transitions will succeed only to the extent they fit their context, they require deep agency. Part of Transition movement’s wisdom is to trust that there is no central monopoly on environmental wisdom. Almost by its nature—indeed, by the planet’s nature—all environmental wisdom is local. Each place has its own unique eco-character and if human communities are to live in harmony with the planet that will happen place by place by place.

In transition, no one size fits all. No top-down hierarchy calls the shots. Yes, there are a number of requisite principles and skills. But beyond them, improvisation wins the day. And the hallmark of improvisation with integrity in one’s own ecological context is deep agency. It is knowing who we are, where we are, what’s needed in this place (both for Earth and for community)—and then making real choices toward transition from this knowledge. Imagination, creativity, vision, knowledge—these are foundational. But the energy to animate all of them in coordination rests in deep agency: the near miracle of taking charge of our lives within worlds that profit by keeping us consumer-cogs of the status quo. Deep agency involves becoming citizen-architects of the world that awaits our fashioning.

Citizen-architects. Who knew this could be such a high Christian calling? Well, Jesus and Paul, for two. And the author of Luke-Acts as well. Not that it is much in evidence in most churches today, where personal-communal-religious-civic agency are often a buried legacy, covered over by the multiple powers of clergy, money, tradition, and fear, all of which tend to erase the deep agency that is our vocation and Christian birthright. I’m not anti-clergy, though I might make an exception in a few specific instances … and I’m not anti-tradition, though I’m decidedly wary of traditions that too easily become more focused on self-preservation rather than anchoring vibrant responses to the present and being open to self-transformation in that process.

However, the vocation of citizen-architect—part of the church’s earliest tradition—is one tradition essential to fostering the deep agency needed for transition. It begins in Jesus’ ministry, where time and again Jesus himself shows far less interest in being atop a hierarchy than his later followers imagine (which they do more to their benefit than to the gospel’s). Jesus, for his part, sends the disciples out in pairs (Matt. 10:1-15 || Luke 10:1-20) telling them to share with those in need the same energy that swirls within him—and to do so freely. In fact, Jesus promises them (John 14:12) they will ultimately do things beyond what they’ve seen Jesus himself do. Not because they become greater than Jesus, but because the Spirit’s empowering energy within the community of his followers will ripen over time.

This commissioning as veritable equals becomes yet clearer when Jesus extends the “keys to the kingdom” to his disciples (Matt. 16:9). He tells them their authority is now sufficient to “bind or loose” (to forbid or permit) which, I’d argue, is less about establishing rules than it is about charting the way forward into uncharted territory. In a similar scene in John’s Gospel Jesus breathes on the disciples as a way of sharing God’s Breath/Spirit with them (John 20:22). It is about conferring deep agency. And doing so, not so much in his absence, but in his ongoing though invisible presence (John 14:15-28). Matthew captures this in the closing words of his Gospel, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

So Jesus establishes a community committed to a new way of being together in the world grounded in a notion of God’s radical grace and manifest in the practice of compassion toward one another. And he tethers them not to a fixed set of rules but to the living presence of Spirit, confident that the Spirit will guide the church as it exercises deep agency. When Luke extends his tale of Jesus from the Gospel into the Acts of the Apostles, he continues to show prayer as intentional opening to the Spirit. Just as Luke’s Jesus carries out his ministry persistently grounding his actions in prayer, Luke offers a portrait of the early church similarly drawing its life out of prayer. Its devotional life, to be sure (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42), but also its socio-economic life (Acts 2:44-45). The early church was not simply (perhaps not even primarily) a movement driven by beliefs about the next world, but a daring, Spirit-driven movement about life in this world.

Still, citizen-architects? Yes, exactly. When St. Paul exhorts the early church at Corinth to “exercise bold speech” (2 Corinthians 3:12, often rendered—domesticated!—as “acting with boldness”) he is, in fact, using the Greek word (parresia) that is the specific term for the “free speech” exercised only by the free property-owning men who gathered in the assembly of Roman cities to chart their community’s future.[2] The Christians to whom Paul was writing would have known this—precisely because it was speech forbidden to many of them: women, aliens, and slaves. Yet, emphatically for Paul, it was the baptismal birthright of every person in the church (free, slave, male, female, rich, poor, Jew, Gentile) to have parresia. Such bold speech was none other than the deep agency that guided the unfolding future of the church.

Once again we see why biblical literacy is a progressive Christian value. Our roots run back to a church in which agency was granted to—indeed commissioned to—every member in the community. This deep agency was fed by the gospel announcement of grace and the gospel praxis of compassion, and guided by the Spirit. Our Christian vocation is to be citizen-architects of a different world. In each generation we are called to envision the world that is needed—and then to bring that world into being. In this generation the world needed is one in transition. We’ll need to learn much from those beyond the church to better understand the world that is needed. But the breadth of empowerment that can help bring it to life…that lies within our own heritage, if only we dare to reclaim it. I say it’s time to take that dare.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] I introduced these in GIT #13, “Redeemed for Resilience.” They were identified by Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

[2] David Fredrickson, “Free Speech in Pauline Political Theology,” Word & World, 12:4 (1992), pp. 345-351.

Resilience – as Imagination

Resilience – as an Act of Imagination
David R. Weiss – March 15, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #14 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

The Transition movement is grounded a two-fold recognition.[1] First, fossil fuel is finite and, at some point in the not too distant future, production will begin to decline, leading to cost increases that will require us to transition to other energy sources. That’s not about preference or convenience, it’s about (initially) economic necessity and (eventually) material necessity when oil and gas become not simply costly but downright scarce. Second, we now know—and have known for decades!—that using fossil fuels is slow-cooking the planet. It’s altering the atmosphere in ways that will have repercussions on Earth’s climate for decades even after we stop using them.

Ultimately this isn’t a matter of political debate or a lifestyle preference. It’s about a fast approaching collision between past (and present!) choices, scientific fact, and basic math. And sadly, primarily because of corporate and political and even religious resistance (add in some personal human stubbornness as well, but this is small compared to the other driving forces) this is going to be an ugly collision.

So Transition takes it for granted that we NEED to transition away from an economic life (and a culinary life and a cultural life and a transportation life and a recreational life …) that depends on fossil fuel. In that sense, transition itself isn’t so much a choice the transition movement argues for, as it is simply the shape of the future it foresees. We will transition. What makes Transition distinctive, though, is that it has no interest in going into that fossil fuel-less world kicking and screaming, nor even with somber resignation. No, it’s eager to pursue transition because the Transition movement sees a host of good things coming our way. More on that later, but in short it sees the our transition away from fossil fuel as offering the opportunity to renew communities in vibrant, localized way that will deepen our humanity, our health, and our joy.

BUT—that doesn’t mean the aforementioned collision is going to be anything other than ugly. Which is where resilience comes in. More than merely the capacity to bounce back after a hard shock, in Transition, resilience includes the inner confidence that as communities we can, indeed, withstand the coming shock, and can move forward beyond it … toward something that may be radically simpler but also radically better. And therefore rather than passively waiting for the shock to hit us, resilience says we can choose to move toward that fossil fuel-less future. Resilience allows us to lean into transition with an urgency that is tempered by both confidence and longing. One key facet of resilience, as I mentioned in my last post, is to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down.[2]

Fossil fuel dependency endangers both us and the planet so “effectively” because it permeates so many systems. It’s central to producing and transporting almost everything we make and much of the food we eat. We rely on it to light and heat our homes, run our appliances, and get us from here to there to everywhere. It’s bound up with our comfort and convenience, but also with many things necessary for civilized society. Put all these things together and it’s just plain hard to imagine other ways of life that are so drenched (in largely unseen, non-greasy ways) in oil.

Add to this short list that the fossil fuel industry is extraordinarily profitable, and we have a scenario in which lack of imagination isn’t simply a matter of personal or even societal laziness, it’s orchestrated. We live in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut imagination down. Today we may be more nuanced in our understanding of how these systems work, but, as I’ve noted earlier (GIT #6 “Home by Another Route”) this is hardly a new insight altogether. It’s exactly what the apostle Paul means when he observes that our lives are constrained not only by the temptations or the mere limits that come with being human but also by “powers and principalities”—amoral but deadly forces that get embedded in systems. Human choices conspire with them, but even human passivity acts as accomplice because these forces operate with a relentless inertia of their own that welcomes our indifference … or our distraction.[3]

In this context—and spanning two thousand years—Jesus’ parables and teaching persist as seeds that seek to expand our vision beyond what is and focus our attention on what matters. Such gifts are more necessary than ever today because the stakes involve the entire human community as well the flora and fauna across the planet. Churches (indeed faith communities of all stripes) MUST become places where enlivening our capacity for vital social imagination is not viewed as a civic nicety separate from church but as a ministry imperative. It is the pressure of the gospel on the present moment—and it is always pressing for transformation.

Thus, it is a matter of remembering—and reclaiming—who we are. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry was his announcement of the “kingdom of God.” More clumsily—but more accurately—rendered as “the activity of God reigning as king,” Jesus’ parables, healings, and table fellowship both image and embody the surprise and reversal that accompany the energy of God as it moves through our world.

While Jesus uses kingdom language (likely as a severe critique of human kingship) we might today name the positive dynamic of divine energy as kin-making activity. This radical unsettling grace transforms children, Samaritans, women, even lepers into mascots of God’s kin-dom. It resides as the revolutionary spirit behind Jesus’ commission that we see his visage on the least of these in our world. It drives Paul to declare a “new creation” in which there is “neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female” (Gal. 3:28). Of course these differences remain, but they no longer serve as reasons for division. (Except that the powers and principalities continue to play these differences off against each other: rich vs. poor; human vs. nonhuman; first world vs. developing world; labor vs. environment, etc.)

For this reason, biblical literacy is a progressive Christian value. It enables us recover the full power of the gospel, producing inward and outward transformation at both personal and societal levels. The gospel declares the love of God for the whole of creation and beckons us to imagine a world—in this world—that echoes God’s love, not simply for those most like us, but even and especially for those least among us, whether human or non-human. This imagining is what the Transition movement calls for, although it frames this in secular language. But as faith communities we not only have a clear doorway into this conversation, we also have both a heritage to honor and a vocation to answer. Called to be this generation’s new creation community, Christian imagination invites us to lean into transition with an urgency that is tempered by both confidence and longing.

 

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

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The Gospel in Transition by David R. Weiss is a year of reflections on facing climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] http://transitionus.org/why-transition

[2] Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

[3] Just in February 2019 Joe Balash, U.S. assistant secretary for land and minerals management told a meeting of companies involved in oil exploration, “One of the things I have found absolutely thrilling (!) in working for this administration is that the president has a knack for keeping the attention of the media and the public focused somewhere else while we do all the work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people.” Whether he’s serious or cynical in calling this “work on behalf of the American people,” his recognition that the fossil fuel industry is aided by distraction is all too accurate. www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/14/offshore-drilling-trump-official-reveals-plan-and-distractions-delight.

Redeemed for Resilience

Redeemed for Resilience
David R. Weiss – March 2, 2019
The Gospel in Transition #13 – Subscribe at www.davidrweiss.com

This week’s post further introduces the notion of being “redeemed for resilience,” but before we turn to that I need explain a bit about why both parts of that claim might catch many who identify with the Christian tradition off guard. I ended my last post asserting that there are surprising resonances between key insights of the Transition movement and the Jesus story and the early church as glimpsed in Acts and Paul’s epistles. I called these touch points “surprising” because the church that nearly all of us know is on this side of Constantine.

Although Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity and the subsequent “conversion” of Christianity to the imperial religion of the Roman Empire makes for a complicated tale, the basic shift is pretty clear. Over the course of the fourth century, Christianity transformed itself from a faith that lived at the edges of society—and quite set off from political power (at times persecuted by it)—to a religion at ease with … and entangled with the dominant political power … and invested in its preservation and expansion.

It’s hard to overstate this shift. Both the initial pitch and dynamic of the gospel message are aimed at those who live—and die—at the edge of power. In the wake of Jesus’ historical ministry, the early church, while clearly beset by its own internal struggles over the role of women, the embrace of the Gentiles, and a host of other topics, nevertheless distinguished itself as a Spirit-driven movement. From Constantine onward the Spirit was increasingly domesticated—hobbled would be accurate.

Those with political power typically regard religion as an asset to be used to their benefit. And from Emperor Constantine to President Trump this has most often meant using “Christianity” to unite nations and baptize patriotism (often alongside colonizing or otherwise suppressing “others”). The unity and the patriotism are shaped by the values of the dominant powers of the day and rarely reflect the gospel values of Jesus. And the more thoroughly such “Christianity” is interwoven with the dominant culture that supports that dominant political power, the more we all become … docile. And while you likely won’t find “docile” listed as an antonym to “resilient” in your thesaurus (I checked mine), it’s close enough. If resilience is what we need, docility is what we can’t afford.

This isn’t to say that threads of the initial Jesus’ movement haven’t found their way forward past Constantine. They have. But post-Constantine the most authentic expressions of the gospel dynamic are often relegated to the exceptional. Reserved for the domain of personal piety, “radical” communities (whether convent, monastery, commune, or even cult), or, in moderation, congregations.

But what if we were redeemed … for resilience? What if the commission to carry the gospel to the ends of the Earth was less (or not at all!) about savings souls for Jesus and more (or entirely!) about helping to unleash the power of the gospel to humanize societies and to harmonize them with ecosystems around the globe? Hint: that’s where I’m putting all my chips.

Redeemed. Christian vocabulary is loaded with land mines. And while the twin attics of Christian history and theology display remarkable diversity, common understandings are often unhelpfully narrow. I don’t mean, “redeemed from our sins”—especially not where “sins” is reduced to rule-breaking that buys us a one-way ticket to damnation unless we’re somehow “redeemed.” No. When I say, “redeemed,” I mean something much less and much more.

Much less in that I’m not talking about some supernatural transaction that plays out across the scope of eternity; I’m talking about having our worldview “bought back,” re-directed at the rather mundane level of daily life. Much more in that I actually believe THIS is what Jesus intended: a “re-purchasing” of our imagination and our actions such that we honor the image of God in our neighbors and the dignity of creation all around us. Much more in that this is redemption that bears fruit here and now, which happens to be not only where we most need it, but also where God most desires it.

Resilience. Recall that Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition movement, describes resilience as the capacity “to withstand shock and then adapt … to think on one’s feet in any given situation.” But he adds that even more than this, resilience is able to meet shock/threat “as an opportunity to step forward and engage … in a positive and creative way.”[1]

I have sometimes described “faith” to my students as NOT the set of beliefs we hold but the internal-intuitive posture (trusting, fearful, cynical, judgmental, etc.) with which we lean into life. That faith/posture is both birthed and fostered by the beliefs, practices, biases, and experiences at play around us. In this sense, resilience is a faith/posture cultivated to meet the world in the midst of its acknowledged threats nonetheless grounded in trust. Not a naïve trust that everything will just somehow work out, but a more gritty trust that somehow—as a community of people (beginning at the most local levels) we can make choices that move us in the direction of living harmoniously on a finite planet. That’s resilience.

And at its authentic heart, Christianity is a story with the power to redeem us for resilience, to reshape our worldview decisively—redemptively—such that (among other things) we turn from living off the world to living in/with the world. And we make this “turn” with such vitality and joy that words like “born again” (John 3:1-8) or “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20) are legitimate hyperbole.

Last fall, on the tenth anniversary of its arrival in the U.S., two Transition movement leaders identified several of its core insights as these: (1) to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down; (2) to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities; (3) to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment; and (4) to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.[2]

In the coming weeks I’ll explore each insight as it has echoes in Christianity. I’ll argue that not only Jesus’ parables and teaching but also the early church’s use of language, imagery, and ritual are precisely efforts to enliven imagination in a political-economic-cultural system designed to shut it down. I’ll assert that Jesus’ commissioning of disciples and Paul’s call to exercise “bold speech” on behalf of the gospel both seek to tap into deep agency, both as individuals and as local communities. I’ll suggest that Jesus’ teaching about “the least of these” (among others) as well as the portrait of the early church found in both Acts and Paul’s letters in a certain sense anticipate the need to reclaim and share the very earthbound skills required in this moment. And I’ll propose that both Jesus’ ministry and Paul’s vision for the church are rife with invitations to do these things without waiting for permission from the “governing” (political, corporate, and cultural) forces around us.

Next week we begin by looking at Jesus and the early church as an exercise in enlivening our imagination. I hope you’ll be back.

 

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 climate change, finding hope, and the alchemy of Christian community. My weekly blog posts will 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”; my aim is 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!!

[1] www.transitionnetwork.org/news-and-blog/building-resilience

[2] Rob Hopkins and Sarah McAdams in “The Transition Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” roundtable discussion, 2018 Transition US Tenth Anniversary Online Summit: www.transitiongathering.org/videos.

(Perhaps) the Most Important Ask of My Life

(Perhaps) the Most Important Ask of My Life
David R. Weiss – February 27, 2019

Usually on my blog I post my reflections, whether inward or outward, set here for your consideration. Today I’m writing directly to YOU.

Some of you have followed my blog since I launched it a decade ago. Several of you have subscribed just in the last month or two. However long you’ve been with, thanks for listening in as I put words on the sparks that fly across the gray matter in my mind. Now I’m going to ask you—if you can—to put some money out in support of those sparks.

I’ve launched a Patreon website to help fund my thinking and writing for years to come. In this blog post I’ll explain why I’m doing this, what changes, and how you can support me in this endeavor.

What changes?

In a word: nothing. My blog posts will remain public and available (free) to everyone who comes to my website. This is partly a theological conviction: my theology is grace-driven—grounded in the GIFT character of God’s love—and I want my work to reflect that as clearly as possible. That’s important to say because most persons who use Patreon as a way to fund their work use a “transactional” model where paid support gets you quicker or more extensive access to what someone produces. That’s a very legitimate choice for most persons, and it has a certain pull even on me (my groceries, utilities, mortgage all operate transactionally—I only access what I pay for), but I intend to continue blogging as gift. It feels like the right choice for me even as it’s a risky one.

On the other hand: everything changes. Maybe. To the extent that the support for my work comes forward from you and from new followers, I’ll be able to devote more time to thinking and writing about the things that matter most to me … to the church … and to the wider world. Patreon offers me the possibility to do this work more faithfully and more fervently than I’ve ever been able to in my entire life.

Why—and why now?

For a host of reasons I’ve never found a real match between paid employment and inner gifts. I’m not going to review those reasons here (I’ve blogged about them several times in the past years). I’m not going apologize for missed opportunities or getting distracted by good work that fell short of being vocation—or for work that has been vocational but not economically sustainable. I’m here to ask for support as I do the work that calls out to me now … and likely for the rest of my life. I hope you’ll step up and be there with me. But if not, you’re still welcome to keep reading as I chart this new course. Maybe my work will draw you further in as it goes along.

My vocation goal is toward public theology—thinking out loud about God and the deepest sources of meaning in our lives as they intersect with the issues of today. Thinking, writing, speaking, teaching. For a large season of my life (about 20 years) that call focused foremost around welcome to LGBTQ persons. In recent years, without leaving that work behind, I’ve felt pulled strongly to the challenge of climate change and imagining how Christian (and other) communities can faithfully respond. I expect this work will last me for the next 20 years. Climate change isn’t going anywhere (except in the direction of worse), so, quite frankly, I expect I’ll be doing this work until I lose my life, my mind, or my faith. I’m in for the long haul.

I hope to do more public speaking again, and I won’t turn down college teaching opportunities (although they’ve been rare of late)—so long as they’re also opportunities to deepen my own work. But at age 59, I’m interested in summoning all my energy, insights, all gifts, into doing work that really matters. And, if I can garner even a modest stream of steady income from Patreon, it will enable me to do this. Not selfishly, but as a way to honor a call which has always been about linking my work to the wider world. I hope as the reach of my work extends others will want to support it as well. But as I begin this adventure, I need the support of those who have already seen what I can do, and are willing to support me in doing more, with fresh energy and deeper focus. Which is why I’m reaching out to you as my first circle of support.

So, how can you support me?

Like many online fundraising sites, Patreon offers a secure platform for people to make financial pledges to help fund my work. Unlike nearly every other such site, Patreon only processes ongoing monthly sustaining pledges. It doesn’t accept one-time gifts. It’s a way for artists and writers to cultivate “sustaining members.” Patrons (potentially YOU) create an account, put in your credit card information, and select a level of monthly support from as little as $2/month on up to whatever you can imagine. (I have one passionate supporter who has pledged $50/month(!) although most of my first pledges are in the $5-$7/month range.) Patreon bundles together the whole range of small, medium, and large pledges—allowing everyone to give a level of monthly support that is meaningful and doable for them—and I get one monthly support payment from Patreon that can actually help make my work sustainable.

Several people have asked if they can simply make a one-time or an annual gift because for one reason or another that works best for them. No … and yes. You can’t make a one-time or annual gift via Patreon; that’s not how their model is set up. And, honestly, supporting me through Patreon offers me the steadiest stream of income. However, because this work matters so much to me, I’ll gratefully accept any support you offer. In that case, you’ll need to send a check or PayPal gift directly to me. I’ll deposit these gifts into an account where I draw on them monthly like the rest of my Patreon funds. Email me for details: drw59mn(at)gmail.com.

So, here’s the big question: WILL YOU JOIN WITH ME IN THIS ADVENTURE OF “COMMUNITY SUPPORTED THEOLOGY”? I believe this is where I am called to be in this moment. With your pledge you help affirm that call.

Here’s the link to Patreon. You can read my full pitch there, or go directly to the “Become a Patron” button in the upper right of the page.

Lao-Tzu is credited with the wisdom, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” For me, this is that step. However you choose to walk with me in the months and years ahead, THANK YOU.

~David