Are We Building a Fear-based Community? – the power of gossip and group fear

We are afraid.  I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but here in the United States we are afraid.  We live in one of the most secure countries in the world,  in one of the most secure geographical locations, surrounded by the world’s largest military complex, in the pinnacle of pinnacles of history in terms of wealth and material excess.  We throw away more food than most countries eat.  We make (and sell) more arms than any other country on earth, maybe more than all other countries.  We are a secure people who are terrified.

We not only buy and carry weapons, increasingly arguing about whether we should have the right to carry in schools and churches!  We fear people around the world.  We fear natural disaster.  And we fear crimes.

I like to blame the media.  It is fun to judge others, and I judge them guilty.

The moment of realization for me came when I did not have a television in Phoenix, but my congregation began to talk about kidnapping.  It was rampant.  Children were being snatched off the street.  People worried about our girls who did not even know them.  I was in a hospital room on a visit with an unconscious parishioner when I saw the cable news.

Kidnapping was everywhere!  Seven references in less than one minute.  Constant pictures of cute blonde girls and one little boy.  I was worried.  Then I noticed that there were only three pictures.  They were looping the same story constantly.  I looked it up online.  There were seven open cases at that moment.  The FBI agent I called said it was actually a low point in kidnapping as a national crime. It was just the news cycle.

Why do we invest so much in weapons?  Why do we idolize snipers and praise drones?  We have become a people of unjust war.  We have become a war culture.  We love Rome.  This is just plain reality.

We could point back to World War II.  Or we could blame communists.  We could look for capitalists under the blanket, but the truth is we, the American people, have become a culture of constant fear and violent reprisal.

I am a priest.  I am wearing all black except a little dash at my Adam’s apple of white.  I am a paid Christian, follower of Jesus.  Yet when I saw the news of ISIS online and read the reports, my instinct was war, bombs, murder.  I watched the beginning clip of the martyrdom of Ethiopian Christians before I was snapped out of my fervor.

“Witness” is what martyrdom means. It was the witness of the early church that we died for our faith rather than killing for it.  The Ethiopian martyrs were doing what we have done for two millennia.  But that is not my instinct.  I am more trained by Die Hard and the Terminator than Stephen and the early church.  And that concerns me deeply.

Am I willing to die for my faith?  Am I willing to say with Christ, “If it is me you seek, then let these men go”?  I am and I am not.

“Too long I have lived among the tents of Kedar,” said the Psalmist, “I am for peace, but when I talk about it, they only talk about war.”  I preached about this recently and made the tie to gossip.  Gossip is not the well meaning, Do you know what is going on?  It is the Did you hear about so and so  . . . ?  It is the sniping of the distant foe with news and rumors.  It is destructive to community as surely as war.

It is the same instinct: to protect something or gather a people we offer up a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is always someone else.  I caught myself a few years ago using little bits of gossip to connect with people.  I am still deeply ashamed to say that.  It was horrendous.  It was wrong.  It was an attempt to build community.

Paul Born in his book Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times (2014) names the communal responses to crisis as avoidance, shallow community, fear-based community, and deep community.  He points out that fear-based community is a perverse attempt at meeting the desire for deep community.  It is gathering a group around an enemy or perceived enemy or I would add the rumor of an enemy.

This little version that we get when we gossip is cheap community.  It does not deliver on the promises of community.  It cannot deliver trust, togetherness, support, outreach, justice, and peace.  It cannot deliver joy, but it does give us that cheap moment of being on the same side for a minute or two.  It feels like community.

We have turned this, like many vices, into a national past time.  My favorite eight feet in creation somedays is that line of magazines lined up for our downfall at the cashiers of grocery stores.  I can peruse the latest gossip about people I don’t know but judge viciously based on what I know to be half-truths, at best.  We may not know each other, but we can both agree that the Kardashians are horrible shallow people and that Jenner fellow needs our pity.

Let’s revel in our moment of togetherness.  Is this the wine of our age, the drink that lubricates our friendships?

To take one step further, open Facebook.   Look at the feeds that are gathering communities around fear.  Gay people and their allies, notice the language, fear religious people.  Religious people fear gay people.  Let’s share relevant news stories to make the point that they’re out to get us.  Look at what a violent criminal the latest black man was when the police shot him.  That cop should be afraid.  Look at those police in their special forces gear and their violence.  Be afraid.  And share this.  Like it?

We are told repeatedly in the gospel that we are not to be afraid and not to judge.  We are told to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.  We are told to build communities that cross the very lines that we use to define our fears.  We are told to be communities of love.

Our moral life is supposed to be based in our love.  We are to be a people of restraint, not seeking our desires and vengeance, but rather a simple people who offer forgiveness freely.  We are called to love strangers and to be open to people who are different from us, to serve them, to love them.  And to do this because God is that way toward us.

We have to admit our sins in order to confess them and be forgiven.  We have to admit our need in order to be healed.  We have to admit that we have become a people of fear, anxiety, worry.  We have to admit that we have become a people of violence, war, gossip, and lies.  And we have to do this because it is the way of Christ we seek to follow.

We know of no other name under heaven by which we might be saved. It is clear what we are to do and who we are to be.  But we are afraid.

In the last few years it has become clear to me how much fear is natural for human beings who begin to follow Jesus.  We are called into exactly the kind of places that make us the most fearful.  We have to learn to be a people of faith, trust.  We have to trust that God will watch over us, that we will be provided for without recourse to violence, and we have to trust that the Spirit will fill us with the love we need for those who terrify us, who anger us, who make us afraid.

Jesus came to his disciple in that locked room in John and breathed on them, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.  The sins you hold on to, you hold on to.”

Do not be afraid.

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Easter with Benedict and the Creation’s Hope

Happy Easter! The season of Alleluia returns, and our prayers can finally sing with the coming of spring.  Here in Northern Michigan we are just starting to feel the warmth.  The last thin layers of ice on the bay have thawed, and there is even a little green poking through the grays and browns of winter’s remains.

The weather of the world is even starting to feel a little different.  And the Rule of Benedict makes some allowances for the turn of seasons with adjustments to food, wine, and time.  Even the times of prayers shift with the seasons.

We are not mechanical, and our time is not mechanized, though it often feels that way with the watches and phones of our common life.  We are so often driven by calendars and times that are set with no regard for the organic nature of life.  It is easy to forget that we are cyclical and seasonal beings by design.

God made us to live on the earth, which makes sense as caretakers and keepers of Creation called to bear God’s image and love in the world.  We are set to live in synchronicity with the seasons and changes of the natural world.  Benedict could recognize that fifteen centuries ago, and so can we.

Often we think of faith in these mechanized ways that come with the setting of our religious clocks and calendars and letting them run on and on without regard for the natural flux and flow of life.  Our faith becomes another modern deafness to the world we are called to live in and love.

One way to claim these days of glory is to let our lives get grounded again in the natural rhythms of nature, turning down lights after sunset and avoiding the florescence we rely on in the days of darkness.  Get outside or let the outside world in with open windows and doors.

Another important piece is our language.  Pray the natural world.  Our Book of Common Prayer is filled with natural images and prayers soaked in the natural world.  Let that language inform your personal prayers.  Glorify God for the natural world, giving care and attention to the land and rivers and rocks and trees, for the changes in seasons, and for the light, which I always take for granted (to say the least) after decades in the desert glare.

O Creator of the earth and skies, we your stewards and keepers of the world and word give you thanks for the changes of seasons and the coming of the light.  Remind us always of the true light of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who breathed his Spirit into us at his resurrection to continue the healing and redeeming of your world.  Give us such a love for your creation and your creatures that we may see your love’s dominion in our world and may love your children with pure devotion and leave our children with a world more full of life, light, and grace until that day when your dominion is whole and heaven and earth made whole, through your Son Jesus Christ our Risen Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and always. Amen.

Alleluia.

Mini-Rant from an otherwise Happy Rector – Religious Services for Sale

So, it was another of those “Would you please do my wedding?” phone calls from total strangers.  We all get them.  Weddings are easier than out-of-the-blue baptism requests, usually from grandparents.  My staff knows how I hate them, and they also know that I will want to talk to them.  It is a sincere request, if misguided.  I am relieved to say that my staff recognizes them as misguided.

The request is usually for religious services.  “We want to get married in a church.”  Which is usually, almost always, followed by a “but we don’t have one of our own.”  There is almost always the “we would definitely come here if we could” which always has a “but . . . ” following it.  Unconnected.  No desire for the lifestyle or the work.  Just a little Jesus icing on our cake, please.

Okay, I get it.  You have some deep desire for something, and this moment in your life is so important that your normally easy to ignore longing has become something of a social need.  You recognize that you should do something holy.  And I am a little gratified that you turned to an actual religion rather than your agnostic uncle or that other group down the road, which I won’t admit that I hold in disdain, but I do.  I am glad that our sanctuary is attractive to you, and that your grandparents or great-grandparents darkened the door once during the Great Depression, or was it the Civil War?

But seriously, sometimes I envy Hare Krishnas.  They are enough of a cultural oddity that I cannot imagine that they get the regular attractive couple walk-throughs.  I can’t imagine one of those perfect glowing couples taking pictures of Ganesha statues and saying “This would be just perfect.”  I mean, I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure most of the couples I talk to on walk-throughs wouldn’t recognize the difference between a lotus-sitting Elephant-faced representation of the Brahmin and the empty cross.

We aren’t actually a faith for most of them; we are a store for religious services.  Those services don’t have any content or context that really matters to the happy couple.  There is generally no more understanding of the sacrament than most college freshmen have of the Tibetan prayer flags they bought at the local patchouli-smelling shop-of-all-faiths to show that they were no longer bound by the church their parents never made them attend in the first place.  (Subtract ten points if bought at Urban Outfitters.)  I am the Mary-is-my-Homegirl t-shirt worn to a family reunion at most weddings.

I hate these requests.  I hate them because they are frequent and fairly consistent, but frustrating because they sometimes hide a real search for something more and maybe even a sincere turn to a real faith.  But not usually.

In Tucson, in a church where I could count 19 crucifixes from my seat on Sunday, in an office surrounded by my collection of empty crosses, a young woman with a wedding binder in her lap after four sessions of pre-marital counseling announced that we wouldn’t be mentioning Jesus at the wedding.  God was okay twice, but many of her friends were not religious and neither was she, and she certainly did not want to offend them.  I thought it was a joke at first.  I was wearing all black except for my bright white collar.  Her wedding was less than two weeks away.  The groom just mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

I really thought that this would be a great story, an anomaly that would serve as this great outlier in a life of ministry.  But it is only the epitome of the religious services shopping that I have struggled with for twenty years.  It gets worse as your sanctuary gets more beautiful.  “This would be so perfect in our pictures.”

I am not a shopkeeper with religious wares to sell.  I am not a witch-doctor.  Our sanctuary is a place of worship of the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth and known in the Holy Spirit abiding with us.  It is not a third-space for sell.  This isn’t a business; it is a community of faith.  I am a servant of that community.  We follow Jesus, which makes great demands on us about how we live, how we love, and how we do things.  Our services are really for those who are part of that faith community, who are committed to this life of royal priesthood, of discipleship.  They don’t make a lot of sense outside of that community.

My hope is that how we live, love, and do things reflects well the teachings of Jesus and our commitment to him.

If we are a royal priesthood, how should we relate to the the walk-through couples?  What should we offer to them?  Are our sacraments something we offer for sale?  For free?  For anyone? How do we express the free love and grace of God to the world?

I am sure of a few things after the last couple of decades.  Weddings are perhaps the least effective way to get couples into church.  There are a few exceptional couples, but they are usually clear after the first meeting.  Baptisms without formation are a close second in the least effective ways to share the faith.  Funerals work, but often they have a very different feel in terms of the relationship to who we are, although I have spread a little Jesus icing on some funeral cakes, for sure.

I am sure that it could be lucrative for a church to turn itself out like a cheap wedding whore.  I see it sometimes on the front page of church websites, like a Craigslist ad for religious services like dating a faith community.  Is that too strong?

It sells out everything we stand for to offer weddings for sale like that.  It destroys the holy community doing ministry in exchange for the holy clergy doing religious stuff for money, shopkeepers and whoredom.  But I could maybe be persuaded.

I am sure that it is good financially for priests to whore out our services.  Sorry, I mean to sell our sacraments.  No, I mean to share the gospel in these holy-ish moments.  Forget it.  I have done too much of this.  I am the guilty one.  I love weddings and baptisms, and I really love funerals.  I love articulating how God is at work in the lives of people and naming the work of grace in these liturgical moments when communities of otherwise pretty secular families and neighbors actually come together to do something approaching holy.  But I am not doing that for strangers usually.

These weddings are not disciples promising to live out the Gospel and Rule of God in relationship with their spouse.  These baptisms are not honest vows of raising a child within the Gospel and Rule of God, keeping the apostles teaching and fellowship, much less rejecting Satan and evil or respecting the dignity of every human life.

At least at funerals I can do what I really think a royal priesthood does at funerals, tracing out the traces and places of grace and wisdom where God has been at work in this all-too-human life.

So I tell one couple yes, and I spend a lot of time using their wedding preparation as a chance to offer them training in the Gospel and Rule of God, and I tell one couple no because I just don’t think they want more than icing.  But then I am not very good at this priesthood business.

This nails it:  The BAD VICAR. Some of us watch in humored horror, and some of us watch in envy.

Coffee and Faith – You Just Don’t Care Enough

I am a coffee snob, but I have good reason.  I have been cupping coffee for websites and coffee distributors since high school. It started at a little cafe in Glendale, Arizona, where the owner would cup coffees on Thursday afternoons, usually all from the same region.  Once you can taste the glorious wonders of difference between an Ethiopian Harar and a Yirgacheffe, you are doomed to a life of wondering if this came from a can.

My girlfriend’s dad was offended that I wouldn’t drink his canned coffee, even though he knew that I drank coffee all the time and hung out at coffee shops.  All it took was one french press of a fresh Kenyan coffee, and he was off to the races.  Soon he was buying straight bags from Costa Rica and giving me my own home roasting kit for Christmas.  I started cupping for his local green coffee bean company, then he bought the company, and now years later my dad owns it.  So I have been tasting, describing, and rating coffees for two decades.

When my wife and I got married, she was frustrated that though I owned 18 methods of brewing coffee beans into a cup of coffee, I didn’t have a regular drip machine.  Between that cafe and marriage, I was ordained (as a Baptist minister and later as an Episcopal priest), and spent the same time in churches and dioceses working.  I have been in hundreds of churches over the last twenty years, in addition to growing up in Southern Baptist churches and visiting with friends.

So, this all leads to one overwhelming question:  Why does church coffee suck so much?

Think about it for a moment, especially if you are clergy or a committed church member.  Why would we serve absolute crap in a cup, knowing that it is terrible?  Why would this crap in a can be normal?

I mean, I could point to any number of ways that church communities suck.  There is abuse and hypocrisy, there is bad music and abysmal theology.  I can tolerate all of those.  I am an Episcopalian after all.  But why bad coffee?

Consider the poor visitor, the family member or young date who gets dragged into your church community for the first time.  They are up earlier than normal to go to a strange place full of strange people who are going to notice that they are there.  (We will leave it at that since the range of responses to a visitor ranges from overwhelming joy and neediness to disdain and even fear.  We may hope for a simple friendly greeting, open welcome and offer of help, but   . . . )  They get dressed to be there and put up with a completely foreign experience for most modern people, a community singing and listening to readings, lecture, and prayers, much less communion.  They are in completely foreign territory.  And then they spot the sweet comfort of a cup of coffee, usually left self-service on a folding table, like we are all in AA.  The comfort, the familiarity, the simple hospitality of a cup of coffee dissolves as the smell reaches the nose milliseconds before the flavor invades the tongue.

It is the stench of sloth.  It is the odor of carelessness.  Like the old sock smell of an unclean locker room at a gym.  Like the dirty smell of pee in a unclean truckstop bathroom.  Like the distinctive smell of cat in your crazy aunt’s house.  It tells you that this place does not care for you.  That it is even possibly unsafe.

It says, You are not welcome.

The thing is, we would never make this stuff for ourselves.  We would not boil coffee in a giant old stained percolator and drink it out of a toxic styrofoam cup.  We would not set a coffee service on the counter at a dinner party and tell people to get their own, at least not if we were hosting strangers.

See, that is the thing.  Bad coffee says, This is for us, and we don’t care.  Our architecture often says that in our gathering spaces.  Our bulletins often say that.  Our insider language sometimes says that.  Our prayers may say that too.  But the cup of coffee feels personal, like an slap instead of a handshake.

I walked into a church one time that knew I was coming in the Bay Area and was told no less than four times in the service and on paper and in greeting that I was welcomed.  But the bulletin’s insider language and the lack of invitation to the coffee hour said otherwise.  The rector’s turning aside to talk to someone else without a greeting or smile said otherwise.  But it was the horrid coffee from a giant pot on a little table on the side of the room where I was being ignored at the coffee hour that really conveyed that the Rule of God did not Rule here.  This was their place, and they were fine without me, thank me very much.

I am sure they didn’t notice when I left.

On the other hand, I was greeted at another church in the same town coming in the door early by a warm cup of really good Sumatran coffee, that was a little burnt even for a Sumatran coffee, but was handed to me by a member who showed me around and invited me to leave my cup outside the sanctuary.  I went back frequently to Saint James and later served there.  I would have joined Saint Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco just for the care of the coffee hour that always appeared like a magic trick at the end of the Eucharist.  They never left any doubt that you were welcomed.

These weren’t cafe coffees.  They were small estate lot coffees brewed by the cup from a V60 pourover.   They weren’t French or Italian.  They were just signs of a welcome that was more than a line in a bulletin and a muttering at the Peace.

Good coffee is normal these days.  When someone is coming over, we prepare.  We makes sure to have good coffee to serve.  Sure there is decaf, and you could get all Anglican and serve tea.  But we show who matters in how we prepare for them.

Jesus is coming again, we proclaim every week in a thousand ways.  We believe he will come in some amazing way, and maybe he will, only the Father knows.  But I would just hate for Jesus to show up and have to search for a toxic cup of sludge on a folding table in the secret coffee hour.

I can only imagine how rough his reaction would be.  Do you remember the cleansing of the temple?  I doubt he would just walk out.

So look, get a Bunn or clean your old one.  Buy decent coffee, at least what you would serve, and prepare for the day of the Lord.

*The image above is from our family photo album of our summer in the United Kingdom found here.

Sunday’s Sermon on Saturday Night – Embracing the Cross

Jesus gives four commandments in tomorrow’s gospel:  “Get behind me,” and “If anyone wants to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” [I have modified them from a strict translation to make the point.]  Take away the Satan bit for a second.  I am all for it, and think there is much to learn there, but right now Jesus is making a point, let’s follow him.

Get behind me.  How often do we get out in front of God or Jesus, deciding what we know God should do: for us with us and for the world and other people?  How do we get behind Jesus?  You can’t follow someone you are leading.  This is Discipleship 101.  Get behind Jesus and listen to him.  Follow his teachings and follow his directions.  Seems like that would be pretty much what being a disciple is, but we don’t always do that.  I once heard a priest say that Jesus didn’t want him to give up his Mercedes.  It was a foolish comment in a sermon, meant in jest I hoped, yet over the next three years, he lost everything and became a much better priest and human being.  He got behind Jesus.

Take up your cross.  What is your cross?  We often allegorize this saying to death.  We translate it to mean that our cross is our little brother Timmy or weight gain or bad credit or cancer.  Jesus does not mean any of this.  You may have to go through it, but it isn’t what he seems to mean here.  Get behind him, again.

What has he told us to do?  Love our neighbor.  Love our enemies.  Serve our brothers and sisters.  Love knowing we won’t get loved back.  Love knowing the cost.  Forgive others.  We are to take up the cross of salvation, the world’s salvation.  We are to suffer and even be willing to die for other people and the sake of the world.  That is taking up the cross.  To be a full human being is to suffer and to die.  And being a human being is what literally being a Son of Humanity means.

Embrace the Suck.  This little phrase, that I have written about on this blog, is really key here.  To do anything great, you have to embrace the work that is required.  So many of us want to be Christian, a Jesus follower, a good person, but we don’t want to face the work that requires.  Jesus saves us by grace.  He died for us before we even knew what was going on, while we were still sinners, as Paul says.  But we are called now into his new covenant to be his body and to be the bearers of the Holy Spirit like Jesus replaced the temple.  We are to be the people of his forgiveness, grace, and healing.  And that sucks.  Really it does. Yes, his yoke is easier than the nitpicky rules and death-dealing score-keeping of religion.  But it is also a much more tremendous demand of our very selves.

Deny yourself.  How do you define your self?  I am a lot of things, none of which is me, and yet all of which are somewhat me.  I have this persona, these hobbies, this sweater, this watch, these kids, this church, this wife, this cool reclaimed English hardwood table, and a rich devotional life, an old Bible.  Whatever we define ourselves by, we have to deny.  In Jesus’ day your self was your social and familial identities.  Deny those.  These days we are more shallow.  Deny all that.  Give away the watch, paint the table, and define your self first and foremost as God’s child.  Start in prayer and remembrance.  Find some places in your life to give things up and learn how to pray with open hands.  Lent is a good time for this.

Embrace the call of the radical love and discipline it demands, and follow Jesus.  We know where that road leads, and I am a little bit terrified.  But it is also my hope and my purpose, my very salvation.  Because like Abraham, I trust that God will provide and care for me along the way.  I know the way will be hard, but it will ultimately be the very road to life and the New Jerusalem, the city of God, where we will see the day finally break and everyone bowing before the One who made us, loved us, and wanted us home so much that he came to find us, and sent us out to bring others to the feast.

Pretty amazing stuff!  I mean, we are a part of what God is doing in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like he was, to save the world.  So embrace the suck, it is worth it.

Find Forward – Life after Salvation, Life after Secularism

The great shift for many of us who are finding our way in a post-evangelical/post-liberal world is moving away from the dichotomy between salvation and social justice to a whole view of the Christian life. Okay, that wasn’t a sexy opening, but it is true. We live in the ruins of two great traditions. In American politics you could say post-Bush and post-Obama who represent, not just a religious versus a secular worldview, but two sides of American Christianity. Neither really represents Pentecostalism or real-apocalypticism, nor truly Catholicism, though Obama’s liberal Christianity seems deeply connected to social justice Roman Catholicism. But these two worldviews have held the sway within the United States for a hundred years.

They have deeply hated each other, and they have held hands and worked together. They often have courted other political and social partners, and they have both held each other in check, but they have also pushed each other deeply apart. And they have succeeded and failed at many times and at many points in history. I am not here to retell Caesar’s story but to bury him.

We live after these two, grandchildren coming into real adulthood, taking responsibility for the house finally, and what are we to do? Rob Bell is on television making pronouncements about how the church that doesn’t get on with the secular world is dead, and Bishop N. T. Wright is calling the mainline churches back into an un-secular world. But what are we to do?

I had a goatee once and left the evangelical world. My glasses aren’t quite as square as Bell’s and my credentials are nowhere near as rich as Tom Wright’s. I admire and am frustrated by them both. But how do we find forward?

I am not sold that the church should whole-heartedly follow the secular world. That way is known to us, and it does not lead to heaven. I am not willing to abandon it either. I am with Wright in going back to the New Testament for a vision of our life in Christ and therefore relationship to the world.

We are made new in our baptism, made a resurrection people, harbingers of God’s Rule to come. This spiritual truth is given by God and our faithful response is nothing to brag about, primarily because we are just beginning to make this spiritual truth physically true, emotionally true, mentally true. We have to grow up, repent, into this Rule of God that is at hand. We are saved by Christ, but our call is not to be saved, it is rather to save the world working in and through Christ.

And we don’t have to spend very much time with history to see how often that vision to save the world has often gone off the rails into another power trip and violence and control, just like the Satan’s wilderness traps for Jesus.

We have to always keep the image of God revealed in the vision of Christ before us, that loving, caring, compassionate father who is slow to anger, of great kindness, forgiving and merciful. We have to keep love before us in both our goal and our methods. This means we will face losses. We saw that in Selma, just like in Jerusalem. If we are to love the world knowing that the world does not love us, we are going to need some better ways of being in the world than we currently have.

We have to go back to the teachings and look at what Jesus calls us to do and be. Discipleship to Jesus rather than to Reagan or Neihbur is going to be more deeply costly than most of us have known. It is for me, and I have the ideal job to try this thing out. Everybody loves a pastor, right?

We have to begin with Jesus at growing up, forgiving sins, loving our neighbor, greeting the stranger, seeking forgiveness, loving our enemies, not hating, not murdering, not calling names, greeting strangers in the marketplace, giving freely and not being attached to our stuff. Translating all of that into our lives means we have to do some thinking and praying, and we have to write a rule.

The Rule of Benedict has become over the last millennium and more the sort of primary example. It has served as a short form prescription for the Christian life in community. I still use it to help me find my ways in ministry today. But it was written in a very different time for people in a very different culture. What would a Rule of Benedict for the Rule of God people look like for today?

As we discover this, I think we begin to trace a way forward out of the ashes of the Christianities of our time into the Rule of God being born always in this moment. This new Rule will have to keep before us God’s call to love and forgiveness in our post-salvation, post-secular world. I am hopeful, but then what else is there to be? We are God’s and God’s alone.

How would you begin?

Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent on Saturday

Sunday’s Readings – On Saturday

Tomorrow’s Gospel basically begins with Jesus’s ministry beginning: baptism, temptation in the wilderness, and gospel.  So know that you are God’s beloved, be filled with the Holy Spirit, face down Satan, trust the tending of angels among the wild, and go out into the world to proclaim that the new reality of God has come and people should finally grow up.

That is a pretty straight forward sermon, right?  I had good friends who asked me where I would start if I was to form someone as a new Christian, and my answer was that I would want them to know that they are loved by God, beloved of God, God’s own child.  That sounds really liberal, but the reality with that is to see your self as you are called to be means immediately to see how far you are from God’s reality.  I am a failure in that regard, seeing myself in the mirror of God’s image; the technical term I grew up with was “total depravity” or “sin.”  The problem is you cannot start with breaking someone down.

God is Abba, or so Jesus says and compares God the Father with a loving parent, not a psychopathic rage-monkey.   I might hate some of the things my kids do, but I don’t set about reforming them by beating them down.  Not if my goal is to have healthy loving children in the end.  Neither does God.  Jesus begins at the river being baptized, a humble act of obedience and submission to God, and the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends on him, and calls him “my son, beloved.”

Identity is crucial to self-understanding.  If you begin understanding your defeated, worthless, nothing, a source of rage, then you have already set a course of failure.  But if you begin in submission to something larger, to a larger identity that has a claim on you, you begin a quest, a journey toward wholeness, a search for vision.  That comes by the Spirit.

You can, and some do, read this story as the incarnation moment of Mark’s Gospel.  Rather than the reality of his birth to Mary by the Spirit, Mark emphasizes that this is when Jesus is God’s son.  This also points toward something that shows up in the Gospel pictures of John and Jesus: John’s baptism is about forgiveness of sins whereas Jesus’ is about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we are not baptized merely for the cleansing of sin, though we believe that our sins are forgiven.  We are baptized into the life of the Holy Spirit.  We become God’s children at baptism through the power of the Spirit, though we continue to grow into that reality.  We also use the language of the body of Christ, dead to sin and alive in Christ.

Take a moment and let that sink in.  We don’t really focus on the ontological difference between the unbaptized and the baptized because we live in a pluralistic world where we like to emphasize the work of God in the whole world and God’s relationship with all humanity.  The question becomes for us, “What does our baptism into the Spirit mean for us?”

This is vital.  We will face temptation and are to have a mission and purpose, but none of that means much without knowing who we are in Christ.  I believe that the message of the Gospels is rooted in several images, but one of the central ones is that Jesus replaces the temple as the location of God’s incarnation and inbreaking into the world.  He takes upon himself the failure of the sacrifice system and becomes the whole system (this is clearest in John’s Gospel).  In various ways they also show that we become Christ’s body in the world, bringing his presence, gospel, and healing to others.  We are the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in this realm, whereas Jesus has gone to heaven bodily and is no longer here, in the flesh, except through us.

Writing out this cosmology is cool, but it also shows how far away our theology often is from the Bible.  Our sin is a pretty small part in all of this, important, defining of us as we begin, but put into its proper place as we take our place in the body of Christ.  We are supposed to be agents of God’s forgiveness and grace.

Now, I know that.  I teach that.  I believe that.  I trust that.  And I fail at that really often.  I am supposed to see others as God’s beloved children and treat them the way that God has treated me.  I am to provide from God’s bounty for them, offering peace, healing, and aid whenever I can.  That sounds nice, no?  But I am not so great at that, and I try.

My life often feels like a wilderness, and I find it easier to believe that the wild animals are God’s beloved more than many people.  I struggle to give my wife and children the benefit of a doubt and easy grace and forgiveness.  I grasp after what I need and cling to old things that I probably never really needed.  I want to be appreciated, respected, adored.  (None of which actually is possible to work for.) I want to have power.  Those three temptations of Jesus I know well at home and at work, though I have to interpret a little.  I haven’t wanted to be a third world dictator in a while.

But temptations come, and they usually pull me away from my identity in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  They definitely pull me away from any sense of purpose and mission.  My ego is surely one of the devil’s primary tools.  But I am not a victim, really, and haven’t been in my life for any length of time.  That isn’t my trap.  I have learned that many people who have experienced victimhood, real or imagined, have what I can only call a shadow ego that doesn’t suffer from my temptations, but other ones.  Whereas we can often see the desire for power and control, it is often harder to see our powerless passivity as a temptation to sin that just as much takes us out of the mission and purpose of God.

Do you know that you are God’s beloved? I had this moment years ago on a hike.  I was several days out away from the city in the Sonoran desert along the cliff of a small hill where I had set down my pack and just sat on a rock in despair.  It was a red desert day when the colors take on the ochre shades of shadow and the shadows overlay the land in strips of blue as the sun began to enter its last watch of the day.  I was tired in a way that went far deeper than my bones, and my stomach rolled over my belt buckle and I could feel every grain of sand from every step I had taken for five years.  My pack was too big and my burdens I had packed myself.  I was alone and I was afraid that at any moment everyone around me would see that I was a fraud.  My depravity had become a companion to replace all others, and he held my hand all the time.

But then, in that ochre landscape among the chaos and beauty of the cacti and the blue sky darkening into pinks and purples, my companion was obliterated as a light shone from somewhere above me.  I won’t say that the heavens were opened, but the Spirit certainly descended that evening.  I was alone with God, and my fears and my sins were taken away again as I sat with God in the desert’s breath and the symphony of lights that is the Arizona sunset.  I knew God in that moment, and I saw that God knew me, and he called me beloved.  Not because I had done anything other than be born.

I wish I could tell you some magical formula for knowing God.  Baptism, yes, and wilderness, and waiting, perhaps.  But I also join old Paul in saying that it really is a mystery, this righteousness of God, the turning aside and stooping down to smile with unearned favor among the rocks and cacti.  So what is the gospel that I came out of the wildernesses of my life with?

Grow up.  The Rule of God is at your fingertips.  It dances just outside your willingness to sit down and be still.  Set down your baggage and face your reality.  And know God, God knows you and loves you right now.

The other side is that God loves the people around you too, even me with my various kinds of bloat.  God wants you to be baptized and join the body, bringing his Spirit, grace and forgiveness to a world that still needs the incarnation of Christ in you.

eastersunday – a poem a sermon before lent sneaks up on us again

from Norwich Cathedral

from Norwich Cathedral

easter sunday – a sermon a poem
By Daniel P. Richards

we walk when we can to the tomb
knowing that life is the way we always suspected

our hope in pools beneath the executioner’s wood
our grief has turned numb and we do what we probably should

take care of the details

so we mix our spices and oils
and go as we have always gone

it was (according to luke) the traditional way
of preparing bodies after the sabbath day

the state (it is said) always wins in the end
so here we go again

the state of things are as they have always been
there is war somewhere and losses here at home

justified killings and innocent people sacrificed to a greater good
we live lives of collateral damage

the environment ruined for a comfortable drive to work
someone somewhere is working her 1000th day in a row

so that i can have affordable tennis shoes or cheap lettuce
a child this morning is watching television alone (again)

what can we do?

we try to take care of the details
and sit is the reality that consumes us

the pragmatic pessimism that sighs
and says once again this is the way things are

we go to war because we are supposed to
when someone wrongs us we have to hit them back

we have to have these betternewerbigger weapons or suv’s
or borders or vaccinations to keep danger at bay

but it doesn’t work does it?
we load the gun and the child finds it

we buy organic and still get cancer
we love our children and they walk away

eastersunday

eastersunday is the ultimate proof
that the way things are is an illusion

the grief that numbs us is confused
by the emptiness of the tomb

and the way things are is underthrown
by a god who works in death to do the new

the thing we did not expect and cannot explain
the moment of death has become the moment of life

god meets us where we felt most abandoned
crying out my god my god why have you forsaken me?

the answer did not come when we wanted it
(when all the world would see

and they would know that we were right
that we were on the winning team)

but rather in whispers and bleached clothes to some women
whom not even peter and john quite believed

and yet here we are still scratching our heads
and asking exactly what it means

i don’t know
but i hope towards this

that god is here with us

the god that didn’t fix the way things are
didn’t soften the religious leaders hearts or overthrow rome

that didn’t go searching in the dark sabbath for revenge
or mount up an army to go after (them)

but that god the creator comes quietly after the storm
and whispers tabitha cum to the little girl

and takes us by the hand
leads us out into a new light

maybe too bright or too dim to quite see everything
and the soldiers are still standing guard at the comer

but somehow it all seems new

and the people around us are no longer enemies or even strangers (now)
but they wear the smile of family and friend

someone breaks a fresh loaf of bread and says (this)
and we take it and become

someone gets out the bottle of wine and says (remember)
and we do

we remember who we are gathered in this quiet room
the unsuspected and somewhat surprised family of god

no god hasn’t made us perfect
nor did we win

but god told us even in the worst of what we could do
that we are still god’s own and loved (beloved)

and god tell us now in this festal laugh
that the way things are is new

the reign the household jesus proclaimed exists
and always has

the whole world over our family is waking up
and slowly getting it as though at dawn

the light of a new day shines and all are one

how then do we live in our cheap tennis shoes
and believe the woman who sewed them is our sister?

that the people in the mosque are redeemed somehow
and that our soldiers are more than killing machines?

i don’t know

but i get up every morning and i sit
alone in a blue room with a candle and an icon

and i remember who i am
and then when i go to the store

i think about who else has touched these things
and i remember that they are loved too

and that they deserve what i do
and instead they get the way things are

so i put my hands into the clay of my tiny corner of the world
and i get to work building this new jerusalem

where the way things are is the way i know them to be
soaked in the light of this eastersunday morning

a world made new and being made new by christ (yes)
and by the christ in us (yes)

today we will baptize children
and we will say with them the words we say about who we are

let us not say them only but remember them in our clay
and not come to this table lulled to sleep by the way things appear to be

but let us come to this table awake to the new day
hands dirty and ready to work

let us hand them a world with fewer crosses and more empty tombs
with more justice and a greater peace

and when jesus comes again in glory
he’ll find a house he recognizes

and their familiar faces
already getting out the bread and wine

for the greatest party ever thrown
and everyone will be welcome

daniel p. richards

Spas_vsederzhitel_sinay

Addicted to the Apple – Theology as Addiction Treatment

Okay, so I am not the first person to notice this, but the Apple on my Mac has a bite taken out of it.  This little observation always haunts me a little bit whenever I see it, which is often.  I write on a Macbook, text and talk on a iPhone.  I did sell my iPod, iPad mini 2, and the older Mac at home is a half-frozen antiquity from 2008.  I am addicted.

Okay, so I don’t really mean addicted, nor am I really talking about my preference for an operating system on my computer.  I am addicted to this world, the world of the apple.  The world of the knowledge of good and evil, post-garden of eden, clothing world.  I am an addict to the world of sin.  And I bet you are too, even if you use a PC or Chromebook or nothing.  We are addicted.

I was reminded of my state by a conversation with a recovery rockstar locally, Thomas Gilbert.  He was talking about what makes effective recovery and laying the groundwork for a sober house and retreat center here in Traverse City.  I am all about people in recovery.  They are models of new creation living in the most brutal and honest way.

We Christians should be major supporters of recovery because of what it is, what it says, and what it means.  As sober Christians we are really passive about love for people in recovery generally.   As an Episcopal church, we host AA and have treatment available for clergy, but I am talking about local Christians understanding and rejoicing and celebrating recovery as a model of embracing new life.

The Navy Seals have a saying, Embrace the Suck.  I love that saying because it means to accept the suffering of this moment in order to do your job and do it well.  It is going to suck, and if you want to get where you want to go, you are going to have to embrace it.  I want the solitude of desert solitude and survive, so I carry water.  In recovery, I understand that we have to embrace the suck of life.  We, all of us human beings, embrace opiation, medication, numbing agents, until we are no more fully alive.  We avoid real life.

This is the essence of addiction as I understand it.  Our minds become shaped, rutted, preset to the addicted substance instead of real life.  We prefer the addiction object instead of life and loved ones and even food and water.  These objects usually have a numbing effect, an opiate of some sort.  We, of course, prefer to be numb rather than deal with the world.  Being sober means embracing the suck of real life.  It is hard and will be if we want to get where we want to go.

Have you ever heard someone who was so addicted to their beliefs that they no longer embraced real life?  The NRA member who cannot deal with the realities of handgun deaths of children, or rich people who cannot look long at poverty?  I think the allegation that faith is an opiate is fair when our faith is a way of avoiding the world, of numbing ourselves to reality.  That does not mean that ecstatic realities are not real, but rather that they can lead toward or away from real life, just like a glass of wine can lubricate conversation and allow people to be real or be a numbing agent that avoids the difficulties of conversation.

Doing theology is difficult, but it is one of the ways that we get a new mind, that we learn to think as a mature engaged human beings.  I need a new mind.  Yes, Jesus can just give me one, but that is not the way God always works.  We are given freedom and then have to learn to live in freedom and responsibility.  We have to metanoia, or repent, to get a new mind in Christ Jesus. The word metanoia is the Greek word for repent, and it means to have a new way of knowing, a larger mind, a more mature understanding or view.  Learning theology, alongside learning to concentrate, contemplate, and meditate, alongside learning to submit and pray are the practices of getting a new mind.  All of these practices are rooted in and soaked by the Bible and especially the life and teachings of Jesus.

When we get a new mind, the questions we ask change as well as the answers we have.  Can we ever go back to not knowing that we are naked?  Is it possible to go back to a state of purity?  I don’t think so.  The addicts we have, our recovery heroes, are always going to have addictions, just like us.  We should celebrate their work and their successes, and we should be patient when they fall off the wagon and return to the object of their addictions; after all, who could understand that better than us?  We should embrace their suck and embrace them as they wrestle with real lives and the complications and convictions of their lives under the apple.  After all, they are us.

The faith and love of the Episcopal Church will be tested by our ability to love the Rt. Rev. Heather Cook and hold her close and visit her while being honest about the atrocity and sin and brokenness of her addiction.  Can we let her be human and still love her, honor her, uphold her dignity, while admitting the depths and realities of her sin?  Can we do that while honoring and upholding and embracing the dignity of her victim, a family man who was bicycling through his own complicated and beautiful life? Can we hold the contradictions and complications of this story and not neglect the human being involved?  Can we embrace the suck here?

This is the test we face right now, or at least one of them.  I know that if I am going to embrace the suck of real life and work for an even more real life of Christ and the Rule of God, where every human being is loved by God and has justice and peace and where sins are forgiven and justice done, I am going to need a new mind.

So I lean into the Daily Office, and I sit in meditation and prayer, and I read theology, even though none of these is easy today.  I need a new mind, and a community that loves me, and I need the close and constant work of the Holy Spirit breathing in me, speaking the Word and his Way into being in me, and I need the God of all creation who is bringing the whole back one day.

Until then, I love you even when it sucks, because Christ embraced the manger and the cross, and on my way out of the Garden still picking my teeth, God made me something to wear, and the Breath that moved over the waters of Creation still move and even darkness is not dark to God.

Theology as Poetry: a brief introduction and beginning

Theology as poetry.

“The church could use more pastors who care about poetry,” Rita Dove said to me at a dinner for the University of Arizona Poetry House back in 2003.  My response was that “our thinking about God could use more poetry and less prose.”  It was one of those moments when I was articulate at the right moment, but as I began to really work out what that could mean over the last twelve years, I have begun to believe I should be writing about it.  This should probably be in a book, but here goes.

Poetry as a word goes back to the Greek word ποίησις which means “to make.” It seems anathema to many in the field of theology that we might make theology.  It is a received thing, right?  Revelation is the only way to know God?  As I have read online time and time again, the questions in theology have right and wrong answers, usually followed by a single verse or two almost always completely out of context.  The problem with this is that theology is assumed to be this spreadsheet of data about God revealed in the Bible that we can check off like the bills I send in every month.  Believe in Trinity as coequal and coeternal? Check.  Traverse City Light and Power paid? Check.

Theology is always contextual and revealed.  It is like the balance in poetry between content and form.  Shakespeare is the master of the sonnet.  Fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter in one of two major patterns of rhyme scheme and meaning.  The sonnet has particular rules which you can find almost anywhere, and which are so well known they actually still teach it in high school.  (If they don’t I may lose faith in the Western World.)  But Shakespeare is always pushing and pulling on those rules.  He adds a different stress pattern in to emphasize different words or ideas, uses near rhyme and line breaks to pull the reader along.  He presses the romantic ideal with struggles of constancy and betrayal.  The content pushes on the form creating a dynamic tension.  There is no pure sonnet that is really great that I can think of.

So what role does the form play in writing?  It is the framework of meaning and expectation that guides the writer and also sets up the rules that the reader can expect and expect the writer to work within and against to create that dynamic tension.  In theology the revelation can serve as our form, or some portion of Scripture.  The writer then sets out to place content and revelation in a dynamic tension that results in something far more interesting than a book of forms.

The classical writers know this tension.  It is why we still read Calvin even if we are not Calvinists.  Calvin’s actual work, rather than the blather others have written about him, puts ideas and situations into a context that pushes against his accepted rules.  Often he works himself into a blind corner, where the only thing to do is point to the cup-de-sac and say, Blessed be God, Amen.  Read the Institutes of Religion as an adult and you will see poetry in the making.  But like Shakespeare, Calvin often gets read too early and then later we skip Calvin and read commentaries.

The same thing is true of Aquinas and Richard Hooker.  We read these great thinkers as they tinker and push and pull within accepted forms.  Aquinas was working through theology with Aristotle as a base rather than Plato, which is fascinating to read as an adult thinker.  How do you move the basic categories of thinking about accepted forms of faith and revelation without destroying those forms?  It is like Billy Collins bringing his wry humor and relaxed, informal tone to the forms of poetry.  Hooker was arguing for the ability to trust a redeemed reason against the more extreme Puritanical forces on the fringes of Anglicanism, who saw the total depravity as unredeemed and therefore untrustworthy.  He argues from within an Anglican reformed tradition but pushes against the form to the extent that he created whole new spaces within our theology of church.

Poetry is about creating spaces or experiences.  In the mid-1990’s I walked into a terrarium garden outside the public library in Glendale, Arizona.  The area around the library was a busy suburban intersection with heavy traffic and multiple use playgrounds and ballfields nearby, but all of the chaos and noise of the area disappeared as I stepped down into a micro-environment that put me in the Sonoran Desert for maybe a dozen steps.  It was a revelatory moment when I began to conceive of the job of communication as a poet as one of creating spaces to enter rather than simply telling an audience about something.  The hope is to create a space to enter and explore.

A poetic theology is about creating the space to experience the presence of God and to explore what that may mean with a partner rather than simply to hear what God is like.  It is generally accepted in theology that all of our understanding of God is analogical.  We have to talk about what God is “like” because we cannot speak directly of God outside of sense experience, because God is Spirit.  To understand that for a moment, it is not to say that God is only spiritually understood or non-existent, but rather that we only experience God through the tools we have.  I would argue against modernity that we have spiritual understanding, but that spiritual understanding still has to be communicated in the experiential language, therefore language of analogy, our experience of God’s presence is like our experience of light or darkness.

I would go farther to say that most of us have the kind of direct experiences of God that we read and know in the Bible, but that we simply do not have the categories to experience them.  But in any case the language we have ends up being analogical, metaphorical, and referential to experience.  But it is a dull thing to simply be told about something in abstractions.

At the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, I once listened to a lecture on the Psalms with a friend by a professor who had co-written a book on the subject that was quite good.  The lecture though was abysmal.  It was a theology on tap event, like ones I had hosted in bars working with the Episcopal Diocese of California and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, so it was expected to be engaging and fun.   It was painful though, and it was only after the first hour of lecture that I realized the lecturer was talking all about the Psalms without using any metaphors!  When he got to the chapter of the book written by his co-writer, The Psalms a Mirror of the Soul, he added like, so it was only a simile in the end.  I walked out at that point.

Our speech about God is always analogical, so it becomes necessary to speak in metaphors, and every metaphor is wrong.  By definition a metaphor is always using an unalike thing to show what another thing is like.  Love is an oven.  Of course, love is not an oven, so the metaphor is useful and beautiful and interesting and also a lie.  This is what makes it work.  And our theology is always like that.  Our metaphors for God and our experience of God is always a lie, but can our lies also be truthful and interesting and beautiful?  And can we speak about God honestly admitting along the way that we are always not speaking directly?  There is a wonderful book by the Islamic scholar Michael Sells called Mystical Languages of Unsaying that I bought just for the title and only later got the wisdom of how wonderful it is.

Our language can never give someone a direct understanding of our experience of God.  Perhaps this explains the prohibition against graven images.  It is always easy to take the explanation for the important thing.  Modern theology made this mistake again and again, saying that acceptance of beliefs, by which we meant statements about God, was salvific. We still make this mistake today when we ask someone if they believe some particular thing, usually a statement.  The problem is that there are beliefs that define us as Christians as opposed to Unitarians or Muslims.  There are statements that sort of set the rails against which we insist you not lean too much because of the implications of false interpretations.  Love may be compared to an oven, but it is not rape or murder.

So we again run into forms and content.  There is a point, say fifteen lines, when you are no longer writing a sonnet.  It may still be a poem, but it isn’t a sonnet.  This is important in our theological making.  We have to recognize that if we are to make something that is truly Christian,  there are rules to the making.  This is hard for Baby Boomer to accept.  We have whole generations who just want to make up whatever rules they want and have the rest of us just agree because you “believe” in those rules.  The source of authority becomes the self, and the self as we have seen is fickle.  There is no orthodoxy except human rights, civil rights, and the autonomy of the individual.

Poetry has rules to each form.  They define the game, and if you want to be a part of that particular game, you have to play by those rules.  The interesting question is what makes Christian thought Christian?  Can I reject substitutionary atonement and still be a Christian?

What is the form that defines Christianity?

Psalms are Hebrew poetry, and they are written within a framework of Hebrew thought that is deeply analogical, describing the world and emotion in beautiful images from the natural world.  They make meaning by repetition and change.  We looked at Psalm 96 recently in a class at Grace, and as we followed the writer through the repetitions new meanings began to unfold.  The writer feels unstable because of assaults by enemies who have almost overcome him or her, but the writer trusts that God is stable, secure, like a fortress on a rock.  But the writer seems when you follow the poem to be tempted to reach out for stability by stealing or robbery, but knows that God is just and this would violate that justice, so he encourages his soul to trust God and not money for security.  I had not caught any of that just reading the poem in prayer and worship for these last forty years.  But there it was beautifully born out in repetition and change line to line, verse to verse.

That repetition defines Hebrew poetry and thought.  If you want to understand Hebrew thought and poetry you have to follow out those repetitions.  I am constantly surprised that people do not know the basics of theology or how they work.  So many Christian writers make fundamental mistakes that violate the one rule that would seem to be agreeable to all of our tens of thousands of denominations: Jesus of Nazareth reveals and exegetes God for us.  If Jesus says something about God then that would seem to be unquestionable to Christian writers, yet I have read time and time again as I have gone looking for basic books on theology for my congregation that emphasize the wrath of God against all humanity, and even God’s unforgiveness without sacrifice.  These statements come from derivative theology, thoughts about God derived from other thoughts about the Bible.  They are not really supportable from Scripture when you begin with Jesus.

But again we have walked into a bind.  We use the Bible as a whole to understand Jesus, but like Calvin we end up reading about Jesus rather than reading Jesus.  Jesus speaks analogically often.  He uses metaphor, parable, and analogy so much so that it defines his teachings.  If we are unwilling to experience and explore his teachings like rooms we enter rather than direct statements, we will completely miss the experience he is offering us of his Abba.

This analogy is my favorite, so much that I probably overdo the comparison because of my enthusiasm for my own experience of being both son and father.  But Jesus is not using the analogy of Abba for God indiscriminately; he emphasizes God’s rule and compassion, desire for his children and to provide for them.  Yet often I have used and heard this analogy used to talk about God’s wrath and limits.  To follow Jesus on this is to follow his repetitions around the image of God as Abba.  Jesus tells us repeatedly to be like God, mature, complete in our compassion, as God is.

We are also to be like God in our creativity.  We are makers in creation.  We get to make new things.  As we engage theology as poetry we get to make new connections and new analogies, new rooms of meaning in the mansions of the church’s thoughts.  Explore and experience the newness of God in this moment amidst the chaos and noise of this moment.

*A final note on the analogy of Abba.  To say that Jesus is abba, or to address God as Daddy is a metaphor.  God is not a biological father because being a father requires a mother to procreate.  God is the source of life as we understand the creation as Biblical Christians.  So Abba is necessarily a metaphor, so why call it an analogy?  Because it cascades meaning and metaphors down into a complex web of meanings and implications, it becomes more than a one-to-one meaning association.  It really is a analogy as used in the Gospels.