Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oh Blue Ridge and Shenandoah!

Rise to cross the mountain
then down to bridge the river,
keenly westward bearing -
oh Blue Ridge and Shenandoah!
iconic in this space and time
of glory massed and beauty streamed
that pierce the veil, the heart,
as bodied light did death to life.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Citizenship and the Goods of This Life

Saint Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship, as believers incorporated into Christ, is in heaven. This means that the true or ultimate goods of our life are in heaven, not in this world, not in the countries and cultures where we live. Connect this, as Paul clearly did, with his earlier remarks in chapter 3 that he reckoned all his gains prior to or apart from his life in Christ as loss. It is not that he had not achieved much. He enumerated his manifold accomplishments in Jewish social and religious life. Yet he had lost those goods because he followed Christ. Even more, he considered them rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, of being incorporated into Christ’s death and life, of holding citizenship in heaven.

We then – as followers of Christ, as believers in Christ, as citizens of heaven instead of citizens of this world – must no longer consider the life and things of this world our true or ultimate goods. For the sake of Christ we must lose them, and we must consider them rubbish compared to the surpassing goods of knowing Christ, of living in Christ, where our citizenship is, in heaven. We must lose the life and things of this world in the sense of not reckoning them as ultimate goods. We must let loose of them in heart and spirit as goods we desire, pursue, claim, and count on as of true and lasting worth. We must even be willing to lose them in the sense of actual deprivation through choices we make or through loss and suffering inflicted upon us by the citizenry of this world.

This is not to say there are no goods in this life and world. For those in Christ and even those not in Christ, God graces his creation and creatures with ores of faith, hope, and love, of truth, beauty, and goodness, amid and despite the disorder, deception, and corruption of sin. Yet the goods of this life and world are only genuinely and durably good to the extent they participate in and bear us toward the goods of our life in heaven. They only do this to the extent we perceive, desire, and experience them as goods which we may, and even in a sense must, lose to gain Christ, to know his surpassing death and life. For Christ, through his crucifixion and resurrection, has transported us to his commonwealth; and we hold citizenship there, where we enjoy the true and ultimate goods of life, from first to last.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Good News?

Do we Christians, especially we American Christians, have a gospel, do we have good news, for the wretched of the earth? So much of what passes for the gospel in this country has virtually nothing to say to the vast majority of people who have lived, who now live, and who will live on this broken planet. The vast majority who live and die in obscurity, in poverty and hunger, in stunted and twisted bodies, in frustrated and damaged hearts and minds, in spirits tattered and shredded by their own sins and the sins of this world. So much of what we put forth as the Christian message is but a thin concoction of middle and upper middle class vanities far too oriented around bourgeois self-fulfillment and even self-aggrandizement. Where in the American gospel is the good news of Isaiah 35, the Magnificat, the Beatitudes, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 25:31-46, of Luke 4:16-21, of a crucified carpenter's son and itinerant healer and teacher off a dusty bypass of the Roman empire?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Some Thoughts on 1 John 3:18-4:6

Writing in broad but profound strokes in this section of his letter – in keeping with his style and emphases throughout – John highlighted three issues which face followers of Jesus. He pointed to the challenge of consistency in belief and practice. He warned of false teachings and beliefs about God, Jesus, and spirituality. He distinguished two fundamental points of view about truth and goodness.

In terms of belief and practice, John urged followers of Jesus, as individuals and as communities, to live their love for others in specific, concrete ways, not just in the emptiness of words. The world is full of easy promises and assertions of love, many of which go unfulfilled. True love for others arises from Jesus’ sacrificial love and bodies forth in small and large acts.

As for teachings and beliefs, John counseled followers of Jesus to assess the swirl of “spiritualities” around them against the life and teaching of the historical Jesus (recorded in narratives and sayings we now have as the four gospels of our New Testament). The world is full of spiritualities which make light of, ignore, or deny God’s Word incarnate. True spirituality affirms and expresses the life and teaching of Jesus, who lived in the flesh and who continues to live in risen glory.

With respect to world views, John contrasted two sharply different perspectives for understanding and living life. One stems from the Spirit of God; it leads to truth, goodness, and life. The other comes from the spirit of the world; it yields falsehood, evil, and death. The world is full of easy compromises and appearances of compatibility among world views. Yet the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world are not compatible, not in origin and not in end. True faith and discipleship live in, from, and for the Spirit of God.

For all his clear and even stark contrasts and challenges, John wrote not to discourage and tear down, but to encourage and foster maturity and integrity of faith. His tender addresses – dear children, dear friends – attest to his motives and to God’s loving, nurturing purposes for us. Even more, John’s affirmations that God is greater – greater than our inconsistencies and failures, greater than false spiritualities, greater than the spirit of the world – provide deep and durable encouragement in our hearts and lives. We can, in God’s Spirit, grow more loving, more true, and more whole – in sum, grow more like Jesus.