Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two Sides of a Coin

One of the problems with dualism is that it has a tendency to separate one side of a coin from the other side. It is convenient to do this because we generally cannot see both sides of the coin at the same time, so we focus on one side as if it stands alone, when it is but another expression of the other side.

There is only one coin … with a duality of sides. Its two sides contain different information about the coin as well as different aspects of it, but there is only one coin … one coin with two sides that cannot be separated without destroying the coin.

It doesn’t take much pondering to see how this comes into play. Let’s take a look at just three.

1. The Image of God has been created male and female. Together they are the God’s image. Just the man alone is insufficient (which God made abundantly clear with Adam and Eve). So when one side of the image is valued differently than the other, it is because this duality is out of balance. There is no explaining that they are meant to be of different value or usefulness without damaging the reality of the Image of God. Yes, they look different … but they must be yoked together in order for God’s true image to be seen. Inconvenient for some, yes, but still true. God is a community – the Three in One. Humans, to reflect that image, must also dwell in community – as male and female and with God. It is a mystery that must be embraced.

2. cHesed, a foundational Hebrew concept for understanding God’s idea of relationship, has two components: covenant-making and covenant-keeping. God does not have one without the other. God makes covenant, which means that God keeps covenant. This is core to God’s identity. He is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. Everything depends on this reality being rightly perceived. So, cHesed means, basically, BEING in covenant and DOING what the covenant obligates you to do. Being in covenant means that you follow through with your commitments so that your covenant partner does not suffer because of your unfaithfulness. You can’t be in covenant unless you do the terms of the covenant.

3. Doing the terms of the Covenant, being obedient to the will of God, requires faith and works. You cannot obey without faith, because if you do not have faith, you cannot believe in God or what God asks you to do. You cannot obey without works, because, well, being obedient is something that you are as shown by what you do. James said it clearly: faith without works is dead. And what has God asked us to do? The will of God has been summarized as this: loving God and loving others. (See # 1 and #2 above.)

The unity of the Body is most powerfully and winsomely seen when the Image of God is clearly reflected by right relationships between men and women who are in right relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Right relationship, as understood by the Hebrew concept of cHesed, is realized when men and women, by the power of the Holy Spirit, accept God’s invitation to join the New Covenant in Jesus Christ … and then undertake the journey of transformation to be like Christ as faithful covenant-keepers with each other. It is a mysterious, paradoxical process, different for each of us, that will continue our entire lives.

Embrace both the journey and the companions God sends; no one can do it alone.

Moses and Plato are coming up next….

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Confusing Blessing with Approval


The Abbess was saved from rambling on in the comments over at Jesus Creed (in these threads) by taking the time to compose her thoughts in Word first. So, they are here for you to read, with a link left over at Scot’s blog….

Many years ago I heard a fascinating sermon on TBN that took them to task.  I will never forget it, even though I have forgotten the name of the brave brother who delivered the message.  The bottom line was this:  do not confuse God’s apparent blessing with his approval of your methods.

Scot, I believe this is the core issue surrounding this difficult circumstance:  There are those who believe that the religious institution that we call church IS the very Body of Christ, rather than that the body of Christ is made up of those who name Christ as Lord.  I think it is an important distinction.

Certainly the God who sent first his Son and then his Spirit to birth the church, who is the master of taking whatever is available and creating amazing masterpieces, can and does (and will continue to) do amazing things through those who will offer themselves up to his will and seek to be obedient servants.  Not an issue.  Cracked pots with light streaming and all….

The issue is with humans (those very cracked Eikons) want to pick and choose and label the work of God in ways that exclude other expressions that God apparently has also inspired and blessed.  It is not an either / or situation.  It is more than a both / and situation.  It is an expression of the amazing diversity that is the reality of the Kingdom of God:  those persons and situations where the rule of God is found.

The way in which this is manifest will be different in different contexts.  It always has been and always will be.  There is, in each manifestation, a bit of that Kingdom-of-God-light streaming out through the cracked pots.  When one pot (or group of pots) tries to exclude other pots, or suggest that they are not letting God’s “true” light shine through their cracks, it is so very sad.  As if God is not capable of blessing any pot offered up to him….

As in other conversations that have been raging through the internet of late, there is a significant difference between criticism and critique.  One seeks to tear down and the other seeks to build up.  It is a matter of intention.

I do love the Church, the Bride of Christ, to which I have actively chosen to belong for the past 44 years.  But I have, in the last 8 years, come to experience something that reminds me of Jacob’s dilemma:  the bait and switch.  After working for seven years to earn Rachel as his wife, he finds that under the veils he has been tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah.  His love for Rachel is so strong that he works another seven years for her.  Yet, even in the midst of this amazing trick, pulled on an infamous trickster, God was neither absent nor thwarted nor tainted in planting the seeds of his love and grace and mercy in their midst.

Many want to say that God planned each piece of this long trail of deception in order to bring Israel into being.  I cordially disagree.  And you are welcome to cordially disagree with me.  When we do this, we offer up critique in order to try to better understand the mystery that is the will of God.  When we choose not to be cordial, we can fall into criticism … cracked Eikons and all.

The Bride is not ours to have and to hold.  We are the Bride of Jesus.  He is the one who makes us holy, by being both the source and the sustainer of our being and our mysterious relationship.  We are to accept his outrageous love and amazing grace and sometimes severe mercy and to connect with and support those parts of his body with whom we find ourselves associated.

There are some, however, who want to put the wedding veil on Leah (or Hagar, before her) as a way to not offend custom.  God, however, does not find himself bound by human customs.  He uses or transcends customs according to his wisdom as means to advance his will.

I have come to believe that what many call the Institutional Church has too often embraced religion at the expense of relationship. Seeing power as something to be grasped and wielded rather than influence to be recognized and spent on behalf of the least of these. When we offer this version of the Bride as part of the Good News, it can sometimes turn out to be a Leah under the veil.  Then we have to work very hard to get to Rachel – that with which we were initially smitten.

Those who toil through are rewarded with partial bliss.  They are finally with Rachel, the beloved … but they find they have continued obligations to Leah, whom they have come to despise.    To take this chapter out of Israel’s history and suggest that is it our Father’s intention for his Son and Bride -- that it bears his stamp of approval – is too much for me.

In the end, all who are married find that the reality is very different from the expectation.  This most intimate of relationships is also the most challenging … and, if given due respect and attention, it is the most rewarding.  When looking at each other through the eyes of love, the reality is not what is seen on the surface, but what has been nurtured over time.

There is not one experience of being The Bride that fits all.  Christ has been known to come where two or three are gathered and do amazing things in their midst.  He has also been known, through the ages, for being in the midst of many other expressions of his Bride.

Do not confuse the presence and blessing of Christ with his stamp of approval on the methods at work in that manifestation of his Bride.

Marriage is truly a mystery.  The marriage of Christ and the Church is no less a mystery.

The Good News in Jesus transcends culture and transforms culture and indwells culture.  Please don’t make judgments concerning the many marvelous and miraculous ways that Christ does this.  See him in the big churches, within the deep and beautiful traditions of the Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant expressions of devotion.  See him in the movement that transformed culture among the Celtic faithful.  See him in the millions of underground clusters of believers who live the dream in the midst of a nightmare.  See him in the hearts and dreams of those who resonate with missional or neo-monastic or unorthodox spaces and expressions of devotion.  Open your eyes and ears and you will see the Spirit at work in the most unlikely of places.

Please, answer the call of the Spirit to join in The Dance around you.

Rejoice and give thanks for the love that never gives up and that pursues cracked pots.  Be grateful that the Spirit pours out that love according to the strength of the pot to contain it – some fast and overflowing, others gently and measured.

But never, ever believe that splashing mud on or hurling insults at or ridiculing the appearance of Christ’s precious Bride is ever a method that bears the Father’s stamp of approval.  Watch, however, for what happens when these things occur.
·       He will pick up his towel and basin with which to wash off the mud – reaching out to cleanse both the muddy boot and the soiled garment … if we, like Peter, will submit to being cleansed.
·       He will give his incomprehensible peace to heal and guard the hearts and minds of those who have been injured with words used poorly … while looking into the hearts and minds of the heartless and thoughtless and asking the hard question:  Do you love me?  If we, like Peter will submit to being restored.
·       He will take the downcast face in his hands and look deeply into the shamed eyes and, his own eyes sparkling with tears of both love and grief, and say, “You are absolutely exquisite!” – while challenging the perceptions to be transcended:  Do not call unclean what I have called clean.  If we, like Peter, will believe that Christ is not concerned with outward appearances.

Critique, if you must.  But be sure to have the Spirit remove the plank from your eyes before you presume to remove the speck from the eyes of a brother or sister.  What hurts one member of the Body should be felt by all the members of the Body.

Oh, and one more thing.

Please, please, do RELAX a bit and have a sense of humor about it, won’t you?  It’s a dance, for heaven’s sake…we all look a smidge ridiculous now and then next to our glorious Bridegroom!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Abi is, really, a very simple abbess. Really. On purpose.

I'm on information overload.  I just cannot process any more complex theology.  Not right now.

I have come to realize over the years that my place in God's Kingdom is to help synthesize some of the complexities in order to remove stumbling blocks to understanding and living the Good News.  For many, the complexities of theology (and all the other "ology"s) suck the life out of the Good News.  There is Good News that is simple enough for the simplest mind to grasp.

Please, let us all grasp that Good News -- before we spend all our heart and soul and mind and strength loving knowledge (that so often puffs up) and then arguing with others (which so often does not take the form of speaking the truth in love) about things that we may or may not really understand all that well -- so that it will radically change the way we see ourselves and those around us, and move us to live loved by God so that we can live loving others.

None of us are cross-cultural enough to "get" everything.  But we must "get" some of the key cultural contexts in order to bring the counter-cultural power of Jesus (and Paul) into our current context.  I have mentioned some of my current thoughts about that here and here.  And some core thinking herehere, and  here.  For those of you who have time on your hands for reading, that is.... ;^)

So, let's have a look at some of the simple things Abi embraces, shall we?
  1. Our heavenly Father loves us with an everlasting love.  Period.  He consistently and faithfully is at work in us and in the midst of life's circumstances to get us to RELAX in that knowledge. Really.
  2. Jesus Christ, from his pre-existence, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, was sent from God to show us the Father completely and to reconcile our brokenness.  If you don't get #1, you will not recognize the Truth here in #2.
  3. With God now understood as "our" Father -- our heavenly Papa -- we are to call no man father in that sense. There is no human who has the power to command our total obedience and usurp Papa's place.  Those who have been set free are not to submit to bondage again!  Men, deal with it, please.
  4. We are to understand each other as brothers and sisters first and foremost in all relationships and dealings.  There is to be no more struggle for honor or position or place or power or influence over others.  We are younger siblings of Jesus Christ, Papa's Firstborn.  As Jesus was completely obedient to Papa's will--even unto death--we are to do the same.  Sibling rivalry is deadly.
  5. Jesus is Lord -- and he chose the path of service.  Don't look to be served.  Whatever service you give to others, Jesus receives it as service to himself.  If you don't get #1, you will struggle with this.  Please, get #1!
  6. The Kingdom of God is found in each life journey where Papa's love is received and his will is obeyed.  It is about relationships.  It is a dance.  The Holy Spirit is the Piper and we dance according to the tune played.  Learn to recognize the many tunes in the Spirit's repertoire.  Jesus knows all the steps in the dance--relax and follow his lead.  Really.  RELAX!
If you can find your way to leaning into the power of these six items, the rest is gravy.  Really.  It will sort itself out with time and love and humility.  How?  I don't know -- it truly is a mystery of the Spirit.

If something you read or hear or experience does not line up with them, engage the Spirit's filter and ask for help to sift truth from error.  Be patient.  Ask questions.  Ponder.  Be patient.  Wait for it.  Patiently.

If you would like to see a chart that fleshes this out and shows you some of the steps of the Dance and some of the chords used in the Spirits tunes, I humbly suggest this might be helpful.   It is very dense ... take your time pondering.

You will find lots of other posts and links here to thinking that will help you on your journey ... as well as bring you companions along The Way.

Be blessed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Of Sacred Cows, Golden Geese, and Elephants….

Much of my time lately has been consumed with friends considering how to effectively turn up the volume on accountability in the realm of brokering Christian influence via personalities.

When does the hype of blogs and books and tours and conferences, etc. have to match up with the reality of the journey being traveled by these folks in their day to day lives.  Who are those brokering these personalities?  And what responsibility to they have when it comes to the walk and the talk jibing?

Where is the line between what they want others to know (so that these others will support the blogs, books, tours and conferences) and what they use, exploit, or ignore in order to get the most bang for their buck.  (A crass image for a sadly crass reality.)

And when there are questions concerning said walk and talk being out of sync, where is the line that cannot be crossed in calling the brokers (and their clients/associates) to account?

Just as Jesus used parables in his day to "out" the Pharisees and other religious leaders who had become consumed with the letter of the law but had quenched the spirit, this wee abbess has decided to light a small purple candle to shine on the suffering that comes from being unwilling to look in the mirror and deal with what is beheld.  No names are going to be named ... I offer up these words for the Holy Spirit to use to reflect the light of Papa's love into some very dark places out there.

To remain quiet is to give tacit assent.

* * * * * * * *

The sacred cow might be an example of a useful creature that is respected for its contribution to the health and wealth of society becoming more than respected.  When respect turns to worship, then we have idolatry.

The goose that laid golden eggs might be an example of where the sum being more than the parts meets the problem of greed being the difference between understanding needs and wants.

And, finally, the elephant in the room might go beyond the familiar idiom for turning a blind eye tglaring issues that are embarrassing, emotionally charged, or potentially detrimental.  It might include the fact that elephants, while appearing to be slow and docile beasts carrying incredible burdens when domesticated, are capable of incredible speeds, terrifying trumpeting and incredible destruction when sufficiently provoked or backed into a corner.

What does one do when confronted with all three of these at once?


Rather like the old adage that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, confronting this interesting trio must be taken step by step.

Let’s start with sacred cows.

We have all been in social situations, whether it is religious or familial or political or business, when everyone “knows” that certain “things” or “issues” or “people” are just NOT to be touched or addressed or questioned.  If this cultural norm is transgressed, the perpetrator is usually dealt with swiftly, officially or unofficially, and sometimes very harshly.

The problem comes when a conflicting cultural value, such as integrity, is sacrificed to protect the sacred cow.  Over time there will be one of two outcomes:  the offending sacred cow must be sacrificed for the welfare of the whole, or the value of integrity is stripped of its importance.  You cannot have both.

Next, let’s look at the goose that lays those golden eggs.

Golden eggs are rare.  Geese that lay them are even rarer.  The truth about them is that they are what they are.  Each day they are capable of producing one precious golden egg.  No more, no less.  Feeding them more doesn’t work.  Giving them more luxurious housing doesn’t work.  Praising them doesn’t work.  Providing high priced grooming and accessories doesn’t work.

You cannot get more than one egg per day.  Deal with it.

The problem comes when “need” and “want” are confused and result in some form of greed.  Even worse than this, the golden egg-bearing goose is a GIFT to be received gratefully.  Need and want shouldn’t really apply, and appreciation and stewardship should come to the forefront.  When they do not, frustrated greed frequently ends up destroying the gift in a misguided move of entitlement- or creativity-base "deconstruction".  A gift is more than the sum it its parts.

Finally, we come to the elephant.  Poor elephant … he has been taken from his natural environment (where it's presence has context) and is forced to go wherever its master goes.  It wants to be free.  Surely, someone will notice it and say: “Hey, that elephant doesn’t belong here.”  But, no … it finds itself crowding rooms, breaking doorways, stepping on toes, and making huge, steaming, stinking messes.

Each of these humble creatures—cow, goose, elephant—are not really the problem we're talking about, are they.  It is their handlers with whom we have issues. 

·       Handlers who USE them to dominate and control others.
·       Handlers who EXPLOIT the gift—abusing and destroying the vessel in the process.
·       Handlers who IGNORE their responsibilities to deal with inconvenient issues, destroying persons and relationships instead of building and strengthening them.
No, we are not about to identify cows, geese or elephants.  We are only holding up a mirror and calling you to humbly take a look at the reflection you see.

·       Are you or someone you know being used, exploited or ignored?
·       Are you or someone you know a handler in need of accountability?

These issues can frequently be identified by outsiders, but they can only be dealt with properly by those on the ground, in the context of healthy relationships.  There are example of this being done properly, but many more examples where that is not the case.  (Yes, I just might be talking to you!)

Let me leave you with a little chart that might be a good starting point:

Effective Handlers
Common Issues
Honesty (assisted by Confession)
Integrity (assisted by Repentance)
Humility (assisted by Vulnerability)
Transparency (assisted by Availability)
Discernment (assisted by Character)
Faithfulness (assisted by Reconciliation)

* * * * * * * 

Perhaps pondering David's words as recorded in Psalm 51 would be timely.

Grateful for God's faithful love, his amazing grace and his mighty mercy through Christ Jesus our Lord....


Sunday, February 7, 2010

God as Supreme Situational Leader

While I wait for Scott to flesh out more of his book as to what it means to be siblings in the Kingdom, I want to revisit a concept that just keeps getting more focus for me ... and today got the 3D treatment!  Wow!

When I was getting my Organizational Management degree, we used an amazing textbook that introduced me to the Hersey and Blanchard theory called Situational Leadership.  (Even though the most current hardcover edition is really expensive, an earlier paperback edition will get you everything you need to get a grip on this important concept without breaking your book budget.)

During that particular class, it dawned on me that this is so right because this is a descriptor of the way God leads.  (It doesn't hurt that Blanchard is a follower of Jesus.  I don't personally know about Hersey.)  Wow ... this insight back in 1994 was very important to my thinking about leadership.  (My experience with managers and leaders has left much to be desired, as recounted in my chapter of Volume One of the Wikiklesia Project.)

And, much like Chesterton's famous quote that Christianity was found difficult and left untried, this concept is the same.  Our ideas of leadership and management gravitate more to the few telling the many how to think and what to do.  We tend to lead according to our style and strengths, rather than leading according to the readiness level of those following.

When Jesus called on the fathers to put down their right to dominate, he was asking them to influence instead of coerce.  It is so much harder having to consider each individual and how you can best empower them to do their best to accomplish God's will....

It is the way of love, this leading by influence.  Equipping.  Building up.  Supporting.  Releasing.

Sometimes you have to simply tell folks what to do, step by step, because they lack the skills to know what to do. 

Sometimes you have to engage folks, because they have some skills they can use, but just aren't able to take on the responsibility.

Sometimes you have to collaborate with folks, because they are skilled and able to take on tasks, but aren't confident enough to take on responsibility.

And sometimes, yes, sometimes you are able to delegate to folks, because they are both competent and confident enough to take the ball and run with it.

...and then we have to remember that God meets us at each of these various stages in our own lives, depending on the task that has been laid out before us!

So, relax!

Lighten up!

Trust Papa! 

His faithful cHesed will always provide what you need to accomplish the task.  The buck stops with him, actually....



Saturday, February 6, 2010

Moderation in all things ... Bummer!

The Abbess awoke this morning to find a string of spam comments not in English on 20 different post from the past.  Well, there was ONE word in English that was common to them ... and it is not one you would expect to appear on the blog of an Abbess, virtual or no.

What a drag.

So, it appears, that this blog will now have to be set to moderation ON.  :^(

No big deal, really, since we are not a spot for rapid repartee...


Friday, February 5, 2010

Jesus' Radical Good News Requires 3D Glasses

So my husband and I were talking today about my new cHesed glasses: they are not only purple, they are 3D! (And no, I don't know to represent that with my already photo-shopped picture.)

Anyway, let me try to explain these 3D glasses. (Get a refresher on my old glasses here.) All the properties of my old glasses remain intact ... but the 3D component makes otherwise ordinary words of the Scriptures (especially in the New Testament) jump off the page. The first part of the 3D factor is the context provided by understanding first century Mediterranean society's foundational patriarchy, which Jesus (and Paul) subverted.

I started talking about this in my last post. And I'll be talking about it for a long time as I continue to process Dr. Bartchy's research and upcoming book, Call No Man Father. Stop and think for a moment what it meant for Jesus' followers to hear him say that they were to call no man father but their heavenly Father. The implications for this one statement are played out through the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. I want to look at one today.

Now you're ready to slip these 3D glasses on so that you look out with this context:
  • Fathers, who were used to being the dominant figure in their families and society, were asked by Jesus to give up their right to dominate their wives, children and slaves -- and other less powerful men -- in order to become children of the heavenly Father.
  • This new status would appear to be "weak" in their society, but in the Kingdom of God, it would be "strong" in the power of cHesed's love, grace and mercy. The "greatest" in this Kingdom would be the "least" and the eager servant of all. This was the stance Jesus took and he expected it of his followers.
  • The ones given admittance to the Kingdom of God would be those who were like a child -- one who has no status, no power, no influence ... but lots of love and trust and devotion to the Father, as well as to the brothers and sisters in Father's family.
Okay, got 'em on? Take a read through Matthew 18 (here it is in The Message).

Have you ever read through this chapter with a single context in mind?

How does 3D change what you see?

...oh, there will be lots more. Later.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Words....

Okay...the Abbess has been driven from her silence! Jonathan Brink asked this question on Facebook: Is it possible to be both complementarian and egalitarian in gender relationships. And there were 75 comments! There seemed to be a significant amount of talking past each other ... and instead of tacking something on to the end of a conversation that is over, I decided to break my silence here.

While busy doing lots of things that I promise to blog about ... later ... I have begun reading through the manuscript of my ministry mentor (I will be blogging a lot more about this.), giving him another set of eyes with a different view as a way of checking whether he is connecting with his intended readers. This is fabulous work and I am pleased to get to see it as it is being fashioned into a book.

One of the articles Scott sent me to review before sending actual chapters had this section title: Egalitarianism Is Not the Opposite of Patriarchy. Well, that got my attention! He goes on to say that scholars (and their readers), "have largely ignored the fact that patriarchal systems in general and the ancient Mediterranean system in particular socialized men not only to dominate women but also to gain the upper hand over as many other men as possible. Along with social analysts and journalists, they have also mistakenly assumed that the terms egalitarianism and patriarchy describe opposite ends of the same social-political spectrum. Inadvertently, they have blurred the distinctions between two ancient social institutions: politics and kinship. These two missteps lead inevitably away from comprehension of Paul's implicit and explicit critique of the patriarchy of his day."

He goes on to say that the opposite of egalitarianism is not patriarchy as such but monarchy, oligarchy, or despotism. Complementarianism is a term invented fairly recently by Fundamentalist Theologians to disguise the patriarchialism it represents. It is almost as if they vaguely understand that there is a problem with patriarchy ... but the cost of dealing with the problem is too high.

Dr. Bartchy continued: "On the one hand, the term patriarchy belongs to the semantic field of kinship, the realm of the family. On the other hand, the term egalitarian belongs to the semantic field of politics and refers to such things as equal access to the vote, to positions of public leadership, and to ownership of property."

I wrote in the margins of the article this comment: "Perhaps it (egalitarian) is confused because women were largely seen as property being freed from patriarchal tyranny."

Rather than acknowledging that Jesus, and Paul, were first freeing women (and other men) from the domination of patriarchy, complementarianism continues to embrace patriarchy (missing much of Jesus' and Paul's point). Egalitarians mix their apples with oranges when trying to mix kinship with politics ... largely because there is not an opposite to patriarchy that is to be embraced.

Which leads to the title of Scott's book: Call No Man Father. We who believe in Christ Jesus are called to be joint heirs with him as children of our heavenly Father. There is only one Father. Everyone else is a brother or sister.....

This is just the first of many posts to come as I ponder this anew.

Stay tuned.

* * * * * * * *

Update: For some reason I cannot post a comment! This is the first time this has happened to me... maybe Google Chrome has an issue. In the meantime, I would like to add my comment here:

Welcome, gracerules!

If the big shift Jesus called for (and Paul echoed) was for those who were the patriarchs to put down their privilege, the sisters and the children and the slaves and the brothers were not supposed to have an uprising against the fathers -- but those who were fathers or husbands or slave-owners were to radically change the way they interacted with those who they formerly were welcome to dominate.

Subversion of patriarchy was an inside job. ;^) Which also means that it can only be defeated from the inside as well.

Perhaps this is why the church is where it is today ... too many have not heard the call for the fathers to become brothers?

Thanks for visiting and for your comment!