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Theme:
Church: Old and New

Church: Old and New

Summary: Sunday, October 27—Friday, November 1, 2019

With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be. (Sunday)

I believe that what some refer to as the “emerging church” is a movement of the Holy Spirit. (Monday)

[Christ’s] time seems to stretch to eternity and his space extends to all the universe. —Choan-Seng Song (Tuesday)

This new radical community has held together over two thousand years, as a community based, at bottom, on mutual love and not, as with other human institutions on fear. —Sebastian Moore (Wednesday)

In the Spirit, we know that the Church is the difference Jesus of Nazareth has made and makes in human history. —Sebastian Moore (Thursday)

In this most urgent time, “it is the very love of Christ that now urges us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). (Friday)

 

Practice: Midrash

The best way in which a Christian can interpret Scripture is to do so as Jesus did! It almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? Yet, ironically, this has not been the norm for most of Christianity. So, what does it mean to read the Bible as Jesus did?

Jesus approached the Hebrew Scriptures with the assumption that God had been dialoging with humanity since the beginning. He used the Jewish practice of midrash as a way of participating in this dialogue. Midrash is a method of interpreting Scripture that fills in the gaps, by questioning and imagining a multitude of possible interpretations. Midrash allows the text and the Spirit of God to open up the reader to transformation, instead of resisting change by latching onto one final, closed, and certain interpretation. This open-horizon approach was common for most of the first 1300 years of Christianity, where as many as six levels of interpretation and numerous levels of truth were perceived in any one Scripture text.

The traditional forms of midrash demand both a prayerful approach and scholarly familiarity with the Bible and commentaries which have formed the tradition over the centuries. However, it is possible for someone who is not a biblical scholar or theologian to get a sense of the practice of midrash.

The following practice, drawn from Teresa Blythe’s book 50 Ways to Pray, offers an interactive experience with the Bible through openness, contemplative attitude, and critical thinking. This practice invites us to trust that God will meet us where we are and will take us where we need to go as we consider the meaning of the text. We could engage in this dialogue often, even with the same text, since there will always be more discoveries about the meaning(s) of sacred texts.

Dialoguing with Scripture:

Choose one of the following Scriptures for reflection:

  • Exodus 1:8-22 — The Hebrew midwives fear God
  • Exodus 18:13-27 — Jethro’s advice to Moses
  • 1 Samuel 3 — The call of Samuel
  • Mark 9:14-29 — Jesus heals the afflicted boy
  • Luke 8:22-25 — Jesus calms a storm
  • Luke 10:29-37 — The good Samaritan

Read (or listen to) your selected Scripture passage slowly. You may want to read (or hear) it more than once.

Consider which character in the story you would like to interact with. It could be a person you find agreeable, or a person with whom you want to question or debate. Who are you drawn to? When you decide on a character, write the name at the top [of a piece of] paper.

Hold an imaginary conversation—on paper—with the character in the story. You may want to stick with the theme of the Scripture and talk about that, or you may want to discuss other topics. It is completely up to you. Let your imagination roll free and see what transpires. (20 minutes)

When you are finished, read your dialogue out loud.

What is it like to have a conversation with a biblical figure? Why did you choose the character you chose? Did anything in the conversation surprise you? Did anything in the conversation move you? Did you feel any inner blocks to doing this sort of exercise? Did you feel the presence and guidance of God in the dialogue? What did you learn about yourself as you engaged this biblical figure? How easy or difficult is it for you to have these kinds of imaginary conversations? How useful would you say such conversations are for you?

End your reflection time with a prayer of gratitude for what you experienced.

Tip—You don’t have to be an excellent writer to enjoy this exercise. No one but you has to read what you’ve written. Just write from the heart and imagination. [1]

References:
[1] Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006), 17-18.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

For Further Study:
“The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019)

Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Richard Rohr, Alexie Torres-Fleming, Shane Claiborne, Emerging Church: Christians Creating a New World Together (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), MP3 download

Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as If It Mattered (Orbis Books: 2008)

Richard Rohr, What Is the Emerging Church? (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), MP3 download, CD

C. S. Song, Jesus, the Crucified People (Fortress Press: 1996)

Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books: 2008)

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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Church: Old and New

If We Were Christian
Friday, November 1, 2019
All Saints’ Day

A Circle expands forever
It covers all who wish to hold hands
And its size depends on each other
It is a vision of solidarity
It turns outwards to interact with the outside
And inward for self critique
A circle expands forever
It is a vision of accountability
It grows as the other is moved to grow
A circle must have a centre
But a single dot does not make a Circle
One tree does not make a forest
A circle, a vision of cooperation, mutuality and care
—Mercy Amba Oduyoye [1]

Hospitality is the practice that keeps the church from becoming a club, a members-only society. —Diana Butler Bass [2]

Practical, practice-based Christianity has been avoided, denied, minimized, ignored, delayed, and sidelined for too many centuries, by too many Christians who were never told Christianity was anything more than a belonging or belief system. And we only belonged to our own little club or denomination at that! Some of us were afraid to step foot into a house of worship across the street for fear of eternal punishment. Now we know that there is no Methodist or Catholic way of loving. There is no Orthodox or Presbyterian way of living a simple and nonviolent life. There is no Lutheran or Evangelical way of showing mercy. There is no Baptist or Episcopalian way of visiting the imprisoned. If there is, we are invariably emphasizing the accidentals, which distract us from the very “marrow of the Gospel,” as St. Francis called it. We have made this mistake for too long. We cannot keep avoiding what Jesus actually emphasized and mandated. In this most urgent time, “it is the very love of Christ that now urges us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian. [3] Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of what is emerging in Christianity today:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already participating in evolving Christianity. Do read it several times. It only makes more and more sense.

References:
[1] Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “The Story of a Circle” (Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians), The Ecumenical Review, vol. 53, no. 1 (January 2001), 97. Used with permission.

[2] Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (HarperOne: 2010), 64.

[3] See Philip Gulley, If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus (HarperOne: 2010). This list is adapted from his chapter titles.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Emerging Christianity: A Non-Dual Vision,” Radical Grace, vol. 23, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), 3, 22.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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Church: Old and New

Breakthroughs
Thursday, October 31, 2019

Whether or not they are acknowledged publicly, those on the margins and their allies recognize acts of injustice. Sebastian Moore presents the crucifixion of Jesus as an unjust political act that claimed a human life. Every time it happens, no matter when or where, no matter who the victim or perpetrator is, killing is tragic. What makes Jesus’ death different (besides his physical resurrection three days later) is that Love Incarnate was present there, binding the victim, perpetrators, and witnesses together. That is the legacy of our faith to this day. Moore writes:

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). In the Spirit, we know that the Church is the difference Jesus of Nazareth has made and makes in human history. And what is the Church but a society held together not by power but by love? This polity of love stems from the self-consecration of Jesus as our lover nailed to the cross of our power, manifest in his resurrection to draw all things to himself. This is the secret of the Church, the ripple effect of Calvary.

Now what does the Church give as her credentials? A man put to death by us and brought to life by God. An act of political bloodshed that otherwise would have been lost in the great mass of human injustice. But focused upon through the Spirit, political bloodshed is a universal language. This language is elemental. Everyone who witnesses the killing feels a barrier being crossed. There is this awed hush, a sense of having gone fatally too far. And a very important and most easily forgotten aspect of this elemental insight is, that all of us, those for and those against the victim, are being brought together, and this not only as in the bonding of Caesar’s killers, but as [people] involved simply as humans, all our loyalties forgotten with the sight of the fatal blow. . . .

So that is the given of our faith: a public murder held in focus by a continuing community who owe to the victim a love that is the fulfilment of our humanity to change this cruel world. For all peoples and for all times, a dangerous memory.

This new humanity, born of God in the blood of old, being in time has to grow. And since this life is God’s in us, the law of its growth is the Holy Spirit that endlessly completes the relationship between the non-manifest Father and the manifest Son. And since love is the formula of this new life, its growth will be, as with each of us, a succession of breakthroughs in loving. And there’s no going back on a breakthrough.

As Moore says, there can be no going back on a breakthrough. From science to technology, psychology to theology, we are “breaking through” many of the things we thought we knew. There can be no denying the truth that new things must emerge from the old, but our call as Christians is to make sure that our primary “breakthroughs” are becoming more loving. We may not be cutting-edge scientists or avant-garde artists, but we can all push the boundaries of our ability to love—to love more people and to love them more fully.

Reference:
Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as If It Mattered (Orbis Books: 2008), 60-61.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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Church: Old and New

A Transcultural Teaching
Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Every disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who draws out from his storage room, things both old and new. —Matthew 13:52

This text inspired this year’s Daily Meditations theme of “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” Christianity isn’t done growing and changing. Jesus himself invites us to take things out of our faith-filled “storage room” and discern what is essential. We don’t want the church or the Christian tradition to become an antique shop just preserving old things. We want to build on old things and allow them to be useful in different ages, vocabularies, and cultures. We want our faith to be ever new, so that it can speak to souls alive and in need right now! Otherwise, the faith we cherish so much stops working and it can’t do its job of turning our hearts to God and to one another.  

One thing will never change, however. Our faith is founded on the life and death of Jesus the Christ. Sebastian Moore (19172014), was a Benedictine monk of Downside Abbey in England. He insisted that we as Christians could not lose sight of the fact that the church was formed by clinging to a scandalous memorythe shameful execution of Jesus. Moore wrote:

The Church came into existence as a community that preserved the dangerous memory of Jesus—the memory of his public crucifixion and his subsequent return among his frightened followers in a way that was totally without reproach but was rather utterly new and beyond anything that could have been previously imagined. This new radical community has held together over two thousand years, as a community based, at bottom, on mutual love and not, as with other human institutions on fear.

The Church’s contemplation of this dangerous memory is what we call ‘theology’, which is actually founded on the marriage of sacred Scripture with philosophy—particularly classical Greek philosophy. This is important. A religion . . . that is without theology quickly becomes fundamentalist as it begins to interpret Scripture in a literal way, full of cultural bias and with little rational underpinning.

Fundamentalism is always culture-bound, whereas, although the story of Jesus is historical, set in a particular time, place and culture, his teaching is essentially transcultural. So, too, should be the teaching of his Church. . . .

The Church should not minimise the radically different nature of its revelation. Christian revelation is founded in the person of Jesus who invites us into the freedom of God’s love . . . nevertheless, for too much of its history, indeed since the time of Constantine, the Catholic Church has not in practice demonstrated this God-offered freedom but has rather been associated with worldly power . . . [and] it is important to acknowledge this historical failing of the Christian Church.

Like Sebastian Moore, I believe that at times we as a church have lost the thread, so to speak, and been more concerned with power and privilege than Jesus’ life and teachings. Too often our leadership has relied on shame and fear to influence people far more than love, which Jesus was all about.

Reference:
Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as If It Mattered (Orbis Books: 2008), 59-60.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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Church: Old and New

A Cross-Section of Space-Time
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Choan-Seng Song, a theologian and author, has worked tirelessly to decolonize the image of God and Jesus brought to people in Asia by Western missionaries. His writings are a wonderful example of the global nature of movements emerging in Christianity. Song was born in the East and still identifies with his Asian culture while he’s been educated and worked in the West. His foundational text is the Bible, but he is also influenced by political and economic theories. In his book Jesus, the Crucified People, Song articulates how Jesus works to this day, within each of us and our churches, no matter what our culture.

[Jesus] burnt himself out totally, like a candle, to give light to the people living under the power of darkness. He lived, toiled, and died solely for that purpose. But unlike a candle he did not just melt away, leaving no trace. . . And though a candle is unable to prevent the return of darkness as soon as it is extinguished, Jesus’ light has burned on and has ignited countless new lights in the world. . . .

Perhaps Jesus waited, for these past two thousand years, to hear something different about him from the parts of the world now called Third World. Who could blame Jesus if he has grown a little tired of hearing over and over essentially the same thing about him said, taught, proclaimed, and preached . . . for so many centuries with only slight variations . . . ? He himself strove to bring fresh air into the traditions of his own religion. He must have been unable to suppress a sense of irony to know that the churches established in his name have come to revere him as a tradition that allows little fresh air to enter. Now that new voices are being enunciated about him by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. . . .

Jesus as a historical person can be identified within a particular cross-section of space-time. . . . That particular cross-section of space-time proves, from the Christian standpoint, to be an extraordinary segment in human history. [It] was not a mere thirty years limited to the small confines of the land in which he was born. His time seems to stretch to eternity and his space extends to all the universe. In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever” (13:8). John . . . in a flash of penetrating theological hindsight grasped the meaning of Jesus in relation to the world when he said: “The Word became flesh” (1:14; Revised Standard Version). What a mystery is packed into this brief statement! The Word that was in the beginning of time now comes into the thick of our time. The God who filled the space of chaos with creation now fills our space of suffering, strife, and death with the Word-become-flesh.

I so appreciate Song’s focus on the human person of Jesus and the freedom Jesus must experience in the voices that speak of him today from the center of their own culture, language, and lived experience. But Song also honors the reality of the Universal Christ who has been present to all people for all time. He encourages us to remain open to the ever-unfolding truth of the Christ present in every life and every culture.

Reference:
C. S. Song, Jesus, the Crucified People (Fortress Press: 1996), ix, x.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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Church: Old and New

The Emerging Church
Monday, October 28, 2019

I do believe that what some refer to as the “emerging church” is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Movements are the energy-building stages of things, before they become monuments, museums, or machines. In the last sixty years, several significant events have taken place, both within and alongside the various Christian churches, to foster this movement. Spiritual globalization is allowing churches worldwide to profit from these breakthroughs at approximately the same time, which of itself is a new kind of reformation! No one is directing, controlling, or limiting this movement. We are just trying to listen together. It is happening almost in spite of all of us—which tells me the Spirit must be guiding.

Just so you know I am not merely arguing for my own agenda within the Catholic Church, I want to briefly identify some of the historical developments that I see propelling this movement throughout Christianity:

  1. Our awareness is broadening, recognizing that Jesus was clearly teaching nonviolence, simplicity of lifestyle, peacemaking, love of creation, and letting go of ego, both for individuals and groups. More and more Christians are now acknowledging Jesus’ radical social critique to the systems of domination, money, and power. In the past, most of Jesus’ practical teaching was ignored by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. The establishment chose instead to concentrate on private sinfulness and personal salvation and, as Brian McLaren says, on an “evacuation plan” into the next world.
  2. There is a common-sense and growing recognition that Jesus was clearly concerned about the specific healing and transformation of real persons and human society “on earth as it is in heaven.” The Church, more than Jesus, historically focused on doctrinal belief and moral stances, which ask almost nothing of us in terms of real change. They just define groups—often in an oppositional way.
  3. We are recovering the older and essential contemplative tradition within Christianity, starting with Thomas Merton in the 1950s, and now spreading to numerous denominations, like a “treasure hidden in the field” (Matthew 13:44). Some emerging church leaders have yet to grasp the centrality of contemplative and inner wisdom.
  4. Critical biblical scholarship is occurring on a broad ecumenical level, especially honest historical and anthropological scholarship about Jesus as a Jew in the culture of his time. This leads us far beyond the liberal reductionism and the conservative fundamentalism that divide so many churches. We now see the liberal/conservative divide as a bogus and finally unhelpful framing of the issues.

While these may not seem like significant changes in and of themselves, together they are causing sea changes in modern theology as well as practice. These shifts may be the very reason we are currently so divided as Christians, with some clinging to an older way of doing and thinking while others are pulling in these new and “emerging” directions.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Emerging Church: Beyond Fight or Flight,” Radical Grace, vol. 21, no. 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), 3.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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Church: Old and New

Rummage Sales
Sunday, October 27, 2019

I have come to set fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing. —Luke 12:49

People are rightly concerned by the loss of property through fire. However, forestry workers understand that from the destruction caused by fire emerges new growth, new life. Time and again, this also has been shown to be true in the church as we seek to follow the way of Christ in light of expanding human knowledge and understandings that continually affirm the movement of the Spirit.

In 2017, Protestants and Catholics honored the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. When Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted his “95 Theses” or complaints on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, European Christianity had become too focused on meritocracy and hierarchy, losing sight of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic Church itself now admits it is always in need of reformation. The perpetual process of conversion, or reformation, is needed by all individuals and institutions. We appear to be in the midst of another period of significant turmoil and rebirth, thus my focus on Old and New: An Evolving Faith in this year’s Daily Meditations.

In North America and much of Europe, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in “nones,” people who don’t identify with a particular faith tradition. While I ache for those who have been wounded by religion and no longer feel at home in church, the dissatisfaction within Christianity has sparked some necessary and healthy changes. Episcopal Bishop Mark Dyer (1930–2014) aptly called these recurring periods of upheaval giant “rummage sales” in which the church rids itself of what is no longer needed and rediscovers treasures it had forgotten.

As Phyllis Tickle (1934–2015) reflected, in the process of building necessary structure in institutions, we eventually “elaborate, encrust, and finally embalm them with the accretion of both our fervor and our silliness. At that point there is no hope for either religion or society, save only to knock the whole carapace off ourselves and start over again.” [1] This is a difficult and frightening task, which is why we only seem to do it every 500 years or so! If we look at church history, we can see the pattern. [2]

With each reformation, we don’t need to start from scratch but return to the foundations of our Tradition. We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater but reclaim the essential truths. And remember that truth anywhere is truth everywhere. With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be.

It takes a contemplative mind to witness these changes without resistance or defensiveness. When living within a sacred tradition, everything can seem essential and untouchable. But all Christians are already worshipping in “reformed” churches—often many times over—whatever our denomination. Let’s take heart and have faith that the Holy Spirit is with us through it all.

References: 
[1] Phyllis Tickle, “The Great Emergence,” Radical Grace, vol. 21, no. 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), 4-5.

[2] If the Great Reformation “occurred” in 1517, the Great Schism took place in 1054 with the heads of both the Eastern and Western churches mutually excommunicating each other. Look back another 500 years or so to the 6th century and we find the birth of the Oriental Orthodox Church (which still has 60-70 million adherents today) as well as the rise of the flourishing monastic movement. Even further back, in the 1st century, earliest Christianity began as a radical offshoot from Judaism, Jesus’ own faith. For a fascinating and accessible description of this history, see Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Baker Books: 2008).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “500th Anniversary of the Beginnings of the Reformation,” (October 31, 2017), cac.org/reformation-500th-anniversary/.

Image credit: Palm Sunday (detail), Sinkiang, 683-770 CE, Nestorian Temple, Qocho (Xinjiang), China.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Now that new voices are being enunciated about Jesus by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, he must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. —Choan-Seng Song
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