Friday, April 27, 2012

Nakashima Brock on Atonement Theology

Here is a link to brilliant essay over at Two Friars and a Fool by a brilliant theologian (Rita Nakashima Brock). Ideas, including (especially!) theological ideas, have a profound effect on how we live. I recently taught a series where we looked at all of the major atonement theories and it really is remarkable how our understanding of the atonement reflects our understanding of God which, in turn, shapes our view of humankind and of how to interact with the world.

Atonement Theology: The Ideological Root of Christian Terrorism

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I recently had occasion to spend a few days at a U.S. military base in California and observed something unexpected: a lack of guns. There were lots and lots of soldiers walking around, but very few firearms (except at the guard posts). What is interesting about this is that the population on the base are very well trained on the use of firearms, yet their access to guns is tightly regulated. Conversely, in the city outside the gates of the base (and all across America) is a civilian population who are not nearly as well trained and yet have unfettered access to guns. It it any wonder that gun violence is so out of control in America?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Estate Sale

My wife and I love to stop in at the occasional garage sale or estate sale in search of cheap-o treasure. Yesterday Carla found a duck umbrella for $2.50! Estate sales tend to be odd and sad, however. Here are the material remainders of someone's life, reduced to bric-a-brac that strangers haggle over. It makes one think about the futility of surrounding ourselves with stuff. Carla and I are trying to keep our lives and our home ever more simple and unencumbered (and this is not an easy task, especially when we continue to visit garage/estate sales!).

But the estate sale we stumbled upon yesterday (where Carla found her duck umbrella) was different. This couple, now apparently deceased, led an obviously interesting life together and had traveled much. There were black and white photos--taken in the 50's or 60's--of a smiling couple in black horn-rimmed glasses standing in front of various landmarks. Other photos showed the same bespectacled couple, now older and heavier, in other interesting locales. The house was stocked with language books, paintings, pottery and doodads from South America and Italy and Scandinavia and Russia (when it was the U.S.S.R). There were shoeboxes filled with buttons and lapel pins from political campaigns and labor unions and the American Friends Service Committee and various Communist and Socialist organizations. He smoked pipes and cigars ($1.00 for an empty Havana cigar box), she worked a loom and played piano. This was clearly an interesting couple, who left behind an intriguing mystery for interlopers like me sifting through their artifacts. Were they college professors? Travel agents? Bohemians? Labor organizers? Communist moles?

When Carla and I are gone and strangers come to rummage through our belongings, I hope they are likewise intrigued by the things we leave behind. I hope the flotsam and jetsam of our lives speaks well of us. We need to get busy building our mysteries.

True Religion

"True religion helps us to grow, but pseudo-religion hinders growth, for it creates and maintains obstacles and barriers. Thus it is that much religion merely censors experience and does not liberate it, stifles human potential and does not allow it to blossom. Much religion is superficial and does not help the journey inwards, which is so necessary to spiritual health. There has to be a movement toward the still center, the depths of our being, there, according to the mystics, we find the presence of God." -- Kenneth Leech, Prayer

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

The ocean of God's love

"I hold all sorts of heresies, and feel myself to have got out into a limitless ocean of the love of God that overflows all things. My theology is complete, if you but grant me an omnipotent and just Creator I need nothing more. All the tempests in the various religious teapots around me do seem so far off, so young, so green, so petty! I know I was there once, it must have been ages ago, and it seems impossible. 'God is love,' comprises my whole system of ethics. And, as thou says, it seems to take in all. There is certainly a very grave defect in any doctrine that universally makes its holders narrow and uncharitable, and this is always the case with strict so-called orthodoxy. Whereas, as soon as Christian love comes in, the bounds widen infinitely. I find that every soul that has traveled on this highway of holiness for any length of time, has invariably cut loose from its old moorings. I bring out my heresies to such, expecting reproof, when lo! I find sympathy. We are 'out on the ocean sailing,' that is certain. And if it is the ocean of God's love, as I believe, it is grand." -- Hannah Whitall Smith (from a letter to Mrs. Anna Shipley), Aug. 8, 1876

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Diana Butler Bass: A Resurrected Christianity

"Much of institutional Christianity is mired in the concerns of the past, still asking what, how, and who when a new set of issues of how, what, and whose are challenging conventional conceptions of faith. The old faith formulations were externally based, questions that could be answered by appealing to a book, authority, creed, or code. The new spiritual longings are internally derived, questions of engagement, authenticity, meaning, and relationship. The old questions required submission and obedience; the new questions require the transformation of our souls." -- Diana Butler Bass, A Resurrected Christianity?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mary Fisher

There were a group of early Quakers, in the mid-1600's, who have come to be known as the "Valiant Sixty". They were mostly working-class men and women who fanned out across England to spread the Quaker message. Perhaps undertaking missionary work in England doesn't seem very daunting (compared with Africa or India), but for the Quakers in the 17th century it was extremely dangerous. Their message was not only counter-cultural but was considered by many in power to be blasphemous and seditious. Thousands of Quakers were imprisoned, some tortured, some executed. Others had their property confiscated by the government--effectively turning them into paupers.

The radical message they preached and lived--which brought so much persecution upon them (from a "Christian" culture!)--was that people could have direct access to God, that Jesus speaks to people directly, that everyone is equal in God's eyes, that war is incompatible with the Gospel, etc.

One of the most remarkable of the "Valiant Sixty" was Mary Fisher, a young uneducated housemaid from the north of England. She became a Quaker in her 20's and was shortly thereafter imprisoned for 16 months in York castle for preaching. Not long after her release she and another woman were stoned by students at Cambridge (for preaching) and then publically stripped to the waist and "whipped at the market cross until blood ran down their bodies" by the town officials. Not long after that she was imprisoned a second time at York for 6 months. In 1656 she and Ann Austin sailed to the Puritan colony of Boston, Massachusetts. Margaret Hope Bacon, in her book "The Quiet Rebels" describes what happened:

"On July 11, 1656, two women sailed into Boston Harbor aboard a small ship, the Swallow. Upon hearing of their arrival, the magistrates of the twenty-seven-year-old Massachusetts Bay Colony were shaken, according to a contemporary observer, "as if a formidable army had invaded their borders." Governor John Endicott being out of town, Deputy Governor Richard Bellingham took prompt, if frenzied, action. The women were held on shipboard while their boxes were searched for "blasphemous" documents. One hundred such books found in their possession were burned in the marketplace by the common hangman. The women were then transferred to prison, stripped naked and searched for tokens of witchcraft, and kept for five weeks without light or writing materials. The master of the Swallow was finally ordered to transport them to Barbados and to let no person in the American colonies speak to them en route."

In 1660, Mary Fisher, now in her mid-30's, felt that God told her to take the Gospel to Mehmed IV, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (what is now Turkey). She traveled alone and mostly on foot from England to northwestern Turkey, eventually making her way to Edirne (Adrianople) where the Sultan was at that time encamped with his army. When the Sultan heard that an Englishwoman had arrived with a message from God, he agreed to meet with her. She spoke through an interpreter and, although we don't know the exact content of her message, it was apparently graciously received by the Sultan. After delivering her message she departed--declining the Sultan's offer of an armed escort--and made her way back to England. She wrote in her diary: "Now returned into England ... I have borne my testimony for the Lord before the king unto whom I was sent, and he was very noble unto me and so were all that were about him ... they do dread the name of God, many of them...They are more near Truth than many nations; there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless, but this is my hope concerning them, that he who hath raised me to love them more than many others will also raise his seed [Quaker terminology for the awareness of God's presence] in them unto which my love is. Nevertheless, though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God, and their kindness hath in some measure been shown towards his servants."

She later married and was widowed twice and finally settled in South Carolina, where she died of old age and is buried in a Quaker cemetary.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Best map ever.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Kierkegaard on Silence

"The present state of the world and all of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today." - Soren Kierkegaard

Saturday, April 07, 2012

George Fox and Ignatius

Lately I've been exploring the many similarities between Quaker and Ignatian spirituality.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Big Silence

I began watching this BBC program and became so engrossed that I stayed up into the wee hours of the night to see how it ended. It is a reality show in which 5 people with little or no interest in religion agreed to spend a weekend at a monastery and then 8 days at a silent retreat center. The effects of immersing themselves in silence were profound.