Friday, March 02, 2007


I’ve been doing a lot of work on discernment lately, right up to and including laying groundwork for creating a discernment center. Then I ran across an article suggesting that discernment is impossible. The author argued that knowing the mind of God is, in principle, not possible for human beings so, therefore, the whole enterprise of discernment is doomed to failure before it ever begins.

Is the great I Am, a God whose very name surrounds the Holy One in sacred mystery, essentially unknowable? Does the truth that Isaiah speaks, that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways God’s ways (Is. 55:8), mean in principle that we cannot discern the will of God? Can we never know God’s ways, or God’s will for our way?

I believe we can. What’s more, I believe that our primary task is to seek this truth and pursue it with all the energy, imagination and passion we have to give it.

After all, the same Isaiah assures us that God does not speak in secret, in a land of darkness (Is. 45:19). And, while we may not be able to boast with certainty about God’s will with respect to every strategy we pursue, scripture is pretty clear about the directions we ought to follow.

What does the Lord require of us? Micah is pretty confident of his discernment of God’s will around that question: do justice, love kindly, walk humbly with our God.

Micah’s words form our listening tube for the work of discernment, our screen for sifting, our framework for understanding. In other words, do the work of discernment on the basis of doing justice, loving tenderly — as the Jerusalem Bible translates it — and walking humbly with God.

We know, from the witness of scripture and from the history of people of faith like Bonhoeffer and King, that God calls us to the work of justice. So, as we listen for God’s call and claim on the particulars of our own lives — where should I work, where should I spend my money, where should I spend my time — we listen with attention to issues of justice that are before us.

Walter Breuggemann says the Biblical definition of justice amounts to this: sorting out what belongs to whom, and returning it to them. With respect to the question of call, what’s at stake is simply this: our lives belong to God, just discernment is about returning those lives to God.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

We Need This

The Christian Peace Witness is drawing closer. March 16. Please come if you can. The congress needs to hear from each of us ... from all of us. We need to hear from each other. We need to know that we are not alone. We need to light candles in the darkness and pray for peace. We need to hold hands and then let go to reach out further. We need peace.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


As kids, many of us learned the Apostles’ Creed, the second confession in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions. Why begin with the second confession instead of the first? Well, because “many of us learned” it as kids, and relatively fewer of us learned the church’s earliest confession, the Nicene Creed. Start with what you know!

Or, if you can’t really manage that, start with the beginning: “I believe …”

What does it mean to us to say, “I believe …” and follow that with “God the Father Almighty” and “Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord … Virgin Mary … sitteth on the right hand … quick and the dead … Holy Ghost … holy catholic Church” and so on?

Is “confessing” our belief in these the same as saying “I believe Einstein was right about relativity” or “I believe the Braves will win the pennant” or “I believe the war in Iraq is wrong”? Those statements, whether you agree with them or not, stand open to the judgments of science and history, of knowledge and time, in ways that the Creeds do not, unless we imagine God in the role of ultimate lab technician or final historian.

Even if we imagine God in those roles we ought to acknowledge a couple of things:

First, those roles – scientist or historian – are thoroughly modern notions that would have been utterly foreign to the framers of the early creeds. Second, the creeds themselves never imagine God in such roles even if one accounts for the different cultural referents.

That raises a question: Does “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” spend time judging whether or not our statements of “belief” about the divine godhead are any more accurate than my statement of “belief” – or, is it faith – that the Braves will ascend to their rightful place atop the National League East.

“Belief” – or, is it faith – that, perhaps, is the key question when pondering the creeds and confessions. What does it mean to say “I believe”?

If it means “I give my intellectual assent to this propositional statement,” then I will confess some significant difficulties with the Apostles Creed, and others that we’ll get to in the next few weeks. Confess, or, should I say scruple (and invite you to find the use of this au courant word in this none-too-trendy piece by Nathanial Hawthorne, whose use of the word a century and a half ago I find edifying. To get a handle on its contemporary use in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I recommend reading a post from former GA Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase.)

But I digress. These difficulties that I scruple would have to include, at least, these:

* God the Father

* only Son

* Virgin Mary

* ascended into heaven

These few scruples name in shorthand theological controversies concerning the masculine image of God, exclusive salvation in Jesus, the incarnation of the human being Jesus, and the meaning and “location” of salvation. Forests have been felled and libraries filled to give full expression to the various positions on those topics.

What I happen to believe or disbelieve – that is to say, what I think about any one of them doesn’t much matter here. Because the heart of the matter is not what I think, but rather what will matter enough to me to stake my life on.

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart, here. The first word of the creed in Latin is credo. It is adequately translated as “I believe.” A deeper rendering might be “I give my heart to.” Marcus Borg explains the distinction, if not the Latin, well when he says, “when we say the creeds, we are saying, "I give my heart to God." Which God? The maker of Heaven and Earth. I give my heart to Jesus Christ. And who is that, the one whom we tell stories about as born of a virgin and suffered under Pontius Pilate and so forth? Credo means giving one's heart to God and entering into a relationship of personal allegiance, not to the statements, but to the one about whom these statements are made.”

Richard Rodriguez, in his Hunger of Memory, includes a central section called “Credo,” in which he describes the Latino immigrant Roman Catholic culture of his childhood. He describes there not a set of beliefs written down in church doctrine, but rather an entire web of community that marked the very timing of one’s life: “the Church rocked through time – a cradle, an ark – to rhythms of sorrow and joy, marking the passage of man.” Credo was not words or arguments but the narrative of life itself.

When I consider the creeds and confessions this way – as stories about the God to whom I give my heart – I can recite them faithfully and with integrity. No matter what historic circumstances, what theological or political battles were being waged in the words, I can claim these words – or be claimed by them.

Indeed, the very fact that different historic circumstances will occasion different confessions, reminds me that it is a matter of heart, first and foremost. So I can join my heart to the place the writers of the Apostles’ Creed aimed for in these ancient words and set aside for another time the intellectual arguments over their claims to a lesser truth.

How do you respond to these words? Or picture (which turned up from an image search of credo.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

buzz ... zzz

Some lucky reader yesterday became the 5,000th viewer of this blog. I'd give out prizes if I could. But since that's not gonna happen, here's a little present for you all: it's Yonkle, the Cowboy Jew! Actually, it's a poster for Yonkle, on display at the Ellis Island museum. Sorry the photo is lousy, but, what could be better, I wonder, than Yonkle, for telling the story of America? If Yonkle were around today, you can bet he'd have a You-Tube video floating around!

Monday, February 26, 2007

I Don't Care

Ok, enough with Anna Nicole Smith already. I really, really, really, really, really don't care. I just want to turn on a John McCutcheon CD and forget the news of the day, which seems to be 24/7 about this dead woman's body or baby or whatever. So, here's the song we should be listening to just now; it would be sooo easy to add 10 years of new material:

I Don't Care

Words & Music by John McCutcheon

Where did it come from, this love of the lurid?
When did reality just get too tame
From the Washington Post to the Weekly World News
It seems nobody has any shame
But when gossip abounds I have recently found
A remedy when I despair
To this junk that I see I respond with ennui
And say I really don't care

I don't care
I don't care

Who shot JR? Is Patty Hearst lying?
I don't care
Liz Taylor is marrying, Elvis is dying
I don't care

I don't care
I don't care
Let the rich and the glamorous ruin their lives
Going through fortunes and treatments and wives
And poor Donald Trump, he just barely survives
But I don't care

Rosanne & Tom, they'll not be a pair again
Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan
Does Michael Jordan gamble on golf?
Why does Hillary Clinton tick Rush Limbaugh off?

I don't care
I don't care
Though the National Enquirer says that it's so
For their lies and distortions they're paying good dough
But there are some things enquiring minds don't need to know
I don't care

Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie
They me that Oprah can wear a size 3
There's a piece of John Bobbitt right here on display
And there's OJ on twenty four hours a day

I don't care
I don't care
Though your troubles are mounting and you work like a drone
It's more fun to watch than to live on your own
Do you think Princess Di made those calls on her phone?

I don't care
I don't care
I really, really, really, really, really don't care
It's the same old sad story the whole world around
We build up our heroes wherever they're found
Then spend the rest of their lives tearing them down
I don't care

©1995 John McCutcheon/Appalsongs (ASCAP)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Searching for Mr. Wright?

My sister points out that I've made the N.Y. Times, albeit with my name (de blog) mispelled. Well, if they're searching for a candidate, perhaps I should be, too. So, what to look for? Molly Ivins' "good head of hair and a good line of talk"? When I google image searched "Mr. Right" this picture turned up. Perhaps a certain competence might be important. So many candidates ... and so much time before the election. How to choose ... how to choose? Suggestions for Mr. Right? Or, Mr. Wright?
Of course, the search for a candidate raises all kinds of questions for the so-called Christian Right, beginning with tax exemption! I'm still not sure how Jerry Falwell managed to hold on to any tax exemptions after declaring that anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian had to vote for George Bush.
On the other hand, that also raises for me the question of when it might become a "status confessionis" to oppose a candidate. That phrase come into renewed currency during the struggle against apartheid when the World Alliance of Reformed Churches declared that apartheid was a sin and that support for it was heresy. (I highly recommend the Kairos document.) In more narrowly construed politics, for instance, could one confess Jesus Christ and not oppose Hitler? In recent American elections, could one confess Jesus Christ and not oppose David Duke? At what point along that spectrum is the current Administration? Does illegal, immoral war determine one's response? Does the loss of civil liberties?
What is Christian Wright to do? What is the right Christian response to the politics of the day? Just asking -- no endorsement is expressed or implied!