A great statement about how what appears to be betrayal is really obedience.
“Change is only betrayal if we forget that the CENTER of tradition, the heart of what we hand on as saving faith, is the possibility of new beginnings and the truth that our errors of interpretation are not the last word in a community which exists because of a belief in the indestructability of God’s commitment.”
It takes a lot of courage and humility to live like that. For the sake of the world, church, lets get on with the sacred work of betraying the harmful barriers created by the edges of our traditions to obey the center of our Tradition.” —“Doing the Works of God,” in A Ray of Darkness by Rowan Williams
Consider the Trumpet Blown.
Without question one of the most special holy days for me is the Church’s observance of Ash Wednesday. Every year I go to a 7:30am service at an Episcopal Church. Every year the same Scriptures are read, the same prayers prayed, etc. We kneel at the same time, are silent at the same, receive the ashes at the same time, etc. The only thing that changes is the content of the brief message offered by the priest.
And I love it. The repetition, the tradition welcome me in to the season of Lent. If it were altered every year, I am not sure my body could be ushered into this time of reflection and repentance so gently nor so palatably. Changing it would be like undoing and redoing one’s whole set of Christmas traditions every year. Without that certain ornament, song, meal, etc., we would say, “It just isn’t Christmas.”
For the next few weeks, I plan to betray myself on this blog. Using the prayers for the Ash Wednesday service from the Book of Common Prayer as a staring point, I will be offering my own self-betraying confession and meditations on this solemn season of denial and repentance.
The part of the tradition that stuns and stills my soul every year is the reading from the prophet Joel, which begins like this:
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near…”
The prophet goes on to describe the reason for this trumpet blast. It is to call a “solemn assembly” and to “sanctify a fast.” The prophet is calling the whole nation to a grand, holy worship event. The theme is repentance. Hearts are to be torn before God. And this sacred gathering is so urgent that mothers are to stop nursing and grooms are to leave weddings. Nothing else matters but this time of confession.
In an age when every church has a praise team or a praise band or a praise & worship hour… where are the lament teams, the confession bands, the repentance hours?
I am writing to say that the trumpet has been blown in my own life. I need to betray my own security and pride. There are many schemes afoot about my future, my plans, my needs, my goals, my projects, etc. If I am to keep company with Joel, however, I must make this season of renewal priority one.
For that to happen, though, I must pray a prayer that appears in the BCP for this event: “Grant us true repentance.” You see, repentance is not something I can come to on my own that, once achieved, merits a response from God. Even the act of repentance is a gift of grace, an initiative of God. Only God can bring me to a place of true confession.
May I understand that no other sacrifice will be pleasing to God in this time other than a contrite heart.
May the trumpet be blown in my life that I may come to His holy mountain for a sacred fast.
This is from a little treatise called, “The Challenge of the Present Crisis” by Harry E. Fosdick. Written in response to the first world war. Even more relevant after a second world war, the rapid increase of nuclear weapons, the growth of technology that makes taking lives easier and more remote, and as we are still in the longest war in US history.
“If religion has such a part to play in the program of internationalism, we, as Christians, are challenged to a searching examination of our faith and works, and to a fresh devotion to our cause. One of the wisest and most picturesque explanations of the present crisis is attributed to Bergson, the Frech philosopher. He says, in effect, that the chief work of science has been to enlarge man’s body. Telescopes and microscopes have increased the power of our eyes; telephones have stretched our hearing to some three thousand miles; telegraphs have made our voices sound around the earth; locomotives and steamship lines, better than the seven-league boots of ancient fable, have multiplied the speed and power of our feet; and French big guns have elongated the blows of our fists from two feet to twenty-five miles. Man never had such a body since the world began. The age of giants was nothing compared with this. But man’s soul - there the failure lies. We have not grown spirits great enough to handle our greatened bodies. The splendid new power which science furnishes are still in the hands of the old sins - greed, selfish ambition, cruelty. We must have a new access of moral vision and power or we are utteerly undone.
“As a thoughtful Christian stands before the challenge he must repent, for himself and for the churches, the lamentable inadequacy of our organized religion to meet the crucial need. This war will fail one of its most beneficent results if it does not drive the sense of shame into Christian churches with a poignancy that no excuses can palliate. In the presence of abysmal need, we stand tithing “mint, dill, and cumin, and neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” We are challenged by this war to a renovation of our popular Christianity, to a deep and unrelenting detestation of the little bigotries, the needless divisions, the petty obscurantisms that so deeply curse our churches, to a new experience and a more intelligent expression of vital fellowship with God. Unless we can answer that challenge, there is small use in our trying to answer any other. We must have a great religion to meet a great need.
“The saddest aspect of Christian history is the misrepresentation of Christ and the spoiling of his influence, not by irreligious men but by the official exponents of religion. The belittling of religion by it devotees is the most tragic narrative of Christendom.”
Gandalf: “No. But if you do, you won’t be the same.” —The Hobbit
You may be familiar with the prayer from Mark 9, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man was expressing his desire to overcome his lack of faith for a fuller and deeper conviction in Jesus. The prayer that follows this post is formed with those exact words and even with the same desired end, but with a significantly different meaning and means. The prayer I want us to pray makes the first sentence, rather than the second, the place of confession. And the second sentence, therefore, becomes one asking for increase rather than decrease. The first statement, not the second, is the place where transformation is needed. The second statement is what is to be honored, not regretted. I want us to pray for a diminished sense of belief and conviction and an increased amount of doubt and questioning. And I want us to do this for the same reason the man in Mark 9 prayed - to draw us nearer to Jesus… not our inherited, accepted, limited portrait of him.
Enough of that. Let me get on with it. A few quotes will be helpful:
John Keats, 19th century English poet, once wrote, “There is a need in contemporary spirituality to find ways of praying and engaging with God, ourselves, and one another that have room for simultaneous contradictions, the experience of opposite emotions. We need the sacredness of living in the tensions and to admit how unsacred, how disconnecting, and profane are the attempts at praying and living while surpressing half of the stuff that fascinates or plagues us…”
Kathleen Norris calls the phenomenon “sacred ambiguity.”
In talking about the different lenses we all use to interpret the Bible, Shane Hipps says, “An examination of our lens is not a process of changing the Bible, the world, or truth; it is a process of changing ourselves.”
I offer all of this to make a suggestion for a pathway to great freedom.
I have heard all my life people claiming to be “serious about the Bible.” This was usually in a polemic context which implied that people that saw things differently than them were not “serious about the Bible.” Churches split, people fight, names get called, labels get assigned. You know the drill. If you were “serious about the Bible” you would hold as strongly as I do to some certain truth, and you would be just as devoted to defending that truth from all compromises.
But I have come to a place where I have seen that doubting my convictions is a more respectful - or “serious” - way of treating the Bible than defending them.
I have observed within myself that I have too often been more devoted to my lens for interpreting the Bible than to the Word of God.
I am coming to see that “serious” commitment to Scripture looks less like a fierce defense of certain positions and more like a courageous openness to seeing it in fresh, new, challenging, and disruptive ways.
I say this because if I truly love and long for the Word of God to be alive in my life I can never confuse my understanding of the Bible with the Bible itself. To do so is the highest arrogance. ”My views = what the Bible says” is perhaps one of the greatest idolatries that has ripped apart the church and made Christians appear before an unbelieving world to be a petty and divisive religious sect arguing over issues no one else can possibly understand.
I am not saying there is no room for belief or conviction. I am not advocating for some flimsy, relativistic, privatized understanding of truth.
I am actually calling myself to a more rigorous commitment to Scripture than I ever had in my more “serious” days. I am asking myself to be so doggedly devoted to the Word that I constantly ask questions, doubt convictions, and allow others to challenge me with different views. If I love the Bible I must hold it tightly and hold my interpretations lightly. I must allow for contradiction, doubt, abiguity, and uncertainty.
I must not ever disrespect the Bible by thinking that my limited, sinful, arrogant, selfish mind can fully understand it truths and completely contain all its claims.
I must love the Bible enough to let it and others who are reading it differently than me disrupt my life.
I am not advocating for making the Bible whatever I want it to be, I am trying to get to a place where the Bible can make me more of what it wants me to be.
And… in the spirit of honestly about lenses… I am on this journey right now with the assumption (or lens) that Jesus and his words/life are the filter though which we read everything in there, and when an argument/conversation/contradiction appears, it will be his life and words that teach me which side to fall on.
Lets love the Bible enough to enjoy the “sacredness of living within the tensions.” I think this is a pathway to freedom. I think it is a pathway to greater unity. I think it is a pathway to discover the Jesus way.
So…. “I believe. Help my unbelief.”
A post for the anonymous religious fellow as a response to his this-is-not-about-politics political message in my mailbox today.
I received in the mail today a word from the Lord on the only issue Christians are to use in determining who to vote for this year. Anonymous said,
“Why argue over taxes and immigration and the like while we stand aside and watch as Satan and his army storm by as we do nothing to stop him, but welcome him in. [sic] Where will you stand? Shall we vote for sin? This really becomes the question.”
The issue, you ask, that is the same as Satan’s armies marching in?
“One of the things we must understand is that, taxes, Social Security, healthcare, green energy, immigrations, etc. are not moral issues. [sic] …But abortion, homosexuality, and same sex marriage are moral issues and absolutely sin.”
And as a result of this logic Anonymous says,
“How could any Christian vote for those who support such?”
Anonymous’ not-so-veiled attempt to tell me who to and not to vote for seems to have a reductionistic and highly selective reading of Scripture.
A quick comparison:
- Homosexuality is prohibited by less than 10 verses in the Bible.
- The word for immigrant is found 92 times in the Old Testament alone, and most of these references are a call to care for the immigrant. Jesus makes welcoming immigrants a salvation issue (Mt 25:43).
- Jesus said nothing about homosexuality but did spend most of his days providing healthcare for the sick and diseased.
- The biblical account of the origin of all things (i.e. Creation), which I am certain Anonymous would defend, also celebrates the goodness of the earth and our role to care for it.
- There are over 2,000 passages that discuss wealth, poverty, and justice. Most of these are a call to God’s people to care for the vulnerable. The Bible repeated shows that God has preferential interest in the poor.
- Caring for the vulnerable, according to the brother of Jesus, is the heart of religion. Jesus Himself, again, made our treatment of the poor a salvation issue
I do not write this to say that our opinion on same sex marriage or abortion are not moral issue or that the conversation is irrelevant. It matters! I do not write this to offer a not-so-veiled counter-attempt at telling you who to vote for. I am convinced and deep-thinking Christians who embrace a more robust view of the Bible will vote in differing directions. I put this here to say:
- I am sorry to any non-Jesus-follower who has come to think that all Christians think that how tax codes get written, how immigrants are treated, and what happens to the planet are insignificant but preventing two men from marrying is core to our faith.
- All citizens from every religion (or lack thereof) need an expansive understanding of “moral issues.” Maybe since tax codes and immigration polices and energy laws are more complex than a “yes” or a “no” to a marriage contract, some want to act like they are “matters of opinion” rather than matters of morality. This is not true. The Bible has a lot to say about what immoral standards we have accepted, and they are likely speaking more loudly about how we are treating immigrants and the poor than the two women who want to commit to a life-long covenant to one another.
Finally, Anonymous went over the top (even more than the Satan’s armies thing) in saying this:
“Generations ago would never have stood by and watched the abominations we are witnessing.”
Which generations are you referring to, exactly?
- The Christians that landed here and killed and stole from the indigenous tribes?
- The Founding Fathers who owned slaves?
- Those churchmen who fought against giving equal voice to women and actively supported racial segregation?
Whichever generation of righteous Christians to which Anonymous is referring were culpable for just as much or even greater evil that we are witnessing today.
I am disappointed that a follower of Jesus could write this and that a church that carries the same name as my own tradition would willingly print this in its weekly mailing.
The article ended with (emphasis original): “Make your vote count for righteousness.”
On that point we agree. I just hope he can come to understand that righteousness according to Scripture is bigger than a few handpicked verses about one issue, and that there are many great Christians who will vote in different ways because they are doing just what he says… just in a more theologically robust way.
Some may ask why bother posting a response to Anonymous since he represents a simplistic view. I respond partially because I fear this way of thinking is not as uncommon as I would like for it to be. See Billy Graham’s recent full-page ad in the WSJ. More so, though, I respond as an effort to remind myself and others that the moral of voice of Scripture rests primarily on the side of the marginalized, oppressed, the poor, the alien, and widow, and the orphan. No single issue, even one of biblical import, should be allowed to turn the weighty matters of justice (Mt 23:23) into “matters of opinion.” Whether I am voting, speaking, spending, or acting it needs to, as Anonymous reminds me, “count for righteousness.”
How a true betrayer prays….
It is not enough to say prayers: we must become, be prayer, prayer incarnate. All of life, each act, each act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer. One should offer not what one has but what one is.
- Paul Evdokimov
”We urge that this ignorant attempt to provoke the religious feelings of Muslims in the Arabic-speaking world be ignored and that its extremist producers not be given the cheap publicity they so desperately seek,” said the Council on American-Islamic Relations.”
Once a media fire starts, its hard to get that cat back in the bag. That’s the worst irony of this latest chaos: The crowds who were angered had been led to believe that this ridiculous anti-Muslim film was “widely viewed” in the West. And now, since most of us suffer from a salacious curiosity powered by broadband internet, it will be.
Let us betray that instinct.
May God’s peace be with those who were killed, and God’s transformation be upon those who participated.
Submitted by contributor Adam Hoyt