Ecclesia and Ethics: An Eco-friendly and Economically-feasible Online Biblical Studies and Theology Conference

Well, this looks very, very interesting.

N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Gorman, and Northeastern Seminary‘s very own newly appointed Professor of Biblical Studies, Nijay Gupta are among the presenters of this “eco-friendly and economically-feasible online biblical studies and theological conference.”

From the site:

Ecclesia and Ethics: An Eco-friendly and Economically-feasible Online Biblical Studies and Theology Conference is an academic and ecclesial conference taking place on Saturday May 18th and Saturday May 25th 2013 in real-time via the high-tech Webinar site http://www.gotomeeting.com. No software will need to be purchased by presenters or attendees, and Webinar access is provided entirely for free due to a generous Capod Innovation Grant through the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Participants and attendees will be able to sign on, present, and listen to or watch presentations from anywhere in the world with reliable internet and a computer. Registration for the conference consists of a $10/£7 (minimum) donation to one of our Recommended Charities. We invite participants to give according to their means above the $10/£7 to one or more of our charities if they feel led and are able.

Main papers will be presented by our Main Speakers: N.T. Wright, Michael Gorman, Dennis Hollinger, Shane Claiborne, Stanley Hauerwas, Brian Rosner, Mariam Kamell, Nijay Gupta, Michael Barber, and Sungmin Min Chun. Additionally, we will have five Multiple Paper sessions throughout the conference, via five Virtual Rooms which will feature papers from a total of 20-25 selected papers. Interested parties are invited to submit an abstract to ecclesiaethics@gmail.com for consideration from January 2013-March 2013.

To whet your appetite, here is a video interview with N.T. Wright regarding his take on “Moral Formation, the relationship between the Church and the Academy, and the relationship between Theology and Exegesis.”

And here is an interview with Nijay Gupta, our newly installed Professor:

Looks promising, to say the least.

Go here for more.

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Humility, Place, and the Everyday: Lessons in Mission from John the Baptizer: Lent Day 7

This morning’s Lenten reading was the entirety of Luke 3. Here we find Luke’s version concerning the beginnings of John the Baptizer’s public ministry. I was struck by its missional attributes of humility, place, and the everyday.

Humility

John takes up some prominent space in the gospels. He has an angelic proclamation to his parents in preparation for his birth. Zacharias, his father was a priest, which made him known in their region. And his mother, Elizabeth, was Mary’s cousin. He even had his own group of followers, disciples, living and learning with him. If someone was looking for an impressive CV, you wouldn’t have to look much further beyond John.

Yet when it comes to wielding this recognition and authority, John deflects to Jesus. For the sake of mission, John understands his role as one pointing to Jesus. This comes to a head when he is asked if he is indeed “the Christ.” “No, but he is coming and he is mightier than I.” Personal limitations were well-known to him.

This stood out to me because I know I am a competitive person. Henri Nouwen says of our current culture,

We are living in a world where even the most intimate relationships have become part of competition and rivalry.

How true and frequent this is. Unfortunately, it happens within Christian community – read: family – and puts mission at a stand still.

It takes humility to know that we have a role within the family of God. We are not all called to be hands. No, some of us are called to be feet. We have different skill sets, giftings, and personalities, that together allow for the mission of God to flourish.

When we give into power and pride, we often assume roles that we have no part in taking. We bad-mouth, become overly critical, and, typically, ragingly jealous. I wonder how badly John wanted to say, “Yes” to the crowds’ question of him being Christ.

Humility isn’t merely a private posture; its effects are communal as we either live into humble love or arrogant power with others.

I wonder how often we assume the role of Christ – in our own lives or the lives of others – when we should humbly point beyond ourselves to Jesus and his unifying mission.

Place

John had an astute understanding of the role of place. It wasn’t by coincidence that he was meeting people and baptizing them in the Jordan River. The Jordan had (has) a special place in the social imagination and memory of the Jewish people. It was the geographic boundary the Israelites crossed over as they entered into the Promised Land. Found in the wilderness, John called people to repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of their sins. Now, we shouldn’t think of this as personal salvation, but as a renewed call to be the community of people they were meant to be. And this would have been obvious to the people there as they knew how place was intimately linked to themselves and their story.

John evokes a dual call to both coming judgment and hope by placing himself in the wilderness and baptizing in the Jordan. It was this rootedness within his place that allowed him to enter the social imagination and memory of his people. He didn’t just know his role, his people, and his story. Rather, they all combined with his knowledge of place to make one coherent proclamation.

With his humble call to the One Coming After Him, he offered this hope and called into being a picture of (finally) entering into the true Promised Land. Through his recapitulation of the ancient Israelites’ dealings in the wilderness, he was calling people to a life of justice and peace. It began with an understanding of the role of place in the mind of his people. From there, he called them into the continuing mission of God.

I wonder how we might understand place in our own contexts and by doing so tap into the social imagination and memory of the people around us as we join God in his mission.

The Everyday

I have found over and over again how enamored people are with the glamorous and the spectacular. We like things done big and done well. We’d rather make a huge splash than tiny ripples.

I’ve heard many times of peoples’ dreams of going big. People chase after the title, the organization, the complex social issue. Within the Church world, I have heard many people say they want the title of Pastor, the Homeless Shelter non-profit organization, and that they’re going to stop the social issue of human trafficking.

We tend to chase after the grandiose while missing out on the everyday. We reach for the stars, but forget the dirt we’re standing in. We’d rather flirt with the universal and reject the particular.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I think we often lose sight of where God has us now in lieu of pursuing something else. If we don’t start with the small, we will have a much, much more difficult time attaining the character and skill required for the large.

This was a temptation for John’s listeners as they heard and saw ancient words coming true before them. Their longings were finally being met and now the show could get started. Let’s do it big and do it now.

Our participation in the mission of God, however, always begins where we are in the everyday. 

John reminds us of this when he tells his questioners to start with themselves in the regularity of the everyday. “If you have two tunics, give one of them to someone who has none.” To the tax collectors, he says, “Collect no more than what you’ve been ordered to.” To the soldiers, he says, “Don’t take any money by force; be happy with your wages.”

N.T Wright says,

What we discover at this point is that the sorting-out process begins here and now. We’ve come to hear about the big picture, about the whole world being put to rights. But we are brought down to earth with a bump by the questions people are asking and the answers they’re receiving. People ask: ‘What are we to do?’ Answer: ‘Straighten your lives out in the simplest, most direct way.’

And by doing so, they would begin to be the people they were created to be with Jesus as their Christ.

I wonder what would happen if we began to cultivate eyes to see and ears to hear God’s missional movement in the everyday.

Connecting the Dots

I have found that these three qualities intersect and overlap in mission. Often it is our lack of humility that pushes us into seeking after the grandiose. This seeking often results in a relegation of our everyday and our place as we yearn for the prideful position, organization, or eradication of the social ill. It takes humility to realize our placedness and to begin there by seeking God’s voice and movement. I think John was on to something as he deliberately prodded his community into humility, place, and the everyday.

May we do the same as we participate in God’s mission.

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Community and Prayer: Henri Nouwen on Pushing Through Individualism Via Communal Prayer: Day 6 of Lent

Psalm 91 and Cliche: Day 5 of Lent

Today was the First Sunday in Lent, which means Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 is the Psalm reading for today. It says:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”

For you have made the Lord, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
“With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation.”

This portion of Psalm 91 is used because the Gospel reading deals with Jesus’ wilderness experience post-baptism (Luke 4); it gives us a bigger picture into Jesus rebuttal of the satan in his quoting of verses 11-12. While there, the satan comes to him in order to tempt him in areas of his identity and mission. Offers are presented before Jesus, yet they are based on conditions Jesus won’t indulge in. In many ways, he is offered what is rightfully his, but through means that aren’t correct.

Through it all, this Psalm gives us confidence concerning God’s sheltering care. Jesus rested in this care and so should we.

Yet, sometimes I struggle with this because it seems so cliche.

We’ve all heard people say similar things. “God loves you and will be there for you.” Easy to say; more difficult to hear.

I sometimes struggle with it because when I enter into open spaces where vulnerability is allowed to flourish, I often hide behind self-made walls instead of trusting that Jesus is with me in them. My tendency is to hide behind these walls in order to preserve myself by not allowing anyone in, including God and his sheltering love. I end up isolated and alone, wallowing in my own grief and trouble, wondering where God might be in this.

And so, when people quote verses or give reassurance of God’s love within the storm, it bounces off my defensive walls and shows itself in statements such as, “You don’t know what it is like” or “You’ve never dealt with these things.” Their statements automatically get filed in the “Cliche” folder never to see the light of day. God is shut out and so are his people.

Or maybe the sentiments found in this Psalm and elsewhere smack of cliche due to my lack of being in the storm. I wonder how many cliche statements remain cliche due to our lack of life in the way of Jesus. Learning to live like Jesus means that we will face temptations and will need to rest in the ever-present covering of God. I wonder if I mistake the reality of God’s love for cliche because of my timidness in following after Jesus.

It only remains cliche until we’ve lived through it.

I wonder if this is how it was for Jesus. N.T. Wright says,

Perhaps Jesus has memorized it [Psalm 91] ahead of time and was already using it as a prayer, day by day, to help him through the tough test he was facing. And the devil, seeing he isn’t going to succeed by a direct assault on Jesus’ senses or appetites, tries a different tack: ‘If you really believed this Psalm, then wouldn’t you trust God so much that you could throw off the Temple? Doesn’t it say he’ll send his angels to protect you? Perhaps you don’t believe it after all. Perhaps you’re just pretending…

I wonder if at that moment the word of God memorized by the incarnate Word of God transformed into reality and simultaneously defeated the satan. I wonder if all the things Jesus had learned from the rabbi of his youth came rushing back to him, yet in this moment it was the experiential flood of his Father’s love that cut through cliche and changed everything.

I wonder.

As I have faced difficult times I have learned the reality of God’s love always being present and every-ready. I see it more and more as I cultivate eyes to see and ears to hear through placing myself under Jesus’ master teaching. Although I don’t want it, this teaching leads to life, which, paradoxically, comes through death.

Jesus did not say you will not be tempest-tossed. But he did say, ‘You will not be overcome.’ – Julian of Norwich

I pray, for myself and for you, that this Lent may cut through the seemingly cliche as we together begin to live life like Jesus. Place yourself under God’s protection. There is no better place to be.

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

Lent Around the Blogosphere: 10 Links: Day 4 of Lent

First Sunday of Lent: A Prayer

Being Led by the Gentle Voice of God: A Notebook and 3 Questions: Day 3 of Lent

If there is any hope for the Church in the future, it will be hope for a poor Church in which its leaders are willing to be led.

– Henri Nouwen in The Name of Jesus

This morning’s Lenten readings were from Luke 2. It is a passage often recited and heard during Christmas; not a usual story that comes to mind during Lent.

The focus zeroed in on the shepherds watching their flocks and their response to the message given to them by the angels. N.T. Wright describes this episode in way I hadn’t thought about before. In many ways, it corresponds to what I wrote about yesterday regarding longings, presence, and vulnerability.

Shepherds were considered as lowly people in the time of Jesus. Not many people listened to them or respected them. The only ones who trusted them enough to actually follow after them were their sheep. Trustingly, the shepherds’ sheep take their cue from where their leader goes. Traipsing through the arid climate of the Mediterranean, the sheep end up at water and grass only after following the footsteps of their shepherd.

Ironically, the shepherds in Luke 2 are presented with a message where the tables are turned and they are asked to follow. Their destination? A feeding trough where animals eat. The ones who do the leading to sustenance are  now to do the following. The ones who lead are now being called to the vulnerable state of being led.

“So we have to be sheep, now, do we? Why is that?” says Wright of the shepherds. “Back comes the answer, sung to music the like of which you’d never imagined before: ‘The great Shepherd himself has been born! The King is here, and you are his sheep, his people! Come and find him!'”

And off they go to find him as they were told. Instead of giving into the social voices of segregation and second-class citizenship, they followed the gentle voice of God.

Wright asks us, “Pause and pray about the quiet messages you get from time to time; perhaps not angels singing, but a soft whisper that tells you to go somewhere unexpected, to do something you hadn’t planned, to visit someone you were previously thinking about.”

In a world of competing voices, how do you posture yourself to hear God’s voice? What practices help you cultivate an attention to the presence of God?

One of the practices I have incorporated for some time now is the carrying around of my little notebook.

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As you can tell from the duct tape, I always have it in my pack pocket regardless of where I am. If it is a trip to the grocery store, all day at work, on family trips, at other peoples’ homes, it doesn’t matter. I have learned God is always present, so I need to be attentive to hearing his voice where ever and when ever. And I’ve found this to be true as I have had to stop and write down thoughts, remembrances, people’s names, and a host of other things in a host of different places. As Nouwen continues,

In short, they [Christians] have to say ‘no’ to the secular world and proclaim in unambiguous terms that the incarnation of God’s Word, through whom all things came into being, has made even the smallest event of human history into Kairos, that is, an opportunity to be led deeper into the heart of Christ. The Christian leaders of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained – through prayer, study, and careful analysis – to manifest the divine event of God’s saving work in the midst of the many seemingly random events of their time.

Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.

Writing things down helps me remember what I believe God is saying to me. If I don’t, I tend to forget it rather quickly. Writing things down is also helpful in recalling what God said a day, a week, a month, or even a year prior. I always date every book and every day’s page, so I can easily maneuver back and forth between the present and the past for the sake of the future. I don’t write things down just for the sake of writing them down; no, I write things down so I know where I am being led instead of venturing out on my own. It is a book of action, not just memory.

Within this notebook, I have a practice I learned from my friend Ben. I ask three questions in the morning:

Father, what are we going to do together today?

Is there anything I will miss or need to remember that you need to tell me?

Are there any people I need to connect with who aren’t on my schedule?

These questions have given me a posture and a practice of being attentive through listening for and to God. I don’t always write an “answer” to each question and what I write isn’t always perfect. What they do allow for, however, is open space for my longings and presence to be readjusted by Jesus’ voice leading me. It is then my call to follow through with what he is saying. After all, the basis of discipleship revolves around the questions of “What is God saying to me?” and its follow-up, “What am I going to do about it?”.

What practices do you incorporate for listening to the voice of God?

Are there things you are denying yourself in order to create open space to hear God more clearly?

I’d love to hear as we learn together.

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Other posts in this Lent series:

Moving Beyond Immediate (and) Affirmation or Why I Will Be Blogging Through Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Longings, Presence, and Vulnerability: Day 2 of Lent

“Divine Sorrow” and Remembering: Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent which asks us to recall and to remember. Quite literally, it beckons us to call again and to member again that which has been muted and torn apart. We recall our brokenness and our communal origins. “Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” echoes the liturgy year after year.

This echo has the potential of becoming another redundancy, another  ritual, another formality if we aren’t careful. Instead of recalling and remembering, we simply re-hear and then re-enter our lives none the different.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has seen Ash Wednesday as a commencement of remembering through denial and sacrifice. As the calendar-journey through Jesus’ life moves forward, we find that our lives are paradoxically made more like him as we participate in the sacrificial life he embodied. Yet, Ash Wednesday and Lent are not about self-sacrifice and denial for their own sakes. No, says Joan Chittister:

Indeed, Lent, we learn on Ash Wednesday, is not about abnegation, about denying ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves. It is about much more than that. It is about opening our hearts one more time to the Word of God in hope that, this time, hearing it anew, we might allow ourselves to become new as a result of it. It is the call to prayer, to liturgy, to the co-creation of the world. It is about rising to the full stature of human reflection and, as a result, accepting the challenge to become fully alive, fully human rather than simply grossly, abysmally, self-centered human.

In the early church, Ash Wednesday became a time to wear penitential garments, to do public penance, to be banished from the church, to be sprinkled with the sign of human degradation. In a church more knowledgeable now about what it means to be “embodied” – to be gold dust in vessels made of clay – it is the moment of accepting what we have allowed ourselves to become and beginning to be all the rest of what we are meant to be.

Clearly, the voice of Lent is not a dour one. It is a call to remember who we are and where we have come from and why. The voice of Lent is the cry to become new again, to live on newly no matter what our life has been like until now and to live fully.

And so there is a “divine sorrow” that accompanies Ash Wednesday. It is not a permanent sorrow or an emotional depression. Rather, it is an impetus to move beyond while still fully recognizing what is there.; to see who we are and what we have become and then clearing space in our lives for God to re-member us.

I was reminded of this video this morning while reading N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone: A Daily Devotional.

How does divine sorrow sit with you?

What in your life needs to be remembered and recalled?

Later today I’ll be posting about “Longings and Presence”. I hope you’ll join me then.