Blogging Towards Sunday, February 2, 2009 The Vocabulary of Faith
Forgiveness: is typically defined as the process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger for a perceived offense, difference or mistake, and ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. (Wikipedia Definition) The faith tradition of following Jesus talks about forgiveness in relationship with confession (which literally means to turn 180 degrees around and head in a different direction) which together leads towards reconciliation with God and with one another. Redemption is perhaps used in the Bible more than forgiveness, a notion that's more about wholeness, healing, restoration not to the past - but freeing the past to inhabit the present and move into the future.
Some interesting quotes about forgiveness that are food for thought and a cool youtube video with more:
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover that the prisoner was you.” - Lewis Smedes
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that hold and get free.” - Catherine Ponder
“Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.”– Cherie Carter-Scott
“It is impossible even to begin the act of living one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“Forgiveness is love practiced among people who love poorly. It sets us free without wanting anything in return.” – Henri Nouwen
“When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him forever.” - Henry Cloud & John Townsend.
Below are some scriptures I consider relevant and am preaching upon on Sunday. I think they say that forgiveness is first and foremost about relationship, restoring one, resurrecting one or beginning one. There's a connection between such a relationship (or reconciliation) with God and with one another. There's also a deep connection between how we forgive others, and how God forgives us (and vice versa). What we often overlook in Christian circles is the need to forgive ourselves. Maybe that's our biggest problem/challenge with forgiveness. Yet are there things that we can't forgive - sexual abuse - murder - treason - terrorism - abuse in general? I don't think that forgiving is forgetting. You can force yourself to forget, in fact don't our relationships always bring things to mind? I think it's more about freeing ourselves from the power that our memories, pains and anger have over us as individuals and as a people or system. It's costly - and free - and the only thing that makes relationships grow.
What scriptures come to mind when you think of forgiveness? I also think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son [Luke15:11-32], Joseph forgiving his brothers [Genesis 50], Psalm 51, the Lord’s Prayer [Matthew 6:5-13] in which we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others, the call to forgive up to 77 times [Matthew 18:21-35] and the story of Zaccheus [Luke 19:1-9].I think that most of our life-changing encounters with God are rooted in forgiveness or redemption when we have experienced true spiritual brokenness, humiliation, hopelessness and move through and beyond them. It’s when we come to the end of ourselves that we can most clearly see God beckoning us to accept the kind of forgiveness that will truly transform our life and quite possibly restore us to life.
Often we'd ask how much and who should be forgiven? I preached a sermon once talking about Osama bin Laden - could we, should we forgive him? The reality is I doubt I'll ever face him. Anger over that doesn't really eat me up. But other relationships, still broken and/or damaging to and for me eat me up. I hear Jesus inviting his audience and followers to face those broken places and relationships in us, between us and between us and God. When asked if we should forgive up to 7 times, Jesus says no, up to 7 times 77 times...[Matthew 18:21-35] I don't think it's about the number. He's trying to point to the existential reality we have to choose in order to experience the fullness of God - we have to be people of forgiveness, reconciliation - peace-makers, who let go of our anger rather than let it consume us. It's not about laying down and letting ourselves be treated like crap, or martyrs, or repeatedly abused. It's about power - true power - the power to let go of the past in order to let the future - something new - life - I'd call it the love and power of God - in,to let it begin to work within us and to activate us to choose life and to choose life abudantly.
The question we more have to face is: can we forgive those that have hurt us, abused us (verbally, relationally, physically maybe even sexually), treated us injustly, dehumanized us, taken us for granted, used us, marginalized us? Can we? And why should we? How much power do those people have over us? I think odds are it's a lot more than Osama bin Laden or Hitler does.
I've been taking a parenting class, positive discipline, based upon the work of German Psychologist Alfred Alder who wrote about gemeinshaftsgefühl – a notion that the foundation of the human condition is that we want to be in community and find our meaning in relationship. I think forgiveness points to that. Our last class I learned about mirror neurons - that something in our brain actually drags us to copying or imitating the things we see and experience in social interaction. Here's a great 14 minute NOVA video on it [link].
Maybe that's what forgiveness is about - paying it forward. Monkey see - monkey do. The more we forgive, the more we're forgiven. The more we relate, the more we find our meaning in relationship. Maybe that's what Jesus is pointing to, and the Apostle Paul says we are to be ambassadors of in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21?
Charm Boutique New Women's Contemporary Clothing in the Dimond
Strolling down MacArthur today I noticed the vibrantly painted Charm Boutique (2569 MacArthur Blvd.) Owner Porsche opened the store in early November. She purchases her clothes for adult women from vendors in Los Angeles and New York with the goal to make a woman feel good about herself.
She opened in the Dimond as she has other family members working in our (re)emerging neighborhood and would like to help collaborate with the wider community to make our neighborhood a shopping destination! Her clothes were amazing and the colors very modern, clean and crisp.
The Little Caesar's Franchise that has been discussed online around the Dimond for the past few months is nearing completion of its construction phase, and I imagine will be opening within the next 3 weeks. Here's some pictures I took of the progressing construction, as I walked by yesterday at 2216 MacArthur Blvd.
Do Justice and Love Mercy Rick Warren & Joseph Lowery at the Presidential Inauguration
For the past weeks I've heard of the disappointment of many people regarding the the participation of Rev. Rick Warren (because of his yes on 8 stance and words) in the Inauguration. Yet whether you agree of disagree with the well known and best-selling author of a purpose-driven life, I was much more by the benediction of purpose, passion and compassion by Rev. Joseph Lowery. His were the words of faith that will be remembered: theological, philosophical, rooted in tradition yet pointed towards the future – prophetic. And as the same time, there was no Imam or Rabbi present in the ceremony, which either reflects the faith choice of our new president or overlooks the pluarlism that is our nation.
Here’s a video of his benediction and a LINK to the text.
What's a bleeding heart optimist to do? Our city makes the news (daily this week) and rarely good. Out city attorney is calling something "murder" that, may or may not have been, which then means that the BART police committed the first murder in our city for 2009. Not a good sign. Someone asked me today what I love Oakland, there's no mayor at the helm and the board has been taking on water for some time. I'm not necessarily disagreeing AND I have to say I heart Oaktown for so much.I'm a pragmatist, humanist, follower of Jesus committed to living in an urban setting, raising my children to do better than survive in 21st century multicultural urbanity - I want them to thrive. We have problems: no good transportation, bad parking, lack of money, lack of unanimity, schools... Yet I love it here. There's so much potential. There's so much mess. As I type that I have to admit that's what I believe about the entire human condition: mess and potential, and that a higher power is creating, redeeming and pulling the potential from the mess towards prophetic promise! So how can I commit to that as a life ethos and world-view and not commit to it in terms of where I live.There's a great perspective that appeared on NPR yesterday by [read] [listen].So I have to add my two cents.The past days, while the BART saga repercussions echo through our city and around the world of CNN I've heard an onslaught of comments on the Dimond Yahoo Group complaining about the parking of fire trucks in front of the Peet's Coffee there. Supposedly the truck is too big for the side street (Benati if you're in the know) and impedes or troubles some caffeine-dependent folks (like myself) who need to get to Peet's. I respect the need for clear streets, yet I have to say how greatful I am that we have a working, effecient and effective fire department in Oakland. That's something to be proud about. I say let them park wherever they want for all they do to support us. What got lost in the discussion too was the fact that 24 months ago there was no Peet's and that the place which now contains espresso machines pumping out liquid black gold all day long was an empty storefront.Part of our problem in Oakland (and I'm preaching to myself too) is that we forget what it used to be like. When you get use to the mess and chaos that's all potential for creative change, it's easy to forget where we've been and lose sight of where we've agreed we want to go and what is actually good. I work in a place like that. There's so much-still-to-do that I rarely (if ever) see clearly what we have accomplished. It takes someone outside of my system to reflect, remark and open my eyes! That's what the artist collaborative Oaklandish is all about!
So here's my list short-list of what I love and see happening in Oakland: Granted these reflect my gender, cultural background, socio-economic and family status and worldview (we can never escape our contexts)
I see amazing community happening around places of business and centers of education that gather diverse Oaklandites into communities of interaction, participation and collaboration. Peet's Coffee (in the Dimond w/ the fire-fighters), Peter Pan Cooperative Preschool in Maxwell Park, Sequoia, Glenview and Kaiser Schools, neighborhood imporvement associations and online community groups.
I see dynamics of creative and how-to potential gathered in coffee shops from Peet's to World Grounds (Laurel) to the new Starbucks off Broadway in Uptown, in restaurants and lines for food from Bakesale Betty's, to Le Cheval at lunchtime, to A Cote at night.
There are places in which people come together, experience urbanity together and shape Oakland through their relationships and participation: the YMCA downtown, everyone walking around Lake Merrrit, participants in the Farmer's Markets Friday:Downtown, Saturday: at the Lake and Sunday: Jack London. I see it happening on the terrace of Whole Foods downtown on a Sunny day, at the pool in Robert's park in the summer, along Telegraph while folks wait for tables at Dona Tomas and Pizzaiolo.
The strength of Oakland is its people! That's why the avoidable death of Oscar Grant is so tragic and shaking the foundations of our city and civic community. It's what we forget when we can't find a place to park, or run over a pothole, or struggle to be able to bike to a decent grocery store. What we love about Oakland is the people.
So I'm continuing this vocabulary of faith series I'm preaching and teaching on with the church community I serve. People suggests word(s) or phrase(s) that are problematic and then I report back with reflection and hopefully some thoughtful questions. This week it's the word "righteous" and the verse "John 3:16).
Ok when I hear this word I think of self-righteous, as in I'm more righteous than you, you're going to hell and I'm on the way up! Sure is easy to say to someone you disagree with. Yet I don't think that righteous(ness) is really about what we do: our actions or our morality. I think that the body of the Bible is talking more about the way we are, our idenity - our being - our relationships. It's not a state of mind - it's a way of life. Yet at the same time it's beyond us. Repreatedly the bible says that none of us are righteous. Just look at what's going on with the whole BART muder affair of Oscar Grant. There's this indignation today that the Johannes Mehserle is some horrible human-being [story] - ok it's wrong - but maybe anyone of us would have done the same thing, had the same (what I suspect what a knee-jerk reaction out of fear and newbiness). [Drummond has a great op-ed on it: Turn down the temp].
What the Bible lifts up and what Christian Theology articulates is that we choose independence, autonomy from God - to go our own way to get what we want and deserve [that's what the Garden of Eden is all about]. We prioritize independence from God over relationship with God - yet then don't know how to go back to relationship when we want it, when we want what we're created for. So God takes our self-righteousness upon himself in Jesus the Christ, make us right-with-each-other [righteousness]. It's all about relationship - one that's contagious, that infects us and moves us forward into a dynamic of relational living, being and doing. That's what faith is - not moral statements, not adherence to a dogma or a worldview, but living relationally - with God, from God, towards God as we live with one another. What do you think? Am I whacked? A laxist? Or maybe am I on to something?
Oaktown continues to be in the news locally and nationally as a mess. The backlash of the BART Police Affair and death expands. Sunday I read an open editorial call for Mayor Dellums to resign by Byron Williams. Yesterday's Forum on KQED was a thoughtful interview with influential Oakland developer Phil Tagami talking about the need for better and effecient infrastructure in our city as the foundation upon which all growth and development must be built. [listen here]
I love our city AND it seems like no one is at the wheel. I'm not talkling so much about our mayor (I'm not qualified to give a verdict on that). I'm talking about development, problems, issues and festering unresolved mess. The budget is exploding yet are our city services increasing? We balance the budget by closing down our libraries for extended time over the holidays (when most people with money can travel and those who don't need somewhere to go). The streets are in bad shape. Parking is inadequate - and then expensive if you do find it (I think it's easier to part the Red Sea than park on Piedmont Ave. on a weekend night!).
Many are the people I encounter that love Oakland, are proud to live here, yet have given up or become complacent in terms of things ever changing for the better.We've pinned all our hopes of cleaning up the mess on the building of condos, hoping that if we build it they will come. Then upon a mayor. In my brief tenure as citizen of Oakland we seem to vacilate from hope to hope, touching lightly upon the notion that we all are the power to change the city - yet never being able to organize to make it happen. I think of the power of national night out and the half dozen parties I attended. What if we tapped into that community power more? That was a messy night - but a mess that built and created, not just distracted and made a nuisance.
A Better Oakland is just maybe one of the spots that is providing such organization and empowerment. But how big of a circle of influence can a blog have in a city and culture in which not everyone is online? In the interview Phil Tagami basically said we have lot's of potential, yet our city is a mess - infrastructure wise - so what business will risk to build here if they don't see us trying to clean it up and address some of our key problems, not merely making excuses or quantifying what we've done because of the complexity of our context.
I'm starting a new book discussion group on the #1 Bestselling book of 2008 - The Shack by William P. Young. It's an interesting book, an analogy - of fiction story - that seeks to explain and dialogue about the nature and identity of God, viewed through the orthodox Christian vision of the Trinity. It's quite fun as it's not the "orthodox" read that you would expect. God is an older African-American woman, Jesus a Middle-Eastern construction guy, and the Holy Spirit a mysterious gardening pan-Asian woman.
How do you envision God? Do you have trouble doing so? Is it painful to do so? Why? I'm including several scanned pages (82-87 - click on each image to enlargen it and make it readable) from the Shack to get the discussion rolling [it's the portion when the protagonist meets God]. If you've read it what do you think? How does it speak to you, or not speak to you?
We're meeting to discuss the book up through chapter 9 - p. 138 - several times in Oakland this month. Come and join me for coffee and great discussion.
Today's tribune has an article "The Plight of being Oakland" that lifts up some of the realities that we face every day as residents: fears of safety, suspicion of intentions, expectation of crime, struggling/failing public schools, limited shopping options and overwhelmed civic structures. When I meet new people and say where I'm from, often I'm asked if I've been robbed and how many times it's happened. There is a negative vision of our city from "outsiders" who are often pleasantly surprised to discover for themselves how great the city is through the experience of local parks, the people, shopping options, going out opportunities and the views/weather.
I wonder if the problem isn't more people within Oakland who give our community a bad rap. No, I'm not placing the blame on the BART police officer, but on many of us who live here (at least at night when we're home) but live anywhere else during the day. A majority of people that live in the Dimond and Laurel districts have never been there. They do all their shopping non-locally in Montclair (which is actually Oakland - not another city or inner-east-bay-suburb), Emeryville or Walnut Creek. It's one of the things I've noticed when shopping at Trader Joe's by the lake, or hanging out (as I often do) at the Peet's Coffee in the Dimond. I see a lot of people that I didn't use to see. I had a heated (at least on my side) e-debate with someone last year who was really upset that I was talking about an event on the border of the Laurel/Maxwell Park in a Redwood Heights forum even thought it directly concerened a majority of RH community members. They kept saying, that's not my neighborhood, that's not our context. I argued that it is. Maybe that's our problem. We're so often - at least if we can, or think we can, move socio-economically up the hills to the golden land of Montclair - quick to move up, to bigger and better, to go elsewhere to find what we think we want as opposed to helping make it happen where we wish we could be. It's even in our language. I ate at Bellanico's (great find) last night on Park Blvd. On yelp, it's described as being located in Oakland's "lower hills" neighborhood. I'm not sure that exists....but it sure seems to be a vocabulary twist aimed to get people to eat there as opposed to simply keeping the car in 4th gear and driving up to Montclair. Maybe the perception that Oakland sucks, is perpetuated (at least in part - I admit it's complicated) because we just might actually think it does suck.
A newly invigorated community organizing effort to redo Maxwell Park has begun and is moving forward. They've scheduled a community workday for Saturday, January 25th. Part of their plans include making the park safer for kids, more light-friendly and less crime-friendly, changing the landscape for more vegetation which will be more drought tolerant.This week they've been working on removing some old Eucalyptus trees that are several hundred feet high. Here's some pictures from their work today. It's great fun to watch and a marvel to see how they dismantle the existing trees bough by bough and bit by bit.
OK - this sounds depressing, but is an interesting 2nd vocabulary "word" for this new preaching series. What do you think of when you hear or read the word "hell"? Here's snapshot of pictures I found on the internet.
The English word "hell" comes from the Greek "hades" which in the Judeo-Christian literature comes from the Hebrew "sheol".
Of course the vision of flames, tormented bodies, devils, pitchforks comes to mind. For me my first thought was of junior high [I slipped a picture of mine into the collage]. The Bible is actually relatively quiet, or sparse in terms of descriptions of hell. There are a lot in Revelation. You can compare those sections to very similar descriptions of Hades by Greek Philisopher Plato in Phaedo to see that the writer(s) of Revelation were most likely using their contemporary cultural understanding of Hell to describe the absence or anti-thesis of presence with God [what we usually call Heaven, Paradise, where you want to be, etc.].
Here's the excerpts from Phaedo written about 200 years before Revelation. (click on the picture to enlargen). Compare them to Revelation 19:19-20 and Revelation 20:11-15. I think that what we see is that the writer(s) of Revelation use the image of hell/hades, prevalent in their culture, to explain what they're trying to say. They use their culture to articulate faith for them, which simultaneously subverts the cultural assumption. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an amazing play, No Exit, about Hell. It's famous for one line in particular, "l'enfer c'est les autres" [hell is other people]. He's basically teasing out the fact that we are relational, need each other to choose, to create, to move into our futures. If we live without honest, mutual, peripatetic relationships, choosing manipulation, power over and vanity we literally live in hell. Recent sociological work has lifted up that many Americans now consider life to be hell, they are involved in less and less relationships and networks and feeling increasing isolated and alone. [salon article] [thesis of the book Bowling Alone].
The 1997 film Devil's Advocate has a challenging speech about God, Satan and the situation in which we seem to be set. It's an interesting speech to listen to about sin, freedom of will - and what life is meant to be and how it can be twisted [it is R rated]
So is there a hell? Is it a geographic/cosmic place? A myth to frighten us into good behavior? Or is it a metaphor that seeks to express the opposite of being present with God and in God's life-giving presence? And who gets to go there? Is it only those that call upon the name of Jesus? And what about those that call on that name in faith at the last possible second? Is that fair?
These are our modern ways of asking questions. Jesus in the passages above seems to focus more on actions, how we live, how we follow what he teaches, than upon upholding the correct doctrine, dogma or belief. In the two parables in Matthew 25, Jesus basically says that it's all about how you live your life. Did you use the gifts/talents you were given to steward? Did you care for the least of these? Or only yourself or those that could get you ahead?
I think that judgment is actually about being held accountable. Are we coherent in what we believe, how we act, how we relate to others. I think that heaven is being in the presence of God who is community (three in one). Life in and from community into increasing community is what we're made for. That's what "created in the image of God" means. So if we refuse that, refuse to live in community, to recognize our interdependence and gemeinschaftsgeful [my new $100 word] nature as human beings....then we are in hell and not living as God lives or calls us to know life. It's all about relationships and community not about results and work. In the end I guess I find that I wonder what are we motivated by in how we live and make meaning in our life? Is it according to what we think will happen to us afterwards, in terms of fear or benefit? Is it about how we live in the moment? Or the legacy that we leave behind us?
I'm not actually interested in the afterlife. I'm to busy surviving day to day, trying to make meaning of my life, my relationships, my work and to collaborate in the world living as faithfully as I can as one created in God's image. My motivator is more today than tomorrow, more about meaning and purpose than paradise.
I found a motherload of stickers on cars parked at Safeway in Montclair on the morning of New Year's Eve. This was the best one. Sorry about the size of the photos. I've lost my photoshop, so unable at the moment to crop the pics. Cheers!
Today I'm beginning a new series at the church I serve entitled "The Vocabulary of Faith." Members and friends of our church community have suggested words and/or phrases about faith or from scripture that are problematic, confusing or complicated. I'm then trying to teach upon them and flesh out what they might mean for us today as followers of Jesus in our 2009 East Bay context.
Today's vocabulary phrase is "Leap of faith" or "faith as a leap" coming Soren Kierkegaard. He's talking not just about believing, but about knowing what we believe to be true in an existential and epistimological way. Basically everything is subjective - all knowledge is personal. You can't prove that any one thing, or one way of thinking, is universally and objectively TRUE. He's one of our early post-moderns, debunking (not faith) but rather the scientific model which claims tha there is a pure, objective, scientifically obtainable TRUTH somewhere out there that we can get to through reason and logic. Kierkegaard says that actually all knowledge involves some sort of relationship. We believe, we base our actions upon the beliefs that we choose. This leads to modern pragmatism. Yet it doesn't mean that our belief(s) are wrong. Rather it frees us to recognize that proving belief isn't what it's about, rather it's all about how our belief(s) shapes our actions, orients our life, gives breath to our relationships and existential commitments.
Here's a great quote:
Faith begins where one knows and has experienced the limitations of rational thought. Therefore, it is a leap into a paradox: I know by not knowing; I believe because I cannot know - but due to this unknowing, I have established a direct and unspeakable relationship with that which is beyond thinking, but which leads me in the relationship.
Most of our past modernistic thought has been based either upon logic: trying to prove it as true, or a anti-modernist fear/rejection of logic: nothing needs to be proved. A leap of faith, for Kierkegaard is neither about denying the scientific "facts" nor trusting only in tradition, it's about recognizing that knowledge is relational, that belief is beyond proof (which isn't even really the point).I think most of us have been screwed up by Blaise Pascal's Wager, which basically says "hedge your bets" - it's better to believe and be wrong than not believe and be wrong. It's all about a quid pro quo, getting what we want and what we esteem we deserve, as opposed to living fully.
That's what those 3 scriptures I choose point to: making deep, life-sustaining and transforming meaning of the life we live: our actions, our words, our relationships, our community, our commitments. It's about praxis: how we live and why we live that way, rooted in a foundation of faith. For me that's about following Jesus - freedom that comes from a relationship, a truth that's more relational/existential knowledge than scientific certainty, more about praxis and purpose than proof.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has an interesting scene about faith as a step that's often referred to.
It's an interesting way - Jones, a scientist, can't prove things, figure it out, or quantify it - in the end knowledge, and his pursuit of it, has to come from a relational vortex, based first and foremost in trust and moving towards deeper trust. Isn't that what relationship (between us and God, or between us and others) is all about? I think our culture has basically handicapped us by teaching us that knowledge is quanitfiable, proovable and knowable with our minds, as opposed to something we experience in relationship, existence and meaning-making actions.
LISTEN TO THE SERMON HERE - scroll down on ther right side until you see "listen to Monte's sermons here"