Wednesday, June 27, 2007

God help me; I'm bland

I have noted of late several blogs showing a rating. Curiosity led me to find out where I might stand. The result:
Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

How terminally dull of me. The only consolation is that it could have been worse. One mention of "the infernal regions" and two mentions of "enhanced interrogation" got me the PG-13. I euphemize here lest I receive a harsher rating just for this.

I shall try to be more startling in future.
--the BB

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bring back John 3:16!

It has been a while since I spotted someone in a crowd holding up a sign that reads "John 3:16." This is probably more because I have not watched many sports events and news programs on the television lately.

I have just been shocked into nostalgia for such signs.

Let's review our Bible, shall we?
ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον

When I was just a little cub, the very first Bible verse most of us memorized was John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Kwa maana Mungu aliupenda ulimwengu kiasi cha kumtoa Mwanae pekee, ili kila mtu amwaminiye asipotee, bali awe na uzima wa milele.

I rather like adding the following verse: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

I point out that the word the Fourth Evangelist uses for "world" here is the Greek kosmos, a polyvalent word for both the socio-political system that sets itself against God and thus incurs divine judgment and the object of God's love. The evangelist manages not only to live with this tension but to proclaim it. For all that is said about the world, God nonetheless loves it. This is basic Bible 101a stuff.

Porque de tal manera amó Dios al mundo, que dio a su Hijo unigénito, para que todo aquel que cree en El, no se pierda, mas tenga vida eterna.
Although I have, through most of my life, been somewhat put off my chow by folks who do evangelism in the all-up-in-your-grill style (yes, the style in which I was raised), there is no question that John 3:16 is, and always has been, foundational to my understanding of God, Jesus, and issues of salvation. The soteriological message is grounded in, and begins with, the premise that God loves the world. Period. This is our starting point. It is related to the assertion in 1 John 4:8 that "God is love."
Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt, daß er seinen eingeborenen Sohn gab, auf daß alle, die an ihn glauben, nicht verloren werden, sondern das ewige Leben haben.
What sent me flying back to this anchor verse of Scripture was the song "God hates the world," performed here by the folks from Westboro Baptist Church (famous for their website - no, I'm not making this up). - Watch more free videos

Watching this video as folks sway and smile while singing about God's hatred is, to put it mildly, unsettling. Not surprising, if one has followed the career of this congregation, headed by Fred Phelps. They are the folks who picket funerals of U. S. troops with their "God hates fags" and "It's too late" signs, proclaiming judgment on our nation for tolerating gays.

The real kick in the gut comes at the end when a very little girl sings the chorus, obviously thrilling to the attention and praise she gets, and then gives a shy smile. The juxtaposition with a theme of hatred is beyond creepy and I don't need to ramble on about it.
Car Dieu a tant aimé le monde qu'il a donné son Fils unique, afin que quiconque croit en lui ne périsse point, mais qu'il ait la vie éternelle.
They have a web page with this glaring title: "'God Loves Everyone': The Greatest Lie Ever Told - 701 Passages Proving God's Wrath & Hate for Most of Mankind."

Now, I remember when I was in my early twenties and wrestled with what I believed. Immense quantities of psychic energy had gone into keeping my worlds compartmentalized throughout childhood and adolescence. Now my worlds were colliding: faith, science, sexuality, politics, reason, emotion--the works. What I had been taught, what I observed, and what I felt were all clashing against each other and I desperately sought some way to bring them into a semblance of relatedness.

As a senior in college I decided to start all over. My guiding principle was "Jesus is mine and I am his and all the rest is up for grabs." Who is God? Who am I? What is the Bible? What is sin? What is salvation? What is a human being? Who is Jesus? Where is meaning found? You know the questions.

Being a lover of the mystery of words (and the Word), I did word studies on sin, salvation, and realated terms. I concluded that sin was about damaged or broken relationship. Because relationship is what matters, beginning with our relationship to God, that is what makes sin so terrible. I rejected dualism, so sin was a subsidiary reality, something that could not even exist without the prior reality of relatedness (cf. Augustine of Hippo and his teaching on evil as the "privatio boni").

For me, "salvation" was right relationship: with God, with oneself, with others, with creation. In this I anticipated the comments about the Messiah in the Catechism of The Book of Common Prayer 1979, but this was back in later college and early Baptist seminary years (1967-1970).

“The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” (BCP, 849)

This was my vision of "shalom," salvation, eternal life, etc. It is what we are saved FOR, a vital point for someone who had spent the first two decades of his life hearing what we were saved FROM (sin, death, and hell). My question had always been: "I have believed in Christ and accepted God's gift; now what?" My roots were big on saving folks from hell but rather weak on a doctrine of sanctification, or growth in holiness, or journey of faith, or ascetical practices. This is a huge part of why I was attracted to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions who had more for the faithful to do than collect spiritual scalps through an evangelism that sounded to me more like bad news than Good News.

My friends and family will tell you that I am a pack rat, a collector, someone who had trouble tossing stuff out. This proves true in theology as well. When I find something to be obsolete, irrelevant, or simply not fitting into my "system," I either struggle to redefine it or put it on hold, waiting patiently for the day when it makes sense.
Ибо так возлюбил Бог мир, что отдал Сына Своего Единородного, дабы всякий верующий в Него, не погиб, но имел жизнь вечную.
This is why I could build a theology based on love and inclusion and still refuse to toss out the concept of the wrath of God. When someone I love is hurt, when those I love suffer, I do two things in varying degrees: I grieve and I get angry. It is not all right when evil and injustice are done. Language about God can only be analogous and metaphorical, so I don't assume that God's emotions match and are limited by mine. But I can understand God grieving and fuming at humans wreaking havoc on each other and God's creation. But wrath, divine anger, is subsidiary, a function of love, a manifestation of concern. And if all the parties involved are objects of God's love, it gets complex in a way I cannot sort out, but then I am not God and don't have to try to be God.

Put humorously (I hope my readers can read this for its irony): God hates it when we're hating on each other.

So, if I jettison any concept of divine wrath I run the risk of viewing God as indifferent, which is the opposite of loving.
Deus amou tanto o mundo que deu o seu único Filho para que todo aquele que nele crê não se perca espiritualmente, mas tenha a vida eterna.
All of that is an aside to preclude confusion about whether my understanding of God's love is all nicey-nicey, sugar-coated sentimentality. Sugary religion makes me sick too. But at least I can honor its loving intention.

A religion of hatred, however, is another thing altogether. I don't understand it. I can "get" folks driven by fear of the other into defensiveness, and further driven by fear into hatred, and thence into violence. But attaching that in any way, shape, or form to Jesus.... Simply beyond me.
Koia ano te aroha o te Atua ki te ao, homai ana e ia tana Tama kotahi, kia kahore ai e ngaro te tangata e whakapono ana ki a ia, engari kia whiwhi ai ki te ora tonu.
And thus I want to "go back to basics" - as in, John 3:16. Whatever else we have to say, it all begins here: God so loved the world....

There is also Genesis 1:31:
"And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. "
We all pick and choose which parts of the Bible and the tradition we emphasize and use as a lens to understand the rest. All of us. Now you know some of mine.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. (1 John 4:7)

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

--The BB