Friday, April 27, 2012

When Children Die of Hunger, Heaven Can’t Wait

Rethinking Heaven dons the cover of the April 16 edition of Time magazine.  Jon Meacham’s article, entitled Heaven Can’t Wait: Why Rethinking the Hereafter Could Make the World a Better Place, draws upon a diverse range of religious thinkers. His sources include scholars like Christopher Morse of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Cleophus LaRue of Princeton Theological Seminary, and Anglican bishop and biblical scholar N.T. Wright.

Meacham also cites pastors like John Blanchard who serves the 4000-member Rock Church International in Virginia Beach. Blanchard says, Heaven isn’t just a place you go—heaven is how you live your life. What’s trending is a younger generation, teens, college-aged, who are motivated by causes—people who are motivated by heaven are also people motivated to make a positive difference in the world. Meacham continues, Heaven thus becomes for now the reality one creates in the service of the poor, the sick, the enslaved, the oppressed.

The model prayer provides a summary statement of the message emphasized in the article, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. An afterlife is not denied or minimized, just re-framed in light of the transforming work that we are called to do here and now. Heaven here and now is the hidden dimension, sacred space, or thin place in our ordinary, everyday lives. This hidden dimension reveals that the love and resources that everyone needs are abundantly available, but co-creating the Commonwealth of God requires us to do God’s will on earth as in heaven, one drop in the ocean at a time.

As I write, McMurry University students, along with some faculty and staff, are spending a week in World Village, a tent and shanty city on the grounds of the university, to raise awareness about conditions in Haiti and India. A mission team will travel to each country this summer to build homes and work with orphaned children. These students, along with many others in their generation, inspire me. Their Christian vision is focused more on joining God in the work of co-creating heaven here, disclosing the Commonwealth of God in our midst, than on life after death. 

God’s gift of life now—along with the stewardship of creation and its resources—is not eclipsed by the promise of a future life, whatever shape that life may take. The gift of life is just as sacred as a current gift—an on-earth-as-in-heaven gift—as it is when understood as a future promise. Why minimize God’s good gift now in favor of God’s gift in the future, as our tradition so often has done? It is the same gift!    

A new day is emerging in the church’s mission and in theological reflection when a Union Theological Seminary professor, an evangelical mega-church pastor, and college students call us to Jesus’ vision of a changed reality here and now

Grace! Costly grace! Amen!

This post is dedicated to the students living in World Village this week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Is Our "Good News" as Big as God?

About a year ago, I enjoyed an email correspondence about religious diversity with one of my theological mentors and former professors, Glenn Hinson, who now teaches at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. Glenn said, The God of a universe of 150+ billion galaxies surely does not have such little candlepower that God can illumine only those in the Abrahamic tradition. He went on to say that, The future of humankind depends on a very different attitude toward other faiths than we have shown in the past.

We've missed the point of John 14:6 if it becomes a truth-claim to be defended rather than a cruciform call to live/follow Jesus' path. The Johannine claim that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” isn’t a rational truth-claim to be defended, it is a way of life to be lived. It’s not a truth over against other truth claims. It is simply true that living the way of love, self-sacrifice, service, and reconciliation (i.e. the way of Jesus) is the way to God. Or, better yet, it is the way to awaken to the reality that God is already here. Once we start defending this statement as “a truth” we have, ipso-facto, denied the very truth claim that we want to defend. Our defensive posture contradicts the way of the cross, that is the way of love, self-sacrifice, service, and reconciliation.  One of the most grievous sins of the Christian faith is that we have made “truth” into sets of propositions to be defended rather than the Jesus-way-of-life-truth to be followed. Jesus reveals living truth and we Christians tend to reduce him to propositional truth. Holding fast to propositional truth while failing to live out Jesus-lifestyle-truth is a primary way in which Christianity becomes a force for evil rather than for good in the world. Too many Christians are more concerned with what happens to their precious truth claims than what happens to their precious neighbor, with what happens to their dogmas than with loving neighbors and enemies.

 Evangelism is living and sharing God's good news. Sometimes this means that someone will be converted. Sometimes it means that people of different faith traditions can work in solidarity to create a better world while remaining faithful within each tradition. Sometimes God's good news happens when we learn from someone of another faith tradition. Sometimes it happens when they learn from us. Always, living God's good news is cruciform, living in the form of the cross. This is to say, living sacrificial love while trusting the power of resurrection; losing life and--good news--finding life. 

Glenn emphasized, The future of humankind depends on a very different attitude toward other faiths than we have shown in the past. What if God's good news mandates taking on this different attitude? What if all of our exclusive defending of Christian belief has created bad news in the name of God who seeks to bring good news to all? What if we are more faithful to our beloved "evangelism" by working in solidarity with faithful people of other traditions rather than trying to convert them? The God of a universe of 150+ billion galaxies surely does not have such little candlepower that God can illumine only those in the Abrahamic tradition.

Dialogue, Theology, and Growth

Expanding the Circle: Dialogue, Theology, and Growth

Poet Mary Oliver wrote, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? As my 54th birthday approaches, I am keenly aware that my response to this question is a process, a journey, a bundle of additional questions, a vocation (calling) that ever-beckons and never ends. Gregory of Nyssa said that the essence of sin is the refusal to grow. If I understand Gregory correctly, his affirmation included this life and the next; death is but a new chapter in the ongoing narrative. Theosis, according to this view, never ends. In God we live and move and have our being. There is infinite room for us to grow within the infinite Life of God. 

I'm starting this blog to challenge myself to grow in theological reflection through dialogue with others. Hindus talk about different kinds of yoga, spiritual disciplines to help one to be yoked to God ("yoga" = yoke). The different yogas are, in part, for different personality types: devotion (Bhakti), meditation (Raja), action (Karma), and knowledge (Jnana). One size doesn't fit all. Analogously, I'm practicing Jnana yoga. I don't claim an exact parallel with the Hindu practice. My point is that, for me, theological inquiry, reflection, and dialogue are spiritual disciplines, ways of connecting with God, not just academic exercises. 

I hope that portions of this blog will eventually become a book. The discipline of blogging will help to keep me responsible to others as well as myself to keep my writing fresh, critically reflective, and consistent. 

I want my reflections to be reasonably accessible to people with or without formal theological training. Simultaneously, I will use some technical jargon, below, to build a conceptual foundation to explain the purpose of this blog.  

Theological reflection at its best is an ongoing conversation, a generative dialogue, among the faithful of a religious tradition. A so-called hermeneutic circle or arc (think Gadamer and Ricoeur) develops in dialogue. This circle is an interplay of questions; I question the other and the other questions me. Insight, understanding, truth, and meaning tend to emerge in the synergy of dialogue. Moreover, the horizon of one world of understanding (in this case one religion) can fuse with the horizon of another. Analogical understanding across religious traditions--what theologian David Tracy calls similarity-in-difference--can emerge. In this light, my theological purpose is two-fold: (1) dialogue with Christians to contribute to Christian theological discourse and, perhaps, a constructive theological project and (2) dialogue with people of any faith tradition, or no faith tradition, to help construct an approach--yet to be discerned--to theologies of religions (plural intended). By the way, no worries if you aren't familiar with Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Tracy. The central point is that dialogue is a back and forth, synergistic dynamic--richer in questions than declarative answers--in which understanding, meaning, and truth have the potential to emerge. 

So, I invite you into a conversation. This form of learning is not only an academic exercise; for me it is a spiritual discipline. I don't know where the conversation will lead, but I trust that we can learn and grow together.