abba's way

A Note on The Title

Dietrich Bonhoeffer”s Ghost pursued him through time.

“Why”, asked the Ghost, “did one drawn to the Sermon on the Mount and to nonviolence, retaliate?”

We guess the answer:

The very enormity of Hitler’s evil. Even pacifists said, “We must fight!” Bonhoeffer offers an explanation, but Bonhoeffer knows the Ghost has more to say. Bonhoeffer himself knows more. Bonhoeffer’s religionless Christianity builds on the Sermon on the Mount. So too Bonhoeffer’s world come of age. And his famous notion of cheap grace most certainly attaches a cost to discipleship. But for doing what? There’s the rub.

Painfully, Bonhoeffer knows there is a lasting contradiction between his actions then and what he might have done if he had had the time.

So he is not surprised to hear the Ghost explain, “Evil for evil merely breeds more evil.. Jesus knows a better way; he is more canny. Negotiation is his style and parable his sword. He shakes the very props of Empire with a word. Why did he die? It was to show the power and shape of Abba’s love. To vindicate and demonstrate the truth of Abba’s Way..”

The Ghost continues. “Dietrich, it is not too late. Inspire those who come after to speak what you would have spoken. Instead of creeds ,obedience. In stead of a set of beliefs, a way of life. Instead of ‘church’, a practiced faith. Instead of assent to war and its ways, a removal of the sword from Caesar and the final coming of age which is Abba’s Way.

“This way confronts but does not kill. This way puts on no airs and claims no truths. It simply acts and values Abba-like That’s all.

“You knew it then: The old way will not work. Do not allow your legacy to venerate you for the wong thing.”

Bonhoeffer, like Hamlet, talks back. And, like the poet in Isaiah 6, says: “I am a man of unclean lips. Living in a world of unclean lips.”

The Ghost replies, “You are indeed. But Abba sets you free. Then, Dietrich, if they kill, it will be for the right. Make strait the way of Abba, Dietrich. Make it strait.”

Then on the parapet, the ghostly figure disappears. And now we hear a rising angels’ song.

Abba whose home in heaven is

Hallowed and holy is your name

Let your realm come your will be done

Till earth and heaven are the same

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive the wrongs that we have done

As we forgive those who do wrong

Lead us not into temptation

Deliver us from evil lord

And guide us safely to your shore

Yours is the power to heal and mend

Yours is the glory ever more

Abba

1.

Abba is the name that Jesus gave to God. It overrides those texts which portray the deity as cruel, vindictive, distant and condemning. This is the deity whose child Jesus is. Familiar, available, good, and yes, the very force within each person who will turn and see, and seeing repent, and in the resulting reunion believe, Abba is the one whose good news Jesus bore, embodied and exemplified.

2.

Abba is wholeness, justice, peace and love. Wholeness because attention to Abba within us enables healing, which is what Jesus meant by wholeness. Justice because justice is the product of reciprocity and forgiveness . When justice is denied, Abba spurs us to obedient confrontation and imbues Abba-inspired with the true courage, which is the assumption of responsibility to achieve justice without committing more injustice. Peace because Abba wills the complete defeat of those divisions which make for warfare of any sort. And because only by achieving the possibility of acting peacefully, can one live at peace with oneself and others. Finally, love because Abba is fully for all persons regardless of their evil, their alienation, their destructive state of being. It only takes the seeking of Abba within any individual to commence the process of becoming whole.

3.

Abba is present within every depth, as light and life and creativity. This means that each human being contains depths more profound that they can ever realize, until they realize that the very force of wholeness in the universe is lodged like a shining light within. Abba dwells within the foundational depths of each and every person on the planet. This is not an article of faith or a creedal statement. It is a scientific truth validated by practice. To deny Abba within is the only act that Jesus deemed unforgivable.

4.

Jesus taught us but one single prayer. It is addressed to Abba in heaven. This can only mean that within each of us a spark of heaven exists. On Abba’s Way this prayer is a constant companion. We say and sing ir aloud and silently. Alone or in community. It contains most of Abba’s Way. If there were no other text, it would suffice.

Abba whose home in heaven is

Hallowed and holy is your name

Let your realm come your will be done

Till earth and heaven are the same

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive the wrongs that we have done

As we forgive those who do wrong

Lead us not into temptation

Deliver us from evil lord

And guide us safely to your shore

Yours is the power to heal and mend

Yours is the glory ever more

(LMD)

Please note: All hymns are set to meters in the parentheses following the texts. All lyrics are adapted or original and Copyright by Stephen C. Rose and licensed to CCLI and LicenSing.

5.

While Abba is named only a few times in Scripture, notably by Jesus and Paul, this familiar Aramaic word derives its power from the entire teaching of Jesus preserved in the Bible. Abba’s Way has no truck with fundamentalism. Nor does it require that one move beyond the Canon. Scriptures, like all human products, are a spectrum. Scriptures range from vindictive and vengeful to beautiful and sublime. Abba is preferable to “god” for many reasons. Many common uses of the word “god” imply nothing about the One to whom Jesus addressed his prayer. The common phrase “acts of God” imply that Abba is impersonal. Cries of frustration and anger cannot invoke Abba without in essence damning one’s innermost being.

6..

We perceive and discover and relate to Abba because of texts that contain Abba’s Way and persons who have followed the way. But we do not enter Abba’s Way until we have turned (repented) and accepted the presence of Abba within us and begun to live with the Abba prayer. While we accept and honor Jesus as the exemplar and bearer and vindicator of this way, we insist that this is a way beyond religion, beyond all religions. This does not mean that religions will disappear but it does mean that the fundamental nonviolent values of Abba’s Way constitute a leaven in the loaf of all religions, not another religion to which existing religionists gravitate and which they institutionalize.

7.

Abba is the true lord of the dance. It rises from the deepest wells of joy, To dance with Abba’s spirit, Abba’s grace, is to know beauty in the inner core. Wherever there is threat, the dance can dare.

Abba’s Way

Abba is within us; at hand in all we are and do. Abba is One Whom we experience as conscience and as confidence, as strength and power to change, as deep internal liberty. The strength to be at peace. Forgiving ourselves and all others, and receiving our forgiveness in return. Note only as we give will we receive.

If our words reflect our obeisance to external principalities and powers of violence, they are neither whole nor holy. They are detritus we have not expelled.

If Abba goes unknown, unheard, unheeded, then Abba’s will on earth remains undone. The failings and shortcomings of our world are the result of our individual and communal failure to seek out Abba within and to know and follow Abba’s way.

Our task is to spread the nonviolent culture of Abba this world round and free humanity from its dead gods. Any god who is claimed to be on anyone’s side is by definition dead. This is not merely a homiletical task. It also a matter-of-fact profession one to another. We profess by being the people who do not fight. Or, better said, whose fight is does not rachet up death.

The sources of Abba’s Way include the way that Jesus taught and embodied, not merely what we call the Sermon on the Mount, but the implications of the parables and the embodiment of the Way in actions. Most particularly the Way is parsed by seeing the particular miracles attributed to Jesus as the “blasphemy” that we are called to practice in order to bring heaven and earth into conjunction. The healings excoriated as the very worst presumption are the precice grace vouchsafed to all who have discovered and made available the abundance of truly healing “miracles” – the best of “medicine”. The feedings that gave rise to disbelief are merely signs and seals of our evolving capacity to bring an end to poverty by acting responsibly rather than in the heat of Abba-less violence. The sources of the Way include all narratives and texts that manifest our Abba-less condition and all narratives and texts that suggest that we are never Abba-less, because we cannot kill Abba. Abba will live in us even if we or the world around us has done the very worst to seek to extinguish that light.

Abba’s Way optimally requires requires rights and democracy. In other words the environment where conflict and creative resolution of differences can take place without becoming warfare. The extension of rights is ever and always Abba’s Way. The use of nonviolence not merely as a tactic but as a deep inner commitment has ever and always been essential to the spread of rights and representational governance. Nonviolence is what Jesus practiced. When he speaks of wars to come he merely reflects the prophetic understanding that we will despise and reject Abba’s way for a very simple reason. Contrary to the good news of this Way first preached by Jesus, we will not accept that the realm of Abba is at hand. We will therefore not repent. We will therefore not experience it. And we will therefore not believe.

We blaspheme if we presume to speak for Abba or if we claim Abba to be on one side or another. Abba is on no side and on all sides.. And as for us, we must speak for ourselves. We speak the peaceful and upbuilding word. We speak the hard repenting word. We say we are a spectrum, not an either-or. We express our thanks. We say these things because we have done the simple things that Jesus says to do. Heard. Turned. Received. Believed.

Abba is who Abba is and who Abba will be. We approach Abba within as Jesus taught. As spectrum people who know with Jesus none is good save Abba alone.

Abba has power to heal and mend. We receive Abba as our good friend. Better the ill person knows this than to be the recipient of others’ prayers. It is your Abba within who can heal you. The quiet knowledge and experience that this is so is worth 1000 prayers sent from beyond.

Abba within us causes us to repent, turn, believe. This is because what good conscience we have is Abba prodding us. If we feel real guilt it is Abba prompting us to see how our acts kill. If we turn away from one thing or another, it is Abba helping us to turn. If we believe the things that Jesus told us, Abba is the Spirit within us buttressing our minds and activating out repentance and uplifting us as we seek to travel Abba’s Way.

Abba is no hostile outside enemy who sends harsh bolts of angry lightning down. Abba is close as breath and whispered truth. The traditional gods of vengeance, hallowed in texts that were created by us, are sad projections of those who would invade the freedom of others and proclaim an exclusionary deity that has nothing to do with the Abba that Jesus taught, exemplified and vindicated.

Abba was once the secret Jesus shared, though known to poet prophets from the start. Abba bears abundance, untold power. Abba is like the mustard seed. Abba is like the pearl of great price. Abba s light that seeks to be your beacon to the world. Abba is what your eyes reveal when you look on the world with love. And is the same light in another’s eyes..

Abba leaves us no hiding place from choice: Repent, reject, recoil from this world’s show. Your choice is not to let Abba in or no. Abba is in already. We were created, after all. Our choice is whether to recognize and hallow and affirm, or not. This choice can result in an attitude of permanent repentance, a turn away from the nasty show and the violent screen. Not to become self-righteous Grant Wood figures set apart. Just not to fight. Not to buy in. Our Yes delivers up our No.

Anthropology

When we are in our rightful minds, on Abba’s Way, we are a spectrum, primal to sublime. It’s just the way we’re made. This means we’re neither good nor bad nor any other either-or.

A spectrum implies motion from one end to the other. It also implies that within any possible action there are positives and negatives. It humbles us into an admission of profound ignorance regarding causes and effects.

Abba makes the spectrum infinite. Which is why our possibilities are unlimited. Every miracle counted by Jesus as blasphemy is now within our power. Every evil that has ever been conceived is also now within our power. And choice remains the most precious, potentially redemptive, potentially lethal, connection to Abba that we have. Which is why the most sure prelude to lethal violence is the evisceration of choice by our exercise of power over others.

So the paradox is that our world is fallen and that we fall short day and night. But when we are on Abba’s Way. we are freed from the deleterious self-condemnation that is the product of our fallen state. Fallen, we rise. Impaired, we live.

We overcome because Abba lifts us up. We know the lifting when we seek and find Abba. We know the lifting when we remember that Abba answers our asking. We know the lifting when the door we knock in Abba’s name is opened. Even if someone has no consciousness of these things, Abba is at work.

Denominations and Church Structure

The three functions of a local cooperative ministry, and of church structures at all levels should be chaplaincy (worship, preaching, “priestly” functions), teaching (all educational efforts) and abandonment (a broad effort to move away from “church programs” to the concept of lay upbuilding of secular society).

A cooperative local structure minimizes competition and varies program and mission from place to place. There is a central house for worship events. There are facilities for ongoing education. Abandonment moves in the direction of helping empower existing voluntary programs and social and political structures.

There is often too little lay participation in substantive decision-making. A cooperative ministry opens the way for greater participation because we move beyond the pastor-centered, Jack-of-all-trades ministerial model to a focus on professional specialization whose goal is greater lay participation in spreading Abba’s way throughout the earth.

Existing congregations tend to become the private preserves of the membership. A cooperative ministry can more easily open buildings and programs to a broader public. Buildings can be identified by their function. It can invest more in making cooperative efforts known to the entire community.

Existing congregational worship requires a substantial overhaul. A cooperative ministry at the local level could select the most likely building and designate it as the central meeting place. Worship could be conducted on a daily basis with les emphasis on elaborate structured services and more stress on enabling silence, meditation and reflection. The culture of Abba’s Way can begin to supplant two largely-deleterious tendencies of current worship efforts. The first is a sad adherence to language and expressions that are triumphalistic, presumptuous and overreaching. Much of the language in existing hymnals and prayer books was written before sexism became an obvious component of religious language, Much is creedal and messianic rather than humble before the mystery. The second is a reductionistic centering on “praise” that claims too much and professes to the point of excluding those who may not wish to express faith in such elaborate and ostentatious emotional modes. Each of these areas breeds controversy and division when discussed. Centralized neighborhood worship can acknowledge the need for diversity as well as for keeping a sanctuary space open at all hours simply to enable anyone who wished to have access to it.

A localized cooperative structure could begin to offer to the general public face to face resources that fall under such headings as lectures, films, presentations, discussions, debates and so forth. The purpose of these would be to let the world know that the Abba community (aka Church) is concerned with issues on which it does not claim any particular authority but which it wishes to acknowledge as important for life itself.

This falls under the heading of a teaching ministry with a stress on competent resourcing and instruction and open-ended debate. Clearly the present effort to include teaching in every struggling local congregation is counterproductive when compared to what could happen in by pooling resources and creating neighborhood directors of education paid or volunteer.

A neighborhood cooperative approach could lead to the enhancement of community in an area. A community of neighborhood as demonstrated by the willingness of local congregations to band together and cooperate. Enhancing a community of consensus around issues that are of concern to the entire area. A community of, reconciliation reaching out to bridge fissures and hostile elements in a community. A community of spontaneous association that depends on there being a public institutional presence – this means a building that is open most hours and where there is enough going in to enable people to mingle, to meet, to cross-fertilize. Finally this approach could lead to enhanced forms of living together in community. Residential communities, for example, could easily spring up around various efforts within a cooperative ministry structure.

Denominations are generally not structured to cede their formidable powers to a cooperative local structure which minimizes denominational identity. But their staffs can participate ecumenically with other local denominational leaders and across religious lines to help enable such cooperation as they are willing to support. In addition, there is no law against local cooperation based on the bilateral interplay of existing congregations.

An intentional emphasis on lay empowerment that involves more than one congregation can begin to create the workable change at the grass roots. This can in turn create a sea change in the wider church.

The creation of models of community and ministry around Abba’s Way can grow out of existing congregations or even out of existing individuals and the communities they gather. The sharing and singing (silently, individually or in groups) of the Abba Prayer is the most compact and efficacious way to proceed. Using meditations found in books such as this can help to resource individuals and communities. In essence we are opting for the growth of what some would call Jesus People but what I would wish to call Abba People as I believe Jesus himself would wish us to focus on the One who sent him, the one who is at hand, to one to whom our repentance is addressed, the one in whose power we believe.

Denominational loyalty has atrophied over the years. Most lay people would be hard-pressed to say what makes them a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian. More than likely speech related to this issue would move toward class or style differences. The change envisioned in these pages is to a largely post institutional spirituality what is informed by the thrust of Abba’s Way articulated here. Its sign and seal in the present world situation is adherence to nonviolence and the affirmation of or reverence for life – to common up the phrase Albert Schweitzer used to speak for Abba’s Way before it was named.

We do not need more denominations.. We need, most probably, to be open to cooperation but at the same time, open to giving primacy to the individual and group practice of Abba’s Way, in which “attending church” is secondary to how one structures one’s whole life.

Hitherto the notion of Abba’s Way might have been denoted “sectarian” in the pejorative sense that thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr applied the term to expressions they felt were extreme or outside the mainstream. But now the notion of Abba’s Way is post-institutional. It is an understanding. It is as real and effective as breathing but at the same time as invisible as what may be going on in someone’s mind as they walk down a city block.

Backbiting is a sadly inherent aspect of any organization as the rivalrous nature of humankind manifests itself and as differing opinions become “irreconcilable: Abba can help us transcend this but it is most difficult to achieve peaceful forward movement in an oganizations without a more conscious practice associated with Abba’s Way. Abba’s way is not a wimpish sort of niceness. It is as wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove – a statement that does not acknowledge the morose and pugilistic nature of the dove! Regardless, Abba’s Way never operates with a naïve view of individual or corporate human nature. We do what we can and when we can do no more we have lives that are free enough and a world that is large enough to enable us to shake the dust from our feet and move on. This is why divorce of all sorts should be encouraged and made easier rather than more difficult. And why in making wrenching decisions involving upheaval and separation the preeminent consideration should be the wellbeing of children first and of the infirm and immobile second.

The follower of Abba’s way is not required to be part of anything including a particular church, a political party or an organization. Put differently, virtually any association is fertile ground for the cultivation of Abba’s way. In essence it is the inner creativity of the person what is the closest thing to a purpose in life and to the overcoming that Abba makes possible. So the fulfillment of the person through the use of gifts is paramount and prior to any associations.

Abba’s Way Premises – The Church and The Future

This was written in the mid-i960s and is unchanged.

I think that the upheavals that are going to take place in the next century will hardly be affected by the Church. Even the structure I propose is not likely to have a substantial effect on the outcome. I am primarily interested in discovering whether there is anything within the Bible, within the Gospel, within our hymns and prayers, that is able to address man significantly today. I think there is, but I have a hard time finding it in today’s Church. If I were interested only in social action I would forget the Church in a minute and plunge into either the peace movement or the civil rights movement exclusively.

We are in a time of seeking and yet I feel we can begin to move beyond both liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. The direction is unclear, but it may involve a real consideration of the possibilities of realizing a transition within human nature in this world in the context of what may well be a fantastic upheaval in the next fifty or one hundred years. My vagueness at this point should be reason enough for silence until the ideas begin to form themselves more clearly.

I believe the exciting realities of local ecumenism that already exist are the prototype of the renewed Church. I believe they will grow in number. I believe they will finally work to transform the denominational pattern.

The worst thing would be the continued identification of the Gospel with the salvation of the Church as opposed to the world. This could lead, and is leading in some cases, to an imperialistic attempt to identify the Church with the White West in a world where the White West is a minority. The Church would then become even more parochial and closed and would ultimately provide the “spiritual” impetus for an arrogant and self-righteous stand of the White West against the rest of the world. This would be a tragedy, and at that point we would have to fight the Church in the name of the Church.

The renewal movement must grow from the grass roots and it must not get institutionalized too soon. Let any reader, minister, or layman begin his or her own organizing, because the focus of organization is where you are.

The cooperative ministry must first.

Part Three — Wandering Years

1

In 1968 I moved with my family from the near North Side of Chicago to Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

My lungs were still choked with tear gas, courtesy of Mayor Daley’s constabulary, which marched in lockstep over a ridge in Lincoln Park to break up a worship service — one of the few times I ever got to preach. I still exercise to Hey Jude in my head, testimony to that August, 1968, when I drove around Chicago in my battered green bug contemplating mayhem.

We moved because I was burned out and thought I could have a free-lance career. Also we needed (if we would admit it which we never did terribly openly) a decent place to educate our kids for free. So we ended up in a 16 K house that was falling apart in Stockbridge just down the hill from where Arlo used to live. It was a nice time to half drop out.

Waiting for me in my mail when I arrived in the bucolic Berkshires was a note from Hugh Kerr, then editor of Theology Today. In conversation with James McCord, then President of Princeton Theological Seminary, I was offered the following package if I would move to Princeton. I would edit Theology Today and get a doctorate at the seminary. Even to my naive eyes this looked like a clear ticket at age 32 to Presbyterian Nirvana. Somebody round there liked me.

I wonder who could have called me after that move and gotten me to pull up stakes. I refused politely explaining the situation.

2

Eugene Carson Blake, when we were both at the WCC in Geneva in 1967, he at the helm and me strung out in the Youth Department, editing something called RISK, said if I would stay I could work for him. And that is perhaps an offer I should not have refused, because Gene Blake knew whereof he spoke and had no truck with mindless fundamentalists and that is a plus as far as I’m concerned. But I had not learned the secrets of abdominal breathing nor the balancing of parenthood with career nor the codes of the Europeans who still managed to run things in Geneva, so I slipped back to Chicago later that year with my tail between my legs.

3.

There was a sort of interim thing in the 1970s. For about a year I was inexplicably offered a consultantship by the Board of National Missions which had the idea that I was more or less expert on matters of young radicals in the church. The only reason this was so was that they were the only ones I could get to even listen to me. So onerous was doing nothing as a consultant that I hastily arranged that my salary which was a princely $1000 a month plus $300 for expenses be applied to a post at the Christian Century Magazine. I offered myself as a “free” associate editor and Alan Geyer, the then editor, accepted. The only thing I recall from that period is covering the advent in New York of a Baskin-Robbins addict 14 year old guru named Maharaj Ji. I was summarily tossed out of the ashram when I admitted to one of the young man’s acolytes that I preferred God to the guru. My introduction to creedal messianism in practice.

Ken Neigh and his associates on the National Missions staff were about to be deep-sixed in effect and a semi-kept regime installed to placate both liberals and conservatives. I couldn’t have gotten through that door with a battering ram. In addition I got a letter from Bob Christ in Chicago telling me that there was a catch 22 as far as my ordination went. If I did not work for a church organization my ordination would have to be declared inactive. Well since I wasn’t, it was! I suppose it is still sitting on a shelf in Chicago. Call all this Exit Ad Infinitum.

Earth

Our spinning wheels of prideful sophistry, our glamour built on force of power and arms. These close the way to Abba deep within. What we take in can pass right through us – see it go! It’s what comes out that counts. If we retain the detritus of a world that rejects the Way of Abba then it will come out of our mouths and be reflected in our walk and permeate our manners. Seek Abba only. Make Jesus your teacher. Say the prayer. Sing it. Make up your own melody. Practice the forgiveness that we pledge in exchange for the forgiveness we receive.

Abba whose home in heaven is

Hallowed and holy is your name

Let your realm come your will be done

Till earth and heaven are the same

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive the wrongs that we have done

As we forgive those who do wrong

Lead us not into temptation

Deliver us from evil lord

And guide us safely to your shore

Yours is the power to heal and mend

Yours is the glory ever more

The truth is too much to be known. There are too many truths, all theory fails.

The more we know, the less we can absorb. So masses gravitate toward easy things.

And, like a house of cards, perceptions collapse and all sense of order and unity is lost. And yet there is an order and a unity and Abba is its sign and seal and we are the recipients of the gift – the gift of freely admitting that we can only know in part,

One sentence can change everything we hold. One verbal holograph can change it all.

Ideas are not equal. Nor are the levels upon which we live. The truth is in the words and deeds themselves. All else is academic robes and dross.

Finally, our face to face is us with Abba perhaps not too far away.

Even scholars end up face to face

Dance is the rhyme and reason we all need to move with chance and change and merriment; beyond the tangled webs our living weaves, with power to rise above the madding fray.

Our dance requires no physical event; it is a state of mind before it moves. It is the prompt of Abba moving you. So own the grace. It’s Abba’s gift to you.

Our “charity” will never overcome. It will make posters of its fair, good works. And document its progress with a smile.

All is not well, save where Abba’s alive. And Abba lives in all who speak their No to everything that is not Abba’s own. The litmus test is violence and force. When violence and force hold sway we must speak out: This is not Abba’s Way.

The state is Abba’s own when it desists from saying it is just when it is not. The state is Abba’s own when it recedes and those who serve it give Abba his due.

“On earth there is none greater than we are. We are the very finger of the Lord.” Thus speaks religion wearing stately garb. To such a state give nothing but the least.

To such religion give nothing at all.

The state was formed from failure. It succeeds as crime recedes and hate is modified. As tortures end and prisons are less used. As living space can resist fire and flood.

When we live as Abba would have us live the failure of the state will start to lift. The lion and the lamb will hold peace talks. And hope will rise from failure like a flower.

Ending Violence

I picked up a Gideon Bible when I woke up one day. It opened to Esther so I read it. It said the King ruled. His word was law. Including getting rid of Queen One and making Esther Queen Two. The problem was not only hierarchy. It was fallen human nature. Now Purim is celebrated because, having bought into everything everyone, Jews and Persians and everyone, did the same dumb stuff. Result? Dead Bodies. So what if they did not plunder? What the text does is hallow a deity who takes sides, not he deity whom Jesus represents. I am disgusted. I will inveigh against violence and confess myself violent and original-sinned as the next person. Let’s talk direct and simple sometimes. Anything that kills or leads to same is not something to buy into. Nor to venerate. Nor to celebrate. Anything, not just some things.

All dualism divides into two. All unity removes opposing sides. A binary approach is but a tool which never should subvert the truth it hides. Protagonists, antagonists, we know, are frequent players on life’s chancy stage; But there’s simple truth that history shows: Division’s less in a world come of age.

The spectrum is the tool we must select. Repeat: A house divided cannot stand. All history has proved this endlessly. Idolatrous dividing in fools’ hands shatters all hope of living peacefully.

Who arbitrarily divides most likely has the same evils within his own camp that he excoriates in the camp of his enemy.

Do you not see the legions of the dead and know division for just what it is? If everything’s a spectrum, what is good? And what is evil? Are they not two things?

There are no absolutes. For Abba would see compromise applied to everything. How terrible this simple word appears, when we consider fanfares and alarms! Why compromise, alleviating fears, when we can have our lusty calls to arms! What would our media do with boring days, unpunctuated by new body counts? What would we watch, what could our wise ones say if conflict was reduced to small amounts?

Compromise is not meekness or loss of power. The watchword on the human stage is conflict without deathly actions, conflict within a lawful scope, conflict within a democratic matrix.

The path to war ends up in warrior’s hell. Two sides are needed to create a war Two enmities, two arguments, two briefs. And then consent, emotions honed knife-sharp,

Then promises no one will ever keep.

Better the courage to speak truth to power. Better a house divided will not stand;

Better no dualism, more cold showers, And maybe leaders who can understand.

Abba’s Way harks back to Jesus’ teachings and his so-called miracles – prefigurations of human potentiality. There is now no excuse for the world not to become rational and responsible. There is no excuse to make believe there cannot be enough for all. There is no excuse for believing that one who makes little or nothing is less deserving than one who is paid millions every year for being in the right place at the right time. There is no excuse for the gaping differentials we have any more, for seven and eight figure incomes for some and three figure annual takes for others. The system can and should be changed. This is an aspect of Abba’s Way.

The subtext of conspicuous consumption, is gang warfare and criminality. Gang warfare and crime entertains the “rest of us”. Our bloated justice system is the bread and butter of politicos of both parties.

We all die. We all go to dust. The question is do we acknowledge the worst of this does not have to be? Or do we play out a charade which enables the conspicuously rich to make ever greater and greater fools of themselves? The current infatuation with greed for greed’s sake is a sad validation of a lot of very bad theology. How so? Anything that militates against the human capacity to know Abba and to be transformed by this knowledge is bad theology. Anything that does not press those on Abba’s Way to stand firmly against injustices, seen always in terms of gaping and ludicrous, differentials, is bad theology. Anything that can compartmentalize life to the extent that one is insulated from the truths of injustice represents a profound abdication of leadership and this too is bad theology.

Good theology would be the global leadership at every level in every field saying something like this where it will do some good: Get smart and spread the wealth before the bill on excess comes due. Good theology would be rich corporations of all sorts investing in rational steps to create a more level playing field worldwide.

We haven’t had to be as bad as we’ve been the last 2000 years and now it is simply ridiculous.

We live in a world where it is no longer necessary to employ soldiers to kill one another. The job of defense departments should be to minimize death and to fight hard against the deleterious practice of making it impossible for those who rain death upon the world to even know what they are doing close up and face to face.

We live in a world where only the habitual but outmoded energies of principalities and powers stand between partial and a total victory for something like proximate justice, tolerance and helpfulness. We live half-blind in the world Jesus redeemed.

Exhortations

Come celebrate. Learn silence. Then create.

Judge not. But be a light that can be seen. Judge not. But let the world know Abba’s way.

Judge not. For Abba works in everything. Let Abba’s wisdom shine in all you say.

Our calling is to preach of life not death, to preach life more abundantly, to preach economies of mustard seeds, to wear no ponderous robes but to wear light, for Abba’s light is what this poor world needs.

Come. Come with me to where Moses once stood and heard the voice of Abba in the flame. But hearing Moses would not move along. Who shall I say sent me? was his demand. And Abba’s answer was value’s last stand. Deep anger. (Think of that! And listen well) “Say, I Am sent me. I am Who I Am. Say, I Am sent me. I’ll be Who I’ll Be.”

Embrace the truth. Abba has but one rage. And that is giving your worship away. To Golden Calves, to hateful speech, self-righteousness. Hypocrisy, mendacity, false charity. Yes, Abba hates, despises cant and feasts that in themselves pour spite on Abba’s Way. When Jesus said what he could not forgive is was our sin against his very being, his gift of being present inside us. True suicide is not just of the flesh. It is the sinful suppression of the Abba-given spirit which is Abba deep within. The very source of dignity and power. Abba’s rage rises when you throw his gift to the dogs.

Give Abba room to be Abba to you. Ask, seek and knock and live in confidence,

according every right to each and all. For doing less denies that Abba lives. For as he lives he lives in everyone. Extend a helping hand to each and all, for this is Abba’s will and Abba’s wish. And learn to live with what you cannot change, for Abba’s patience with us never ends. But realize that all things will be changed to create harmony betwixt heaven and earth.

Attune your mind to Abba, not idols. That is the only value you must hold. Without this everything is flame and dross. But with it, creativity has space. And Abba’s will may yet be done on earth.

So few submit and few believe today, The goodness Abba calls us to is weak. We need to hear again and see. For now the principalities hold sway and time that was fulfilled goes unfulfilled. We will be here till we find Abba’s way. And then we’ll see new light upon the hill.

Our conflicts are the challenge at the core. But Abba frees us from against and for. Sad legions rise, well-trained, well-schooled to die. But we say we need fight no more. And so we push like Sisyphus of old, in hopes somehow to roll away the stone, in hopes that blinded eyes will open wide and bathe in Abba’s reconciling tide.

Sing out the song of Abba silently and softly share the news of Abba’s care. Let Abba shine in every song we sing.

Be not the enemies, but friends, of life. And let no depth remain a source of fear, for Abba ends every division there and salves past pains and gives grief tender care..

Governance, Planning and Polity

The state was formed from failure, not from hope, from unsolved crimes, rampant disease and hate, from anarchies and tortures, fires and floods, to satisfy our need to have control and keep our harmful passions at safe bay. Now when we murder, there are courts and jails. When we go out, roads, schools, zoned buildings, parks. And when we drive, signs, signals, highways, tolls. Give it its due. Make it the best you can. The more we are on Abba’s Way the more the state can fade away.

Abba’s Realm should show up in our plans. Forgiveness should inform our polities. Nonviolence should be our stated aim. The sanctity of life should be our pledge.

Our social goals: Less “Caesar”to render our substance to. Less designation of our lives as weighty work. Far more responsibility holds sway. Each person’s needs are honored, not betrayed. As there is more awareness of Abba, as heaven’s vision flowers and expands.

States upon states, all bounded by all law. A paper trail from birth to burial. Records on file, on disks, in storage vaults So what is Abba’s now? And what the state’s?

Abba’s within police and presidents. Abba’s within the angered anarchist. Abba stands with the self who overcomes.

The state may call us to annihilate. This is not Abba’s call, nor Abba’s due. The state may speak untruth and seek belief. This is not Abba’s call, nor Abba’s due.

Do not waste energy in vain protest. Use energy to create your best work. Do not cry slavery, instead find space. A tiny space where freedom’s light can shine.

Let states be judged by what they do not seek. Let states be judged by how they do not fight.

Today’s urbanized, automotive urban-suburban sprawl does not present a worthy pattern for the future. It is the playing out of the self-evident assumptions of the era of Henry Ford. Recall that even such perspicacious democratic visionaries as Frank Lloyd Wright blithely drew today’s choked interchanges into their futuristic plans.

There are many possible elements that could be integrated into a polity built around viable and identifiable communities: these would include advanced computerized work stations that would provide a walk-to workplace and at the same time reduce the need for costly central office space and hair-raising commuting.

Idolatry

What is false witness but idolatry? For idol worship bows down before lies. Ideas are idols, so are creeds and laws when they are made the litmus test of truth. Truth is between Abba and everyone, each living being on earth is Abba’s home.

Idols are both subtle and too plain; the shrieking adulation of a star, some secret, guiding passion well-disguised, a lethal, communal hypocrisy. Worship is mostly idolatry; It is the act which gives an idol place.

Partial truths become oppressive laws.

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An idol is a human artifact, whether a thing, a person or belief.

The way we build suggests idolatry. What we place first becomes our golden calf.

In opposition to idolatry.the words may differ but they coalesce. Love justice, mercy and humility.Bring lion to lie down beside the lamb. No graven images, how plain is plain?

No murder, how obscure is that command?

How can we stand against idolatry? Value the mind and heart of all creatures. Accept the sheer diversity of life. Judge not that you be clear of the judgment. And never see your own thought as The Truth.

Jesus

Jesus, a scholar at the age of twelve, of simple dress and wandering ways, was valued for his healing touch, less so as knowing wisdom-bearer or iconoclast. The path he chose showed him the whole of life. He wandered with the vacant-eyed and lost. He looked for Abba’s flame in everyone. What scholar will see this as fair travail?

Somewhat unprecedented would be Jesus stating now just what he was and what he is about. Vastly unprecedented would be our believing it was he who spoke.

Jesus heralds hope in deepest depths transforming the effects prideful loss and anger coiled in insolent repose. He turns our howls of placelessness and pain into a song of freedom once again. He breaks the bars of prisons bearing signs named poverty and greed and driven need. He makes us whole by making Abba plain and showing us the way to life again.

Jesus sought Abba before he sought the crowd. He climbed the heights and waited for a word. Temptation came but soon he was set free and comfort grew as Abba grew in him.

When he came down from there, he knew the truth, the way, the light, the life, the healing mode. He knew who Abba was, where Abba lives. And with one silent blow, religion fell. And this world’s values fell as well.

Jesus died to show that Abba lives. Jesus died to show the winning way. He died to show that Abba will prevail. He died because he followed Abba’s way.

Now Jesus lives again and Abba is close by, at hand, beyond, above, below, inside.

Jesus said all secrets shall be manifest, all hidden things shall be revealed. And those with eyes to see know this is so. All secrets and all hidden things unfold to the extent we walk in Abba’s Way.

The words of Jesus are as plain now as they were back then: Rejoice. Take Abba in. Receive the love. Be lifted up.

He comes before us in simplicity. He says Abba’s at hand, within, around. He has no rivals he must overcome. His road is lonely, sometimes even sad. Sometimes he wishes those who hated him would stop. But they do not and so he knows his fate. Simplicity is lethal, healing wrong. His blasphemy redeems as he expires.

You might say Jesus is an underline come to confirm that Abba is I Am. Need we know more? We shall not find it. Most theology is the futile effort to pretend that supposition is truth. Most theology concentrates on the parts of Abba that we can perhaps infer but not proclaim as being our experience..

The prophetic trumps the priestly in the Bible. Amos speaks for Abba when he writes of divine hatred for feast days and solemn assemblies. In the institutions of religion the prophetic is trumped by the priestly. In the statements and actions of Jesus, the prophetic attains its apotheosis and the priestly is forever relegated to his own control. The Sabbath is his. And by implication ours.

Messianism is the heart of the “church problem”

Music

In the early 1970s I underwent what was the most painful event of my adult life. I saw it at the time as a fissure and a rejection – a “you cannot go home again” event. I saw it as the end of my career, a death. In its wake I turned to writing and performing music. I had written only a few songs by then. Since the early 1070s I have written hundreds of songs, converted many traditional hymns and advocated a new hymnody with Abba as the focal point of the lyrics. Simplicity is the watchword for both lyrics and melodies. In the section published here, I have not included my original melodies, but I have provided meters which will enable anyone to play any melody they wish, from popular to traditional, as long as it fits. As an example, in the Beatitudes song, the meter is 8787 and this is also the meter of the familiar “What A friend We Have In Jesus” as well as to at least 17 other hymn melodies including “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”. All these lyrics are licensed to CCLI and LicenSing and may be copied and used freely,

The Beatitudes Song

(8787)

Blessed are you poor in spirit
Heaven’s kingdom shall be yours
Blessed all who mourn and suffer
Know that Abba’s love endures

Blessed all you meek and humble
You will own this whole world wide
Blessed every justice seeker
Justice shall not be denied

Blessed all who practice mercy
Mercy then you shall receive
Blessed all you pure in hearted
You will have no cause to grieve

Though you may face persecution
Abba’s kingdom you shall know
All who suffer for my name’s sake
To that blessed place shall go

Jesus made these simple statements
By the Galilean lake
Only as they are remembered
Do we know which path to take

No the truth is not defeated
Though the earth see misery
Happiness and joy are treasures
For all those with eyes to see

Blessed are you poor in spirit
Heaven’s kingdom shall be yours
Blessed all who mourn and suffer
Know that Abba’s love endures

Know that Abba’s love endures

Words and music c Copyright 2006 by Stephen C. Rose

Our Limitations, Our Potential

Truth lies within us as the spark of life itself, of freedom and of Abba’s will-be-done. Do not press farther, leave the apple be. Accept the terms of life. And life itself.

Revaluation of Values

The tawdry values of our blinded world can only be changed by Abba within,

We are a calling from Abba’s great heart to be and become beacons bearing values revalued to save and not destroy the earth.

The only ones who demand worship are Satan and some would-be stars. There is no Satan left to adulate. And would-be stars have feet of clay. Our worship is a mirror of ourselves.

Are lesser values worthy of our Yes? They flow from Abba’s being our good friend.

They are the values that the prophets sketched. They are the values Pharisees abhorred.

Right to Life

The right to life is either meant for all in every situation that exists, a universal, “Do not kill whatever lives”, or it is proximate, negotiated, resolved within the terms of Abba’s Way. We have the right and obligation to speak out whenever conflict rises. And it does with endless constancy and grief. For every death diminishes, whether we feel connection or do not. We have only the calling to minimize all carnage of all sorts no matter how inflicted, no matter for what reasons, no matter how just or unjust. To kill is wrong in every circumstance. We are diminished every time. Abba’s Way believes in an eventual perfection in which even death itself is no more. Abba’s way believes in the resurrection of life.

Worship

Worship may be an inner urge to bow down to things held high.. A team, a lesser value, an idea. It is not sought by Jesus or Abba. Most often it is hated and despised.

The very worst of worship builds on creeds. Crusades and inquisitions and small thoughts. Close down. Repent. And then wait silently.

Does Abba seek our worship? No indeed. Does Jesus? Not in a thousand centuries.

There are too many elements of all for any single self to know it all. To win the depths is to accept oneself within the spectrum which is Abba’s realm.

On Heat

In wilderness or city, it’s the same;

Alone or in a crowd, we feel the heat.

The heat can lead to union and a child;

A celebration of the heart of life.

Abba can be the heat’s progenitor;

The heat can lead to solitary play.

Guilt-ridden, casual, lonesome, routine;

Abba does not despise the body’s play.

The heat can animate resentfulness

And lead to rank abuse and drunken rage.

Abba then is the victim, wracked with pain

Within and in all pain-wracked casualties.

Blame passion, blame somnambulance, blame lust;

Then blame the victim, blame yourself, blame on.

Rather than blame, live with the heat within;

It is life’s gift, direct it livingly.

It is the very source of life itself;

Give of its warmth to others and to you.

At times there will be no capacity;

You get shut down by age or mourning days.

Then use the heat to create in yourself;

Turn heat to words, to music, or to thought.

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There is no fixed compulsion, you are free,

As long as Abba’s light is not put out.

Do I dare speak of “dirty” things to you?

It’s not the very worst thing I could do.

It’s shallowness of truth I cannot stand;

We feel the heat. Accept it. Give it room.

The body’s you. You are the body. True.

Mould heat to good will. Give Abba his due.

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10.

On Finding Your Way Through

To seek your own way is to be afraid.

Each moment of pure joy can yield up fear.

As you accept yourself for who you are,

Stark challenges may woo you from your course.

The lofty heights appear but then depths rise,

And you are daunted by the sheer expanse.

The way of Abba frees you to move on;

The way of Abba is finding your way.

Make peace with every fragment of your being;

Let all your inner wholeness become clear.

Accept each part. Let every part converse;

Then you will find a way beyond your fear.

Some friends won’t trust you as you seek the heights;

Hold to the still small voice that lives within.

The knight of faith remains invisible;

But Abba’s eyes of love are clear as day.

Trust eyes and ears, trust limbs and heart and mind.

You need not play to them, play for yourself.

For you are one with Abba all the time.

Abba is light within. See Abba shine.

And if your longing mingles with contempt,

Stop in your tracks, breath in, and know this truth:

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To ask, to seek, to knock is Abba’s way,

And none who does these things will ever fail.

You can embrace all heights and depths at once;

Let Abba’s light and peace bathe you with love.

If this brings you to tears, embrace yourself;

And know you are embraced as you respond.

For Abba ties you to the universe,

To all creation, heavens and beyond.

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11.

The kingdom or the realm of God’s at hand, a paraphrase of Jesus’ first words amazingly preserved. For my good news is contained in this. Half of what’s preserved speaks of the realm, the very realm that Abba occupies. Then Jesus adds “Repent, believe this news.”

The good news is that Abba is at-hand, available to help us at all times. Without him we fall with this fallen world, the very world Jesus that would restore.

Religion turns the gospel into dross, to let it sing once more is Abba’s aim.

Peace, justice, trust, simplicity and love. Such values are not high in human terms but these are what is written on our hearts when we perceive that Abba lives within us. Let Abba’s light within us burn .

Our social goals: Less “Caesar”to render our substance to. Less designation of our lives as weighty work. Far more responsibility holds sway. Each person’s needs are honored, not betrayed. As there is more awareness of Abba as heaven’s vision flowers and expands.

For we live more and more within the realm,

Where Abba rules, befriends and understands.

Be Abba’s friends now, come, alive and close,

Companions on the way that Abba takes.

Forsake the frowning crowds, the milling herds,

And walk the path that living within makes.

For Abba turns all values upside down,

Exposing what is false of every stripe.

No fixed laws will suffice for truth eludes

A shabby justice and a care denied.

The realm of Abba seeks strong, living friends,

Whose values are writ clear upon their hearts,

Companions who will laugh along the way,

And sing and dance. Of such are this realm made.

Sing to outcasts, bring joy to solitude,

Seek those who have an ear for deeper truth.

Let happiness in you be their welcome,

And Abba’s realm will one day overcome.

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13.

On Redemption

I see the bodies decompose knee deep.

I see the face of those who ravage towns.

All cruelty in but one ugly face.

And all defeat in but a single tear.

I see the past impervious to will.

And history may be the victor’s tale.

The victors change, but revenge stays the same.

And humankind still plays this vengeful game.

Is goodness nothing but a sad repair?

Repair? Start over? Celebrate? Have done!

Stop now! What’s wrong with all I’ve said?

It is that palaces remain in power?

It is that wrong has strings attached always?

Complexity breeds this simplicity:

Our edifice of mayhem on the screen,

The better for to get the story out,

Our manufacture of new death machines,

Our power wearing suits and ties and rings,

All these go back to Pilate pacing round,

And languidly decreeing that no sound

Be let to permeate his palace walls.

How does my crucifixion now redeem?

My cross is where the answer makes its stand.

I am redemption that’s beyond revenge.

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I give empowerment to all who seek.

I am the testament to Abba’s power.

For in each one, from Eden to this day,

Abba had only one persistent thought.

That was and is to co-create this world,

That heaven’s way would on this earth obtain.

The cross surveyed a dismal, failing view,

The crushing of all dreams and hopes and prayers.

Yet in each soul and body Abba stayed.

And if you look within, you see a face.

This face is infinite in patient love.

But do not fail to see the justice there.

For with each year that Abba’s way is scorned,

The tragic contradiction’s all the more.

Demonic human evil has its day,

And catastrophic failure still persists.

These monumental evils all add up.

But rather than desert, Abba holds sway.

Still all who ask are answered in good kind.

Still all who seek discover their own way.

Still all who knock will find an open door.

The flames revenge creates are not required.

To see the face burns more than any fire.

I witness many living suicides.

They walk. They talk. They live in ignorance.

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Who is to blame? Themselves, religions, books.

All ways that do not see the gospel whole:

Abba’s at hand. Abba’s within. That’s it.

I once explained there is one deadly sin:

Deny the Holy Spirit. Certain death.

This Holy Spirit is Abba within.

Extinguish Abba and you cease to live.

Yet this is not the final word at all.

For this light cannot ever be put out.

Redemption does not depend on revenge.

Our eye for eye is puerile idiocy.

Redemption is the twinkling of your eye

When it perceives the saving truth within.

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On Soothsaying

Sometimes there is a time to pray and fast.

Not as display to others, just a time.

Heed to the motion of the moment, heed.

For in your mind there is a fertile field.

And impulse may presage a bursting seed.

These days soothsaying focuses on doom.

The earth will warm. The trees will die. Prepare.

More quakes will come, more deadly waves, more fire.

See, sinful man now sounds his own death knell.

See: What we eat! See: Poisoned waters! See.

Empty your pockets. Bow your heads. Be sad.

Soothsaying knows no ideology.

Right, left, high, low, in, out, predict away.

The grip of doom grows tighter day by day.

Would you prefer an alphabetic code?

Spend your largess and play this fine mind game?

Let your worldview be one that entertains?

Do not these ancient tablets hold the truth?

And if they don’t, there will be others soon.

I once stood in a lonely wilderness.

I prayed and fasted forty days in all.

And in the end it was worth every hour.

For truth came rolling down like crystal streams.

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Truth broke through crevasses to sun-baked plains

To sooth the fevered brow of anxious earth.

But no, the world prefers anxiety,

And spectacle, and miracle, all three.

Under the aegis of our false worship.

Caress the creed or else caress yourself!

Do anything but see Abba within.

I give the name of Satan to all fears.

I watch the mechanisms as they rise:

Magical mystery and vaunted power.

Misplaced worship and vain idolatry.

My sojourn made these curtains drop away.

And in their place a simple reason rose.

Turn and believe this good news here and now.

Abba’s at hand. Join hands. Create. Enjoy.

And, if that’s so, this whole charade’s kaput!

When you pray, Lead us not, the temptation

Is to trade freedom for a mind that’s blind.

I hear your cry: Don’t let our pleasures die!

For then we might be seeing with clear eyes.

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On Prayer

I offer but one single prayer to you;

It is the one I offered once, still said.

But somewhat changed, so I will change it too

Each person has a prayer or two inside;

Pray keep them there, for prayers are not for show.

How they became so, ask the priests, not me;

Tome upon tome of words, no privacy.

A prayer is your compact with Abba now,

Abba within, a single tie affirmed.

Here is a way that you can say it now:

Abba whose home in heaven is

Hallowed and holy is your name

Let your realm come your will be done

‘Till earth and heaven are the same

Give us this day our daily bread

Forgive the wrongs that we have done

As we forgive those who do wrong

Lead us not into temptation

Deliver us from evil, Lord

And guide us safely to your shore

Yours is the power to heal and mend

Yours is the glory evermore

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(In point of fact, I sing these lines out loud,

In elevators, on the street, in crowds.

Not so the world can hear my dulcet tones,

But out of joy or need or just because.)

Let me explain the ending, lest you ask,

Why would I call a friend inside you Lord?

A prayer need only be the slightest nod;

Still Abba may be called the Lord of all.

For as we do befriend our Abba now,

We open up the total scope of all;

And come, in time, to trust its tendencies,

Without claiming to know its mysteries.

Priests took upon their shoulders knowing’s weight,

And spun for all their bland cosmologies;

And earth became the residence of fools,

Instead of what makes sense, the home of schools.

We come from accident or will somehow,

And our awareness rises as we grow;

And life for each is knowing Abba’s ways,

Or being deaf and dumb to life itself.

If I say, Heaven is where Abba lives,

I speak of where you can live, if you will.

If I say, Hallowed, holy be a name,

Hallowed and holy is the state we seek.

If I say, Your realm come, your will be done,

I merely preface what the next line says;

To wit: Let earth and heaven be the same.

Our daily bread: the need is plain enough

Less plain, our simple power to share with all.

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Whence comes the prayer, Forgive our foolish ways;

And then, exactly what forgiveness takes.

That evil is, is never once denied,

Though half the time it is in our own eyes.

Get through the day with life intact, will do;

Keep your eye out and act with reason, too.

Abba can heal and, yes, Abba can mend;

And Abba’s glory triumphs now and then.

And, yes, we trust its triumph in the end.

This is the substance of the only prayer I teach;

It is enough to say it to yourself.

Abba will hear. You need not speak a word.

I brought the Temple down once. It survives.

I’d rather that this simple teaching thrive.

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On Poets

What is the obligation to retain?

Memories fade. Why not my own? It does.

If I say poets lie, must I explain?

Must all be held to everything they say?

Are you confused? “But that was yesterday.”

Hard work, to gather reasons to retain.

But then again, why should we be believed?

Precisely then, I do not seek belief!

I do not seek a sanctifying nod.

We poets can’t be shackled to The Truth.

Our knowledge is too small, our learning weak.

There are too many truths for us to reach.

We have the talent to take fair refuge,

In this or that delicious sight or place.

We have the ears to listen, eyes to see.

And if our senses lie, that’s poetry!

Does wisdom lurk elsewhere than in our minds?

Beyond some dumb facade or dormant form?

Why even words are slippery, they flee.

I long sometimes to lie down mindlessly,

And let heaven and earth be poetry.

Why are my feelings more precious than yours?

More noble or more honest or more sharp?

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Come, celebrate our dullness, it is real!

Today we have no wisdom to conceal.

We poets craft big answers from our pain.

I know you may resent this laying bare.

I speak it merely to connect with you,

At the precise spot where the mind meets heart,

Where, from a certain angle of vision,

The spectrum of the whole self can be viewed.

For if upon it lies no spark of life,

No inkling of what love or light might be,

And if one’s story now cannot be told,

Then look again! Or has a poet lied?

By now you are well sick of poets, right?

But I have led you here with honesty.

And when our excursion is said and done,

Your eyes may open to your only home.

Wherefore I strip the poet’s practice bare,

And gather fiction to a special pyre.

I say, Look, look within, seek Abba’s fire.

In sight of light today, not yesterday.

Seek presence, not the promise of beyond.

Let past be gift. Let expectation be.

What is more real than what is real in you?

What is more timely than the present time?

Abba does not deceive, neither do you.

And on a good day, poets speak what’s true!

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On Abba Within

I preach to you the God who is in you,

Who helps you overcome what holds you back.

I come to help you know Abba again.

Some poets and some prophets know the truth.

You see the magic in a knowing eye.

I preach the force that always is within.

I preach your holy will to overcome.

The One within is not the one who’s called

To bless a battle, validate a hate.

Religion’s gods are not the one I preach.

The One I preach no superstition finds.

No robbery of self-respect occurs.

I speak of Abba, ever-present now.

Power to be. Power to dream. Power to grow.

Religion’s gods call us to ravage life,

To rape and pillage in their holy names:

To hate the earth and even life itself.

These gods, my friends, are dead. But Abba lives.

Abba will be always who Abba is:

The one who stands for life to be well lived,

The one who stands against idolatry.

To sin against religion’s gods brings death,

But understand, religions’ gods are dead.

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Abba will not make you a penitent;

Or promise you some heavenly release.

Abba within is counselor and friend.

You will not have a need for mystery.

You won’t give heart to war and recompense.

You will not sink into depths of self-hate.

You will not turn upon the innocent,

Tear soul from body, tear body from soul.

Nor will you feed on fear ‘till malice rules.

Understand: body and soul are one.

Division is your only enemy.

The overcoming self is Abba’s aim.

I do not call you now to vain belief.

Or to behave like savage animals.

I do not call you to ways of abuse.

Abba removes resentment with one breath.

Abba is happiness. Abba is joy.

Abba is vision. Yes. Abba is love.

Abba is magnet to your highest self.

Reject religions of misplaced virtue.

Reject a justice that relies on death.

Reject a righteousness that rapes and kills.

Hold fast to Abba’s living lightning force.

Stand fast in native free and holy power.

I know that some will view these thoughts with scorn,

Just as they will reject a loving word.

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Me? I just nod and leave in silent thought,

My words only reach those with eyes to see.

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18.

On Priests

Why have the priests and I been enemies?

Some priests are heroes, who have suffered much,

And some have shown the worst hostilities.

A mantle of divinity is worn;

I stand against this outer show and cant.

I stand against implied authority.

There is a part of me that is a priest,

For I would lay my hand upon the sick,

And even hear confessions and soft prayers;

But still it pains me how the people come,

Believing priestliness is what’s required.

It is not priestliness or priestly garb,

But knowing Abba rules each life within.

This is the only priestliness we need.

But surely as this world bows down to power,

Then power demands the incense of the gods,

To reinforce its principalities.

Priests become elevated missioners,

And some become this world’s compliant pawns.

Some stray from Abba’s presence in themselves,

And others stray until the world just yawns.

You know I have compassion for these priests;

They may repel me but that matters least.

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For I have suffered with them and still do,

And they seem prisoners now, indeed enchained.

The creed they serve has left them sad captives,

Committed to false values and deceit.

Someone should come and save them from these creeds;

False values sent out in delusive words.

Divisive, superstitious and removed,

From earth, from truth, from Abba, and from me.

In them, calamity ever awakes.

They offer no safe haven in the storm.

They cannot comfort, spark or overcome.

Only the flame, the flame alone prevails.

Turn flame to creed and all must start again.

Come, close your eyes until you see the flame.

Creeds cannot carry souls to their full height.

Both priest and creed were given this command:

Seek far off heaven, sinner, on your knees.

Truly, I’d rather hear a shame-free laugh,

Than see the shame-drenched eyes of sinners saved.

How then did “God” become our enemy?

How did our “God” become the source of pain?

How does disaster come to be adored?

How could we still enshrine the crucified!

Redemption lies where it has always been;

Redemption lies in Abba who’s within.

No priestly mediation is required;

It only takes the sight of Abba’s fire.

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No halls of worship, altars set on high;

No droning hymns triumphal in their tones.

No Sabbath times and customs, no bishops;

No calling forth of devils and of ghosts.

No dramas fraught with priestly stratagems,

Just Abba, eye to eye, and one to one.

Oh, I would have a true community,

Beyond all custom and formality.

But let none speak in creedal certainties,

Or claim devotion as a talisman.

Or seek pay for what Abba gives for free,

Or play power games in sad hierarchies.

Let none appear in ghostly robes of black;

The knowledge priests possess will not suffice.

They’ve filled the gaps with suppositions false

And called the sad result theology.

Their spirit sank and drowned in pity deep;

Their folly surfaced, swimming to the top.

Then eagerly they forced a growing herd,

To tread a single path to the beyond.

These shepherds were no different than the sheep;

Small spirits, spacious souls, these spirits had.

But spacious souls created small domains,

And wrote their signs in blood along the way,

Believing only blood produces truth.

But blood is the worst witness to the truth;

The purest teaching is poisoned by blood.

Blood breeds delusion and a hating heart,

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And if a doctrine makes one walk through fire,

Pray tell me what does fire-walking prove?

Let overcoming rise from Abba’s fire,

Close, close your eyes until it’s seen within.

All times are holy and the time is now.

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19.

On The Self

I see the self as spectrum, dynamo,

The self can be entrapped or wholly free

From all the powers and principalities.

The self can be sublime or lost in fear,

Secure or caught in patterns which enslave.

I do not hold to mystical high realms,

For Abba holds the whole self in his hands.

And few there are who know what comes from what,

Or how the energies within us flow.

The self that lapses toward passivity,

Will turn a blind eye to Abba within.

A shock, a nudge, an unexpected change

May well be needed before change begins.

The self that’s runs on cruelty and spite

Is likewise deaf to Abba’s still, small voice.

It takes a massive reawakening,

To give back to such selves a sense of choice.

The self is more conscious than science says.

A canny wisdom reflects residues

Of freedom and therefore of dignity;

Take these away, you commit homicide.

What will it take for all the world to see,

The self can change deep down, internally?

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Incessant grinding out of useless talk

Cannot gainsay the truth I’d have you see.

A woman once pursued me shamelessly,

In search of healing she could never find;

All doctors found her living hopelessly,

With wounds and fissures none of them could bind.

Out of her desperation, Abba rose

And deep inside propelled her way to me

She listened to the prompting and came close

And her embrace of Abba set her free.

I have a diagnosis for all beings,

No pill and no prescription will suffice:

Clear space within yourself for Abba’s voice,

And your will shall be freed to remake life.

Without this faithful will, I could not heal.

Without an active self, disposed to hear,

Without a stand up self, that wills to see,

Without a spectrum self, no one is free.

I see the self as spectrum, dynamo,

The self can be entrapped or wholly free.

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20.

On Faith

Condemn hypocrisy and commend faith,

But understand what faith is as we speak.

For faith is not a system of belief,

It is an elemental quality.

It is an openness to Abba’s way,

A visceral, direct and childlike way;

It is an incompleteness seeking rest,

A restlessness in search of solid ground.

I never sought faith in myself at all,

For “faith in” is a lesser form of faith.

I sought the quality of yearning search

Within those who might follow Abba’s way.

Faith knows that life is more than food or clothes,

Faith knows the world belongs in Abba’s hands;

Faith knows of Abba’s care and power to change,

Faith knows that Abba means us to prevail,

But also that our freedom is so real

That it is something he would never steal.

Faith contains hope, reaching out, and search,

It summons us to seek and to explore.

Faith makes it possible to live aware,

In partnership with Abba, creator.

Life’s more than what we eat or what we wear.

Faith places trust in Abba’s love and care.

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There is abundant life beyond belief,

If we but choose to live life faithfully.

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21.

On Self Surpassing

Why surpass self, if self is spectrum-like?

Then to surpass would simply be to reach.

Or a bit more, to see how far we go.

You have no thing more precious than yourself.

It is your body, mind and spirit, all.

It is all cells which vanish, then return.

It has its themes and anchors, true enough.

But it has also tools to stretch and change.

Abba creates and your self is the gift.

The mark of the creator is in us.

The light of the creator lives in us.

Abba is in the gifts the self creates.

In all these things, we know Abba’s within.

Is not will needed to surpass the self?

I mean: To move from place to place at will?

It is a subtle question. What is will?

If you have applied energy, you know.

It is the self that generates the will.

The will is simply the self’s energy.

So could you stretch yourself by act of will?

Make of an introvert a poet fair?

Make of a failing life a new success?

Make of “addiction” something you control?

Could you trade something low for something high?

Yes! All these things and more come from the will.

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And will comes from awareness of the self.

And self is all of you and Abba too.

Is will the will to rule and dominate?

It has been such, to loss of self and world.

No, friends, I speak not ideology,

That would force visions and demand tribute.

I speak not of the power that corrupts.

The self renders to Caesar and moves on.

I speak of the essential self within.

The truth was always stated in plain words.

The prophets knew the need for a new heart:

Their term for a self that is surpassed.

I spoke of the seed falling to the ground.

This fallen seed can rise again anew.

Does Abba define change in culture’s terms?

No, no! But in terms only of the self.

The one you are is the one who becomes.

You move from where you are to where you’ll be,

Until surpassing is your history.

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22.

On Virtue

Peacemaking is a virtue, is it not?

The ones who cleave to Abba know it is;

“Your will be done on earth” is true virtue,

Though many comment: “How naive that is!”

But evil’s power is now bound enough,

For good to triumph, if we act in trust;

The power of good is limited on earth,

But do not slight the power of Abba’s love.

We are not here to passively receive

The stinging lash of grinding poverty;

We are not here to receive charity,

But rather Abba’s self-sufficiency.

And we are here to move past where we’ve been,

All virtue stands or falls on seeing this.

If we should move with Abba, good might win,

And we might better know what virtue is.

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23.

On Passions

There was a time you called your passions ill;

But surely from our passions virtues rise.

Our highest goals, the fruit of our best will,

Produce what is most beautiful and wise.

Are you inclined to put down everything?

To act in anger and fanatic rage?

To let rage and resentment take high wing?

Why not instead transform them? That is sage!

Yes, turn passions to virtues, every one;

Let devils turn to angels, as they will.

Let wild dogs sing like birds in the bright sun;

And let each passion wells of goodness fill.

Then nothing ill need ever come to you;

Just know your passions and direct them well.

Then you will overcome in all you do;

And have good stories you can tell yourself.

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24.

On Bliss

The state of heaven is a state of bliss.

For us the place of heaven is within.

And bliss is being one with Abba now.

The prayer I once gave you begins with bliss.

Abba and heaven spoken in one breath.

Heaven and earth together unopposed.

We are the earth. Within us Abba lives.

Bliss is a state of calmness in the storm.

Bliss is a state of freedom mid the rage.

Bliss is the life connection we all need.

Bliss isn’t wacky, prideful posturing.

To wear bliss on our sleeves is tacky praise.

So keep bliss to yourself. Abba won’t mind.

Bliss overcomes enigmas and regrets.

Bliss powers the surmounting of all pain.

Bliss opens vistas through all time and space.

+

Bliss is the center from which life creates.

Bliss is transcendence anchored deep within.

Bliss is the breath of Abba breathed with grace.

Bliss is an intimate embrace of life.

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Bliss is the root of deepest happiness.

To be bliss-full is also to be free.

Bliss is the state of being consciously.

+

How can so many things be claimed for bliss?

When downcast is as common as downfall?

Nothing at all is claimed save saving grace.

This is a simple testimonial.

And yet I know it is a gift for all.

I spoke one time of sheer beatitude.

Of blessings given to all those who hear

The inner promptings of the one within.

Sit light to everything, love Abba’s way.

Sit fair to everything, give fair its day.

Endure, transcend, accept, change as you may.

Bliss-full beatitude is Abba’s way.

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25.

On Weather

We lose our weather and then it returns.

We do not see the stars in smoggy towns.

We do not feel the heat when air is cooled.

We live depending on what isn’t seen.

Turn off our power; we live helplessly.

Deprive us of our fuel and we can’t move.

The weather, when not friend, seems enemy.

We do not know the ends that we devise.

Each year we claim to know the universe.

Each year things are revised, past theories shelved.

Our institutes and researches proceed,

Our faltering capacities stay frail.

Abba does not control the weather’s course.

Abba is life within, without, beyond.

The weather is one of our tests of life.

How we respond will tell us who we are.

And this has always been the basic truth.

The weather is one of our tests of life.

Which offers more protection, homes or caves?

The universe is given as a school.

And I keep saying, Ask! You shall receive!

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When Abba is rejected, failure rules.

We call our failures acts of god and grieve.

The catalog of reasons is quite clear:

We do not use our minds as Noah did.

We do not act together mindfully.

We act to make up for passivity.

And then go back to lassitude and sleep.

To have Abba at hand is mindfulness.

To have Abba always is working through.

To have Abba in touch is not to stray.

But our performance shows how much we lose.

The universe we see is like a fan.

It can be closed or opened with one hand.

The one we call Abba, our closest friend,

Has aspects that we cannot comprehend.

But we know more as we attend to life.

And those who know the most feel Abba’s touch.

We cannot prove existence beyond proof.

But we can know Abba with one small breath.

And if we see our lives as Abba’s school,

We can face life. And challenge. Even death.

What’s worse? A sudden storm or human hate?

Say neither. Accept both. But not as fate.

Life is the force of learning. Life’s a school.

And weather is a lesson to be learned.

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26.

Back To the Child

Would I be jailed for touching children now?

Oh no, you say, it has to do with how.

Would I be faulted holding children high?

A child can be demanding, infantile.

Is that the way things are in Abba’s realm?

Except you be as one of these, stay out!

Can we say all we see is in decline?

That children have no spark left in their eyes?

That parents have no time to care or love?

Why would I say the kingdom is for these?

Except you be a child, you can’t belong!

Come voyage with me back to when I spoke.

Your children have lost much of what I saw.

I speak of spectrums when it comes to all.

We have our nasty moments, vengeful days.

A child will grasp and hate and fear and scream.

A child will melt with love and visions fair.

I peel the onion of reality.

And when I do the center is the womb.

Here sperm meets egg and miracle ensues.

Some chances from the billions come to life.

Two persons have together made someone.

Or twins or triplets, I’m not literal.

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This mating is a spectrum in itself.

For anger can conceive as well as love.

Neglect is just as prevalent as care.

Resentment rises in some children’s’ eyes.

The damage of the first days will survive.

So shall I say it now as I said then?

Let children come to me, do not prevent!

For Abba’s realm is made of such as these.

And as a little child you need to be.

Stop! I will say exactly what I mean.

If I place children first, ahead of wars—

If I place children first, instead of cars—

If I place children first, instead of wealth—

If I place children first in Abba’s view—

Why would I? You must answer me. Come. Do!

It is because this is the mountain top.

And everything descends from every birth.

Until this world is weighed beyond all hope

And failure reigns in every land and home.

Children, widows, sex slaves. criminals—

They all are one in Abba’s loving eyes.

The shards and shattered pieces of our world.

Sing Kyries for deaths that we inflict.

What values do you place atop all else?

Guts! Competition! Winning! Love the Flag!

Stop once again and picture me back then.

A milling crowd who take me for a freak

Or for some magical celebrity.

Some frail disciples shooing kids away.

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And I, in livid anger, say, No way!

Bring them to me! To Abba, they come first!

Before the likes of you. Make way! Make way!

+

The ruined children I see are adults.

And loving them is harder than a child.

This is the inner meaning of my words.

Each one of us contains a little child.

Recover her. Recover him. Seize life.

Except you find the cringing child inside

And give that child the deepest warmth you have,

You’ll flinch at life and commit still more crimes,

Because of what you lost once as a child.

See the child who drinks himself to death.

See the child whose nose is flush with drugs.

See the child who commits suicide.

Hatred lavished on the one who was.

+

I say that in an instant all can change.

The wounded child can yet be taken close.

Enveloped in the light of Abba’s love.

For Abba lives within each mother’s child.

The broken children from our mountaintop

Build broken cities modeled on their pain.

There is a sad and hard continuum

From child’s resentment to completion’s stage.

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Will father turn to Abba or pace on?

Will mother turn away from her cell phone?

Will children feel affirmed or more neglect?

+

Change values, world! That was my message then.

Change values, world! That is my message now.

The simplest things. The most egregious sins.

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27.

On Small Virtues

Small virtues are not small in any way;

Small virtues can be signs of giving hearts,

Thoughtful things one does with care and grace.

To look down on small virtues can be small;

There is an origin of such put-downs.

They rise from two perspectives commonly:

The first is snobbery which looks askance

At actions seen as crude, or low, or trite.

A sneer goes forth that says, Servility!

Or, Tacky! Or, Without taste! Or, How gauche!

(Oblivious as Abba feels the lash.)

The second view suspects hypocrisy.

A caring hand within a family

Turns into violence out in the world.

I have been known to say of all virtues:

What good is what is easy to perform?

Why love of friends and not of enemies?

To these hard questions I would also add:

Consider what the good you do achieves.

Take care to know how all the ripples flow.

Do not take pride in causing far-off grief.

Or get puffed up with showy charity.

I shall come back to this, but first this thought:

In truth, you could be free of all of this.

But only if you slough off all self-hate.

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Yes, hatred of yourself, imperfect you.

Yes, hatred of yourself, the fallen you.

Yes, hatred of yourself, the failing you.

All of these hates can mix in with virtue,

Producing double-binds and conundrums.

But Abba sees this mixture in each soul.

How self-hate breeds depression and despond.

How Herculean efforts don’t suffice

To pay the prices that self-hate exacts.

There is a light within. A spark of life.

It’s Abba’s presence and your divine seal.

Accept. Observe. Let pass, as Abba does.

+

Your best virtue is claiming none at all,

Regardless if your deeds be large or small.

You do not know the end of what you do,

Or uses others put your efforts to.

I call this your baptism of true fire.

Unseen, unheard, it happens many times.

When judging ends, your self-love is renewed,

Self-love founded in Abba’s love of you.

The smaller good, the more your good achieves.

The smaller good, you see the ripples flow.

The smaller good, you cause no far-off grief,

Nor fall into false forms of charity.

A billion small goods might do more in all,

Than all the vaunted plans some leaders hatch.

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The victims of large goods that turned to flame

Are muted testimonies to this truth.

So sneer not at small virtues but raise hands

Against virtues that turn the world to ash.

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28.

On Being Ignored

Whenever you are seen as knowing much,

Or having wisdom, smarts or expertise,

You run the risk of being filled with pride

And then the risk of ending up ignored.

This is most true of those who would reform,

Whose brush is broad, who seek to change the world.

Expectations of your past go forth,

And woe to you if you do not conform.

Reject the image people have of you,

And it were better you kept silence too.

How many of us end up in exile?

We see ourselves as silenced. We retreat.

But look at things again. Be honest now.

What gave us cause to leave our audience?

What happened that led us to close the doors?

Perhaps I judge too harshly, blind to pain.

Perhaps the door was really shut on you.

I merely say, Come, see the cause again.

For if a cause is festering within,

The chances are your future is as well.

Yes, exile often is a two way street,

Created by ourselves and by events.

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And even if rejected, it makes sense

To seek perspective on a frozen past.

Do you subject the past to a broad curse?

Consign a stack of memories to flames?

Say you never will go back home again?

Or hate the world you once sought to remake?

Live high, aloof, alone, in bitterness?

Take angered solace in your solitude?

Excuse me if I disturb this high peace.

Would you allow Abba a simple word?

“I’ve been within you, as I always am.

And you have never, ever been ignored.

I’ve been within you waiting for your nod,

So we can seek a nearer, better shore.

“We can repair the bridges time has burned,

Or we can move along as we decide.

Just know your isolation is not real,

For you have had a friend from start to now.”

So what takes place when such soft words are heard?

You’re free to choose, to reassess your time,

To do your history over, as it were,

To start again and set your course anew.

This freedom never leaves, it is instant.

But open eyes and ears to who you are.

Stand tall in knowing you are not ignored.

Not by the eyes that count, the ears who hear.

“I am in all; I link all in a chain,

Or circle or great gathering or throng.

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I wait for you to be the who you are.

Not burdened by resentment, hate or pain.”

Ah, think of that when you end up alone.

For it is death we feel when we’re ignored.

But, even then, in that most lonely place,

Reach out, look in, feel Abba’s presence there.

For even in the most lonesome valley,

I say to you, You shall not be ignored.

You shall walk hand in hand through death’s shadow.

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29.

On Apostates

The age of apostates is over now;

Religion’s age was the apostate one.

Religion’s age is over, all agree.

Who rejects creeds rejects apostasy.

The struggle that now circles ’bout this globe

Is religion in its last death throes.

Those who practice simple tolerance,

I call their goodness non-idolatrous.

And what is non-idolatry but truth?

The highest of all values finally.

The name we give it: non-idolatry.

It was the highest at the very start.

“I am who I am,” came from the flame.

And then came: “I will be who I will be.”

Those who use religion murderously

Are the tag-end of idolatry.

Religion dies and Abba lives anew

Within each person, waiting for one prayer:

Seek, ask, knock and the way will open.

Still apostate seems real enough to some.

Apostate is a view the self absorbs

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By turning teachings into formal creeds,

And buying into human absolutes.

Embrace a truth from which you fall away

And you’re apostate, faithless, outcast, scorned

Writhe in the guilt of failure to live up.

That is not Abba’s way, nor Abba’s wish.

The opposite of apostate is free

Your deeds will be your judge not your beliefs

When masters of tradition claim the truth

Apostasy is built into their frame,

Along with institutions, laws and rules.

The master that you serve will rule your mind

But Abba does not seek to rule your mind.

It is enough to use it! Use it well.

The opposite of apostate is free.

Your creativity is free to be.

The only proof the world needs is the light

That shines within when Abba answers prayer.

When one doffs all but Abba’s graceful sway

The very word apostate fades away.

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31.

On Lonesomeness

Today I wish to speak of lonesomeness:

Lonesomeness does not mean being alone;

Lonesomeness is more a lasting state,

That only ends when Abba is embraced.

Then lonely is a simple need for touch,

And lonesomeness a state that is no more.

Too simple? Yes, I do believe that’s so.

For lonesomeness has layers broad and deep,

And its effects can be disastrous.

For lonesomeness arises from strong fears.

In broadest terms it is a loss of place,

A loss of feeling tied to everyone.

Once no man was an island, but no more.

Once there were shores and boundaries, but no more.

Even the bars of language start to fade,

And definition seeks some new context,

And no one really knows what happens next.

And yet we know the care we thought we had

Is hardly care at all—it has no life.

We witness waves of accident and death,

In small or large, it makes no difference.

We live now side by side with genocide.

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The fabric of community so frayed,

That we can hardly know a valid way.

The valid way I offer you have heard:

It is the only cure for lonesomeness.

Abba within is within everyone,

Beyond belief or will or promises;

Abba within is this—it simply is.

Do not be judge of this in others’ eyes,

Assuming it’s not there if you can’t see.

Do not walk back and forth and moralize,

This one is bourgeois, this one is OK.

Accept and wait until the truth is known,

Not with displays, mass shouts or festivals;

Let knowledge, hearing, actions be your guide,

And if connection languishes move on.

To dwell on misconnection makes no sense,

Accept, move on, beyond your lonesomeness.

Here is one reason why my time is now:

To stave off waves of lonesomeness and angst;

Not with sweet doses of naiveté,

But with these words of old stripped of their age—

The good news once is still the good news now,

Perhaps a better news for all our pains:

The realm of Abba’s here. It is at hand.

Turn, turn, turn, turn, accept and all is well.

And yet I know you well enough to know

You seek a proof. You seek some form of show.

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How long must you know Abba is within,

Before the light of this close tie is seen?

I tell you some days it will be high, bright,

And other days it will show, but low light.

Still I say Abba always is within;

Each day you fail see is one day lost.

But even that is wrong, for Abba holds

You in the deepest love when you see not.

We whirl like bits or flour in a bowl

Afraid that we’ll all be submerged and lost

But here: The gift I give can save you now.

Your lonesomeness is ended. Take the prize!

Abba is deep within you. Take your stand.

Step out, reach out, go out, stretch out a hand.

Turn lonesomeness to lonely, then you’re free.

Acknowledge lonely, see it cease to be.

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32.

Of Abba Within

I preach to you the God who is in you,

Who helps you overcome what holds you back.

I come to help you know Abba again.

Some poets and some prophets know the truth.

You see the magic in a knowing eye.

I preach the force that always is within.

I preach your holy will to overcome.

The One within is not the one who’s called

To bless a battle, validate a hate.

Religion’s gods are not the one I preach.

The One I preach no superstition finds.

No robbery of self-respect occurs.

I speak of Abba, ever-present now.

Power to be. Power to dream. Power to grow.

Religion’s gods call us to ravage life,

To rape and pillage in their holy names:

To hate the earth and even life itself.

These gods, my friends, are dead. But Abba lives.

Abba will be always who Abba is:

The one who stands for life to be well lived,

The one who stands against idolatry.

To sin against religion’s gods brings death,

But understand, religions’ gods are dead.

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Abba will not make you a penitent;

Or promise you some heavenly release.

Abba within is counselor and friend.

You will not have a need for mystery.

You won’t give heart to war and recompense.

You will not sink into depths of self-hate.

You will not turn upon the innocent,

Tear soul from body, tear body from soul.

Nor will you feed on fear ‘till malice rules.

Understand: body and soul are one.

Division is your only enemy.

The overcoming self is Abba’s aim.

I do not call you now to vain belief.

Or to behave like savage animals.

I do not call you to ways of abuse.

Abba removes resentment with one breath.

Abba is happiness. Abba is joy.

Abba is vision. Yes. Abba is love.

Abba is magnet to your highest self.

Reject religions of misplaced virtue.

Reject a justice that relies on death.

Reject a righteousness that rapes and kills.

Hold fast to Abba’s living lightning force.

Stand fast in native free and holy power.

I know that some will view these thoughts with scorn,

Just as they will reject a loving word.

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Me? I just nod and leave in silent thought,

My words only reach those with eyes to see.

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33.

On Perception

Perception’s seeing through to something else.

Perception’s intuition on the move.

Perception is a quality of sight.

Capacity to see and understand.

Look in a pair of eyes, see subtle moves.

Perception isn’t fixed ideas we have.

It is awareness, it could lead to joy.

Or it could lead to sorrow, or stone rage.

The future is perception’s only proof.

The most perceptive are the most mindful.

Self-reference and perception do not mix.

Perception is secure in its silence.

For one can see and see, and not perceive.

And hear and hear, but never understand.

Perception precedes creativity.

There are one thousand visions in a view.

Perception picks out one from all the rest.

There are a million tunes in just twelve notes.

Perception hears a single ordering.

There are a trillion cells in pregnancy.

Perception sees the living in outline.

Perception’s one of Abba’s precious gifts.

You might call it divining mindfulness.

Or native instinct honed to danger’s drift.

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Perception is not sentimental cant,

Not maxims, sayings or “philosophy”.

Perception is attuned to earth’s cadence.

It does not despise earthly evidence.

Perception is not selfish, it is free.

Perception knows and feels the earth’s beauty.

Be a creator, procreator, love!

Do not feign contemplation with closed eyes.

Courageously perceive the beautiful

In what stands tall and bends with Abba’s winds.

Believe in you, for Abba does the same.

Believe the truth within and look without.

Value perception beyond every sense,

For what is sense if sense cannot perceive?

Life is no game, it is creation’s stage.

The arts you have are servants of your sight.

Breathe in, perceive, embrace and love the earth.

Not as it is, but as perception sees.

See first, look hard, then create what is seen.

It might be simple as a pot that boils,

Or strands of hair let fall in morning light.

Or a small motion beyond entrapment

In hells made by our bullish blindfulness.

Design a home in which we might know life.

Design a way of life that does not kill.

In place of superstition, open eyes.

In place of fetid foulness, spaces fair.

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Perception makes demands blindness ignores.

Perception propels spirit toward the real.

Perception transforms chaos with a glance.

Perception can transform the present day.

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34.

On Culture

I saw a mother talking on her cell.

Her child just sat there. I cried for the child.

I see mild-mannered men turn maniacs.

And children left to die without a thought.

I ask is there a culture anymore.

And answer: Things are still the same always.

Is Abba in the person who will kill?

Is Abba for the person who makes war?

Is culture but the cloak that violence wears?

Propound a perfect ethic, play the fool.

Die in the bargain, that’s the way it goes.

How simply one can state reality!

Is culture what makes it acceptable?

Culture and cults. Are they that much opposed?

Let’s hoard perfection under our fair sign!

You see the logic spread: We have no choice.

Mix violence and power. And triage.

I saw a mother talking on her cell.

I did not intervene. I cried inside.

I see mild mannered men turn maniacs.

I did not intervene. I cried inside.

I ask is there a culture anymore.

And answer: Things are much the same always.

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Culture is style dressed in technology.

Function or form, it makes no difference which.

It all adds up to just the way things are.

Or does it? How is it we stand outside?

It is because Abba stands outside too.

The Abba within everyone calls: Come!

Choose neither cult nor culture, choose the truth.

The violent foundation was the truth.

Dismantle it and you will move beyond.

Let it persist and Abba’s hands are tied.

For Abba wills you free to make the choice.

I saw a mother talking on her cell.

I wrote this message. Maybe she will see.

I see mild mannered men turn maniacs.

I stand against determinisms. All!

I ask is there a culture anymore.

Oh yes, there is, but I shall live outside.

To bring all of beatitude to earth

Requires overcoming of the past.

It is the same task ever and always.

It is the reason we exist at all.

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35.

On The Sublime

Sublime is genius moving on its plane,

Creating all alone, or for all time.

Sublime is vision shared or solitaire.

It is one come from many in one’s sight.

Sublime is love’s most precious memory.

It could be fact or fiction, truth or lie.

There is no final standard for sublime.

Sublime is in the viewer, not the sky.

Shall we say Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Grieg?

A mother’s pleasure when the waters breach?

A perfect serve, a flawless diamond play?

Sublimity is not so rare as these.

It is our name for moments high and dear.

But Abba is each person’s high and dear!

Is not Abba the source of what’s sublime?

If sublime is subjective, what’s to say?

Sublime self-validates. That is its way.

Sublimity is gateway to life’s core.

Accept it, Yes, deny it, No, it is.

In freedom only can we grasp its truth.

In freedom only can it be the truth.

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When Moses came up to the burning bush,

The answer he received was freedom’s poem.

‘I Am’ has sent you, I am what I am.

There is no life without sublimity.

Ah, words and words and words and words again.

When it’s unspeakable, why do we speak?

It is because we sense life’s walls! That’s true.

There is a point beyond which we can’t go.

With others, with ourselves, with the sublime.

Is this the fabled apple on the tree?

Pluck, eat, enjoy, and plumb all mystery.

Sublime’s within the envelope of life.

It is a sign that life is more than sight,

Or hearing, or the feelings we possess.

For sight and feelings tell us there is more.

We shall not find more proof of a beyond.

Sublime takes us to chaos beyond sight,

And that redemptive chaos is a dream.

And dream and mind can knock, but only know,

As far as we can go and then no more.

So cherish the sublime. Create it too.

Thank Abba for it, share it, look for it.

Our lives are bounded by sublimity

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36.

On Graves

Think not that these cold graves shall disappear.

I conquer death but people have their ways.

Indeed, I said, Let dead bury the dead.

But living-color funerals still hold sway.

What is a mansion with a thousand rooms?

You have it now, if you have eyes to see.

What is, You kill the least and you kill me?

The least are killed on schedule week by week.

Each of my sayings has been twisted well.

Or, when too plain, forgotten or ignored.

So death and graves are doing quite well now.

Few see the light of Abba’s laugh within.

Few grasp the freedom to transcend the mix.

Few seem to see beyond this mortal pale.

To make of life a journey beyond life,

You must seize life as Abba wills it seized—

As gift, as school, as sunlit path, as trove

Of deep discoveries and lessons learned at last.

Why else would Abba choose this life as home?

And each of us as habitation dear?

Why death you say? I tried to answer once.

And you turned it to superstitious cant.

Reality was made a miracle.

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Authority replaced all common sense.

Mystery was made dominion’s tool.

Is Abba in us? Yes. Do we go on?

If we are one with Abba, could we not?

Ex nihilo, from nothing, something comes.

But what a mess of life religion makes,

When it crafts heaven to make slaves of us,

And makes the act of reasoning a sin.

Venality persists in places high

And principalities live past their time.

Our vanquished devils become power’s muse.

These turn death from a natural event,

Even a thankful ending, peaceful rest,

To centerpiece and twin of violence,

To high commerce and monumental moves.

Make all days holy and they shall not end.

Sit light to graves for they are not the end.

Perceive the miracle as natural.

And life with Abba as transcending death.

Think not that these cold graves shall disappear.

Think one with Abba when the “end” appears.

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37.

On Wisdom

Wisdom and superstition, hand in hand,

Have gored and savaged wisdom in the past.

Free spirits rose and fell before their truths;

Their truths were creeds for which there was no proof;

Their truths were rules which they enforced with power;

Even today, the creedal seek control.

But where lies wisdom? In authority?

To raise the question thus betrays the truth.

For once authority is given place,

It is the ruling kingdom over all.

And wisdom cannot thrive, no it is crushed,

Beneath the boot heels of its certainty.

Wisdom is given to the little child,

Then lost to those who lose their open eyes,

And cannot hear the winds of Abba’s moves,

Within the soft synapses of the brain,

Or round the nervous beating of the heart.

Wisdom turns to nostrums and to noise.

Then skitters nervously this way and that,

Minds rush through mazes of miasmal mist,

And end up making houses built on sand,

Or scattering good seed on sun-scorched paths.

Wisdom is not suppression of the mind,

It is the mind that centers on Abba,

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The very spirit of wisdom within,

The reason that prevails when Abba rules.

When I first came, I spoke of great good news:

Abba is near! Turn and receive life now.

But we like drama, conflict, wars and death.

We feed on these like lions in a cage.

We do not see a wiser choice exists:

To use our wisdom to create our art.

To use our hearing to make melodies.

To let the flame of seeking come alive.

To cherish knowing as we cherish life.

There is no wisdom in this group or that,

Or in this nation or this piece of earth.

There is no magic in this spot or that,

There’s only what the mind and heart create.

The truly wise observe and thus they make,

New worlds and new realities always.

The best wisdom is won in solitude

And then becomes a journey’s golden rule:

Truth beauty, beauty truth, truth love.

And in this pale is wisdom’s hard way won.

Wisdom does not enslave, it frees.

Wisdom may not be where it claims to be.

Wisdom is known not by its self preening,

Nor intellect, nor number of degrees.

Wisdom is ultimate security,

Not a parade for all the world to see.

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Wisdom is neither blind nor cruel,

It’s neither cold nor hot, nor maxim brief.

It is the sense of oneness with Abba,

Not from some prescribed act of faith or rote,

But from experience of light within.

It is not wild, it is not edgy show;

It is the silence that arises when you know.

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38.

On Equality

Equality is inches to a T;

Equality is even on the scales.

Equality is rights given to all;

Did I blindside you with my third pentam?

How do we speak so of equality,

When rights appear to be all privilege?

One century it is our right to live;

Another it’s our right to dominate.

Do all possess the solemn rights we claim?

To eat? To sleep in peace? To live unblamed?

Quite clearly, rights are triaged and the weak,

Are given over to the powerful.

No less clear are false “trumpets of the Lord”,

Proclaiming rights of those in vaunted power.

And thus we lose sight of our vantage point:

The vantage point of Abba deep within.

This vantage point calls all to live within,

The equal pale of Abba’s brimming love,

With equal chance to say a Yes today.

Once take this sacred dignity away,

And you have murdered with more certainty,

Than blade or bullet or the unseen bomb.

And so, without revenge or pity, say:

We make our murders by common consent.

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Then to the priests of war say this forthwith,

With courage, standing tall, with open eyes:

We are not equal under anything.

We’re equal only when we can say Yes.

Yes to the presence of Abba within.

Yes to the presence of Abba in all.

Yes to our world where Abba asks, seeks, knocks,

Imploring us to let our judging go

And cede to all the same equality.

And thus lay bare the sad logic of war:

It is the cycle of the god revenge.

False justice, hidden greed and mindless need.

No one who seeks revenge will overcome,

Within or on the bloody battlefield.

We claim that we are fighting tyranny,

And yet we wish to be high tyrants too.

Our envy is a frenzy of revenge;

We dress our righteousness in fell conceit.

My friends, mistrust impulsive punishers;

The executioner is not our friend.

Mistrust all justice-seekers bearing arms.

Mistrust the masters of our images.

Mistrust religions touting gods of war.

Some preach as I do but are false besides.

They say they favor life but wish to hurt.

To overcome is to reject this way.

Equality in rights, not in revenge!

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39.

On Crowds

Life is a well of joy, but what of crowds?

Building for crowds has leeched life from all souls;

The spirit recoils from such rank control;

We see crowds shepherded by nameless drones.

Small wonder we would turn away from life

With only one thought, to escape the crowd.

No wonder we would seek the wilderness;

But even there we don’t escape the blight.

Dig inches there and you will surely find,

Stark evidence of crowds past and to come.

Then dig within and simply realize,

I am the crowd as sure as I am born.

Annihilate the hordes and kill yourself.

Thus crowds are spectrum, just like consciousness.

From low to high, from mad to the sublime.

Sometimes I feel a hateful nausea,

But then concede the crowd its high esprit.

And then I watch the politicians dance,

And their transparent haggling for power;

They play the crowd like parlous puppet fools.

Then too the frantic media pursuit;

I think I hear the decibels of doom.

How do I overcome this nausea?

I learn to live with Abba everywhere;

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I celebrate the gift of mindfulness.

There is an all-embracing Abba core,

Its armor is what I most love to wear.

Do I receive wings and divining powers?

No, but I sense I overcome.

From inner silence I give you this word:

Transcend the crowd if you would overcome.

Take it or leave it but do not place blame;

You are the crowd to all who move apace.

The violent cacophony we hear,

Cannot be blamed, if we close Abba out.

There is no secret sanctum we must seek,

Though there are places of profoundest peace.

I would the way of Abba spread to all,

So inner guidance cities might create,

With public spaces keyed to private needs.

I would the way of Abba spread to all,

So crowds might celebrate and not destroy,

And world be made a place all can enjoy.

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40.

On Pity

Our vaunted pity is a two edged sword;

One edge is the worst arrogance of all;

Another is the worst hypocrisy;

I need but cite the world’s sad history.

The truly noble sees this double bind,

And leaves self-righteous cavil far behind.

No more is pity placed upon parade,

And made the subject of mawkish headlines.

If you feel pity, hold it deep within;

Shroud your face and flee before you’re seen.

That’s what I do. I bid you do the same.

Is pitiless the quality we need?

No, hardly that, We need a better way.

Share hope and meal and honey, head held high.

Better than hopeless rounds of “charity”.

I would not fail to help the suffering,

But it is best when done from deepest joy.

Our joylessness is our most grievous sin;

If we can learn to feel a joy inside,

Then we can also learn to love, not hurt.

But only overcomers feel such joy,

For only overcomers know Abba.

The suffering of sufferers shames us,

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Our charity will merely hurt their pride.

Or earn their bitter laughter to our shame.

Do you believe debt creates gratitude?

No, all our pity is a gnawing worm.

That’s why forgiving debts makes such good sense!

Forgive, have done, move on, lend not, just give.

All gifts are wrong when they engender shame;

They’re worse if they engender helplessness.

A gift is wrong when it trumpets your name;

And turns society into charade.

Much charity is pity recognized;

So give when no one looks and feel no shame!

Let your love be a mile above pity;

Let your love see the light that is within.

Not just in you, but in the ones you help.

Be warned, be warned. From pity comes a cloud,

A cloud that can envelop all the world.

In truth, I understand these weather signs;

The greatest love is far above pity;

The greatest love is subtle and direct;

It rises not from fear but confidence.

It’s given to the one who overcomes.

And how might overcoming come to be?

Stop! Call on Abba inside. You will see!

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41.

On The Task At Hand

Just like ripe figs, my teachings fall on you.

My friends, come drink their juice, eat their sweet meat.

Now we would be the ones who overcome,

We would give birth to those who overcome.

To overcome, you re-create yourselves.

For everything is thinkable to you,

Visible and feelable to you.

We shall create what we have called the world,

Reason, love, and purpose realized.

Let me reveal my heart to you alone:

There’s no escaping to some god out there.

I come to call you to the one who spoke,

From burning bushes: I’ll be who I’ll be.

This very One with No Name lives in us.

I call him Abba. Call him who you will.

But do not see him as someone out there,

For nothing out there will make you anew.

Only your grasping of the light within.

Sometimes you will not see, but still will know.

If you’ve seen love in others, then its glow

Is kin to the sweet light that is within.

Time and becoming are my parables.

I sing changed values and changed ways I praise.

Let’s be the strong co-bearers of the light.

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Yes light that shone when earth and sky were made.

When seas’ and mountains’ foundations were laid.

Beget then and become, lead life with joy.

Be not afraid to be creative will.

Come chime the bell within and overcome.

Our will to create turns us toward this world;

It is a hammer angled to the stone.

And in the stone, a lovely image sleeps.

Yea, in the hardest, ugliest stone of all.

A shadow came to me, all still and light,

The beauty of the overcoming One.

It came as shadow, past the gods of old.

The one who makes this earth to be as heaven,

And every value thus to be reclaimed,

Until the despised rise as mustard trees,

And pearls are plucked from places deep and dank.

It is our task to build from deep within

Until a divine momentum begins.

Unrecognized at first, because so new,

Instead of churches, temples, me and you.

The commentators will say we play god;

I say there is no language we can use,

That will not be distorted or abused.

The light within is Abba and is real

And faith was always Abba energy,

Not items of belief or hoary creeds.

Blah, blah, blah, blah,blah, blah ad nauseam.

Seek Abba’s light within and try again.

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Remember when I healed and fed a crowd?

Quite minor in the scheme of what could be,

But when it was clear there was energy,

The very hint of that was blasphemy.

Indeed you might say miracles killed me!

The task at hand is to know Abba true,

Abba is not some new age point of light,

Nor is he set on pitting side and side.

Abba is who I came to represent,

The one whose light is truly heaven-sent.

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42.

On The Flame Within

Why have I come to face such suffering?

Is it to plant a seed that truly grows?

To flourish like the fabled mustard tree?

The flame of Abba’s love that is within?

For tell a vaunted, prideful government

That it is not colossus but servant,

And it will crush you with its hard boot heel.

Or tell an emperor or president,

That he or she’s a relic of the past,

And you will feel the stings of arrogance,

And see with sorrow how the past persists.

And tell the one who lives by fixed ideas,

That all fixed thoughts are now made free to move;

And you will face denial’s baleful stare,

And wonder why in heaven you would dare,

To come back here with hopes of some sea change.

Despite all this, the fearsome spark remains,

The smallest ground of freedom still exists,

Flame upon flint, portentous flame within.

It lies so deep inside some tortured breasts,

That people pass it by and thus consign

The bearers to their daily prisons dark,

These prisons worse than those with cold steel bars.

Thus simply to deny this little light

Is to commit foul murder silently.

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This tiny spark is Abba’s potent flame

Suppressed within all creatures when denied.

You may be bloated by the richness of too much,

Or burdened by a famine’s deathly weight;

Or simply sit alone in your office,

Your eyes fixed on a screen that will not speak.

I need to call all eyes to look within.

And then to look beyond. To look in eyes.

And, face to face, to see the spark is real.

Within, without, beyond, above, below.

Light of the world. A sorrow-bearing light.

A light with strong shoulders. A light to bear

The pain of straying times. A light of life.

A flame to overcome and create new,

A flame for all, a flame meant just for you.

A fire baptism that is for real,

A fire that no power on earth can steal.

A power to bind the wounds that you can’t heal.

Turn, turn to Abba then. Receive the flame,

And listen for the whisper of your name.

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43.

On Loving Enemies

True, knowing ones must love their enemies,

But how to do this best eludes us all.

First learn your way, do not go following;

Make truth your own and do not imitate.

Hard counsel that, we are mimetic souls;

But from mimesis to your true self grow.

Revere me not. Let all your reverence end.

Or else, one day, a statue may slay you.

You believe in Jesus? What is that?

You could not find yourselves, so you found me?

I bid you lose me now; look for yourselves.

For only when you do will I return.

With different eyes I shall seek out my lost;

And with a different love I shall love you.

I know that once again we shall be friends;

You’ll then be children of a single hope.

And we shall celebrate the breaking noon,

When we shall see, then leave, our bestial past.

I tell you we must love our enemies,

Not with some slavish, rote-made, wimpish stance.

Stand tall. Respect. Receive. Reason. Speak firm.

Your enemy deserves your deep respect.

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Become a doormat and end up a fool.

Proceed from strength and see with eyes of truth.

To love your enemy is how to clear

A tiny space of peace within a war;

To clear it where you can, and when you can’t,

At least proceed with reason and respect.

Your mindfulness is not a gift you give,

It is an armament around your soul.

But give of it and peaceful space will be

A sure reward, free of all enmity.

Neither look up or down, but eye to eye;

This is the overcoming risk you take.

Secure you’ll be, for Abba lives within;

And in your enemy lives Abba’s twin.

There is no blessing if it is not free.

There is no good if it is not desired.

Our world today is like some sad play yard

Where emulation of the worst prevails.

Choose carefully the values you live by.

I say no more. In fact, I’ve said too much.

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44.

On Love of Earth

How have we loved the earth as time goes by?

Conglomerates roll willy nilly o’er

Its rills and contours. And impunity

Becomes the operative word, and war

Is what we wage. Or is it really war?

For no, we have a brief to dominate,

And nature is a two-edged scimitar,

And we lie to ourselves if we deny

That we are in control, for so we are.

We love the earth by seeing honestly

The ways in which earth is our enemy

It would be well to act respectfully

By not denying what we plainly see.

For many nature is a living myth,

An evocation of some other world;

For those with eyes to see, the truth is mixed,

For nature is a crazy quilt, unfurled,

The spectrum ranges from carnivorous,

To beauties past our power to describe;

A great procession of creations various—

Outrageous, frightening, cruel, sublime.

Respect the earth, and learn to know it well,

Respect its processes and mysteries;

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Fathom its laws, unveil its gifts and flaws,

And learn to master its good processes.

The meekness I propounded has been bent

To represent a dour passivity;

Let me now say exactly what I meant:

I meant humility toward mystery,

I meant the care of a good engineer,

I meant a common sense ability,

A simple penchant for making things clear.

I am no enemy of science, no,

But meekness is what good science requires;

Or else it simply joins our idiot show.

Instead of fine solutions, raging fires.

Instead of floating homes, drowned villages.

Befriend the earth? Not in some naive way;

Befriend it standing tall in Abba’s care.

Befriend the earth, but idolize it not;

For Abba’s way makes us the masters there.

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45.

On Gift Giving

Gift giving is the height of all virtue.

Be not afraid to make gifts of yourselves.

Always pass on the riches of your soul.

Tell me what’s bad, what is the worst of all?

It is the soul that’s closed to giving gifts.

It is the sense of, Everything for me!

True virtues are alike: they overcome.

Your body’s friend, the spirit, creates gifts.

It is in giving that you overcome.

So listen to your spirit, hear its speech.

And let it lead you to your own virtue.

And when your body is aligned with it,

Your spirit will delight and nurture you.

Become the one who creates and esteems,

The loving benefactor of all things.

The one who passes on the gift within.

Let your heart be a river broad and full.

And when you are beyond all praise and blame,

You’ll find yourself commanding everything.

Yes, you will be past seeking the crowd’s praise.

Comfort will not end up your fondest wish.

Your mind will waken to all those who seek.

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Let your own will reflect this single mind,

And learn to live beyond a sense of need.

For then your virtue will become your friend,

And be the gift you share with all who see.

With your good hand and eye, a giver be,

Free spirit unattached, open to all.

Without a need for praise or sense of blame,

Then you are free to give just as you wish.

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46.

On Death

Death is the slow, or sudden, end of life,

From violence, disease or long decline.

Death is as destined as the rising sun,

As certain as the rolling of the tides.

Death is as real as a state of mind.

Or as a dream remembered in the dawn.

Within the mind of Abba, life’s a gift.

And gifts are free, not to be held too tight.

The best of gifts achieve their destiny.

The gift of life is wrapped in nothingness,

In planetary voids and cell-less deeps.

Religion builds fair castles in the sky

And life is turned from gift to burdened wait.

Each day that might reveal a lively depth,

Is prey to rumbling tumbrels in our minds.

Intent and will are shunted to the side,

And hope is centered on some long beyond,

And in the eyes a blankness speaks cold doom,

And walking seems a shuffling death march.

Those who know Abba know life survives

Without demanding knowledge beyond death.

Those for whom Abba lives inwardly

Say yes to what in life lives beyond time.

Yes to work that brings visions alive,

Yes to play that plumbs the joys inside;

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And yes to holy creativity,

That moves us past death’s shadows toward the light.

Yes to dying when the right time comes;

A death that says its yes to all that lives.

But no to deaths from battle and disease,

And no to this world’s criminal decrees!

I live again now. Once I died too young.

The hated victim of the good and just.

I knew the way of love and laughter too,

And came to show the way to overcome.

How immature the world’s hatred of life,

How self-serving the worship of grim death.

I say be free to die and free in death,

And say a holy Yes when No is past.

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47.

On Child and Marriage

What can be said of marriage and the child?

The notion that a child takes precedence

Is heresy to self-indulgent ears.

Do we not know that marriage is for “love”?

Why then is love so adversarial?

A bond to win protection from the state.

Should love abate, the state divides the spoils.

Prenuptials define how deep love runs.

What of infatuation? Is that love?

And if so, what of children? Of the child?

Children are such brats, imperious.

Children are no noisy, shut them up.

Why can’t we have time just for ourselves?

I’m stuck here all day with these awful kids.

Now I am left alone. How to survive?

Marriage and family, the mantra goes.

Why then are children such an afterthought?

Or like some program to be done from pride?

Or trophies to be always on display?

Or else abandoned in a thousand ways?

How mixed up and how mired in moral cant?

Where to begin? Well I’ll start at the end.

See no child as the product of wedlock.

See each child as but Abba’s jealous claim.

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See marriage as a word people have made

To speak whatever language they prefer.

See children as those whom adults once were.

Despair of sorting through parental blames,

A simple reason would spare us this play.

But passion is not simple, nor is rage.

And reason will be crushed, kids made to pay,

Until the end of time or doomsday comes.

We are a parlous race of vagabonds.

What we do not destroy we idolize.

And then paint with such mawkish sentiment

That we see mawkish as the best there is,

And honor it with tear-stained handkerchiefs.

Could there not be a thoughtful conception?

Could not a marriage have a real idea?

Could not a parent learn a firm, real love?

Could not a space for reason be vouchsafed?

You’re young. You long for marriage and a child.

But by what right do you wish for a child?

Are you victorious? Self-conquering?

Do you command your senses and virtues?

Or are you animal in wish and need?

All loneliness and lack of inner peace?

Let victory and freedom wish a child.

Would marriage be a help to you in this?

Perhaps first be a wheel that’s self-propelled.

Become a self-created creator.

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Marriage would then be the will of two.

Marriage would be common reverence.

What then is marriage minus reverence?

It is a poverty of souls in pairs,

Not made in heaven but lost in hell’s net.

Abba blesses unions that create.

Ones that create. Abba does not bless hate.

How many give their children cause to weep?

The world sees marriage as a marketplace,

A sea of cunning eyes where cunning buys.

The world loves follies when they are called love.

The world will trample love into the muck.

True love of woman and of man?

Then have an eye out for all suffering.

Make love a torch to light a higher way.

Esteem good humor more than moral talk.

Even the best love has its bitterness.

True overcoming underlies true love.

That and a thirst to reach to the next stage.

Thirst to create and longing for the light.

If your will is to wed, I wish you well.

But read these lines, lest marriage be your hell.

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48.

On The Good Tree

To yield good fruit, one must be a good tree.

Abba grows good trees if you but believe;

But say you wish to see Abba’s will done,

Both earth and heaven. Then the good tree comes.

It is inexorable, destined, done,

Though few will choose this path to fruition;

The tree is watered, set beside a stream

And as it grows it becomes one of Abba’s trees.

You leave convention and self-interest,

Your leaves are made to move to finer winds;

You operate by bedrock sentiments

And draw conclusions based on Abba’s Way.

Your branches will not bow to emperors,

Your boards will not build cathedrals and shrines;

The principalities and powers arise,

But you stand upright, Abba at your side.

To yield good fruit, one must be a good tree.

Abba grows good trees if you but believe;

But say you wish to see Abba’s will done,

Both earth and heaven. Then the good tree comes.

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49.

On Women

To some men, women are a riddle too.

But not to me. I see the truth like day.

I always hear the notes of something new.

Once, as a boy, I longed to walk as you.

The bearing of the children of the earth?

Too often after men have turned away?

How great a treasure this! Yes, that is so.

Unknown by men steeped in the mindless crowd.

Corrupted love kills infants by the score.

Do not set blame. Stop loving thus. No more!

There is a play that men and women do,

A world of eye to eye, not seduction.

To view unseeing women on their way,

As they pass swiftly through a moving crowd,

Gives me my fondest visions of the truth,

The truth of the unknowing eye to eye.

The crowd is wed to danger and to play.

I praise the woman who seeks solitude.

The crowd is happy if it can possess.

A woman’s happy if she can refuse.

The cruelties of love are beyond speech.

I would a woman be beyond all pain.

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You’ve heard it said, Shake dust from off your feet.

I say aloud, When hands are raised, take leave.

False love is love that breathes in unison

With heated crowds’ disgusting decibels.

How mindless is the noise of braying folk,

Who trade good words for coded idiot speech.

The crowd inclines to feats of strength and war.

Refuse and be the truest warrior.

Do this not out of heartfelt sympathy,

But silent rage at crowd mentality.

Unrecognized, a woman’s mind goes slack.

Blessed when her star-like radiance shines through.

Blessed when she breaks the chains of all abuse.

Blest you with courage to go on your own.

Twice blest if children go as well.

The wings of your own strength their future bear.

The crowd is blind to beauty in the old

And lusts but for the woman as a child.

Illusion and false stars and emptiness.

A fount of faces long, with deadened eyes.

Beneath veneers, harsh slaveries persist.

Men, knowing better, roll like pigs in heat.

The noise grows louder as stupidity

Attains new levels to dead melodies.

Let women free themselves from all of this.

Let them enjoy the fruits of freedom’s gifts.

Old women never lose a single thing.

Not beauty, not reflection, not desire.

A girl can choose an overcoming life

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Before her powers of reproduction rise.

And if she does, she lives above the crowd.

She has no commerce with their lusts and lies.

The end is: Overcome! Shine forth the truth!

Then love exactly as you wish to do.

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50.

On Creativity

Is it your wish to find your own true self?

Then listen to these cautionary words.

Beware the voices of near and far crowds;

Some voices tell you, Seekers will get lost,

Or to do this or that to stay alive.

They’ll turn you into one who follows crowds.

I know, when you reject these shallow views,

You may fall prey to lonely agonies.

The path to who you are may lead through pain.

But Abba takes your hand and walks with you,

Till you move like a wheel on your own power;

And stars above begin to shine for you.

Throw out ambition, it will not suffice.

Throw out high thoughts, for Abba knows your mind.

Merely, in quiet, ask and seek and knock.

Abba within will tend your every need.

Then you will break your yoke and become free.

Can you name values and claim them as well?

This is the fruit of graceful solitude,

The essence of all creativity;

For Abba is sublime and within you,

And only Abba leads you to what’s true.

To choose this way will change all views of you.

You may appear to have left all behind.

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But neither lord the change, nor change deny.

The friendship you possess is within you.

If choices must be made, choose loneliness,

Rather than dull submission to false cries.

You’re on your way to being a bright star.

No shadows need be cast upon your glow.

But if they are, just let them fall away.

Walk on. This is creation’s holy way.

The virtuous and just may crucify.

Do not be tempted by their siren call.

Even eschew holy simplicity.

Beyond its surface may lie fire and stake.

Beware all who deny complexity;

No one can grasp all truths, not one.

Choose your good friends with care, and patiently.

Sometimes the worst of enemies is you.

You are the one for whom you lie in wait.

Ah, lonely one, one day you’ll be yourself,

Beyond all barriers you have in you.

Learn to converse with every force within,

And to negotiate the way ahead.

This is creation, creativity.

Fluency is Abba’s gift to you.

You can rise up anew from all fierce flames

When you have chosen this creative way.

Your vanquished devils will be serving you.

One day, with halting steps, your work appears.

And it will be your life and honesty.

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And you will bask in Abba’s silent praise,

And that of friends you made along the way.

Come take my warm tears with you as you go;

Delight in what your future may yet show.

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51.

On Love of Neighbor

To love your neighbor seems a strange request;

We think of neighbor as the one next door.

We also counsel love of enemy;

Both equally confound us more and more.

You cannot love without love of yourself;

Not narcissistic preening or false pride.

Abba within is very love itself;

Therefore love of yourself is fair and wise.

Accepting this is your beginning point;

To know that you are loved beyond all loves.

Civility is clearly part of love,

So too awareness and a giving way.

But not so much you trample on yourself.

Love does not seek well-speaking of itself;

That is a common reason why we act.

But seeking praise denies Abba straight out;

And Abba’s is the only praise we need.

Love does not lie. Love does not tell tall tales;

Direct and simple, never gossiping.

A silent doing will exceed a shout;

A soft accomplishment drowns out fanfare.

Do not love for association’s sake;

This is an insecure advance at best.

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Your inner confidence tells vastly more,

Than any knowing that you seek to claim.

Some neighbor love will hurt those farthest off;

Join in no clique or group that cooks up wrong;

I teach that friendship can complete the world;

A friendship based on Abba’s love of all.

To do no harm to those you cannot see

Is the first step to loving enemies;

Civility to those who are close by

Can pave the way if love is meant to be.

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52.

On Values

Life is the goods and evils that we choose;

I bring a choice to topple all past choice.

A way our ways of wickedness to lose,

I say choose Abba only, sole and true.

For Abba transcends all that we create;

And Abba’s way is written on our hearts.

This great I Am, speaks from a burning tree,

Saying only, I will be Who I Will Be.

And frees us to create beyond ourselves;

And frees us to do what’s most difficult.

And frees us to fulfill our deepest dreams;

Abba within, not some divisive cult.

Blaring trumpets, insecure and vain,

Can’t carry us an inch along the way.

The vicious, vengeful ways of jealousy,

Are seen for what they are when Abba reigns.

I speak a way of shaking dust from feet,

And praying simply any time at all;

And letting the sun set upon our rage,

And leaving all who deal with us amazed.

I speak a way of childlike ignorance,

A wisdom past most all philosophy.

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For Abba is the author of our truth;

And we can only see what we can see!

Thus free yourself from false authority;

I do not speak submission, I speak strength.

But not a strength that relies on brute force;

I speak the strength of standing tall and free.

No way you choose will be THE way for all,

All are created to succeed alone;

So don’t display your treasures in parades;

Be circumspect, your goals to you belong.

Abba’s most sacred freedom is to be

Potential within every being made.

To help each one on earth to live by choice,

To lead all souls to drink from crystal springs

Abba within holds close your freest heart;

Abba within gives you your freest truth.

All idols are but values we once made

To mask our sad mistrust of Abba’s way.

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53.

On Cynicism

Cruel, venal and competitive—

What else is life to millions on the make?

Poor, rich, disabled, add an adjective

To sketch the killing toll this living takes.

Sex slaves are not just words, they’re fragile lives,

And disdain from the arrogant cuts deep;

A cynical analysis will thrive;

There is no lack of reasons we should weep.

And cynicism is the coolest way

To smirk and bear a tragic calculus,

And watch the whole thing blindly night and day,

So cool because it never touches us.

Deliver us from evil, we all say?

It is a need none can or will deny;

Still efficacious goodness is the way,

Though that might make us suffer, even die.

The deathly values we live by must go.

That happens to be our most crying need;

Or else we have a tasteless, gruesome show,

Our boot heels crushing Abba’s precious seed.

Inclusive love transcends a family,

For families mix love and war with ease;

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The best of love is the love of enemy,

Which one can do. But who is there who sees?

We say perfection’s unattainable,

I say negotiation can succeed;

Perhaps I am the one who’s cynical!

I merely underline this sad deep need.

For Abba’s way is simple helpfulness,

Devoid of all religious cant and show;

Unassuming and infused with happiness,

A cynic can be generous, you know!

The cynic’s realism is a trap,

The very refuge of hypocrisy;

Better be skewered by a cynic’s rap,

Than be lost in to be or not to be.

Still, cynicism is the coolest way

To smirk and bear our tragic calculus,

And watch the whole thing blindly night and day,

So cool because it never touches us.

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54.

On Celebrity

Seek solitude wherever you may be;

You might be in a city, or beyond.

Seek solitude alone or in a crowd;

You need not be afraid to be alone.

Don’t think you must have friends always nearby;

Seek solitude, a space where mind is free.

Seek solitude and commune with your will;

Seek solitude to give your reason play.

I see the passion for celebrity;

I see the shoving of the hurried crowd.

The private and the public are confused.

Let Abba lead you to a silent space

To think, to reason and be one with you.

Can silence overcome the marketplace?

Yes. Abba can create silence ‘mid noise.

So many know so little of this way,

So few believe that they have any choice.

So many blindly follow and conform

To ways of shouting, insult and deep scorn.

If they knew about whom this world revolves,

They might question what they are living for.

Abba is at the center, in all cells,

In every person, Abba seeks to shine.

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Celebrity and fame are this world’s way;

Abba creates the truest stars of all.

I celebrate the depths of consciousness;

Celebrities will move from faith to faith.

Quick and capricious, always something new,

They tear things down to prove that they exist.

I celebrate the depths of consciousness;

Their weapon is persuasion and bombast,

A bloody entertainment is a plus.

All cameras on the altars as they kneel;

Think of the endless hours that they steal.

I celebrate the depths of consciousness;

The people lavish love upon the great;

But if you love the truth, be not ashamed.

Seek solitude and thought and then create;

Turn from the sudden ones. Choose quiet ways.

Seek deep experience and then create;

There is a place, beyond celebrity,

Where all that’s truly good and great takes place,

This place is where new values come to life.

Seek solitude wherever you may be;

You might be in a city or beyond.

Seek solitude alone or in a crowd;

The greatest victories are won alone.

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55.

On War

We were all made with war inside our veins;

The power to fight and kill is not a dream.

Nor can war be defeated with our words;

War is the hell we know when reason fails.

Our hoary values rise to claim the day;

Freedom becomes our decreed destiny,

Intelligence our lethal rationales,

Our values become graven images.

There are no values that approach Abba;

Before Abba all values are as dross.

And none more dross than those that buttress war:

Strength. Courage. Loyalty. Obedience.

To whom? To Abba? Abba wills no war.

There is no friend and there’s no enemy;

All soldiers cede their freedom in advance,

Then become victims of both friend and foe;

Their choice is chimera. They have to go.

Those wars which have no weapons, none left dead,

Can be as virulent as killing wars.

Words are a sword as sharp as fine-filed steel,

And pierce as deep as daggers into flesh.

I look for warriors whose courage is

Too high to be dragged onto killing fields;

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Who can endure the rage of patriot gore

And speak the reason of the world to be.

This world to be has no antagonists,

Protagonists are history as well.

This world has those who bow to none at all,

For only Abba, Abba is their life.

We were all made with war inside our veins;

The power to fight and kill is not a dream.

War energy need not be used to kill;

Use it to make a world where true peace reigns.

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56.

On Self Transformation

Self-transformation is what Abba does;

For every self on earth must be transformed.

Abba makes diamonds from selves in the rough;

Abba enables us to be reborn.

Internal selves, our very heart and core,

Must be made new to walk in Abba’s way;

The love of Abba comes and what is more,

The love of Abba has been there always.

Only by practice can the race be run,

You choose a life—a life that you will make,

And practice Abba’s way as you move on.

Abba is with you every step you take.

People saw me and called me Master, Lord,

And took me for some super-being on earth;

I merely saw what life is moving toward,

And felt the power of Abba’s inner surge.

I am a planter. Abba is the seed;

His image is a seed within each soul;

His pattern answers every human need

And is the only way to be made whole.

If you are mired deep in worldly cares,

And glamorized by dreams of wealth and fame,

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You will have trouble finding Abba there;

Indeed you may not even know his name.

But those who hear see through earth’s shabby round,

Where conflict seems the only valid choice;

Their ears are open to a holy sound,

It is the sound of Abba’s still small voice.

I sing the life that follows Abba’s way,

Embracing values beyond cant and show;

And free to be who one is, come what may;

I sing the life that goes where Abba goes.

I came to set up fortresses on earth

Not made of stone, not garbed in kingly robes,

I came to gauge things by Abba’s sole worth,

And point to life beyond the world’s vain shows.

Self-transformation is what Abba does;

For every self on earth must be transformed.

Abba makes diamonds from selves in the rough;

Abba enables us to be reborn.

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57.

On The Passions

There was a time you called your passions ill;

But surely from our passions virtues rise.

Our highest goals, the fruit of our best will

Produce what is most beautiful and wise.

Are you inclined to put down everything?

To act in anger and fanatic rage?

To let rage and resentment take high wing?

Why not instead transform them? That is sage!

Yes, turn passions to virtues, every one;

Let devils turn to angels, as they will.

Let wild dogs sing like birds in the bright sun;

And let each passion wells of goodness fill.

Then nothing ill need ever come to you;

Just know your passions and direct them well.

Then you will overcome in all you do;

And have good stories you can tell yourself.

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58.

On The Despisers of the Body

If you despise your body, please hear this.

Without your body you would not be you.

Are soul and body one? Yes, one it is.

It is the body that lets soul come through.

Awake to all that is your body now;

Within your body sense and reason live.

The spirit ranges from toe tip to brow;

Body and soul, they are a single gift.

Your body is the home of being itself,

Whose reason exceeds your imagined store.

Allow your mind to wander, yes, to delve;

Then day by day you will know more and more.

Your spirit and your body, they are one;

Despisers of the body will not hear.

Still Abba speaks. Good news. A new day comes.

One day our wholeness will be crystal clear.

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59.

On Fleeing This World

So many wish to flee this world of ours,

They look around and then they look beyond;

This world is seen as under hostile powers,

Such persons only dream of moving on.

Some weary souls seek heaven with one leap,

The ultimate in but a single bound.

That’s how religion’s gods all came to be,

Custodians of fictional beyonds.

But Abba accepts inconsistencies,

And tolerates our endless confusion.

Our selves are who we are, right here and now,

Accepting Abba is our solution.

Oppose not earth and heaven, they are one,

For Abba lives within imperfect us.

Instead of fleeing, face life, bring it on,

Who works to transform this world? Abba does.

We do not know if heaven is a place,

But Abba makes us each his heavenly home;

His presence is what we should all embrace,

For life is us and Abba being one.

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60.

On The Good News

The good news is not that Jesus is God.

The good news is the truth I first proclaimed.

God is available to human beings,

Call him Abba—for father and for friend.

Abba is near to help fulfill your life,

And harmonize your life with others too

We live on an abundant planet home,

Which we have plundered, raped and torn in two.

The good news is that Abba is with us,

And Abba’s power in us redeems the world.

The good news is that Abba is for us.

I came precisely to make this truth clear;

In hopes the world would see and understand,

Instead, religion turned truth into fear.

The good news is connection has been made,

Between Abba and us—it is that close.

Yes, Abba’s nigh, present, available,

Protector, guardian, guide and loving friend.

The good news is that because this is so

Each person is creator, strong and free;

In partnership with Abba and his way.

The good news is our real guilt is transformed,

Along with weakness, sorrows, heartbreaks, pain;

With limitations, we achieve good things—

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And treat our neighbors just as we would be,

For we return the gifts that we receive.

The good news is not that Jesus is God.

The good news is the truth I first proclaimed.

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61.

On The Messiah

Your bible speaks of me as Messiah;

Your bible speaks of me as Jesus Christ.

Your bible makes of me the gospel whole;

Your bible is your bible, it’s not mine.

Don’t be so shocked, consider what is true:

The good news is not what’s been made of me;

The good news is the truth that time has won:

Abba is near, available, alive.

I saw the principalities and powers,

Ready to crush this seeming blasphemy.

I’d but to say I act with Abba’s power

To be killed at the hands of enemies.

And so to death upon the cross I went,

And then to legend and theology;

And now to sentimental, feel good, praise:

Select a text and focus all on me!

I came to simply say Abba is near,

Repent, believe, this is the good news now.

And Abba will live happily within,

All those who turn from life’s idolatries,

Enjoying life with Abba deep inside.

The very being that gives being to all,

The very source of goodness, light of life.

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To call Abba the force is better sense

Than tomes of doctrine, indefensible.

I knew a tiny remnant would see true,

I knew the tempting way would be the rule.

I knew the fickle ways of swaying crowds,

Their other-worldly superstition too.

See now the texts that join all texts extant,

Creating religion in place of truth;

It’s not enough to speak of force and power,

Available, within all who believe.

How many times must we start yet again?

How many will believe that we are free?

Ah, my frustration is not terminal,

Each day gives birth to possibility.

The sum of poet’s prophecy and faith

Is Abba’s inner all-sufficiency.

So have an eye for progress on this earth,

And breathe in Abba’s presence as you go.

And you will walk the road of victory,

And know more than the theologians know.

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62.

On Hearing and Seeing

So many hear, but do not understand.

So many see, but they do not perceive.

So many are wrapped up in cloaks of pride.

They think their education sets their worth.

Such valuation is a great mistake.

It bodes the end of Homo sapiens.

Is anyone prepared to set a goal?

To stand upright for what is most hoped for?

There is still time, still soil to hold the seed.

But see: The curtain slowly falling down.

The time is coming. Chances will be gone.

Come, grasp the dancing energy within,

Before you perish and know only cold.

Beware the time to come if you should fail.

Tell me: Can you describe the end?

It means you only blink at life.

You cannot say what love is, what a star.

It means you are immune to all desire,

Immune to all but grim sonambulance.

It means the earth you see is very small.

It means that all you touch will shrink to naught.

It means you hop about like some strange bug

For whom the only comfort is…comfort.

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This comfort is the world’s last tour de force.

All blinking souls will head for warmer climes.

And will have neighbors only of like mind.

In gated villages with managed care.

The greatest sin will be the loss of health.

It will be followed by lost peace of mind.

When death comes, poisons sweet to ease the end.

Sweet dreams, more poison and a painless close.

Our blinking friends will still do what’s called work.

But work will be like music or like films.

Not harrowing, not boring, no demands.

No wearisome extremes. No rich. No poor.

Our friends will brook no physical duress.

They’ll cede all governance to those called ‘They’

And then complain if comfort is cut off.

No room at all for those who don’t conform.

There is a madhouse for such malcontents.

So many hear, but do not understand.

So many see, but they do not perceive.

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63.

On The Still Small Voice

Abba holds each good dream in his hands,

And with a still small voice softly commands.

Come listen, and you’ll find your victory,

The still small voice will guide your mind and hands.

Abba loves those who know they do not know.

Yet know enough to keep their light alive;

Abba loves those who claim this earth as home,

And need no far off star to make things right.

Abba loves those who think to find a way,

Who live in harmony within themselves;

Who say their No to culture’s killing pace,

Their eyes upon a more abundant wealth.

Some crush life from their puffed up podiums,

Surrounded by the falsest flattery.

The still small voice speaks softly from the deeps

Creating saving movement inwardly.

I love the ones who love this deeper way,

And think before they make a simple choice;

Who do not lose their minds in foolish play,

But instead listen to the still small voice.

I love the ones whose minds and hearts are fused,

Delighting in the flow of inner joys.

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For from their very depths a firelight glows,

Ignited softly by the still small voice.

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64.

On Night

Some sounds are louder when they’re heard at night;

Some things are more alive in our night dreams.

Imagination bends to scary frights,

Or trembles, longing for the warmth of arms.

Why dark and light, why birth and death, why these?

Night ties us to unfathomed mysteries;

Night is a testimonial to truth,

The truth that life itself is meaningful,

Beyond what we, when wide awake, can see.

The truth of Abba’s night time gifts to us,

The gifts of dreaming power and deepest sleep.

The night awakens craving for sweet love,

The night accentuates our loneliness.

The night casts light upon the needs within.

Night stops our time and yet the time proceeds;

When we awake the hours are simply past.

The need for re-creation, palpable,

Is met during hours that simply pass us by.

Attend, attend, to sleep and dream-borne thoughts;

Your body calls. Your body is yourself.

It is the habitation of your life;

When it is gone, then you are gone as well.

Night thus becomes a symbol and a sign;

Night says yes to this premise, and then no.

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Night thoughts and dreams are made of Abba’s stuff;

They are the stuff of Abba’s holy realm.

This realm has habitation in each self,

And calls each self to become Abba’s home.

This is the power of the light unseen;

Night makes this unseen realm more visible.

Lay your head down and close your eyes in faith;

Open your inner eye to love’s embrace.

Allow this love to lift you, wash you clean,

And in this dark, supernal privacy,

Be open to the presence of Abba.

Be open to the arms of lifting love.

And if the day finds you beyond all sorts,

Adrift upon some unexplored, new sea,

Then ponder night and meditate on it,

And stride more faithfully beneath the sun.

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65.

On Great Events

We do not see a future in our hands.

Instead we are in thrall to Great Events.

The greatest thing of all would be to own

The very challenge that is life’s essence:

That is to freely choose to co-create,

And build the values on which life might thrive.

But no, see what we do, and how we fail:

See here, disaster one, the crumbling towers!

What values were revealed upon all sides?

The puerile values of the puerile past.

With but scarcely a hint of new insight.

See here disaster two, the waters rage!

What is the value of recycled awe?

Doomed to repeat a way of proven doom?

See now disaster three, more waters rage!

Well, didn’t Noah have the right idea?

The truth is that we close our eyes to truth.

And Great Events repeat to gaping eyes,

Incessant nostrums and obscene sound bites.

Just as “addiction” forecloses freedom,

So “Great Events” foreclose all saving change.

Our heaven is impotent candy dreams.

Hell is evoked when called for in the script.

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Heaven could be a reasoned reaction.

Hell could be seen as mindlessness unloosed.

I once was said to create miracles.

I merely did what reason can well do.

I merely previewed possibility.

Aye, few perceive the largest miracle:

That Abba is at hand, a partner, friend,

That hoary past is lifted feather-like,

That we can say goodbye to Great Events.

The greatest event would be values changed.

That is the only option that remains.

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66.

Vision and Enigma 1

Some say there is an eternal return.

Recurrence of all past events always.

Philosophy replaces ancient creed.

The being of all being parsed anew.

The very truth of life is life itself.

For it contains all miracles and views.

Reliving it is not one of its truths.

Abba is every life’s eternal truth.

Abba is being, to the edge of naught.

Abba is truth experienced within.

Abba is life as far as we can know.

Abba’s concern is for what we create.

Why do balk in fear of doom and death?

Why do we set the greatest gift aside?

We already die when this is done.

There is a heaven, heaven is a place,

Where Abba’s will is done and we are free.

This heaven’s here when it is here. Always.

How it continues is not ours to know.

But we already know it cannot die.

+

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When we are dust is Abba there as well?

How can we know? Why should we know? We don’t.

I think of Paul bemoaning his demise,

If he from dust and ashes might not rise.

I think of sad religion built upon

Sad doctrines wishful thinking once devised.

What’s wishful about corpses wandering?

And heavens made to look like judgment halls?

And fairy myths of tinsel deities?

These wishful doctrines are a sad reprise

Of priestly striving for ascendancy.

The real enigma: How the truth slipped through!

The only true thing is Abba in you.

The truthful vision: All Abba can do!

If only you let Abba work in you.

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67.

Vision and Enigma 2

Some argue that the past contains the now.

Or that the now must hold all of the past.

Which would explain my presence, I suppose.

But this would be less than what truly is.

Whatever can take place has not occurred.

For if it had, there’d be no need to be.

If all was said and done, life would be done.

Remarkable, this strange philosophy!

You know: The story of two roads that meet.

One goes one way for an eternity.

The other goes the other—the same thing.

They meet. They call the juncture This Moment.

But if eternity’s already past

Or if eternity is still to come,

Must not all things have already been done?

Must not this moment be done, or to come?

Our answer must come from our point of view.

And I can only give you mine: It is:

Time is not circular, does not repeat.

Eternity is not chronology.

Eternity is time on heaven’s terms.

It intersects the world’s time all the time.

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It is whenever Abba’s will is done.

Eternity is heaven’s time on earth.

May I say this in yet another way?

Time is a spectrum in itself, a field.

Its colors flash according to the time!

One moment you create and lose all sense.

Another you are waiting and time drags.

Time has its qualities and quirks galore.

What we can measure is but fuzzy math.

Would you not trade all sleep for one sweet kiss?

Would you not give a year for one sweet hour?

What we repeat is striving for lost times,

Lost moments when truth flashed across our skies.

We all are containers of all kinds of time.

Each moment can transform all past moments.

Each moment can create times yet to be.

Wherefore we call time’s truth a miracle.

Or vision, moment, or bright clarity.

Why would I still be here if time were stopped?

What is eternity but pregnant time?

The medium of knowing time is you.

Abba within you is your link to truth.

The truth of time is being unfolding.

The truth of time is vision realized.

Unfolding, realized—at the same time.

The truth of time is letting stasis be.

The truth of time is our eternity.

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68.

On Wandering

Some wander, some stay put, I move at will.

Sometimes to places anchored in the past.

Sometimes to seek out places to be known.

A wanderer might be a stranger too.

I wander but each place I am is home.

A wanderer may never move at all.

Our minds can wander farther than our feet.

To read the lives of those whose lives are o’er

Is to set feet upon another shore.

Sometimes the parallels are very clear,

And other times we’re drawn to stretch our sight.

We see the ebb and fall of lives long past

Their loves, their ills, short lives, long lives, now still.

We wander through these vaults of memory

Amazed at times at what our eyes can see.

Long-forgotten words are heard once more.

Names once lost in the mist rise up again.

+

Today to wander is the artist’s way,

For art is now perception in itself.

The layers of our making are so deep

Reflecting creations beyond all count,

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Our coalescent magic can be seen,

And real is now the art that we once sought.

The world is lines, lined up at our museums.

And wanderers who see what time has made.

One day museum lines will cease to be,

As we perceive the world that we create.

Then wandering will be the way for all.

A loosening, a freedom on the road.

Stand still. Or move. It makes no difference.

New ways to wander rise like poppies fair.

Today’s confusion is tomorrow’s sight.

Lost continents will be the wanderer’s goal.

Rise up anew, for wanderers bring health.

+

The wanderer will find a sacrament

In any sighting, hearing or parade.

The wanderer will not divide the truth,

Romantically conceiving unscaled heights,

Excoriating lows, bowing to highs.

One billion perspectives, one billion truths,

Sitting like bricks upon the passive mind.

It takes some wandering to make them live.

Wherein lies greatness, in your life, in mine?

Once set your anchor there and you are lost.

Wander. Create. Make choices. Keep on going.

Your passing thanks the only clue you need.

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Come joy! Come vision! Not some frozen past.

Come peace! Come light! Let all things be made new.

Thus let us learn to see and freely be.

And thus become a world of wandering.

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69.

On Prudence

We live suspended between heights and depths.

Our hearts are double-minded, they go blind.

We would ascend to heaven, ah, but then,

Our prudence tells us to descend again.

We do not know if heaven lies through death,

Or ugliness or slime or sheer disgust.

Or if celestial heights are best achieved

By careful steps and doing as we must.

Perhaps it stands us well to simply say,

We are all but the spectrum of our lives.

So prudence counsels us to hold it all

As we might hold a vulnerable child,

Not slighting what is rank or breeds distaste.

Yes, we would wipe the waste from helpless rumps,

And consummate our intimate transfers.

So where lies prudence in this confused maze?

Is it the foot that hesitates each step?

Is it the mind that knows not how to act?

Or is it letting go and rushing on?

Conceded there are times to risk and rush.

But prudence is the lesser move, the brake.

It is: Let’s live to fight another day.

And if we move beyond the one to all,

We see the shadow cast by lives long lost;

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The sad light of imprudent gambling,

The sad commitment of the young to doom.

We lack the sure capacity we need

To see the future of what we decide.

Therefore we risk, whatever else we do!

(In vanity we act to be beheld.

We even act and then behold ourselves.

We make of life a drama or a film.

Let us not make believe it is not so.

The person who is speaking speaks for you!

The depths of our frail insecurity.)

But: Abba gives prudence a consciousness.

A setting within values as a means.

So it can then become our mindfulness.

Submit your prudence then to Abba’s light.

And to the tempering fire of Abba’s will.

Use it less as a reason than a pulse.

An arrow in the quiver of your sight.

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70.

The Stillest Hour

There comes a time when nothing can suffice,

When words are like a glass that breaks and cracks;

When portents seem so real and speech so vain,

That all events seem beyond all control.

Retreat into the stillness, let all go.

Make no decisions, give in to the deep.

Embrace the stillest hour as loving friend.

Close out all thought, all feeling. Now attend.

Simply attend, expecting not a thing.

A maelstrom cannot come into this space.

Whatever is imagined or retained

Can be dismissed: Put out. Done with. All clear.

Descend into the stillness where the power

Does not impinge, but rather creates room.

Yes, room to think of steps that you will take.

First one, then two, then one, then two again.

Nothing too fancy, you’re on guidance now.

Your stillest hour is in a ribbon wrapped,

A gift from Abba, please to recall that.

Who is the still, small voice amid the storm?

Whence come the softest words that have such power,

That mountains move at one whispered command,

And centuries of ill turn round at will?

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The stillest hour is now, let it enfold

The agonies, the dead ends and the blocks.

Immobile, you are set to move again.

Struck dumb by living, you will live some more.

Let Abba’s guidance be your resting place.

You are not dead, just silent and enclosed.

Now rise and feel a rising, subtle power.

And move on, lifted by the stillest hour.

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The era of creedal Christianity is drawing to a close. The era of responsibility that Jesus announced and embodied remains ever at hand, awaiting our choice.

We know what Jesus valued from what he said and did. He gospel stories demonstrate his concerns and cares. They demonstrate iconoclasm toward our typical idols of state or authority or religion. His values come utter faith in Abba. For this reason worship is to be reserved to Abba alone. And worship is the ascription of value.

Jesus’ inaugural proclamation is that Abba is at hand. The energy of the new age is present. But the primitive church, before a word was written down for posterity, tended to make Jesus a messiah and to downplay his message and the iconoclastic acts which characterized his ministry. Instead of being a leader and exemplar who would have us follow him, Jesus was turned into the iconic center of the church’s devotion.

Jesus’ purpose and mission became secondary. Abba was ignored and the deity was relegated to a distant place. The Spirit fire within Jesus, who sought to convert persons to the way of the realm of Abba, was modified and became in the church’s eyes the sign of one’s “chosenness” .

Jesus was a speaker and doer of the right, not a supernatural being who gathers his favored ones from the morass of unbelievers and removes them to heaven above.

Jesus said the realm of Abba – heaven – was in everyone. He commended neighbor love and, even more, love of enemies. He swiftly became subject of theological debate relating to religion. The way he embodied was subordinated and ultimately distorted to include rationales for violence and religious intolerance.


Jesus says the kingdom or realm of God is at hand and so it is. Fully half of his Biblical references to God are to the kingdom or realm of God. He then says to repent and believe this good news. This can only mean that the good news is God’s at-hand-ness, that henceforth God is available to us and we participate with Abba in ordering a world that is in harmony with heaven.

Jesus intends the restoration of a fallen world to full harmony with the Holy One.  Such a restoration brings peace and justice to our relationships, trust and simplicity to our lives. There is less and less “Caesar” to render our substance to. Less designation of what we do as forced work.  There is more responsibility, more acknowledgement of each person’s fundamental need for affirming love.  And there is more awareness that, though life is precious, Abba’s love transcends life itself and integrates us into a realm where, as Revelation suggests, death’s power is no more.

Those who know the venality of life in the competitive marketplace and the utter cruelty of life for millions who are ignored, impoverished, left on fields of battle, abused and forced into situations of indignity, will scoff at the thought that Jesus had in mind a world closer to the way he embodied. The way he embodied, cynics will say, is a recipe for anarchy, a naive exercise, and an idiotic attempt by unalloyed goodness to alter the status quo, where evil has the upper hand and people accept evil as the price of good.  Our world is one of prisons, economic struggle, envy and consumerism, not to mention illness, accidents and events we call acts of god.  But the gospel has remained true since Jesus proclaimed and embodied it. The consequences of ignoring it increase with time.

Without denying evil and the need to be delivered from it, Jesus proposes a way of goodness which is free and efficacious, even when it is risky and subjects us to possible suffering and even death. We are encouraged to exist without reference to the world’s dominant understandings.

Jesus commends a generalized and inclusive love that is far more important to him than love of family, to which he accords a secondary status. He is not as high on friendship as he is on active negotiation with adversaries and love for enemies.

When one looks at the sum of his teachings and acts, one concludes that Jesus emphatically affirms acts of direct helpfulness, tolerance and sharing and is hypercritical of anything smacking of religious show or hypocrisy.

On issues of property, Jesus offers little encouragement for acquisition or ownership and a stark warning to those who assume they will win ultimate ease by having an abundance of material possessions.

When we ignore and modify these teachings we fall into the trap of “realism” which is, in the view of Jesus, primarily a mask for hypocrisy.

Jesus is as realistic about the world as anyone. But he ranges himself at all times against worldly realism. Instead, he celebrates life as a free manifestation of God’s goodness and encourages us to counter the humanly- created evil which sustains the system, which requires the “realism” which enables the world to continue evading responsibility.

The good news or way of life proclaimed and embodied by Jesus is first a way of responsible living. It is not something to believe in as much as something to be manifested in human relationships and in the character of one’s dealings with God and the world. Thus its principal point of reference is not the Person of Christ as an object of veneration or worship as much as the realm where God’s will is to be done.

The realm of heaven is to be allowed to sprout up on the earth. It is not a realm, incidentally, that is contiguous with the boundaries of religious institutions, even Christian institutions.

Jesus is happy to see the virtues of the realm manifested wherever they are observed.

Vastly more important than ecclesiastical and creedal matters, in this understanding of gospel, is the quality of contact among persons, the degree to which trust in God reduces anxiety, extends sharing and enlarges the presence of peace.

The premium is not so much on command of a tradition as on the capacity to discern within tradition those elements, which, amended by Jesus, are the building blocks of a life beyond the boundaries created by tradition.

Jesus bears a realism that is more profound and accurate about things than the self-interested realpolitik of those whose power is won at the expense of the values that make for life, happiness and community.

5. Jesus Did Not Intend Religion

If Jesus had intended to proclaim an otherworldly, perfectionist ethic, destined to be branded unrealistic by the best minds of the church, he would not have advanced the notion of God’s will being done on earth in the only prayer he ever taught.

He would not have gathered a following of men and women and spent the bulk of his brief, intense ministry providing them with myriad instructions and examples related to how to exist in the world.

God intends that life here and now be the locus of our learning what we are meant to learn. God intends that we now absorb and understand which values and teachings are paramount for the ordering of our lives on earth.

It is, sadly, a convenience, used by the world as well as churches, to emphasize the creedal, priestly side of things, “realistically” allowing religion to become a compartment, at the expense of the all-embracing way that Jesus exemplifies, embodies and commends.

It has been more convenient to say that this way is a mélange of confusing and conflicting things and to forget dealing with it entirely.  Religion is so much more easy and so infinitely more malleable — and convenient — all around.

But religion of any sort, as Barth, and Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky well understood, will not accomplish what Jesus set out to do.

It will not act against itself (allow itself to be destroyed).

It will not be an iconoclastic, critical presence, facing off before the established principalities and powers. It will gather things into barns and then battle over the contents during leaner times.

Witness the sub-conflict within my own Presbyterian denomination, ostensibly about various cultural issues but underneath about ownership. Other denominations face similar evasive and hypocritical activity.

Even so, it remains the case that if the churches, the structures of Christianity, willingly fall to the ground, they shall rise again.

To rise would be to be resurrected via a deep self-transformation, casting off much of what is now seen as sacred and embracing much that is now taken to be profane.

The results of such a transformation, as Jacques Ellul has made abundantly clear, are largely beyond description. A seismic cultural change, in which the very terms of possibility are reenvisioned, would be a starting point.

6.

Jesus Did Not Bless Poverty

When Jesus said the poor are blessed he was not advocating poverty. He was telling people that their poverty would come to an end. That people who follow the way of Abba, his father, who is within us as a force for overcoming, will thrive.

Jesus introduced a new economic system, which most never noticed or understood. It was the miracle of sharing and the creation of abundance when people’s minds are oriented to Abba’s presence. When they put helping others first. When they put doing unto others into their daily agenda.

We do not even necessarily need a church anymore — in the sense of buildings with steeples and such. But if we are going to have churches, they at least need to understand they are not meant to be the economic also-rans of the world. They should point the way to a viable prosperity based on helpfulness.

7

Messianic Misunderstandings

There is a view of Jesus commonly held by sensitive non- Christians. It gives Jesus an unrivalled place in world history as the supreme manifestation of divine ethical intent for all humankind.

The Buddha will be honored for his ineffable character of unity with all, but not for being the progenitor of a dynamic and evolutionary ethic capable of world transformation.

Confucius will be revered for wisdom and his capacity to instill diligence, but not as one whose view of God and human possibility has implications that could turn the social order upside down.

When those who think of a new age in our time posit a global spiritual framework, Jesus is included as the teacher-exemplar of a non-judgmental, peace-affirming ethic of universal love and justice.

But if we were to ask Christians who Jesus is, and what he represents, the answers given above might not be prominent in the response. Descriptions would begin with designations such as Son of God, Messiah, Lord and Savior, personal Lord and Savior, the Second Person of The Trinity and so forth.

Emendations would encompass creedal elements relating to the Virgin Mary, the “only” Sonship, the suffering under Pontius Pilate, the crucifixion, death and burial, the resurrection and the locus of Jesus at the right hand of God, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.

Without respect to the importance of any of these creedal statements, they all reflect the dominant ethos of the Christian enterprise, a proselytizing enterprise that seeks to draw people into a creedal religion rather than into a movement — a movement I believe can be inferred from a re-reading of the seminal canonical texts regarding Jesus.

Jesus is the avatar of a seismic movement toward the humanizing of the world on the basis of a reappropriation of God as a presently and universally available energy or force for good.

He prefigured in his miracles the progress he affirmed as being within the grasp of faithful persons. He embodied and commended to others a value system and a way of living as relevant now as then.
This way of Jesus could not be encapsulated in a creed or institution. And indeed it was not.

New wine will burst old wineskins.

Pentecostal experience of a barrier-breaking spirit power refuses to be codified.

Direct experience of God’s realm imploding in human situations, weddings, healings, gatherings, meals, cannot be turned into articles of belief.

There is an inevitable disjuncture between a movemental Jesus, affirming worldly goodness and progress, and a process of religionization that is all too often eerily similar to the pharisaic modes, which he roundly excoriated, to his great personal harm.

8.

Jesus The Iconoclast

Jesus’ proclamation has to do with our iconoclastic freedom to live according to the highest prophetic understanding of things and to avail ourselves of trusting relationship to the Holy One at close quarters.

He proclaims the presence of affirming power for goodness in the everyday.

But Christianity had more to do with setting forth a creed, positing a priestly order and orienting an institution to the dominant political power structure.

One might argue that survival necessitated this substantial watering down of what Jesus was about. There were, after all, lions, ready to devour those who clove too closely to the power of the Spirit.

But at a distance of 2000 years, when terminal boredom seems more a danger than martyrdom, one can see that the dynamics of church formation then were not dissimilar to the stratagems by which today’s religious establishments modify Jesus’ iconoclasm, dull his ethic and separate themselves in many ways from the energy he identified and unleashed.

9

The Religion Straitjacket

The iconoclastic power of Jesus is a force, which never fails to find its ways of accomplishing what is intended, regardless of the resistance of religion.

Religion’s belief-system is the basis for a self- perpetuating institution, which is generally separate from the world. It is based on what may be called the Messianic Delusion.

Its emphasis is foreign to the good news that Jesus preached, embodied and manifested. The result is that the churches constitute an ineffective and largely ignored “parallel structure” to the world’s flawed structures.

The broad themes of Jesus’ teachings are relegated to the church or so distorted by such “ambassadors” as television evangelists that they emerge only in the context of occasional movements that bring home, for a brief season, the good news — to the world Jesus was trying to save.

When George Bernard Shaw said that Christianity was a good idea but that no one had ever tried it, he was commenting on the deleterious consequences of almost two millennia of institutional messianism.

The clear, perceptible reality of Jesus and the paradigm implicit in his rendition of the good news suggest he would wish for the totality of his impact on the world to be perceived beyond such a confining straitjacket.

10.

What Is Messianism?

What is messianism?

Most simply it is an ideology or worldview based on the notion of a savior, one who will lead a people from bondage. This ideology incorporates the concept of the Necessary Personage into the scheme of history.

This person is the liberator, the deliverer, and the midwife of a new era. This definition is correct but incomplete.

Messianism is interactive. It is social. It is a force. Messianism thus threatens to lead to a profound displacement of self among those who respond to it.

One is incomplete without the messianic figure. One is lost without assenting to a formidable diminution of one’s selfhood. One is “found” when one gives all to the Messiah.

Examples of such displacement of self in our own time include:

— The idolization of the entire range and spectrum of public figures and the largely unexplored phenomena of celebritization itself;

— The embracing of words to express ideas which are so fixed that they are literally humanly-created objects of worship, to the point that a word becomes sacred.

— The submission of self within relationships to the point of extreme passivity and malleability — as in guru-devotee bondage.

— Most damningly, the corporate submission of peoples to individuals and ideas which attain a charisma which disables critical faculties, ethical impulses and the capacity to discern the spirit or quality of a thing. Nazism is the most horrendous example of this in recent history, but it can be seen in cultic manifestations of all sorts and in the political appeal to patriotism to justify suspect military campaigns.

If Jesus is a messiah, then he is an anti-messiah in fact, one who comes to create strong and whole persons, not to eviscerate them and turn them into automatons.

11.

What Messianism Does

The messiah claims to be the way, the truth and the light, to be the sole channel by which Truth can pass to others who must be solely devoted to the messiah to receive them.

Those who accept these propositions may become the chrysalis of a movement and eventually form an institution whose inner logic is based on the displacement of self, which is the very base of messianism.

If we ask what messianism does, we arrive at the reductio ad absurdam of the notion that there could ever be a valid messiah. And we see that the effort to pin this label on Jesus was, in his own eyes, incompatible with his purposes.

Messianism divides.

Without division there is no messianism. Regardless of the universality of a messianic claim there will always be the children of light and the children of darkness, the saved and the unsaved, the 144,000 who pass on and the remainder who are incinerated in a divinely mandated holocaust.

Messianism insists on a suspension of disbelief.

12.

Messianism and Father Divine

The late Father Divine was an example of messianism as suspension of disbelief.

He claimed to be God and was so regarded by his interracial flock, which gathered to form celibate “heavens” in the Eastern United States during the Great Depression.

Rationally, the good Father’s claims were absurd.

Ethically, though, his movement was a hard-edged protest against endemic racism.

Given the downtrodden state of most of his followers, it was not hard for Divine to operate. And it can be seen in virtually all messianic situations that, for people to submit, the situation must be painted in apocalyptic terms; the horrible current state must be emphasized; the need for deliverance must be hammered home.

Out of the resulting hopelessness and drift, people will choose “deliverance” in exchange for one’s freedom, autonomy, mobility and, frequently, one’s worldly goods.

13.

New Testament Dualism

Dualism, division, the opposition of sides — these emerge in the Gospels themselves.

Jesus is presented as the way, the truth and the light.

But here one must choose, for even if scholarship finds ways of editing out the messianic elements in the New Testament, it is we who must go with the statement attributed to Jesus that a house divided cannot stand.

Such a statement precludes messianism unless it is radically interpreted to remove from itself all of its deleterious elements. And even then such formidable problems are left that the choice presented below becomes only way to arrive at a hermeneutic capable of dealing with the New Testament’s contradictory testimony.

Here it is necessary only to underline what the choice is:

It is between a holistic understanding that is universal in every respect and thus affirming of all individual selves and a messianic understanding which requires the displacement of self and obeisance to a messiah figure.

In the most simple terms, it is the choice between believing the apocalypse of Jesus which is based on responsibility for serving the least of humankind (Matthew 25) and accepting the institutional–messianic declension of reality:

If you are not “in Christ Jesus” you shall not be saved here or in the world to come.

Two statements, one an ethical summons, the other a creedal declaration, may be said to define the tension within the various remnants of Christendom today.

The ‘Jesus saves’ emphasis may be said to dominate the evangelical wings of the various churches while the ethical call to care for the “least of these” has at least some hearing within all churches as well.

At no point in this essay should it be assumed that a wholesale judgment is being made regarding the degree to which messianism holds sway from one precinct to another.

The point is that when it does it diverts and deludes with resulting harm to the basic thrust of the gospel, which Jesus preached and embodied.

14.

The Self in the New Testament

In the New Testament there are two dominant notions of the self, just as there are two dominant notions extant today.

One view of the self is dynamic: the self is a spectrum embracing everything from a sublime freedom to entrapment by what the New Testament refers to as principalities and powers.

These drag the self into patterns of self-destruction and enmity toward other selves.

Ken Wilber, in The Spectrum of Consciousness, describes this self as a spectrum ranging from primordial infantile urges to various stages of psychosocial adaptation to participation in subtle and causal spiritual realms.

Mystics to be the more sublime reaches of the self generally regard these latter.

While many have been partisans of this dynamic view of selfhood, Roberto Assagioli, the founder of Psychosynthesis, was one of the first to map it out.

Assagioli’s map followed Freud in acknowledging a subconscious where id-like desires and repressed infantile trauma might reside, an ego-band of relative consciousness where will and reason could come into play and, most
original, a super-conscious area where promptings of a wider conscience than mere super- ego and a wider spirituality than narcissistic self-affirmation could be registered.

This is not the place to elaborate Assagioli’s psychological system. For our purpose it is enough to reiterate the notion of a self, which is a spectrum, potentially open to every nuance of life and thought.

Such a self necessarily possesses faculties of will in greater or lesser degree and the capacity to harness the will to greater or lesser visions and purposes. Such a self is multi dimensional, free within certain bounds and, above all, open to change and growth.

One paradigm in the New Testament for such a self is the woman with the flow of blood who pursues Jesus shamelessly after suffering from the misdiagnoses of the medical profession for over a decade. When she is healed by his energy, as the story suggests, Jesus cuts her short in her expressions of gratitude.
He offers the suggestion that her faith has saved her. This can mean nothing but the notion of an inherent predisposition within the woman — an act of single-minded will, if you will — as an integral part of the dynamic of healing that Jesus brings.

Such an interpretation is borne out by the fact that where this disposition does not exist, he can do little in the way of healing.

Whether Jesus or the woman comes first is a question that falls more properly within the realm of philosophy than this interpretation of creedal messianism. Suffice to say that the participation of both is necessary to this healing and that her participation is more than the passive presentation of an ill person to a healer who is responsible for mobilizing not only the healing itself but her will as well.

In the context of Jesus’ use of terms like belief and faith in the Synoptic gospels, the conclusion must be that the faith (or faithlessness) which he attributes to those around him is faith or lack of faith in God’s power and
closeness — in God’s imminent rule over the earth, in the changed human environment which this transparent (to Jesus) fact creates.

The sort of self who would gravitate toward such an interpretation is less likely to be ensnared in the messianic delusion than the self we shall now describe.

15.

The Self In The Grip of Messianism

This self conforms to David Riesman’s concept of the other- directed personality, to Eric Hoffer’s devastating evocation of the true believer, to B. F. Skinner’s concept of the self as an infinitely manipulable object.

Conformity, uncritical acceptance of authority, intolerance, pathological guilt, a hoarding mentality, dogmatism and a tendency to dualistic thinking — these all describe this second sort of self.

From the standpoint of our earlier description, this sort of self is spiritually bereft, caught in the very determinism that rises from adherence to messianic thinking and its attendant idolatries.

In terms of the messianic-institutional delusion, it is this sort who is the most likely target for evangelization.

Such a person will respond without protest to all manner of intrusions of the porous wall of selfhood, to the point of partially or wholly losing any individuating boundary.

In our world of manipulative religious sales pitches, to prey upon such selves has become sort of an evangelical droit de segnieur.

Such selves are likely to swallow whole cloth vast reductionisms — exchanging such freedom as they possess for the promise of realizing the very fantasies that Satan pressed upon Jesus and which Jesus categorically refused.

This second self wants to feel control over the nations of the world, to have the capacity to turn stones to bread and to be able to command the instant repair of any damaged bodily organ.

The characteristics of this second sort may be said to surface in a society that believes such objectives are not only attainable but also desirable.

Such selves may be prosperous citizens but they gravitate to a religious outlook that is the height of parsimony.
It is not contradictory to see people as worms deserving of the very flames of hell from which Jesus sought to extricate earth’s multitudes.

It is not against religion to embrace the sorts of nationalism that Hans Kohn, in his classic study of the subject, found to be the most virulent and dehumanizing. And it is not inconsistent with faith, in this understanding, to experience alienation to a degree worthy of the most alarming descriptions of Emil Durkeim.

If principalities and powers flourish still, it is upon such selves that they depend. Super- patriotism, demonstrations of profound intolerance, uncritical denigrations of anything suggesting a freedom based on diversity — these are the symptomatic expressions of those whom Jesus typically and with scant tact described as scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, priests and hypocrites.
16.

How Churches Destroy Selfhood

Churches which perpetuate the creedal- messianic understanding are in synch with other-directed selves and thus are generally subject to the subversion of gospel values when such persons attain exalted rank or functional power over boards, committees and agencies — none of which have either a Biblical mandate nor status in any interpolation of the way that Jesus taught.

If this seems harsh, and there is no doubt that it is, let it be said that throughout this essay there will be ample opportunity to see how the church’s use of creedal-messianic language alone has led to monstrous and even
genocidal results.

The harshness is entirely justified by history.

The first sort of self described is good ground for reception of the seeds of good news that Jesus plants. The second is the very person Jesus came to save.

The truth, of course, is that the artificially separated descriptions offered here simply evoke qualities present in all of us. The only thing that needs to be said, in admitting this, is that Jesus clearly intended we make the journey from regions of negation and necessity to those of freedom, synthesis and responsibility.

17.

Jonestown As Paradigm

A paradigm for the breaking down of selfhood via messianic incursion is, of course, Jonestown (1978).

In this grim playing out of the phenomenon, the bulk of the membership of Peoples’ Temple, isolated in Guyana, long since drained of autonomy, dependent physically and spiritually on a messiah figure who needed to feed on battered selves, indulged in a hellish ritual of suicidal conformity.

Whether one speaks of the followers of Jim Jones, of Kamikaze pilots, brainwashed prisoners, crazed racists or the somnambulant followers of the world’s growing crop of gurus, there is only one way to avoid deadly incursions on selfhood.

It is to be aware of, and subscribe to, a trans-hierarchical value system which is implicit not only in the good news of Jesus, but in the evolution of world history and in the perennial philosophy which underlies the world’s great religions.

Tolerance, the valuing of individuality, a commitment to universal love and justice, a shying away from the greater and lesser idolatries, a non-paternalistic commitment to those who are helpless –these are among the
values which cut through the various levels of reality which we might acknowledge to exist.

These are cornerstones of the ethic that Jesus manifests and commends to us.

These are concerns that, through faith and prayer, we are able to bring to our dealings with our own conduct and that of others. The self who is free within certain limits and aware that life is meant to bring one to a realization of the very highest of destinies is the good ground where the word of good news can be sown.

The deterministic self, who springs from the dour visions of Hoffer and Riesman, whether in seats of power or at the feet of gurus, is one who sees but does not see, hears but does not hear, claims understanding but does not
understand.

18.

Freedom and Consciousness

To be the salt of the earth is to be in touch with the band of freedom within the spectrum of consciousness.

It is to grasp life as a gift and to have awareness of God’s creative being and ethical interests.

Such a self may slide into areas of “evil” or “temptation”, but can successfully be delivered from them and open again to growth and evolution toward completeness.

The self mired in messianic delusion refuses all responsibility for adverse circumstances and is prey to every demagogue and every ersatz remedy and every religious quack.

The messianic delusion holds that one is saved by something external to oneself that is not universal, not ethical and finally not capable of delivering on the promise of salvation.

Jesus said on more than one occasion that the God to whom he prayed and with whom he conversed was capable of fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of all who turned, repented and believed.

If we are to take Jesus at his word, this is the same God who demands there be no other gods or idols before him and then elevates freedom to the very highest position by stating, to Moses from a burning bush, “I am who I am and I will be who I will be.”

The only qualification on this freedom is one which Jesus himself asserts: namely that this God loves and wills to forgive all and to bring all to life within the circle of the realm of God.

19.

Protection Against Messianism

The seminal protection against messianism of all sorts is the first commandment, which forbids all forms of idolatry.

In essence, this places an absolute lid on the mechanism of idolization, which is to attribute to something finite an infinite status.

If only God is transcendent and, as Jesus states, only God is good, then the closest we get to transcendence is via the person and teaching and healing power of Jesus.

Jesus is the messenger of this God and his message is a celebration of values that stand over and against many of the values that are now used idolatrously to characterize a form of obedience that is hardly what Jesus had in mind.

20.

How To Identify Messianism

In the present time, schooled by the ravages of Nazism and the events of Jonestown, have we been moved to reject the evils of messianism?

Sadly not. We find within the precincts of the New Age movement more than one leader, generally but not exclusively male, who is presented as the incarnation of the deity or perfect master through whom followers will attain whatever rewards best emerges from the warped theologies of the respective gurus, teachers and spiritual entrepreneurs.

(We should bear in mind that the world of organized religion, even of organized Christianity, is not immune to the submersion of selves to self-devouring leaders who claim powers, even infallibility, and exact considerable
obedience in return.)

What are the criteria by which one can evaluate any activity to determine its messianic content?

The answer may be suggested in the following questions:

Is there a tolerance of differing viewpoints and perspectives?

Is there a general openness to helping others in non-paternalistic, empowering ways?

Is there democracy, including the right to dissent and to withdraw from participation?

Is there observance of commonly acknowledged human rights including due process?

Is idolatry present in any form?

Ken Wilber, building on the work of Dick Anthony and Tom Robbins, has developed the following questions that supplement those above?

Does the group believe that all persons are ultimately one within the Godhead? Or are some saved and some not?

The first group is denoted monistic, the second dualistic.
Does the group believe primarily in problem-solving in this world and life?

Does it believe in some extension of life and fulfillment beyond the physical-biological realm?

The believer in the first is denoted one level, the believer in both two level.

Is the group practice or way of life derived from following a charismatic leader’s day-to-day regimen or by adhering to a set of prescribed practices such as a form of yoga or meditation?

The first is denoted charismatic, the second technical.

Using these criteria, Robbins and Anthony found problems in groups that tended to be one level and charismatic.

Examples of monistic, one-level, charismatic groups were, they argued, the Manson family, Messiah’s World Crusade and the Om Cult.

In dualistic one-level, charismatic groups they included Syanon, Peoples Temple and the Unification Church.

The researchers found less difficulty in monistic, two-level technical (or teaching-oriented) groups such as Vedanta Hinduism, Integral Yoga and Zen Buddhism.

Examples of dualistic, technical, two-level groups, according to the researchers, were Pentecostal and Roman Catholic charismatic renewal groups.

21.

Further Identification of Messianic Tendencies

Ken Wilber, in EYE TO EYE: THE QUEST FOR THE NEW PARADIGM, Garden City, 1983, 257ff., uses the terms “cult clan and totem master” to characterize a “pattern … general enough to be essentially paradigmatic.”

Cult-clan refers to “the general absence of self-esteem … with the consequent herd mentality.

The totem master rides herd and there is a great emphasis on extraordinary powers, temporal and even biological relatedness and the formation of an ‘in group’.”

The most damning element of the constructions we have been touching on is that of dualism in which Jesus is turned into the one in whom the saved have security while all who are outside this circle are seen as damned.

This is not the only form of dualistic thinking to invade the world of the church.

There is also:

Light and dark

Good and evil

Male and female

Jew and Gentile

The dualistic connotations of all these distinctions vanish if the universalistic sweep of Jesus original teaching is accepted.

But once give fallible human beings the sense that they are the judge of who is and is not saved, once lodge this power of judgment in an institution run by fallible persons, and the way is opened for the inversion of every good value which Jesus represents.
The Opposite of Creedal-Messianic Theology

A universalistic and holistic understanding, which saw Satan as a principle of self-subversion, division and denial of the efficacy of God’s goodness, gave way to a parody in which the church successively defined its theology in creedal – messianic terms.

This understanding and the dualism, which lay beneath it, was a delusion.

The Jesus whom Schweitzer ultimately called the unknown had not come to be the messiah of Israel, or the spiritual messiah for a select group who developed a cult around his alleged messiah ship.

He had come to do exactly what, by some miracle, the gospel writers said he did:

To declare the vital immediacy and reality of a God who calls people, yes, but not to obeisance to a messiah, but to life in the realm Jesus described in minute detail as the kingdom of heaven.

This was and is a universal message whose partisans can present to the world not a call to allegiance within a church system mired still in the detritus of the messianic tradition, but to global community based on the reality of Jesus’ initial proclamation and an effort to follow the precepts of new life that he taught and embodied.

Only on the basis of such a movement can two millennia of creedal messianism give way to an era of responsibility and reciprocity based on genuine worship of God.

This worship would ascribe value to the central and liberating truths that Jesus announces, teaches, embodies.

Such worship would celebrate his death and resurrection — a resurrection for the world, not for a creedal-messianic church.

And in this way the chrysalis of the community that Jesus attempted to form would be formed in fact — universally — beyond the messianic delusion.

22.

The Actual Good News

The good news is not that Jesus is the messiah. The good news is what Jesus said it is.

God is available to human beings for the fulfillment of their lives, the harmonization of social relations and the mutual enjoyment of our abundant God-created planet home.

The good news is not that God is with us in the person of Jesus though there is not a doubt in the world that that is true. The good news is that God is with each of us.

The good news is that God is for us. Jesus came precisely to make this truth so clear that the world could not continue without acknowledging it.

The good news is that a connection has been made between God and us and that God is close, present, available — a guardian and guide, a protector and a friend.

The good news is that because this is so the inherent creativity of every person is free to be manifested to God’s glory.

The good news is that we can lay our guilt (our real guilt and our pathological guilt) at the feet of God, along with our weakness, our sorrows, our heartbreaks, our disabilities and limitations, and begin to achieve good things — things we do to treat our neighbors as we wish to be treated, things we create as gifts in return for the gifts that we receive.

23.

When The Good We Will We Can Do

The good news as that there are times when the good we will is the good we can do.

The good news is that there are occasions when we can do something that benefits all without violating the freedom of any.

The good news is that there has always been power available to all to do good, to live in tolerance and reciprocally with those who differ, to discern justice and unveil the principalities and powers of this world.

Jesus defines and shows how to harness this power and he manifests it to such a degree that it has been understood to be the Holy Spirit, the very power that rules “in heaven” and that makes possible God’s rule on earth.

The good news, in essence, is that there is hope for us. That a world mired in determinisms of doom, intimidated by those who posit Armageddon for their personal gain, can breathe deeply the gospel word, the good news proclaimed and completely manifested in Jesus.

There are three parts to it. The first is the statement that God is near and open to us and ready to assume control over the planet and to stand in loving relationship to all of the earth’s peoples. “The realm of God is at hand.”

Next is the call to repentance, for if we need no good news none will be forthcoming. If we do not recognize that we have hurt others seen and unseen, that we have hurt ourselves by not believing in the deepest gifts we have been given, there will be no felt need to repent.

Nonetheless this is but a first step.

The final element in the good news is the call to belief. We are to embrace the good news with the deepest capacities of our conviction mechanisms. Jesus makes belief mandatory — it is the iron law that is delivered with the declaration of God’s closeness and the call to repentance. “Repent and believe the gospel.”

24.

Losing The Good News Thread

The good news, understood and appropriated, is particularly good for those in the institutions of organized religion.

Even though elements of creedal messianism may pervade the liturgies, there is assurance that the way of Jesus is indeed the correct way and that Jesus stands over all others precisely because every religion, including Christianity, is judged by the standards that he enunciates. “Be perfect as God is perfect.”

With the footnote: “Why do you call me good, only God is good.”

The possibility of a growing culture of individual practice opens up the possibility also of new face-to-face community built around the natural festivities of the participants’ lives.

This is all part of the good news of Jesus, born of the Mary who understood that the world was due for a virtual overturning of the hierarchies that had persisted from the dawn of history.

Jesus, baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist, a renegade prophet who offended authorities and tried to resurrect the prophetic message that Jesus was about to bring to full fruition.

Why?

To fulfill all righteousness, to wed himself to Amos and Isaiah, Hosea and Jeremiah and all at any time who recoiled at the venality and disobedience of life and longed for the rule of God and the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven.

That people would see Jesus as the true child of God could have been predicted. John certainly did so. But that some would turn this natural reaction into a creedal lock on a door created by an institution claiming to be the way to the way, truth and light — well, perhaps that could have been anticipated in the early and strong opposition the principalities and powers showed toward Jesus.

25.

We Must First Listen to Jesus

To sort out the good news of Jesus from the news, which is based on creedal messianism, we must first listen to Jesus.

Listen to him in the face of all — principally the behavior of the churches at various times and seasons — that has distorted his teaching and diminished his standing in our world.

The 20th century was characterized by a debilitating fissure between fundamentalists and those in the churches who reject the cardinal doctrine of inerrancy.

The partisans of inerrancy would presumably hang themselves if they were to put their finger down on the verse that states that Judas did so, and then, to get further advice, happened on the counsel to go and do likewise. If there was a time when the impetus of fundamentalists was to protect the purity of creedal messianism in all its pristine glory, that time is over.

Now the fundamentalists power the conservative political forces within the churches and seek outright control of the ecclesiastical apparatus.

The most egregious example of such activity has occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention, a huge and powerful denomination that has been torn to shreds by a concerted and successful conservative takeover. This is not to
deny that there are shades of opinion in fundamentalism even today.

Fundamentalism in a mild version is spread quite universally through the churches that nowadays bear the name evangelical.

But the fact of the matter is that the same double-speak that invades our political world, where demagoguery and fear politics can dominate the electorate, now so invades the fundamentalist religious world that it would be a relief if time could turn back and the more primitive fundamentalism of a century ago was in fashion.

Frankly political persons whose language switches easily from the code words of family values and crime to the allegation that the only true defenders of the church are … themselves operate the current version.
What empowers this movement is the prospect of a conservative takeover of the political mechanisms of the globe so that the values of wealth and its identity with Christian virtue can be maintained, so that such virtuous ethical responses to Jesus as capital punishment, mass imprisonment and intolerance toward the values of multicultural globalism can be promulgated and made ultimately victorious.

Ranged against this viewpoint initially was a corps of liberals who delighted in watering down Scripture when it got rough and who portrayed Jesus as one of their own — a progressive sort who would appeal to the charitable impulses and perhaps touch the conscience of the robber barons and their subalterns.

Today that liberal wave of a century ago has dispersed and we see a declining denominational establishment that was once called mainline.

It cannot be called that any more because in many respects its impulses have been vitiated by conservative attacks, drawing energy from the movement cited above.

The task of the nonfundamentalists today has yet to be articulated because there is no vision that has yet caught the imagination of the churches that have escaped the fundamentalist net. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

It will take time and dialogue and the action of the Spirit to reactivate the churches that are genuinely open to what God intends.

Insofar as the vision of these churches is efficacious, it can be argued that it will categorically reject the creeping fundamentalist reduction of life to a cult like somnambulance driven by dominating pastors, power laymen (sic) and a widespread urge to find a place of security from the fears that exist out in the world.

To reject this requires courage as well as vision for money and power are at the side of this movement.

26.

Beyond Fundamentalism

Where there is no vision people perish, it is true.

But sometimes vision comes hard and requires intense debate and a keen awareness of the traps that have held vision hostage in the past.

One of these is that fundamentalism and conservatism can be defeated by ceding the entire territory they have made their own — in their case, the entire body of Scripture and all of orthodox doctrine, filtered through some fairly fundamentalist-specific doctrinism such as that having to do with dispensations.

This is too much of a concession.

Another effort to corral fundamentalism may be characterized as Messianism in scholar’s clothing. Its progenitor is known as the Jesus Seminar.

The Jesus Seminar is a consortium of Biblical scholars who have taken it upon themselves to determine the authenticity of canonical and non-canonical statements attributed to Jesus.

Cordially disdained by fundamentalists, the Seminarians appear to be engaging in a fundamentalism of their own. Supposing that they could, through their observers’ filters, determine what Jesus actually said in every case, they would be left with a collection of statements they would designate authentic.

What would be the difference between this “canon” and the canon accepted by the fundamentalists?

In both cases the texts involved would be held up as the authoritative ones for either school of thought — claims of infallibility could be equally suspect or equally affirmed.

In both cases the text would remain the idol, the too- easy solution, the means of evading what even Albert Schweitzer, who held no true history of Jesus could ever be written, could not avoid: the haunting reality of Jesus, demanding that in each generation there be a reckoning.
Both sides of the debate over fundamentalism turned out to be in error.

The Scriptures are not the literal, inerrant Word of God, if only because as observers we interact with Scripture and bring fallibility with us at every turn of the page.

But the Scriptures are the bearers of ultimate truth, the truth that Jesus is the global paradigm for the transformation of life on this planet, that what we as fallible observer-participants can extrapolate from what he said and did is the foundation plan for the reconstruction of all existence.

Why is this so and how does it differ from fundamentalism and liberalism?

It is based upon the sort of criteria that Harold Bloom brings to the study of those he believes to be the seminal figures that define who we are.

Bloom does not include Jesus in his pantheon, though he does extol the Yahwist, the author of the J document, which scholars locate in the first five books of the Old Testament.

Bloom also accords pantheon status to Shakespeare, Freud and Marx. He argues that, more than we know, we are who we are because these persons set words down on pages — living words that still echo consciously and unconsciously, so he says, inhabiting our minds, forming our world, defining our options.

Now I say simply and with assurance that the figure of Jesus transcends these figures and that he acts in the very same way Bloom says his paradigmatic personages act.

I say that exposure, real exposure, to Jesus is the appropriate interface to have for the formation of one’s entire attitude to all of life, the totality that we sometimes divide into spiritual, physical, intellectual, etc.

I say that the canonical disputes about the authenticity of texts or the accuracy of what they say are similar to disputes over who wrote the Shakespeare plays in whole or in part. Such disputes do not overshadow the light that comes through.

And, as to authority for claiming that Jesus was not a creedal-messianist, for example, what can any observer claim?

27.

Seeing and Hearing Jesus

We all see through the filter of experience or impose various logical criteria or conceptual frameworks on our jumbled thoughts.

I can only ask you to share my vision of the text with your vision of it.

When I look at it, for example, I find a vision in which Jesus is transfigured and God speaks, saying: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him well.”

Listening, I hear him referring everything to God, making God quite explicit, and not interposing layers of life-stages or necessary practice as gurus do.

I hear him telling Satan that we live not by bread but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

I hear him suggesting that service and worship are due God alone.

And I think: These are not the utterances of one who intends to upset the monistic foundation of reality by establishing a divisive, messianic dogma which requires the building of a church named for him in which he becomes the principle object of devotion.

This is one who will divide the world in a different and redemptive way.

I hear his various inaugural addresses that evoke the words of the poet-seers who inhabit the pages of the book of Isaiah. And

I derive from them the thought that Jesus is igniting in the world a light of profound justice that can never be extinguished, which will fire such things as the abolition of slavery and child labor and, in our own time, the gradual eradication of age-old mistreatment of women, age-old division by race and color and age-old religious wars based on the false premise that religions are in themselves somehow transcendent and worthy of universal acclaim.

If Hamlet plants doubt and becomes the archetype of modern man, Jesus long before him planted hope and became the archetype of a world beyond the divisive self- preoccupations of modernity.

28.

Usurper of Priestly Power

I see and hear a Jesus who usurps the power of priests by making forgiveness an obligation of all — a political obligation if you. will, a necessity for Beatitudinal polity, for life in the circle of God’s rule.

When Jesus states that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, he is telling us that God’s rule is ready to begin on this planet insofar as we are ready to turn toward God, throw off our old ways, and embrace the teaching of the one whom God has designated the globe’s Teacher- Healer-Preacher.

I see and hear a Jesus who forgives sins.

And when the Pharisees reason that God alone forgives sin, Jesus puts them to the test by asking them which is easier, to conduct a difficult healing or to forgive someone’s sins.

Clearly for Jesus the difficulty will lie with the latter transgression, for with it he has brought the rule of God to earth — he can forgive and so can we and so should we.

I see a Jesus speaking of himself as a new being — the Son of man. This new being calls people to repentance and asks that all turn to God and receive new being hood. He reformulates worship in one motion by declaring himself
lord of the Sabbath.

Henceforth, true worship will be service to the needy, reconciliation with enemies, upbuilding of community — the altar comes only after these other things have been done. I see a Jesus who makes plain the happiness, which he is bringing.

The poor in God will be joyful and at ease. The hungry in God will be filled. The grieving in God will be comforted. But the rich, the established who have no need of a physician, the secure and the popular — they shall not know these new and profound happinesses.

This Jesus requires above all else repentance and belief. Repentance — turning from the sin and hurt of the time before God was near, and belief — fervently embracing the homeland law of heaven over all the laws of earth in
the belief that God is present to enforce them even if the price of that enforcement is death. See Luke 6.

29.

A Universal Strategy

I see a Jesus who outlines a universal strategy for action in this world.

It is based on the homeland law of heaven, on doing God’s will on earth just as it is done beyond the life that we have been living — in heaven. Loving enemies is part of it. Accepting those who spitefully use you.

Giving a cloak as well to one who asks for a coat.

Doing these things not as some daunting social service, but as a personal sign of citizenship, a habit of being, in the new homeland of heaven on earth.

I see a strange seeming passivity that is the greatest possible strength.

I see an edifice of instructions so absurd they would wash away in a light shower if God did not stand tall behind each and every one of them, creating of them a many-colored coat stronger than any armor the world could ever devise.

I see a doctrine of human relations that, if enacted, would turn schoolyards into love fests and offices into communes. It involves mercy and a suspension of judgment. It involves an active sort of karma understanding: the measure of our giving will be the measure of our receiving.

The measure of our servanthood the measure of our mastery.

Nothing less than complete, inside and outside self-transformation is the aim and result of Jesus’ gospel understanding.

30.

The Self As The Good Tree

The self is a tree and to yield good fruit it must be a good tree.

Only faith, the will to believe and to follow the Master’s way, and repentance, the will to offer up all to God in a genuine offer that says I am open to seeing Your will done, Your rule come, can assure the tree will stand by the waters when rough times come.

It is inexorable, this impact of Jesus.

The words keep coming, and the hearers are fewer and fewer. For they are those who see the reality of what it will mean to accept the understanding of Jesus.

The collision when they stand with this man over against the forces of conventional power and realpolitik, who believe history is made by those who allow no sentiment to mar their self-interested decisions.

These will see Jesus’ true followers as sincere but deluded burrs in their sides. They will brush them off, burn them alive, crucify them. In time they will give this up because the followers themselves will change.

Will yield. Will compromise. Will bow to the emperor and designate the enemies of Rome heathen scum.

Will start building temples that make the shrines of Jesus’ day shacks in comparison. Satan, silenced for a time by the majesty of this one, will have a big comeback and the principalities and powers will retard the day of the kingdom or domain of God on earth.

But Jesus knew this would come, that tares and wheat would grow in close proximity, even within the same persons.

What he did not appear to know was Satan’s most clever revenge on the prophet who embarrassed him in the desert by exposing him as a vest-pocket fundamentalist.

He would help create the very creedal edifice that would hold the church captive in its orthodox clamps for ages and ages and ages.
He would build his own Tower of Babel in the place where the Spirit had conquered the language barriers of the world.

He would seize upon the weakness that had already been manifested, once the leader was entombed, and turn it into a message so mixed that impotence in the world would be its sign and powerlessness before various marches of evil its seal.

Satan, in short, would triumph for a time.

Such a declension of reality is figurative but somehow truthful. It is a prelude to the narrative of how a pristine gospel that was and is the best of news came to be routinely subverted by its partisans and custodians.

30.

The Subversion of Jesus

The good news that Jesus enunciates and manifests centers on the possibility of self- transformation.

The external casing of the self must be transformed or it will be torn asunder when it seeks to incorporate the new wine that Jesus brings.

The internal self, the heart or core of the person, must be made new in order to live harmoniously in the circle of God’s rule. God, who alone is good, wills that goodness be lodged within all peoples. To repent and believe is to begin this process. To receive and believe and act on the teaching is to realize it.

Practice is the way Jesus counsels; practice is what he means by the command to follow him. It is so selves can be transformed by practice that he has come into the world, for only transformed selves can begin to roll back the habitual rule of the principalities and powers, only transformed selves can begin to make reciprocity and neighbor love an accepted actuality instead of a much-declared hypocrisy.

Calling Jesus Lord, Lord is fatuous. Building a strong house on the powerful foundation of his transmission is the reason he comes. It is his entire transmission that transforms but the foundation is the epochal declaration of God’s global intent.

The cumulative effect of Jesus’ explication of the good news is inexorable. The word is a seed. Those mired in the cares of this world and glamorized by its riches — victims of the disease of materialism previsioned for our era by Thorstein Veblen — simply cannot or will not hear it.

The ones who do hear are able to see through the shabbiness of life in a world where the adversarial is the everyday, where conflict is the rule, where enemies are consistently created and set against one another. Rich against poor, well against unwell, religion vying with religion, nation with nation, party with party.

None of this holds sway within the culture and politics of God’s dwelling place — heaven — nor in the outpost of it that Jesus intends be established on this planet.

31.

Hearers and Doers of The Word

Those who are able to see the damage wrought by principalities and powers are the good soil where the seed of Jesus’ epochal proclamation can drive deeply underground, to grow up mighty and able to withstand the winds of fickleness and adversity.

Honesty and good-heartedness at the core mark the hearers and doers of the word. Good fruits issue from their thoughts and actions and it is only by this external goodness that their inner transformation is validated to the rest of humankind.

What does not take place immediately and among his first followers will eventually happen, or so Jesus implies, contrary to those who construct elaborate supernatural scenarios cut from the old cloth that Jesus insists must be replaced before his truth can even be incorporated.

Everything will eventually come to pass as God intends it to.

It is for this reason, and not as a supernatural sign, that Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the highways and byways and do what he is doing — heal, forgive, tell the good news out loud.

The kingdom of god is expanded not by verbal confession of faith in Jesus but in complete acceptance of the living reality that he announces — from the initial letting go of repentance to the suspension of disbelief long enough to give God lodging in the soul.

This must happen one by one in the world.

32.

The Truth of Numbers

Jesus understands the truth of numbers.

If two go out and plant the seed in four others and they go out in twos and do the same a huge chain is created and the boundaries of God’s domain spread rapidly over all the earth.

What do they say?

They say that God is the power — not this or that god of this or that religion, certainly not a god that is related only to the institutional expression called Christianity — but the God Jesus pointed to and described — this God wants repentance and obedience, but this God is not some stern clone of the worst sorts of human instincts for cruelty and domination.

No, this God is a close and friendly Power who dwells with the one who repents and accepts, every step of the way.

This God does not want the world divided into warring religions and churches, ideologies and theologies.

This God enunciates but one desire, one law above all others. That people acknowledge God’s reality and that people therefore love one another and relate to one another as they are enabled to relate to themselves because they are beloved of God.

33.

A New Leap of Faith

Is there a culture attached to this proclamation? Indeed yes. It is a culture based upon acceptance of two things.

The unrepentant nature of the world and humankind.

And awareness of the implications of Jesus teaching-healing-preaching paradigm for the living out of life.

Has this culture yet existed?

In dribs and drabs it has, to be sure. But its creation has been impeded by the very existence of the religious edifices that have been created with the stated goal of maintaining the message — and being, in effect, its sole medium.

Is not all of this a counsel of perfection, a mixing together of fatuous new age-type hopefulness with a petulant refusal to understand the precise need for a church which stands its ground, proclaims a complete creedal orthodoxy and can appeal to a venerable tradition of debate and revising of the meanings of a gospel that only fools would claim to understand completely?

That is the question these pages must seek to answer.

It is as if we have been on a cliff edge called Tentativity and must now decide if the time has come to make a new leap of faith.

34.

Light from Without

The one to whom we are to listen well says (in Luke 8:5 ff) that everything will be made manifest. Nothing is hid that will not be spread abroad.

What is being said?

That the new day is here. That powers hitherto reserved to God or to a priesthood (however defined) are now available to all who turn, repent, accept and believe that this is indeed the acceptable time.

We are to let the dead bury the dead, moving on in confidence that what Jesus tells us is the truth — that our strength is in God alone, and that we are to desire that God’s will be done, God’s realm be established on the earth.

The followers of Jesus are to go out and heal and forgive and tell others of the nearness of God, the closeness of the kingdom.

When they pray they are to give first priority to the fulfillment of the good news that God’s will and kingdom can indeed come here.

The followers of Jesus know the means of being citizens of this kingdom can be transmitted by simply asking, seeking and knocking — the means being the very Spirit of God descending upon our hearts and acting within us.

This infusion of the Spirit is essential, for only as we are cleansed within can a dwelling place be created for the light from without.

35.

Engaging the Principalities and Powers

All talk of newness and cleanliness betokens the greatest hypocrisy, if deep inside we are still ravening wolves. (See Luke 11:33-39)

The good news is also one of profound engagement with the principalities and powers.

Harsh excoriations are part of the verbal arsenal of Jesus, who wears the prophet’s mantle and speaks in the tongues of the prophets. The upright and self-contained Pharisees and the careful if somewhat venal lawyers are the consistent target of his unrelenting words. (See Luke 11:43)

Jesus may grieve that they are hard of heart, but in no time he is causing them to plot his death.

Hear him: The lawyers take advantage of the weak.

Religious hypocrites build tombs for the very prophets that they kill.

Such persons have shed Prophets’ blood since the dawn of time.

36.

Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy is the major sin.

What is hypocrisy?

It is the sacrifice of the higher to the lower on the spectrum of consciousness.

It is the love of place, of show, of advantage — every expression of the predatory instinct covered over with a patina of seemingly good and recondite intentions.

Running for cover, cherishing security above all else, the hypocrite attains sophistication the higher the hypocrite moves, taking advantage of the world’s awe in the face of the show of power.

Jesus tells his disciples to beware because he knows the higher his prophetic arrows ascend the more danger exists — the hypocrites will, in the name of law and order, and even religion, do them in.

If the condemnation of Jesus were his only message he would fall into the ranks of the dualists, Manichean overturners of the established order.

The “good news” would be more of the same, as indeed it is in the mouths of the fundamentalists.

But the good news is that Jesus is not one of these.

It is his supreme merit to plumb the very depths of our common capacity for evil — revealed in hypocrisy, sealed in the various manifestations of murderous impulses — and tell us that the only way we can resolve our problem is to overcome the self-division that is the source of the dialectic of doom within which we are all too prone to live.

37.

Faith

Jesus condemns hypocrisy but at the same time he commends faith.

Faith has had many meanings in Christian history. Most commonly it has referred to a system of belief. But for Jesus this is not the case.

Faith is an elemental spiritual quality, which seems to be unevenly distributed in the world. It is openness to believing in God, to believing in miracles, to believing in a person like Jesus — not in a cognitive, creedal way but in a visceral, direct even childlike and spontaneous way.

It is a sort of incompleteness worn without too much self-consciousness that begs for the elements by which it might be completed.

It is not belief in the sense of accepting a list of propositions — that is a form of belief only tangentially related to faith as Jesus describes it.

Faith for Jesus is a quality or attitude that relates to life and understanding of life. It contains commitment and trust; it lives by the perception that life is more than food or clothing, that the world and what we make of it is infinitely enhanced by being in the hand of a God who cares and who can effect change, even when we cannot.

Faith says God is good and that God has power and that there are people who manifest this power and that this very power can only be perceived by eyes of faith.

Faith is therefore the opposite of the protective, unbelieving armor of hypocrisy. It is redolent of hope and reaching out and seeking and knocking. It is not something we are saved by. It is something that enables us to be aware of what saves us.

Faith is what makes salvation possible.

Faith is a quality of commitment and trust.
Faith, says Jesus, is this quality focused on the presence and power and will of God. It sees that life is more than what we eat and what we wear. It says we need only consider God’s care of the lilies of the field to contemplate accurately God’s willingness to care for us, if we but turn and trust.

38.

An All-Sufficient God

The advent of God’s realm on earth means that by faith alone — that is to say, by casting our doubts aside and affirming God’s good, holistic power — all of our needs can and will be met.

Our gospel is one of sufficiency.

It should be clear by now that the good news Jesus proclaims is about God, about God’s disposition toward us, about God’s nearness and availability, about the possibility through prayer and the direction of our total being toward God, that we will become daily more familiar, daily more aware, daily more filled with the goodness of the One who alone is good. The parables deal almost exclusively with the nature of God.

They describe a God who wills the lifting of the fallenness that has made earth prey to principalities and powers.

Jesus himself is described as son of man and son of God and it is true God is his Father. But this is also true for us. God is our Father.

Our true and ultimate first parent — for this designation can only be gender-defined in a secondary and ultimately inconsequential sense.

God is a Person in whom (as in Jesus) are integrated all archetypes associated with male and female.

This Person is powerful but does not deny freedom or responsibility; this Person is loving but does not abdicate the prophetic witness.

This Person offers access to a new age where wheat can gradually be winnowed from chaff, where souls mired in negativity and division can become whole and complete and fulfilled.

This person is a Universalist of the first order, never content to let a single soul go. Till the house is swept clean and the hundredth or billionth sheep found, the redemptive process must continue.
The Person to whom Jesus prays desires good and not evil. The One whom Jesus seeks out in solitude cannot abide hypocrisy for it is the manifest betrayal of the gift of freedom and, paradoxically, the living proof of human responsibility.

For this reason this One cries over Jerusalem, How long? How long? This one rushes like mother, like father to gather into loving arms the long-lost and profligate child. Where our possibility ends this One’s reality begins.

Where our self- sufficiency falters this One’s all-caring helpfulness becomes strong.

This One delights and this One shares.

And we are to delight and we are to share.

We have an all-sufficient God. A God who wills within each of us the attainment of sufficiency.

39.

The Heights of Closeness

What must we do to gain the fruits of Jesus’ good news?

By what spiritual practice shall we become the people God intends us to be?

Are we to become those who walk tall upon the earth, like the sons of men and daughters of the moon in Job’s theophany — delighting in the advent of the morning star and stirred to the depths by the hawk’s high flying?

It is testimony to our common blindness to good news that the notion of individual practice has been supplanted for the most part by an emphasis on attendance at public worship (most often a spectator situation) and participation in the institutional life and financial support of a professional ecclesiastical establishment.

Jesus did not embark upon his brief shaking of the world to the roots until the age of thirty or thereabouts. It is to be supposed that prior to then he engaged in practice which included meditation, prayer and solitude and that if he entered the religious sanctuaries it was for the purpose of trying to redefine the received tradition to harmonize with his sense of God.

The dialectic between aloneness and encounter seems to lie at the very center of Jesus’ approach to the world around him.

We see him mostly in the encounter mode, but the narratives make clear that at times he withdrew.

He retreats and is finally all alone with God.

It is this area of practice, this cultivated effort to spend time with God, to turn to God, to avail oneself of God, that creates the field where the fruits of faith are nurtured and grown.

This is the arena where the individual becomes his or her own judge of what is true and what is not.

This is where possibilities are sorted out. The heights achieved by closeness to God are unattainable to those who do not seek them out.

40.

Extending the Realm of God Within

The joy of life under the rubric of the Love which God is said to Be, or under any other rubric that could be a basis for practice of Jesus’ way (viz. loving enemies), can only be known by one who in faith takes the plunge and grasps life with Jesus as the willingness to commit all to the authority and love of God.

So when we ask who we are and how we can gain the fruits of the good news, we are led to practice.

First faith — the openness to the gospel to which we have referred — but then practice — setting time aside on a daily basis for as many forms of conscious communion with God as possible.

This is the only way.

It is the way one can deduce from watching Jesus as he moves in and out of solitude, most probably in a state of near- constant prayer, trying to find and train others who will live as he does in the Beatitudinal happiness of citizenship in the realm of God.

Practice also involves considering, as Peter and Andrew do, the setting aside of one sort of life for another, one that promises a more centered and meaningful possibility.

This involves learning to love — not only God, not only others, including enemies, but also oneself.

For if one does not love oneself one cannot love neighbor as self without creating a parody of love or worse, a terrible and violent distortion of love.

The good news is that through practice these positives can come to pass.

That which is near at hand becomes immediate and real.

The power that was once abstract is now tangible.

The force for extending the realm of God within, without and throughout the world is indeed with us.

41.

No Gimmicks Here

There have been many gimmicks applied to the reality of Jesus as it is preserved, primarily in the canonical Gospels.

Some will say that he made fantastic journeys in his early years, others that he appears now, sometimes on behalf of some major fund-raising activity (such as buying yet more television outlets for evangelists who claim to preach the word of God).

We need none of these to confirm the following essential information:

At the start of his ministry Jesus proclaimed in words that somehow survived that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, that God was near.

He sought belief in the reality of this good news.

Then he presented a teaching of the way of life in this changed environment — a way built upon practice.

Practice in relationship. Practice in solitude. Practice of saying yes and no instead of stretching it out and making great pledges.

Practice of quickly negotiating a settlement and avoiding court and legal entanglements.

Multiple practices related to implementing the laws –the revised laws that fulfill the old laws — of the inbreaking realm of God.

Practice in withdrawal and prayer — to better understand God’s will, to better learn to forgive and receive forgiveness, to be reminded of God’s goodness and God’s peace.

No gimmicks here. Only things that will remain when the gimmicks have proven fatuous and hollow.

42.

The Epistemology of Experience

Only the good news that is for all depends not upon a creedal recitation of tenets but upon a living, daily encounter with one who rejected glitzy miracle for down-to-earth hands- on healing of the globe.

And silently, but sometimes visibly, the teaching of self-giving love — even of enemies, first of enemies — has infused the historical process and empowered movements for human justice.

This is the basis for our epistemology — for how we know that God is real — this perception of God’s continued interaction with humankind.

To affirm that the good news of Jesus is still in force, that the realm of God is present and working, is to confess directly and without affectation that God is present in my life, that I can claim and receive protection and solace in God, that as I forgive others I am forgiven, that as I acknowledge God all around me my enjoyment and perception of God increases, that I know the world — no, the mass of creation which we call infinite though only God knows what infinity is, is in God’s hands.

I know that I can, through a word, a touch, a motion from within, be a channel of healing and new life for another.

This is an epistemology of experience and while it may be distorted and colored by fallibility it remains the ultimate test of the reality of good news, the truth of what Jesus says and does.

43.

Notes on The Beatitudinal Way

Peacemaking is among the activities that Jesus blesses and confirms as a priority in the realm of God where we are called to live and move and have our being.

Jesus likewise sees a hunger and thirst for righteousness as appropriate equipment for the kingdom dweller.

The environment is correct for these and other Beatitudinal activities.

The power of evil has been bound to the extent that the good can triumph if we believe and act.

Why, we might ask, does life continue on the planet?

One who thought we played no role in God’s life except to be passive recipients of weal or woe would argue there is no reason to keep the enterprise going. But the reason is clear enough.

We are here to evolve individually and corporately from a state of incompletion to a state of completion.

From lostness to foundness.

We are here to prove out the promises of God.

This is the reason why we possess the limited but crucial freedom to decide for God.

To accept the good news.

To make the profound inner and outer motion to live in the realm of God.

To learn, appreciate and follow the Beatitudinal way as the true way of courage and honor — replacing the worldly substitutes that go with the forces of enmity, destruction and antagonism.

44.

Freedom and Conflict

To become a citizen of that realm and make that citizenship operative even when it is in conflict with the principalities and powers.

Freedom?

Yes, emphatically. No matter how we come to look at it after we have turned and been received into the realm of God — we may sing “Amazing Grace” with gusto, implying that we had nothing to do with our transition — it was a free self-giving that got us there.

If we are unable of our own free will to turn to God, then our entire structure of self-understanding is rendered fatuous. And Jesus’ call to repentance and belief in the good news becomes a sad exercise in delusory homiletics.

45.

How Shall We Read The New Testament?

The good news as we are presenting it has not been the good news as presented by the bulk of the world’s Christian institutions.

I have no doubt, though, that it is the unarticulated understanding of many in and beyond the pale of the organized church.

It would be pleasing to believe that the dominant distortion of good news was merely a failure of nerve, but that is hardly the case.

The root of the conflict is found within Scripture itself.

Yes, the challenge to the good news is to be found in the very narrative, which is its source.

The gospel stories suggest that the messianic delusion took early hold on the followers of Jesus and created the context for the formation of a dualistic, intolerant and hypocritical church edifice whose creedal formulations evaded the very good news that Jesus presumably died to vindicate and justify.

It is to this inversion, this confounding element within tradition, that we now must turn.

For until we have entered the holy of holies, as it were, and wrestled with the possibility that the New Testament is the origin of the messianic delusion, we cannot make a clear and convincing case for the paradigm toward which we are moving.

We must answer anew the question of how we shall read the New Testament.

46.

Extrapolating The New Paradigm

The new paradigm would designate human beings as peacemakers who, by being so, will inherit the earth.

The new paradigm would assume the likelihood of life lived in something like community, where the God of all is given room to filter through the hazy precincts of the boundaries we place around our spirit.

The new paradigm would assume that Jesus identified within us the place of possible resonance with the divine.

This paradigm is built upon a system of values deducible from a non-messianic reading of the message that underlies the New Testament: the universality of God’s love and care for humankind.

The new paradigm is the declension of the good news for our time and the time to come.

It frees us from the encroachment of the messianic phenomena around us, whether in political or religious garb. It frees us to so tie force to justice that the rules of existence are clarified and hypocrisy in human affairs is diminished — in the direction of genuine and lasting civil peace.

It frees us to so apply tolerance to diversity that we learn to celebrate difference as God’s gift to save us from tight- lipped and eternal boredom.

It so unmasks the lineaments of privilege that the nonsense of necessity applied to excess wealth collapses of its own absurd weightiness.

We may assume a growing correlation between self-fulfillment and earth-fulfillment.

We may count on the introduction of repentance as Jesus meant it: not as an exercise in the self-indulgence of pathological guilt, but as a genuine acknowledgement of the categorical difference between our limited effort and what we know needs to be achieved.

The new paradigm does not attempt to second-guess God but it does assume that, under the covenant vouchsafed to Noah, we are now responsible and that our task is in harmony with God’s task when we seek to restore this earth and our life upon it.

47.

The Revelation Scam

The entire vast commercial enterprise that is based upon the messianic view that we are in the grip of global convulsions, because they seem to be predicted in Revelation, is execrable.

It is nothing more than a profitable playing on the very personality disorders we cited earlier — the ills of the personality in thrall to messianism.

Indeed, if we examine the mystery of human freedom and God’s relationship to it, we can suggest that the continuation of the world in the face of the crimes wrought by the messianic temperament is God’s way of insisting, perhaps in a way that limits our freedom, that the great experiment begun billions of years beyond possible access by any means of science or imagination, will continue until we learn something.

48.

How The Church Was Turned from The Way of Jesus

Were the universal message of the churches an appeal to repent and to turn to an accessible and self- giving God and to engage in a practice of love of enemies, care for the weak and hungry, forgiveness, healing, prayer and the spread throughout the world of Jesus’ instructions about how to live, it seems unthinkable that we would have had century upon century of internecine strife, fomented, abetted and aided by churches.

Something happened very early to subvert Jesus’ holistic emphasis and replace it with factionalism, dualistic thought patterns and a formidable intolerance toward those not subscribing to the creeds.

If the good news was, initially, what Jesus said it was, then the churchly formulation of good news was a variation on the theme at very least and a profound distortion at most.

Very swiftly the good news came to refer to the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And an organization was formed which swiftly evolved into a priestly, authoritarian structure whose purpose was to create and maintain an orthodoxy against all possible challenges from without.

There were differing interpretations — not of the good news message that Jesus set forth — but of the meaning of Jesus himself.

And the winning interpretation became the good news!

49.

Creedal Deflection

Was Jesus fully God and fully man?

Was he the messiah?

Did his resurrection defeat Satan?

Is there salvation for those who do not confess his name?

Because humankind is ineffably free to distort truth and to trample pearls under foot, few voices were raised to suggest that a fundamental shift was taking place.

Jesus came forth with a radical and elemental understanding based upon the prophets and a bedrock belief in and faith in God alone as the source of good, whose will should prevail on earth as in heaven.

This may have been a hard or an easy pill, but it was easily communicated and understandable to those with ears to hear.

The shift took place inexorably. It was a shift to a grand production of sorts whose centerpiece was the “miracle” of the resurrection.

Jesus became the high priest. His sacrifice of himself was the earnest of a forgiveness that had taken place already.

Jesus became the veil between a still distant God and humankind and the church became the keeper of the mystery — how to enter the door to a redemption beyond the world. Lives were lost according to how one perceived the risen Jesus.

They were lost not because the primitive community that Jesus established was trying to spread Jesus’ good news and to teach his way and touch people with healing grace, but because a nascent creedalism was creating an institution at odds with the empire, pitting the God alleged to be the God of Jesus against the pretensions of Rome.

50.

The Origins of The Textual Problem

The executions of martyrs were executions of a rival power that did not have as its first concern the spread of the gospel that Jesus spread but the vindication of an otherworldly mythology of power based upon mystery, miracle and authority — the triad of weapons Dostoevsky placed in the hands of the Grand Inquisitor.

Thus the early church did not extend reconciliation in quite the way that Jesus did.

Its missionary journeys were in search of confessions of faith in the resurrected Lord.

The commands of Jesus relating to behavior were translated into exhortations to church members, but never presented to the world as the way Jesus came to vindicate.

Where did this misunderstanding, if it is a misunderstanding, originate?

How did a universal and holistic declension of very good news — capable of motivating a John Woolman, a Mother Theresa, and a Martin Luther King, Jr. — become by and large a creedal, priestly orthodoxy in which the provenance of the prophets was either distorted or entirely excluded?

We must assume that the answer lies in the earliest interpretations, the oral narratives, the eyewitness reports — in short the stories and sayings that are recorded in the written record which makes up the New Testament and in a few other similar sources that were too off-the-wall to attain canonical status.

51.

A Mixed-Up Text

No reader of this essay will argue that in the written gospels we have an unalloyed holistic message.

Mingled in is a pot pourri of messianic material.

Recall the three elements of messianism cited at the beginning of this essay:

division

suspension of disbelief, and

displacement of self.

And consider these elements in the New Testament narrative.

Jesus says he has come to divide families and set brother against brother. That he brings not peace but a sword. He directs woes at the enemies of God.

Yes, these might be read in a prophetic way, as primarily ethical in nature.

But this is hardly how they seem to have been meant. Jesus proclaims he will be killed and on the third day rise again.

Yes this might be an interpolation of the narrator, and it leaves open an interpretation of the resurrection that would not fall into the traps of creedal messianism.

But again the statement itself has the sound of Central Event about it and therefore most certainly lays a foundation for the subsequent confessions that gave rise to the creeds.

There are numerous points when a specific call for self-displacement appears to be made: Accept me, to act in my name, etc.

Whatever else such statements may be, they are not inconsistent with the development of creedal messianism.

52.

New Testament Messianism

Jesus cannot be truthfully presented as a messiah in the evil mode of those who idolatrously divide, who feed on vulnerable selves, who indulge in manipulation of others via miracle, mystery and the imposition of naked authority.

But that the narratives reveal a messianic side is beyond doubt.

And that this stream within the gospel narrative must be examined is the contention of this essay.

It can easily be seen, for example, that messianic claims serve the purposes of a nascent church.

If one wished to build a contemporary church based upon the life of a recent hero it would help to create a cult around the personage so deified.

Statements that no one can come to the Father except by the Son place formidable power in the hands of those who claim to be the Son’s sole representatives on the earth.

Indeed, one might with a modicum of confidence argue that messianic formulations within the gospel narratives are a reading back by the nascent church of an authority pattern they have created in order to sustain and strengthen their institutional identity.

But this is too easy because we have these stories still today. The Bible is a great, global best seller.

Whether or not the early church needed creedal messianic elements to survive and whether or not such elements are a true reflection of Jesus, they survive in myth — myth understood not as a lie, but as a living mode of comprehending reality.

This myth happens, unfortunately, to provide the churches with ample ammunition to maintain a creedal-messianic ideology in the face of virtually all challenges.

All that is required is an idolization of certain printed words, in this case the New Testament.
This abets the fundamentalist surge during an uncertain time when people are inclined to gravitate toward the very temptations that Jesus rejected and find solace in self- displacement as part of an in-group assured of salvation beyond the pale of this life.

53.

Facing Messianic Allusions

Let us for the moment assume that the messianic allusions in the New Testament are in fact part of Jesus’ own true and real story.

Taking the narrative at face value, what are we to say?

We might well say first that they reveal Jesus to be human. They reveal Jesus also to be an antagonist of consummate ability. They show him, in fact, to be the author of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A careful reading of the Synoptics demonstrates that, from the outset, Jesus saw the Pharisees, scribes and priests as enemies, hostile to his preaching and his manifestation of powers that they attributed to Satan even as he attributed them to the Holy Spirit.

It seems quite likely that Jesus did not apply to this group the strictures he put forth regarding love of enemies.

It seems indeed that Jesus courted their anger and their hate. We might suggest that to fulfill his destiny Jesus needed to make an exception to his own ethic of accommodation with opponents.

The reason?

He had to expose the feeble underside of a movement within religion and society (bourgoisie might be a contemporary pejorative with force similar to Jesus’ imputations) that was constitutionally incapable of hearing and understanding the prophetic word underlying his concept of good news.

54.

Maintaining the Prophetic Thrust

But there is another explanation that seems at least as plausible.

It is that Jesus saw his task as one of bringing together two great streams of thought, understanding and practice.

The first was the prophetic stream that had roots deep in the history of Israel. This stream in the incessant demand within the ebb and flow of history that justice, God’s justice, be done.

The prophets understand that forgetfulness of God and God’s claims breeds insensitivity to injustice, that it gives rise to vain posturing by the powerful and to the thoughtful and greed-driven trampling of the weak and infirm, the poor and the wretched.

The sin the prophets most often excoriate is hypocrisy, the masquerade by which good is affirmed in outward observances but contravened by inner thought and actual behavior.

The prophet is the bearer of the jeremiad, an utterance of great severity, capable of cutting through the cortical layers we use to insulate ourselves from the searching eye of a just God. As a prophet supreme, baptized by the renegade John with God’s vocal approval, Jesus must speak harshly to those whose hearts are resolutely closed to the good news that he bears.

There can be no compromise with abstraction, legalism, circuitous questioning. Lawyers, Pharisees, priests and their minions must be roundly excoriated at every turn.

The true enemies of good news, if we accept this line of thinking, are not the bottom or top of society but a swing group somewhere in the middle or upper middle, roughly analogous to the membership of mainline, established churches today.

These are people exposed to Jesus’ word who refuse to see, hear or understand. And it is toward this constituency that Jesus manifests a take-no-prisoners attitude.

When he encounters the Roman centurion or even Pilate, Jesus is consistent with the one who speaks of tolerance, of not casting the first stone.
When he speaks to a diverse multitude by the shore of Galilee, he exhorts and tells it like it is, but without condemnation. Instead he extols the kingdom that is at hands and advocates the understanding of happiness as allegiance to the principles enunciated in the Beatitudes.

If we can accept the general emerging portrait of Jesus as one acutely sensitive to his true and abiding opponents, we might well argue that some of the messianic elements in the Synoptics emerge in Jesus’ defense of his holistic, enemy-embracing good news teaching.

His excoriation of those who would blaspheme the Holy Spirit is an obvious example.

It is possible that Jesus is enraged when those who ought most to understand are allied with existing power elites who might be threatened by hints that a realm transcending that of Caesar has become a possibility, if Jesus is to be believed and given credence.

It is also possible that Jesus believes God will vindicate his statements about the overturning of the order of the principalities and powers; if this appears not to be the case, one could argue that his prophetic anger is supplemented by the material of an inner struggle.

Has he presumed upon God? Has God failed him?

Certainly Jesus does not go to the cross in an entirely passive manner. While he abides by the nonviolence implicit in his Beatitudinal reading of the law, he goes to his death having invaded the grounds of the Jerusalem Temple, insulted the lawyers and priests and castigated hypocrisy wherever he has found it.

If such an interpretation were valid, one could see the fruit of the resurrection as a vindication of the early preaching of good news by Jesus and as an ultimate guarantee that the perfection and righteousness espoused in Jesus’ teaching is indeed the leaven in the loaf of world history.

The resurrection would vouchsafe the final ascendancy of self-giving, God-centered love. But this prophetic interpretation is not adequate as an explanation of the messianic temper that crops up in the Synoptics. Nor does it explain much in the gospel stories that could be categorized under such headings as miracles, sayings, wisdom and gnosis.

55.

The All Sufficiency of God

We turn now to another basis for messianism, a basis that relates to the sufficiency of God.

Jesus’ proclamation that God is near, God’s realm or kingdom at hand, is confirmed by a ministry that shows at every point the all sufficiency of God.

In Jesus this is seen in a capacity to meet all needs that are in accord with God’s power and desire for a new order on earth.

Only in terms of this divine sufficiency does it make sense to take the miracles attributed to Jesus with seriousness.

The healings and other miracles of Jesus are in absolute contrast with the feats that Satan seeks to get Jesus to perform in the desert.

Stones to bread, leaping from tall pillars and taking over the world in an orgy of Satan worship are not the stuff of Jesus’ ministry.

Nor indeed is there much of brouhaha over the things Jesus does.

Essentially his miracles are those of healing and sharing.

Only his walking on water would be perhaps best taken as a parable about faith under duress. What is being shown in all of Jesus’ deeds is God’s all sufficiency.

The healings uniformly stress faith as the key to becoming whole and faith, as we have seen, is precisely the person’s affirmation of God’s power and sufficiency to the need in question.

The feedings of various thousands are manifestations of the fact that human-natural unity can, in the context of faith in God, produce all that is needed for abundant life upon this planet.

Even walking on water could be seen as an indication that things need not be as they have always appeared to be, as scientific and technological progress has witnessed almost exponentially since the time of Jesus.

56.

Why The Disciples Balked

It is God’s all sufficiency and availability that accounts for Jesus’ worst conflicts with his disciples.

When they cannot successfully emulate Jesus in the healing and casting out of demons, Jesus shows profound impatience.

The disciples’ response is to move toward venerating him. Gradually they become partially integrated into the enlarging web of unbelief that surrounds Jesus.

God’s all sufficiency should mean that when people follow the way taught by Jesus, the mustard seed is planted that will grow so large that one day birds can rest in its shade.

Jesus exhorts us to ask and seek and knock to attain the Holy Spirit fire within our breasts.

Who is to say whether it is a lack of faith or fear of Jesus’ enemies that creates a change from the first blush of discipleship?

As in the prophetic declension, in the divine self-sufficiency reading of the ministry of Jesus, it is frustration at people’s hardness of heart that gives rise (perhaps) to messianic elements in the narrative.

Not only do people reject righteousness, they turn willfully from the love and care of God.

57.

Did Jesus Think He Was The Messiah?

Is there an enduring substance to the admitted existence of messianic elements?

Is there an indication anywhere that Jesus regarded the faith-choice of himself as Messiah with a capital M (or Christ with a capital C) as an efficacious substitute for embracing his original preaching of good news based on God’s nearness and the advent of God’s kingdom on earth?

Is it not as likely that when he saw the principalities and powers rising up about him to frustrate the obvious and self- evident realities he was presenting, he began to realize that only a tiny remnant would actually hear and understand?

And that he therefore postponed in his mind the advent of the kingdom and engaged in apocalyptic rhetoric out pf a prophetic frustration with the unmalleable religious-legal establishment of his day?

If we change the context of these questions we can understand that Jesus’ frustration is not terminal and that his approach is not ultimately defeatist.

In essence, what Jesus showed was that without the combination of the prophetic with faith in God’s all sufficiency there could be no progress of God’s realm upon the earth.

58.

The Meaning of All Sufficiency

When John the Baptist says Jesus is mightier than he, he means that Jesus will be the vehicle for a baptism of fire and that the Holy Spirit will lodge in the hearts of those empty and poor in spirit.

He means that as the declarer of God’s all sufficiency, Jesus will take the prophetic and turn it into the normative self-understanding of the community.

Because God is all sufficient, then, the ethic is possible.

In a world where God is not sufficient or where God’s grace is turned into a distorted form of self-regarding animism, the ethic, which is still the center of Jesus’ teaching, is impossible.

Even the reciprocal neighbor-love that is its center becomes horribly distorted when it is people “doing” for their friends and families while ignoring their enemies and those who suffer at the gate.

Simple and all transforming Beatitudinal faith is the key to the spirit of the koinonia that Jesus sees as the fruit of his work on the planet.

In the koininia, where God’s sufficiency is acknowledged and experienced in mutuality, dog eat dog, eye for eye, tooth for tooth jungle law can be replaced by the affirmation that as we challenge the jungle law with the higher law of Jesus, as we suffer for that, we are somehow those to whom the future belongs.

The good news becomes good news only to those who will finally bear this cross and live with the “holy presumption” which Jesus embodies, that God is near and that God wills the transformation of this world from jungle to heaven.

The messianic elements of the gospel, seen in this remnant context, are Jesus’ form of railing at the failure of human beings to see and understand.

It is not just that we avoid the ethic but that we either do not accept or woefully distort the meaning for us of God’s all sufficiency.

59.

Jesus Did/Does Not Want Our Worship

Jesus did not feel the solution to the world’s deafness and blindness lay in the creation of a koinonia that would make him the center of an other worldly cult.

He never appears to have regarded worship of himself as necessary to anything, quite the contrary.

It is the entirety of his message that he is concerned with; it is that he be listened to that God cares about.

None is good save God, Jesus tells the rich young ruler.

But the young church which remembered him and gave us the record of his ministry a half-century after his death and resurrection subtly altered the focus of Jesus to conform with their move from following to veneration which we see reflected in the gospel narratives.

Indeed, though it is not the effort of this essay provide an easy answer, it is possible that much of the messianism in the New Testament is an overlay based upon a misinterpretation of all that Jesus said and did.

What this essay can do, possibly, is to show that even in the mixed field that is the New Testament text, it is possible to deduce the truth.

Jesus was never a creedal-messianist!

60.

Jesus’ Non-Entropic Message

The early church turned the non-entropic message of Jesus into an other-worldly faith based upon the idea that Jesus’ suffering on the cross and his resurrection proved out his “claim” to be the Messiah or Christ and that by believing in Christ we achieve reconciliation with God and that this reconciliation involves our being part of a chosen If there are images in this attachment, they will not be displayed.  Download the original attachment

Abba’s Way 2

Abba’s Way 2

By Stephen C. Rose
C Copyright 2006 by Stephen C. Rose

Contents

1. On Exaltation

2. On Accidents

3. On Jonestown

4. On Humanism
1. On Exaltation

Exaltation needs not height nor depth,

It comes from conversation deep within,

And links to any sound or sight at all.

Walk down a crowded street, talk with Abba,

Then look for Abba in each passing face,

Talk with Abba, look for Abba, see,

Your joy and exaltation bubble up.

Exaltation is a mark of oneness,

Of knowing you and Abba can be one.

You know the simple prayer I gave to all,

You cannot fill the hours with one prayer;

But neither should you create formal tomes.

Seize exaltation where it lives and breathes —

Inside of you when you seek Abba there;

Outside of you as you go everywhere.

Exaltation interacts with life,

It is an eye for all that is alive;

Alive means Abba inside everyone,

And exaltation comes as this is known

Don’t strain to be exalted, heavens no!

Don’t make it into some dramatic show.

Out of your solitude, train senses to

Know more and more of Abba day by day,

And to live more and more in Abba’s grace,

And to sense Abba’s power in every place.

Exaltation leaves you laughing happily

It is a step, or skip, toward being free.
2.

On Accidents

What we call accidents have causes, are events.

Small solace to all victims! Why nit pick?

Well, there is reason to nit pick, I think.

Most accidents simply don’t need to be,

But that assumes advanced humanity.

Advanced beyond a passive willingness

To passively accept lack of control,

As if the mind was powerless to see

The consequence of actions that we take,

The consequence of warnings that we hear,

The consequence of dangers we perceive.

I am a partisan of open eyes,

But not of craven fear at every step.

Some things can be corrected with a thought,

And others with a conscientious act.

When they cannot, we celebrate the is

And live with it.for we’re one with what is.

What of the past? Titanics? Endless wrecks?

Vials misplaced! Injections skewed! Disastrous!

And what of things we never could have known?

A joint that would not hold, a vagrant germ,

Some killing agent in the air we breathe?

No mention of the time we came to be,

Or of the chance that led to you or me,

Or did we happen accidentally?

I’ll ask it: What’s intelligent design?

Whatever makes of you a drooling fool?

A powerless drone lost in a gerbil cage?

Consider this: Such pictures are not you.

Do not allow such visions to prevail.

Intelligent design is partnership,

You and Abba melding deep within.

Reducing accident is not a sin,

It might be said to be life’s highest aim.

To move from stark necessity to choice,

From fatalism to a freer stance,

So what occurs is more what you intend,

And you do not court fate when fate portends.

This is the very meaning of my words,

Shake dust, shake dust from off your feet,

Not merely where or when you’re not received,

But so your step is nimble ‘mid the thorns,

And so care is the watchword of your doings,

And mindfulness a trait you cultivate,

For on this trail your purpose is reborn,

And once-confused bemusement is no more.

Yes, accidents can happen. And they will.

Technology outstrips our powers of mind.

Machines can overpower thoughtful moves.

But on reflection where does wreckage start?

In some flaw in a flawed decider’s heart?

We cause more than we know, and call it fate,

Then realize the truth when it’s too late.

How long will it take us to see the truth?

Intelligent design might be our aim

And Abba be our partner on the way.

And we might make life all that life can be,

And thus stop living “Accidentally”.
3.

On Jonestown

False messiahs break down weaker selves,

The weak seek out the strong, then weaken more.

They hear the very dreams they know too well:

Salvation’s near! It warms them to the core.

The next step: Isolation, break them down

Coerce them with group-think if they protest

Then smother them with false love till they’re bound,

As powerless as newborns in their nest.

Above all, watch them. See how they conform;

For they have long since lost autonomy.

To follow your desires is their norm;

For they have lost all desire to be free.

Thus false religion’s ultimate extreme:

This promise of redemption is all lies;

Controlling you is your cult leader’s dream

He does not mourn if your frail freedom dies.

False messiahs feed on battered souls;

They practice hellish rituals of death.

You give your yes to their seductive goals,

And even pledge to them your final breath,

Jim Jones called out, All die with dignity!

His acolytes passed Kool-Aid to the crowd.

He did not drink with them apparently.

It took a shot to bring that reverend down.

Banality of evil? I suppose.

But I would rather call it Abba’s loss.

For when all hearts and minds to Abba close,

False interlopers come, and at what cost?

The cost of battered selfhood, so abused,

The end can only be vain suicide

For Abba’s freedom, totally refused,

Leave a destructive portal open wide.

A growing crop of gurus seeks weak souls;

Deadly incursions are their stock in trade.

Resist in Abba’s name! Avoid their rolls!

Take Abba in, stand free. Your debts are paid.

The weight of guilt that made you weak inside

Is lifted and new freedom grows within.

The door to a free future opens wide.

You’ll solve your own life freely. Now begin.
4.

Am I not seen as anti-humanist?

Why so? When freedom is the gift I bring.

Are those on Abba’s Way religionists,

If humanism is the song we sing?

For we have said religion’s gods are dead,

And free thought is the way that we profess;

Abba does not enslave the heart or head,

Nor censor thoughts and feelings we profess.

Abba would have us thinking for ourselves,

And place no limit on our mental scopes;

If we into our inner being delve,

We find a light that feeds our fondest hopes.

We need no alteration of our minds,

No fixed beliefs or creeds are now decreed;

The knowledge we possess is what we find,

When freely we explore reality.

When I say Abba is within us all,

I mean that we can share what is to be.

I mean the basic truth that Moses saw,

Within the flame, the real reality:

“I am what is and what will be always.”

In other words, “I am nobody’s slave.

And when you claim me, you part from my ways,

And follow priests who add to what I gave.

I did not favor races, peoples, states,

Or promise I would smite all enemies;

How words upon a page create ill fates,

And rob visions of any power to please!”

What level of awareness must there be,

To know a portion of what we possess?

To really know our creativity,

Our reason, will, devotion, consciousness?

Our vision changes as our insight grows,

Our lives are focused on the here and now;

What happens after this life no one knows,

But what we do in this one counts and how!

For Abba is our impulse to do good,

To satisfy our needs and those of all;

There is no SuperGod in a bad mood,

Just waiting to see how we slip and fall.

We celebrate what’s real, not fantasy;

To function in this world requires care;

Abba is always here to help us see,

And to make choices that are wise and fair.

We do not preach a separable soul,

We do not know our end nor should we try;

Instead, we seek to know this life as whole,

Embracing it completely, live or die.

Is this a shock to so-called modern minds?

Why not perceive what Abba has achieved?

The trail to liberty and suffrage winds,

Where life-affirmers traveled and believed.

Who lives and serves achieves Abba’s best will;

Who lives and thinks achieves Abba’s fair aim;

Who lives and loves does Abba’s cup refill,

And who forgives knows Abba does the same.

Enlightenment is Abba, period,

Not some historic time that is long gone;

Enlightenment is constant, varied, myriad,

Whenever we turn Abba’s wave-length on.

There is a humanism that I hate,

The type that says “this teacher is supreme,

You need not think, you need not even wait,

We’ll set you straight. All else is a bad dream.”

Such is the hold religion still exerts,

Upon some secular savants I know;

They elevate their theories till it hurts

Their adulation is a sorry show.

An open mind is Abba’s best defense,

Against idolatries that seek our souls.

Honesty without show or pretense,

Frees us from all idolatrous controls.

We welcome science when it is science,

Along with discourse and philosophy;

Before all truths we stand in apt silence,

Happy to see whatever we can see.

We are the ones who’ll be who we will be,

If that is humanism, we say Yes!

Just as Abba is always, so are we,

And never any creeds need we confess.

Prior to 1990 Stephen C. Rose has wrote more than ten published books including “The Grass Roots Church” and “Jesus and Jim Jones”. Between 1990 and 2005, he confined his non-professional writing to the Internet. His personal site, http://onlinebizplanner.com/, features poetry, film scripts, a novel and various essays, aphoristic writings and meditations. This is his second book publication with IUniverse. He is also a composer and Web entrepreneur.

group who will join God after death in heaven.

Henceforth the only survival of Jesus’ gospel message is in terms of behavior within the church and this is always secondary to the creedal imperative — confessing Christ becomes the paramount activity of … Christians.

The problem with this is that it stops God and Jesus in their tracks.

It eliminates the absolutely central prophetic strain and it so distorts the all sufficiency strain that the resurrection itself is utterly misinterpreted.

The resurrection is God’s ultimate sentence on entropy. It is a final declaration that from bottom to top God intends to make all things new.

Worship built around the fact of resurrection is an invitation to stasis.

Jesus castigates worship stasis regularly in the surviving narratives of his cornfield encounters with critics, in his appropriation of the Sabbath and his declaration of the precedence of human need over altar activity.

The notion of a sacred space, even the outer court of such a space, as anything less than a place where all sorts and conditions are made welcome and where God alone is worshipped, is at odds with Jesus’ belief and understanding.

It is possible and necessary to reinterpret the New Testament in awareness of the dualism that it promotes.

The prophetic preacher of God’s closeness and all sufficiency vindicates the unique place of Jesus globally in the eyes of a world that sometimes understands him better than the churches do.
But it appears that the unity that Jesus achieved — a vindication of both the prophetic strain and God’s all-sufficiency — was quite literally more than his followers could bear.

Jesus’ followers created small communities based on the initial gospel and understanding of Jesus, but for whatever reasons lapsed into a theology of the Name which turned faith into assent and belief into proposition and removed both from Jesus’ exclusive focus upon a God both righteous and all-sufficient who was also near enough at hand to empower a change in the way the world functioned.

This train of thought is not new or unfamiliar. It is consistent with the general interpretation that the church successively became corrupted and removed from its pristine origins.

61.

The Abolition of Dualism

But there is another explanation for the initial misunderstanding that has to do with good and evil, with God and Satan, and with victory over the principalities and powers.

The initial confusion, as we have seen, led to enthronement of Jesus as the Christ and the elaboration of priestly worship built around events in his life and on belief that he rose from the dead.

This erected a screen between Jesus’ gospel — the prophetic, Beatitudinal way and God’s all-sufficiency — and the world.

The stuff of creedal messianism found its way into the narrative because it already existed as an active belief of Christians –within fifty years of the death of Jesus.

It has survived and flourished through the years, grist for the manipulative mill of mystery, miracle and authority, stoking fires built by Armageddon- mongers — the seed of a disempowering dualism.

But if we return to the narrative, which must be acknowledged to have more than one level or strain, we can advance a different construction than that of creedal messianism, one which does not deny elements within the creed, but which sees them as consistent with the gospel that Jesus proclaimed and manifested.

In essence one could maintain that Jesus’ victory constituted the abolition of the power of dualism in the world because it constituted the vanquishing of the very power of dualism, the person of Satan.

62.

The Abolition of Satan as Entity

Satan, for Jesus, does not exist as an eternal principle of evil, but as an entity who has existed as part and parcel of the fallen world.

Now Jesus in effect defeats Satan.

Jesus does this by building his gospel on twin principles of unity and responsibility.

God is now in power and by repentance we can become God’s. God is ultimate unity and repentance is our acknowledgement that we are in fact responsible; we cannot any longer project our evil onto an external screen and call it Satan.

Jesus’ battle with Satan is a battle to put in place a new paradigm — a holistic schema in which all dualisms are finite entities which can ultimately be transcended.

Thus the good news is not that evil no longer exists, but that the power now is in place to overcome it.

Evil is finite.

Principalities and powers are finite.

Both are conditions or states for which we are responsible.

The explanation for the horrendous ills that wrack our world still do not lie in Satan or in the stars — they lie squarely in the human propensity for the waste of life, the crushing of creativity, the disfiguring of beauty and the rape of natural resources.

63.

Wholeness and Humanity

Faithlessness, idolatry, violence, hypocrisy and greed — these are the bad ground of the unrepentant and spiritually proud where the seed of Jesus’ preaching is choked by thorns.

We are speaking here not of eternal and immutable factors that exist because of an external principle of evil.

We are speaking of Jesus as the victor over Satan and therefore of the transmutation of evil into regressive and immature characteristics which it is our responsibility to modify or eliminate by means of repentance and belief in the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus’ victory over Satan is implicit in Jesus’ response to his critics who say his healing is from Beelzebub, the prince of devils.

Jesus naturally asserts that the healings are nothing less than the will of God through the power of the Spirit given to Jesus at baptism.

His answer to his critics is that a Satan cannot cast out Satan. Only God can enter the house of Satan and bind him. Only then can the house stand.

In essence the implication is that the power previously attributed to Satan is now bound and overcome by the power of God.

Or: In the house where Satan is bound, and “at an end”, the issue of good and evil is placed in a holistic context.

In such a house one can grow beyond slavery to the imperious wants of the infantile body to the gradual development of an autonomous self and ultimately to the practice appropriate to a complete or realized person.

64.

Overcoming Self-Division

We need to make sense of the considerable emphasis Jesus places on purity and, by implication, on the debilitating nature of self- division.

Satan is the principle of division.

Victory over Satan banishes the need for the personification of evil on an outer, or inner, screen.

Jesus’ teaching is predicated largely upon this victory.

It is now possible for people to become Beatitudinal. To engage in active love for opponents and adversaries. To cultivate purity of heart. To see themselves as good ground where the seed of God’s word can grow and flourish.

There is no basis in Jesus’ teaching for the invidious, seemingly innocent, displacement of self that is an abdication of responsibility and a diminution of the possibility of living as Jesus would have us live.

If the end of Satan means the end of an externalized power of evil that removes responsibility from individuals and hope of progress from the purview of humankind, then one can understand something of Jesus’ frustration with his opponents.

Jesus has arrived on the scene after thirty years of preparation to introduce a cosmic shift in consciousness away from all dualisms beginning with those between good and evil and God and Satan.

In both cases what is substituted is the concept that individuals contain within themselves the full possibilities inherent in these defeated dualisms but that the way is now clear for the (gradual) move within the spectrum of consciousness from primal thralldom to the vestiges of the evil and the Satanic to a growing liberty in the more exalted realms of obedience to the new law that is maturity and completeness.

Jesus is in this declension the avatar of individual responsibility, as suggested by his emphasis on repentance.

65.

Our Responsibility

Even the evil that is imputed to the inexorable forces of nature does not exempt us from responsibility in its face.

The avatar of individual responsibility is also the messenger of change and transformation, reminding us that God can and does elect to change, a fact understood by the creator of the marvelous story of Moses and the burning bush.

“I am who I am and I will be who I will be,” remains the ultimate declaration of independence at the center of and all around what we call the universe.

66.

What Makes Jesus Snap?

If you try to put yourself in the shoes of Jesus as he actually perceives himself and his message and his powers,

if you don the prophet’s mantle in imagination,

if you matter-of-factly manifest the available power of God in healing,

if you sit with those around you and share simply the wisdom and fellowship of an age liberated from the weight of a final sentence of doom,

and are faced with a continual barrage from the very people who ought to be your allies,

what is your perception?

It must on some level be profound disbelief and anger, a snapping realization that the very wall the prophets could not overcome has been erected even in the face of the proclamation of the new era, a sudden and sad perception that even the message of reconciliation and new life that is God’s provenance and pledge, is being treated as dross, as phony, as the stuff of a Satanic charismatic.

67.

Jesus and Us Sophisticates

By all rights the sophisticates should gravitate to Jesus’ teaching and wisdom like ducks to water, but the opposite is the case.

Instant suspicions turn to the writing of doom upon the wall.

The bearer of the new paradigm of self-cleansing repentance, of evolution to higher selfhood, of conciliatory dealings with others, of an ethic of reciprocity and inverted justice priorities, this strange one is a mortal enemy.

Why?

For banal reasons. For the preservation of small prerogatives. For all of the reasons that led the late Hannah Arendt to assign to banality the essence of evil — one might add, thereby confirming at once its finitude and its stupidity.

68.

Our Conflict Is With Us

Since Jesus, the conflict between God and Satan has become humankind’s conflict with itself.

With everyday fears and insecurities and compulsions. With the range of temptations, suspicions and recoil from change.

Jesus has a grand vision, a pearl of incalculable price, and he has few if any takers.

So he reacts. He excoriates. He rails. And finally he simply accepts.

And then, from the cross, forgives.

For in reality they and we know not what we do — although we should.

69.

Because … Therefore

Because human progress from the infantile level to the level of responsible autonomy to the level of transpersonal God-awareness and God-reliance is not a foregone conclusion,

because a provisional freedom to reject and distort and turn from the prophetic message exists,

because trust in God’s all-sufficiency is hardly universal,

the gathering around Jesus, following the death and resurrection, created an increasingly complex organization built on the premises that existed before Jesus came and proclaimed them false.

And so was created the basis for the historic churches, within whose precincts creedal messianism held sway, in general harmony with the principalities and powers — including those of the empire that perceived the
utility of such a doctrine — and in frequent defiance of the weightier principles which Jesus died to manifest.

70.

The Enthronement of Creedal Messianism

The story of the corruption of Roman Catholicism, the consequent Reformation and the development of the various modern movements of Christendom is a familiar one.

What is less familiar is the story of how creedal- institutional-messianism provided successive paradigms that distorted the good news.

This process began with the Holy Roman declension.

It is remarkable and a testimony to divine providence that we managed to preserve for posterity even the mixed message that is our New Testament.

The letters of the various apostles were the earliest written documents and they were already steeped in the formulations that helped later theologians to build the edifice of creedal messianism.

Shortly after the letters came the gospels, oral tradition and written supposition that was largely complete by the close of the first century AD. And not long after the gospels came a flurry of apocalyptic writings of which the book of Revelation is the canonical representative.

Revelation is the primary sourcebook for today’s fundamentalistic prophets of cosmic disaster.

71.

Non-Canonical Gospels

More gospels were written than were chosen.

Several of the unchosen contained gnostic elements that assume that Jesus offered a special teaching to initiates that was the true and authentic salvation.

The non-canonical Gospels contain enticing fragments such as this from Clement: “For the Lord himself, being asked when his kingdom should come, said, ‘When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female.”

72.

Canonical Gospel Radicalism

We need not look to external sources to find material that is enticing.

Within the gospels themselves there is a large quantity of material that somehow got through the skein of creedal messianism.

This legacy is the good news and it can be stated in many ways:

The realm of God is at hand and all who turn to God in repentance can learn the ways of this realm and be happy in the practice of Beatitudinal living.

This expression is a monistic, universal declaration integrating the ethical and the creative.

It is what comes through in the powerful, compelling statements of Jesus in the gospels.

We cannot understand the distortion that took place without seeing this delayed-action time bomb within the canonical gospels.

73.

The Original Character of Jesus

The original character of Jesus did not succumb to the creedal messianists.

His prophetic essence was not so co-opted that it could not shine through.

The very spirit that would continually call an apostate church to discipleship was possible because within the canon its reality was more than once evoked.

Of course, gradually, finally, it would emerge that the individual would be the judge of what was dominant and authoritative within Scripture.

And when that took place, beyond the influence of creedal messianism, the great movement that Jesus inaugurated would be fired anew and the baptism and beatification of life and of earth would proceed apace, as Jesus intended it to.

74.

Origen the Forgotten

During the early centuries of the church, as it moved from an era of martyrdom (for to confess Christ was to displace the Emperor as God) to one of accommodation to the declining Roman imperium, there was one theologian who maintained the universal perspective of the Master.

He was the long-lived Origen (184-264). He wrote some 6000 works of theology, commentary and exegesis.

Among them was an essay against the pagan Celsus, whose cultivated objections to Christianity Origin was at some pains to refute.

Needless to say the name of Origin is not on the lips of today’s Christian laity, nor for that matter of the clergy.

For the tradition we have inherited is not a universalistic, holistic one.

The inherited tradition is built on two elements: The first is an erroneous and frankly mean-spirited interpretation of good news.

The second is the insidious linking of a tenable monistic view of God to a particular institution.

The names of the theologians responsible for this twin development are far more familiar to us than that of Origen.

They are, respectively, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Acquinas.

75.

Augustine, Aquinas and Violence

It is to Augustine and Aquinas that we must look for the seminal justifications of violence and state criminality that allowed for the creation of a largely acquiescent and uncritical church establishment.

This establishment, comforted by their theological mentors, wielded power to abet its own influence, routinely tormented and executed heretics, fought battles and stamped out anything that stood in the way of its own hegemony.

It is an index of how well they succeeded that one could attend theological seminary, as the author did in the 1960s, in blissful unawareness of the scholarly work of Edith Hamilton on creedal messianism.

Her book, first published in 1948, is called Witness To The Truth: Christ and His Interpreters.

It is a remarkable summation of the primary distortions of Christianity.

Hamilton engages in a copious study of the New Testament and shows how it pits the Jesus who would have us know ourselves, practice prayer and reciprocity with others, and turn always to God to accomplish miracles here of sharing and caring, against the churchly messiah figure.

She concludes: “The great Church of Christ came into being by ignoring the life of Christ … The Fathers of the church were good men, often saintly men, sometimes men who cared enough for Christ to die for him, but they did not trust him. They could not trust the safety of the church to his way of doing things. So they set out to make the church safe in their own way. Creeds and theologies protected it from individual vagaries; riches and power against outside attacks … The church was safe. But one thing its builders and defenders failed to see. Nothing that lives can be safe.” (Pages 204-205)

Then Edith Hamilton makes a simple, underlying point.

She sees, with compassion and clarity, where the root problem lay — in the church’s mis- definition of faith itself. “Faith is not belief. Belief is passive. Faith is active … There is one definition of faith in the New Testament, only one, in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It has nothing to do with belief, but entirely with action: ‘Now faith is the giving of

substance to things hoped for, the proving of things not seen.’ The way the author substantiates his hope and gives proof to the reality of the unseen is not by a series of statements which are to be accepted, but by a marshalling a long list of one life after another, ‘a cloud of witnesses’ who so lived that from them men drew patience to run the race set before them. That is always faith’s record, lives not creeds … Light needs no proof. It needs only to be seen.” (Pages 217-218)

This is the universal truth that undercuts the entire history of institutional Christianity from the very foundation. That it is not seen or taught or acknowledged by many is what requires this most painful process of locating within the traditions of the church the sad accommodations that enabled it to accommodate to a corrupt world under the sign of its creeds.

76.

Making The Devil Normative

We need look no farther than the general thrust of Augustine and Aquinas to find substantial assistance to a church that would avoid the manifest implications of the good news.

Three ideas to which Augustine gave voice may be said to form the foundation of the Holy Roman declension of Christianity.

The ideas were those of the Devil, of the rules governing the use of lethal violence and of the distinction between faith (which Augustine defines in institutional terms) and conduct (which Augustine discounts).

It will be important to add a note on Augustine’s notion of freedom or the lack thereof.

It will be sufficient on the first point to say that Augustine enshrines in his work the notion of Satan and of devils in general — of a principle of evil outside the person to which ill-fortune, capitulation to temptation, diabolical behavior and all manner of sin can be attributed.

We have already suggested that Jesus’ holistic teaching can be interpreted as having done away with the “reality” of Satan.

We have already alluded to the probability that Jesus came to overcome all of the pathologies that result from a dualistic understanding. Nonetheless, by acting as though there is no question of Satan’s continuing reality, Augustine helped to establish a course by which anything approaching a notion of a city of God upon this planet was at best a chimera and at worst a vain imagining for which Satan was responsible.

77.

The City of God?

In The City of God, Augustine justifies violence in an almost off-handed, but certainly comprehensive, way.

First he states that “he to whom authority (to kill) is delegated … is but the sword … in the hand of him who uses it (authority) … [and therefore] is not himself responsible for the death he deals.”

This is a familiar argument that, by implication, makes exercise of individual conscience and religiously motivated personal responsibility impossible.

It hallows the concept of the authority and thus gives religious sanction to both nationalism and the military chain of command.

Augustine assumes also that one wages war “in obedience to the divine command.”

While some justification for this interpretation might be found in portions of the Old Testament (though the prophet Mikiah is always a felicitous exception to the bellicose rule), there is none whatsoever in Jesus’ declension of the law.

Still soldiers who kill have not, says Augustine, “violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.'” (The Kingdom of God, Book One, Chapter 21)

78.

Augustine’s Legacy

From Augustine’s presuppositions flow a chain of corollaries which, to this day, continue to confound the Beatitudinal ethic of Jesus, in particular his blessing of peacemakers.

Beyond a wholesale authentication of the dualism of good-evil, God-Satan and an almost casual condoning of official killing, Augustine also did much to suggest that practice does not hold a candle to creedal affirmation.

Let us read with some care the following from Book One of The City of God.

Augustine is wondering why, during the recent sack of Rome, barbarians showed themselves to be gentle victors, filling the largest churches in the city with persons to whom they gave quarter.

He states that “in them none were slain, from them none forcibly dragged; … and … none led into slavery … Far be it for any prudent man to impute this clemency to the barbarians. Their fierce and bloody minds were awed, and bridled, and marvelously tempered by Him who so long before said by his prophet, ‘I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes’ nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from them.'”

Augustine continues: “Will someone say, Why, then, was this divine compassion extended even to the ungodly and ungrateful? Why, because it was the mercy of Him who daily maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the
good … Therefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves … Stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor.” (Chapters 7, 8 passim)

It is not a misrepresentation of Augustine to say that he lays the groundwork for a full-blown Christian triumphalism.

79.

Augustine’s Patronization Of the Unsaved

Augustine will concede that God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust but not that God’s justice is carried out by Christians and non-Christians and that obedience to God is found within and without the Christian fold.

No, on the contrary, the barbarians are mud and the Christians ointment.

It is in their essence that they differ.

This is no different than imputing virtue due to race and saying that it is not appearances but blood that tells.

Thus were Jews and Blacks stigmatized not only in Germany but also by some in the United States as well.

The hallmark of Jesus’ ministry is his iconoclasm regarding the origins of faith and obedience. He finds faith and obedience all over and he finds faithlessness and disobedience in the place where one would hope and expect to find the opposite.

Augustine’s tortured explanation of barbarian largesse (and we offer no brief here for barbarians as against Christians!) requires a creed and a theology to give it a firm grounding. And Augustine does not disappoint.

If we proceed from the necessity for creedal messianism as the linchpin of the orthodoxy which Augustine does so much to create and foster, we will see that every element of his great design is consistent with that seminal doctrine.

80.

We Are Of Nature

One cannot help remembering with a twinge of pleasure Dostoevsky’s statement that when the staretz Zossima dies, in The Brothers Karamazov, the quintessential holy man’s body is said to emit a horrific stench.

It is an appropriate footnote to Augustine’s logic which survives today in the mean-spirited effort of some within the church to apply exactly the same logic to their putative enemies within and without the church.

Good for Augustine is identified with an institution and a belief system.

He maintains that the City of God is identifiable with the Christian fold.

The City of Man is made up of those beyond the fold. The two groups are entangled in real life and will not be separated until the final judgment.

And this entire work — its dualism, its abrogation of freedom and responsibility, its triumphalism and justification of violence — is summarized and concluded in this prayer:

“O Lord our God, we believe in Thee, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. For the Truth would not say, Go, baptize all nations in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit unless Thou wast a Trinity.”

When Edith Hamilton speaks of good men caring more for creed than practice, more for dogma than concrete expressions of faith and goodness, she has in mind, most certainly, the author of the monumental work which
provided fodder for lesser minds over the years to justify the enshrining of an uncritical orthodoxy devoid of prophetic self-understanding.

81.

Augustine Is Not Exempt

Augustine’s vision was not all pie in the sky, of course, because the human consequences of his theology of preference were and are deleterious here on earth.

To show how difficult it would be to make provisional judgments based on Augustine’s understanding today, one need only surmise the Bishop of Hippo’s reaction to the plethora of expressions of the church now extant.

Would there be any theological category that he would apply, to at least purify the fold according to his lights?

The answer is obvious:

Divergence from the creedal formulations extant in his own time would draw his ire in our time.

Augustine would probably be more comfortable with antinomian evangelical Trinitarians than with semi-agnostic but God-fearing Presbyterians.

One could argue that Augustine remains supremely right, for all he is doing is placing ultimate judgment where it should be.

The church is then God’s on earth and in heaven. And only God knows who and what the church (or City of God) is.

I contend, however, that to exempt Augustine from responsibility for influencing human history by means of his creedal-messianic formulation, is tantamount to saying that ideas do not matter.

And of course they do, as serious followers of any political manifesto know, to their sorrow or joy.

82.

Augustine’s Unfree Freedom

A word must now be said about Augustine’s notion of freedom.

This is so if only because his conception had a major influence on the two major theologians of the Reformation, Luther and Calvin.

For Augustine there is no real freedom on earth.

Humankind is sinful and Augustine states this in the famous dictum: “Non posso non peccare.” It is not possible not to sin.

The opposite of this state is reserved for the chosen residents of heaven, where it is impossible to sin.

For Augustine, a provisional state where the exercise of free choice is possible is out of the question.

The entire progressive notion of building a better world — or of doing the will on earth of Jesus’ father who is in heaven — is a pipe dream.

Time has shown, however, that Augustine’s ‘non posso non peccare’– so absolute in his lexicon — does not preclude the provisional freedom noted above.

The simplest way to say this is to suggest that, regardless of one’s philosophical framework or epistemology, there is a realm in which what one does matters; there is a realm in which greater or lesser real guilt is experienced; and there is a realm in which we are expected, indeed urged, to act on our own responsibility.

This is a form of freedom that people have fought and died for, not a nonexistent chimera.

83.

Augustine’s Impact On Our Planet

Augustine’s rigid otherworldly conception may protect God’s transcendence but it wreaks havoc on the planet.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the playing out of his notion in Luther’s doctrine of the two realms and Calvin’s vicious explication of the ill-conceived doctrine of predestination.

Freedom is in tandem with the concept of will and the notion of the self as a spectrum of consciousness that traverses the territory between involuntary unfreedom to greater and greater realization of an experienced, consequential freedom.

The concept of faith, first used by Jesus in response to those he healed, assumes the existence of freedom — the freedom to choose, to believe, to hew to a goal or objective.

But to admit and allow such freedom, with its inherent risks, was too much for the church.

Better a hierarchy and a dogma.

And a theology forever proscribing its possibility. Augustine must have read the gospels. What did he make of the first preaching of Jesus, of the indicative that God was at hand (good news) and the imperative to repent and believe?

Was this a charade, with the real decision being made millennia before or hence?

Why would God wish to send his beloved into the world to perform such a wooden and meaningless task?

84.

Horton Davies on Augustine

Theologians have written more recent works that doubtless give us a more scholarly sense of what Augustine was up to, but none captures what happened with more biting accuracy than Horton Davies, writing in 1957.

He tells us that, by the time of Augustine, “worship is no longer a ‘hole and corner’ affair celebrated in the upper room of a poor house on a side street. The Christian religion is now protected, even encouraged, by the Empire. The result is that Christians erect church buildings that excel in magnificence even the pagan temples; the officials of the faith are decked in splendid vestments; and public worship reflects the fact that the despised Nazarene has conquered the imperial might of Rome. This is in fact Christianity on parade

”… The theologians had now come to understand more fully the mighty acts of God in the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection of Christ. These doctrines were carefully elaborated because they had to be protected from the misunderstandings of the heretics. They were built into a creed.” (Horton Davies, Christian Worship: Its History and Meaning,” Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1957, pages 26, 27)

Doubtless some heretics, from whom the church sought protection, felt that the shape of the emerging orthodoxy contained, to say the least, elements that would more and more compromise the church’s professed allegiance to the Nazarene.

But by the time The City of God appeared, the seduction of the emerging institution was nearly complete.

It remained to provide the new monolith, armed with Augustinian toughness, a worldly veneer of philosophy, the better to deal with the full range of potential enemies. It was not long before this wish was abundantly realized.

85.

The Reformation and Creedal Messianism

“The very feeble decrees of the Roman pontiffs which have appeared in the last four hundred years prove that the Roman Church is superior to all others. Against these stand the history of the last eleven hundred years. The text of divine Scripture, and the decree of the Council of Nicaea, the most sacred of all councils.”

Thus Martin Luther at the dawn of the Reformation.

There are two acknowledged pillars of the Reformation, Luther and John Calvin.

The sorry purpose of this series of short essays is to show how each, in turn, espoused thought patterns that had ramifications antithetical to the very reformation they thought they were creating.

The legacy of these two is a mainline Protestantism that is a variation on what went before it. Thus it has been a frail reed as the world has moved toward a resolution of the crisis revealed in the seminal narratives of Jesus and in the good news that he preached, taught and embodied.

86.

Luther and Penitence

Penitence must be taken as the dominant starting point of Luther’s thinking.

“The entire life of believers,” he declared, “is to be one of penitence.”

And what were the marks of this stance in the opinion of the monk turned firebrand?

“Mortifications of the flesh,” he wrote, “and hatred of the self.”

If one were to take this advocacy of abjectness as a counsel to prepare one for a life of worldly holiness, one would be very wrong.

Worldly holiness entails choice and compromise, negotiation and wisdom, the sorts of things that Jesus advocated in the Sermon on the Mount and that the Epistle of James reiterates in a later part of the canon.

But for Luther, as for Augustine, freedom in this life is a chimera:

“Free will after the fall,” says he, “exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.”

87.

Luther’s Selective Hermeneutic

Luther did not draw his views from thin air. The text of divine Scripture, already alluded to, was the source of his central doctrine.

But we shall soon see that Luther, though he translated the Bible and gave it to the German people, was selective in his reading of it, confining his central theological premises to imputations based upon his very narrow reading not only of Scripture but of his central source, the Apostle Paul.

Here is Luther:

“The person who believes he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin, so that he becomes doubly guilty … It is certain that a man must despair of his own ability before he can receive the grace of Christ.”

What lies behind this utterance, of course, is vintage Paul — signed and certified canon, which is why it is dishonest to locate creedal messianism anywhere but in the seminal written documents of Christendom.

From the writing of Paul, Luther drew mainly texts that spoke to his own experience.

Indeed it might be said that Luther’s tormented spiritual journey, like Paul’s and Augustine’s, was the existential basis for many of the doctrines that came to dominate Protestantism.

88.

Luther and Pathological Guilt

We must possibly lay a portion of the pathological guilt of modernity at Luther’s feet.

Luther grew up understanding God to be stern, implacable and wrathful.

Such a deity could never be pleased and Luther’s striving for affirmation from this God was a succession of futilities.

Only in the most severe and sweeping understanding to be found in Paul did Luther locate solace.

Paul said that Christ took upon himself every jot and title of God’s seething rage at humankind’s paltry efforts to please Him.

To be justified by faith was, for Luther, to embrace ones righteousness as a gift, an act of grace, signed sealed and delivered “in Christ”.

If the mean-spirited God evoked by Luther was not the God described by Jesus, this fact did not unduly exercise the reformer.

89.

Luther’s False God

Luther’s deity preserved the creedal messianic formula.

The formula provided a convenient foil against the winds of human freedom that were beginning to disturb the princes who were his patrons.

(Where one’s patron is, one’s heart may well be also!)

To preach a Lutheran gospel to a nation moving away from Rome and toward its own imperial notion of selfhood was to afford a gentle transition, comparatively speaking, a transition not different from the wedding of the
Nicaean consciousness to the purposes of secular Rome.

The transition was gentle because it liberated people from the most noxious Roman practices while maintaining without changing the underlying Pauline-Augustinian ideology.

90.

Trinity and Creedal Messianism

Consider for a moment the trinity, for the creedal faith we are speaking of requires, as Augustine said, a trinity.

One needs for this doctrine’s construction a perfect austere Father who is brimming with wrath at his wayward children, the polar opposite (for example) of the father Jesus describes in his parable of the Prodigal Son.

For a trinity one also needs a compliant lamb-child who is sacrificed on the altar, not even like Isaac (as a test of Abraham’s loyalty), but to satisfy not a longing world but this wrathful, distant and vengeful deity.

And finally there must be, in a proper trinity, a notion of spirit that is not the power of God to channel healing to the world or to enliven and assist the impulse to decency and goodness, but no, is the seal of ones inclusion in the institution of the church — an object of belief, the third person of a … trinity.

Lutheran trinitarianism was a churchly response to the winds of free enquiry and change that were blowing through Renaissance Europe.

It was also a way of closing the door to a counter-concept of gospel based on the perception that, if one had to choose, Jesus was more likely a Jewish prophet healer preacher who died as a threat to the world as it was, and is, than he was a self-anointed sacrificial lamb who knew from the very dawn of time that God’s anger and its abatement was the reason for coming and telling parables and performing acts of upbuilding that suggested not God’s anger but His Love.
91.

Luther Solves His Existential Problem

Luther had an existential problem and it became in some respects the sad existential problem of the nation he helped to create.

But Paul provided an out and Luther took it and in his genius elevated it to the very pinnacle of theological respectability.

It was perfect.

The church would survive as a staging area for those who gravitated to the new declension.

The rest of the world would, and could, go to hell.

Within this creedal messianic institutional framework, even the well-meaning doctrines that Luther promulgated were sullied.

The priesthood of all believers became an option in a church structure skewed to a new version of priestly and ministerial authority.

The freeing-up and making available of Scripture was more in name than in fact.

Luther did just enough to break with the Roman Catholic Church and not alienate the German Princes.

But Luther was not so obtuse that he could not understand what was taking place. Something within him enabled him to see the compromise.

His soaring intellect was required now to perform a human act of justification so that all would not be lost in a massive unveiling of sheer hypocrisy.

Luther was up to the challenge and his solution sealed the fate of Germany.

He drew upon Augustine but the construct was his own. It comes down to us as the infamous doctrine of the two realms.

92.

Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Realms

For Luther, the realm of this earth was damned, evil, and fraught with deception and peril, condemned by God and overrun with the angry and the discontented.

The world was fallen and lost. Anyone who saw it differently was deluded.

Anyone who sought to tread a Godly path, independent of submission to Luther’s version of the truth, was a fool and mortally damned.

The earth was the first of Luther’s two realms.

The second realm was not this world at all.

It was the Roman Catholic Heaven, Augustine’s City of God.

Oh, it would be a Protestant version, cleared of the celestial bureaucracy and architecture posited by Rome.

The indulgence tollbooths were removed along with Purgatory.

Here, in this sanitized Heaven, the saints would find a perfection difficult to imagine and infinitely impossible to glimpse or attain in this world.

To enter this second realm one must simply be penitent and wait.

Waiting might involve turning to one of the new Protestant churches to hear homilies on one’s insufficiency, certain no major reference would be made to the notion that Jesus desired God’s will to be done upon this planet.

If one needed guidance in this world, where the major sins were so established as to be normative, why one could cite a host of minor sins and lesser vices, the performance of which should produce self- mortification while the principalities and powers remained undisturbed in their hellish pursuit of the major crimes.

93.

A Privatized Church

In practice, Luther produced a privatized church that ceded without protest all worldly authority to the state.

In the case of Lutheranism, this meant subjection to the German princes.

One has only to read Hans Kohn’s devastatingly timeless works on nationalism to detect the neat mesh between the Lutheran doctrine of the two realms and the growth of an idolatrous celebration of the Germanic that has
certainly been one of the principal manifestations of evil in all of recorded history.

For Luther, the world being a bad place, one was compelled to use the sword to crush rebellions of any and all sorts.

The same authority structure as Augustine had posited to justify official killing passed down intact in Luther’s doctrine.

Since the peasants revolted against the princes on Luther’s watch, it was no surprise that the first major theologian of the Reformation sided with the princes.

Given the doctrine that he had so laboriously promulgated on the basis of a highly selective parsing of Scripture, he could “do no other”.

94.

Luther and Nazism

A reading of the actions of the Lutheran church in Germany during the Hitler era bears out this seemingly harsh portrayal of Lutheran ideology.

The very self-abnegation that Luther required of his adherents was fertile emotional ground for the rise of a humiliated populace following the imposition of seemingly draconian terms following World War One.

Within Scripture, according to Luther, with certain exceptions, such as the Letter of James, there is a malevolent song that Luther never criticized. It is the song of virulent condemnation of the race and tradition from which Jesus sprang and whose prophetic vigor he manifested in full degree.

So when Nazis paved the way for the mass incineration of Jews, creedal messianism offered no defense.

Which is why the modern documentary to end all documentaries, Shoah, finally sits back and allows that ultimately it is Christian theology that fired the ovens.

Is this too harsh?

Say that ideas do not guide history and I will cede you a point.

Say that there were noble Lutheran exceptions and I will cede you a point, though I will argue that they were exceptions because they did not breathe the anti-Semitism inherent in the Lutheran declension.

Say that the charge may have been fair against some, but not against all of the good Lutherans who did not know what was happening at Auschwitz and Flossenberg, and I will tell you that such goodness can be measured by its practical adherence to the doctrine of the two realms today.

When things become incomprehensible and complex in the world, the instinctive ostrich reaction, the turning inward, the throwing up of hands, the see no evil hear no evil attitude — these too make up the shameful legacy and the effects of such behavior can destroy life as surely as the demonic flames of Hitler did.
What an incredible inversion! Here we have pristine and elevating terms like the priesthood of all believers and justification by faith alongside a performance which at many points is in total contradiction to the high value historians of the Reformation have placed on Luther’s contribution.

Surely now a more balanced history is in order.
95.

Seeing Luther Whole

Surely now it is time to see Luther whole and acknowledge what, in the baggage he carried with him, was noxious and what was not.

Painful, yes.

But measure that against the pain of the part of the church that rejected the Barmen Declaration out of hand.

Measure it against the pain of a world without moral compass, faced by a church whose founder saw no reason to provide it with one.

The Nazi depredations and excoriation of Jews as a scapegoat, and the proclamation of a Hun master race, must be seen as the most terrible confirmation of the power of creedal messianism to dull humanity, hamstring
freedom and subject the world to lemming-like acquiescence.

The only answer to this is that of Jacques Derrida:  We must see the need for a change of thinking, a sea change, as unprecedented. And the thinking we do must reject creedal messianism and its Lutheran incarnation, the doctrine of the two realms and the devaluation of the human.

96.

Calvin’s Creedal Messianism

We turn now to the second Protestant pillar of creedal messianism.

John Calvin’s variation on Roman Catholicism differed from Luther’s in several respects.

Calvin propounded the notion of predestination — the sure and certain elevation of God’s elected ones to a Calvinist heaven.

Where Calvin verged away from Luther was in his notion of what ought to be on earth. Rather than cede all power to princes, Calvin insisted that the churches had the obligation to govern — or at least to influence the engines of governance.

Roman Catholicism was not wrong to covet a similar power, Calvin held. Her error lay in a lapse of pristine connection to the truth, in corruption and self-seeking.

Calvin thought his notions correct and his behavior recondite and set out to make the city of Geneva the laboratory for his notion of a proper Reformation.

The effect of combining a doctrine of predestination with the concept of church authority in the civil realm was as dynamic and visible as the effect of Lutheranism was passive and hidden.

97.

Calvinist Tendencies

In Calvin’s declension, success in the world was a likely sign of God’s favor, boding well for a place among the permanent elect.

Calvin also wanted to impose his notion of morality upon the general run of humankind, a sure means of creating permanent friction with society.

To be sure Calvin included in his mix the gloriously free precept that God alone is Lord of conscience combined with a reliance on Scriptural authority that was more thoroughgoing and eclectic than Luther’s.

It made for a zany and mercurial and sometimes outright cruel combination of insanity and freedom.

Sadly, however, the implications were bloody.

98.

Three Sad Pillars of Calvinism

1. Calvin so believed in legislating morality that it was not seen as a breach of God’s law to kill those who offended against the holy laws that he established.

2. Calvin used creedal-messianic criteria to determine what he thought was moral and what was not and, in the process, inverted ethical priorities in a way that has had permanent deleterious consequences.

3. Calvin’s predestinarian creed, while noxious to reason, planted the seed of double-think in modern soil and helped to father such destructive ideas as Manifest Destiny, the inherent superiority of the West, the divine right of unbridled economic exploitation and the concept of organized charity as a compensation for the inversion of priorities noted above.

Historians would probably argue that Calvin could not have succeeded, if succeed he did, on the basis of a universalistic understanding which put first things first ethically and harnessed to evangelism the propagation of the transcendent values at the core of Jesus’ teaching.

This is simply to say that Calvin, though he in effect co-opted himself, was not different than Aquinas in a practical sense.

In both cases the distortion of possibly world-enhancing understandings took place in the service of smaller and less admirable goals — to wit, the preservation of the creedal-messianic entity.

99.

Calvinism and Schizophrenia

Reformed theology contains within it the seeds of a valid concept of schizophrenia.

Calvin affirmed the value of working in this world.

Yes!

Calvin affirmed that only the predestined were actually doing this work and destined to salvation.

Excuse me?

Wouldn’t that encourage the chosen to assume that the rest are damned heathen?

Try living with these two notions bouncing around in your head.

Try being appalled by them too vocally in the more creedal-messianic circles of Reformed tradition.

“I think,” Calvin wrote of his adversaries, “there is scarcely any of the weapons that are forged in the workshop of Satan which has not been employed [against us].”

Continuing, Calvin observed that at times there was no alternative, in response to attacks, but to mete out “an ignominious death”.

Inquisitors, crusaders and popes had thought the same thing.

It was nothing new.

100.

A Theological Killing Field

So where pray tell was the Reformation?

Was it in the blood shed in the religious wars that marred the two centuries following Calvin, turning Europe into a theological killing field?

Jesus knew that one cannot be in the world and for the world without being in all the world and for all the world, bar none.

But Calvin did not know that.

He overlooked it in Scripture.

Jesus knew that belief was the prelude to practice and that practice was a radical form of obedience that might be highly provocative but never was violent.

Calvin somehow missed that.

Jesus was a prophetic avatar who suggested that God would be the ultimate judge. He then lay down some very specific criteria for human behavior, not one of them containing an iota of creedal-messianism, unless you count statements like Follow me that sound a mite authoritarian.

But even if you accept those statements, examine what it was we were being asked to follow and ask yourself if it would involve capital punishment in the name of the church?

101.

Calvin’s Two Strange Sin Lists

Calvin’s ethic is a virtual blueprint of the malaise that has affected Protestantism since its inauspicious inception.

Calvin, following his dualism like a rabbit pursues the scent of lettuce, hypothesized two modes of behavior.

The first was intolerable. The second was forgivable.

The intolerable transgressions for Calvin were heresy, schism, rebellion against church authority, blasphemy, scandalous amusements and breaches of civil law.

The forgivable transgressions included lying, injurious speech, preoccupation with vain questions and perverting the content of Scripture.

Nothing could better describe the hard- nosed Reformed temper at its creedal-messianic best.

Geneva under Calvin crushed card games and silenced singers of worldly songs.

Calvin served himself well because three of the four forgivable offenses above were sins that he committed.

Of the intolerable transgressions, one could only assume that Calvin was working from his own church when he wrote his list.

It is a perfect recipe for the intolerance that has been the bane of the Calvinist tradition since it sprang full blown from the pen of its progenitor.

102.

Theocracy’s Destructive Heritage

In today’s world theocracy has become a global issue. (I should mention that the bulk of this essay was written a quarter-century ago and has simply languished because the prospects of getting it published were deemed to be nil — by both friend and foe.)

We still aspire to have theocracies that will crush minor aberrations and uphold major ones.

We still operate viable, ongoing church institutions on that assumption.

We are still assumed by the rest of the world to be people who act that way.

Is it not, one might ask, time for reconsideration?

Many factors could be adduced to support the thesis that there have been serious opponents of creedal messianism within Protestantism.

But upon examination most modifications have been just that — a watering down of the worst features of the orthodox hegemony without going far enough to reject entirely the structure of thought and perception that underlay it.

One might point to Methodism and the Baptist and Congregational traditions to claim a diversity that belies the notion that Protestantism is merely a continuation of creedal messianism in somewhat different garb than was worn in Rome.

Or one might point to the sectarian movements such as Quakerism to suggest both the limits and the possibilities of a theology that can hardly be said to mirror orthodoxy.

I think however that it is equally fair to suggest that since the era of the Renaissance the world has been unable to avoid the inevitable fragmentation that accompanies the advance of free thought and action in the world.

One can argue with scholars such as Alan Heimert and Perry Miller whether it was Puritanism or worldly philosophy that created the fundamental matrix of democratic society, but no one can argue that the breakdown of the Medieval hegemony did not send a wave of hope through the world built on the premises that later made up the revolutionary doctrines upon which democratic societies rest.
What is remarkable, given this development, is that Protestantism has for the most part adhered to the tradition that stretches back through Calvin and Luther and Aquinas and Augustine to the Apostle Paul, rather than to interpolate from world events that God might intend that Jesus be re-perceived as the avatar of a universal ethical sea change in human relations.

103.

Creedal Messianism Protestant and Catholic

Protestantism, like Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, has been, and will continue to be, a mixed bag — oscillating between the characterics of the creedal-messianic and those of a prophetic, negotiational freedom based upon the capacity for individual and community change.

Here is a listing of similarities between Protestantism and Catholicism that the reader can examine to consider the extent that Protestantism was, or was not, a variation on what had gone before.

1. Protestantism and Catholicism alike embraced nascent movements of nationalism and colonialism and helped to create the idea of the West as the bastion of Christianity.

2. Protestantism and Catholicism alike accepted and encouraged a negative view of human nature, lifting up the idea of submission to Christ and church as the prerequisite of salvation.

3. Protestantism and Catholicism alike accepted the inversion of ethics that we have observed in Calvinist dress. This inversion has placed a premium on conformity to a narrow moralism, submission to the authority of the state –particularly in wartime, obedience to churchly authority and the eschewal of heretical or schismatic behavior.

No comparable emphasis has been placed on tolerance, direct service, peace and earthly justice.

And when it has, one notes immediate regressive opposition coming from the creedal-messianic elements within the church or denomination in question.

4. Both Catholicism and Protestantism adhered to the doctrine of election that makes church membership tantamount to ultimate redemption. Similarly the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior becomes synonymous with being born again.

One can almost imagine Jesus saying, in response to this formulation, By their fruits you shall know them!

5. Both Protestantism and Catholicism have taken a fundamental Augustinian view of killing, condoning obedience to the state in respect to this onerous activity.

104.

The True Betrayal Of Jesus

Creedal messianism in any costume is a betrayal of what Jesus lived and died for.

It is a betrayal of the prophetic obedience of Jesus.

It is a mandate for the capitulation of ecclesiastical leadership in the face of any issue that would threaten the security of the endowed establishment.

It is, in short, an invitation to immaturity and irresponsibility of the highest order.

To establish this critique properly, it will be important to note three fundamental principles that seem wholly consonant with Jesus’ understanding of good news.

1. The temple, if needed at all, is to be a house of prayer for all nations.

2. As one is internally, one is externally. This relates, perhaps, to the Nietzschian thinking around “beyond good and evil”.

3. Violence is idolatry and is precluded.

Taking these understandings in order, it will be seen that Jesus’ understanding and institutional Protestantism have often been at odds.

105.

The Temple

Without flattering ourselves into thinking we can know the exact reasons behind Jesus’ attack on the commercial ventures taking place within temple grounds in Jerusalem, we can say with reasonable assurance that two conclusions are unassailable.

First, Jesus regarded the purified prophetic Judaism that he represented as applicable to all persons.

He considered God to be universal, the God of all, and people to be equal before God in the sense of their right to access to the most sacred place of Judaism.

Second, Jesus regarded the bottom line ethic of which he was the progenitor to be the great commandment combining love of God with love of neighbor.

He extended our understanding of this by allowing that the goodness revealed by a life lived with this understanding was not the exclusive property of knowing Jews, but of anyone who actually lived it.

This creates the basis for understanding that holiness, sacredness and purity all relate to the practice of a universalism based upon a perception of behavior that is salt of the earth — the practice of the reciprocal ethic of God and neighbor love.

For Jesus the greatest sins emerged at the point that religion was corrupted into priestly exclusivism and idolatry.

A religious institution that is fundamentally a corporate enterprise, that apes the styles and standards of a predatory society, even down to a hierarchy of compensations and the conduct of investment programs and the acquisition of endowments, is hardly likely to conform to Jesus’ high standard for the Temple — that it be the house of prayer for all nations.

106.

Protestant Exclusivism

Exclusionary implications abound when one examines institutional Protestantism.

Exclusion by class and race. Exclusion by such minor aspects of ultimate reality as sexual identity, exclusion by modes of theological expression.

These wanderings from the Beatitudinal Way are virtual set-up for the same response from Jesus today as took place when he walked into the temple grounds and realized it would be embarrassing to bring his friends and outcast auslanders there.

The temple is not then and is not now, save in rare circumstances, the house of prayer that Jesus evoked when he tossed the changers out.

How might a temple be worthy of the God whose nearness Jesus consistently proclaimed?

The answer is that it is hard for any religious institution to represent one as iconoclastic and unpredictable as Jesus.

107.

Any institution bearing the name “church” that has an exclusionary creed, based on suppositions for which absolute truth is claimed, is a a charade, a good charade, but one which ultimately will not wash.  Creedal-messianic institutional entrapment is the largest barrier to the promulgation of the truth with enough force that will speak to the person on the street, whether in New York or Rio, Geneva or Vladivostok, Capetown or Canton.
Jesus must be re-comprehended as the progenitor of a globally valid faith-ethical understanding.

Between institution and movement there is a middle road called understanding. It eschews claims to absolute truth, it is agnostic toward what cannot be attested to by experience or experiment. It has no truck with nationalism or any of its idolatrous trappings. It has no truck with religious exclusion.
Religious institutions need to understand Jesus not as a rival religionist but as the universal proclaimer of Abba’s nearness, of our universal need for repentance and our universal call to recognize and believe that Abba is within each of us, the guarantor of our freedom, our dignity, our rights of choice and the one who calls us to the ways of nonviolence and peace.

Inversion of the ethic proclaimed and taught by Jesus is the first sin of religious institutions.

The second is the erection of exclusionary barriers on the basis of a selective reading of the tradition.

Thus we have elements within religious institutions fundamentally aping Satan in the story of the Temptations, quoting Scripture in an effort to deflect Jesus from his purposes which are the worship of God alone, the creation of a world that doesn’t tempt God (AKA that is responsible) and the demonstration of the ethical bases for a full sharing of the world’s resources.

A Calvinist or Lutheran understanding simply does not leave quite enough room for a universalism of Jesus’ sort. Thus it is that on the score of inversion and exclusion — and the Babylonian captivity to culture that has been created — we must, in the name of truth, move on.

APPENDIX

You Are The Temple: 

A Sermon to the Congregation of the First Church of Cyberspace by Stephen C. Rose

Don’t you know you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (KJV — mildly revised.) — 1st Corinthians 3:16

Cyberspace is offering the world another chance to figure out what the curious advent of one Jesus Christ actually means.

Wherever you may be reading this, a few blocks from my apartment in New York City or halfway around the globe, whether you have never heard of Jesus Christ or have simply said Sayonara to organized religion, cyberspace says, Let’s try again.

Let’s try again to say what religion is finally all about.

Let’s try to say why it matters to you.

Well, it is clear enough that this preacher believes Jesus Christ is what religion is about, but if you are thinking it is because Jesus beats the competition, think again.

The reason Jesus Christ is important, and why he does “beat the competition,” is because he came then, and comes now, to abolish religion as the world has known it. The clue is in the incendiary sentence above: You are the temple of God. Jesus brought good news, not old news.

What is this about? Well, it is about many things: Your life, what you do with it, how you look at yourself and others. It is about what is decent and what is not. It is about truth.

And if you happen to be at a stage in life when nothing seems to be working and you do not know where to turn or what to do, it is about that too.

I have called the advent of Jesus Christ curious. It is curious that God would come in a particular person at a particular time. And that the Bible would claim that this Jesus was born of a Virgin called Mary. And that his best friend John (writer of the Fourth Gospel) would claim that he created the world and was one from the beginning with God.

What does all this mean? It means that only one person among others gets truth right — in the same way that only one password will get you online.

It means that Jesus is special because, though he is fully human, he is fully divine. Where have you heard that before? In the language of gurus! Guru’s claim divinity but they do not have it. Why do Christians claim Jesus did? Surely we cannot “prove” all of the things said about Jesus. When John says Jesus was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and that through him “all things” were made, you may ask if I have the cosmological credentials to tell you such things.

But there “is” proof and Jesus brings the proof. Not me or anyone else. And you can have immediate access to it — right on your monitor. (If you are thinking this is a not-so-subtle pitch for one or another religious organization, think again! My only purpose is to show that the good news of Jesus makes sense right at the cutting edge of the world that is presently evolving. Right here online. My reference is available to all:   It is the Bible interpreted as Jesus interpreted it — as a living and evolving body of understanding.)

The proof Jesus brought relates directly to you, and to everyone else in the world. But I can see a big cloud forming. It is the cloud of deja vu. Jesus and church are synonymous. There are eight zillion churches out there and even more than that if you count TV. They all seem to want something. They seem to be in competition with other religions. In short, where is the beef when fallible partial churches are entrusted with the message? You shop around and take your choice!

If you are still here, this is the whole point. Cyberspace is offering us a chance to look at the choice again — beyond past notions of church. Jesus came to abolish religion and make *us* — me and you — the true temple of God’s Spirit.

Here are ten ways Jesus did this:

1. He taught us to pray directly to Abba — the familiar for God the Father implicit in the Aramaic — and this direct contact is more important than any external observance or public prayer.

2. He said what we “do” is more important as worship than strict observances on the Sabbath. He did this by claiming Lordship of the Sabbath, by healing on the Sabbath and by consistently affirming people whether they observed the Sabbath or not.

3. He gave us Beatitudes which are a way of living, not an invitation to attend the Temple. These Beatitudes emphasize characteristics that have little to do with what religions of all stripes offer. They are about being permanently insecure (like us!), being mad at various injustices (like us!), suffering through this and that (like us!). They are about living peace and mercy, not about finding security in a protected religious environment.

4. In fact, Jesus physically attacked the Temple in Jerusalem and declared that it should be a house of prayer for “all” nations. He thereby abolished for all time the business-foundations of organized religion.

5. Abba (Jesus’ name for God) tells us to listen to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus turns down Peter’s suggestion that “shrines” be built to commemorate the great event. Jesus is a complete iconoclast when it comes to all the idolatry we create around celebrity.

6. John the Baptist was Jesus’ sort of prophet. When Jesus went to be baptized by John, it was clearly understood that from then on baptism would be something that only God could perform — namely a fire or Spirit baptism that would fall upon individuals without the intermediary work of priests and religious institutions.

7. Similarly the Last Supper, when Jesus broke bread with his disciples, was a simple meal in an upper room — more akin to a “house church” than some organized temple event.

8. Jesus came to fully vindicate his good news and to fully eradicate both idolatry and the hypocrisy of organized religion. (Did I forget to say, The Good News is that God’s Way is at hand, doable and should become normal human behavior, universally?) This REVOLUTION required that Jesus attack the Temple and incur the wrath of religious leaders. Also that he refuse to bow down to the Roman state. Jesus offers no simple moral solutions to problems that can only be solved by a massive change — he cuts to the chase and says we need a new spirit and that only Abba can give it to us. He eliminated the middleman.

9. Jesus did not merely suffer and die at the hands of religion and state, he did so willingly and with full confidence that his abolition of the religion of the past would be victorious. This confidence took the form of belief that he would end up back with Abba. And that those who “believed” would receive the crucial gift of the Holy Spirit. This was the baptism of fire John referred to.

10. A great cloud of witnesses to the truth of Jesus saw him “risen,” experienced the “inrushing power of the Spirit” and gathered in small caring groups to marvel at the wonder they had seen and touched. They sang and prayed and “shared all things in common.”

Now it is two thousand years after the fact and do you know what? Abba keeps giving us chances to understand what really happened, because Abba is merciful and wondrously thorough. If the world did not “get it” then, perhaps the cyber-world will!

Second chances are always given — in the moral realm. When we enslave and abuse each other, some who understand Jesus or “implicitly understand him” (like many of the people he met who were not members of any religious organization) stand up for his championship of the child, of the abused woman or man, of the poor and the sick.

I could list another ten or one hundred things that all say one thing: We are being given another chance. Right here. Right before our eyes. Right now. The chance is both a burden and a feather in our hand.

Offered: A “living” relationship with Abba — who is in heaven. Seriously. That is what this is about. Jesus opens the door to this helping, nurturing, one-to-one relationship. You can begin it on your side right now with one simple act of prayer.

Don’t you need to repent? Get real. What is modernity but a vast list of things we need to be sorry about?

We repent the minute we can say of the One who created and meant the world to be decent and good, “Holy is Your Name.” Not the corporation, the leisure world, the USA, the Indians, my physical fitness. Get real. We repent when we acknowledge that God loves and cares about the growth and development of every creature on earth, past, present, and future. That makes everyone special and salvation universal.

It reduces us to a proper sense of our own worth and a proper analysis of our prideful ways.

Jesus came to do one thing. He comes to you NOW in Cyberspace hoping that somehow, through this curious medium, you will understand that you are, in prospect, a temple of God.

Not the steeple down the street or the evangelist on the tube. You, friend. It stands or falls with each of us, with our taking responsibility for others, in practicing awareness of Abba’s grace and power, in the knowing the indwelling Spirit, in daily exposure to what Jesus has to say.

Reject churches entirely — never go on Sunday? That is not the point. YOU are the temple, so what is a church?

At best, it should be a place where you are resourced as the first witnesses were: A place where you receive the Spirit, share all things, follow the way of Jesus. Wherever this is done, there is a church!

When this is actually done, the church will also be you. And today’s religious institutions will be turned inside out, producing responsible Christ people.

You are the temple. You are the pearl of great price. You are the field. And we together are pioneers in a church without boundaries.

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Showing posts with label new grass roots church. Show all posts

Showing posts with label new grass roots church. Show all posts

Friday, December 08, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

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Benign Genocide. We are all players.

Benign genocide is the largely unprotested death of millions in our world. Largely invisible millions.

Benign Genocide is the honest name for the capitalist-philanthropic system that, in a macabre dance of mutuality, allows this terrible result to take place year after year.

Let the definitions be plain and simple. By capitalist I mean to embrace the entire realm of business conducted for economic gain. The entire culture of consumer desire. The entire tendency of the world to accept this on its face as the “way things are” economically.

By philanthropic I mean the entire complex of “not for profit” enterprises, ranging from movements and non-governmental organizations to institutions of learning to explicit “charities”, to many government agencies whose purposes are eleemosynary.

My contention is that we can call this partnership the engine of Benign Genocide.

Globally, it represents a failure of mammoth proportions. It need not be. At its heart lies a spiritual failure of nerve, and apparent ignorance within even our most sophisticated media of this failure, its roots and, worst of all, its avoidability.

We can blythely read that 55 million in Africa will die by the year 2020 of the AIDS virus. And each year UNICEF and other agencies — ambivalent partners in this promenade — inundates us with similar figures. Even Presidents quote UNICEF. It is a dance of hypocrisy and idiocy.

Essentially, the world system that we now have, largely uncontested, accepts Capitalism as the big engine to fuel the unequal wealth/power machine and philanthropy as the little engine that will toot along and clean up the uglier evidences of a world where wealth, power and place continue to rule under the umbrella of hypocrisies that have been transmuted into simple realism.

The notion that we create the situations that lead to the wholesale destruction of millions (dare we add the words women and children?) is left to marginalized observers who are never taken seriously by the governing structures. Or, worse, to house prophets who are expected to deliver Jeremiads in such a way that the resolution is always without serious consequence.

The servants of the capitalist-philanthropic DRIVING FORCE are called governments and their support includes the lesser engines of culture, by and large, maintaining simplistic nationalisms.

Religion generally reinforces these status quos, quite happy if it can justify its existence by being in harmonious relationship with the philanthropic effort. Religion bears as part of its transcendent posture a passive attitude as states cede to systems of greed that are simply too established and tempting to make change an option.

Fundamentalisms exist as escape valves for those who understand that something is not right but lack the critical capacity to see that the fault does not lie in the stars (or competing religions) but in ourselves.

The name for what we have as a result of the hegemony of Capitalism and philanthropy is BENIGN GENOCIDE. We all contribute to this. We are all players on the stage of this sordid and generally hidden reality.

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Matthew Arnold was a poet of the 19th century.

Following the theme of benign genocide, we shall see that it is in dimness and miasmal ignorance that the world proceeds upon its doomed course. Absent awakening, the doom predicted by Matthew Arnold persists, either in its latent form or in more visible forms such as 9/11.

Only a theory that could show that, at some point of critical mass, the horrendous depths to which we have sunk as a human community is inimical to OUR survival, might possibly effect a change from capitalism cum philanthropy to whatever we might call the next stage.

The occasion for the phrase BENIGN GENOCIDE can be dated.

It came about in the late summer of 2001 — not too long before 9/11. I was at that time winding up a brief term as Editor of CHOICES, the flagship magazine of the United Nations Development Program.

Actually, I was completing three and a half years as a mandarin in the service of the United Nations in New York City — first for UNICEF, writing releases like this, then for the Secretariat and then for UNDP.

It was a valuable education.

Not only did the statistical hell of the world’s actuality become engraved on my consciousness. But also, the reality of BENIGN GENOCIDE — including the UN’s largely lemming like acceptance of this intolerable moral status quo — within the UN itself.

It is the UN’s reckoning with what, by all rights, should drive us all mad, that led me to the phrase.

BENIGN GENOCIDE is lemming like acceptance that John Donne was DEAD wrong. We are not an island, bound together, but drifting fragments.

We can speak the language of inclusiveness and, at the same time, write off millions here and there …

We accept the posture of our government players — as lemming like as the rest of us …

It is symptomatic that we have no reliable indication of the extent of the genocide, but rather we have masses of “research” which is taken by the media as gospel, even when the very agencies involved admit the limitations on their own capacity to gather reliable statistics

When we do see parts of the Devil’s Drama we are in, we willingly give assent in a penance mediated by a compliant media. Though it must be added that, increasingly, the media contrives, in some of its worst manifestations, to put a happy, matter-of-fact, even nonchalant, face on the worst depredations.

And when we cannot deal with the larger world we try to find our solace in the fickle world of enchantment one to one. Or in the various media facilitations of celebratization. Insulation from the realities.

Matthew Arnold’s hauntingly prophetic (1867) poem Dover Beach describes precisely the situation which is required for benign genocide to emerge as the dominant theme of the world’s moral journey.

Matthew Arnold had it right. But it is terribly wrong to assume that he was being completely sincere about the ending. The retreat into relational privacy is no more a valid response than immersion in the mindlessness of following the flag to wars in ignorant armies.

I shall publish the whole thing here just because it is so apposite not only to the century recently closed but to the world as it remains.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;–on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full,
and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms
of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

To the theme of privatization and withdrawal is added the permanent presence of the ignorant armies.

We would now add the prevalence of child and teen soldiers, even the suicidal adolescents and young persons of today’s desperate jihads.

That we can draw the juices of a valid patriotism from the conditions that actually exist in the world is simply an index of how well the capitalist-philanthropic model functions. And how effective is the ethnic, nationalistic and racial string-pulling by our various leaders who are themselves, for the most part, puppets in the service of the simple imbalance that perpetuates BENIGN GENOCIDE.

In the late ’90s I literally fell into a communications post at UNICEF. This led to almost four years of life within the United Nations system in NYC..
Sayonara to the United Nations?

I have said mine. It came soon after 9/11. I had heard about it on Imus in The Morning in a cab to work, then at UNDP. Thought then it was a private plane. No one was going into the building across from the Secretariat that houses UNDP — the lead action agency in the UN System.

Gradually what had happened unfolded. We knew when the security prevented entry that maybe it wasn’t a private plane incident after all.

I am pursuing the theme of benign genocide and one incident at the end of my time in the UN bears re-telling.

I went to a little goodby party for a UNICEF friend at the hotel across from UNICEF House on 43rd Street. The usual suspects were there from the communications office of the children’s agency. And then my former boss showed up, followed soon after by my former boss’s boss’s boss — and when he walked in a light went on in my head.

I wanted nothing more than to share with him the phrase BENIGN GENOCIDE with him. This personage had recently been appointed by the Secretary General to be rather well-positioned to say things about BENIGN GENOCIDE.

So, when he appeared in our crowded space, I approached him once and was surprised to see him fade immediately into the company around him.

It was not until I had done this THREE times, rendered literally unable to address this personage, that the message came through to me. I could only conclude that he thought I was about to accost him for some minor reason not worth mentioning. Related, more or less, to issues raised in my screed on Matthew Arnold having had it right.

I had never held my tongue in the UN. I had nothing to lose. I was too old even to think of having a long-term career there. I had no need to play any politics.

I was ideally positioned to observe, as an outsider, the way in which the culture within the UN insulates its own functionaries from the emotional damage that a head-on confrontation with BENIGN GENOCIDE would create.

I guess my measure of moral courage is inextricably linked to the responsibility one is willing to take — for everything. To exercise this responsibility is the only way to have a small chance at meaningful freedom.

Call it a bad evening. A lapse. Whatever.

Still.

Ideally one knows we are all as dross. Ideally one is self-respecting enough to live openly with one’s decisions. Absent these two conditions, how can one be willing to sacrifice everything to speak the truth of BENIGN GENOCIDE? Even if no one listens. And the speaker ends up despised and rejected, an outcast?

I will always remember the image of this person literally backing into groups of people to avoid a confrontation that would have been silly to begin with. It was more or less like going to visit Mandela and finding the Wizard of Oz in his place.

To me this terminal incident of my time at the United Nations seemed like a cynical confirmation of the Shakespeare analysis — we are merely players on a world that is just a stage. Or a Genet analysis — large masks are more determinative than human courage and moral gumption.

Ultimately, perhaps, one thing or another in a vast chain of lapses, defeats us and we all fade in the face of the dreadful reality of BENIGN GENOCIDE.

55 million is a lot of bodies for stage hands to store some place out of view. But Africa is a large continent. And we value lives by criteria that make our morality secure.

3000 victims of Al Queda are worth immeasurably more than 50 million victims of the HIV virus. It goes without saying. So nobody who matters says it. Sayonara to the United Nations. Recondite is recondite. Life goes on.

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Capitalism and philanthropy are not at odds in a world where benign genocide proceeds apace.

Capitalism and philanthropy need some definition, along with privilege, power and hypocrisy.

None are words that find much play in today’s media, but that may change. The text for this page might well be an aphorism of Karl Kraus: “Father forgive them, for they know what they do!”

Thanks to our media, benign genocide is never unconscious. It is the object of gravely cheerful commiseration.

Yes, let’s define some terms.

CAPITALISM:

The cumulative power and decisions of those in charge of vehicles dedicated to producing a profit for stockholders.

These vehicles or corporations are comparable to major nation states. They have the capacity to obtain favorable laws and to control key policies.

Most important of all: In the face they present to the world, these entities validate a culture which is itself tiered in terms of acceptable levels of privilege. There is the topheavy-top where the bulk of control resides, the insecure middle and the devil take the bottom.

Capitalism provides enough perks and narcotics to the top to enable it to write off the lives of the bottom with impunity. And where capitalism fails, philanthropy often fills in the gaps.

PHILANTHROPY:

Philanthropy is not merely the congress of institutions that passes as philanthropic. Philanthropy is the sum total of all eleemosynary efforts. Including governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 501(c)3 not-for-profit institutions, churches, synagogues, mosques, voluntary associations — even clearly ambiguous arms of governance such as prison guards and police and armies.

Philanthropy is the sum total of educational, medical, environmental, and all other institutions and communities established to accomplish those things which capitalist enterprise professes to be, or is actually, unable to do.

Philanthropy’s most conspicuous feature is that is is incapable of doing enough to correct the injustices that capitalism creates.

Capitalism and philanthropy operate in partnership, and their survival is ensured by a combination of simple power, the privileges it assumes by custom and right, and the semi-conscious or otherwise-rationalized hypocrisy by which it escapes serious confrontation with the truth.

To understand this, an example is in order: Let’s look at how this plays out in terms of the culture of the New York Times, which must be dubbed the dominant informational medium of the ASCENDENT CAPITALIST PHILANTHROPIC CULTURE. The dominant message of the Times, in both its printed paper and its TV commercials, is one of upward mobility. The ways and possessions of the well-to-do are made palatable by a substantial suspension of critical faculties.

Disparities within the metropole are dealt with by a feature at Christmas called Neediest Cases. The paper is rife with features and articles which essentially commend or accept the payment of high salaries, the purchase of high-ticket items and the living of a Good Life.

This life is defined as one that only the upwardly-mobile can even contemplate.

The vaunted Times news product is a philanthropic element within a sea of blatent underlining of the dominant and ascendent culture built upon BENIGN GENOCIDE.

(All institutions associated with philanthropy have internal tensions, engendered by the obvious idiocy involved in giving assent to the sort of affluence that is the cultural Emperor’s clothing worn by the privileged group. But these merely serve to create a deflecting sort of drama within the institutions, manifested in endless speculation about various hierarchical postings and positionings, down to analysis of that people said and what body lingo they put out.)

BACK TO THE TIMES: Issues are defined within the envelop of an accepted state of affairs in which the millions who will receive NO EDUCATION or NO HEALTH CARE or NO FOOD or NO PROTECTION AGAINST HIV AIDS have no standing at all — either because the problem is too horrible to comtemplate, even intellectually, or because it is rarely front page news or because it is, at a certain point, inimical to the maintenance of the dominant culture.

The Times’ defense aginst this sort of “simplistic” analysis is that it is seen as a bastion of anti-Christian liberalism by the Genet-like puppets of the right. This is merely the manifestation of the internal tension dynamic on a somewhat wider stage. Ultimately the powers within both seemingly polar opposites work to support the same hypocritical status quo.

HYPOCRISY is a hiding or suppression of the truth. Jesus made hypocrisy, particularly religious hypocrisy, the key sin because he recognized, in all probability, that human beings have always had the theoretical power to act wisely and decently. When they do not, it is because it is more pleasureable at some point to hide the truth and grasp the comfort and privilege, elaborating a garment in the form of the CULTURE to hide an embarassing nakedness.

It is not as if, in the Times, or anywhere else, we do not have ample indication of what the problem is. It is the way in which a grasp of the truth is overwhelmed by the flood of daily material that is more appealing to the mind that is comfortable within the great system of CAPITALISM AND PHILANTHROPY.

We can spend millions and millions generating stories about abductions of cute blonde children and have no care whatsoever for millions and millions of brown and black children who are already under a death sentence because no powerful global sentiment exists to resolve their problem or the problems that future generations will have as the result of doing nothing.

We can support, via philanthropy, which has many guises and aspects, academic inquiry into every sort of horrendous past practice or event, in order to create theories to explain everything from violence to forms of worship, but under the seal of BENIGN GENOCIDE these enquiries become part of the background music of lemminglike play in the fields of the Lord.

EXTENDED FOOTNOTE:

Thorstein Veblen, in The Higher Learning, illuminates an aspect of what makes for genign genocide:

As bearing on the case of the American universities, it should be called to mind that the businessmen of this country, as a class, are of a notably conservative habit of mind. In a degree scarcely equalled in any community that can lay claim to a modicum of intelligence and enterprise, the spirit of American business is a spirit of quietism, caution, compromise, collusion, and chicane.

It is not that the spirit of enterprise or of unrest is wanting in this community, but only that, by selective effect of the conditioning circumstances, persons affected with that spirit are excluded from the management of business, and so do not come into the class of successful businessmen from which the governing boards are drawn.

American inventors are bold and resourceful, perhaps beyond the common run of their class elsewhere, but it has become a commonplace that American inventors habitually die poor; and one does not find them represented on the boards in question.

American engineers and technologists are as good and efficient as their kind in other countries. but they do not as a class accumulate wealth enough to entitle them to sit on the directive board of any self-respecting university, nor can they claim even a moderate rank as “safe and sane” men of business.

American explorers, prospectors and pioneers can not be said to fall short of the common measure in hardihood, insight, temerity or tenacity; but wealth does not accumulate in their hands, and it is a common saying, of them as of the inventors, that they are not fit to conduct their own (pecuniary) affairs; and the reminder is scarcely needed that neither they nor their qualities are drawn into the counsels of these governing boards.

The wealth and the serviceable results that come of the endeavours of these enterprising and temerarious Americans habitually inure to the benefit of such of their compatriots as are endowed with a “safe and sane” spirit of “watchful waiting,” — of caution, collusion and chicane. There is a homely but well-accepted American colloquialism which says that “The silent hog eats the swill.”

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Rapping it up concludes four short lessays on benign genocide.

A lessay is something less than an essay. A minimalist effort to deal with Big Issues. Rapping it up has nothing to do with rap except perhaps in its tendency to want to evoke those things it would be, ah, — tendentious — to try to explain.

Brain, multitask! That’s better.

How does one conclude a sequence of pages dealing with the phrase benign genocide? Read on. I have not lost my pontifical edge.

Each generation spawns a handful of greater or lesser dissenters. Some reach the heights of a Kierkegaard or a Veblen — giving the world a fund of iconoclasm and providing a smidgeon of sanity in the face of wooden and destructive thinking of all sorts.

I was born in the year Karl Kraus died. Karl Kraus was a journalist-satirist-wiseperson of the early 20th Century who lambasted Freud and psychoanalysis, inspired Wittgenstein, and managed to publish the same journal for decades, an achievement I envy in the extreme.

He too was a voice in the wilderness.

Harold Bloom would have us believe that some voices can speak words that mould the future. That is perhaps the main chance for anyone who works at the writer’s trade.

Now the Beats created a context for semi-rebellious activity, without providing much in the way of analysis. Perhaps even creating refuge in the “comfort of narcosis” — among the favored means by which principalities and powers render critics impotent.

The passing of a sentence of DOOM on an age may be the only function of the dissenting iconoclast. To show how a system works to frustrate the ethically fastidious. And how, for the most part, people play their assigned roles. Stravinsky’s Devil, in L’Histoire du Soldat, declares, We all have our little job to do in life.

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BENIGN GENOCIDE proceeds apace and we are able to confront it with a stiff upper lip, or a hanging lower one. However, when we react simply with a certain moral outrage, we miss the point entirely. We fail to comprehend and reckon with the sandy ground upon which the infrastructure of the developed world now totters.

Let us follow the multitudes and relegate BENIGN GENOCIDE to a convenient shelf. Let us ask what we are actually doing in the better off sectors of the planet?

The answer is that we are trying to support an ever more costly and senseless structure built upon the very foundation that capitalism has chosen to make central to our life and economy.

One did not have to be a rocket scientist to write the following little list well before St. George and his Dragoons chose to resolve the War on Terrorism by accepting the script offered them by their Double On The Border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Devices:

* OIL
* AUTOMOTIVE
* WAR
* COOPTATION — UN
* CHARITIES, FOUNDATIONS
* COMPLICITY OF “HIGHER ED”
* IDIOCY
* WORLDS — CONSTRUCTION OF AS KEY TO SANITY
* STORIES

Footnotes: Devices now operative. The oil-automotive-war triad. Cooptation of most everyone and everything. (See how the US will scream foul if Germany tries to wrest the UN from Manhattan Island and put it in Bonn. We need the UN and no one knows that better than our vaunted enemies.)

More Footnotes: Cooptation is no longer to be seen as a moralistic walk in the park where A flatters B into selling B’s soul. It is accomplished simply by the proliferation of the corporate-bureaucratic style by which the operations of most institutions are more influenced by the charts than the intuitions and insights of individuals.

More: WORLDS. I have the capacity to leave worlds, whether they be cliques or institutions or nations or conglomerates of idolatry.

The only reason I mention it is that I readily see what anyone who reflects readily acknowledges. We make worlds of the little worlds we live in. My department at UNDP was such a little world, diverse as it was. It had its own conventions, evasions, humor and exclusivity. And its own special breed of dis-couragement.

Church denominations are such a world. We create worlds to protect our sanity. It is because we have worlds that we need not busy ourselves about the results of the genocide. Imagine the CNN world if there was an imperative each evening to report what Leader A and B and C and so forth did not do to move the world beyond Reaction.

I recall at UNICEF being innocently asked to create a little Q and A on WATER. This was my first introduction to the fact that people in Bangladesh were being disfigured and in some cases done in by drinking water from wells that UNICEF had helped to dig. In creating the FAQ ,I duly noted that an Indian Doctor had warned about the arsenic problem in Bangladesh early on and beseeched the world community undertake a crash remedial program.

Read the last sentence again. I duly NOTED it! But it never appeared in the way I wrote it.

Because UNICEF had already decided to stonewall on the issue.

You see, 60 Minutes was on their trail. And the premium was not on ‘fessing up, which would have actually been the best PR move.

So mountains of time and money went into creating the picture of an agency that was indeed on the case and working with the World Bank and others to keep arsenic out of the mouths of babes, and so forth.

SANITY: Sanity is being able to tell your story without being driven mad.

In a more sane environment, there would be a means by which a “whistle blower” would ALWAYS be heard, and either validated honestly, or invalidated honestly. This simple Veblenian concept would help prevent everything from the decimation of a Challenger to the temporary collapse of the New York Times as the hands of a few people caught in a sad but dumb dynamic.

To rap this up, we must cast a sweeping eye of disdain on categories themselves. The notion that there is any valid meaning of the word DESIGN in a world as disfigured as ours is laughable or tear-able.

To rap this up, we must reestablish the human rights of way. Literally sieze back the roads. Today we have a profusion of roads occupied by enemies — automobiles. The notion that Ralph Nader was a pioneer and moral paragon for telling us how unsafe cars are is as fatuous as the idea that Frank Lloyd Wright had an advanced understanding of human nature.

In the promulgation of highway culture and its rationalization of suburbia, Wright was fatally naive in assuming, as he blythely drew interchanges, that suburbia would be filled with mini-farms operated by people with a Mother Earth News mentality. In his critique of the automobile, Nader was equally naive, merely helping the industry buy more time.

To take back the Ways is to suggest that our technology be used to redefine and create a new form of public that acknowledges the incredible changes betwixt public and private that have occurred over recent decades.

One reason people engage in nostalgia about my childhood haunt, Rockefeller Center, is because it was — more then than now — good and aesthetically-pleasing public space. Our ways must be given over to our transportation which is public in a way that has nothing to do with Port Authority meat-transport.

There is no earthly reason why we cannot give roads to all manner of inventive alternatives to the expensive and tasteless and downright ugly manifestations that represent hopefully the last breath of the auto industry as we have known it.

I mention this only because it is the hot button that must be pushed to wake people up to the fact that when they sit lemming like in their cars on Tobin Bridge, they are doing more than being inconvenienced. They are handing their humanity in dribs and drabs to the society we have allowed to develop.

Not an independent thought can exist now even in a University. Not a serious dialog can take place. That is why Rap in the widest sense, embracing Web lingo and chat, is a human subtext of sorts in the face of what out ineffective Left misunderstands as globalization.

Globalization is simply the reality of connectedness and how it changes our perceptions.

This series of pages on Benign Genocide should be enough to suggest that globalization in this sense is powerless to prevent the encroachments of capitalism and philanthropy and the idiot thought that propels the slow and inexorable movement of dehumanization, with its decimation of more millions every year.

When capitalism and philanthropy have been modified or altered or drubbed out of existance, one hopes that we will still have globalization, connectedness, the prospect of a more vibrant community, based on something more intuitive and deep than worn out slogans and dead ideologies.

Design — if an enemy must be chosen — is the enemy. Design and our understanding of it.

And no I am not hiding my copy of A Pattern Language from view as my true and beloved subtext. I openly confess to being influenced, but I am not so influenced that my political capacities are totally warped.

Politically the best we can hope for is incremental little changes until one or two such changes engenders movement,

All I have been trying to do is to suggest that there is an issue and a general line of thinking that is more productive than what I see and read and hear. I have literally nothing to add. Which is redemptive. We need to clear a space for conversation.

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What Are Your Four Most Basic Values?

This is not a trick question.

It took me a long time — a few books written, a good deal of wrestling with the Gospel of Mark — and some serious thinking to come up with mine.

I am not talking about characteristics, or actions or even virtues.

I am talking about values — things that are worth so much that you will think many times before going against them.

Mine are pretty specific.

My main underlying value is non-idolatry.

Not iconoclasm exactly.

It is a questioning of all demands for allegiance, all authority.

It is a profound suspicion of allegiance to any but the One to whom Jesus gave allegiance.

My three working values derive from this:

Tolerance.

Democracy.

Helpfulness.

Tolerance seeks insofar as is possible not to judge the thinking or behavior of others — a great freedom if we can attain it. Tolerance is not a permissive openness to all sorts of behavior — but it does accept and affirm the inherent variety and diversity of life and of the human community.

Democracy means more than the majority — it means according everyone the same basic rights. Everyone means everyone. We are not all equal — we are a diverse collection of talents and interests. But a world in which differences cannot be altered by the exercise of rights is inherently unfair and anti-democratic. We affirm fairness.
Helpfulness is the glue that holds communities together. It shares diverse talents and capacities. It does unto others as you would have others do unto you. It treats others as you would wish to be treated.

The Success Program which I have been fortunate enough to find, ten years after beginning this site, is a paradigm of a new age of helpfulness and responsibility.

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When I was composing a folk version of the Gospel of Mark I began to sense the inherent iconoclasm of Jesus and his small community of disciples and friends. When young people began singing the Gospel from place to place they became a community in which tolerance, democracy and helpfulness went hand in hand.

But the burden of these values was light because the iconoclasm was essentially a humor about our limitations, about the grace we are given, about life itself.

When such values as courage, honor, patriotism and loyalty emerge as talking points for politicians and religionists, ask yourself if the behavior that goes with these values accords with the values articulated on this page.

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What Goes Around Comes Around Including Media Hype

Media have always engaged in sensational attacks around the sexual behavior of prominent figures.

The only thing different around sensationalism today is not the unattractive gossippy faces of the heads on the tube, but the tube itself — which makes reporting global and discourse so prevalent that the boredom quotient rises every year. Though the sensationalism continues.

In general, pundits and talking heads brought in for alleged expertise say folk looked the other way with JFK. But then journalism got more and more tabloid. until now we have a flood of vilification and salacious rehashing of anything with a scintilla of celebrity-relevance.

Witness the effusions of Gloria Aldred, who is fixated on removing Michael Jackson’s children from his care. Her qualifications for making such judgments rest on little more than the media’s willingness to haul her in from relative obscurity because she is needed for the story.

When can we go back to the good old days?

Reading Fawn Brodie’s excellent portrait of Thomas Jefferson, what leaps out is a cluster of realities that shows precisely how naive our pundits are when they imply that there is anything new under the sun.

Thomas Jefferson was the victim of vicious attacks from the opposing party (Federalists), based on his documented relationship, which lasted 37 years, with the slave Sally Hemings.

Brodie says that the American people tended to accept the vagaries of their leaders and even to feel it was good if they had sown a few wild oats.

There is nothing new under the sun but journalism, and I use the term charitably, remains obligated to act as though recycled reality represented the advent of The Truth … every time.

The only encouraging thing is that reactions to idiocy also occur cyclically. Bht bad news is that they tend in their own way to be just as oppressive as the idiocies they displace.

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The reform of education is a cliche for a task with no clear beginning.

We want informed, well-rounded and skilled human beings who can live up to their potential on the basis of their inherent capacities and acquired knowledge. But we do not know where to start.

My belief is that we start with a very simple premise: We should stop building schools.

Nothing is more deleterious to the reform of education than the assumption that more is better when it comes to perpetuating the current forms by which education is meted out.

Schools should be replaced by neighborhood or town or rural teaching kiosks and tied to each child’s access to a computer that can access the local network and the fund of knowledge that is on the Internet.

Professional teachers and other education professionals would initially staff these kiosks, a tip of the hat to a time when in many countries teachers are an interest group. But gradually qualification to earn income as a teacher will come through passing of examinations and a sort of local guild process in which teachers and students OK their mentors.

Success in “school” would in all areas be tied to the passing of various tests which “students” could take whenever they wished, according to some method of fair access to the tests. These tests could have various criteria. A test to prove literacy in Shakespeare could involve some indication that one had read Shakespeare, and do forth.

The economic function of today’s schools is to provide K-12 child care to enable both parents (if there are two parents) to go to work or otherwise be free from the responsibility. Since we will not transition out of commuter-jobs anytime soon, though we will eventually, there need to be ameliorative advances in neighborhood and village creation of facilities and spaces which are recognized as nodes for (essentially) child care.

Existing school facilities could serve as optional nodes. But the real criteria for nodes is that they are too nice to trash and too representative of faith in the students to be seen as prisons or holding pens.

Essentially the challenge of education reform is the challenge of making neighborhoods desirable by building desirable neighborhoods.

We are talking about a thoughtful, gradual and emulation-inspiring reclamation of public space.

One way to begin this process is through decentralization of existing schools into underused and languishing facilities. As facilities become economically unviable they could be transformed into computer-equipped nodes where children could come and take care of business.

Teaching would evolve toward a university model combining lectures, seminars and independent study. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a thriving congeries of public events carried out in houses and small facilities and attended by all manner of people. In essence, new education would restore children to the public sphere by making that sphere more child friendly.

These notes are merely an effort to suggest some possible starting points for a reform of education that does not make the fatal error of assuming what we have is what we need or want.

The entire voucher struggle has been a textbook example of an irrelevant debate because the structure of all education needs to collapse into a more inventive and imaginative and localized vein made possible by investing in the micro-infrastructure.

If this movement cannot be generated from within the educational establishment it will be up to the home schooling movement to fan out into public space and create exemplary pilot projects that demonstrate the value of some of the principles suggested here.

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Down With It All: A Note On Esther, Purim and Universal Idiocy

This was originally a note to an online Rene Girard Forum on Ecunet, designed to jostle those who talk intellectually about theories. There was no immediate response. I am accounted an eccentric curmudgeon in such circles.

THE NOTE:

I picked up a Gideon Bible when I woke up this AM.

It opened to Esther so I read it.

It said that the King ruled. His word went.

Including getting rid of Q1 and making E Q2.

Problem was not only hierarchy.

It was fallen human nature.

Now Purim is celebrated because, having bought into everything everyone, Jews and Persians and everyone, did the same dumb stuff.

Result: Dead Bodies. So what if they did not plunder?

I am disgusted. I will not celebrate any holidays and will inveigh against violence and confess myself violent and original-sinned as the next person.

Let’s talk direct and simple sometimes.

Anything that kills or leads to same is not something to buy into. Anything, not just some things.

Best, S

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Media Disgust

When fifty percent of the news is gossip and celebrity stories, you know it is entertainment.

When media people you think are remotely intelligent are essentially becoming entertainment puppets, you simply bow to the idiocy. And wish there were some voice that could counter this mass narcosis.

I am close to the center of US MEDIA. I have spent my life that close. But around three decades ago when I was writing for a newspaper, I sensed that journalism was a drain on imagination and creativity.

Little did I realize it was on the verge of serious decline.

I know there are still distinguished journalists about, but most of them have been shunted to the side. Anyone who thinks seriously who has not sold out is usually on metro somewhere. I could name names, but why bother.

It is no longer even a matter of debate. Top editors wander through newsrooms calling for something lighter.

As Michael Jackson leaves Vegas to go to whatever awaits him, it is the Media that elect to turn it into an OJ sky-photo opportunity.

It makes one understand why there are serious critics of our culture around the world.

The young West Virginia woman who we elected to make a hero of Iraq was honest about the incredible manipulation the media and communications people inflict. CBS produces patently false docu-drama and withdraws it under protest. Turn to Showtime.

Foucault had it right. Discourse continues until it is everything and becomes the ultimate absurdity.

Fifty years ago Joe Welch asked Joe McCarthy if he had no shame. It was a riveting moment and a turning point. Maybe only in a world beyond will the corporate media, who have acceded to the commercial imperative and the lowering level of reporting and analysis and its capitulation to micro-gossip, ever have to answer for the excrescence that we witness on CNN and MSNBC and FOX and COURT and to a lesser extent everyone else.

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RENEWAL 2 NEWSLETTER March 25, 1994
(from New York City)

FLYING DEBRIS …

On Wednesday two army planes practicing landing collide over Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, killing fifteen paratroopers on the ground and injuring sixty-two others. All occupants of the planes survive.

The deaths and injuries are all due to flying debris. This needless tragedy is an opportunity to suggest a responsibility which the church has, which is not shared by President Clinton or the families of the bereaved or anyone else, unless they happen to be part of the church.

(I am aware there is no precise use of the term church today, but for purposes of this piece I will use it to denote the institutions of the church as they interface with the world and speak in such a way that the world will hopefully listen.)

Now the President can do nothing but argue, as he did in a brief message of condolence, that the flying debris shows that all soldiers are at risk in their country’s service.

And, naturally, he must express gratitude and grief at this horrible event. And others directly or indirectly involved cannot be expected to look at the event with anything but shattered feelings because all deaths, particularly before their time. are diminishing and devastating.

But what should the church say? Anything the church might say in this situation ought to be a reflection of what Jesus declared in the gospel which is that the rule of God is at hand. In this new and life-changing situation, the rules of the old order do not apply.

It is the function of the church to say that this flying debris from two planes practicing landing is the result of a continuing commitment to a culture of warfare. And that though Jesus anticipated this culture would persist, there is no logical reason for it and therefore no logical reason why fifteen should die at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.

This is really the only public function of the churches. There is no need for a commission to discuss military policy. There is no need for editorials criticizing this or that functionary for incompetence or lack of vision.

There is only need for the church to state that the world Jesus introduces is one beyond warfare and killing and emnity between groups. It is a world that is already living under the sign of reconciliation.

A member of the church cannot therefore engage in killing. Nor can a member of the church pay to support a war culture. Nor can a member of the church judge those who do go into the military or endorce the realpolitik of Kissingerian logic — power abhors a vacuum, etc.

No, the only function of the church in the face of flying debris is to say that this is not the world as it exists under the sign of the gospel. And such a statement, heard loud and clear, would have so much power that it would knock the socks off of much of the mentality out there that regards flying debris as nothing more than an occupational hazard.

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It is unlikely that Nietzsche ever read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, though he did praise lavishly the Russian author’s “Underground Man” and allowed that the writer was a psychologist worthy of his attention.

To one steeped in Dostoevsky and familiar with Nietzsche’s own ambivalent certitudes, it is not hard to link him to this family of 19th Century fictional archetypes — all wrestling with the implications of a world that is in the process of rejecting God.

The four Karamazov Brothers — children of the insidious buffoon Fyodor — are:

Dmitri, the eldest who might qualify as a life-affirmer in Nietzsche’s terms,

Ivan, the tormented intellectual who is stretched out on the rack of the very morality Nietzsche is at pains to excoriate,

Alyosha, the saintly secular monk Dostoevsky hopes will carry human destiny forward, and:

Smerdyakov, the imitative imbecile who infers the homicidal urges of his brothers and acts them out in the parricide that is the novel’s principal crime.

Nietzsche, is the fifth Karamazov — Like Ivan he has passed through Dostoevsky’s furnace of doubt — but gone even farther than the tormented Ivan.

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Nietzsche on “Christianity”

The Project : “We need the unprecedented”

The text below is taken from the response of Jacques Derrida to Richard Beardsworth in a 1994 interview in the Journal of Nietzsche Studies.

No words I have encountered express so well the reason why there is here a Nietzsche section.

They remind me of a similar reflection by the late Robert Nozick in The Examined Life whose essence is that, after the Holocaust, we must take upon ourselves the suffering we once projected outward in an effort to avoid our own responsibilities.

Jacques Derrida:

After recent events – whether one gives them the name of Nietzsche, of Heidegger, of the Second World War, of the Holocaust, of the destructibility of humanity by its own technical resources – it is clear that we find ourselves in an absolutely unprecedented space.

For this space one needs equally unprecedented reflections on responsibility, on the problematics of decision and action. To say this is not a piece of speculative hubris. It simply acknowledges where we are. We need the unprecedented; otherwise there will be nothing, pure repetition. — Jacques Derrida.

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Integral Naked — The Web Catches Up With 30 Years Ago

Interesting how everything comes around. During the 1970s, for me at least, exposure to integral thinking, Ken Wilber and related matters was part of the mix.

I regard Wilber’s Spectrum Thinking (at least that is the term for it that appeals to me) as an essential platform for hermeneutics, self-understanding and analysis that is capable of moving beyond judgment.

Because the Web is continually a matter of editing and re-editing to get things right, often you find what you are looking for AFTER you might think it would be there.

For me that was the case with Integral Naked. I have just joined. I suspect it is Twice or Thrice of Permanently Born — in the sense that integral thought needs time to file off the rough spots. Online it can construct itself anew always.

Why do I pop this reference among my Nietzsche Pages?

Because Nietzsche, recognized or not, is one of the formative thinker-spirits behind what this is.

As is, I believe, the Jesus I surmise in Beyond Creed.

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Nietzsche on “Beggars”

From Friedrich Nietzsche “The Wanderer and His Shadow”, in The Portable Nietzsche, translated and edited by Walter Kaufman, New York, 1968 (1974), 70.

Friedrich Nietzche:

[239] Why beggars still live. If all alms were given only from pity, all beggars would have starved long ago.

[240] Why beggars still live. The greatest giver of alms is cowardice.

Stephen Rose: Pity is in short supply. But convenience and hypocrisy are not scarce. Even beggars can become complicit! We have it all down pat. Neediest cases and three star restaurants with flawed fare.

Adam Panflick: Pitiless.

Stephen Rose: Indeed. And a pity.

Adam Panflick: Genet-like. Some believe hard lives are just a stage of development.

Stephen Rose: Convenience from the East.

Adam Panflick: Is there a Nietzschean response?

Stephen Rose: I would not dare to answer. There is a Jesus response. There are many Jesus responses. No there is just one. Himself.

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PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

href=”http://stephencrosehome.blogspot.com/2006/12/new-grass-roots-church-continued.html”>The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

HE COMMANDS AND THEY OBEY

Tune: Toplady, 2nd Tune — Rock of Ages

He commands, and they obey
Evil demons fly away
Jesus in the synagogue
Showed the power of His God
All the people there could see
As he made those demons flee

He commands and they obey
There is nothing more to say
Unclean spirits in a man
Fled before his healing hand
People witnessed in that hour
All the force of Abba’s power

He commands and they obey
Listen to his voice today
He will make us good as new
Just as then those demons flew
He can touch us heart and soul
Make us joyful, make us whole

Hum the tune. Retard.

c Copyright 2001 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

HELP US TO FASTEN OUR EYES ON THE PRIZE

Tune: Be Thou My Vision Slane Trad. Irish

Help us to fasten
our eyes on the prize
Safe in the knowledge
that love never dies
Visions of heaven
within and beyond
We are secure
in an unending bond

There is no suff’ring
you cannot redeem
All souls may drink
of your life-giving stream
No evil triumphs
within heaven’s bounds
Only the joy of
your mansions resound

Fill us with peace
as we go on our way
Our eyes on heaven
whatever the fray
In us, beyond us,
there’s no boundary
Our eyes are fastened
on your victory

{Option: Hum the verse at close}

c Copyright 2004 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

A TENTATIVE THESIS

I rarely try to fathom dynamics, but — if you will take this with a grain of salt — here is one attempt to fathom why, when confronted with one of the more perfectionist and *good* passages from Jesus in our parable discussion, we have lately been preoccupied mainly with evil!

I think the answer is already implied. We do not want to think that much we have invested in is, to Jesus, either tangental or low on Jesus’ priority chain.

Tangental: Our sense of the abiding reality of a “devil”. Our concern to have right relationships with our friends and family. Our being nice persons.

Low on the priority chain: Our being good citizens within a friendly environment. Our good deeds to friends and for those for whom we have compassion. Our efforts to appear acceptable and good to ourselves!

I state these things in almost jolting terms in order to refocus on actualities to which Jesus calls us:

Untangental: The existence of a world of enemies ranged against one another. The fact that, with Satan at an end, our task is to manifest the loving nature of God and its prodigal tendency to be irrationally on the side of those who have least reason to expect or desire it.

The probability that, if effective, our behavior will create abuse and even persecution from those who find this understanding of the Way of Jesus abhorrent.

High on the priority chain: Our being suspect citizens, because our acts reveal an iconoclastic lack of loyalty to every institution and cause deemed necessary to good order and friendly commerce. Tangible actions that manifest love (the desire for reconciliation, the acknowledgement of enemy status, the crossing of true barriers) for enemies.

Actions which, by their odd exaggeration, imply the actuality of God’s nature. God, the One who rushes out to pull in the Prodigal, to embrace the late comer, to share meals with the unacceptable.

I realize how much this conflicts with the curriculum of civilised Christianity and the agenda of creating harmonious Christian communities.

But I do believe our difficulty of late has been a not-too-subtle effort to say, Hey, this is too much for us to consider! Why, look at the reality! It is the reality we look at that Jesus changed for all time.

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Gay Marriage & Women’s Ordination

Gay marriage is like women’s ordination — both causes are secondaries made into primaries. Neither marriage nor ordination are endowed with sufficient gravitas to be worthy of such unseemly veneration in the scheme of things.

By contrast, the fate of children IS.

To contend otherwise is merely to display a trace of defensiveness.

Phyrric.

First things first, then we shall celebrate.

Gay Marriage & Women’s Ordination Part 2

One reason why I am not much interested in discussing marriage and and a movement to save marriage is that it is so isolated from the contexts which might address the problems.

The context for such a discussion, apart from Jesus’s strictures regarding children, which takes priority, is (among other things) the disfunctionality of (increasingly global) society itself.

This involves suburbia, automobiles, economics at all levels, work — and so forth and so on.

Conceded, we have no grasp on anything if we do not talk about something.

But I cannnot picture a happy marriage and family flourishing in environments where the TV is draped in loud violence, the neighborhoods are marked by street traffic rendering even play a danger, the stores are deep caverns with no personal help available, and schools are simply not able to find people motivated to deal with the challenges of surrogate parenthood.

We need Jane Jacobs and David Riesman (ill-represented on the Web, if recent search results are accurate) types of minds at work here and no discussion can be fruitful if we keep on trying to decide whether this or that reductionist treatment has merit.

As an odd postscript: I chatted with my longtime friend Tom Driver (formerly a professor at UTS) at a celebration of my ex’s 25th ordination anniversary celebration not long ago. I told him of my love for the Bard — late born. And mentioned how I felt both Freud and Girard (and their adherents) tended to be stuck on somewhat closed systems.

He responded that some people need systems and that both Freud and Girard did or do.

Perhaps we are all are being called to a repentance regarding context and even idolatry.

It frees us to have no context if the alternative is a confining one.

The answer is not that the world does not undergo disasters and upheavals, or that future catastrophes are less than likely.

It is the endless, exploitative effort to explain the results of laziness, greed and ignorance as somehow paranormal. It’s just sad NBC is in the vanguard of those who further encourage a formidable abdication of responsibility.

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RENEWAL 2 NEWSLETTER MARCH 2, 1994
(from New York City)

ANCIENT MYSTERY, MIRACLE & AUTHORITY:

“Ancient Prophecies”– NBC’s contribution to what will doubtless be a flood of apocalyptic moneymakers between now and 2000 — was too vapid to be a disaster and too slanted to be a documentary. One cannot even say, “At best, it was …”

It said nothing we have not heard numerous times and nothing whatsoever to contradict its bias in favor of the Dostoevskian triad of mystery, miracle and authority. You’ll recall that these are the weapons by which the Grand Inquisitor spares passive worshippers the unbearable burden of freedom.

The answer to NBC’s extension of “Hard Copy” is not that the world does not undergo disasters and upheavals, or that future catastrophes are less than likely. It is that the endless effort to prove out paranormal experience is tainted by very normal things like laziness, greed and flat-out ignorance. It’s just sad NBC is in the vanguard.

One has only to reflect that the worst natural disasters in terms of loss of life have closely mirrored the demographics of world poverty to see how slanted and exploitative “Ancient” was.

NBC would have us believe the word prophet applies to those who are said to predict the future. This is so far removed from Biblical understanding that is ludicrous. When Jesus blesses those who suffer for righteousness, he links their obedience to the prophets who preceded them. Unless we can reclaim and give public honor to this understanding, we cede the world to the principalities and powers yet again.

NBC would have us believe that is Biblical to give unquestioning credence to notions of Armageddon. But this stance reflects fundamentalist abuses of Scripture that are shameful when indulged in by the Peacock network.

The world may end tomorrow and perhaps deserves to do so if NBC can undertake to educate an already half-literate population with such fare.

But let those who have hidden their homiletical light under a bushel, while the Hal Lindsays of the world reap their royalties, confront the armageddon mongers and the Elizabeth Clare Prophets (sic) of the world with at least a portion of the gospel! Otherwise we’re in for yet more mainline silent invisibility, and there are only six more shopping years until 2000.

— S. C. R.

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CHARITY, CHARITY …

(A Veblenian Prose Exercise) The King James Version of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians uses “charity” (from the Latin “caritas”) to denote the Greek “agape” which most more recent English translations render as “love”.

Today about the only survival of the King James word is in the context of organized charity, largesse, eleemonsynary activity, in short, something a mite removed from what Paul meant when he described “agape”.

Charities have become legal entities and, though they may provide some sort of service, they tend to seek their own way. Patience and kindness are options, not operational prerequisites.

This is not a call, though, to bring Pauline criteria to the operation of organized efforts such as schools, hospitals and other tax-exempt 501 (c) 3 entities. It would be enough if charitable enterprises merely were what they represent themselves to be.

The following questions suggest the problem. Do institutions of higher learning serve truth or mammon? The answer would be mammon if it could be shown that the predatory nature of competitive non-charitable institutions was enhanced by having at their helm graduates of universities and colleges whose stated objective is the propagation of truth.

When charity in a community functions as a means of gathering “society” in a conspicuous display of wealth, how are the objectives of the intended beneficiaries served?

This question shades off into the whole matter of the board members of charitable enterprises and the propensity of acquisitive human nature to act in ways inimical to the high ideals of the institutions served.

From the perspective of the Synoptics, is there something to be said for anonymity in the matter of charity? Is there a sense in which churches ought to consider questions (such as this) that may not apply with quite the same force to secular efforts?

What of fund-raising by charitable institutions?

The ratio between money spent and money taken in?

What is a fair “rake” for the money-raisers?

What of differentials, salary structures and perks of charitable institutions?

Is there a possibly instructive role that might be played in this regard by, for example, churches?

One would not wish to deflect energies from the weighty issues of Whitewater, Tonya Harding and the forensic rights of Frank Sinatra by raising questions that don’t quite have the currency and bite of the latest headline.

On the other hand, charity appears to be a perfect area of investigation for newsgathering agencies when they have sated themselves on these matters. Nor is this to gainsay the virtues of voluntarism or the creativity that rises from unsung efforts.

It is simply to raise the question: On which side of the social ledger do we place which elements of the current charitable enterprise?

May the nation’s engines of journalism turn to it with fortitude and vigor!

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SCHINDLER’S LIST AND …

The current spate of neo-Nazism in Germany is an international crisis of the first magnitude. To say this is to invite the charge of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. But Nazism is an evil whose effects in Germany were so unspeakably demonic that we have not only the right but the obligation to regard its reality as a global problem.

To put it in the baldest terms: If we have committed billions to neutralize teenage gunmen in Somalia it is surely of equal importance to stop history from repeating itself in Europe’s most powerful nation. Germany is hardly the only nation where Nazism exists today but it is the only nation where the prospect of its attaining power over the state is real.

All it would take would be a process similar to that which brought Hitler to power. And any reading of history must remind us that Hitler was elected on a platform of economic reform and identity with the country’s forgotten middle class. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the executioner’s hand could be as well hidden today as it was fifty years ago.

Such a prospect is simply inadmissible. Joseph Kennedy II deserves applause for his statements on Germany. He is the only public figure in the USA who has been so forthright in criticizing the inadequate response of the Kohl regime.

All nations of conscience should make clear that Nazism in Germany must and will be confronted and rooted out by any means necessary, up to and including measures that would only be permissible in a state of war.

Freedom of speech is not an issue standing in the way of this resolve. Burning people in their beds and yelling “Heil, Hitler” is not permissible speech any more than cannibalism is a permissible diet. Nazism in Germany is beyond the pale of what can be allowed in our world.

It cannot be underscored enough that seeing this internationally is the key factor in dealing with the present challenge. If we do not see it thus we will become impotent spectators, watching impotent German governors and desperate German intellectuals falter in the face of Hitler’s rising ghost.

The nations of the world, acting through the UN, must immediately offer the German government any and all assistance necessary to end this plague. If this means an interracial, international military presence in Germany while the neo-Nazis and their supporters are identified and weeded out one by one, so be it.

It may be the post-Cold War era, but that fact only reveals the deadly force of racial and religious hatred in our world. This hatred’s evil pinnacle was reached in the genocidal logic of the master race. We will live in the shadow of a Third World War if we fail to act immediately to Nazism an impossibility inside of today’s Germany.

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We worship at our peril

Text: …he looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart …

We are told that this text “contains the traditional groundwork for the teaching of contempt. It is not an accurate presentation of Judaism in Jesus’ day.”

I consider this caution an accurate presentation of the state of mind of mainline Christianity in these days. I suppose we could speak of Theological Correctness.

Let’s clear away this debris! Jesus is a Jew and comes as a Jew for one reason only — the Jews have at the time of his coming the most highly developed prophetic conception — leading inexorably toward Jesus’s emergence as the revelation of God’s nonviolent heart.

The prophetic message is universal — making no idol of any nation, making distinctions on one basis only — loyalty to God.

The synonym for _Pharisee_ in the Gospels (already corrupted by elements of anti-Semitism) should be _hypocrites_ and _avoiders of truth_ — or, better, as this text states: The hard of heart!

Sorry, folks, Jesus is out in the cornfield now, being illegal. When he enters the church, it is to HEAL! And that act engenders the simple conclusion that he must be destroyed. [The subtext of the caution I quoted at the start is: This text is the foundation for teaching contempt of self-serving institutional religion which models itself on the corporate prerogatives of the world.]

Jesus is down to earth and real. Rene Girard offers a searing description of the ethos of our contemporary religion, implying that the new age mentality has taken firm control. Girard speaks of “efforts to turn mythology into a kind of Bible, … the enterprise of all the Jungians of the world, or to dissolve the Bible into mythology, and that is the enterprise of most everybody else.”

Then Girard comes “back to the attitude of Jesus himself. The decision to adopt nonviolence is not a commitment that he could revoke, a contract whose clauses need only be observed to the extent that the other contracting parties observe them.

If that were so, the commitment to the Kingdom of God would be merely another farcical procedure, comparable to institutionalized revenge or the United Nations. Despite the fact that all the others fall away, Jesus continues to see himself as being bound by the promise of the Kingdom.

For him, the word that comes from God, the word that enjoins us to imitate no one but God, the god who refrains from all forms of reprisal and makes his sun to shine upon the ‘just’ and the ‘unjust’ without distinction — this word remains, for him, absolutely valid. It is valid even to death, and quite clearly that is what makes him the Incarnation of that Word….”

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Sermonics

Luke 14:7-11: And Jesus put forth a parable to invited guests, when he saw how they chose the chief rooms; saying, When you are bidden by any man to a wedding, do not sit in the highest room, lest a more honorable person than you be on the quest list and your host comes and says to you, Give this man place; and you begin with shame to take the lowest room.

But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest room, so that when your host comes, he may say to thee, Friend, go up higher. Then you shall have worship in the presence of those who sit down to eat meat with thee. For whosoever exalts himself shall be abased. And whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

This is a recurrent theme and almost must be seen as a reflexive rubric of the Beatitudinal variety — one exalting meekness, unseemliness, not putting oneself first and so forth. It is massively more radical than it looks when you consider that it is habitual for us to see where we are placed (what office, what chair, what order, what costume) as an intimate indicator of our worth.

Every indicator of worth that is commonly assumed to be “human” is reversed in the Beatitudinal realm. The impulse to dominate is absent. In its place is self-acceptance as being among the ignorant, the lowly, the foolish.

This is not a buffoon like stance which says, I am really not as dumb or foolish as I make myself out to be. This is an inner state of actual humility stemming from the freedom that arises from knowing acceptance (after repentance) on a profound level. This is God’s will for us.

Jesus understands that that the result of worldly jockeying for position is eventual humiliation. There will always be someone else with a greater claim to the top of the hill. He eschews this immature and fatuous battle. This prideful effort to wring the wrong thing from the corpus of one’s being. Jesus says, with Bartleby, I would prefer not to.

Jesus frustrates by simplicity. He engenders crucifixion by silent hanging back. He does nothing in a way that comports with established expectations of a successful person — even of many who purport to represents God.

The eschewing of worldly exaltation would revolutionize the church, if it was embraced in the way that Jesus counsels, and not merely figuratively.

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Sermonics

John 15:9-17 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Continue in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, so my joy might remain in you and that your joy might be full.

This is my commandment, That you love one another, as I have loved you. No love is greater love than this: to lay down your life for your friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. From now on I do not call you servants, for the servant does not know what his lord does.

I have called you friends because all things that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You have not chosen me. I have chosen you and ordained you to go and bring forth fruit. And so your fruitfulness remains, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.

It is not hard to criticize the Lectionary when it cuts off a passage in midstream. If we continued in John we would find ourselves in a much more confrontational environment. Suffice to say, if we are not for Jesus. we are against him.

So what is this joy?

I am afraid we need to admit how far we often are from the slightest sense of the monumental nature of what is taking place when Jesus relates to his friends.

Joy is simply not a word we use in ordinary human intercourse. It is a higher level word than we’re accustomed to utter. We can enjoy something but that implies a bit of distance, some intellectualizing, a critical capacity. Joy is borderline transcendent when we think about it.

Joy is exaltation and knows no differentiation between the spiritual and the physical. Joy is a phenomenon that is visible. Great photographs sometimes capture it. It is a bodily orientation. It is there in the eyes. It is outstretched. It is inevitably social. It is shared. And, yes, it is rare.

We need to see how radical it is to base one’s life plan on love.

We can understand love in terms of the instinctive loyalties that accompany birth-giving, clan formation, even military solidarity. But the love which Jesus embodies and in whose maintenance and spread he takes joy is radical love. It takes what the German sociologist Tonnies called gemeinschaft (natural community) and extends it so that it must somehow embrace gesselschaft (or society).

It suggests that the values of community be extended universally. To enemies. Across private and into public realms. Joy and this radical love combined represent a new understanding — discontinuous with the natural order.

One wonders if Jesus would have registered for the draft. He shares the teaching against killing, and yet he sees love as having its greatest expression in laying down life for friends. All of this must be carefully understood under the seal of joy. The battle Jesus wins is not against an enemy of flesh and blood. It is against the ravages of time.

Against time itself, in a sense. He takes down the wall and leaves open the way between time and eternity. His joy is in the fact that this act has been done in his own incarnation. And it has engendered the precise sort of love that is not into killing but into laying itself down for friends (obedient ones) because death is no longer able to intimidate or hold back or crush or impede.

So what is this joy? It is the blessed assurance of being on friendly terms with the one who has taken down time’s wall and overcome time’s ravages. It contains celebratory forgiveness, because the contrast between the two realms is so great that it is almost humorous that we are mired inextricably in all manner of sin.

It contains celebratory ignorance, because we are able, in a world which values knowledge, to own our inability to understand anything at all, including why we are joyful!

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Two snapshots:

One day, at Union Seminary in New York City, someone said that there is no higher joy than the singing of praises to God.

At lunch at Union, I sat across from a Nigerian student. He perked up when I said automobiles were sin. He laughed and said he had to tell his wife. Did I not ride in cars? Yes. He laughed again. I am mired in sin, I say. The car is the common seal of how we live in the midst of principalities and powers. When we know this we are freed, and we have struck a small blow for a healthy iconoclasm in the world.

It is Jesus’s elaboration of the Beatitudinal Way that is the source of his joy. This is the burden that is both heavy and light, the way both narrow and wide. We need to see how radical this was then, and how utterly radical this is now.

Jesus expressed his joy by lifting from his followers the designation servants and counting them as friends. The exclusivity of the gospel way has really only to do with whether we are capable of imagining such joy. And whether we are open to giving up our grousing self- preoccupation enough to get to the punch line of this sermon and of John’s text.

Joy creates a window of openness in us. It enables us to love one another. It is the enabler of grace’s entry into our human intercourse. Keeping the commandments should become a reflexive source of joy in us — so that we exult in existing in the spectrum-awareness, the freedom, the openness, of living in a world where the wall of time is breached even this very day.

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Here and Not Forgotten (Exactly)

> I was catching up on my reading. Theology Today January 1996 pg 463
> “….Stephen Rose’s collection of essays titled *Who’s Killing the
> Church, and countless other titles of this genre combined theological
> depth with profound historical-sociological knowledge to awaken the
> leadership of the churches to the situation — precisely what Tillich
> identified as “the precondition for any readjustment” in Protestantism.
>
> These works are now all but forgotten. Why? At one level, the
> answer is that they were replaced by the interest-oriented theologies of
> the late seventies and eighties. At a more profound level, I think, the
> answer is that they were too close to the truth…..”
> “The Future of Protestantism in North America” Douglas John Hall

> Sounds like others will begin to track you down for your wisdom.

The book Doug refers to is a collection of stuff by lots of folk, many of whom are still fighting in the trenches. Where he may be wrong is about the profundity. For myself I feel it took getting hammered and essentially exiled to get to where I am now — where I at least have a teetering theology of sorts.

Besides as events of the late 1960s showed, the leadership was really already in the protective managerial camp to stay. People like me were cooptible sideshows. The only leadership that tried to give me a hand up in the early 1970s was PCUSA mission folk and Gene Blake and it turned out even that was not enough when push came to a pretty complete shove.

Best, S

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Excerpts from e-notes from the mid-1990s.

I believe the early Genesis narratives are human efforts to explain the human situation and that they include an increasingly less successful effort to blame God for things that God is not to blame for.

Then Rollo the Sage told a parable:

There was once a kingdom with but one king. Lonesome, and in need of help, the king gathered three subjects to share the rule and paid them ten pieces of silver each.

One day the king determined to cut the hair of the subjects but said, This does not apply to you, my paid servants. But what will you do?

The first said: I will be your faithful subject for you are paying me handsomely.

The second said: I will remain your faithful subject but I will warn certain friends so they can escape the clipping when it comes.

The third said, you may take my silver back if you wish, but I will state far and wide: Run from the barber!

Which of the three, said Rollo, did right?

A 90s person person said, No one has a right to decree a bad hair day, but none are correct. Keep the money and the job but spread the news on the sly.

Overscrupulousness is a narcissistic 70s thing, said another.

There were many other responses but when the discussion was over, Rollo was nowhere to be found.

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As an alternative to a USA BARMEN how about a simple statement of reforms we would like. Such as:

Clergy invited to form an association — aka hiring pool that would elect to receive the same base salary and serve congregations meeting some minimal criteria.

Minimal Criteria:

Limitation of congregational committees and programs in order to establish every member Biblical education with emphasis on story-telling and regular participation.

Abolition of endowments by turning them over to the poor. Or seeing them as reparation for past racial discrimination.

Goal of ending denominational mode in favor of local ecumenism and massively stripped down church leadership at regional and national levels.

We don’t need a new confession. We need radical institutional reform. Without getting into the heady territory of what reason postmodernism has for being, etc., let me say I have been influenced more profoundly by folks who loved/lived out their Christianity regardless of what they wrote than I have by folk who wrote about Christianity regardless of how they lived/loved.

I also have doubts whether issue-based (sectarian) in-your-face, confrontational movements will do much more than simply be — a witness to be sure, but not one impacting “us” … God can create the impact needed to accomplish divine purposes of justice and equity and possibly in that context an awakening can occur.

In the meantime I believe as I keep saying that significant reform of the mainline denominations INTERNALLY and INSTITUTIONALLY (though not without impact on consciousness and purposes) is more pertinent than debating the need for Barmen Confessions.

That, and defending the integrity of the Gospel against her jingoistic, flag-waving minimizers, is about enough of an agenda. But for that we don’t need to redo Barmen. We need to teach what Jesus taught instead of allowing the insipidities of Faith and Values to keep us bleary-eyed on Sesame Street.

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E-squibs

I think much of the Biblical stretch includes a sense of ORIGINAL INTENT and ORIGINAL POSSIBILITY. The “human race” developed in the context of violent overcoming of any obstacles and the scattered elements have warred ever since on criteria precisely at odds with the teachings of Jesus.

Why does the prophet call parables secret from the foundation?

Surely it has to do with Abba’s intent and resultant world possibility.

Maashaal (Romanized version of Hebrew) is used in the later prophetic writings. While generally translated parable, NIV and RSB use the synonym taunt on occasion. In the NBA that is a foul.

mshaalow is used in the earlier texts. KJV has this as parable but others translate discourse,

parabole is the Romanized version of the Greek appearance of parable in the Synoptics. Its translated “synonym” tends to be story.

paroim (Romanized) is translated parable in the sole instance of that word’s appearance in John.

Having been chastened on the blanket use of idolatry to designate postures that are, hmmm, disobedient to suggestions of Jesus? — I wonder if it is not time to speak of territorial “imperatives”, the importance of places, the causes of continuing deathly conflict and whether it is best to fade when challenged.

Fade when challenged or attack? That is really what can be deduced from the teachings of Jesus. It does not parse with Palestinian and Israeli behavior. In the present case, Israeli provocation and Palestinian response (though I have no interest in assessing responsibilities) .

My own sense is that the religious imperative operates across the board to invert the suggestions of Jesus regarding negotiation, fading, turning the other cheek and nonviolence in general. Martyrdom as originally practiced (in order to be in Christ) — was that religious fanaticism or simple faith statement?

Would it have been faithful when asked to recant faith to comply? Jesus when taken was largely silent and compliant with the sentence that was passed. In his case, he was condemned with no quid pro quo, no recourse. Should we offer our lives to protect “Christian” interests?

Well, that I can speak about such things betokens a nice insulation from the realities that wrack Jerusalem today. Perhaps others have thoughts about whether any human-made site is worth dying to preserve.

Merely confessing an inability to see complicity is quite a bit removed from doing anything about it, but then again Barmen I was several times removed too. There is a super book by someone who says the move finally forced upon Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s conscience was carried out methodically by an ordinary worker who nearly succeeded in dispatching Hitler some years earlier.

The book (by someone at Berkeley I think) is a searing criticism of the general lateness and irrelevance of the original Barmen. Notwithstanding, I wonder if your conclusion about Hitler isn’t touched with a little revisionism. Hitler’s Napoleonic (L’etat c’est moi) authority was fixated on conscious and systematic genocide.

Although there is a version of genocide in our treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, this is hardly MORE serious than what Hitler did and achieved.

In my opinion the mainline churches frequently make confessions of the type you say we are unable to make. I also have the opinion that SOME of our prophetic lingo has a mite of Jonah in it.

God continues to act and to make right what we make wrong. I see the great movement of people into this country and the imprisonment of around one third of black males as stoking fires of change that I hope will come — one way or another.

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Teachings About Jesus

Jesus is the true vine. We are the branches when we are true to him, when we seek to incorporate him in our innermost living.

Reading: John 15: 1-8

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he removes. And every branch that bears fruit, he purges it so it may bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you.

As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine; no more can you bear fruit, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: If you abide in me, and I in you, much fruit will emerge. For without me, you can do nothing.

If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered. They are gathered and cast into the fire to be burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you will, and it shall be done for you. Here is how my Father is glorified — when you bear much fruit. So it is among my disciples.

Text:

Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you.

Jesus hasn’t much concern with what passes through us. He is not proctologically obsessed. He is concerned about the condition of our heart — the seat of whatever good or evil comes out of us.

Good or evil can come out in two forms: Actions that are good or evil. And words that are good or evil. This is the anatomy of morality as it applies to us.

Jesus’s words cleanse us! Not like an enema or a juice fast, or any of the new age things that come under the name cleansing. His words can transform and purify our hearts. He can convert our evil tendencies to good tendencies.

He can, by speech, enter us and cause to dwell within us such realities as meekness, thirsting for righteousness, a passion for peacemaking, and the sympathy and empathy and love that make mourning possible.

Many words we hear are not cleansing us, but always the words of Jesus cleanse us and make us whole.

Jesus can speak words that divide. His main division is between hypocrisy and goodness.

When the words we speak are mainly self-referential and do not reflect the words that Jesus gives us, we become clanging cymbals.

If we bear the words of Jesus within us, we become clean. If we speak the words of Jesus, we do what we are supposed to do — as branches of the true vine.

Cut away what does not speak these words. Nurture what does.

They are a better cleansing agent than anything on this earth.

Shun words from bad vines.

Jesus spent some three years speaking words to us. We have these words.

Jesus is the true vine. We become branches as we allow ourselves to be regularly cleansed by his words.

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Teachings About Jesus

The question sprang from the lips of John the Baptist when he encountered Jesus. The accounts differ and they are written fifty years after the event but here are some of the elements:

— Jesus is seen to be the bearer of s different sort of baptism than John’s — one of fire rather than water.

— Jesus is said by one writer to see his baptism at the hands of John as a means of fulfilling all righteousness.

— God seems pleased by the event — vocally and via a visible descent of the Spirit. One thinks of the tongues of fire in Acts.

But let’s say you reject all these things. There is still a bedrock thing about the events surrounding Jesus’s baptism. There is a call to repent accompanied by a profession that the kingdom of God or of heaven is near — or even at hand. And so: If baptism doesn’t have to do with fulfilling the righteousness implied in the first proclamation of the good news, then why baptism?

Jesus selected for his baptism a public place called the Jordan and, for his baptizer, the scruffiest, most outrageous prophet to appear on the horizon since Amos reluctantly left herds of Tekoa to cry, Let justice roll down. (The only one as outrageous is Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose magnificat utterances include notions that would have warmed the heart of Karl Marx).

I guess what I am saying is that if the churches today will not admit the prophetic cry for repentance and justice and the actual at handness of the Beatitudinal realm, then to them — regardless of what is said about baptism — the seminal baptism of Jesus (its happening, its context, its theology, if you will) will always be a side show.


Teachings About Jesus

John 3:22-4:4 After these things Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea; and there he stayed with them and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison.

Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came to John and said to him, Rabbi, He who was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bear witness, behold, now he baptizes and all people come to him.

John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. You yourselves are witnesses to the fact that I said, I am not the Christ, but I am sent before him. He that has the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. My joy is therefore fulfilled.

He must increase, but I must decrease. He that comes from above is above all. He that is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He that comes from heaven is above all. And what he has seen and heard, he testifies; and no one receives his testimony. Those who have received his testimony have received his guarantee that God is true.

For he who God has sent speaks the words of God. God does not measure out the Spirit to him. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. He who believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that does not believe the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God abides in him.

When therefore the LORD knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus himself did not baptize, only his disciples), He left Judea and departed again into Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.

What is the key thing about all this? It is once again a suggestion of the secondary nature of water baptism. John performs it and there is nothing wrong with it. It is a summons to repentance and a sign of it. But Jesus himself does NOT baptize. And like the other Manual writers, John notes that LIGHT is not your ordinary program. This John is at some pains to observe.

Light (Jesus in the Gospel of John), for example, is not measured out a portion of Spirit to make him a tad superior to the Baptist. His nature is of a different order — he is the One to whom is vouchsafed the KNOWLEDGE, full and comprehensive, of Abba. He is therefore the Way and the Truth and the LIGHT.

Now it is obvious here, and in the other Manuals, that John must have been high on many peoples’ lists. It is hard to read this text without feeling the writer has taken some liberties and put into John’s mouth some of his own take on reality.

John echoes Chapter One’s notions about LIGHT and the world not receiving it. Just in case there are some who do not understand, John seems to say, Here is the Baptist himself making clear what this is about.

Now it is alright at this point to intrude a bit of epistemological inquiry. How do we know the TRUTH of what is attributed to John? But this is a sneak question, designed to focus on exactly WHAT John does claim.

John claims that the SOURCE of LIGHT’s truth is HEAVEN and that this truth is related to the end of the LIGHT program which is essentially LIFE in the sense of fulfilling life here and extending it eternally. Again we have the FULL CLAIM and again it is not different in nature than claims made for contemporary Gurus.

Does this not make it rather important to peruse the Manual to see whether in relation to this program the reality offered is in fact efficacious from the standpoint of the claims made about it?

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Teachings About Jesus

Sources:

Mark 5:25-34
Matthew 9:20-22
Luke 8:43-48
Choice of translations and much more.

Summary:

Jesus heals a woman who will stop at nothing to reach out and touch even the hem of his garment.

Notes:

The healing involves an energy transaction, though not necessarily what you might think.

How to According to Jesus:

Understand what Jesus means by faith and also the limitations of the doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

Make an effort to inventory long standing conditions that need healing.

Do not hesitate to approach Jesus directly and energetically.

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Meditations With Chants

There are just persons on our planet.

[All of the world must hear the sa – ving word Fa Mi Re Do Do Re Mi Fa ti Do]

JOB 36:6 He preserves not the life of the wicked: but gives justice to the poor.

LUKE 15:7 I say to you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner
who repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.

ACTS 23:9 And there rose a great cry: and the scribes who took the Pharisees’ part arose and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

Seed Thoughts:

Job sets the parameters, reminding us of one broad theme of God’s will: that we become just persons.

Then Jesus offers a footnote to theologies of total depravity. He suggests that there are indeed just people on the planet.

Which means his/our mission is much more to go after the sinners who are wicked and change them through their repentance, than spend time trying to convert those who are well-disposed to their fellow human beings.

The unjust, as Acts admits, fight against God. We who are unjust need to be reminded that the spirit of God is continually offering us a choice. To join the
congregation of all people as one beloved and forgiven by God and to walk the Beatitudinal way, where the whispers of angels can penetrate the ether of neglect and injustice all around us.

Meditations With Chants

The iconoclastic Beatitudinal Way is our destiny.

[Feed us with e ve ry word of the spi i rit Mi Do Mi So Fa Mi Re Mi Fa Mi Re Do]

JEREMIAH 36:31 And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced
against them; but they hearkened not.

LUKE 6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

1 CORINTHIANS 3:2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: hitherto you were not able to bear it, and you are still not able.

Seed Thoughts:

Threat is high on the list of prophetic weapons. The emerging threat, in Jeremiah’s terms, is that the iniquity of those who would nickel and dime the poor to death will be rewarded by uprisings.

That the world thrives on such prophetic utterances on all sides of all issues is
a given. Just as some parents thrive on threat as a disciplinary device.

Jesus does at some points hypothesize results and does in some places cast judgment. But he is more centrally the great physician. His diagnosis of our condition implies an understanding beyond Jeremiah.

One gets a sense of the practical implication of Jesus’s impact from reading between the lines in 1 Corinthians. Paul is talking about THE teaching, about “the beef” — the tough but saving reality he has come to impart.

Jeremiah says we need a new heart and that God will build us one. Paul says Jesus has fully accomplished this Jeremiah hope. The meat his hearers have trouble digesting is the scandal of the Gospel, in which we attain a new heart by taking in and internalizing the realities which Paul explicates, mainly in Romans.

The main such reality is that we are not saved by our works, however good they may be, but by every word of the Spirit — to wit –every word of the Spirit-endowed Christ.

And every such word points to the Beatitudinal way — the iconoclastic path that leads to Calvary and beyond.

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Meditations With Chants

[Chant: The great – est treas -ure is in the So Do Re Mi SO Fa Mi Do realm of God Mi Re Do]

PSALMS 91:1 He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

LUKE 12:33 Sell what you have, and give alms; provide yourselves purses which do not age, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth corrupts.

HEBREWS 10:32 But remember the former days, in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great battle with your afflictions.

Seed Thoughts:

The greatest teaching of Jesus may be his first public statement: The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

This is the secret place of the most High, come down to earth to be our dwelling, our place of proximity to God.

But even when we know this, and we often know this early, the vicissitudes of life close our eyes and ears and we lose the precious sense that we need if we are to be who we are meant to be. Hard knowledge this.

But the chant for today is truly the beginning of wisdom!

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Forgiving Home

Forgiving Home is a hands-on effort to provide a practical help to persons seeking to live by the teachings of the Lord’s Prayer.

How specific are the teachings of the Lord’s Prayer?

Very!

Our Father — plural, unity, close/intimate.

Who Art — here and now, not then and when.

In Heaven — place, state of being, not one or the other.

Hallowed Be Thy Name — hallowed, holy, yet free as the One who said I am who I am.

Thy Kingdom Come — we pray thus that the world be transformed.

Thy Will Be Done on Earth — not ours, but the Father’s.

As It Is In Heaven — place, state of being.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread — we do not win it, it is given.

And forgive us our trespasses…

And forgive us our debts…

AS WE FORGIVE…

Those Who Trespass against Us.

Our Debtors.

The most striking thing in this prayer — as it pertains to forgiveness — is the WAY it works.

We do not berate ourselves for what we have done. Forgiveness is Father-to-us.

But there is a condition as clear as sun or cloudy skies.

AS

WE

FORGIVE

It is our task to forgive those who trespass against us, those who are in debt to us.

That is the ONLY thing it is suggested that WE do in this prayer.

Proactively forgive those who have bugged, angered, hurt, abused, done evil, tormented or otherwise made us sad, unhappy, miserable or enraged. This is the way of the Lord’s Prayer and of Forgiving Home.

We are to spend our time, however long it might take, forgiving our debtors and those who do wrong to us, or who trespass against us.

We are not to work at forgiving ourselves! Or to lead lives in which our Godward lives do not include this essential activity — that we forgive those to whom forgiveness is due.

To activate the forgiveness of the Father for the things WE have done wrong to others, we do not need CONFESS these things as if they were not already known. We need do nothing in fact. It is taken for granted that AS we forgive we are forgiven. The price of freedom is forgiving those who have wronged us.

We simply create a dynamic whereby our activity is oriented toward forgiving, systematically, all who wrong us, invade us or conduct moral, emotional or hostile incursions against us. If Rush Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh. If the New York Times, the New York Times.

It is the only activity suggested in this prayer.

Bread will come. God is there. God is holy and hallowed despite all we have done to deny and sully him. We commend God and the coming of his rule over earth — just as heaven is ruled. If we are beset by evil we are not delivered but by him, if we are tempted we do not avoid it but by him.

The ONLY thing that depends on us is this one thing — that we do not receive forgiveness from God if we do not proactively engage in forgiving our enemies and botherers and debtors and trespassers.

This is the extreme revelation Forgiving Home seeks to underline.

Read a sonnet sequence based on the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

Let this simple principle take root. See what it is like to do nothing — nothing that qualifies as praying or paying attention to the inner processes involved in relating to the world and society — that is not focused on this paramount requirement: Forgiving.

Forgiving is what needs to be done to ACTIVATE the already us-disposed forgiveness of God.

In terms of GRACE, forgiving is a state of being, even a work. Luther may not have liked James. He wanted James out of the New Testament in fact. James tends to fault us for all the evidences of life lived with no attention to the Lord’s Prayer! To Luther he left no space for grace.

However, would not everything else be resolved if we limited our principal activity as followers of Jesus to living by the only prayer he ever commended to us?

If the answer is not YES, perhaps, this would be silly indeed. So YES, let’s explore some more.

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Forgiveness: The Way of Blessing

Forgiveness: The Way of Blessing continues an exploration of forgiveness as suggested by the Lord’s Prayer.

What’s the way of blessing?

Roll back a little bit.

Our Father — our intimate.

Who Art — right now.

In Heaven — at home.

Hallowed Be Thy Name — holy and free.

Thy Kingdom Come — make it that way here.

Thy Will Be Done on Earth — help it all to change.

As It Is In Heaven — to be like where You are.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread — in every way.

And forgive us our trespasses…

And forgive us our debts…

AS WE FORGIVE…

Those Who Trespass against Us.

Our Debtors.

When we forgive we act. We do something. The Way of Blessing is just one thing we COULD do.

Spiritual practice is all around us. It is super-humbling to share with others and find out that THEY are miles beyond where we are.

The way of blessing needs no capitalization. It just refers to what many do to practice forgiveness. For only …

AS

WE

FORGIVE

… in an active way, do we obtain the freedom of having all the stuff we have done to others lifted from all of us. Parts we know and feel and parts we have buried.

Find your OWN way of blessing!

For me it is simply remembering to run by places, events and people and bless. I do not go about with my hand raised. Jesus does not want spiritual ostentation. Internal is just fine if it’s real.

Go through the alphabet and remember names. Buried things will rise up and you will say, Oh yes.

When we bless, wish well-being, wish happiness on someone who has wronged us, we find that our anger is turning toward understanding.

We understand that the person we are blessing has their own life and problems and fate in the hands of our Father.

And we understand that as we let go of our anger by blessing that we have actually FORGIVEN that person or event or place — whatever.

Blessing. A way of blessing.

I live on one of the world’s busiest corners. Kitty corner from Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan, NYC, USA.

When I go out I am beset with potential ENEMIES!

It might be a motorist or a pedestrian or a group of people. They might run into me. It happens that several are injured or killed every year just out my window.

The way of blessing might seem like passivity pure and simple. That would not be correct. It is a way of being ONE STEP removed from reactivity. Or rather, our growing reaction is to bless the people around us. And if they trespass against us, then we bless them all the more.

In our cities, where there is no smoking in buildings, out on the sidewalk, people are blowing lots of smoke.

Bless that guy puffing in my path.

Instead of walking with aggression showing in every body movement, stop when you might collide. Just calmly and bemusedly accept that this happens. After a while you will experience the fact that your blessing is really not a solo act. You are making ROOM for the Father to be with you, more up close and personal than otherwise.

Why? Because all the time you are blessing and thus forgiving, He is forgiving YOU. Just like the LP says.

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Peace Statement

No More Religious Justifications of Violence

The statement No More Religious Justifications Of Violence was developed in the late 1990s and is intended to be circulated globally during the Third Millennium CE.

Our belief is that only as individuals, one by one, arrive independently at the conclusions stated here, will the movement needed to modify the systemic and virtually inevitable violence of today’s world begin to accomplish a gradual move toward peace.

THE STATEMENT:

To Brothers and Sisters of all faiths in all the World:

There is no divine justification or encouragement of human violence of any kind. And today, as always, the voice of our common God cries out for peace, for the end of reliance on armaments and for the bringing up of children in ways of creativity and service rather than soldiering and mayhem.

History shows us the folly of states and cultures that rely mainly on police and military power. And history shows us the tragedy of the moral neutralization of religious leaders and institutions in the face of war, violence and terror.

Now we are summoned to renounce past and present religious justifications of war and violence — and the evil such justifications have produced.

We pledge to work for a world free of war, violence, terror and abuse. We advocate the right of children and young persons everywhere not to participate in the armed conflicts of their elders.

We say to all: Our common God is One of peace, not of war.

Salaam. Shalom. Peace.

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No Fair, Lectionairies

Based on an exact chunk of text in a common Lectionary.

PSALM 63:1-8 O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is — to see your power and your glory, as I have seen you in the sanctuary. Because your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. Thus will I bless you while I live: I will lift up my hands in your name.

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips. When I remember you upon my bed and meditate on you in the night watches, because you have been my help, therefore in the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows hard after you: your right hand upholds me.

This is the prelude to another slasher text.

At various points in Scripture, it is contended that the nature of God’s covenantal responsibility involves cutting up one’s enemies.

Our redoubtable lectionary text-selectors have spared us the gore by cutting off their reading just as the Psalmist implores the Deity to put his enemies to the sword.

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Context, context!

I wonder how many sermons on this text will ignore the context and celebrate its priestly boasting — gently translating it into a paradigm for exemplary piety.

After all, I am certain Abba is thrilled each time someone explains that because Abba has rendered grace, praise will be forthcoming.

Face it, we are coming to a very serious juncture in history. We came to it 2000 years back, but we missed the boat because we failed to understand what was happening.

The juncture is that moment when Christianity ceases to regard itself as a religion gathering people into a church or churches and begins to see that it a way of human transformation and responsibility and straight-from- the shoulder gospel living.

At that point, sorry, the priestly is shelved.

That the lectionaires have decreed that this text will be edited and the bad

parts left out, is indicative of the sad ambivalence that continues to paralyze the mainline.

I for one find the whole thing amusing.

What if, instead, we were to go through and face reality and try to come out the other side?

There might be lots of bruises along the way, but at least the sound of spinning wheels would be radically modified.

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Is This Church Necessary?

Is there any basis within the Pauline polity for the church being a legal and corporate entity?

The gospel says Beatitudinal rubrics are applicable and kingdom sayings are not impossible ideals.

It does not tell us to give this or that amount in round dollars.

It points to the One who gives all, no matter how much, as the paradigm of givingness.

It calls each of us in this skewed, warped society to ask:

1. What is the most effective sharing of the Word?

2. What equals healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name; what is the power of prayer?

Answers apply to expenditures of personal time and effort, regardless of the theater of operations.

Further, it is the task of the renewing congregation to encourage its members to set goals and generally to live in the environment created by these questions and by their shared answers to them.

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Ideally the focus on empowering congregations would be the goal of the pastor, but the minds of many pastors are necessarily set upon the canons of success.

These involve multi-performances as an institutional personage and presumably moving up in church chain so the kids can go to college, etc.

So a pastor who does the right thing and schedules activities in the church facility with only the purpose of fueling the laity with Biblical awareness and salvation awareness and affirming in specific and tangible ways their Christian life beyond the walls in all areas of their lives, may be rewarded only scantily by the powers that be.

She or he may even split a normal congregation. The pastor is often divided between survival and doing right.

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Psalm 27

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though n host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

And now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises unto the LORD. Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When you said, Seek my face; my heart said to you, Your face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not your face far from me; put not your servant away in anger: you have been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up. Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of my enemies. Deliver me not over to the will of my enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

If the people who made up the Revised Common Lectionary had to type out the texts they might be a bit more parsimonious.

One questions whether the volume of texts for a particular Sunday will not create a certain obfuscatory overload.

That is not the only problem with this text, however.

It begs the question of when specificity about God shades into what we call philosophy — when we are not being very specific.

The writer in the latter sense could be suggesting that it is good to have God on his/her side, that such will ultimately tell against enemies.

This is nicely stated here but it has no theological weight or merit for those who purport to believe the Gospel.

The Gospel speaks of God in terms diametrically opposed to this preferential divinity rap.

For Jesus Abba does NOT reward the upright now. God seeks those who know they are not upright.

God, for Jesus, rains rain on just and unjust.

Only at some future time does God deal with the results of individual lives on scales of justice or mercy.

The Psalmist is congenial to those who favor the tabernacles of religion over the realities of Christian living in the world.

For the latter, the issue is not exhorting the Lord to prevail over opposition, but seeking something like uplift of Beatitudinal joyousness in the midst of a world where such joy is consistently tempting us to the false religiosity of divine preference.

The matter of church businesses: Their extent. Their purpose.

At what point does investment veer off into questionable areas?

Bingo, bake sales, rummages, institutional fund-raising schemes?

The congregation does not in my view have businesses and probably moves away from any compensation that is other than the compensation of a laborer worthy of hire.

Whether one speaks of the followers of Jim Jones, of Kamikaze pilots, brainwashed prisoners, crazed racists or the somnambulant followers of the world’s growing crop of gurus, there is only one way to avoid deadly incursions on selfhood.

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Is This Church Necessary?

Is there any basis within the Pauline polity for the church being a legal and corporate entity?

The gospel says Beatitudinal rubrics are applicable and kingdom sayings are not impossible ideals.

It does not tell us to give this or that amount in round dollars.

It points to the One who gives all, no matter how much, as the paradigm of givingness.

It calls each of us in this skewed, warped society to ask:

1. What is the most effective sharing of the Word?

2. What equals healing and casting out demons in Jesus’ name; what is the power of prayer?

Answers apply to expenditures of personal time and effort, regardless of the theater of operations.

Further, it is the task of the renewing congregation to encourage its members to set goals and generally to live in the environment created by these questions and by their shared answers to them.

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Getting To The Gospel

JEREMIAH 20:12 But, O Lord of hosts, who tries the righteous and sees the reins and the heart, let me see your vengeance on them: for unto you I have opened my cause.

JOHN 5:29 And they shall come forth, they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation.

HEBREWS 3:12 Take heed, friends, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, a departure from the living God.

What would be the consequence if we understood life as a learning experience? As an opportunity to learn and come into our own?

What if we saw it as an arena where we are to learn first about the predatory nature of human beings, our origin as murderers and fighters?

Then how the philosophy of survival of the fittest gave credence to continued predatory activity?

How, after trials, Jesus came as the representative and kin of the Designer of the Curriculum?

How he suggests is that we, the predators, might yet be Good if we accept the suggestion that Abba is actually at hand?

And, finally, how, if we do not learn this time around, we stand under judgment?

Would we then be learning goodness in the unpublicized, unostentatious manner suggested by Jesus? And minimize our talk of rival notions of what the gospel is?

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Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Our Father Cuts Straight Through To Unity

(And disunity is the cross the world still bears.)

Our Father cuts straight through to unity
How dare we speak this confident address
The world in shambles lies for all to see
Yet we this shocking scandal still confess
The very words denote a common friend
As close to you as close to each and all
If we but meditated to that end
Would we not see our petty barriers fall
Not long ago the Waldorf played host to
The cream of World Religion’s hefty crop
They did what world religionists will do
Left with a statement from their mountaintop
Much better might have been this two-word prayer
The cross our wounded planet still must bear

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Who Art Are Words King James’ Translators Wrote

(We lose much in newer translations!)

Who art are words King James’ translators wrote
And we can parse their meanings easily
The Who a Person clearly does denote
The art denotes the present perfectly
Who is no vanished Lord or ancient King
Art means not then or when but here and now
Our Father is a Person listening
The present One to Whom all heads should bow
Some say that God is dead some say severe
Some do not care some speak His name in vain
Some claim His favor bad intent to clear
Then spread their evil death mayhem and pain
Jesus told us to pray this simple prayer
Addressed to one close by and always there

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

In Heaven Means Both Place And State Of Being

(We have need to know of both)

In Heaven means both place and state of being
In heaven is Our Father’s residence
As place this residence remains unseen
As state of being life gives us a sense
Sometimes a gift of close community
Like Jacob’s Ladder lifts us up beyond
To where we know the healing unity
When love wraps us within its graceful bond
This place this state of being is where God is
This I-Thou prayer makes us with him to dwell
And there is no escaping knowing this
To be with Him we must be there as well
And thus the truth of this prayer is revealed
Say but these words and God’s home is unsealed

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Of Whom Do We Say Hallowed Be Thy Name?

(The most neglected and radical lesson of the Old Testament is what Moses learned at the burning bush. The second most neglected is the “hear and hear” text in Isaiah 6 which is echoed in Jesus, Paul and Acts.)

Of whom do we say Hallowed be Thy Name
If not our Father in his heavenly home
Does this not mean our Father is the same
As one who once forbid his name be known
When Moses sought to plumb the mystery
From that still-burning bush a voice did say
I Am Who I Am and Who I Will Be
Tell them I Am has sent you go your way
And from that day the name did remain sealed
Though many names were spoken and prayed to
Til Jesus in this prayer the truth revealed
We have a Father we address as You
This Holy One comes to us as we are
And namelessly becomes our guiding star

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Thy Kingdom Come Harks Back To Royalty

(Which is neither here nor there, as heaven’s polity is not based on what can be achieved by polity alone.)

Thy kingdom come harks back to royalty
Perhaps we think the phrase can be skipped o’er
We might say progress look democracy
Must we go back to monarchy once more
First off let’s cut this meaning to the chase
No earthly form of government will do
No worldly realm is run by faith and grace
Yet that’s the way that Jesus calls us to
Thy kingdom come means simply let it be
Come Father liberate us from our hates
Let love and goodness be our polity
Bear with us as we breach the kingdom’s gates
We have a star a a goal a call a way
The heavening of earth for which we pray

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Thy Will Be Done Are We Familiar Now

(Exploring the I-Thou relationship.)

Thy will be done are we familiar now
This Thy is closer than the plural You
Thy will suggests we need not scrape or bow
Instead we have a major work to do
And even more that Thy will can be known
It is not veiled by clouds or hid in fire
The seeds of understanding have been sown
By one who taught us goodness to desire
Thy will be done on earth the wording goes
A partnership a covenant a way
Til mercy like a mighty river flows
And only reciprocity holds sway
If we but pray this prayer and understand
We fail not when the Doer takes our hand

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

We Pray On Earth Just As It Is In Heaven

(Well, if we did pray this and mean it, would it not be done?)

We pray On earth just as it is in heaven
Thy will be done yes in this world of ours
No raging ocean no a subtle leaven
Transforming principalities and powers
Still now as then it seems division rules
Raw conflict animates our thoughts and deeds
The ways of Jesus are called ways of fools
And thus the world rejects what it most needs
But are we not to stand by what we say
Bring heaven on it is our destiny
Thy heavenly will on earth just as we pray
Come from these chains of conflict set us free
If we reject this singular intent
Then we reject all that is heaven sent

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle
Give Us — Our Father Gives Us Everything

(Abundance in all areas is among the most misunderstood and little utilized promises of this revolutionary prayer.)

Give us — Our Father gives us everything
In his abundance is no scarcity
The ill we do the ugly songs we sing
Merely reveal how little we still see
How little we believe he gives us all
And saves us from raw greed and envy’s yoke
Yet just as he knows every sparrow’s fall
He knows our prayer before a word is spoke
Our give us signifies our turn to him
As source of everything that we might need
Our give us marks a faith that will not dim
It grows and grows like Jesus’ mustard seed
Ah such a fine presumption is this prayer
It might convince us we can walk on air

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

This Day Give Us This Day This Day We Say

(How important is it that we live a day at a time? Important enough to be given space in the most concise expression of theology that exists in any text.)

This day give us this day this day we say
Not yesterday and not tomorrow no
But only in this present time we pray
Our Father’s present providence will flow
Sufficient to this day our needs are met
And thus we see that every day is new
The past we can forgive the past forget
This is the day on which we must be true
The reason is not hard to understand
Try as we may the past cannot be changed
And if a better future we demand
It surely starts with how this day’s arranged
All things we need to live are in this prayer
Today’s the day to seek our Father’s care

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Our Daily Bread Means All We Need To Live

(Exactly.)

Our daily bread means all we need to live
It comes straight from the Father when we pray
From day to day we pray that he will give
The sustenance we need to make our way
If we are starved in body bread is food
If spirit-starved it’s spirit that we seek
To lift us from the depths of a foul mood
And raise our eyes to see the mountain peak
If we do not each day make this request
We risk a turn down desolation’s path
Forgetting that we live at his behest
Interpreting our anger as his wrath
So each day each day seek this daily bread
And tread upon the upward path instead

By Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Our Lead-Us-Not Means We Are Taking Hold

This prayer is an act of will which is always answered.

Our lead-us-not means we are taking hold
We trust the Master now to be our guide
You will not lead us so far from the fold
That tempted we succomb to evil’s tide
In this most faithful prayer we show our will
To name temptations and to say our No
For now we know that we can drink our fill
>From fountains where Your healing waters flow
May we slough off addiction with such ease
A million testimonies answer yes
Our lead-us-not creates a force that frees
All who pray this Your guidance to possess
And when we hold to this we hold the prize
The power to move beyond temptation’s lies

by Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Into Temptation It’s A Place It Seems

We need to recognize and reckon with the pervasiveness of temptation.

Into temptation it’s a place it seems
In mind on ground in heart somewhere
In sights in memories in haunting dreams
Why would our Father lead us there
Concede he leads us if we ask him to
And if we add specifics he responds
So in this prayer we simply say what’s true
We’re never that far from temptations bonds
Temptation is pervasive we are weak
And hand in hand with evil it destroys
The very fabric of the life we seek
Until captivity defeats all joys
But Abba’s strong enough to change this plot
And that is why this prayer says lead us not

by Stephen C. Rose

Lord’s Prayer Sonnet Cycle

Deliver Us We Pray Deliverance

The last two lines say it all.

Deliver us we pray deliverance
Come rescue us come carry us away
This life of ours would be a sorry dance
If Abba did not love us all the way
Earth is a testing ground a fallen place
So beautiful so fraught with endless threats
That if we could not call on Abba’s grace
We would be left with nothing but regrets
To pray thus is to face things honestly
In the same breath we say thy will be done
Abba’s strong hand holds ours eternally
Our guarantor none other than his son
Here midst the principalities and powers
We have a way beyond all falling towers

by Stephen C. Rose

Deliver Us From Evil Is The Phrase

The final phrase in Jesus’ prayer, according to Mark.

Deliver us from evil is the phrase
That likely ends the prayer that Jesus taught
The added words appropriate to praise
May be a later gloss an afterthought
In Mark from evil is the final plea
As well it should be evil is a force
Of such great power it dwarfs the raging sea
And drives all goodness from its loving course
This prayer alone is our most sure defense
Against temptation’s grasp and evil’s end
Without it we are lost bereft of sense
This prayer alone all rules of loss can bend
This bending is the way of Abba’s Son
And with these words the battle can be won

by Stephen C. Rose

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued).

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

THE GOD WHO ACTS

We have lost sight of the prophetic recently, or so it seems. We speak a great deal of the historical Jesus and how he may have been a cynic or a magician or a Galilean peasant, but we forget that there is certainly an unassailable thing we can say about Jesus, as certain as anything we might say about the crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus was a Jew. And he was a Jew in the prophetic tradition. Eyes of faith see him as the culmination of the prophetic. But this vision cannot and must not place all history after Jesus in some waiting-room limbo. No, no. We are called to make judgments in fear and trembling in the very same way that the prophets did and that Jesus did.

When Jesus surveyed the scene and quoted the incredible text from Isaiah 6 about making the heart of the people fat, lest they see and hear and understand and turn and be redeemed, he is saying to us: I am with them! I am one of those let-justice-roll-down-like-waters people. When he inaugurates his kingdom-teaching with the Beatitudes he reserves a special place for those who act in the way the prophets have acted. And when, in Matthew 25, he becomes his most apocalyptic, it is not a credal apocalypse but a prophetic apocalypse that he engraves upon the tablets for all time. It’s how we treat the least that will determine God’s reception of us on the day of judgment.

The prophetic judgment on all human history since Jesus is that to divide the world according to theories about how to serve the least of these is a hypocrisy. It is these dualisms more than anything that give everyone and excuse not to get the job done. Jesus never says God will close up shop if we somehow learn to be just. He says that happiness prevails in communities where peacemaking is done, where emptiness is the normal spiritual state and where poverty (a lightness to things and place, etc., exists). One suspects if Jesus could have surmised ecclesiastical endowments in his name, the thought would not have pleased him overly.

So how do we flex prophetic muscles these days? Remember there are prophets and prophets. Hal Lindsay is a prophet, for example, who assigns to the symbolism in Revelation the scenario of Armageddon deducible from the conflicts that raged in the Cold War and that he anticipates will rage in the Middle East in the future. I suspect minority prophets who do not write best sellers playing on fears of the End are closer to the truth. One of my favorites during the Vietnam War was Micaiah who keeps sarcastically telling the King to go up and conquer. The king is very angry because he recognizes that Micaiah is jerking him around in God’s name. Then again Micaiah sees that the King is going to follow the suicidal course no matter what he, Micaiah, says.

I remember being asked to speak to armed services chaplains — the high ranking military brass of chaplains — during the middle of the Vietnam war. My rap was simple. I told them that I didn’t care whether they were hawks or doves, but that it was a matter of some concern where their ultimate allegiance lay. I suggested they were in a major bind because LBJ was their Commander in Chief but their real Commander in Chief was God. If God and LBJ had different agendas it was probably their obligation as individuals to choose the Deity’s. I think that was an authentic statement and challenge. LBJ lied to the American people because he promised them no wider war and then lied again by secretly widening it and then lied again by suggesting that we were engaged in a genuine war on poverty when we were actually paving the way for the dual opportunity economy we have now put in place. When most people see a $20 K car advertised as a cheap bargain on the tube, they laugh bitterly because they do not even have total assets enough to buy that car.

What has God been doing? What is going on that shows us the hand of the One who sent his Son to set us straight and watched his gift die ignominiously in the land where prophets routinely died — a dismal minority.

I don’t happen to feel God is telling the Pope to stand firm against the aspirations of women. God may instead be prodding women to take the church into their own hands and invite men to come along if they are willing to behave.

I don’t think God is pushing Armageddon. God has already pushed us to the wall by shattering the most stable dualism of the century –the Cold War. Hal should really rewrite his book to bring things in line! No, I think God wants us to become good Jews and to treat Jesus a bit more like a Jewish hasid than an icon in a world where history means nothing. I think responsibility is what God has in mind. Seems to me that was what God told Noah after the flood –From now on, Noah, you’ll just have to work it out. You owe me at least that! But responsibility is so prosaic!

Ah well, if one were to stand in front of the Vietnam memorial and weep not only for the dead but for the delusion and continued self-deception in trying to view our recent past in terms that justify the present, one would probably be iced on the spot. But for prophets that’s all in a day’s work.

LEADERSHIP GLITCHES

Around 1980 I became the Executive Director of the Albert Schweitzer Center. In that capacity I attended a meeting at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, focusing on leadership of not-for-profit institutions.

The keynote address was given by the then-president of Stanford University whose name blissfully escapes me. I have never heard such balderdash. It underscored my conviction that institutions became frightened in the late 1960s and have spent the decades since institutionalizing their fright so that there will be nothing done other than a little self-aggrandizement here and there and some stroking of various constituencies as politics dictates.

But there is a deeper cause of the leadership crisis, if you believe that is the crisis we are in. It was underlined this week following the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for 44 years the leader of the Lubavitch Hasidim. The Rabbi knew what he wanted and was clear about his goals. He built up an aggressive orthodox sect within Judaism. He was also and intelligent man, a scholar and did not overtly encourage people to be anything but good. He did not, apparently, solicit messianic accolades.

Nevertheless his followers, who must be assumed to be intelligent, engaged in all manner of messianic activity before and after his death, hoping for signs, resurrections and above all for the Rabbi’s declaration of his own Kingship. This despite the leader’s protest that he was no saint and that he did not intend to create a cult of personality. The reaction to the Rabbi’s death is the most instructive proof we have that Jesus in all probability did not want to create a cult of personality around himself or to be considered a saint. In fact it was most likely this tendency of human beings to solve their problems by subservience to a cult of personality that he came to defeat.

With this prologue I need to confront my own leadership problem. All my life I have almost grasped leadership and then done something to subvert it. I am not sure why. What I am sure of though is that leadership is needed in the churches and that its objectives and goals can be stated with some clarity. If that constitutes leadership now, well and good.

1. Jesus should be made the head of all individual lives. His teaching should form the basis of living and social and cultural and political arrangements.

2. To achieve this, there must be developed and distributed clear and useful educational materials that indicate the directions and understandings that Jesus represents. A clear and efficacious theory for delivery must also be created –democratic, communal.

3. This effort must be new and must take into consideration the probability that Jesus did not intend churches to be developed as money-generating membership institutions built around worship of his person. All efforts should be taken to use any willing parts of today’s Christian communities to implement the goals stated here.

4. The social and cultural form of presenting Jesus as the leader of individuals should begin with the gospel as originally proclaimed by Jesus — repentance on the basis of God’s nearness for the reconstitution of life oriented to God’s rule and made clear in the teachings and example of Jesus. The aim of social and cultural organization and community development should be the creation of persons who are oriented to the acceptance of Jesus as one whose main leadership consists in orienting persons to responsible, seizing of control over their own lives via turning to and accepting the gospel of God’s rule.

5. A movement for the purpose of supporting this development will be built not around any personalities or hierarchies but around commitment to the development and spread of resources that clearly communicate, with no institutional effort to gain adherence, the teaching of Jesus. It will have as its watchword the radical inclusiveness that recognizes utterly no boundary between peoples and nations. It is post-religion.

6. Such a movement will not seek tax exempt status or recognition as a religion nor will it create creeds and statements of faith or any other litmus test. It will merely agree on the best and most universal and continually improved presentation of the leadership which is provided by accessing Jesus in the written gospels and insisting on the capacity of individuals to arrive at their own understanding of what this leadership means.

7. Jesus will be presented as the paradigm of the world’s future development, one who transcends all religions and political systems with a morality and an ethic that applies to all lives. The focus will be on universal responsibility, mutuality, reciprocity and the abundance thereby created, beyond capitalism and beyond communism, a global republic of individually responsible human beings.

There you have it. Take or leave. That is what leadership means to me and it is the only leadership I would be willing myself to follow or to advocate that anyone else on earth follow. No cults. No personalities. Just Jesus presented beyond the captivating boundaries of self-interested religion and the derisive self-sufficiency of intellectually-. tired academies and the morally-deficient precincts of tapped-out governments. What say?

SURROGATE LEADERS

There was once a small niche filled in American culture by religious thinkers — even Christian thinkers. Harry Emerson Fosdick comes to mind. William Ellery Channing. Reinhold Niebuhr at certain points. What strikes me today is that the fragmentation of the religious community and the uncertainty of its views and the tendency of leadership to devolve more on managers than visionaries and thinkers has created a void. But because voids in culture are rarely allowed to exist for long, this one has been filled by surrogates — people who are doing what prominent clerics once did — speaking out on the issues of the day from the perspective of their spiritual viewpoint. Before trying to speculate on why we have no one out there, let me suggest who some of the surrogates are.

I will name but two: M. Scott Peck and William Bennett. I went to school with Scott Peck and attended the same college as William Bennett. This is just a way of saying that similar educational backgrounds do not always breed similar minds. Or surefire best sellers!

Having dipped into the discourse of both gentlemen, my dominant impression is that their popularity speaks volumes about the present vacuity of what once was mainline religion –and volumes more about why it would be a good idea to get our act together before we are all yawned off the stage of history.

Bennett has assumed the mantle of resident moralist. He has written a book about virtues which people are buying. Rightfully he espouses a resurrection of responsibility. Rightfully he bemoans the decline of moral reflection and discourse. But because he is not explicitly connected to the prophetic heart of Biblical faith, he emerges as a conservative version of what Norman Cousins used to be when he edited the Saturday Review. He descends into the camp of his fellow Republicans and does not summon us to the thought, or the possible solutions, that would make real sense today.

Scott Peck is a different story — a self-appointed exurban guru to the respectably New Age who undertakes to harmonize spiritual truth with the psychological sciences and generally to answer the Difficult Questions, including some that no human being (in my opinion) has a right to draw conclusions on. I refer specifically to what can only be called Peck’s Bad Seed Hypothesis in a book called People of The Lie. Seeing Scott on the Oprah Winfrey show once reminded me of nothing so much as a beneficent minister dispensing spiritual wisdom to a rapt audience. The emphasis seemed to be on his having all the answers — a posture he did nothing to discourage.

Now these somewhat pejorative and possibly unfair vignettes are hardly meant to be a complaint — because the prominence of these commentators (there are others, but these will do) merely underscores the inability of “us” to put people in the public glare to deliver what might be a more accurate slant on morality and the solution to our psycho-cultural ills than our surrogates are doing.

We could explain the dearth of spokespersons in a positive way by saying the world has changed and we are actually doing the creative things at the grass roots while all this surrogate noise is floating around the ether. But that would be a mite more optimistic than I feel is warranted. It seems to me that we truly do lack a common vision, a common sense of what should be done, a common way of stating what we believe. And perhaps even a common belief.

But perhaps also it is a crisis of leadership because it simply cannot be said that there is a single visible leader on what is left of the mainline side of American religion. Denominationalism, the vitiation of organized ecumenism, the passing of an age of theological “giants” (relatively speaking) — none of these quite gets it, but all are factors.

I have lived in New York City for about a year and a half now, and I am not aware of one clergyperson who is said to have the qualities of vision or the stature to be consulted as a religious voice in a crisis.

Given this vacuum, the culture gives us distorted mirrors where we can see wavy parodies of what we should be called upon to say and do. That is rather sad. And one would think that being condemned to a lifetime of listening to Scott Peck and Bill Bennett would be all the motivation we might need to field some dynamic leadership forthwith.

AN ANATOMY OF SIN

Unarmed with the tools of the scholar, constitutionally inclined to make do with the canon and wed enough to the KJV to make do with only minor emendations, my “teaching” Quixotic pursuit. Yet I have always believed somehow that a continual running through the Scriptures was one of the more Beatitudinal aspects of life.

Nowadays, this running is about halfway through the Synoptics and chomping at the bit to get to John. But it is tenuous writing out the parallel texts and thinking about them and arriving at some conclusion about what they meant then and might mean now. I generally come up with the simple conclusion that times have not changed that much and that what Jesus says, he means. It will be months before the project that begins with immersion in the Jordan ends with words like, It is finished.

Occasionally I stumble upon something so clear and true that I want to share it as widely as I can. Therefore, forgive me if I simply conclude this day’s deliverance with these texts and appended comments which seem to me all we need to know to move beyond much that is hobbling the church and our perception today.

Mark 7:14-23 >

And when Jesus had called all the people to him, he said to them, Listen, every one of you, and understand. There is nothing outside of you which, entering into you, can defile you. But the things that come out of you are what can defile you. If any have ears to hear, let them hear. And when Jesus retired into the house away from the people, his disciples asked him to explain this parable. And Jesus said, Are you also without understanding? Don’t you perceive that whatever enters you from outside cannot defile you? Because it doesn’t enter your heart, it enters your belly and passes right through your body. It is that which comes from within, from the heart, that defiles — evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy. pride, foolishness. All these come from within and defile.

Matthew 15:10-20 >

Jesus called the crowd and said, Hear and understand. It is not what goes into your mouth which defiles you, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles. Then his disciples cane to him and said, Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying? But Jesus answered and said, Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let the Pharisees alone. They are leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both fall in the ditch. Then Peter said, Explain this parable to us. And Jesus said, Are you also without understanding? Don’t you understand that whatever enters the mouth goes straight into the belly, and passes right through. But what comes out of the mouth springs from the heart and defiles! For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things that defile. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.

WHAT IS THIS?

This, in a nutshell, is as complete an understanding of the nature of sin as one will find in the sayings of Jesus. The context is the confusion of the heart from which we literally proceed and the alimentary canal, etc., through which food passes. We are inclined in our heart to evil thoughts and foolishness through fornications and murders. To understand this is to understand why repentance is the first step and the receiving of the Holy Spirit the second in following the Beatitudinal way marked out by Jesus.

WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT JESUS?

That Jesus was never a wimpy visionary whose project was to make us feel good about ourselves and the world. He came with the serious task of converting us from our evil inclinations by means of proclaiming the gospel of God’s nearness and the way of obedience and forgiveness. That Jesus is not an idealist but a realist in giving a true description of the inclinations of our heart — and in offering the prophetic alternative first proposed by Jeremiah –a divine heart transplant mediated by the Holy Spirit.

“HOW TO … ACCORDING TO JESUS?”

Do not delude yourself into thinking that an inclination to Jesus makes you suddenly free from the evil impulses of the heart. Derive your understanding of yourself from an honest facing of the recurrent presence of thoughts and impulses which square exactly with the words Jesus uses to describe what is internal to us. Regularly and in private, pray for the cleansing presence of the Holy Spirit as the sign of the redemption Jesus is creating in you. Attach no significance morally or spiritually to what you eat. Examine what proceeds from your heart.

OTHER ANGLES:

The reference to the Holy Spirit and to Jeremiah, who prophesied that God could only solve the human problem by putting a new heart within us, is an inference. The clear suggestion here that Jesus sees the heart of unredeemed humankind as sinful. He himself is filled with the Spirit at baptism and when he confronts Satan in the wilderness. It is probable that he had his disciples evoke the Spirit’s indwelling presence when they attempt to carry on his preaching, teaching and healing ministry.

And when, last December, the words Renewal 2 popped into my head, the words that preceded them — I was sitting in John Street church, good Methodist layperson I, listening to a perfectly good sermon — was “This doesn’t work, Stephen.”

Preface

So this is a book about NOW, not about four decades ago. And it is simply a statement of how the institutions and denominations that remain in their death throes can turn around, if they but imbibe the Spirit’s knocking at the doors of their minds and hearts.

ECUMENICAL AGENDA

Ecumenism, ravaged and discounted, moves on. When the chips are down the most conspicuous practical fact which makes ecumenism necessary emerges: no fragment of the church is capable of getting the job done. When something great needs to be accomplished the talents, at any level, must be gathered without respect to denominational lines.

To speak of ecumenism today involves confronting an irony. Nothing is more globe-encircling than ecumenism. The word ecumenical is still jazzy enough to suggest names like ECUNET. And sometimes even sophisticated secularists use the term — generally in a witty or ironic sense. “I’m ecumenical,” says a Gore Vidal character.

But the term has mainly been an in-house one, known to church folk and to church professionals primarily. Our world of institutional names, no matter how exalted, goes only so far and then, like a minor wave, is lost in the tide of the world’s diverse and powerful languages.

What then, from the in-house perspective of informed church persons, ought to be our understanding of ecumenism and what agenda ought to rise from this understanding?

If oikumene means the whole inhabited earth, that still begs the question what we mean by it. In general, what we have meant is three things. The gospel is universal. God cares for the whole world. Doing things together makes this universal claim and perspective manifest.

Given the fact that separate churches existed before ecumenism arose, the third part of the equation — doing things together –has always been an option rather than a necessity. And the councils created to embody ecumenism have had to tread lightly around the domains of the denominations and their more powerful congregations to carve out their areas of work.

The current state of ecumenism may be capsuled in a simple example. A major denominational official of my acquaintance, when the Soviet Union became Russia and Ukraine, etc., had no compunction whatsoever about acting unilaterally in establishing what ties he could establish in the new environment. This unseemly haste and unilateral action naturally frosted the ecumenical establishment. But it was good press to act quickly, good for the denomination that is, and who was to say what difference it made ultimately who was first and under what auspices?

That is the point! There is no real compass guiding ecumenism today. Caught in the throes of the same downsizing that is pelting the mainline denominations, ecumenical organizations do what they have done in an atmosphere of receding power and place. At the same time, because there is less and less justification for denominational hegemony, ecumenical conclusions make more and more sense. So, ironically, they may attain greater power as circumstances force unity that could not be freely forged decades ago.

We can hardly say who would set an ecumenical agenda today. The WCC? The NCC? These are palpably Western despite their efforts to act and be otherwise. Can there be an ecumenism that does not reckon with the bulk of churches who either ignore or are suspicious of or actively hostile to the bulk of ecumenical work and thought of the last century? Is there any remotely authoritative structure of ecumenism to which rank and file Christians give, or might give, credence? Is ecumenism the remnant?

From a public, extra-church perspective in the U.S.A., a figure like Billy Graham is more conspicuous and stands more in the middle of Protestantism than any (generally unknown) denominational or ecumenical personage. This may be an index of how far the churches have drifted from earlier days of glory, but it also suggests a map for the future.

The future cannot be as the past has been. Frontal acknowledgement must be made of the church as it is, not from the perspective of superiority that was often assumed by the ecumenical movement in its Visser t’ Hooftian heyday, but from the perspective of actual numbers and power and economic clout.

There also needs to be direct confrontation of the growing gaps in perception: between those who will make no accommodation to today’s diversities and claims of right and justice (vis a vis sexual identity in particular and social justice in general) and those who find transcendence precisely in the realm of inbreaking diversity. If schism is inevitable, let it be on the right lines!

In a word, ecumenism needs to rebuild from the bottom up. I began by saying that the basic premise of ecumenism holds. No church has the talent to get the job done. We need all the help we can get from all quarters. If this is so, then what is left of ecumenical leadership will do well to scrap any notion of moving on apace and take instead the dramatic and elemental steps needed to begin again — seeing the church as it actually is, not as we dream it to be. And drawing the distinctions boldly, not timidly. And acting on what is concluded.

If we are to envision ecumenism as taking into its purview all of the world’s churches, we are forced to admit the obvious. We have been using ecumenism to protect ourselves from the truth that we are a fragment, a small minority, a relatively powerless force in the sea of Christendom.

Consider this projection. We are heading in the direction of there being two billion Christians in the world. From the standpoint of the dominant numerical groupings — the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, evangelical Protestants, charismatic and Pentecostal sects — ecumenical Christians consciously describing themselves as ecumenists are a mere drop in the water.

The denominations that are involved in the conciliar movement are in decline. The prospect that evangelical Protestants and the bulk of Roman Catholics will cotton to the ecumenical movement is dim at best. We are probably a few hundred thousand in a sea of millions for whom Christianity is built on three things to which we give no credence: the inerrancy of Scripture, the infallibility of the Pope and the infallibility of authenticating “experience”.

In retrospect the ecumenical movement almost looks like a rather cheeky Yippie ploy: the creation of something that looks all-embracing which in actuality is a haven for all of the visionaries and other odd persons at the edges of the church. Maybe that is what lay behind the inscrutable faces of the early ecumenical leaders in Geneva. Maybe the contradiction between profession and reality is what accounted for an inordinate number of nervous breakdowns along the Route de Ferney over the years.

The upshot of this is that we continue as we do because no “global” ecumenism is possible. We will not bow to a Pope nor worship a Book nor make an Experience of one sort or another the litmus test of Christian authenticity.

There are only a few things we can and perhaps should do, and I offer them almost seriously as an ecumenical agenda:

1. We can say that they are wrong and stop acting as if accommodation was possible.

2. We can say that we are right and that Christianity must not be based upon the idolatries mentioned.

3. We can celebrate our minority status and invite those who agree with our understanding to leave their churches and become part of ours. This would involve taking some pride in the Gospel we preach and the community life we espouse.

4. We can stop being defensive about being humane and insisting on tolerance and being politically correct because it accords well with the spirit expressed in the Synoptics.

5. We can be open to the creation of an explicit and identifiable Minority Church in the world that exults in its status and invites people top join in awareness that its relation to the rest of the world is a critical and at times confrontational one.

6. We can give up all thought of size and numbers and growth on the basis of some effort to compete with the bulk who will claim to represent Christianity.

7. We can begin humble and penitent gestures at the local level. Small reaching outs. Symbolic public events that build bridges of reconciliation. Elementary barrier breaking that shows churches of different backgrounds coming together because a new beginning is needed.

8. We can admit that the tradition out of which we come is deficient because of its ambiguous embrace of such unseemly interpolations of Scripture as anti-semitism, predestination and the justification of state violence as a matter of course rather than tragic necessity.

Does this suggest anything more than the present state of affairs and that it continue? Perhaps only this:

As ecumenists we must be more alert to our obligation to affirm who we are and take responsibility for what we can and should do with greater seriousness. For by doing that, if we are actually right, it is we who will bring forth thirty, sixty and a hundredfold. And there is a huge world out there beyond the church waiting to hear something sensible. Waiting for the church to be the church.

THE PRAYER HOAX

To be opposed to prayer in public schools is easy. It is what liberals and liberal church folk do, on clear grounds of separation of church and state. It seems pretty firm too. Who is going to fight long and hard enough to actually reverse the happy divorce that Jefferson and Madison wrote into the basic documents of our polity and law? Pat Robertson may celebrate furtively successful efforts to slip a little prayer into the public schools, but hey he’s on TV and maybe his relative lack of success makes our situation of not being on TV a little easier to take. We’ll let him push his lost cause.

Well, you are probably now thinking that a Great Warning is forthcoming. We had better be alarmed because the separation we accept is threatened as never before. But no such warning is intended here. If that warning needs to be sounded we have plenty of organizations and individuals who will sound the alarm. I will begin to get excited when long pastoral prayers are offered in school gyms by berobed clerics — essentially transferring their notion of prayer from church to state intact.

No, my angle on all of this is very simple and direct. I do not think Jesus intended prayer of the sort that has evolved under the banner of … what? Tradition? Convenience? The main thing Jesus said about prayer was that we should do it in a closet. The next main thing had to do with what we would say “when we pray”. We are all aware of that, though the Q document shortens and simplifies it and the most popular choral version of the Lord’s Prayer breaks the old vocal chords on the ending which is probably the least likely part to have been actually said by Jesus. (At least the words attribute power and glory to God and not the singer!)

I think that most prayer is a sermon in disguise, a show of the pastor’s poetic powers, or an excursion in aphoristic analysis of our motives, failures and the sad state of the world. I am not sure that a few moments of unison confession each week will quite do to cover the repentance part of Jesus’s gospel of God’s nearness and the need for obedience. My guess is that today Jesus would be just the way he seems to have been back then. You want to do prayer in schools. How about getting it right in church first? Or if Jesus did not intend a church to be built around worship of himself, then … back to the closet, the solitary place, the desert, the place prophets go when they are up against it.

This is the context, I believe, for beginning to think about the issue of prayer in the schools. Where do we draw a line between simple and practical silence and meditation and individual communion with God (what might be called natural religion) and something that wrongfully enters a pluralist environment and commits people against their will to practices native to a particular expression of faith? It seems to me the best way to push for the former is to lay off the latter, to rigorously discourage any public observance which inevitably offends someone because all do not hold the same intimate beliefs. In the context of Jesus’s reticence about public prayer I believe we come very close to the suggestion of a secular ethic that is closer to what Jesus wanted than an ecclesiological framework that calls people out of the world and invades the secular world when it gets to explicit — as in explicit public prayer in schools. Or elsewhere –in the Army or the U.S. Senate, for example?

Public prayer and prayer in public schools both chance the ire of Jesus because he took intimacy with God with something like the seemly intimacy that propels lovers to manifest their deepest affections in private.

We are not (most of us) for prayer in public schools. But what do we think about prayer in general? Is it time to seriously ask such questions as are being raised here?

I think there is a place for something in public and in worship, but I am no longer sure what it is. Are you?

WHAT KILLS RENEWAL

What kills renewal in local congregations? This seems a most existential question just now because there is a paradigm shift going in. Roughly, it is between the extant model in which the minister and staff are made central to the institution and a model which would create a more level playing field, perhaps tilted away from worship as a production and toward the empowering of the laity — whatever that means.

Before discussing such matters, however, let me say that I know one way to kill renewal in a local church. I know that one bad apple in a position of authority (trustee, search committee, session, etc.) can frustrate renewal, particularly if renewal is identified with a visible progressive element that is new. Example: A congregation spontaneously starts an outreach program that is hugely successful, but the minister is a dud when it comes to preaching and other traditional functions. The gung ho sorts figure when the minister takes another job that now is the time to find someone who will be as dynamic, worship and feeding the flock-wise, as they are outreach-wise. But Person X on the Trustees and also on the Search Committee ain’t buying. Ergo: Plan is submarined. Renewalists are dispirited. People disperse. We are back at ground zero. I have seen this Law of One Obstreperous Individual function in other institutions. I find the reality demonic and have no idea what you do about it.

The past examples of congregational renewal I have been aware of have tended to have these elements: 1. A strong pastor with a vision who is politically able to control the basic operations and emphasize the vision — whatever it may be, and it can be most anything as long as it is done well and impacts the wider world. 2. A marginal location where a diverse grouping can occur, sometimes an almost dead church where a new constituency can be brought in. 3. A long term pastoral commitment — none of this two and three year business. In short, renewal has taken place when the old paradigm reigned — the only difference being that the minister was the one out of ten able who seriously care and the local situation was amenable to control and development. The converse of this line of thinking is that in nine of ten cases, either the situation will be unfavorable or the pastor will be on his or her own survival trip and kowtow to the basic Jack of all trades, full service model of ministry, taught in seminaries and deemed workable still by the denominations.

All of this is presumptive evidence that the paradigm shift suggested in paragraph one is a pipe dream. An academic notion. Unreal and out of the ball park. But is that so? What if the leveling of the playing field, the empowering of the membership and a few other priorities were made central to thinking about renewal? Then something like a proposal to change the lay power situation in the local setting would make sense. Certainly the premium would be on experimentation and risk, so there might be merit in having a specific revolving term of service — four or six years in and then out — make room for someone else. But only in the context of a larger acceptance of the notion of lay empowerment would any such changes make sense.

In my view, lay empowerment would look like this. The minister or pastor would have but one major responsibility: empowering the laity, right down to insisting that members care intentionally for one another. I suggest gatherings of two and three as the basic membership grouping. I suggest that each gathering have one or two more experienced members connected to it to help in specific situations like personal crises. In this model the aim is not to field programs in the church but to change peoples’ lives so they can exert an impact in all areas as individuals and as members of the human family. This seems like rank individualism but it is really the prerequisite of a reconstructed community life at the grass roots. The minister would be responsible for putting the model in place and resourcing it at the point of stripped down but focused worship, built around a form of Bible study that is universal and coordinated within the congregation. If we are doing Acts then everything ties in — music, locally printed resources for study, worship and education. In my model there would be no formal education of any age group — instead the parents and other adults would become the Sunday school all week long in encounters that could take place anywhere from McDonald’s to a child’s bedside. This will give you the gist if not the whole plan.

Bottom line: You kill renewal by having no clear notion of what you are doing, and only with such a notion will local polity changes like term limits, etc., make a scintilla of sense.

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST UNITING

John Dominic Crossan can be as aggravating as other persons known to me. His enthusiasm for his subject, Jesus Christ, has led him to refer to certain relatively unattested Bible verses as the equivalent of first (or second) century sound bites. But after receiving his major work on his chosen subject for my birthday and finding it to be like a child’s proverbial Teddy bear, I now accept John D. Crosson’s utterances, as I find I am coming to accept most everyone else’s — as never-always-quite-the-way-I’d-put-it-but-who-cares? If we are going to realize deep ecumenical dreams, it will be because the Spirit enables us to speak a common tongue despite the variations we bring to speech.

But there are times when language matters and meanings are important.

For example, John Dominic says at one point that Jesus may denote children as having superior kingdom-access owing to their likely androgynous characteristics, which get them back closer to the unity paradigm found in the Gospel of Thomas. I find this argument a stretch to say the least. But since the author, in The Historical Jesus, has provided us with 75 generous pages of indices and attestations designed to lead us into the world of likely Jesus-speech-and-story, he can be forgiven for slighting Freud and others who have validated the unseemly sexuality of bare (sic) infants.

Crossan’s seeming bottom line in The Historical Jesus is the following, which serves as the text for this message: “I am proposing that the dialectic between Jesuses and Christs (or Sons, or Lords, or Wisdoms, or … ) is at the heart of both tradition and canon, that it is perfectly valid, has always been with us, and probably always will be.” The ellipses are Crossan’s.

Then in the following paragraph, he adds: “Christianity … when it attempted to define as clearly as it could the meaning of Jesus, insisted that he was ‘wholly God’ and ‘wholly man,’ that he was, in other words, the unmediated presence of the divine to the human. I find, therefore no contradiction between the historical Jesus and the defined Christ, no betrayal whatsoever in the move from Jesus to Christ.” The ellipses are mine. (Crosson, 423-4)

In the Consultation on Church Union, functionally dead as a unification of denominations but resurrecting as a strategy of local ecumenism and renewal, the term of choice for the process is The Church of Christ Uniting. Is it too much of a quibble to suggest that a process so important include the name of Jesus in its self-designation? If we accepted Crosson quite literally, there would be no problem. Jesus and Christ are one in the same. But Crosson’s statement is not a bland utterance, but a cry of the heart, the cry of one who has wrestled for several decades (as we all should do and try to do) with the canonical texts. He sees where the betrayal has taken place and this is no doubt why he adds the following caveat:

“Maybe, Christianity is an inevitable and absolutely necessary ‘betrayal’ of Jesus, else it might all have died among the hills of Lower Galilee. But did that betrayal have to happen so swiftly, succeed so fully, and be enjoyed so thoroughly? Might not a more even dialectic have been maintained between Jesus and Christ in Jesus Christ?” (Crossan, 424)

My answer to my own question is that it may be imperative to change the name of the Consultation’s process and, yes, go through the simple choice steps that necessitate that change. Until we have a clearer and more integrated understanding of Jesus and the purpose and reality of what he was and is about, justice will be an afterthought, the prophetic heritage an expendable item, and the true unity which is between Jesus and Christ will be ignored in favor of a new priesthood of semi-believers.

Church of Christ Uniting may be a convenient resurrected acronym for COCU, but COCU has changed to acknowledge the political realities which sunk its original vision. Its name should change to reflect the theological reality that will save it.

The Original Grass Roots Church Manifesto as published in The Grass Roots Church (1966, 1977)

Appendix

To accompany this book, or perhaps as a preparation for it, I suggest that interested persons refer to the paperback Who’s Killing the Church? a collection of articles that have appeared in Renewal magazine during the last three years. The book is available from the Chicago City Missionary Society, 19 South La Salle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603, and is distributed to bookstores by the Association Press. In a sense Who’s Killing the Church? provides documentation for some of the criticisms in this book as well as specific suggestions which supplement those in this volume.

Prior to the publication of this book, I published a preliminary statement of its basic themes in Renewal, February 1966 (“The Grass Roots Church: Manifesto for a Renewal Movement”). Since the Manifesto provoked immediate response both in the national press and among ministers and laymen throughout the United States, there may be some service in including it, with only minor revisions, in this Appendix. Those who have read the book will obviously find considerable repetition, but I hope this will be offset by the value of the short Manifesto as a possible rallying point for individuals and groups who wish to move along the lines suggested.

1. DENOMINATIONALISM. We believe that denominationalism is obsolete, both theologically and in terms of the capacity of denominations to organize the Church in the most effective and obedient manner. We believe that participants in a renewal movement must openly express their willingness to forsake denominational loyalty at every point that such loyalty impedes the ecumenical witness of the Church, particularly at the local and metropolitan level. Denominationalism is theologically obsolete because it denies to all church members the total theological resources of all the denominations, forcing upon individual church members an intolerable choice of modes of worship and an equally intolerable allegiance to a fragment of the total Church. The denominations are structurally obsolete because they have turned into national bureaucracies, removed from local situations, which, by their very nature, impede the development of the Church’s mission at the local level. We feel that the merger of denominations “at the top” is of value only if there is a radical transformation of the combined denominations to provide resources for local, ecumenical witness. While we appreciate the creative leadership at the top in many denominations, we see this leadership continually thwarted by the institutional demands of denominational self-preservation. Thus we have little hope in renewal movements aimed at restoring the life of individual denominations. Such movements are too easily domesticated. We advocate, as an alternative, the formation of a pandenominational grass roots organization of all persons, clergy and lay, who wish to fight for the Church structure which we shall propose.

2. THE THREE FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH. We believe that the Church has three tasks: Chaplaincy (the proclamation of the biblical insight into the human situation); teaching (the integration of this biblical insight with the realities of the contemporary world); and abandonment (the self-giving of the Church to the world). Chaplaincy refers to the priestly, liturgical, pastoral ministry of the Church. It is the ministry which today’s seminaries claim to be preparing ministers to undertake. But the structure of today’s Church leaves the clergyman with virtually no time to realize this essential ministry. Teaching has been utterly short-changed by the denominationally-organized Church, despite the massive investment of funds in sometimes creative study materials, and the almost wasteful investment of local congregations in understaffed and underutilized educational facilities. The ministry of teaching requires specialized personnel, around-the-week facilities, and recognition by the Church-at-large as one of the Church’s three essential tasks. Today the burden of teaching falls on ministers who already have too many responsibilities. The Church in its present structure offers virtually no training to adults. And the moribund quality of the instruction given to youth is partially attested to by the vast numbers of young persons who become disenchanted with the Church as soon as they leave home. The present understanding of the ministry and the present structure of the Church make a teaching ministry virtually impossible. Abandonment refers primarily to the Church’s ministry to the world. It embraces specialized ministries aimed at making urban life more human, involvement of Christians in the social struggle, and the style of life that ought to become the distinguishing mark of individual Christians and the Church as an institution. Today the presently structured Church is so caught up in institutional maintenance that it cannot perform the ministries of teaching and chaplaincy. And, with the current, utterly inefficient emphasis on the denominational local congregation, virtually no funds exist to support specialized ministries of any sort. When a congregation cannot support the ministries of chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment, it is both theologically and structurally irrelevant.

3. GOALS FOR THE RENEWAL MOVEMENT. The renewal movement should draw its theological rationale from St. Paul’s missionary methods as outlined particularly in the First Letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12 and 13. Briefly St. Paul advocates that the Church is the Body of Christ. He states that the Body is made up of many parts, each one playing a specific function. In other words, he sees specialization—the division of responsibilities so that each function of the Church can be implemented—as essential to a healthy body. The absurdity of today’s structure is revealed by the fact that we have lumped nearly every one of the tasks that Paul outlines into the job description of the contemporary minister. This has led to a situation in which as many as two-thirds of the students in some seminaries indicate they cannot accept the present definition of the ordained ministry. The restructured Church will be based on a differentiation of function, on a recognition that some are called to preach, some to be prophets, some to be helpers, some to administrate, some to teach.
St. Paul also emphasizes, throughout his writings, that the local Church is the primary expression of the Body of Christ. If the local Church is not equipped properly, then it becomes irrelevant and incomprehensible. We can translate his concern into modern terms by saying that what must take place is a restructuring of the Church at the grass roots.

Another goal of the renewal movement will be the recovery of the total biblical understanding of the human situation. This means in our day that theology must be freed from the academic confines of the seminary and developed in the context of the active engagement of the Church in the world. In particular this means a recovery of the depths of the Old Testament, which at the dawn of Church history was the worship resource of the Church. God is not to be seen as having retired to some celestial lounging place after the advent of Christ, but rather as the brooding, active, argumentative, cajoling One who reveals Himself in history. Theologically, this means that we must become Jews in spirit before we can become Christians.

4. SPECIFICS. Since today’s local denominational congregation can scarcely perform the functions which the Church is called to implement, we must arrive at a totally new understanding of the local congregation, based on a total restructuring of the Church at the local level. Since virtually no single congregation can support all three ministries—chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment—we suggest the following elements of a new structure. First, local churches must band together to form cooperative ministries. Within a given cooperative ministry a single facility would be used for the ministry of chaplaincy. It would conduct services designed to offer the church member the full range of Christian worship throughout the week, from the Episcopal liturgy to the silent meetings of the Quakers. Assuming that ten present-day congregations were involved in the cooperative ministry, possibly three facilities which now house congregations would be adapted for the teaching ministry of the restructured Church. They would be staffed by ministers and trained laymen who see their mission as teaching. In particular, every neighborhood would have a full-time facility for the training of adult laymen. The remaining buildings would be sold unless they could be easily adapted to the ministries of abandonment: that is, direct service to specific unmet needs in the community. (In no case should Church ministries of abandonment repeat what the secular world is already doing. They should aim at the unmet needs.) Each neighborhood would have a full-time center for pastoral counseling.

Theological seminaries would be called to restructure as follows: They would train men and women for specific ministries within the restructured Church. Some would be trained to preach, some to teach, some to counsel. The seminaries would also open their doors to the laity in the following way: The seminaries would agree to support the cooperative ministry concept by offering ten intern-year students and one professor to any cooperative ministry on an annual basis. In return, the given community would send ten laymen to the seminary. This would bridge the chasm which now exists between the seminary and the Church-at-large. Certain seminaries would be designated as centers of advanced theological study, and students inclined toward teaching careers could transfer to these centers if they felt called to do so.
Denominations would be called to restructure in the following manner: The bulk of current denominational expenditures are used for servicing the needs of local denominational congregations. This includes funding new church development projects, producing curriculum at the national level, and the support of local congregations that are unable to support themselves. We believe that all of these functions should be turned over, as much as possible, to the metropolitan and regional structures of the several denominations. This would include the transfer of church extension funds, funds for educational programs, and all other funds now used for the maintenance of local denominational programs. The denominations should, before turning these funds over, elicit an agreement that the local denominational units will use these funds on an ecumenical basis with other local denominational units. The basic principle informing the use of these transferred funds should be the priority of the cooperative ministry concept. We are calling here for the decentralization of approximately ninety per cent of current national programs conducted by denominations. We recommend that the national denominations see themselves in the future as research and development agencies serving the whole ecumenical Church. In particular we urge that endowments and other funds that could not legally be removed from the jurisdiction of national denominations be seen in the future as seed money for creative experimentation in areas that are beyond the purview of the proposed cooperative ministries. Denominations, shorn of many current institutional functions, would be free to concentrate on pilot projects, ad hoc experimentation, and on creative ecumenical projects that would still be needed on the national and international level.

The original purpose of denominations was to do what no single congregation could do for itself. Our proposal assumes that functions once carried out by denominations can most fruitfully be returned to the local level. We feel that the future of the denominations lies in experimentation, research, and development, and in serving the needs of a Church that would be truly ecumenical at its base.

We feel, in addition, that the distinctive theological contributions of individual denominations will be enhanced, rather than eliminated, in our proposed cooperative ministry structure. The worship of the cooperative ministry, in particular, would provide room for all legitimate traditions, because it would bring all the current resources of the denominations into a central worship facility serving the local neighborhood. We feel strongly that genuine dialogue at the local level is preferable to the creation of a routinized “ecumenical” theology forced upon the local churches from the upper echelons of Protestantism.

Thus our impatience with denominationalism is impatience with its present form and structure. We wish to free denominations for service, not to eliminate them.
Church membership would be redefined. One would become a member of the cooperative ministry and then, from year to year, would elect membership in one of the specialized ministries. Thus membership would refer both to confession of faith and mission in the world. The combining of present Church budgets at the local level would be more than enough to finance the cooperative ministries. Indeed, over half the funds could be available for outreach ministries, such as community organization.
The cooperative ministries would be the basis of the renewed Church. Essentially, the Church would then be organized along viable geographical lines. Since the metropolis is rapidly becoming the primary geographical unit in this country, any “superstructure” needed to support the local ministries or to carry on programs within the total area would be metropolitan and ecumenical, rather than national and denominational. Thus, we would come to refer to the Church in Chicago, the Church in New York, the Church in Boston, etc.

Within the metropolitan framework and the cooperative ministry structure, the number of ordained ministers needed would diminish by about half. Indeed, ordination would be reserved only to those with specific preaching and sacramental responsibilities. Thus as many as half of today’s ministers would become laymen and an equal number of future seminary graduates would be laymen. This suggests that, with the emphasis on local and metropolitan training centers, the laity would become the prophetic arm of the Church. Laymen would regard the ministries of chaplaincy and teaching as fundamental resources and the ministry of abandonment as the fundamental expression of their faith in the world.

5. BEGINNING POINTS. You are invited to send copies of this proposal to key people in your denomination, asking for their consideration of it. Attend denominational meetings to ask about the prospects for decentralization and grass roots ecumenical cooperation in your area. Ministers in local areas should meet and publish their own “bill of rights,” to indicate that they are no longer content with the job description of clergymen in the presently structured denominational Church.

Seminary students should consider the possibility of learning a “second skill” so that they will have an alternative to the ministry as it is presently defined, pending basic structural change. Seminary faculties should initiate concrete debate on the role that seminaries can play in a cooperative, grass roots renewal movement.
The National Council of Churches should immediately consider means by which it can influence the denominations to decentralize and provide support for the cooperative ministry concept.

Laymen should initiate discussions of the cooperative ministry concept with their ministers.

Associate pastors and assistant pastors in local congregations should be freed of institutional responsibility to work with a special committee of laymen to determine prospects for a cooperative ministry in their area.

6. CONCLUSION. Our basic objective is not to create a hard and fast set of rules that apply to every situation, but to serve as a clearing house for the creative ideas of a renewal movement. Let our motto for the moment be: “The ecumenical movement must be local; the Body of Christ must incorporate specifically defined functions; and the renewed Church must be as faithful to the biblical reality that brings it into being as to the world that calls it into service.” Above all, let us begin to substitute concrete, positive proposals for the carping and backbiting that characterize our existence in the outmoded denominational Church structure.

Gospel Lyric

The best gospel music lifts up the good news of Jesus. It is not about Jesus. It is Jesus: The word made flesh.

Gospel Music Home seeks to demonstrate that the most life-giving gospel lyric is the direct statement of Jesus.

Jesus is the author of our gospel lyrics!

This realization is based on the life-giving experience of “singing theology” — of actually singing the texts of the Bible.

This is the fountain of true understanding.

The heart of the Gospel — aka the good news — is Jesus Christ.

When we push back beyond church history and creed and institution, we find one we believe to be God’s son proclaiming what he calls the gospel!

What is that gospel?

The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe. Repent and believe in the presence of Abba, of God, to lift up and change your life!

Jesus is first the messenger and embodiment of this gospel. But as the principalities and powers strangle his message and refuse his rule, he becomes the vindicator of the truth that he brings. He suffers and is brought to an end by the religious and secular authorities. But it is not the end. His resurrection validates forever his truth.

And the function of gospel music is to give that gospel body and substance by returning to the precious record of Jesus’ own words.

When we do that, we have not a gospel once removed, but a gospel whole and bountiful.

The term gospels — plural — tells us much about the problems Christianity faces in today’s world.

The real question Christians face is to choose among the various gospels out there. We have gospels of wealth, gospels of fitness, gospels of power.

We also have canonical and non-canonical gospels. One of the most indicative proofs of our unwillingness to drill down to the authentic gospels is the popular (and profitable) effort to suggest that non-canonical gospels like the Gospel of Thomas are somehow the key to what Jesus was about.

Anything but our actual gospels! The four gospels that we can find in any Gideon Bible! Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

People closer to Jesus in time than we chose these four gospels as being the most useful representations of Jesus.

And what is absolutely remarkable is that, within these gospels, we have an immense body of words that even the most meticulous scholars will agree are things that Jesus actually said.

Can you imagine anyone but Jesus saying, As you did it to the least, so you did it to me?

If Christians would confine themselves to the actual words of Jesus in the four gospels that we have in our canon, they could spend a lifetime learning at the feet of the Master.

If they put them into songs, they could remember the words more easily. The words of the gospels would find a home in their hearts.

It’s as simple as that.

A gospel lyric, in our theory, is a phrase or sentence of Jesus that is revised only to the extent that it is singable.

A phrase such as “Blessed are the poor in spirit” needs no revision whatsoever to be a singable lyric.

Please note that when we reference a lyric “in quotes” it is to be found in our Gospel Music Portfolio.

Because all of the gospel lyrics in our portfolio are written to familiar tunes and accessible meters, we have not included — yet! — some of the most effective uses of our gospel lyric approach.

For example:

Who is the one who said?
Who is the one who said?
As you did it to the least
So you did it to me
Who is the one who said?

This is a classic gospel lyric. Jesus made it utterly clear that our treatment of the least is the index of our attitude toward him. A gospel lyric will open our eyes, our ears, our understanding in a way that nothing once or twice removed from the actual words will do.

The most successful work with gospel lyrics is creation of song cycles which sequentially present an entire canonical gospel text in song.

My Sung Gospel of Mark is an example of this approach.

Unfortunately ,it will be some time before we can port the entire work to the Web, but I am determined to make it available, beyond some 6000 young people who have been taught by the Rev. Pam Moffat to sing the very words of the earliest canonical gospel, Mark.

One can actually do a form of group therapy around gospel lyrics.

Once, whole speaking at a college in Illinois, I spontaneously invited the students to take the first verse of the Gospel of Mark and turn it into gospel lyrics.

The result was a sort of musical Rorschach of the students, ranging from the authoritarian to the poetic.

This simply proves that, even in the confined world of gospel lyrics, where you are limited to the texts of the Four Gospels, adaptations will reveal the impossibility of total “objectivity”.

Try your hand at turning the first verse of the Gospel of Mark into gospel lyrics.

There is, of course, a beloved tradition of Gospel Music that has almost replaced gospel music as we understand it.

When we hear old favorites like “How Great Thou Art” or “I Come To The Garden Alone” or “Oh, Happy Day” we are in the very mainstream of gospel music history.

When we hear the marvelous Missa Luba, Gregorian chants, or Hayden’s matchless Lord Nelson Mass, are we saying these are are secondary to the exact words of Jesus?

Our answer is, essentially, first things first.

We need today to recover the message, the gospel, the very words of Jesus.

For more on our theory of Gospel music please visit the links to your left. To access our demonstration Gospel lyrics and the meters and melodies please visit our Gospel Music Portfolio.

It is only natural to see gospel song in terms of ones own images and traditions. A Gregorian monk will have a predictable vision as will an Appalachian singer of traditional songs.

We are trying to claim here a cutting-edge understanding of gospel song for the 21st century.

In essence, when you accept gospel song as being essentially the very words of Jesus, and when you are faithful in creating lyrics that are close to the text, you are eliminating a lot of the baggage that we know as religion.

For example, the 19th Century gave us a spate of hymns and songs that are far removed from the message that you get when you start with actual gospel lyrics from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

We may love Onward Christian Soldiers or Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus You Soldiers of the Cross, but these are reflections of a world where Christianity wanted to be aggressive in bringing everyone under the sway of religion, not of a world which is showing how harmful religion is when it is basically a force for division, even of violence.

One can of course pick and choose within the canonical

gospels and come up a gospel song that reflects a personal viewpoint. But the less this seems to happen, the more likely that the underlying truths of what Jesus said and did will come to light.

Is the world ready for gospel songs?

It would not appear so if one monitors the amount if disfunctionality, the idolatry of testosterone-based manliness, violence and simple incivility.

Jesus propounded a negotiational ethic and a doctrine (teaching) of perfection at the same time. He called for repentance and at the same time validated total acceptance.

He loved the least and called us to do the same while paving the way for complete abundance in all areas.

True gospel songs made up of Jesus’s words reflect a complete overturning of a world based on power politics as we know it. Gospel songs also give the lie to fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture, interpretations which allow for harmful allegories bases on fatalism and the deferral of personal responsibility.

The recent best sellers based on Revelation may be entertaining but they deceive and contradict the truths gospel songs make plain.

Is the world ready for reason? Is the world ready to roll back violence? Is the world ready to lift the Adamic curse of heavy labor?

Doubtful. But those who march to the different drummer whose words are the heart of gospel songs are happy to communicate to the rest of the world the truth these gospel songs contain.

That is probably why we are still here!

During the 19th Century in the United States there was a conflict between professional church musicians drawn from the teaching professions and the more folk-based persons who found a simple and much less-expensive way to make music.

The teachers became the professional organists and choir masters and helped the forces of religion to dominate the churches, even as growing reason (alienation from dogma) made such a course increasingly problematic.

The shape note folk were vanquished, and their simpler musical system, based on images of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti and do, was relegated to the backwaters.

The result was the definition of gospel sheet music as music only professionals can play, with a slant toward choirs who can read music, and and a too-frequent downplaying of participatory, congregational singing.

Well, Gospel Music defines gospel sheet music in such a way as to make it universally available and massively participatory.

The union (labor) movement is probably the last major global upheaval that relied on existing melodies to make transmission of the lyrics they wrote easy.

Gospel Music favors a similar easy spread of gospel sheet music (our style) to the far corners of the globe.

I must confess that I don’t listen to gospel music much.

When I began writing what I call gospel music, songs based on Bible texts and on the words of Jesus, I produced them as best I could with good musicians, on vinyl records and audio cassettes.

There was a small audience and no radio station would touch my non-glitzy productions despite a prominent reviewer’s suggestion that one song, about Jesus the Healer, called The Touch of His Hand, should be a number one national hit!

No such luck.

The reason I do not listen to gospel music much is that much of it turns me off. Either it is over-produced, a clone of commercial music, indistinguishable form top 40, or it is a narcissistic exercise in wearing one’s faith on one’s sleeve.

I would listen to gospel music more if gospel music, as it is defined here, were available.

Consider this. We have hundreds of channels and thousands of CDs released all the time and I would bet that none of these has presented any gospel music that is simply the words of Jesus turned into gospel song.

Recently I watched Chris Matthews and Andrew Greeley having a friendly discussion and at one point Chris began to say how he wished Mel Gibson and other mega-commercial sorts would concentrate more on what Jesus taught. It seemed even Chris’ somewhat aggressive voice was softer and it got lost in the shuffle, as if he knew it was a futile wish.

Listen to gospel music? I will listen to gospel music when the high production values recede and the understanding of gospel music begins to change.

Gospel music history in the future should have a chapter on how people began taking Jesus seriously.

Maybe people realized that the clash of religions is a no win proposition.

If we are going to have dialogue, let’s understand where we are coming from. Gospel music history should be the story of how we began to turn to the exact words of Jesus for gospel lyrics and how gospel music changed as a result.

Another thing. Much current gospel music history is simply the recounting or relatively recent developments within a particular cultural or ethnic or national group. Names of artists, how gospel music broke into the popular mainstream. In other words gospel music history without much concern for gospel roots.

If this seems harsh, please go to our Gospel Music Portfolio and look at the direct and basic lyrics there.

I guarantee that some of it will not be easy to take. Jesus did not come to afflict the afflicted or to comfort the comfortable. He came to seek repentance and acceptance of Abba his Father in Heaven.

He laid out the blessings and consequences of continued blindness and deafness to his words. Gospel music history needs to change before the sad history of an unhearing world can turn onto a happier highway.

Our free gospel music gift to you is what we call our Portfolio, a collection of twelve demonstration lyrics with melody suggestions and/or common meters that have many tunes.

Another aspect of our free gospel music program is that we have no objection to anyone’s composition of their own melody for these lyrics.

Another aspect of our free gospel music approach is that we hope many others will adapt and follow our approach of mining the four canonical gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — for more and more lyrical gems.

We need to create a whole new genre of gospel music that is built on the approach outlined on this site.

The gospel or good news is all about freedom and free gospel music should be part of the gift.

Gospel Music Portfolio

This is a center for considering what the gospel is, what gospel music is, what a gospel lyric is and whether we can have an impact on a field that is awash in commercialism and, too often, in the propagation of religion.

A free gospel lyric flies in the face of all this. A free gospel lyric is exactly what you can find on our Portfolio Page here. This is hardly the only place on the Web where you can do this. But this may be the only place where the connection between a free gospel lyric and the actual words of Jesus is as pronounced or important.

I became a professional songwriter in the 70s and 80s and I can understand the creative urge to write one’s own lyrics. But I willingly suspend that when it comes to the gospel — because the lyrics I need to write gospel music are, in the first place, one free gospel lyric after another, already available to anyone without price!

Consider the Beatitudes. Consider the Last Supper. Consider the Sermon on the Mount. Can there be words of more surpassing importance?

And, yes, they are all free gospel lyrics in the public domain, yours for the taking.

How many wonderful songs could be composed out of the free gospel lyrics already written — lyrics which are the words of Jesus recorded in the four canonical gospels?

It would take many, many lifetimes to achieve the magic that could be created with all of these incredible words. Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest! This is my body, broken for you! Man does not live by bread along!

Catch the power of the free gospel lyrics that are there for the taking in the written Gospels.

Remember Give Peace a Chance? What if the chant had been This is my body, broken for you!

It would have put The Passion of Jesus Christ by Mel Gibson on the back burner, achieving buy the power of music the simple transformation that no amount of religious language (or mega-film) can attain. This site is merely priming the pump. You may find songs in our portfolio that you think do justice to these free gospel lyrics. That’s less important than opening up these free gospel lyrics as the most creative and fertile foundation for music that there is in all the world.

If I had to think of a great musical figure who took to heart the concepts outlined on this site, it would be Handel. Many of his texts are from the majestic words of the Old Testament and others are frankly religious. But Handel stands as an enduring monument to the wonders that can be achieved by making free lyrics of the Bible his lyrical centerpiece.

Jesus did not come to create a new religion, he came to declare the end of religion and a way of life beyond creed and division and hate and war.

When Jesus says he came to bring not peace but a sword, he means that he came to cut away millennia of false efforts to evade human responsibility and claim human possibility.

The Gospel of Jesus was and remains: The realm of God is at hand. Repent and believe this good news.

These gospel lyrics are samples of our theory of gospel music. Next to Jesus, I regard Paul the Apostle as the greatest lyrical genius of all time, comparable to Shakespeare.

Some of the following lyrics are a simple reflection of Paul’s lyrical power.
Enjoy your visit to Original Gospel Music.

Swallowed Up In Victory The quintessential statement of Paul regarding death and resurrection.

By The Waters This, and not literalistic mumbo-jumbo, is the very heart of the Book of Revelation.

Sister, Oh, Sister This is taken almost word for word from the book of Ruth.

Rolled Away

Cast The First Stone The classic do-not-judge story told as it happened.

Plant Your Seed In The Good Ground Another simple and profound statement of Jesus, good news to all who hear.

Touch of His Hand Jesus was a healer. This is a testament to hat. With rudimentary midi file.

CAP — The Congregation of All People

THE FOUNDER of CAP is Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls all, forgives all, seeks all and redeems all who choose to accept water without price. He is an oasis in the desert of our lives.

CAP (the congregation or church of all people) is not an institution.

Jesus rendered all religious institutions incapable of holding the New Wine of the Spirit. The perfection to which he calls us is not sufficiently sustainable on earth to make perfect institutions.

IT IS IMPORTANT to tell people we meet their membership in the non-institution CAP is absolute and guaranteed.

Its members are aware of the universal sinfulness, weakness and mortality of all creatures, beginning with themselves.

My Our Success Program colleague Joan Higgins has created a silver-gray CAP with blue letters CAP that fits all. CAPs are offered for $9.95 postpaid in the US (and with shipping at cost internationally). Wearing a CAP is your way of saying to the entire world that you subscribe to the peaceful, tolerant and helpful way outlined on these CAP pages.

It is a global evangelical conversation-starter. There is no profit involved in these sales. Our sole aim is to provide those who wish it with a simple point of identity that is universal and part of the web of relationships that has no boundaries.

LIFE MORE ABUNDANTLY — the following is a true means of moving not to wealth based on greed, but to wealth based on sharing and responsibility and reliance on grace.

We are discussing CAP — The Congregation of All People. It is not an institution. It is an idea. A movement of the people in the direction of a more peaceful world.

All we do is wear, if we choose to do so, a simple CAP.

When I wear my CAP I feel much more at peace with everyone. I am more aware that God showers everyone on earth with the same free and loving grace.

CAP is for everyone.

BELIEF AND UNDERSTANDING are more important than religious affiliation. You can know God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in many different ways. We must move beyond today’s world of institutionally-tied religions and ideologically-bound religious understandings.

BIBLE STUDY is a good idea. The best way I have found to understand the Bible is to put the text into songs.

Cyberspace makes a new, universal awareness at least possible.

NOTE FROM A FRIEND: Having now seen Steve’s CAP in person, it is the germ of a delightful idea, one designed to provoke a “teachable moment”. It is kookie, and it is humorous, but it does make its point. I like it.

LIFE MORE ABUNDANTLY — In keeping with the overall perspective of this site, the following is a true means of moving not to wealth based on greed, but to wealth based on sharing and responsibility and reliance on grace.

JESUS RELATED to anyone he met regardless. When he spoke the parables and beatitudes, he outlined poverty of spirit as the simple reality that enables us to confess we are indeed among the sinners! Wretches who need to be set free and are set free by the completely unreasonable love of God.

I HAD MY FIRST CAP experience out West when I left my bag in a cloak room and went to get it. The attendant said of my CAP, What’s that, a CAP? I said, No. Church! Church of ALL people. Everybody! The way he nodded and said, Yes, was a neat moment for me.

UNIVERSALISM! Scratch that. No more isms. Or legal-corporate religious institutions.

Which is why CAP IS NOT AN INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH and never will be one.

It is an accessible idea whose manifestation rests with anyone. Particularly the one who says, I am not going to imitate that guy who wears that cap. I will do it my own way. Do we have a litmus test? Yup. Another idea — peace.

The church created by Jesus is a house of prayer for all nations and therefore no temple made by hands. A place of peace. Not bland. To see the evolution of a person toward CAP-like peace, consider Joker in Full Metal Jacket.

Wearing a CAP is your way of saying to the entire world that you subscribe to the peaceful, tolerant and helpful way outlined on these CAP pages. It is a global evangelical conversation-starter.

Because god took the form of a Servant — one who poured out all of his life and was despised, betrayed and rejected — God’s triumph should be shared in the context of that ultimate self-giving.

A dogmatic, authoritarian, triumphalist sort of evangelism builds walls. It does not save souls. CAP believes that all souls have already been saved for all time and that opening of eyes, ears and minds will reveal this to be true.

We should share the Phillipians message of Jesus the Servant, who does not count equality with God a thing to be grasped — who pours out God’s love on all who come freely to the fountain of life.

CAP is an IDEA pure and simple. But ideas that speak truth are ultimately more powerful than institutions.

Wearing my CAP. I can look into the eyes of anyone who asks and say that is Jesus the way, truth and life.

That is evangelism. Free. Open. Universal. Global. And cyberspace could one day be its revolutionary medium.

A SONG (1 Cor. 13)

Patience is the gift love brings
Kindness is the song love sings
Love’s not jealous, boastful, proud
Doesn’t need to know the future now

Love does not cleave to its own way
Love does not seek to win the day
Irritation robs its force
Resentment moves it from its course

CHORUS:

In a mirror dim
We see the way
We’ll know the fullness
Of love one day
The perfect does not pass away
Finally only love remains

Love rejoices in the right
Things go wrong there’s no delight
Follows through believes all things
Only to perfection clings

In a mirror dim
We see the way
We’ll know the fullness
Of love one day
The perfect does not pass away
Finally only love remains

BRIDGE:

I’m grown up now, my childhood’s o’er
I’m travelling toward love’s blissful shore
Faith, hope and love, we know these three
But only love remains eternally

In a mirror dim
We see the way
We’ll know the fullness
Of love one day
The perfect does not pass away
Finally only love remains

Finally only love remains

c Copyright 2002 by Stephen C. Rose

POINT OF LIGHT

I am a point of light within a greater light
This point of light is neither body, mind, nor what I feel
The larger light surrounds the light within me
It is pure energy, its source divinity, it lives within me

I am a point of light within a greater light
This point of light is also the point of pure consciousness
It’s rays can warm mind, body and all feelings
I will to let it grow, so daily I will know, its power to heal me

I am a point of light, within a larger light
This larger light where e’er I roam is always home to me
I can embrace all creatures that surround me
When points of light are known, their beacons can be shown, and I am happy

I am a point of light within a larger light
And as I choose the light I can be purified
My life can mirror light that comes from holiness
See how it flows within, see how we can begin, to know its closeness

I am a point of light within a larger light
The life I lead can be a simple harmony
Love, courage, caring — light-directed will
Can be the gift it gives, can help me as I live, so let it fill me

The greater light will flow where e’er we let it go
It will not force itself on a resisting soul
With patient care each tender beam is seeking
To bring us all to love and teach the meaning of your holy passion

I am a point of light within a greater light
This point of light is neither body, mind, nor what I feel
The larger light surrounds the light within me
It is pure energy, its source divinity, it lives within me

c Copyright 2002 by Stephen C. Rose

Why Are We Still Here? A Poetic Meditation
Category: The Congregation of All People

When Jesus says, in Luke 8:17
All secrets shall be manifest
All hidden things revealed
He speaks to those he means to see God’s light

A light of goodness so transparent
Good news is believed
A light that comes
When Jesus speaks of God

The God of Jesus is no hostile Parent
No blind justice ruling from afar
The God of Jesus is the One called Abba
Close as breath and near as whispered truth

At first this Abba is the secret Jesus brings
A presence of pure goodness, therefore scorned
Cross nailed, entombed, yet somehow unextinguished
Abba shines
If not in us, then in the word preserved
Eternal possibility
Made manifest upon a shadowed hill

Jesus leaves no hiding place from choice
Repent, reject, recoil from all this show
These spinning wheels of sophistry
This glamour built on force
Submit instead to Abba
And believe
Believe good news
Believe good news

But few submit and few believe
And as we look around we see:
The goodness Jesus calls us to
Is not yet manifest in us
Our faith is ill-defined and principalities hold sway

The time fulfilled is strangely unfulfilled

So we will be here for a while yet
Until there is more light upon the hill

By Stephen C. Rose

LIVE BY THE BEATITUDES, Part I

The WAY OF JESUS is to be happy or blessed. Minus blessing and the sense of blessing, connection to the Way cannot be said to exist.

The early placement of the Beatitudes in the Gospels is a sign that Jesus (and the earliest Christians) meant them to be taken with complete seriousness as fact.

Two things need to be understood in reading these initial blessings.

First, they apply to now.

Second, by applying them to now, the conditions they refer to are either altered or fulfilled, now or in the future.

Sufficiently important are these blessings that they cannot be listed as though we could pick from them and find our niche in the blessing pool. All of the qualities that are blessed, all the conditions that are affirmed, are aspects of character and will and action that we can happily aspire to and whose fruits will become manifest.

LIVE BY THE BEATITUDES, Part II

Poverty of spirit is the first and greatest blessing, that state of emptiness and ignorance and spiritual at-sea-ness that makes us open, as we must be, not only because this is a repentant state but also because it is a fully receiving state.

The term kingdom of heaven refers to the sum total of gifts Abba is showering now upon earth, to he extent that we are open to receive them. Poverty in economic terms remains relative through all history, but the clear implication is that because poverty creates lack of illusion and marginality the poor will more easily receive than those encumbered with place, things and pride.

Mourners are now comforted because, Jesus makes plain by his resurrection, heaven is the destiny of the blessed. And mourning is a sign of the depth of feeling that Jesus

LIVE BY THE BEATITUDES, Part III

The hunger and thirst for righteousness, God’s setting right all human hypocrisies and rationales, Abba’s achievement of peace and justice, is being, and shall be, satisfied. Prophets have the job of showing how this is always the case.

Meekness should be a cause for happiness in the knowledge that the meek inherit the earth. Clearly those who bend to the created ways of the earth will inherit it, despite human efforts to parcel up, rape and dishonor God’s gift to us.

The possession of earth by predators is transitory and so to is the presence of the predatory nature in those who turn, empty themselves, and receive Christ and the Holy Spirit.

LIVE BY THE BEATITUDES, Part IV

The practice of forgiveness and mercy is a blessing that, Jesus makes clear, is the only way to receive these gifts. Thus he brings our intent to bear on our destiny and implies, the first of several times, that the power to forgive — once reserved to deity and priests — is, in his dispensation, granted to all.

The blessing of being pure in heart is what might be seen as a blessing of character. It is a quality in those who can somehow will to see through muck and mire and focus on the full majesty of Abba — the Loving Holy One who in Jesus Christ wills the transformation of the earth and of all earth’s creatures through the receiving of the life and words of Christ and the taking in of the Holy Spirit.

Blessing for those who are loyal to Jesus is the only one what looks to heaven as though it was a future state and this is a clear acknowledgement that none of these blessings can be won for all without a price. Not only is Jesus prepared to suffer, so too must we who stand with him in the face of persecution to death.

There IS a heaven. There IS a realm beyond. And the happiness of those loyal to Jesus lies, in part, in the knowledge that they will one day see Jesus face to face and partake of all of Abba’s blessings for all eternity.

Do Unassuming Good In The World

The WAY OF JESUS is to do unassuming good in the world.

There are three elements to this: Intent to do public good; doing so visibly; doing so in such a way that the glory is given to God.

Matthew 5:14-16 >

“You” refers to the close followers of Jesus and is the second person plural address. More than one is needed to do the public good.

“Light” is first Jesus’s way of making clear that he wants “you” to be visible to the world.

“Light” is what makes “your” goodness visible. So what makes light? The great Reformation “no” word: Good Works!

Why do these visible, corporate good works? To bring up the nutrition statistics? All good done to any person or to nature or whatever recipient you can imagine is important but incidental. The reason why is so that Abba will be glorified.

Why is this a valid reason for Jesus’s exhortation?

It is valid and important because Jesus is essentially in the business of making Who Abba Is as clear as light on a hill to the world. When we see Jesus’s good works we see what is possible when we work openly with others to do healing and comforting and feeding in full reliance on Abba’s infectious power.

Just as the merciful and loving Abba that Jesus reveals is at odds with the distant, vengeful deity of those who live by mystery, miracle and authority, so good works done in Abba’s name are conspicuously unusual in the fallen world. They are done from the motive of gratitude and love for Abba and not for publicity, or organizational gain or community.

If there is an evangelical aspect to this public goodness it has to do with the good news aspect of Jesus’s full and complete revelation of the nature of Abba and therefore of the ultimate nature of reality.

Abba is in heaven. That is where Abba lives. Jesus is Abba’s messenger. He is saying, This is what heaven is like. That is the substance of his speaking and doing — right down to the events of dying and of rising up again.

Life beyond the pale of of our observable universe is a place of goodness where the condemnatory tactics of human beings have no place, where those who give in spontaneous gratitude to an Abba who loves them and bears with them will feel right at home.

This Abba has no interest in organizational validation or creedal assent or determinations of heresy or splitting hairs of judgment between what is right and what is wrong. All of these issues for Jesus (who is Abba’s incarnate representative and avatar) fall under the heading of reciprocal, negotiational matters.

What Abba is interested in is our recognition of the nature of reality. Our not being afraid. Our transcending of what we have called sin and what we have experienced only as death.

Here in this little passage from Matthew is the text that calls all of us under judgement insofar as we have turned from the good news that Jesus brings and vindicates with every stride that takes him up the hill to die for it — and for us:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid. Neither do people light a candle and put it under a bushel. They put it in a candlestick and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before all that they see your goodness and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Consciously Fulfill The Law

The WAY OF JESUS is to consciously fulfill the law. It is not to enforce statutes he specifically amends with his, But I say to you. It is to consciously be aware of how Jesus fulfills the law and act accordingly.

Matthew 5:17-19 >
Exodus 20:1-3, 7-10a, 12-17 >
Amos 5: 21-24 >

The WAY OF JESUS is, with equal weight, to fulfill the prophets of Israel. All prophets speak of a coming transformation. All mandate justice replacing corruption. And some certainly come close to anticipating the reality of Jesus, who will come to alter the inherited law and fulfill the fondest hopes of the prophets.

Unless our righteousness exceeds that of Scribes and Pharisees (that is to say legalists and supporters of a strict interpretation of outmoded customs and laws), we shall not enter the kingdom or realm of Abba.

We would be relatively safe to follow the Ten Commandments, for surely these are the greatest of the old dispensation:

Idol worship, taking Abba’s name in vain, taking no time for regular meditation, study and worship, dishonoring parents, murdering, committing adultery, stealing, speaking untruths about others, indulging in envy of what others possess — these remain the major sins and sources of evil in our fallen world.

But the way of Jesus goes beyond these foundational requirements.

Yes, we refrain from idol worship, but we refrain from worship period if we are not reconciled with our adversaries.

Yes, we do not take God’s name in vain, but we also call the unaddressable one Abba (something familiar, friendly, loving), because Jesus represents God’s attitude toward us.

We most emphatically do not turn the Sabbath into a great day of religious works. We do what needs doing — in the service of healing. We break all religious laws, if need be, to do this. This is how Jesus fulfills the Sabbath as its Lord.

We don’t trash our parents, but we extend our concept of honor to all persons. We see honor not as an entitlement but as a courageous willingness to love as we are able. We also accept Abba as our beloved and intimate Parent.

We don’t buy into today’s easy-divorce society (a mirror of the original Mosaic law). Instead we confront our lust and desire to control, and find a higher plane of fulfillment in faithfulness and accepting love.

We do not steal. Instead we move toward the asking, seeking and knocking that shows we know that Abba will love and care for us more than for the lilies and the ravens.

We don’t tell lies on people. Instead we consciously understand our hostility as a sign that we may well have a larger problem than anything in the people we judge. We don’t brood though. We settle it in a few moments of practical repentance, and watch it roll right off our backs.

And we don’t envy the wealthy and together sorts who seem to have it made. We accept the Beatitudes! And by so living, we have an existence that more to be envied than anything the wealthy and together can display to us.

Consciously being aware of how Jesus fulfills, alters, amends and reverses the weighty aspects of the old law will enable us to say, with Jesus, Our righteousness lies in exceeding the righteousness of all who see the law either as a burden or an endless list of restrictive obligations.

Jesus preaches fulfillment of the law in the blessed illumination given us by our consciousness of the inbreaking realm of Abba. And our awareness of this as the desirable and useful gift given to the entire human race — to move beyond the states of being manifested in consistent violations of the very highest law — the Ten Commandments.

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Either G-d changes … Or we had it wrong at certain points

Both Jesus and Paul point out the seemingly arbitrary ways of God in the past.

They do so to restate reality as it is — and is becoming. The Spirit continues the process.

G-d was never arbitrary, though our vision was.

So all redefinitions — for example, the call to inclusiveness and tolerance today — represent a better interpretation of G-d, more consistent with Jesus’ iconoclastic redefinitions, though religion often recoils.

When nations and groups battle in terms that include religious fanaticism, they do not remember that the G-d they claim to worship never condoned violence, ever!

So the answer is not that G-d changes.

The answer is that we had it wrong at the points we used G-d to justify our violence toward one another.

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Paul was describing his world…. and our own.

St. Paul in his letter to Rome designates gay and lesbian activity as unnatural and as a symptom of the state of wrath and disobedience and idolatry that he finds all around him. It is hard to know whether this is a “preaching point” for Paul, a button he can push to win assent to the rest of what he is saying.

One could assume this as a possibility. But anyone tempted to make Paul’s statements into an authoritative homophobic brief must be aware of the implicit judgment that rests in such a decision. Paul’s standard of perfection is high enough to enable his confident conclusion that NONE are justified.

We, of course, do not believe there will be any judgment. We link judgment to religion’s lingering attempts to coerce belief. We scoff at it. But our scoffing is all bravado and self-protection. We live in a gated world. If we could see the consequences of our idolatry (giving first place to self, community, nation, achievement, and so forth) we would not need to look forward to encounter a judgment.

We would stand defeated and powerless before the sheer reality of the world as it actually is. We would start by standing at the deathbeds of the millions upon millions of children each year who are simply not within the circle of care — AIDS babies, AIDS orphans, victims of diseases such as measles which we do not even think of as a danger.

It is best if we put the concept of a coming judgment into very personal terms — it is the judgment that comes as our eyes are opened to the world as it is.

SOME REFLECTIONS ON WACO…YEARS AFTER

Religious journalism failed almost entirely to play a constructive role in dealing with this tragedy. Conservative anti-cult pundit-“experts” correctly ID’ed some of the religious elements in the Koresh situation but lacked the will to try to put a stop to the developing madness.

Could competent religious journalism have anticipated the coming carnage. Without a doubt.

But when one surveys the wreckage of the mainline communications infrastructure (including the silence or demise of some of its best outlets, such as Christianity and Crisis) one can only hope that a real-life angel somewhere will decide that the first step toward a revitalized mainline leadership is an ability to be where things are happening and creation of a structure for communicating to the world with understanding that reflects the precepts of Jesus.

The government should not be exempted from culpability in what was by any accounts a fiasco involving the lives of innocent children and others who did not deserve the flame holocaust that resulted from an inept stand-off conducted by arbitrary and evidently flawed authorities.

If it is the case that the accusations of child abuse which the Attorney General cited as reason for the final incineration of the compound were never substantiated, feet of clay have left their tracks in the cinders.

Waco is emblematic of the decline of funded independent religious journalism by persons competent to make on-scene evaluations of whether rights are being violated, whether the peoples’ freedom is being played with and whether anything like wisdom characterizes government strategy.

Waco was also an indication of the low state of secular religious news reporting, a craft that is somewhat interactive with professional religious reporting. I should note here that I am impressed with the official press releases I have read of late, especially from Methodist and PCUSA shops. Unfortunately these operations are in no position to free up their journalists to go to the Wacos of the world.

In any case, if at some point a jury says the government was guilty in Waco, I think my reaction will be to believe that the separation of church and state has been well-served. And the ineptitude of authorities in dealing with cultic phenomena, which dates at least back to 1978, would be judicially established.

The Primacy Of Fire Or Spirit Baptism

Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 3: 15-22

The WAY OF JESUS is the way of fire baptism which is baptism by the Holy Spirit. The Luke text is the source for this. John the Baptist states that Jesus will baptize in this way.

Therefore any water baptism is merely a beginning point and is not strictly even necessary for the follower of the way of Jesus.

The baptism of Jesus by John is a water baptism. But it is also a Holy Spirit baptism because the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove and Abba speaks the words “my beloved” and “I am well pleased”.

Since we backslide, there perhaps ought to be many ways to show repentance including something like the baptism in the Jordan. But the fact remains that the baptism we are now to seek is that of the Holy Spirit and of fire.

Two things accompany Spirit baptism. Note that fire baptism is really a powerful statement of Spirit baptism because in Acts at Pentecost the Spirit does descend as tongues of fire!

The two things are deliverance and purification.

Jesus does not, as far as we know, baptize with water, though he does wash the feet of his disciples, implying servanthood and love. Nor does he make any ceremony about baptizing with the Holy Spirit.

What then is the fulfillment of John’s prophecy about Spirit and fire baptism?

If we take from Luke the ideas of purification and deliverance, Jesus fulfills these for us by initiating the cleansing, inrushing, powerful actions of the Spirit as the gift he gives to his congregation or church.

The church is literally created where this gift is received!

This makes Pentecost the essential completion of John’s statement about how Jesus will baptize in the future.

What then is the WAY OF JESUS for us in the here and now?

It is most probably to include the water baptism as one of numerous water rituals that could be performed to signify human repentance and turning from sin and the desire for deliverance, purification and rebirth.

It is most assuredly to initiate times when the baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit is actively sought and received.

The role of the Spirit in Jesus’s ministry is not tangental but foundational. The Spirit comes down upon him at baptism and literally drives him to his own journey of encounter with the principalities and powers, Satan in the desert.

So when we consider the place of baptism today, move quickly to the prophecy of the Baptist — which was indeed fulfilled before all eyes at Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan.

It would not be out of place for continuing rites of baptism to seek the Spirit baptism, but the texts give us a strong argument AGAINST infant baptism and against the sacramentalization of baptism in a world that has been fully sacramentalized by the healing power of Abba in Jesus Christ and the Spirit.

The Earliest Recorded Words Of Jesus (Chronologically) …

LUKE 2:49 And Jesus said, Why would you be looking for me? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?

Commentary:

This is the first word in Luke’s account and it shows Jesus to be precocious, a suggestion he spent his first thirty years immersed in Biblical literature and could therefore confound his elders. Even if this is a reading back it is a way of explaining the provocative nature of Jesus and his interest in getting to the truth of things.

There may be some who feel this is mythological in the sense that Luke might be trying to put some tradition around the core of his text. Perhaps.

But the substance of the text is simply another affirmation of Jesus’s priority and it ought also to be ours.

As I write, I reflect on the degree to which everything works for division. Division and conflict are good for business. Reconciliation, decency, even reason, are second class citizens in the worlds of commerce, culture and politics. Even the workplace is fraught with talk that is filled with the very judgmentalism that Jesus plainly sees as something to avoid at all costs.

Well, we need to become better schooled in what Jesus had in mind and in how we can respond when everything around us is asking us to put reconciliation on the back burner and root for the home team, this or that side, whatever.

For the follower of Jesus, “Just say no” does not just mean not doing things to willfully harm ourselves. It means, Do not take sides. Go for negotiation, arbitration, peace. Not at the expense of denying the justice and love for which Jesus stood, but at the expense of kicking the conformity habit. When we don’t we follow everything and everyone else but Jesus.

Witnessing is not just bringing others to Christ. It is letting Jesus permeate our behavior to the point that we can be about our Father’s business as our priority, over most everything else.

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Jesus begins

John (not the Baptist, the author of the Fourth Gospel) tells us Jesus was “in the beginning” — the Word who was “with God.”

Mark says the beginning is the moment when the fully-grown Jesus treks to the River Jordan and is baptized by a scruffy prophet named John.

Jesus would not begin in any significant sense if you had never heard of him — or if you had heard of him only in an oath or casual expression of irritation.

Matthew and Luke (also Gospel authors) suggest that Jesus begins in Israel’s great family line all the way back to Abraham and Isaac.

A feminist theologian might emphasize the beginning that centers on Mary — who is also a prophet in her own way.

Jesus would begin in a significant sense if we made up our mind to meet him.

Why Should John Baptize Jesus?

MATTHEW 3:15 Jesus said, Let it be for now, for this is how it has to be to fulfil every demand of righteousness.

Commentary:

He is addressing John the Baptist.

In these words he states his purpose, explaining why John should baptize him. Jesus must be as all others — in this case a sinner who repents and is baptized by John in the Jordan river.

No high horse for Jesus, no special treatment, the human adventure is what he is embracing and this embrace means he must pass through the earth as we do.

Mortal, fallible, always needing to repent of something. To get beyond this as a human being is what Jesus is about.

The demands of righteousness are made on all of us.

If Jesus is to lead us he must be one of us.

JESUS’ BEATITUDES
ONE

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew)

Jesus notes that happiness lies in being poor in spirit. Happy are those who don’t put on spiritual airs. Happy are those who have no leg to stand on before the Holy One.

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke)

The closer we are to real poverty, the closer we are to the realm of Abba where Love, not money, reigns, where sharing, not having, is true wealth.

THE SECOND BEATITUDE

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew)

To mourn is not to make an extended and pathological show of grief. It is to realize in the deepest sense your love for the one who is gone. It is to know you can and do continue to love. Comfort is the mantle of love the Holy One bestows on those who have the happy gift of mourning.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Luke)

This is the simpler way of saying it. Our tears turn to laughter. The situation of death is transformed and life triumphs.

The Third Beatitude: Blessed Are The Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew)

Happy are those who do not seek more than they need.

Meekness is not being an utter wimp.

Meekness means yielding, being willing to negotiate.

Negotiation is at the very heart of the reciprocal ethic of Jesus.

The meek, who can bend and move with a flexibility born of faith in Abba, will inherit this earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matthew)

Happiness is knowing the very heart of the radical way that Jesus proclaims. Jesus looses the power to forgive from the hands of priests.

He declares that it is our obligation to practice mercy in all relationships and circumstances. We heal ourselves by giving of ourselves.

The Sixth Beatitude

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew)

Happiness lies in having a heart unburdened by evil thoughts and impulses to evil deeds. But how to be free of what too often occupies us — resentment, the urge to get even?

This is part of the evil we pray to be delivered from with the words: And deliver us from evil.

There is nothing happier than the freedom one feels to know one is poor in spirit, without a leg to stand on, and need therefore never feel so superior to others that evil thoughts against them poison existence.

It is the substance of our entire CAP approach (see below).

The capacity to see ultimate Truth is given to such.

The Seventh Beatitude

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew)

Happiness for Jesus is NOT the product of national, gender, racial or religious affiliation. If it were, few would be the happy!

Jesus finds righteousness in each person. It is not the fruit of genes, but of awareness, repentance and acceptance of grace.

For Jesus, the realm of Abba will be open to those who have seen his face in the face of the hungry, the lame, the weak, the last and least.

Anyone who is persecuted for righteousness sake can be happy knowing that theirs is the ultimate reward, the just and loving future.

The Eighth Beatitude

“Blessed are you, when people revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.”

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew)

Happiness in all Beatitudes is a product of Abba’s will for each of us. So to be happy because tormented for Jesus’s sake means to be tormented for living Beatitudinally!

A mere intellectual affirmation or doctrinal argument has nothing to do with attaining this happiness.

Beatitudinal happiness is a Way of the Heart made possible by faith, openness, allegiance to Jesus.

Abba, Please Help Us, We Pray

664.6664 as in “Come Thou Almighty King”

Abba, please help us we pray
When all our skies seem gray
When we are lost
Not knowing where to turn
Letting our bridges burn
Losing all we have learned
Oh, such a cost!

Help us see Jesus again
Standing upon the plain
Arms open wide
Calling all sinners home
Touching the lost and lone
Rolling away the stone
Salvation’s tide

Finally anchored in You
Knowing all You can do
Our battle won
Our cares will be so slight
Bounded by heaven’s light
Gospel truth shining bright
Like morning sun

c Copyright 2004 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

Abba, You Embrace All Persons

87.87 (Trochaic) as in “Jesus Calls Us”

Abba you embrace all persons
All who ask and seek and knock
Caring, healing, listening, giving
Love so solid, like a rock

Jesus you call every person
To repent and to believe
Your forgiveness knows no ending
Mercy’s way to heaven leads

Holy Spirit, truth incarnate
Be with us and never part
Solace, comfort and deliver
As we take your word to heart

Holy Spirit, Abba, Jesus
Three in one and one in three
We cling boldly to your promise
Trusting through eternity

c Copyright 2004 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI, LicenSing

BLESSED ARE YOU POOR IN SPIRIT

Tune: What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Blessed are you poor in spirit
All of heaven will be yours
Blessed all who mourn and suffer
Only Jesus’ way endures
Blessed all you meek and humble
You shall own the whole world wide
Blessed all you justice seekers
Justice shall be satisfied

Blessed you who practice mercy
Surely mercy you’ll receive
Blessed all you pure in hearted
For one day the Lord you’ll see
Blessed all you persecuted
You’ll receive the kingdom too
All who suffer for my name’s sake
Will be glad and blessed too

Hum the tune through.

c Copyright 2004 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

CREATE IN US THE MINDS TO SEE

Common Meter 86.86 as in “Am I A Soldier of The Cross?”

Create in us the minds to see
Through skies of cloud and rain
The One Who sets all sinners free
The One Who comes again

Create in us the faith to feel
His healing hands caress
With a love so so rare, so real
His name we must confess

Create in us the will to cling
To every precious word
Each word is Good News taking wing
To fly through all the earth

Create in us the hearts to beat
To such amazing grace
And eyes that see beyond defeat
His resurrected face

And when that happy moment comes
When we see past the veil
We’ll see Your crystal fountains run
With love that cannot fail

c Copyright 2004 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

EVER AND ALWAYS, GOD OF LOVE

87.87.66.667 as in “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

Ever and always, God of love
Hold us with arms unfailing
Strong words of courage lift us up
Above the storm clear sailing
Make every doubt and fear
Dissolve and disappear
Unite us so to You
In everything we do
Till we are one in heaven

But still the principalities
And powers of evil flourish
Wherever vain confusion reigns
And hatred’s flames we nourish
Still we are bold to say
There is a better way
If we live by good news
Armed with the faith we choose
No wrong can stand against us

We bow down to no earthly power
We yield to no vain dreaming
We worship at no Babel tower
Confusing all life’s meanings
The cross-won truth prevails
Your strong love never fails
The powers cannot deface
Your everlasting grace
You set us free forever

c Copyright 2004 by Stephen C. Rose
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

FIRST MAKE PEACE, THEN OFFERING

Tune: Hark The Herald Angels Sing

First make peace, then offering
That’s the way that Christ
proclaims
First resolve the wrong that’s
done
Then come to the Holy One
God cares not for laden altars
Pilled with gifts from those
who falter
Hear God’s precious only Child
Speaking from a heart so mild
Do not hold your hurt within
First make peace, then offering

First make peace, then offering
See the miracle begin
Settle with your enemy
Find a way you can agree
Go to law? No never, never!
Lest you end up there forever
Listen to God’s Holy One
Even His most precious Son
Do not hold your hurt within
First make peace, then offering

c Copyright 2001 by Stephen C. Rose [100%]
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

FORTY DAYS BEYOND BAPTISM

Tune: “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”

Forty days beyond baptism
Fasting in the desert bleak
Jesus did the Spirit’s bidding
Hungry, thirsty, tired and weak
Forty days beyond baptism
Jesus stood against the foe
Tall and strong in Abba’s wisdom
Satan tried, but He said No

Satan came with three temptations
Leap from heights, make
bread from stone
I will give you every nation
If you worship me alone
Forty days beyond baptism
Jesus stood against the foe
Tall and strong in Abba’s wisdom
Satan tried, but He said No

Jesus said, You quote
from Scripture
But you do not heed the word
Listen to what has
been written
God alone is to be served
Forty days beyond baptism
Jesus stood against the foe
Tall and strong in Abba’s wisdom
Satan tried, but He said No

Bread is not enough to
feed us
Miracles will not avail
Only in the simple service
Of the Lord do we prevail
Forty days beyond baptism
Jesus stood against the foe
Tall and strong in Abba’s
wisdom
Satan tried, but He said No

c Copyright 2001 by Stephen C. Rose [100%]
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

GO BE A LIGHT UPON THE HILL

88.88 LM with Refrain as in “My Hope Is Built” — THE SOLID ROCK

Go be a light upon the hill
Your gleam reflecting Abba’s will
No, do not hide, but rise and shine
For as you seek so shall you find
Oh, listen close, for Jesus calls
A whole world waits outside the walls
A whole world waits outside the walls

The sabbath is where’er I am
In words of hope, in healing hands
No precious pearl shall say unfound
Ho wandering sheep shall be cast down
Oh, listen close, for Jesus calls
A whole world waits outside the walls
A whole world waits outside the walls

I give my body and my blood
To bathe this world in peace and love
I bind all powers of hate and rage
I point the way, I set the stage
Oh, listen close, for Jesus calls
A whole world waits outside the walls
A whole world waits outside the walls

When we see Abba face to face
And feel the touch of saving grace
Then we shall a still, small voice
That calls us still to make our choice
Oh, listen close, for Jesus calls
A whole world waits outside the walls
A whole world waits outside the walls

c Copyright 2001 by Stephen C. Rose [100%]
Licensed to CCLI & LicenSing

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

new grass roots church
one minute christian
church renewal

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

The following is drawn substantially from the original 1966 edition with conclusions drawn much more recently.

The Church as Chaplain and Teacher

1

It is popular today to write articles about Americas moral decline—the apathy that allows a Catherine Genovese to be murdered before thirty-eight silent witnesses, teenage explosions in city and suburbs, burgeoning premarital sex, price-fixing in the corporations, corruption in the unions, scandal in government, planned obsolescence, initiative-sapping welfare programs—the catalog of sins is infinite. Almost invariably, such analyses of decline suggest that the Church was once among the institutions that guided man through life’s intricacies. In the mythology of American culture the task of moral guidance has been conferred on the Church, the home, and the school. The obvious explanation for moral decline today is that the Church, the home, and the school are no longer “doing their job.” It may be too simple a diagnosis, but it reflects a popular wisdom too often ignored by the specialists who seek to minister to contemporary ills.

The schools are increasingly trapped in a structural milieu, aided and abetted by administrative myopia, that leads to what Paul Goodman has called “compulsory miseducation.” Imaginative teachers are often the first to sense the limitations of a system which overcrowds classrooms, burdens front-line educators with back-room bureaucratic form filling, and refuses to demand enough money to do the job that needs doing.

In many cases the home has held up well. It is the most decentralized institution in society. Even within a standardized environment it can set its own standards. If anything, the breakdown of the family may be the result of its having to do too much rather than too little. It must often serve as community, disciplinarian, creative environment, bastion of privacy, center of intimacy, economic provider, and cultural guide in order to fill the void created by a lack of community, culture, and decent relationships in the wider world. Whatever the causes, the divorce statistics, if they can be believed, provide an alarming index of the family’s inability to remain stable, and of the parents’ difficulty in exercising positive influence on their children.

One senses that if a breakdown in Church, home, and school continues, the total society will either be the locus of revolutionary upheaval, or the state will gradually assume more and more authority. The problems to date have seemed greater than the proposed solutions. Nevertheless, revolution is a last resort, and the prospect of vastly increased state domination is not a happy one. The effort to renew existing structures and to create new ones where present forms are obsolete becomes the only responsible strategy.

In a pluralistic society Protestantism can be expected to fill only a partial role in a total strategy of renewal. Nevertheless, practically any dormant institution today that undergoes the test of renewal will set a pattern for other institutions. Even a specialized society is profoundly influenced as its specific sectors undergo change.

2

In this chapter we are considering the Church as a resource. Chaplaincy and teaching are resource ministries. Taken together they comprise an indispensable aspect of the Church on mission. They are the mind and soul of the Church, even as abandonment represents the physical action of the Church in the world. They are resources that ought to be made available to every Church member, and it is as criminal to deny them within the precincts of the Church as it is to deny basic education in the schools and basic food to the starving.

There is truth in the allegation that the Church, like the home and the school, has exercised scant influence in creating the basic values that could sustain a just and human society. Today’s Church is looked to less and less as a resource in facing the moral dilemmas of individual and corporate existence. The harassed parent, the businessman with vocational conflicts, the couple edging toward divorce—all tend to look elsewhere for guidance, or else to look nowhere. One could explain that Protestants are just as confused as the rest of the world. But this would be begging the question of whether a more effective job can be done.

Consider first the persons on whom the job of chaplaincy and teaching now falls. For the most part they are the professionally trained ministers. Are they equipped to preach, to teach, to counsel? Consider the typical portfolio of the contemporary pastor. He is expected to do at least five things.

He should be a dynamic and inspiring preacher who spends at least a day or two each week studying and preparing his sermon. He ought to be an accomplished speaker, a good writer, and acquainted enough with the world to integrate biblical insight and contemporary understandings in his preaching.

He should be an accomplished administrator, aggressive yet diplomatic, alert to every phase of the Church’s programming. He should be able to delegate authority. He ought to have a sophisticated grasp of structure and a quick capacity for logistics.
He should be a competent counselor. He should have enough training to discriminate between those he can help and those who ought to be referred to more specialized professionals. He should keep up with literature in the field. He should have highly developed sensitivity to individual problems. And he ought to be available to counsel his parishioners at any hour of the day.

He needs also to be a pastor, one who keeps in touch with his far-flung flock, who broods over their individual needs, who visits them when sick, who baptizes children, performs marriages, and conducts funerals. And, for good measure, he should call frequently on the total membership.

Then he must be a teacher. Presumably his preaching and counseling prepare him to administer programs of adult education, to handle confirmation classes and to maintain a relationship with the Sunday School. But ought he not also to have certain specialized areas of ability? Perhaps to lead discussions among the men of the Church on the relation of Christian faith to work, or among the women on the feminine mystique?

These are the basic expectations of the competent pastor. But this is by no means the whole job description. He must also be, depending on circumstance, a chauffeur, a willing attender of every organization’s weekly or monthly meeting, a skilled diplomat, and a liturgist. If he has any standing at all, he must participate in the wider activities of the Church. This means serving on a board of directors or attending denominational meetings. If the minister has any sense that the Church is not quite what it ought to be, he probably participates in social action projects in the community at large. In order to satisfy his need for privacy (or to live up to the congregation’s image of him as a moral paragon) our clergyman must also be a good husband and father, devoting adequate time to his family.

Would it be overly critical to suggest that such a job description is absurd? In the first place it is never realized. In the second place it imposes impossible expectations on the cleric and adds to his burden of pathological guilt when he fails to function well.

Since this job description applies to practically the entire professional arm of the Church (save for the few who are trained and employed to work in specialized ministries) the notion of the Church as a resource suffers a severe blow. Several solutions have been advanced to change this pattern without fundamentally changing Church structure. Some have advanced the idea that the minister should be seen as a “pastoral director”—a resource person to laymen in the Church who would be called on to carry out many of the functions that now burden the minister. The pastoral director would make laymen responsible for such jobs as calling, assisting in worship, and education. He would insist that organizations in the Church be run by lay persons rather than by himself. He would refuse to carry on administrative functions that could be assumed by the laity.

The notion of the pastoral director is not bad in itself. It is a militant rejection of the minister as an ecclesiastical errand boy. To some extent it frees him to preach and to teach. In fact a number of clergymen have succeeded in implementing this sort of redefinition of responsibility in the local setting. But consider the odds against such an approach as a basic strategy of renewal.

The first fact that must be stated bluntly is that the proportion of clergymen able to perform effectively as pastors (or as pastoral directors) is at most one-half of those currently serving local churches. It is really amazing that there are as many good ministers as there are. But the fact remains that there are many who are simply unequipped—whether emotionally or educationally—with the talents needed for the ministry of chaplaincy and teaching. This is a rash judgment and of necessity it must be a subjective one. One suspects most ministers concur. They are no more fond of the current job description than they are able to fill it.

Yes, the notion of the pastoral director may hold back the dike for a time. The glowing description of the minister as one who has a foot in the Church, a foot in the world, may provide a nice ego ideal. But sooner or later the structure is seen to militate against the best efforts of those who minister. The local congregation is generally too small to afford the services of men and women who could perform all of the necessary tasks. Given the lack of cooperative ministries through which the talents of many are shared by many, seminaries can scarcely train persons for the specialized tasks that must be fulfilled. So, in a real sense, the Gospel is smothered by the present structure, and St. Paul’s differentiation of ministries is ignored.

It is true that style is as important as structure. One wishes that all ministers would adopt a more contemporary stance, would doff their embarrassed reserve for long enough to converse in down-to-earth terms with man, would see the Church as mission, would cease the cliquish practice of nursing their gripes with their colleagues and never sharing their hopes and doubts in public. One hopes and sees a gradual change in style emerging. There is a sharper new breed of clergyman, alert to the world about him, discriminating in what he emphasizes, able to gain the respect of his congregation, socially militant yet sensitive to less dramatic needs. Structure is not king, and it is finally people who sound the deepest transformations. Can we not hope in this? Perhaps we can. Those on the inside can bask, in the sense that things are changing bit by bit. Today’s competent minister may himself vigorously defend the status quo because, after all, things are going well from his point of view. Why rock the boat? And the whole debate could end with a glorious reassertion of the old Protestant practice of muddling through so as not to offend anyone. There could be a big meeting to reassert The Way We Do Things. An avant garde drama group could be brought in from the fringes to prove that We Really Don’t Neglect Culture.
But we cannot avoid the structural problem so easily.

3

Today’s minister is plainly not equipped to perform the tasks of chaplaincy and teaching. His seminary has trained him in a little bit of everything. Even if he has had the foresight to specialize, most local churches will force upon him the outmoded job definition we have described. Given the cooperative ministry structure, however, the whole training process could be revised. The first year of seminary could be a basic introduction which would be as relevant to lay persons as to potential ministers. One would enter seminary not knowing necessarily what one would eventually do: perhaps a tent-making ministry of the type Gordon Cosby describes, a ministry of abandonment, or possibly the ministry of chaplaincy or teaching. After one year the layman would be able to leave a wiser man. The second year would be more specialized. A decision would be forthcoming. What is to be one’s special area of ministry? The third year would be in the field, in a cooperative ministry such as we have described. The candidate for chaplaincy would be immersed in the worship and preaching ministry of the Church. The candidate for a specialized ministry of teaching or pastoral care would be immersed in that. One who aspired to the ministry of abandonment would gain important experience.

After a year in the field, a final decision would be made. Is the student to continue? If not, he is prepared to be a responsible layman. If so, he makes a solid choice of a field. His final year gives him the specific academic preparation needed to perform his chosen task. This could be flexible. The seminaries would learn exactly how long it takes to train for one or another specialty. Programs would be tailored accordingly.

Many seminaries would object, arguing that the seminary is both a training center and a serious academic institution where advanced scholarly work is pursued. Teachers whose primary interest is in research might rebel at so close a potential relationship to the needs of the Church-at-large. But the seminaries must consider the possibility that specialized centers, preferably related to the great universities, should be developed to carry on the vitally important task of theological, biblical, and historical scholarship. There need not be a total divorce of the practical and the academic. Indeed, many highly competent teachers might welcome a chance to move from one environment to the other, and, through visiting lecturers, the restructured seminaries could maintain contact with the most advanced scholarly thought. Indeed, in the most academically inclined seminaries today, students for the ministry tend to be shortchanged, due to the preoccupation of the more eminent professors with graduate work. This results, in some cases, in a tutor system through which much of the grading and classroom work is handled by graduate students.

4

But how can the seminaries move if Church structure remains stagnant? One way to move the churches, and thus the seminaries, is to project what things would be like under the new system. What, for example, would the new teaching ministry of the Church look like?

On a purely visual level the teaching ministry might have several appearances. Decentralization and specialization would allow for the adaptation of traditional church buildings for use as permanent teaching centers. Classrooms could be created to suggest the subject matter, and imaginative use could be made of other spaces. The sanctuary, for example, could be used for audio-visuals, the halls as galleries, one room as a library, another as a studio. This would be a welcome change for those churches that try to make one room double for eight different purposes, or throw the entire Sunday School into an acoustically horrendous enclosure for an hour a week, hoping that curtains and other devices will enable seven separate classes to function harmoniously. The adaptation of present church buildings for full-time teaching purposes is only one alternative. Apartments, storefronts, and houses could also serve as teaching facilities.

A more important consideration is who would be doing the teaching. No longer would the few competent professionals and volunteer teachers in a neighborhood be scattered about in separate churches trying to shore up separate educational programs. They would be attached to the neighborhood teaching centers. Specially trained professionals would devote full time to the teaching mission. In such a setting, only the truly interested volunteers would be trained to handle various phases of the program. In short, the educational ministry would be in the hands of ministers and laymen whose talent and interest lie in teaching.

This structure would replace the Sunday School and the slipshod adult programs in local churches. Classes could be held when convenient for community residents. Curriculum could be broadened to fit specific interests. Much of the course material could be developed locally, thus increasing its relevance. One of the sad facts today is that even the best denominational materials are most often useless at the local level because teachers lack the basic training and outlook to respond fully to the materials that are provided. Also, the nationally developed curriculums are often utterly irrelevant to specific local situations. Through the development of local competence, a genuine diversity could be attained in course offerings for youth, children, and adults. Given adequate budgets, the teaching centers could afford high-quality audio-visual material—the better contemporary films, etc. In educationally depressed areas, the centers could serve children in need of tutoring. The possibilities are endless, and the heart of the proposal is its assumption that a cooperative ministry will be sufficiently self-determining to tailor its combined talents to the specific needs of the community.

The teaching ministry would not be aimed solely at producing an educated Protestant laity. In many cases its mission would fall under the heading of abandonment. The teaching centers could be flexible enough to open their doors to the entire community. Social action groups in the community could conduct classes. A group of mothers could experiment with a Montessori school. Public-school teachers, university professors, and others could offer courses that they have wanted for years to experiment with. In this way the teaching Church would be a center of dialogue with the world rather than a closed institution operated for the sole benefit of members.
One final point: To teach well is to be faithful to one’s subject. It is also to be open to debate. The worst stereotype that hovers over the present teaching of Protestantism is that it is propagandistic and conversion-oriented, less interested in adding to one’s knowledge than in filling the mind with unexamined beliefs and memorized maxims. This is to defeat the purpose of education, which is to stir the student’s curiosity and help him to exercise his own talents. If the teaching of the Church is faithful to subject matter it will leave the student the freedom to accept or reject. Part of the reason why present Protestant teaching is so stultified is that it assumes it must also preach and moralize. By structuring the Church in the way we have suggested, teaching is freed to become teaching. By recognizing teaching as one of the three root ministries of the Church, there would be a boost in morale for the religious educators who, for so long, have been confined to the ghetto of the archaic Sunday School.

On the metropolitan level, teaching would express itself in the establishment of training centers for laymen who seek to minister in the specialized areas of the emerging city. Ecumenical retreat centers would also play an important role within the new structure. Doctors and lawyers and, indeed, all vocational groups could be brought together to explore their separate and joint ministry to the world. And, contrary to today’s forms, the new structure—through the ministries of abandonment—would give laymen the organizational basis by which to move from reflection to action.

Compare today’s structure with the one proposed. Even if lay people in a given metropolis are brought into study programs (whether denominational or ecumenical), they are hard-pressed to move from reflection to action. Why? Primarily because action requires organization and organization requires money. Suppose, for example, that a group of thirty lay persons in a given city meets for six months and determines that their mission for the next year is to fight air pollution, primarily because no one else is fighting it and because, unchecked, it can do as much ultimate damage to people as any other evil. They need fifteen thousand dollars to get started. They have three choices. They can go to their respective denominations for approval of the project, but the chances are that approval would take at least a year and that within this time the group’s impetus would diminish. They can decide to do the job on their own, possibly withdrawing their support from the Church in order to raise the necessary funds. In this case they are denied the resources of the Church; they find the Church an impediment. Or, under the proposed structure—the cooperative ministry—they could constitute themselves as a task force and go to the cooperative ministry for the approval, on an annual basis, of such ad hoc programs as battling air pollution, fighting for decent housing, etc. The cooperative ministry would be prepared to operate with more speed than the divided denominations. Since the laity would initiate the project and staff it with volunteer help, there would not be the present pattern of setting up professionalized denominational offices to deal with such issues. Indeed, one of the problems with “official” denominational offices is that they do not represent a grass roots constituency, and the persons they seek to influence know it. Built into the structure of the cooperative ministries—and the metropolitan structures that would support the local ministries—would be the assumption that study leads to action. Therefore, there might be ten task forces in a metropolitan area. All of them could appeal for support from the whole Church. And support would be contingent on the approval of the whole Church, either in the local community or in the metropolis at large.

Teaching thus becomes the bridge between chaplaincy and abandonment. The teaching or training structures would be seen as part of the process by which the Christian moves from celebration and seeking to involvement and action. And the traffic would be two way.

5

The second resource the restructured church could offer is that of chaplaincy. We refer to the preaching, music, liturgy, and the pastoral counseling of the Church. As in teaching, our proposed structure would free those with talent in these areas to perform effectively and without the burden of too many other responsibilities. We can begin by raising two questions about the effect of the proposed structure on the mission of chaplaincy. We have concentrated the chaplaincy function in a “Central House” and suggested that two ministers be entrusted with primary responsibility as preachers and worship leaders in the community. The first question is whether the present local church structure does not have the advantage of offering more variety. The second question is what effect the new structure would have on the pastoral relationship of minister to people that now exists to some extent within local churches.

If anything, the proposed structure would increase the depth and variety of the Church’s worship life. The Central House would be a worship center, but it would offer numerous varieties of worship, and its preaching would not be confined to the two clergymen. Ministers and laymen attached to the teaching and abandonment missions would provide a pool of talent that could be drawn upon. There would also be access to guest preachers and worship leaders. One could envision a variety of services during the week and at various times of the day. Some might be built around music, others around prayer, and others around the sacraments. Liturgical experiments could be attempted, and there could be a rebirth of congregational participation. But let us not play down the persons who would be in charge of the preaching and worship life of the Central House. They would be selected precisely because of their talent. Freed from other responsibilities, they might not become George Buttricks, William Sloane Coffins, or Kelly Miller Smiths overnight, but they would be several notches above the present average.

And one would be assured of the availability of competent counseling.

6

Another question presents itself. Would not the emphasis on chaplaincy and teaching suggested here create a specialized clergy even more divorced from the concerns of laymen than today’s ministers? It would create a competent clergy, but hardly an isolated one. In fact, it takes little imagination to speculate on the common mission that would develop among clergy and laymen working together in specific areas. The very structure of the cooperative ministry would open up many positions to laymen that have traditionally been the preserve of the ordained clergy. Laymen who happen also to be teachers might find the no-holds-barred educational ministry to be the very vocational option they have been looking for. Psychiatrists who have cried out for a decentralization of bureaucratized and often inaccessible mental health facilities might welcome employment in the local pastoral centers. Practically any profession or trade could prove an integral resource to the ministries of abandonment. Indeed it is the laymen who would grow in responsibility. There is no reason why one who does not preach and administer sacraments should be ordained. The number of ordained ministers within a cooperative structure could, in fact, be less than half the professional staff. One should add that—with a new birth of vitality and specialization in the seminaries—there is no reason why more than half the graduates of theological institutions should be ordained. The real source of clericalism within Protestantism is the isolation of the minister within the present local Church structure. He is so alone and so often misunderstood that he tends to have no social existence, no warm friendship, except with other clergymen. A hostility between clergy and laity develops. Often it is unconscious and subtle. But it has about the same bad consequences as the cliquish-ness of American foreign service officers overseas who isolate themselves from the language and interests of those whom they seek to serve.

7

In this chapter and the last we have spoken of the Church as a local cooperative ministry serving a definable neighborhood, whether in city, suburban, or rural areas. Naturally such ministries would develop differently in different locales. In affluent suburbs there might be a greater need for teaching and chaplaincy than for local ministries of abandonment, since many suburbanites could more profitably serve in inner-city areas or in specialized ministries affecting the total metropolis. In rural areas the concentration of churches might not be large enough to support a cooperative ministry in a given town, although rural ecumenicity of any sort would be preferable to the present prospect of dying denominational churches trying to support themselves through their death agony. The rural mission of the Church could concentrate on preparing persons for the inevitable move to the city.

What must be kept steadfastly in mind is that the principle of decentralization places basic emphasis on local initiative. Our hypothetical example and our suggestions have been evocative rather than rigid. We assume that new life will emerge, and appropriate new forms will develop if persons at the grass roots are given a flexible structure and the power to see things through at the local level. The most debilitating result of contemporary organization throughout society is the loss of individual control over destiny. Only when people are given responsibility for their own affairs and the means of implementing their creative ideas is there much hope of reviving this sense of initiative.

It is an interesting exercise to briefly examine the effect of our proposed structure on the deficiencies outlined in the first chapters of this book. We shall list the deficiencies and suggest concisely the antidotes implicit in the cooperative ministry structure. Here we shall consider those objections that could be remedied by the implementation of the Church’s mission as chaplain and teacher, reserving the implications of abandonment for the next chapter.

1) The denominational Church is competitive and repetitive. The cooperative structure eliminates competition and varies program and mission from place to place.
2) There is too little lay participation in substantive decision-making. The cooperative ministry localizes policy and program decisions, increasing lay participation.

3) Seminaries are divorced from the Church. The cooperative ministry makes provision for the integral participation of seminary students and professors, and for lay education in seminaries.

4) Church membership is time-consuming and concerned with the trivial. The cooperative ministry scales down institutional maintenance and bases participation on interest and talent.

5) The Church is a private preserve of the membership. The cooperative ministry opens its buildings to the public, identifies them by function, and has the resources to make its programs known to the entire community.

6) The Church’s worship is without rhyme or reason. The quality of worship is enhanced by the “Central House” concept, and there is a wider range of specialized worship services. Preaching and music are improved, and one can attend without feeling the obligation to contribute or join.

7) The Church is not concerned with deep issues. The teaching ministry is structured to allow the community to raise the issues it is concerned about and is equipped to offer both competent teaching and open-ended debate.

8) The Church is not a community. The various arms of the cooperative ministry provide the structural basis for five essential types of community: local loyalty, consensus, reconciliation, spontaneous association, and intimate living together. Residential communities, for example, could easily spring up around specialized ministries.

One can also reflect on the impact of new structures on several of the most cherished functions that have been traditionally assigned to the Church:

1) Proclaiming the Gospel. C. Kilmer Myers has noted that the only facility needed for this is a tent and an altar. John Wesley did without both. We provide a more weatherproof roof, the possibility of a more educated laity to hear the Word, and a ministry whose sole vocation is to preach it.

2) Showing forth unity in Christ. Practically any polity would accomplish this more visibly than does denominationalism. Ours builds on St. Paul’s assumption that diverse functions must be performed in order to maintain a healthy body.

3) Evangelism. This task can be performed only by redefining what it means to evangelize. One implication of our approach is that the Church is not called to place great emphasis on “winning souls.” If the mere verbal confession of Christ as Lord and Savior is the goal of evangelism, Christianity becomes a hollow superstition and the Church becomes an earthly accountant for a God who has ceased to exist in any meaningful sense. Our proposed structure invests the chaplaincy with the formal proclamation of the Word. But it assumes that teaching and abandonment are equally important to the creation of that transformed vision which marks Christian consciousness. A renewed Church will probably be wise to forget the term evangelism for a few decades until the structures of the Church show forth the fruits of faith a bit more plainly. Then there will be something to evangelize about.

8

One can conclude by pointing to the obvious. There is nothing sacred in the present structure of Protestantism. Even when set against traditional understandings of mission, it falters. When one considers, in addition, the necessity of making the Church relevant to today’s world, traditional forms are seen as a total anachronism.
Responsible decentralization requires that we enumerate tasks that cannot be performed on the local level. What sorts of centralization would be needed to further increase the church’s effectiveness as chaplain and teacher? How might such centralization occur without creating the bureaucratic overlay and multiple staffing that make present-day denominationalism so cumbersome? It would be impossible within these pages to discuss every contingency, so we shall try to define some basic principles and illustrate them with specific examples.

The first principle—remember we are speaking here of chaplaincy and teaching—is that no function ought to be assumed by a more central administration if it can be handled and administered locally. Thus, for example, specialized ministries, such as hospital chaplaincies or college work, should ideally be a part of the cooperative ministry in the given locale of the hospital or university, even if salaries are paid for with outside funds.

There are, however, aspects of chaplaincy and teaching that require more centralized structures serving a wider area. There might, for example, be a city-wide service for anyone tempted to commit suicide, a retreat center that could be shared by a number of cooperative ministries, a publication that linked the various ministries together by outlining the needs of the total area. Such central functions would be tailored to the expressed needs of combined cooperative ministries in order to avoid the debilitating situation of having ideas and policies imposed upon the churches from above. In some cases such imposition may be necessary if a given group of churches is deliberately flaunting minimal Christian standards. This is one reason for the suggestion of a Presbytery structure, as outlined in the preceding chapter. But it is generally better to build these standards into local constitutions and polities rather than to legislate them from offices far removed from the scene of trouble.
Once the local structures are in place, the possibilities of inventive approaches to the total geographic area are infinite. Certainly one area in which the localized teaching ministry would falter, for example, is in serving the needs of workers in business and industry and the professions who need highly specialized approaches to the problems of humanizing the work environment. Also, in big cities, there is probably a need for centralized volunteer training programs that can send laymen into special areas of need, equipped to do more than wield a paint brush and weep over the plight of the poor. Ministries in radio and television—if they can be made truly imaginative—might also be beyond the bounds of cooperative ministries.
At the national level there would still be need for retreat centers and other national gathering places so that persons from the whole country could gather to study and reflect on national issues. It might be possible to begin a series of evangelical academies such as exist in Germany. Some sort of agency would be needed to fill in the gaps where local cooperation does not exist or where the challenges are too great to be met by local and regional ministries. A national forum which would present Church positions on national policy would be useful if it represented the position of a majority of local ministries. Cooperative ministries could send representatives to an annual national meeting in order to determine ad hoc emphases from year to year.

Certain costly and relatively ineffective programs presently conducted by national denominations could be eliminated. National departments of religious education would have questionable value, since planning and curriculum development would be local and regional. Pension departments could be consolidated. Stewardship (fund raising) departments would be inessential. Even under present conditions, their cost outweighs their effectiveness. Most publishing efforts would be eliminated in favor of less expensive locally published magazines dealing with substantive issues rather than institutional promotion. National radio and television departments would be scaled down, particularly those not presently sponsored ecumenically. They draw funds from local efforts and have produced little of permanent value anyway. Funds from presently owned church trusts, stock holdings, endowments, etc. could be used to encourage the development of effective decentralized units. A coordinated ecumenical fund could replace competitive church extension departments and offer low-interest building loans to cooperative ministries in areas where it could be proved beyond doubt that the building would be used for mission. Again the principle of decentralization is the basic rule of thumb. What remains of present structures will remain by virtue of its ability to contribute to the mission of a Church which is united at its base.

Perhaps this seemingly abrupt rejection of much that happens on today’s national level will seem more charitable if one adds that those who presently do a good deal of competitive shoring up of departments nationally might function better and be more fulfilled personally if they were given substantive local responsibility.
Insofar as the Church is a resource to the laity and to the community, it will emphasize chaplaincy and teaching. This is, for the most part, though not exclusively, a ministry to those human needs that remain constant. But the Church must also be in the world of change, of revolution, of sudden need, and of daily contingency. Here it must assume its most flexible posture. It is here that we move from chaplaincy and teaching to the theory and strategy of abandonment.

Chapter 7

The Way of Abandonment
1
I have already sketched in several places the implications of abandonment as the strategy by which the Church relates most fully to the world. The relationship, it should be evident, is always to be understood as a two-way street. The Church does not relate to the world as a condescending Magic Father with special gifts to give. Instead, it draws its cue from Jesus Christ, who admonished those He helped to remain silent about it. Abandonment draws its cue from the sacrificial acts of our Lord, culminating in crucifixion.

The self-giving of God to His creation is at once open and hidden. It is open in the sense that it is free. There are no strings attached. It is open because it expresses itself in the supreme willingness to ask forgiveness for those who crucify. It is open because, in Christ, God allows no one to suggest that His gift is qualified in any way.

But the giving, the abandonment, is hidden as well. It is hidden because it does not proclaim itself. The gift is its own proclamation. It is hidden because its existence as a gift is known only to those who realize that the only possible response is unqualified thanks. Those who choose not to recognize it are free to go their way. Such self-giving is the very essence of the divine mystery. It leaves man free to accept or reject the incalculable, infinite mercy of God. The gift combines a totally irrational divine poetry with equally irrational self-expression in a wholly human crucifixion. Hidden or open, this gift is the supreme abandonment.

And yet, for the Church to claim sole custodianship of the gift is the supreme negation of its reality. The Church possesses the gift only insofar as its members respond to the open and hidden character of the gift itself. Insofar as the Church proclaims the gift openly, it does so with no strings attached. It points to this all-consuming mercy and to its availability. But, the Church’s proclamation must also hide itself in the form of unqualified giving to the world. It is this unheralded giving to the world that marks the true Church. It is the sort of giving that asks nothing in return, that does not seek to explain itself in innumerable institutional press releases, that is self-effacing and, in its own way, mysterious and surprising. So the point of departure in discussing abandonment is Christ Himself and the hidden and open character of His giving. Always the distinction must be made between the chaplaincy and teaching that is appropriate to those whose eyes are being opened, who now ask the ultimate questions, and, on the other hand, the distinctly evangelical task of going forth into the world to create appropriate parables which, themselves, begin to open eyes and provoke questions.

2

But there is a danger that lurks close to the surface of such an approach and which must be immediately exposed and eliminated. It is not the danger of being misunderstood, for misunderstanding is bound to cloud any relevant abandonment of the Church to the world. Neither is it the possibility of suffering. The danger is that anonymous, self-giving abandonment on the part of the Church will reveal itself to be smug, self-righteous, and pompous. Such self-righteousness would result from a failure to accept the gift in all of its radical absoluteness. It would reveal itself as a clinging to vestiges of moralism, institutionalism, and cheap grace in the implicit statement, “See how righteous I am! I give without asking in return. I engage in suffering because I will it. I represent a new, relevant religious emphasis.” The nature of the gift, rightly perceived, should banish these superstitious and demonic illusions, but the tendency of the Church is always to debase the gift in order to claim an authoritative raison d’être for all of its activities.

There is only one protection against the debilitating process which abandonment can undergo in the hands of sinful men and women, and that is the recovery of the essentially searching and exploratory nature of Christian life itself. This involves the recognition, outlined in Chapter Four, that it is impossible for the Church to proclaim that God’s victory is divorced from the continual working out of His will within the fabric of history. This means that the Church, while it can rejoice in what has already been done, while it can point to biblical revelation and be glad in it, must always seek God in the now, and see the fundamentally future nature of salvation. Indeed, the Church, to be obedient, must always define salvation in terms of faith, in terms of what one can hope for on the basis of what has happened and what is happening. Once this is understood; once the moving, active character of the biblical God has been freed from the clutches of a Church that continually wishes to define salvation in the past tense, there can be no alternative but to seek a correlation between what the Church already knows and what God is now saying within the fabric of life and history. The Christian life becomes the search for the delineations of God’s grace, for the perimeters of His purpose in the world. Only when the evangelistic nature of abandonment is seen as identical to its searching nature will the pitfalls of pride and works-righteousness be minimized.

Thus the Church relates to the world because it is interested in what God is doing and saying. We must reject the strain of Christian thought that says the Church and the world have nothing in common. We must challenge, on the theological rather than on the merely ethical level, those who would maintain that the only task of the Church is to gather into its bosom those souls who are predestined, or willing, to forsake the confused evil world for the unconfused, good atmosphere of the ecclesiastical establishment. The liberal Protestant reaction to pietistic otherworldliness and separatism has often been so extreme and immature that the basic theological issue has been submerged. The optimistic Protestant liberal will argue that the world is God’s creation, that it is good, indeed that it is holy! From this enthusiastic vantage point he will solve his theological problem by asserting dogmatically that the Church can have nothing to say to this good creation. Such an argument is raised to a pseudotheological level by those who would make the world into the sole source of revelation and take its sociological and economic patterns as normative expressions of divine will.

The God whom the Church has emasculated is proclaimed as dead, and the world becomes the new God. The Docetism of the Church, its tendency to make Jesus into an otherworldly but perceptibly Anglo-Saxon mirage, is countered by the Arianism of the uncritical secularists who rightly discern the motions of Jesus within the fabric of history and wrongly absolutize these human intuitions into what they regard as the only perceptible reality. Like fringe political groups more interested in making noise than winning, the avant garde Protestants laugh in the comfort of their new and relevant idols. This naïve approach allows the so-called “conservative wing” of Protestantism to get away with another sort of worldliness by proclaiming that Christ has nothing to do with the world and that, implicitly, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the American Medical Association have nothing to fear.

The sad reality is that the conservatives are quite correct in suggesting that the world we live in is damned, fallen, evil, and subject to a tragic flaw. It is a reasonable suggestion in the light of history and of the biblical exposure of the divine dimension of history. It becomes unreasonable only when it limits the power of God to suffer man, in his freedom, to be responsible to this dying world. Reinhold Niebuhr has pointed out persuasively the dangers of both uncritical optimism and uncritical pessimism in relation to human destiny. The one leads to unreflective involvment in secular ideologies, the other to an equally unreflective withdrawal.
Christians are called to be aware of the mixture of good and evil that exists in every man, in every community, in every nation, and in every interaction of every person and group. Nature, too, provides a similar panorama of good and evil—the necessity of death and slaughter in order to preserve the “balance” of nature. In nature and society, demonic forces vie with weakened goodness, and the Christian attributes escape from destruction to grace—not to some simple Lone Ranger Grace which comes riding up to stay the hand on the button but to something that is active in the world, in the face of all of man’s blundering, to keep hope alive. If such grace chooses to work through fire and storm, through an agnostic scientist or a Communist ruler, through the freedom movement or the U.S. Senate, that is its prerogative. The delineations of that grace are hardly contiguous with the boundaries of the institutional Church.

It is the Christian’s responsibility to affirm this working grace wherever it exists and to fight its opposite to the limits of his flawed ability. The very complexity of the search means that he is partially protected—if he sees his task as search rather than the implementation of something he knows for sure—from the dangers of self-righteousness, particularly in its institutional form. He does not go forth from the sanctuary to prove, but to seek. He does not look for merit badges. He goes because God has gone before him. At least, that is his hope and his faith.
And because God’s grace is manifest in the world to eyes of faith, the Christian will, in going forth, be constrained to be grateful for what God is saying in the life of the world. He will see the relation as a two-way street. And he will find that it is precisely in this interaction that the Gospel becomes a living reality rather than a moribund subject in a professional curriculum.

3

Biblically speaking, abandonment to the needs and concerns of the world is not primarily a means of helping mankind but provides a perspective from which to judge the smugness and unconcern of the religious establishment. The travail of humanity is God’s continuing judgment on the unconcern of the religious. Christ did not reject the religious establishment. He sought to purify it. That is why He threw the money-changers out of the temple. That is why He rejected the Pharisee in favor of the prostitute. And one senses that the only means of purifying the halls of religiosity is to tread the paths of the world, pointing continually to the depths of human anguish and injustice.

Abandonment suggests that the most profound moral teaching of the Church is not primarily words but action. The Church speaks to the world not so much in myriad racial pronouncements, as when ministers are killed in the course of their abandonment to a just cause. Indeed the whole discussion of Christian ethics has been hung up on the question, “What can we say?” when a more appropriate question is, “What shall we do?” or better, “What shall we be?” An interesting, if embarrassing, example of the futility of words alone occurred at a recent national meeting of the United Church of Christ. In an unexpected move, several representatives of the civil rights movement in Chicago arrived at the denominational assembly to lay their grievances before the delegates. As they walked from the front of the room following their presentation, the chairman of the meeting said, “Thank you. We hope to have a statement on public education before the end of the meeting.” The sad fact was not that the denomination failed to take a more concrete stand, but that, under the circumstances, it was impotent to take any stand other than the promise of a statement—to be filed away in its archives.

Abandonment suggests that the ethical posture of the Church has more to do with parable than with statements of moral principles, absolutes, and norms. The plain fact is that most statements adopted by the religious establishment have virtually no effect on the status quo. Only when they are implemented do they become significant. Ethics by parable—we might call it descriptive ethics—has a biblical origin. Ethical possibility is never seen in the abstract; it is always related to the human realities of the moment. Consider, for example, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Christ simply described a situation in which two highly placed persons scorned an injured man’s cry for help. An unlikely prospect from Samaria came to his aid. The ethical relevance of this and other New Testament parables depends on where we find ourselves in the reality that Christ describes. If we identify with the Samaritan, we are more likely to be the neighbor in a similar situation. Our sympathy is with the underdog. But the Church’s typical reaction to this story has been to commend the Samaritan and tell us to be like him. We do not change so simply. Descriptive ethics is the process of locating ourselves within a specific situation. If we are to change at all, if we are to gain our freedom, we must know what the situation is, who the characters are, and where we stand. Parables do not tell one what to do. They are not neat little maxims. They tell what some persons do in some situations. The story of the Good Samaritan treats us to the nice irony that elevates the outsider and the misfit above the respectable citizenry in the upside-down order of Jesus Christ.
The standards we endorse are more often than we like to admit the result of our clinging to a self-image, to a model, or to some person whom we aspire to imitate. All that we do becomes an act of worship, the imitation of a certain style, whether for good or ill. Parables help us to discern the hidden depths within ourselves that correspond to the styles revealed by others. They are the profoundest of communications. The ministry of abandonment is the creation of appropriate parables.

4

Considered in relation to the present structures of the Church, abandonment very definitely implies a radical curtailment of many pursuits that, in Gordon Cosby’s terms, “protect the Church from crucifixion.” We have posited in our proposed Church structure the literal abandonment of most church construction to free funds for mission in the world. In fact, the term abandonment—applied to current institutional Protestantism—refers mostly to the sorting out of ballast that can be jettisoned to enable the Church to move in a positive direction. This sort of abandonment is painful. It is what the ecumenical discussions among the denominations will come to if they are really serious about unity and renewal. Will the Methodists give up their printing presses if they are no longer needed? Will the Episcopalians give up some of their institutional baggage? Will the Presbyterians? Will the pinciple of abandonment operate when the cumbersome fund-raising apparatus of the various churches is merged, scaled down, decentralized, or eliminated? Are the various denominations prepared to give up some of their plans, their aspirations, their structures, for the sake of a renewed Church? The old terminology provides an out. There is no concept quite so specific as abandonment. One can always rationalize a program or a building as contribution to the institutional health of the Church, to its glory and its upbuilding, even to “mission.” But what happens when we admit to ourselves and the world that abandonment is an integral aspect of Christian mission? What happens when we apply the Protestant principle to institutional Protestantism?
The most difficult implementation of institutional abandonment will be at the local level, as churches are called upon literally to cease existing as institutions in order to create truly cooperative ministries. Perhaps the brief sketch we have drawn of what a cooperative ministry might look like will suffice to start some congregations on the road to institutional abandonment for the sake of mission.

Certainly there is sentiment among the clergy and the laity for such an approach. Nonetheless, what is asked is much. The risks and threat implied in the very meaning of renewal will be felt as profoundly in the restructuring as in the new, more exposed forms of the Church that emerge from the ashes of the old. The notion of abandonment makes such risk clear. It offers no hiding place.

The first principle of institutional abandonment is that the Church should distinguish as wisely as possible between programs that are serving the unmet needs of mankind and those which are repeating the work of secular agencies. Is it wise, for example, to maintain extensive financial investments in homes for the aged, colleges, community centers, and other institutions which repeat functions that are carried On perfectly well by the government and private enterprise? Would the relatively limited funds of the churches not be better spent in experiments in these areas which do not duplicate existing services?

Too often the churches take advantage of their tax-exempt status to build institutions that not only compete with but mirror the standards of both the private and public sectors of the economy. A critical survey of Protestant church building for the elderly, for example, would probably reveal that the facilities serve primarily middle-class white church members and are essentially similar to those offered by commercial companies. In many cases, one imagines, there is even a profit involved, though of course it is plowed back into the institution rather than distributed to stockholders. Does this mean the Church should not be involved with the elderly? Of course not, but it ought to involve itself in one of two ways—in experimenting with new and more humane forms of planning for the aged which might serve as models for the total society, or by filling desperate needs that are not being met either by government or private enterprise.

The basic principle is this: Do not offer duplicate services. Do not take secular powers off the hook by offering just enough to excuse major involvement on the part of the total society. (One suspects that the well-meant paternalism that has retarded the progress of inner-city residents is a direct result of the old-style church-sponsored settlement house. Similarly, the nation’s skid rows have been left to the Salvation Army.) If the old institutions of social service are to be maintained by the Church, they must now be transformed into pilot projects or unusual centers of social witness, experimentation, or service to unmet needs.
A good example of the abandonment of a church-related institution to social struggle is Tougaloo College near Jackson, Mississippi. Its affiliation with the United Church of Christ and its social position in Mississippi give it a crucial role in the civil rights struggle. But there is no real reason why most church-related colleges need remain so, unless they fulfill one of the criteria of institutional abandonment.
A corollary to this is that the Church ought to allow for the termination of its various social service projects, making provisions for this in its actual institutional makeup. The Church should not avoid long-term commitments, but like a good foundation, it should be more concerned with starting something than with maintaining it after it has proved its value to humanity.

A good example of this principle at work is the Community Renewal Foundation in Chicago. It was started as a program of the Chicago City Missionary Society. Its aim is to exert a creative influence on housing in the city. After a short time it became apparent that such a program would have to be built around a far broader base than the Missionary Society could provide. The Society willingly provided funds to enable the Community Renewal Foundation to become a separate institution, operating with an interfaith board, and receiving foundation and government funds. It is now playing a highly constructive role, not only in influencing urban renewal and building sorely needed middle-income housing, but in providing legal services to the poor and renovating slum buildings. The primary role of the Society was to provide initial funds to enable an imaginative Episcopalian layman to implement his ideas about housing. By consciously exempting the program from typical forms of institutional allegiance (such as using the Society’s name) and at the same time pushing the project toward structural involvement with other agencies, the Society’s role was essentially that of research and development for the whole metropolitan Church. Thus a general rule of thumb might be that no program within Protestantism receive church funds for more than three years without a thorough re-evaluation. Hiring ought to be done on a similar basis. In a decentralized Protestant structure these concepts would be likely to operate much more effectively than at present.

5

What are we to say of the more unpopular or misunderstood aspects of abandonment? How is the Church to serve the needs of small numbers of persons—artists in the metropolis for example—when a majority of church members can see no “results” or no value in such a ministry? How can a number of highly specialized and not widely accepted ministries (some of them quite expensive to operate) take place within the democratic, locally based structure we have outlined? We have already defined a willingness to experiment and risk as an attribute of abandonment. But who will stand up for the Church’s talented young rebels, or for highly skilled lay persons, such as the director of the Community Renewal Foundation? Who will support the Church, insofar as it is, in Harvey Cox’s phrase, “God’s avant garde”?

I think the only answer can be the creation of certain autonomous funding agencies from region to region. They would have the independence to finance a project that might initially prove too expensive or otherwise undesirable for the cooperative ministries. In order that this proposed independent agency be responsible to the churches in the region, there ought to be an attempt to encourage eventual administration and, when possible, support of experiments by the local churches after a reasonable length of time. Such agencies might also handle contingency funds to meet special needs of the local churches. Such funding agencies already exist in embryonic form. The various mission and missionary societies now operating with relative autonomy in Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Francisco (the Glide Foundation) could be prototypes of this suggested structure.

6

The possibilities of abandonment, once Protestantism is institutionally equipped to venture forth, are limitless. Abandonment of becomes abandonment to—the racial struggle, the effort to find human solutions to automation, the arts, the struggles of youth, the search for authentic vocational commitment amid centralized bigness, political problems, and one thousand other areas where life is lived. Once we have secured a streamlined institutional base for the Church, built around chaplaincy and teaching, we can respond heartily to Gordon Cosby’s vision of the Church on mission in the world.

Abandonment would take the form, first, of listening, of exposure, and then of appropriate action. Since we are entering a metropolitan era, it is in the metropolis that we are most likely to learn the shape of our abandonment. We shall find, in any examination of urban specifics, that there are numerous junctures at which a restructured Protestantism could play a servant role. But since this servant role could be misinterpreted as merely being a perpetuation of the “soup kitchen” missionary work that has characterized the Church’s past approach to the metropolis, I shall offer here a brief survey of urban concerns which may illuminate new possibilities for engagement. The list is necessarily selective, but it points to needs which are not being met and, in many cases, to needs which suggest definite abandonment ministries.

a) City Government

Compared to the federal government, the structures of city governments are diverse, complex, and often baffling. The task of running a city on a purely technical level—sanitation, water supply, transportation, building codes, etc.—is in itself very involved. The location of political power, the effort to determine who makes what happen and how, is a task requiring intensive investigation. The federal division of authority into three power structures—the legislative, executive, and judicial—is not followed on the city level. In some cities, like Chicago, the lion’s share of power rests with the mayor, who is elected by all the people. The city council, elected by the various local machines under the mayor’s control, serves as a rubber stamp for the mayor. This is a problem in itself. City judiciaries are overlapped by a complex court structure which stretches from a local police court to the numerous criminal and civil, county, state, and federal courts leading finally, though rarely, to the United States Supreme Court. In many cities the local, and even the state, judiciaries are influenced by the machine and thus fail to perform a rightful role as a check on concentrated authority.

The common conclusion of many urban residents is the doleful admission: “You can’t fight city hall.” It might be amended to read: “It’s difficult to fight city hall through the orderly processes of government.” One reason why this is so is that most cities tend to follow a pattern of monolithic, one-party rule. In practically every large city it can be assumed that the administration will rest with the Democrats. An elaborate system of patronage serves to concentrate this authority even further. Through the medium of patronage, by which victorious political parties can dispense various municipal jobs, the party in power can command the resources—and cash—of every job holder at election time to insure its self-perpetuation. The power of the ballot in the metropolis seems to emerge as a weak instrument. So long as the machine can avoid major scandals, it can run the government with little threat of competition. Now it is true that monolithic city governments, built as they must be on a maze of technical needs from sanitation to paved streets, may serve the community well, or at least a substantial majority of the community. But the growing problem in the city is to give expression to the will of its substantial minorities.
In past times the European minority groups, especially the Irish and Italians, were eventually assimilated into the mainstream of city life and society, in some cases even taking over the machinery of government. But Negroes and Puerto Ricans, who form the leading minorities in many of today’s American cities, have not achieved the same opportunities and acceptance as former migrants to the city. Without elaborating the numerous obvious and not so obvious reasons for this, it can be stated that these substantial minorities are relatively voiceless in most city governments. Thus these minorities have taken to the streets to express their dismay with the city fathers, whether in school boycotts, demonstrations of the poor seeking increased welfare benefits, or even demonstrations designed to change parking regulations. Political scientists might spend some time reflecting on the increasing truth that the shortest way to the mayor’s office is to have a demonstration which is carried on television and thus witnessed by the publicity-conscious city administration.

Without considering the problem of city government in depth, some questions can be raised. How are checks and balances to be achieved in cities where government rests on a monolithic political ma

chine? How are the rights of minorities to be maintained through government channels? What possibilities exist for placing most city jobs on a non-partisan merit employment system? What are the possibilities of creating effective forms of neighborhood expression in the large cities? Is there any point in separating the political and technical functions of city government? How reliant are cities on the benignity of state legislatures? How can city governments pay their way without reversing the flow of personal and commercial wealth away from the city’s center? Laymen freed from ushering might tackle these questions.

b) Governing the Metropolis

The emerging metropolis embraces far more space than that circumscribed by the corporate limits of major cities. The New York Metropolitan Area, for example, includes countless suburban towns and cities in New York State plus the urbanized territory of two adjacent states, New Jersey and Connecticut. The totality and interdependence of this area is acknowledged in various cooperative enterprises. But coordinated planning and development of the region—which is needed to create a livable metropolis in the future—is still far from realized. Some cities, like Nashville, Tennessee, have merged county and municipal government into what is called “metropolitan government.” But Chicago’s metropolitan region exemplifies the potential problem faced by cities unable to coordinate their planning with the suburbs. It is estimated that the population of the city of Chicago will increase by only 5 per cent in the next thirty years; Chicago’s suburbs are expected to more than double their population in the same period. One Chicago area planner, speaking of the suburbs, notes: “We’re worrying about running short of water; at the same time, we’re worrying about being flooded out. We’re worrying about becoming industrialized and urbanized; at the same time we’re worrying about becoming overtaxed. We’re worrying about becoming polluted; we’re worrying about losing mass transit, even temporarily. And we’re worried about having to live on little pieces of land in between interchanges in the highway network.”*

It may seem inconsistent to point to the monolithic character of municipal government while suggesting a greater concentration of power over the total metropolitan area, but there are certain factors that point to positive aspects of “metropolitan government.” One is that the inclusion of suburbia in the urban political unit would tend to reactivate the two-party system, so sadly missing in most of our cities. Today, Republicans tend to concentrate in the suburbs, blissfully unaware of the potentialities of rapid urbanization. Democrats are mostly in the city limits. The political merging of these two areas might serve to create responsible debate about the future of the total region rather than scattershot efforts to preserve individual interests. The emergence of such phenomena as suburban slums should give pause to those who feel that the suburb and city share no common problems.

The discussion of city and metropolitan government should intensify certain questions which will have to be answered in the course of deciding the nation’s political and sociological future: How can a sense of local imagination and initiative be maintained in the face of complex, corporate decision-making? What reforms seem necessary to increase the effectiveness of local government? What are the rights of individual property owners in the development of the metropolis? What steps can be taken to educate the public to the implications of urbanization? Again, the restructured Church could wrestle with these issues.

c) The Schools

The full burden of public education has yet to be assumed by the American people, and nowhere is this more evident than in the big cities. (The depressed rural areas are also victimized by educational unconcern, which, because of the migration of the rural poor to the cities, intensifies the urban problem.) In plain terms, Americans are simply not willing to pay the costs of public education. Automation is making certain forms of education obsolete, and racial problems have further mobilized public hostility toward the educational enterprise. No American institution is more debated, more important and, at the same time, more undernourished. When daring bond issues, designed to create imaginative, large-scale programs of education, are needed, we find urban school boards hesitant to propose bond issues even for minimal programs. The unwillingness of the American public to pick up the educational tab (despite the fact that college is billed as “America’s best friend”) is easily documented. It has been demonstrated (see Patricia Sexton’s book Education and Income) that the quality of schools supported from the same tax base almost always varies with the income level of student families. Thus, in inner-city areas children simply do not get the advantages offered in a public school in a wealthier neighborhood. Teachers are reluctant to accept the risks of teaching in the more “dangerous” neighborhoods. There is talk of special programs and of compensating teachers for the extra effort it takes to help deprived children, but it is mostly just talk. Negro parents have demonstrated, through boycotts, their dissatisfaction with school segregation. But the plain truth is that they are demonstrating primarily against inferior education. The Negro sees education as one of the few tickets of admission to first-class citizenship, and inferior schools simply overtax the frustration of parents determined that their children escape the web of despair they have known.

School boards and school administrators have fallen down on the job when they have failed to alert the general public to the obsolescence of much present-day education. There are certain methods of upgrading the quality of education. Standardized achievement tests can mobilize public opinion in school areas where performance is low. Increased vocational training with contemporary equipment can help fill the job void created by automation. Teaching can be upgraded both as a public service and as a source of income. But in the last analysis no progress is possible without funds, and America’s love of the automobile (witness highway budgets) and of overkill capacity (witness defense statistics) takes precedence over her love for education, at least when that love is translated into practical commitment. The present correlation of income and education only serves to perpetuate the downward spiral of dependency and unemployment that gives substance to Michael Harrington’s thesis in The Other America. The increased inability of Roman Catholics to support the expensive parochial school structure is another challenge which must be faced. The unwillingness of some Protestants to compromise on the matter of federal aid to education is a second road block. The tendency toward higher salaries for administrators than teachers is another evidence of the current problem. Surely the ministries of abandonment could begin to focus on these issues—both through the creation of lay task forces and through educational experiments designed to provide additional options to those presently available.

d) Welfare

The English Reformation Statute of 1536 decreed that every child of the poor be removed from his home at the age of five and sold as a servant. America’s Puritan founders condemned paupers to social ostracism. Not until August 14, 1935 did a comprehensive measure—the Social Security Act—designed to tackle the problem of poverty, become law. Even then the existence of poverty was regarded as a temporary phenomenon. Among the world’s wealthiest nations, the United States remains reluctant to take full-scale steps to alleviate the plight of the poor. Perhaps this is due to the Puritan heritage with its emphasis on work as an emblem of salvation. It is also due to the present unwillingness of many Americans to bear the moral responsibilities of affluence.

Cook County, home of Chicago, serves as a case to illustrate the dimensions of the public welfare problem in our large cities. Over $14,000,000 each month is needed to provide for the more than 225,000 persons on relief in Cook County. About 45 per cent of this cost is borne by the federal government, the rest by the state. Twelve out of 25 persons on public assistance in the county are children; and only five are able-bodied men who could, with training, be employed. The state of Illinois has consistently tried to keep welfare payments on a subsistence level. At one point fresh milk was banned from the tables of welfare recipients. When federal social security rates were hiked, state welfare payments were reduced. Relief recipients complain that clothing expenses and other “incidentals” required to keep children in school force them to cut into money allotted for food. Food appropriations are already lower than the subsistence budget projected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Downtown Chicago has been the scene of Marches of the Poor, designed to create a public opinion that will substitute a policy of rehabilitation, or, better, a guaranteed annual income, for the present policy of punishing the poor for their poverty.

The “welfare” issue evokes much heated debate. Biblical quotations about considering the industry of the noble ant are placed alongside injunctions to relieve the needs of a neighbor in distress. And yet, along with schools, welfare emerges as an important factor in the American debate: whether to devise the means to give all persons equality of opportunity or to perpetuate the popular belief that anyone who decides to can get ahead by sheer will power.

The outcome of the “war on poverty” will have tremendous consequences for the future life of the metropolis. Cities now tend to become repositories of the poor. Huddled into ghetto neighborhoods, the poor—most of them Negro—are faced with the prospect of never-ending dependency. Their presence and their growing numbers represent a threat to urban stability. Their desperation is reflected in everything from crime and narcotics addiction to spontaneous violence. Theologian-lawyer William Stringfellow, a resident of New York City, has predicted that the prospect of continued joblessness—hence of increased welfare—combined with frustration about race prejudice, is creating a situation in which prolonged, frequent outbursts of spontaneous violence can be anticipated throughout the cities of the United States. Recent outbreaks in New York and Los Angeles may be only a beginning. It is safe to say that the present, penny-wise and pound-foolish approach to welfare is creating the breeding ground for such outbursts.

Cook County Director of Public Aid, Raymond Hilliard, a harsh critic of the punitive approach to poverty, offered the following estimate of the costs of a program that might serve to rehabilitate welfare recipients: “Take the year ahead in Chicago. We will spend in the neighborhood of $200,000,000 in relief grants and the amount will rise if poverty increases. To attack poverty in Chicago, which is costing such great and needless sums in relief grants, would involve dealing with about 50,000 family heads, a group of manageable size, and preparing them through education chiefly for a transition from dependency into independence and the pride of self-support.

The education would cost (for 20,000 of the 50,000 this coming year)

$1,300,000

Abolition of discrimination in hiring would cost

Nothing

Abolition of underemployment would cost

Nothing

Letting Negroes live where they wish would cost

Nothing

Open occupancy would cost

Nothing

The price is right; the time is right. If the forces of righteousness and enlightenment will take the field, there can be for the poor people of America a new life, new horizons, new hopes.”* Earlier in his statement, Mr. Hilliard had expressed hope that religious groups might aid in the public education needed to implement such a transition. Again a ministry of abandonment is suggested.
e) Public Housing

The “answer” to slums in many large cities has been the construction of public housing. Public housing projects are usually concentrated in, or at the fringe of, ghetto areas; the architecture tends to be high-rise; and the reaction to public housing has varied from the observation that the projects are better than slums to the accusation that they themselves are vertical slums. Chicago’s projects house 138,-000 persons in 28,750 living units. One Chicago project, the Robert Taylor Homes, has 28 sixteen-story, high-rise buildings housing 27,000 persons, 20,000 of whom are children. The Taylor complex is flanked by expressways on one side and a slum on the other. It is one block wide and two miles long. The implications of such an incredible concentration of persons in such a uniform setting have yet to be fully determined. Median annual income of Chicago’s public housing families is $3,400. The pattern in Chicago is repeated in other large cities, New York being another example of the concentration of such housing in ghetto neighborhoods.

The reason for public housing is quite simply the inability of many urban families to pay the prices required by the private housing market. Thus, within the city there may be numerous vacancies in so-called stable neighborhoods, while the ghettos teem with those unable to pay rent or lacking the proper skin coloration to be accepted in other neighborhoods despite ability to pay. There are, of course, alternatives to the present tendencies in public housing. It may become possible to create smaller concentrations of public housing—with emphasis on row houses instead of high-rises—if neighborhoods can be induced to accept such housing in their midst. The possibilities of rent subsidies to enable persons of low income to afford the private housing market are also being explored. The present form of public housing is an invitation to urban disaster. The most deprived members of society are concentrated into small, impersonal boxes in the tradition of the old poorhouses. They see almost no chance of upward mobility. They are in a continual state of ambivalence—whether to make the best of what they have or to seek to break through the barriers which public housing represents. Is public housing a permanent way of life or a way station on the road to better things? It is conceivable that public housing residents may someday organize in large numbers to express their frustration with the status quo.

A former public housing manager has given a candid picture of life within the projects in Renewal, September 1964: “The elevators become the focal toy, the stairwells the chief meeting place…. Since everyone is a stranger, a stranger from outside the project is not recognized, so the elevators, stairwells, hallways, and streets become doubly dangerous…. Meanwhile the tenant, with great hope, moves out of his roach-and-rat-infested firetrap into an apartment where his next-door neighbor is the thickness of one porous concrete block away. He moves into a bewildering array of rules concerning rent payments, income limitations, garbage disposal, use of laundry facilities, control of children, cooperative sweeping of lobbies, etc. None of these rules did he help to frame.” Indeed this is the problem noted by almost every sensitive observer of the public housing scene. The dominant atmosphere of depression comes primarily from the fact that all sense of self-determination is missing. The public housing resident feels he has no voice, no power, no place to move. The problem is intensified by the city’s unwillingness to create the environmental possibilities inherent in scattered sites and rent subsidies. A unified, local cooperative ministry could prepare the way for a more human approach to housing.

f) Urban Renewal

Urban renewal is a process by which cities cooperate with the federal government in financing the physical, and hopefully the human, upgrading of city neighborhoods. Ideally urban renewal requires the participation of the persons in the areas to be “renewed,” though this has not always been so. In one Chicago neighborhood countless homes were bulldozed to make room for a university campus, despite the strenuous objections of long-time residents. In general, the “successful” urban renewal programs have taken place in middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhoods where a large measure of private initiative has supplemented the financial help of the government. This means that urban renewal programs, despite their obvious benefits, have tended to help those who were already helping themselves and to neglect persons in the city’s most needful areas. The two primary renewal programs in Chicago, for example, were in the city’s sophisticated Hyde Park-Kenwood community, where the University of Chicago is located, and in Lincoln Park, where the populace tends to be made up of well-off professional persons. Directly adjacent to both these areas are slums and Negro ghettos that have had no urban renewal.

Some private developers have taken advantage of urban renewal to build projected “middle-income” apartment buildings which subsequently turn out to be “luxury” buildings. Chicago’s Carl Sandburg Village, built on land that had been acquired and cleared by the government, billed itself as a middle-income development for families. But when completed, rents for a two-bedroom apartment—the largest available in the high-rise buildings—began at $240 a month with a limitation of four persons to an apartment. This was a far cry from middle-income rentals. In short, urban renewal has tended to benefit the wealthy rather than the poor. It is of great value in insuring the investments of the “haves,” but it does little for the “have nots.”

Some modest, but encouraging, developments have taken place to improve urban renewal. One is the provision in the Federal Housing Act that enables private, nonprofit agencies (such as churches) to build middle-income housing with the help of favorable, low-interest loans from the government. The great need in our cities is for housing that can be afforded by persons in the $5,000-$9,000 income bracket. The growth of a middle-income housing program is one key to meeting this need. Another is the inclusion in urban renewal plans of provisions for the construction of scattered-site, small public housing in urban renewal areas. This development will tend to alleviate the current malaise of public housing and to integrate city neighborhoods both racially and economically. The involvement of many church groups in this approach to housing would be both feasible and worthy.

g) Transportation

Someone should use a tape recorder to record the traffic report that one hears on every big city radio station during rush hour: “Traffic is backed up two miles on the F.D.R. Drive; there has been an accident on Bruckner Boulevard; drivers would be better off to avoid the Triboro Bridge.” Such bulletins are commonplace, and should prove humorous to future generations unless, of course, nothing is done within the near future to alleviate the traffic problems of the metropolis. It is safe to predict that the prohibition of cars from the city will be a useful campaign issue for some future candidate for city office. With few exceptions our cities are woefully inadequate in provisions for high-speed public transportation. The New York rush hour—with its sardinelike concentration of humanity in countless hot subway cars and the crush of automobiles on the highways—is a classic picture of the present transportation problem, rivaled only by the spectacle of freeway traffic in Los Angeles. The choicest real estate in the central city is now gobbled up by entrepreneurs who can charge up to five dollars a day for the privilege of parking an automobile after the nerve-shattering trek from the suburbs. It is certain that a nation that can send space ships into the stratosphere can, with small effort, devise modern transportation for the metropolis. It is to be hoped that such transportation will be an alternative to the continued construction of expressways which fragment the urban area and divide neighborhoods. The ultimate expression of the dehumanization implied by the expressway was the attempt, in recent years, to push a road through the one patch of greenery—Washington Square Park—in New York’s Greenwich Village. The outraged citizenry won the battle.

One solution to the traffic jam that is strangling our cities would be the separation of automobile from pedestrian traffic; another would be the encouraging of the bicycle as a means of local transportation and the provision of safe thoroughfares for bicycle riding. Monorails and other imaginative conveyances might be tried. The expense would be great, but the price of current trends in urban transportation is incalculable. But who in the metropolis will fight the battle for change?

h) Recreation and Culture

One of the consistent attractions of the big city, historically at least, has been the variety and scope of recreation available there. It is in the big city that life in the grand manner is possible, from New York, with its cotillions for the children of the well-off, to San Francisco, with its emphasis on lavish city homes. The stately shops of Fifth Avenue, the various clubs for gentlemen that dot the big cities, the theaters and concerts, the big-league teams, the first-run movies—all have contributed to the city’s reputation as a center of leisure and recreation. Then, too, the city has been a place where most persons have been able to maintain their anonymity, thus enabling them to sample pleasures without the censure of a next-door neighbor or watchful small-town gossip. Museums and galleries are in the big cities, as are penny arcades and burlesque shows. Amusement parks and skating rinks, coffee shops and sight seeing attractions also contribute to the city’s reputation as a recreational center. Then, too, there is the purely physical need for exercise which cities have tried to meet with the construction of parks. A glance at the Yellow Pages in any large city reveals the ingenuity of those whose business is the entertainment, stimulation, and amusement of the public. Here we touch upon one characteristic that makes cities exciting and desirable as a place to live. Within walking distance of my Chicago apartment is a great park, complete with a fine zoo, playing fields, a beach, and a botanical garden. A theater flourishes there in summer. Slightly farther away, but easily reached by foot, are coffee houses, interesting stores, various national restaurants. A further walk brings one downtown, where theaters, museums, a symphony orchestra, and summer band concerts are all to be found. These are some of the reasons why my personal prejudice is with the city.
As the strip city develops, with its highway culture, I suspect that we will see a growing lack of diversity in recreational facilities. Already the drive-in theater and the bowling alley seem the staples of suburban recreation. But on the other hand the opportunities exist for the creation of indigenous cultural enterprises in suburbia, ranging from the sponsorship of coffee houses where people can gather to talk and sing, to the establishment of theater groups. It is to be hoped that some order can be brought into the growth of the strip city to guarantee adequate open land for parks and camping facilities. If the United States landscape is increasingly marred by neon and signboard and gas-station architecture, the chances of making the urban regions into a fit habitation for men will be further diminished. And if the greed of real estate developers, in collusion with municipal governments, results in the gobbling up of available space, we can only be pessimistic about the future. Leisure-time ministries may constitute a major focus of the ministry of abandonment.

i) Employment and Automation

The future of urban life, built as it is on technology and industry, will, in large measure, be dictated by how America deals with the impending problems posed by automation. There are two immediate problems. How can unskilled workers who are presently unemployed be retrained to take the numerous jobs that have been opened by automated technology? And what will be the situation if it is finally possible to eliminate all but the most skilled jobs? These questions have relevance not only for the blue collar worker but for the white collar man who may soon find a computer taking his place. Gerard Piel has added still other questions (Renewal, February 1964) : “If a fraction of the labor force is capable of supplying an abundance of everything the population needs and wants, then why should the rest of the population have to work for a living? Preposterous alternatives come forward: give-away programs on television suggest that television might be employed to give the abundance away instead of trying to sell it. If production cannot be maintained at a profit under such circumstances, then why should a profit be made? Some other standard of accounting might serve even better to reduce waste and inefficiency. These questions are put in a deliberately extreme form. They suggest the kind of overturn in the values of our society which is already quaking the ground beneath our feet. The virtues of hard work and profit are rooted in scarcity. They have no relevance to the economics or the sociology of abundance.”

It is not possible here to delve further into the complexities of automation with its potential displacement of workers on an unprecedented scale. The implication for the city is obvious; no longer is the city a place where the impoverished country residents can come with the hope of finding profitable, unskilled jobs. Even with retraining and a change in our educational system, the problem posed by Gerard Piel remains. The revolution in public mentality required to adjust to a technology of abundance is staggering. The solution to the problem posed by automation requires the entrepreneurial imagination of business, the foresight of government, and the willingness of the general public to consider the transmutation of three centuries of moral values. Until a viable solution is found, we can expect an increase in high-school dropouts, a rise in crime, continued growth of public welfare rolls, and, worst of all perhaps, the specter of a Negro community finally possessing its civil rights but without employment. It is an awesome prospect.

Parenthetically, in order to demonstrate the interdependence of practically every major problem in today’s world, consider for a moment the implications of the pursuit of world peace for the metropolis. Should the government reduce its military spending in the future, the funds which would be released for public and private enterprise might begin to take up the slack in employment throughout the nation. It can be argued that the arms race contributes substantially to the creation of urban poverty and joblessness.

j) The Press

Under this heading I include daily newspapers and radio and television stations insofar as they deal with the life of the city where they are located. It is a commonplace in journalistic circles to note the way in which the press affects the making of news. The fact that television cameras are going to be present at a demonstration is, in itself, a pretext for demonstration. The role of the press in molding public opinion is a subject for continual research. One brief observation is that almost every problem highlighted in the press is a problem that has existed for some time without the attention of news media. Thus, when a headline reads: CRISIS IN COUNTY HOSPITAL, SYNDICATE MOVES AGAIN, Or NEGROES voice grievances, the chances are that each problem revealed “exclusively” by the press is the product of many years’ making. Every three years a paper is more or less expected to “expose” crime, usually by publishing old pictures of mobsters’ suburban homes. It will be noted that at the time of one mine disaster in Pennsylvania, similar disasters were reported throughout the world. It was no coincidence. Readers just happened to be interested in mine disasters. Other observations could be made. Newspaper reports of how demonstrations work in the South influence the conduct of mass movements in the North. The fact of self-immolation in Saigon breeds the threat of self-immolation in the cities of America. All this is merely a way of stating that the world is smaller and more interdependent.

The role of the press in the city is crucial. Despite the references to newspaper exposés, the crusading spirit has largely vanished from the city rooms of most papers. The city grows more complex, but the reporting of what is happening in the city becomes more superficial. Not one of Chicago’s four major daily papers has taken a forthright position on the matter of welfare, education, or housing. Under the guise of objectivity, the news becomes vapid. The legwork of serious reporting is simply not done with the zeal that once animated journalists. This may sound like the nostalgic longing for the days of the muckrakers, but I honestly feel that it is the muckraking influence that is needed today, especially in the daily press. If justice is to reign over the life of our cities, we must be informed constantly about the city’s problems, and we must be able to find in the newspapers a voice which speaks for the interests of those who are the casualties of rapid social change. Papers have an opportunity not only to report, but to crusade—and crusade they must in order to prevent the complexity of city government from becoming a mask for the deception and manipulation of the public. But has the Church begun to minister to those who bear direct responsibility in the field of mass communications? How can the Church teach them that there is a prophetic dimension to their vocation?

7

The first thing the Church is free to do in tackling the urban specifics (they can serve as an example of typical areas of need) is to entrust the task of prophecy to the trained laity. If the Church is ultimately people on mission, it follows that the educated laity will operate most effectively within the natural environment of their everyday associations. The last thing one should seek to create is an artificial grouping of lay persons to issue moral pronouncements “as Christian businessmen.” One need not wear such a title on one’s sleeve. No, the educated layman is called to work within his sphere of influence in cooperation with other laymen to make the city as a whole more human. Gradually in the metropolis a network of lay persons would develop through the structure I have outlined. They might be presidents of companies or the inner-city unemployed. But they would become aware of their cumulative power to change evil or outmoded structures and to introduce human goals into the planning process. Metropolitan task forces would develop. The teaching arm of the Church would serve as a resource, gathering material to assist the laity in forming responsible conclusions and strategies. If the task force were dealing with police problems, the metropolitan Church could call upon the right laymen to work through the right channels.

Certainly this is one aspect of abandonment to the world of the metropolis. The layman would be seen as one who is called to responsibility where he or she is located. When the city learns that good old-fashioned, respectable, don’t-rock-the-boat Protestantism has gotten a bit of savvy, that it is willing to speak in the world’s terms, and that its primary interest is a humanized metropolis rather than preferment for the Church, then some changes will be forthcoming. When the bureaucratic structures of the metropolis learn that the entire religious community has forgotten differences and is united in favor of racial justice, fair court procedures for the poor, decent housing for the elderly, and equitable administration of building codes, some heads will turn. When the laity realizes that its mission is in the world rather than in the church basement, and when resource structures exist to clarify issues and strategy, then the mission can begin.
In our hypothetical model of the cooperative ministry we assumed that less than half the church membership would be active in the local ministries of teaching, chaplaincy, and abandonment. Now one can see that active church membership does not depend on participation in the organized activities of the local church or even of the local churches banded together cooperatively. One is an active church member when one abandons one’s self to the human causes of the world.

One might suggest at this point that we are merely paraphrasing two principles that have always been part of Protestant understanding. The first is the priesthood of all believers, which maintains that one can fulfill his mission or priesthood regardless of one’s occupation. The second is what has been called the Protestant ethic of work, the Puritan notion that success in one’s work is somehow a badge of salvation. Both principles need drastic overhauling if they are to be meaningful today.
It may be true that all Protestants are priests in a limited sense, but some are more priestly than others, and justifiably so. The notion of the priesthood of all believers tends to dull the legitimate authority of those entrusted with the mission of chaplaincy and teaching. It also tends to deify the individual conscience to such an extreme that anyone’s interpretation of Scripture, for example, is regarded as justifiable. In the hurry to doff the pretensions of Renaissance Catholicism, Protestants managed to propound doctrines that, in their own way, were equally pretentious. The layman who says, in response to certain questions, “That’s a matter for my minister to handle” is not always evading responsibility. He is recognizing the diversity which is necessary if the Body of Christ is to live in the world.
The Protestant work ethic is another approach that could use some revising. The notion that success (honestly gained and prudently invested) is tantamount to salvation may have had a lot to do with the rise of capitalism, but it is less than appropriate as a world view today. For one thing, we are already in the midst of an era when hard work is scarcely even required in the old sense of the phrase. Machines that will replace white collars, abundance that will make give-aways superfluous, and reverse incomes taxes are among the few tentative ideas that have emerged from contemporary discussions about cybernetics, et al. The normative notion in business today suggests more the responsible manager who owes his “success” as much to specialized training as to any inherent virtue or overwhelming initiative. The idea that financial success is a sign of salvation is, in itself, rather repugnant. One would not eliminate Aristotle Onassis, Jean Paul Getty, and H. L. Hunt from the scope of divine concern, but they may be no more resourceful or hard working than the welfare-recipient mother who spends sixty of the eighty dollars she gets for furniture on clothing so her kids can go to school.

Our concept of the layman at work in the world goes beyond the idea of the man or woman who is honest on the job and nice to his or her colleagues. It assumes a new sophistication at all levels of society and an increased awareness of the interdependence of all the elements of the world. The layman is called to recognize his legitimate power within this interdependent framework. If he works in the field of communications, we are not interested in harnessing his talent to fill institutional goals of the Church. We are pleased if he can use his skill creatively on the job. But our primary concern is that he employ his talent to make the total machinery of society more humane and livable. It is our hypothetical layman in newspapers, radio, or TV who might be called to waken the mass media to unjust situations or to offer his talent as a consultant to, or participant in, a ministry of abandonment.

8

At the outset we substituted the terms chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment for the traditional terms kerygma, diakonia, and koininia. It may be said that we have dealt with kerygma (proclamation) and diakonia (service) in the new structure we have proposed, but what of the koininia, the community? It is my belief that we must be as experimental in our understanding of community as in our understanding of proclamation and service. There are at least four sociological marks of community: local loyalty, consensus, shared life, and dedication to something larger than the group. In the presently structured Church we tend to lack consensus, primarily because the denominational congregation is unable to do all that must be done, and its unity may well be shattered if it is given too many imperatives. In the proposed structure there would be a recognition of a time and place for everything, of the need for various sorts of consensus existing in creative tension, one with another, in the cooperative ministry. Today the tension in local congregations is not creative but destructive. It stems more from a sense of impotence than of possibility. So the differentiation inherent in the new structure is itself likely to increase the possibility of community.

One might argue that local loyalty exists in today’s local congregations, but we have seen that they are tied to national denominations and at the same time so burdened with institutional demands that they scarcely have the energy to look at the neighborhood in which they exist. Local loyalty emerges primarily when local residents feel they can contribute positively to the life of the neighborhood. Despite a needed emphasis in recent years on transcending narrow community self-interest, I feel strongly that local loyalty of certain types is most desirable as an antidote to the centralized, bureaucratic, impersonal administration that seems to be engulfing most of American society. Seen in this light, local loyalty can be a radical social force rather than a regressive one. Indeed the most progressive movements of our time have recognized that it is no longer possible to solve problems without involving the persons whose problems are supposedly being addressed. As we have seen, this lies behind the notion of the participation of the poor in the war on poverty, behind the most exciting notions of community organization, and behind the most advanced ideas on urban planning which insist on the restoration of human values within our presently sprawling cities. The restructured Church would, of course, transcend the neighborhood. It would also be truly loyal to the neighborhood, and this would measurably add to the growth of a sense of community within the Church.
The ministries of abandonment suggest to me a shared life both at the local level and the metropolitan level. Here, instead of small groups whose function is merely to perpetuate themselves, we have groups called together to work for something beyond the group. Certainly the abandonment ministries might, in themselves, aim at creating new structures of community in the metropolis, new structures of living together. For example, why couldn’t interested lay persons purchase housing where they would live, but which they could also rent out for purposes of creating true diversity in their communities? New forms of shared family existence—families maintaining a common house or apartment for weekday child care or even preschool activities—could contribute models which might be followed by the world as a whole. Again the inventiveness and potential mobility for action of the dedicated local community would be a happy alternative to the static structures of the present.

Certainly on the metropolitan level the cooperative ministries could themselves cooperate to bridge the racial and economic barriers that threaten to make the United States a scene of the most gruesome sort of guerrilla warfare if nothing is done. No concept of abandonment that does not deliberately facilitate communication between the various ghettos (both rich and poor) of the modern metropolis is justifiable.
Finally there is a sort of community that has no sociological explanation that can do it full justice. This is the Pentecostal community of the gathered Church when it is fully alive, singing and celebrating, sharing and marching, responding with thanks to the wonders wrought by a reconciling grace that is happily beyond our control. The complacent Church is the true “death of God” movement. The Church that is able to bring unity out of diversity in worship is the true house of the living God. And I would hope that the centers of chaplaincy might contribute to the miracle of Pentecost in our time. When I attend an Episcopal Church I am denied the Pentecostal fervor of the Negro Baptist Church; when I attend the Negro Baptist Church I am denied the objective mystery and joy of the Sacrament. And it will no longer do to say that I can work for change in a single congregation because I know that the true Pentecostal mystery will never be fully shared until the worship of the Church is itself allowed to flow together from all the separate buildings where we hide the little light that we have from ourselves and from the world.

9

It is obvious that an ecumenical Church, built around a functional distinction between chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment, can perform such ministries far more effectively than today’s truncated Protestantism. The power of local ecumenicity has already been demonstrated sufficiently to show forth its efficiency. The recent union of churches in Rochester, New York, to start a controversial but necessary grass roots community organization in that riot-torn city, is but a single example. The entire financial structure of the Church that is ecumenically based enables the abandonment ministry to expand in direct relation to the voluntary involvement of laymen. The arduous process of debate at the local level is ultimately preferable to the present practice of organizing groups of clergymen to fight battles that should involve the entire Church. (To be fair to the clergy, however, one should recognize that virtually no local debate could have occurred before their direct involvement in various struggles.)

The ministry of abandonment already exists in muted form within Protestantism. Despite the fact that the lion’s share of church funds has gone into institutional maintenance, one would have to say that Protestant abandonment is currently more effective than Protestant ministries of chaplaincy and teaching. This is a damnable judgment to have to make, but it turns our gaze once again to the cumbersome inefficiency and lack of virility that pervade denominational Protestantism. The greatest cause for hope is that a recognition of abandonment as an essential ministry of the Church will force the Christian community to see how futile our social action is without a solid restructuring of the Church as chaplain and teacher. The renovation must be total!

I have tried in these pages to point a way out of the current Protestant dilemma. We live in a time when the present institutional structures of the Church are simply unable to fulfill the ministries which Christians are called to perform. Most observers are prepared to admit that denominational-ism is obsolete. Most would not wish to see a regimented Protestantism run from the top down. Most are agreed that the Church has become too institutionalized, too concerned with its own survival. My attempt has been to suggest a few guidelines aimed at moving the Church from where it is to where it ought to be: squarely in the world of human need, but at the same time squarely committed to the teaching and proclamation of a Gospel that transcends all of history and is Good News to all men.

Perhaps it is too early to write a book such as this with its suggestion of a specific approach to the structural malaise of the Church. But somewhere, sometime, the debate must be brought into the open, the discussion of specifics must begin. We must integrate our theological insights with structural proposals, and we must begin to see the unrest of ministers and laymen as a positive possibility. For out of this integration of thought and action, out of this harnessing of unrest, I am encouraged to hope that we may be on the verge of a day of glory for the Church. It will not be a day of self-congratulation but of profound praise. For having gained a specific vision (in Langdon Gilkey’s phrase) of how the Church can minister to the world without losing itself, we shall be free to make the first tentative steps toward the recovery of the joy and the spirit of sacrifice appropriate to true Christianity.

We have passed through a decade of false religious revival. We have passed through five subsequent years of carping and backbiting and discouragement with Church structure, five years in which the most vital expression of the Gospel was in the worship of men of many persuasions in the prison cells of the South. Now it is time to start walking toward the new structure; it is time to move on; it is time to become the Church we claim to be; it is time that Jesus Christ be mocked for the right reasons; it is time to teach once more, to preach once more, and to walk the Jericho Road once more. It would be pleasant to forget all of the structural problems involved in a responsible approach to Church renewal, to venture each in our own way into the wilderness where, at least, we would hear no more vapid sermons, no more comforting charades. But that may be the all-too-easy road today. And if, in the coming years, we could truly revolutionize the structures of the Church, we would find the wilderness soon enough, for the Church would no longer be safe from the Gospel it so haltingly proclaims today.

I thought coming into cyberspace would offer a chance to communicate, pure and simple. There have some bumps on the path but that chance has been taken and the results are pleasing: You can say things here to a wider public (potentially) than is presently reached on a regular basis by any purely print medium for a fraction of the cost. You can save paper by giving the end reader control over what does and does not get recirculated. And the possibility of breaking through all manner of boundaries exists via the present and emerging culture of E-mail, or whatever it is called — and however it operates in the future.

Yes, I thought that would be it, and I was delighted to live with that reality — the one that began in earnest when the words ‘Renewal 2’ popped into my head in church last December and I began asking if there were any church computer networks out there. But that wasn’t all that happened. And now I see the next piece and it is simple too — and awesome. It may be no wonder that denominations and even ecumenical agencies might have second thoughts about what we are all doing here.

Because, even though we give lip service to the notion of a seamless web between THIS and the grounded structures of the mainline churches, the truth is clear and wonderful. THIS –meaning the sum total of intent and execution of CyberCongregation-tending activities, here and elsewhere around the cybersphere — is a model of gathering that simply obviates the necessity for the present system on ground. The fundamental functions of an authentic Bible-based congregation can be carried out … here!

Now, let me step back. When the so-called Dark Ages were in force, monasticism developed into a major device for preserving something beyond the popular piety and ecclesiastical corruption of the time. People look back and think, How weird to constrain themselves so, those monks and sisters. But the alternative was to be swallowed up in the feudal muck of city-state machismo. So they did what they had to do.

The CyberCongregation will be the new monasticism. It will not be celibate or self-abasing or under monkish authority, but culturally it will represent an alternative to churches mired in ineffectiveness and corporate captivity.

That last sentence will hurt and it is not meant to, so let me step back again. Nothing said here, or in future pieces on this topic, cannot be replicated in an existing congregation. It might be difficult to do it, but not impossible. The main purpose of this exercise is not to combat either ineffectiveness or corporate captivity, but simply to observe that they are what hobble existing churches at every level.

Since this is not meant as an attack on the existing congregations, let those two terms be defined and the matter rested: Ineffectiveness is what rises from the sum total of captivity to a tradition that is simply not vital — whether one looks at hymnody, the centrality of a paid pastor who is a Jack or Jill of all trades, the luke-warm passivity of a laity from whom little is expected beyond support. These are aspects of ineffectiveness and they become killing at the point of capacity to involve new or young or so-called unchurched persons. Corporate captivity is the obvious existence of the churches as corporations and as corporate entities with a legal basis, with boards and publishing houses and seminaries, etc. They become institutions which take on a life of their own and must insist that what they are doing is God’s work. They continually invert the simple gospel of Jesus and make of it a corporate (and ultimately divisive) exercise in balancing a modicum of obedience with a monstrous load of institutional maintenance, politics and equally extraneous matters.

The impetus for the alternative I shall propose, a no cost, intentional, CyberCongregation with many pastors and many counselors and many participants all functioning with more life and purpose and fulfillment than many in today’s congregations, is the theory that Jesus (and Paul) offer us a gospel of transformation and that individual transformation is not inimical to positive developments in the world. It is not a very new idea. The Sojourners Community and the Church of the Savior, Taize and Iona, have all had elements of what I will outline: A gospel of transformation that has, because of this magic medium, become the vehicle for escape from the constricting wineskins that have choked heart, mind and spirit long enough.

CONTEXT, CONTEXT

I am sitting in church, a venerable spot where perhaps thirty others also sit, where once perhaps two hundred sat, I wouldn’t know. Downstairs there is a museum and a library, filled with irreplaceable memorabilia of early Methodism –things used by John and Charles, oils of the oddly integrated first congregation at John Street. Jim McGraw is a preacher of rare ability whose gospel is more credal than mine, at the moment anyway. If Methodism had any sense this place would be filled with wandering denominational tourists every Sunday, come to widen their contextual understanding of who they were and therefore who they are. But nothing seems to work right these days, so thirty of us sit there in pews that were built when the congregation was an audience and the preacher was the show.

What, pray tell, is the context of this? To me it is a context called DYING FORM OF CHURCH. It creates ambivalence. “Success” would be to have two-hundred people shaking the rafters with Charles Wesley hymns. I really don’t think so.

I think this sad numerical showing and the liturgy of pastoral prayer and credal confession and magisterial hymns is an effort to operate in a dying context and it does not work.

The thirty of us should be in a circle, facing each other, commonly confessing our emptiness, our need for God, silently praying, maybe sharing some confession. Maybe there is a story or two and some singing.

A living church will emerge in the context of a FACE TO FACE COMMUNITY.

But what is all this about context? In a few minutes I am out on the street where it’s drizzling and in no time I am roundly cursing cars. The context is now one of ADVERSARIAL PEDESTRIAN RAGE. It doesn’t make me happy that I do it. I console myself that I am at least an equal opportunity curmudgeon. I curse all races, genders and classes when they intrude on my pedestrian space.

I think of my life in the city as a sort of URBAN WALDEN, with as much emphasis on urban (incipiently hostile, clashing, Blade Runnerish) as on Walden (not buying new clothes for a job, living on nothing, etc.)

But my ADVERSARIAL PEDESTRIAN RAGE doesn’t parse very will with FACE TO FACE COMMUNITY. So I am now suffering from CONTEXT WARP.

When I get home I turn on the TV and note that the Nets are still taking their knocks from the Knicks and wonder what sort of a context that is.

Is it another context? How do contexts relate to indicatives? To imperatives?

I whip through the Sunday Times. Is that a context? They are thinking the same questions I am thinking when it comes to international affairs. When and where and how do we, whoever we are, intervene? What has happened to FACE TO FACE COMMUNITY?

Can words create a context? Is there a covenantal aspect to context? If I accept that a text provides a context, does it? What does the word context mean?

All of this is aftershock of course. Earlier in the week I published (as others did) some wonderful Gospel words of Archbishop Tutu and realized that in the context of his words and person and situation I could accept everything he said.

When we are dealing with the fundamental affirmation on which we have decided to gamble our existence, it makes a difference when we would accept them from one and not from another.

The realization that the Gospel with a capital G is dependent on context for proclamation leads to an inescapable conclusion. (I am a slow study. Presumably this is what liberation theologians have been saying for two decades and more.) The conclusion is that the context for proclamation in this well-to-do nation of the stubbornly “well” is well nigh impossible.

The proper context for Gospel proclamation in the US of A today is REAL AND TRUE FELT EMPTINESS. Thud!

The proper context for Gospel proclamation in the US of A today is true HUNGER AND THIRST for something like a civil notion of how things and people interact. Ciao Pollyanna!

The proper context for Gospel proclamation in the US of A today is POVERTY OF SPIRIT — relinquishing of illusions of knowing and completeness — just as I am without one plea-ness. Hello no business as usual.

Just when it appears to me that the indicative is: God is near (good news) and the imperative is: Beatitudinal existence (Jesus’s way) it comes clear that all this needs a context… FACE TO FACE COMMUNITY? STARTING OVER?

You tell me.

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

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one minute christian
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Friday, November 24, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

The text in this section is close to that of the original Grass Roots Church (1966) with important, even crucial, emendations and changes.

The Theological Basis for Renewal

1

Is there something to be said to us, that only a Church can say? I believe so, though in this age the saying cannot be too final or comprehensive. In St. Paul’s phrase, “We see through a glass darkly.”

We can say to one another and to humankind that there is a distinctly biblical understanding, capable of becoming Christian faith, that differs from other religious understandings, and casts important light on secular creeds and ideologies.

We can say that there is one God whose presence is manifest, not because we wish Him into existence, but because we know Him to be active. We can say that the world and history continue because of Him, for we know that man is incapable of living without an often hidden but nonetheless discernible grace.

[Note that the language here is Abba-free. It has not yet gotten to a point of conspicuous from the creedal-messianic language that is still the inheritance of the creedal-messianic Christian community.]

We can say that our nature is both good and evil, that we are both slave and free, weak and strong. We can say that there is no division between body and spirit, as the Greeks thought, but that we are a unity: our responsibility cannot be evaded by positing a transient evil (the body) and an untarnished good (the soul).

We can say that Christ reveals God, in suffering love, in paradoxical parables, in crucifixion and resurrection. We can say, too, that the Bible is inspired, not because it was literally written by God, but because it records the mark of God upon the world, the story of the advent of Jesus Christ and the reactions of witnesses.

We can say that this Book points to affirmation in the face of all that would lead us to denial.

We can say that the faith we have is most often the result of intense seeking, of shattering crisis, of guilt exposed and forgiven, of a sojourn in the wilderness. And we can hope that our knowledge of the Gospel sometimes becomes incarnate in our lives—in anger at injustice, in a capacity to love, in a sporadic joy that perceives majesty in mystery.

We can reject the notion that God does things for us in the crass sense of positive thinking. Faith in Him, His Son, and His Spirit does not confer magical protection against the tragedies of life; it does not make one “better” than those outside. But we can say that at certain moments our vision of reality is transformed; our apprehension of Hell is overpowered by a sense of Heaven. And we can say that there are those who have been given the strength to live—literally, to overcome the temptation to suicide—because of this transformed vision.

And we can add what strikes many as the greatest superstition—that the sacramental audacity of the Church, in baptism and Holy Communion especially, is for one with a transformed vision a sharing in a vast, magnificent victory whose sign is suffering, not the suffering of man and the world primarily, but of an agonized Christ who takes the sin and weakness of the world upon Himself and emerges Victor.

Why, then, the Church? Because the Church says such things and occasionally embodies them. Always in the world somewhere the affirmations are made sufficiently manifest to create a suspicion of truth.

It is this sense that leads one to say that the Church exists to proclaim the Gospel, to preach, to teach, to share the sacraments, and to witness to Jesus Christ in the world. And with that there can be no equivocation or quarrel.

2

But there is always a sense in which theology—one’s response to the revelation of God—tends toward a justification of human pretensions rather than the clarification of divine reality. Thus, while it might be possible to write a stronger theological brief for the Church structure proposed in this book, I am hesitant to do so. One could cite the Old Testament prophets and the sayings attributed to Christ and provide a rather overwhelming argument that the Church’s first task is to love humanity rather than to insist on a particular phrasing of doctrines and beliefs. One could isolate a specific theological insight, such as justification by faith, and tailor the Church to the particular doctrine in question. But I suspect that such an effort would weaken the case. It is one thing to have a vision of God. It is another thing to tailor that vision to a specific social order. God is somehow more than a co-worker with man who can be summoned to place an imprimatur on human plans. Biblical truth is too wide and paradoxical—and, at times, absurd—to yield easily to the ABC’s of ecclesiastical programming.

Indeed, my basic feeling is that a united and coordinated mission on the Church’s part is more essential than a theology which is universally accepted in every detail. One hesitates to make Dostoevsky’s radical sense of freedom a casualty of St. Augustine’s near determinism. One is reluctant to reject all of Karl Barth because he disagrees at certain points with Reinhold Niebuhr, or all of Niebuhr because he disagrees with Barth. If we were to edit the Bible on the basis of strict theological consensus, we might be forced to eliminate half the New Testament and five or six books of the Old Testament. If every profound theological insight had to be strained through the routinized colander of a fixed ecumenical theology, the result would be meaningless because it would lack depth and complexity. Thus while I would argue that an ecumenical renewal movement might use as basic statements the Apostles’ Creed and “The Basis of the World Council of Churches,” as stated at New Delhi in 1961, there is no reason why a renewed Protestantism might not allow for divergent interpretations of the Gospel within its fellowship. Within certain limits, such diversity would not be a cause of impotence. We have seen theology made an excuse for institutional self-interest too often to trust those who hide in its shadow, refusing to move in any positive direction.

Perhaps the greatest argument against this book’s proposal is that the best way to guarantee theological diversity is to maintain the present denominations of Protestantism in their present form. Then, the argument might go, we would all be free to respond to biblical realities in our own several ways. Let one point be very clear. The proposal of this book is not aimed at eliminating this denominational diversity. It is aimed at restoring it. What we now have is not diversity but endless repetition based largely on the competition of the various denominational congregations for membership. Denominational worship services tend to be indistinguishable one from the other. This book proposes that the insights of the denominations be hammered out in the context of true dialogue and sharing at the local level. Today one must join an individual denominational congregation. In the renewed structure one would learn that true community is not the bland acceptance of a bland series of bland propositions, but the coming together of various positions which derive strength from existing side by side in a dialogue situation. We have today what is called public worship in most congregations. But it is not really public; it is private, and, because there is almost no free exchange of insight and conviction, it tends also to be static and stagnant. It can be predicted with some assurance that if the present denominational pattern continues, we shall have not diversity but a banal uniformity based more on a common dedication to self-preservation than a common quest for truth and community.

What is needed, in my opinion, is what might best be called a “working theology.” Such a theology accepts fully the necessity for continued scholarly appraisal of the sources of Christian tradition, the Bible in particular. It champions the claims of religious freedom, the right of any man to profess his beliefs without provoking persecution by the Church or the State. It combines optimism and pessimism. Insofar as it is optimistic it stresses the freedom and the responsibility of man to work toward the building of a tolerable life on this earth, a society which provides a maximum of peace, justice, and liberty for every man. It is concerned both with the individual and with life in its corporate aspect. It accepts the goodness of the creation and the divine potential within man to master, insofar as possible, the environment in which he lives. It accepts the inherent potential of the secular city.
But this optimism is tempered by the very nature of the biblical message and by the awful realities of our time: the specter of progress threatened by the demonic capacity for self-destruction that exists within the souls of men and nations, by the persistence of tragedy and the shadow of the bomb. We cannot take lightly the insights that produced the so-called “crisis theologies” of the first half of this century. We must recognize suffering, not simply as an ill to be attacked by changing the environment, but as a sign of the tragic nature of human destiny.

A working theology bases its faith, hope, and love not on the human capacity for embodying these attributes or on the magic of science or on the potential of any man-made government to ensure the world’s ultimate safety. Faith, hope, and love are grounded, in the sense that the God who seems weak is truly strong, that the Spirit who seems fleeting is able to work miracles, that Christ whose resurrection we trust will be revealed as risen indeed. Faith, hope, and love are seen as leading to involvement in a world beyond this world, which stands in judgment over and against it. But at the same time we involve ourselves in the pains and joys of the present world.

3

Perhaps the most important theological fact of our time is that we are still here. The early Christians were convinced that the world was doomed, that the Judgment was at hand. But the world remains, doomed to ultimate extinction by natural causes quite apart from any eventual intervention from beyond. It is true that the Christ event as understood by the New Testament did not foreclose human history, but which of Christ’s apostles imagined that the wicked world would last as long as it has?

The entrance of God into history in the person of the man Jesus, His crucifixion and resurrection, was an extraordinary revelation of the divine nature. It revealed for all time that the absolute nature of God is to forgive the man who repents and turns to Him. But it was not the End. It was not the completion of some celestial poker game in which the only remaining task was to gather in the chips in the form of souls won. No, God was and is still involved in history, and Christ is comprehensible as one whom we see through a glass darkly, sporadically, but not yet face to face, eternally. Christ lives as an indestructible aspect of God whose victory is forgone but not yet achieved.

There is still the suggestion of a God whose power is challenged in the arena of history by demonic forces—the Devil if you will—a power fundamentally opposed to the best in man and to the working out of God’s will. The Devil is not the sum total of human evil. Man cannot so easily evade responsibility. The Devil is an objective reality. At times he seems the Absolute Enemy, a power who embodies all the forces of evil and is fully a match for God. At other times he seems a force for confusion, the price that God pays to allow man a measure of freedom, a haze that envelops a universe that ultimately is in God’s hands. He may be, in the terms of the late Norbert Wiener, either a Manichaean Devil or an Augustinian Devil, but he exists nonetheless. Norman Mailer has illuminated the sense in which I speak of a Devil in his observations on the theological meaning of the slaughter of the Jews during World War Two:

“But if there is any urgency in God’s intent, if we are not actors working out a play for our own salvation, but rather soldiers in an army which seeks to carry some noble conception of Being out across the stars,…then a portion of God’s creative power was extinguished in the camps of extermination. If God is not all-powerful but existential, discovering the possibilities and limitations of His creative powers in the form of the history which is made by His creatures, then one must postulate an existential equal to God, an antagonist, the Devil, a principle of Evil whose signature was the concentration camps, whose joy is to waste substance, whose intent is to prevent God’s conception of Being from reaching its mysterious goal…. It is not so comforting a postulation as the notion of God Omnipotent able to give us Eternal Rest, but it must also be seen that if God is all-powerful, the Jews cannot escape the bitter recognition that He considered one of His inscrutable purposes to be worth more than the lives of half His chosen people.*

The Church ought really to be the New Israel, meaning that it ought to be a people committed to the working out of God’s purposes within history. The purpose is to serve, to evangelize by showing forth the struggle, not to form a nice little club that revels in benefits already won and takes refuge from the world in sanctuaries and personal testimonials. We live between partial victory and what we trust and hope will be total victory. The Christ event widened the struggle to include the Gentiles. It clarified the nature of the battle. But it did not relegate the God of the Old Testament to a far-off cloud, which is where far too many academic theologies have placed Him. We need to recover the spirit of the prophets of Israel, the concreteness of the Psalmists, the deep spiritual wrestling of the Patriarchs and Job. We need to recover the sense of the God who is active in history, contemporary, emotional, argumentative, cajoling, loving, thundering. Again, Norman Mailer speaks to the Protestants in a passage dealing with the Jews:

Yet if the Jews have a greatness, an irreducible greatness, I wonder if it is not to be found in the devil of their dialectic, which places madness next to practicality, illumination side by side with duty, and arrogance in bed with humility. The Jews first saw God in the desert…. In the desert, man may flee before God, in terror of the apocalyptic voice of His lightning, His thunder; or, as dramatically, in a style that no Christian would ever attempt, man dares to speak directly to God, bargains with Him, upbraids Him, rises to scold Him, stares into God’s eye like a proud, furious, stony-eyed child.*

God is not distant! He is present, restless, discontented with human sin, commiserating with the oppressed, fighting with man and the Devil.
God’s victory is a matter of faith looking forward, not of absolute certainty looking backward.

One who would involve himself with the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ will be sensitive to the contemporary clash of good and evil in the real and present world.
The Church is related to God as Israel was related to Him in the Old Testament: called to serve, given a covenant with the Lord, and, under divine mandate, to do justice in the world.

4

But for too long the Church has acted as if the war were over, as if man were a pawn. At its worst the Church has outdone Israel in idolatry, inspiring the wrath of an Amos: “I hate, I despise your feasts. I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”
The Hebrews were less ingenious than we. They lacked adding machines. They were unfamiliar with the intricate logic of pensions, building funds, and job security. We have learned to dedicate our primary energies to such important questions as which comes first, the sanctuary or the educational wing, the suave preacher or the go-go administrator, the leadership gifts campaign or the door-to-door appeal. We send ministers out, not to preach the Gospel, but to insure the financial success of a foundering new Church development project.

So it is not Christianity that is irrelevant but its institutional expression, the Church, mired in its moralism and ceaselessly contemplating everything but the One who calls it into being. Popular religion has invaded the Church, but there can be no correlation between popular religion and Christian faith. The most hopeful sign today is that popular religion—the bane of Protestantism in the 1950s—seems to be losing popularity. The poor are growing too wise to buy it, and the rest of the population is becoming too sophisticated to need the pious nostrums that too many congregations provide.

The Protestant version of Dostoevsky’s Legend might be set in a denominational conference room. Christ would not be imprisoned, as in the Legend, but merely doubted. The Protestant counterpart of the Inquisitor would say: “Your notion, if you really are Christ, of human freedom may be followed by some in our Churches, but what of the rest—those who have never seen the vision or heard the Word? There will always be a remnant perhaps, but we must concern ourselves with the others, with those who need the activities, the services, yes, the comfort, that we provide. So leave us. We have budgets to plan, annual reports to write, statistics to gather. With luck, if there’s not too much rocking the boat, we shall survive.”

5

What, then, is the mission of the Church? The common answer of many who have spoken and written of the renewal of Protestantism is that the Church’s mission is “to be in the world.” Because this phrase has gained such wide currency it is important that we raise the question of what being “in the world” means.


For many partisans of Church renewal, the world is “where the action is.” It is where the “big” decisions are made, where “history” is unfolding, whether before the TV cameras or behind the closed doors of the powerful. It is where the Church “ought to be,” but most often is not. The distance between the Church and the world, so defined, is the distance between dishpan evangelism and the sizzling issues of the planning commission. To speak of being in the world, in this sense, is perhaps to lament the era in Western history when the Church was a temporal power. There is the haunting sense that the Church is no longer in the center of the stage. But there are few partisans of renewal who would advocate the seizure of political power as a solution to the problem of irrelevance. If the Church is to be in the world today, it will arrive not as master but as servant, minus the trappings of ecclesiastical authority.

Very often the “world” is much less glamorous than it seems to be. There is the perhaps subconscious tendency to feel that if we could just infiltrate Madison Avenue, General Motors, or even the White House, we would perforce be “in the world.” But business, advertising, and politics can be more isolated and impotent than one might suspect. The very institution that seems crucial may prove peripheral in terms of its actual impact on events. History, as well as the making of it, is too complex to yield to easy generalizations about where power lies or who is the crucial decision maker. History often makes posthumous heroes of contemporary unknowns. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which determined the future character of much of the civil rights movement, had its genesis when a courageous but certainly unprestigious Negro lady, Mrs. Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a bus. Her refusal precipitated the modern nonviolent movement in the United States. A local minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged, following Mrs. Parks’s decision, as a national leader. Who could have foreseen that a woman’s stubbornness on a bus would be the locus of “the action”? This is not to deny that there are many visible power centers in our society that are in need of humanization and where the Church should be present. But there are times when we fail to consider that “the action” is much closer to home. We may run toward the world without seeing the world at our doorstep.
We shall err in our definition of the Church’s mission if we see the world only as the stage on which the dramatic scenes of history are enacted. There is also the world of the constant, where change is slow and where pain and sorrow are unpublicized. The world changes, but it does not change. As a consequence the Church must be in the world as priest as well as prophet. If Christians support revolution without healing the wounds of both friend and enemy, they foster the illusion that social activism can overcome the conflicting truths of this life. So while the Church abandons itself to “the action,” it must remember also the lonely, the hung up, the sick, and the dying. It is true that Christ said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” But He also said, “Thy sins are forgiven thee. Rise up and walk.”

St. Paul had ample opportunity to compare the drama of jail with the smaller dramas of weakness and pain, and he used the word “love” to describe the style of life needed both on the picket line and in the hospital corridor. It was not to be an insipid, never-angry, sentimental love. But it was to be a love that was aware of needs and sympathetic to human weakness. Without love, one could prophesy and be “nothing”—a clanging cymbal. The Church loves the world when it is oriented both to revolution and to constant, unglamorous needs. To be preoccupied with one and neglect the other is to lose balance: love then becomes not love but escape. But Paul also recognized that it was humanly impossible to combine revolutionary zeal and priestly concern within each individual. The Church was described by Paul as a Body whose several members performed different functions, all under the imperative of love. Protestantism has lost this sense of the Church. J. B. Phillips translates Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 12:27-30 as follows:

Now you are together the Body of Christ, and individually you are members of Him. And in His Church God has appointed first some to be Special Messengers [Apostles], secondly, some to be preachers of the word, thirdly teachers. After them he has appointed workers of spiritual power, men with the gift of healing, helpers, organizers and those with the gift of speaking in “tongues.”

As we look at the Body of Christ do we find that all are Special Messengers, all are preachers, or all teachers? Do we find all wielders of spiritual power, all able to heal, all able to speak with tongues, or all able to interpret the tongues? No, we find God’s distribution of gifts is on the same principles of harmony that He has shown in the human body.*

Paul is speaking of specialization. He is recognizing that different persons are called to different tasks. The true unity of the Church is expressed in the term Body. Each functioning organ in the Body is essential to the life and unity of the whole. But one sees few such distinctions within the Protestant Church today. We lump most of the specific functions of which Paul speaks into the job description of the professional, ordained ministry. The laity emerges as the severed portion of an amputated body. The result is a Church which is neither priestly nor prophetic, a Church which cannot minister effectively in the world.

For in the last analysis it is obvious that the Church is inextricably in the world. It cannot escape. The Priest and the Levite were on the Jericho Road when the wounded man cried for help. The Church was in the world when the Inquisition was at the height of its power. The Church was also in the world when St. Francis spoke to animals and indigents. And it is in the world today—weak, divided, concerned and self-serving, helping and hindering, worshiping God and worshiping idols, but there nonetheless.

So the question is really how the Church is to be in the world. How is the Church—2000 years after the Christ event—to organize itself? The Bible provides ample cause for discouragement in the face of this question. At one level, the Scriptures can be seen as the story of man’s abortive attempts to capture God, to freeze Him into an inflexible and easily handled mold. Man continually attempts to perform surgery on God—usually of the heart or brain—in order to avoid the passion of His restless activity in all the world and to escape the endless depths of His mysterious presence. But the Bible is also the story of God’s response. He demonstrates the folly of these attempted operations in a supreme act of self-revelation culminating in the crucifixion of the Godman who consorted with prostitutes, cast out money-changers, and suggested the possibility of resurrection. He unleashes His Spirit in the world, and when man is seized by this Spirit he can no longer remain content with his little efforts to confine God, to remove all the elements of risk and joy and suffering that the Spirit opens up. Finally, one must affirm that the Church that is deaf to the Spirit is not the Church. And with that affirmation, one rests the case for renewal, not on human plans and notions but upon the biblical call for continued openness to the Will of God. If our only achievement is to remove the cotton from the ears of the Church, that Christians might stand ready to obey, that is satisfaction enough.

Chapter 5

Proposal for a Renewal Movement

1

In the first four chapters I have sketched some basic arguments for the development of an ecumenical renewal movement. I have suggested that such a movement would find positive response outside the churches; it would coordinate the existing natural groups within the Church; and it would move toward what can be called a working theology. Now it is time to develop the specific proposal for structural renewal suggested in Chapter One. We can begin by asking how the process of renewal might begin, assuming that the local congregation, in its present form, was maintained as the basic institution of Protestantism. First, one must consider the resources that are available.

Despite a needed emphasis on the importance of the laity, the crucial factor in the initiation of renewal is the minister of the congregation. If he lacks vision, if he is wedded to traditional views, if he counts his success in terms of shiny new buildings and the ability to run a cozy social club, then the chances for renewal are irreparably damaged. It would be better if the congregation had no minister at all. For the first prerequisite of renewal is a minister who can lead the laity to see the need for a more relevant Church. The first, most positive step a congregation can take is to call the right minister.

It is rare to find a clergyman with all the qualifications a renewal-minded congregation has in mind. The congregation that wishes the minister to combine four or five specific skills, in addition to being outgoing and having an attractive but not too aggressive wife, is probably more interested in having a showpiece than a man who can point the way to the mission that lies beyond the sanctuary walls. Thus the local church would be best advised to choose a specific mission and seek out a minister who is able to devote his skills to a fairly specific area. The choice of mission is largely dependent on the nature and location of the particular congregation.

2

For purposes of discussion, we can point to three types of congregation that might fit into a pattern of renewed mission. The first type is the large, versatile congregation which is able to carry on more than one or two activities with a degree of competence. It has considerable resources, both financially and in terms of the talents of its membership. Such a congregation could carry out a teaching ministry of considerable scope and depth. It could perform some of the basic ministries of chaplaincy—public worship, preaching, and pastoral counseling.

The second type of congregation is smaller. It may have anywhere from several hundred members to virtually none. In terms of resources it could be designated as average. In order to have any mission at all, it must pick and choose. If such a congregation chooses to have a Sunday School for children and to support public worship, it is unlikely that it can do more than make a stab at other possible ministries. The primary possibility of renewal for such a congregation is to choose one mission and seek to perform it with all the skill and dedication of the combined membership. Several churches have done exactly this. They have curtailed excessive programming and concentrated on doing one thing well. But the process has been difficult, and certain factors have been present: a renewal-oriented minister and enough progressive lay leadership to overcome traditional objections. Only in the rarest instances have such congregations been able to perform the three functions outlined in the first chapter with any degree of completeness. If they have concentrated on chaplaincy or teaching, they have been forced to neglect abandonment. If they have chosen a specific area of abandonment (direct involvement in community affairs, for example), the chances are that chaplaincy and teaching have suffered.

The third type of congregation is the one that comes into being without laboring under the burden of past traditions. Such congregations are rare. They may sprout up as the result of a denominational “church extension” project, as when a minister forms a new congregation in an “unchurched” suburban area. Or they may be the result of a “reoccupation” of a local church whose old membership has moved or otherwise vacated the premises. Theoretically, such a congregation is free from the outset to determine the disciplines and mission that will guide their development. The members are bound by no rule save their sense of present obedience to the present will of God.

The only way to renew the first two types of congregation is through a long, arduous process of change—weeding out often-cherished organizations that no longer serve a justifiable purpose, developing adequate staff, training the laity, and choosing specific missions. The third type of congregation, while often following stereotyped patterns of development (lax membership requirements, emphasis on buildings rather than mission, etc.), provides the most striking examples of local Church renewal. The Church of the Saviour; the Aldersgate Methodist Church near Cleveland (whose development was recorded in Robert Raines’s New Life in the Church); Judson Memorial Church in New York City, etc., were all developed within the last two decades practically from scratch. Judson Church, for example, had almost died out as a congregation when Howard Moody was called as minister in 1950. Moody recalls that the primary “spiritual asset” that the church possessed at that time was that “the corpse of the past was all but buried.” There are lesser known examples of “starting from scratch.” The Westover Hills Presbyterian Church, in Little Rock, Arkansas, limits its activities to a ministry of teaching. It now conducts one of the few truly exciting programs of adult lay education to be found in the American Church. The fact that a “traditional” ministry may have repercussions “in the world” is attested by the fact that Westover Hills laymen played a constructive role in mediating the Little Rock school crisis.

One is forced to the conclusion that renewal is most possible when the institutional life of the congregation is most flexible. Also, one can conclude that renewed local congregations that have started from scratch have tended to concentrate on specific mission functions, rather than on attempts to give equal emphasis to every function of the Church.*

3

But this scarcely solves the problem for the vast bulk of Protestantism, structured as it is around local churches that have existed for years and which do not yield easily to the idea of change. Ministers of such churches tend to be critical of renewal efforts precisely because they avoid the issue of ingrained, long-term resistance. It is in such churches that one finds the greatest sense of discouragement among the clergy. Are we to say that no significant change can take place within such congregations? Are clashes of personality too great in some? Is allegiance to tradition too strong in others? Do many of these churches simply lack the leadership, the talents, that might serve the cause of renewal? The answer is No, but it is a qualified No. For, in many cases the answer is Yes. Yes, there are potential clashes of personality that would develop into full-blown schisms if the cause of renewal were arduously pressed. There are, in many cases, such strong emotional ties to “the way we have always done things” that any but the most superficial changes in program or policy would result in chaos. What if First Church on Main Street were asked to give up its annual rummage sale on the grounds that it no longer represents what could be considered a valid Christian mission? What if St. John’s by the Gas Station were asked to place a large sign in front of its building—we support an end to racial discrimination in housing in green acres. If we are optimistic, if change were proved possible, we would have to raise a second question. Could today’s local church, assuming it wished to do so, support within its own congregation the three functions of the Church outlined in Chapter One?

Let us recall the three functions—chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment.

Chaplaincy suggests the priestly and pastoral ministry of the Church. It is the aspect of the Church that deals with preaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments, pastoral counseling, and liturgy. Chaplaincy is primarily a resource ministry to the laity. It is absolutely central to the life of the Church. It recognizes St. Paul’s assertion that some are called to be preachers of the Word, some to be healers, some administrators.

Then there is the ministry of teaching. To teach is to convey in the most competent manner possible the central themes of the Bible and to explore with the laity the nature of the world into which Christians are called. Like chaplaincy, teaching is specialized.

The third function of the Church—abandonment—is implied in a key passage from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (2:5-8), which J. B. Phillips translates as follows:
Let Christ Himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For He, Who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s Equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled Himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal.*

This passage may be read, together with J. B. Phillips’ translation of the famous words from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (13:4-8):

The love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.

Love…does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not compile statistics of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when Truth prevails.

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope: it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.

The Christian in the world must not “cling to his prerogatives.” He must, the Church must, take the form of a servant. There must be abandonment to the imperatives of love—love that does not “pursue selfish advantage” or “compile statistics of evil.” Our mind is to be that of Christ’s, who emptied Himself of status, prestige, even life itself, for the sake of the world. The Church as chaplain and teacher is the resource that the laity needs if it is to abandon itself to the struggles of life in our time. The Church abandons itself when it takes the shape that the world needs. Such a Church will not shun the secular. It will seek to learn from the world a wisdom not available in sermons and sanctuaries alone. It will not be afraid to identify itself with forces in society that mirror the intentions of “all good men.” The Church that abandons itself understands that prophecy without involvement is mere kibitzing. Abandonment is closer to parable than proclamation. It recognizes that the actions of Christ, as much as His spoken words, were the crucial factors in His ministry.

The Church that takes abandonment seriously will place emphasis on experimental ministries, on participation in direct action movements designed to bring about political, economic, and racial justice, and on the mission of the laity in the scientific laboratories, the legislative assemblies, the centers of youth culture, the schools, and the wretched compartments where the aged are prematurely buried. It will be concerned with the humanization of life where it is lived.

4

But who can honestly accuse the Church with being uninterested in chaplaincy, in teaching, in abandonment? Our case here is that there are countless congregations who wish to move forward, but who are so encumbered structurally that movement is virtually impossible. And our argument is that there is a structure that could provide at least the basis for a ministry of chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment.

The Church of the future will have to be built on a scale that will provide all of its members with the resources of chaplaincy and teaching. Abandonment will have to become the rule rather than the exception. In short, the local congregation, as we know it, will have to be radically transformed.

There are two possible approaches to the restructuring of the local congregation. The first is the approach we have already suggested—the gradual evolution of specific ministries in those local congregations structurally equipped to move toward a posture of renewal. I tried at the outset of this chapter to point out the limitations of such an approach, the fact that even if an individual congregation takes seriously the ministries of teaching, chaplaincy, and abandonment, it is rarely in a position to implement all three functions. Now I propose a second approach, no less difficult, but in the long run designed to produce a Church which can fulfill these functions. It is an approach that builds on the local, ecumenical cooperation of existing congregations.

Here, in my opinion, are the possibilities and advantages of what might be called the cooperative ministry approach.

Pastoral counseling would be provided in a given neighborhood in the name of the Church as a whole and not of individual congregations.

The teaching ministry of the Church would be performed on an around-the-week basis by trained teachers who could combine the resources of today’s local congregations to provide educational resources for all age groups.

The preaching and worship ministries of the Church (chaplaincy) would pool the resources of local congregations in order to bring more diversity and depth to proclamation and worship and to provide a sufficient number of services to meet the spiritual needs of the total community.

Membership in a local congregation would be redefined in terms of commitment to specific missions of abandonment. Depending on the talents and interests of members of the Church, these specific involvements could be re-evaluated from time to time.

Thus there would be two categories of Church membership—basic membership in the Body of Christ and specific membership in a working part of that Body.

The physical plants of existing local congregations would be administered centrally within a given area, and the use to which these buildings were put would be determined by the specific need for chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment within the area.

Funds saved by the pooling of resources on the local level would be used to support experimental ministries and teaching projects designed to serve and involve the laity beyond the residential community.

Professional ministers and church workers would be selected on the basis of their ability to perform one of the specific ministries of chaplaincy, teaching, and abandonment.

5

Given a projected pattern such as this, what would become of loyalties to the local congregation as it is presently structured? A different sort of loyalty would develop. One would forfeit the “security” of knowing that the local church building is one’s very own and that nobody from “outside” can change one jot or tittle of its familiar furnishings. The building would be given to the neighborhood, consecrated for specific mission activity. One’s loyalty would be to the Church in action rather than the Church in repose. Within the cooperative ministry, loyalty would be to the whole Church embodied in the concrete realization of its various functions in a given area. The sense of community, of koininia, would emerge as one participated in the specific ministries of the Church. In a real sense loyalty would be to the world, because the abandonment ministries of the Church would necessarily involve members in the struggles and joys of everyday existence.

We have already suggested that the present structure of the Church tends to create a division between Church members and those outside, those who do not set foot on church property because they feel they will be pressed to join before they have a chance to learn what is happening, those who do not feel the Church offers an outlet for their talents. The cooperative ministry structure would be far more open. The public worship of the Church would not be the occasion for pressing the outsider to become a member. The ministries of abandonment would be open to the participation of all men. The evangelism of the Christian community would depend as much on the ministry of abandonment as on the ministries of teaching and chaplaincy. The ministries of abandonment would be living parables, raising the question within the outsider of what the Church is, of why it seems willing to give of itself without asking anything in return. He would be free to accept or reject, but at least the proposed structure would create the possibility of contact which scarcely exists today.

Lest one think we are perpetuating the activism that seems rampant within much of today’s Protestantism, we should emphasize that neighborhood mission (involvement in the local, residential ministries of the Church) would be appropriate for some, but not for all. The fact is that such participation would be an escape for many church members. One thinks particularly of the suburban commuter whose basic responsibilities require involvement beyond the neighborhood where he lives. The present activism of the local church fails to recognize that one’s job or one’s involvement in broad secular associations is, for many laymen, the most appropriate area of mission. Laymen so involved are the Church, even as those who minister in the local neighborhood are the Church, even as those who support the traditional ministries of chaplaincy and teaching are the Church. Such laymen would be considerably more loyal to a church that demanded not institutional allegiance but allegiance to the imperatives of servanthood in the world. They would no longer feel that their work, their interests, and their complex decisions were something isolated from the Church’s life. The new structure would provide for those who have no desire to be “active” in the traditional sense, and for those who do.
In an earlier chapter I suggested that decentralization is a positive step toward increasing communal involvement at the local level. Doesn’t the idea of a cooperative ministry of several local congregations suggest centralization? Yes, but only to a certain extent. The fragmented ministries of today’s local congregations would be brought together. As much as possible, the institutions of the Church would be cooperatively administered. Public worship would be an occasion when participants in the specialized ministries could gather in a single place. To this extent there would be centralization. But in terms of the current denominational framework of Protestantism, there would be a large degree of decentralization. No longer would policies of cooperation depend on the decisions of denominational offices far removed from the local scene. No longer would financial arrangements be predicated on the denominational system, by which funds are collected locally and used almost exclusively to perpetuate a pattern of denominational allegiance rather than allegiance to the Church as a whole. The proposed structure presupposes the necessity of decentralizing the denominations.

6

The cooperative ministry idea also suggests a means by which both the seminaries and the denominations could participate in a plan of renewal. Let us retain our hypothetical model for a moment.

So far we have spoken of what local churches might accomplish on their own initiative. Suppose, in addition, that a theological seminary were to enter the picture. The current practice of many seminaries is to encourage students to take an intern year—a year of practical field experience—prior to graduation. We shall assume that our hypothetical seminary has a direct relationship with our hypothetical cooperative ministry, so that a continual flow of intern-year students is available to work within the various specialized ministries. Because this would be seen as an integral part of theological education, the seminary would also supply one faculty member each year, not only to act as a resource to the students, but also to participate directly in one of the ministries. A professor of Old Testament, for example, could supplement the staff of the adult lay training center. A professor of Christian ethics could participate in a ministry of abandonment, possibly a lay task force devoted to changing unjust housing laws. In this way seminaries could provide students with supervised field experience, but, just as important, seminary faculties would be far less isolated from the Church-at-large.

We can carry the illustration even further. If six or eight students each year were affiliated with the cooperative ministry, would it not be just as possible to send six or eight laymen to the seminary for specialized training or basic theological education? If this could be achieved, the split between the seminary and the Church would be virtually nullified. The seminaries would be forced to make room in their midst for the layman, and the mere presence of the laity would be a protection against the abstraction that often diverts theology from the Church. Seminaries would be loath to enter such a program unless there were a cooperative ministry that could creatively use the talents of their students. Indeed I can see no way other than the one suggested to begin to solve the problem of the seminary’s isolation.

How, then, might the denominations be involved? Let us imagine that the denominations saw, and accepted, the trend toward local cooperative ministries. They would be in a position either to encourage it or seek to prevent it. If we are exceedingly optimistic, we could expect support from at least some denominations. Suppose, for example, that four or five major denominations agreed to encourage a cooperative ministry movement. They could pool certain funds to support cooperative ministries in the initial phases of development. But they could do something even more helpful. They could decentralize their own denominational programs and offer them, on an ecumenical, no-strings-attached basis, to clusters of cooperative ministries. They could move talented staff members from central offices to positions within the cooperative ministries. They could help provide regional resources to support ministries of abandonment and teaching that could not be carried out locally.
There are other elements that might come into play to aid the development of a renewed Church structure. The organizational pattern of abandonment would enable local communities to form interfaith structures and not-for-profit groups that would have far more community effectiveness than any program sponsored by a single congregation or denomination would possess. Abandonment would also emphasize cooperation with secular service agencies, thus increasing ministry without adding to the maintenance of Church institutions. Since traditional church buildings would play a less important role than at present, there would also be a considerable reduction in capital expenditures. The edifice complex of modern Protestantism would be cured.
It may seem mundane to dwell on finances, but there is one other question that must be faced. Would there not be an inevitable decrease in giving among members who do not accept the cooperative ministry concept? Consider first the current levels of giving to the Church as it is presently structured. In 1961, according to the Yearbook of American Churches, thirty-nine Protestant and Eastern Orthodox denominations received contributions totaling just over two and one-half billion dollars. Eighteen per cent of this amount was designated for “benevolences”—a term that applies to all expenses beyond the maintenance and programs of local congregations. Local expenses, in ministers’ salaries, maintenance costs, etc., averaged $54.00 per member. The average per capita contribution for “benevolences” was just over $12.00. The per member annual contributions within the denominations involved in the Blake-Pike conversations on Church union average approximately $75.00. So the current level of giving within the Church is by no means extraordinary.

I would suggest that the renewed Protestant Church would gain enough in dedication from an enlivened laity to offset losses in contributions from today’s nominal members. I would suggest also that the cooperative ministry idea, if widely followed, would result in major reductions of operating expenses. The actual number of church buildings would be cut in half. The unification of presently duplicated programs at the local level would result in eventual savings, despite the fact that the level of services would be vastly increased. And, with widespread intensive training of the laity, jobs that are salaried positions at present could be filled by volunteer help or eliminated.

The cooperative ministry approach would also streamline the cumbersome and often offensive methods that are currently employed to raise money in the Church. Funds would be raised once each year in an annual appeal to the total membership. There would be no special offerings and no time-consuming money-raising events such as bazaars and bake sales.

7.

We began this chapter by asking how the process of renewal might begin with today’s local congregations. We have covered a great deal of ground since then. Instead of offering comfort to present institutions, we have offered challenge. But the challenge needs to be made more concrete. If there is any merit in the proposed structure, how do we get there in practice? What might it look like? How would it differ from today’s Protestantism?

Let us first ask how we might prove to the skeptics that the underlying idea of the cooperative ministry is feasible. There is only one way, the way of experiment. Actually, what has been suggested is an extension of a concept that has already taken root within a number of areas. The notion of local ecumenism is by no means new or revolutionary, and the complexity of life in the metropolis has already shown many congregations the necessity of joint cooperation. In Chicago, for example, there is the new North Side Cooperative Ministry. To the extent that it has failed, it is because it has not gone far enough. The building that ought to serve as the Central House now serves a large and somewhat ingrown congregation of persons who come from all over the city. The congregation that should serve the artists in the area had not sufficiently considered its task. But there have been successes. A task force from the cooperative ministry has played a vital role in influencing public-school policy. An experimental coffee house, staffed by the laity, has been creating a new image of Christian concern for the uprooted young persons who have moved to the neighborhood. There has been an attempt to pool pastoral resources and to bring lay persons with varying talents together to perform ministries of calling and services for the aged. But it is only a beginning.

What is needed are several demonstration projects. One would be in a smaller town or city. Another would be in a metropolitan suburban area. A third would be in an inner-city neighborhood, and the final experiment would be in a middle-class but fairly sophisticated city neighborhood such as that served by the North Side Cooperative Ministry. If these pilot projects could be started, if we could learn to understand both the challenge and triumph of relevant change, then we could argue the case from experience. It is well to offset any potential skepticism with a remark of Henri Bergson:

“It is useless to maintain that social progress takes place of itself, bit by bit, in virtue of the spiritual condition of the society at a certain point in its history. It is really a leap forward which is only taken when society has made up its mind to try an experiment; this means that society must have allowed itself to be convinced, or at any rate allowed itself to be shaken; and the shake is always given by somebody.”

There are plenty of prophets within Protestantism who can give the shake. And one senses that there are an increasing number within the churches who are willing to be shaken.

Pending widespread experimentation, what of the present-day congregation in an area where no other congregations seem interested in cooperation? How is it to function in its isolation? The obvious answer is to initiate conversations with the neighboring congregations; but what if tentative efforts at reaching consensus fail? If this were the best of all possible worlds, such a congregation would be able to engage the services of a national renewal consulting agency which could come, survey needs, suggest a strategy of local mission, and draw up a plan that might serve as a basis for future conversations. I am suggesting here a working group of ecumenical specialists that might even serve as a negotiating team in the first stages of local cooperation. Such a group might be supported by the denominations or establish itself as an independent, not-for-profit corporation. Such an agency would be helpful in encouraging congregational self-study and assisting the Church toward a broader vision of its mission.

Without such resources, a renewal-minded congregation should adopt a posture of waiting combined with a policy of specific symbolic actions. For example, the congregation could inaugurate a specific mission thrust designed to demonstrate its own inability to function without cooperation from the other local churches. It could send representatives (preferably laymen) to denominational meetings to raise questions of ecumenical policy. It could choose a particular ministry of abandonment to show forth a new vision of Christian mission. What it should not try to do is too many things at once. The entire strategy should be one of doing one or two things well and at the same time demonstrating the inability of the presently structured local Church to perform all the ministries that need performing.

If we have proposed the skeleton of the renewed Church, we have yet to elaborate its style and content. By understanding more fully what is meant by chaplaincy and teaching, and the implications of abandonment, we shall be able to assess more fully whether the proposed structure is both feasible and worth fighting for.
The local Church today is at a dead end, not because it is totally irrelevant, but because it is cynical to assume that a few bright spots will compensate for the structural weakness of the whole.

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

This material is from the 1990s and from the original Grass Roots Church with minor emendations.

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THE JOHNSON THESES

Ben Johnson is a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary who, in his mid-40s, has already had a fruitful career working to encourage proper renewal and evangelism. Now, in a way that reminds me of some past personal efforts, he has offered a set of 95 Theses which he chose to nail onto a gateway in cyberspace called Ecunet. In the space of a few weeks the meeting 95 THESES FOR TODAY generated more serious notes detailing frustrations and hopes brought out by the Johnson Theses.

The edited text of the theses is the next item in this week’s Weekly.

Johnson begins by suggesting the context in which we find ourselves: One of rapid change in which the proclaiming of the Gospel and the organization of the congregation must somehow change as well. How, Johnson asks, are we to exist and serve in a post-modern, post-denominational, post-everything world where such favor we once may have enjoyed is kaput?

Continuing to play on the disestablishment theme, further theses talk of stress on institutions and communities and suggests that the way forward lies in a new or renewed and lively encounter between people and the Holy One.

We must recover, says Johnson, a “sense of the presence of God” in our worship and work as the people of God. He moves from there to what he calls “a monumental shift — the shift from maintenance to mission.”

The theses that follow address the habitual posture of existing on-the-ground structures and vacillate between noting their proclivity for repeating past errors and expressions of hope –for example, in the advent of more women in positions of possible leadership and the recovery of passion. Structures not open to the new, he suggests, will die.

The shape of Johnson’s scenario for change is found in the title he gives the next group of theses: “Liberate the Laity.” The new wrinkle he gives to what has been fairly conventional renewalist sentiment in the past is his notion of developing spiritual mentors.

It is precisely when Johnson becomes specific in noting this need that he buts heads with the reality of the on-the-ground institutions with their investment in the jack-of-all-trades minister, steepled structures which try to carry on all the functions of ministry without enough resources and the sheer weight of institutional entanglements and even legal obligations. Perhaps for these reasons spiritual mentors seems a vague notion.

Less elusive is Johnson’s next item on his renewal wish list: “Small Cadres of Committed Disciples … the formation of small, intentional groups — centers of renewal in local congregations.” He further denotes these groups as “cadres of apostolic believers!”

“The small community,” Johnson says in Thesis 60, “will begin with simple disciplines like: praying together, sharing joys and struggles, reading scripture to listen for the voice of God, discerning their context, responding to the call of God to engagement, and sharing in mutual ministry and accountability.”

Then he adds the nub: “The selection, training, and support of the pastoral leaders of these small, intentional communities will be the primary task of the ordained minister.” And the carrot: “This vital center of spiritual life and vision provides respite, nurture and support for weary pastors.”

“Spirit, Orientation, Worship, Laity, Mentors, and Base Groups” are terms Johnson uses to describe where he takes us in his first 65 Theses. The question now logically becomes, what about the clergy? And Johnson exhorts clergy to become the empowering force behind the lay apostolate that he hopes will emerge. And to empower the clergy, there naturally needs to be change in … the seminary.

Here Johnson becomes necessarily hypothetical. If the seminaries are, as he suggests, to move from training for maintenance to training for vital mission, they might need to share his sense of the problem. “Teachers and leaders in the seminary are called to confess their sins as participants in the creation and support of the cultural church. (ouch!)” The most specific suggestion is that seminaries offer lay training.

These proposals are written with Johnson’s Presbyterian denomination in mind. “The Presbyterian Church as we have known it for the past century,” says he, “is in disarray, decline, and facing death. The loss of members, the loss of influence, and the loss of established place in the society herald our demise.”

“91. The National Church, for the most part. seems to have lost touch with the ‘grass roots’ church.”

Ben Johnson concludes that the denomination will probably die as a national entity and vital congregations point the way to the evangelical renewal he espouses.

WHERE PLURALISM FAILS

I do not believe Paul would have said he was not ashamed of the Gospel unless he had had reason to be. That is, unless there was something about it that could induce others to cry out, For shame! Paul may have had a chip on his shoulder but he was also a supreme realist. He knew the pluralistic world which he faced, he had respect for the nuances of all of the traditions with which he was familiar and he manifested an almost Shakespearean genius in dealing with the philosophical complexities of the Gospel which he chose to make his own.

We have some reason to speak as Paul did today. For there are situations in which we might readily admit to being ashamed of the Gospel. For example, when we hear it preached in a way that offends us. I am amazed by my own ability to patronize those I feel have not got a proper lock on the truth as I apprehend it. I am like one of those chess maniacs in public parks and squares who play by the clock and smack down their pieces with peremptory haughtiness. I am referring to my mental gyrations. I am a dud at chess. Actually I believe the mainline church suffers from a similar sense of judgmental shame-saying that is directed inward. We may not think we are ashamed of the Gospel but we find reasons aplenty to applaud the pluralism that keeps us safe from the obligation to test the waters with the word that all our works are as grass and that God has spoken finally to us by offering Jesus Christ as a full and appropriate recompense for the abysmal way in which we have botched up the world. However we might imagine saying such things, we live in a culture and a society which makes i almost Christian to keep our mouths shut.

There is another problem when it comes to shame and the Gospel. We universally give assent to the shame attached to lay ignorance of the Scriptures and the lack of lay evangelism, but we have assented to an ecclesiastical arrangement that has accepted a “pluralism of professionalism” that is so emulative of the world that it is well nigh impossible to imagine the gospel being understood quite apart from being proclaimed. The gospel says nothing about a clericalized church in which the laity are not only the sheep to be pastored but also the audience for the gospel. This is an absurdity that is as outlandish as it is convenient. The gospel says nothing about fixed denominational structures that are major enterprises who rely for their stability and progress on concepts of stewardship that would make Paul and Jesus quake in their sandals. The issue of being ashamed of the Gospel is not a problem in these precincts because the Gospel is understood to be a sort of reward which is presented by Big League Proclaimers at major gatherings. Meanwhile the business of salvation by various works proceeds apace and is little different in kind from similar exercises in the secular realm.

Martin Luther has it right: “1. It is impossible that those preach who are not sent. 2. It is impossible that those hear who are without a preacher. 3. It is impossible that they believe who do not hear. 4. It is impossible that they call upon Him who do not believe. To these must be added a last one, namely: 5. It is impossible that they who do not call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. So, then, the entire source of salvation rests on this, that the Lord sends out someone. If He does not send out any, then they who preach preach falsely, and their preaching is no preaching at all. Then also they who hear, hear error, and it would be better for them not to hear. Then also they who believe, would believe false doctrine, and it would be better for them not to believe. Then also they who call upon Him would call falsely, and it would be better for them not to call. For such preachers do not preach; such hearers do not hear; such believers do not believe; such callers do not call; they will be damned because they would be saved.”

I will refrain here from excoriating those fundamentalists and evangelicals who do the very same institutional thing that we do with the added sin of using what would appear to be the Gospel as a cloak for self-interest and what Luther denotes as falsehood. It is enough that we accept our own medicine and confront a pluralist world as Paul did — with a Gospel of which we are not ashamed.

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Renewal implies a willingness to live in the now, to grasp the moment with passion, perception, and courage. But we are also to celebrate the things that are constant. Renewal is not possible if our belief is that God is an inactive Upstairs Accountant who spends His days recording the new memberships gained by the churches in the various geographical areas of the world where they happen to be present. Renewal presupposes the God of the Bible. It demands an openness on the part of the Church. It thus points to risk. Norman Mailer has written:

“If we are to speak of the shadows which haunt America today, the great shadow is that there is a place for everybody in our country who is willing to live the way others want him to. Yes, there is a place for everybody now in the American scene except for those who want to find the limits of their growth by a life which is ready to welcome a little danger as part of the Divine cocktail.”

What sort of cocktail is American Protestantism willing to drink in the age of the metropolis? I suggest the answer does not lie in sweeping away every vestige of the present structure. We have yet to challenge the present institution with the specifics of renewal. Let us do so, and let us see what happens.

The Need for Change

1

Once the renewal movement has reached agreement on the positive value of institutions, provided they are flexible and sufficiently defined to serve their stated purposes, it is necessary to develop a basic argument for changing the institutional patterns that presently exist. Recent literature on the Church has concentrated on the inadequacy of what now exists. Gibson Winter has shown the difficulty that current Protestant structures face in serving the metropolis. Martin Marty has offered telling arguments to demonstrate the negative effects of denominationalism on Church mission. It is not my intention to add to this body of criticism—not because the criticism is wrong, but because I believe we can now move beyond it. Perhaps the best argument for changing the structures of Protestantism is that the present form of the Church seems unable to speak to the outsider, or to vitally involve those who are already on the “inside.”

Consider first the outsider. Of course, there are those on the outside who feel they are not “good” enough to become members. They see the Church not as a community of the forgiven but rather as a league of the unforgiving. There are also some in our society who steadfastly refuse to involve themselves in anything that does not serve the most crass demands of personal self-interest. One might point out, in addition, that a substantial number of persons who once joined the Church out of a desire for social advantage or “belonging” no longer “need” the Church as a launching pad for their status seeking. Certainly if the Church is truly the Church it is not likely to be a popular organization. The Gospel is a scandal to those who maintain humanistic illusions about the perfectibility of man and the self-sufficiency of the world. And the Christian community, when it exists, is always a potential threat to the status quo. That is why the Church is never more loved by the powerful than when it is mired under the weight of its own institutionalism.

2

But it may be that the most telling argument for changing both the structure and emphases of Protestantism comes from another group of outsiders who could be called the “unchurched remnant.” These are persons who regret the fact that they must stand outside.

I am not referring to persons who leave the ecclesiastical establishment in a burst of rage over personalities or minor issues of programming. I am speaking generally of young men and women, brought up in the Church, who leave at the first opportunity. I am talking about nominal Protestants who consistently refuse the invitation to attend church or who come only at Christmas and Easter. Generally speaking, these are persons who reject the Church for perfectly plausible reasons. If we were to draw a portrait of such a person, he might have the following characteristics:

1. He is concerned about social issues. He feels the Church is not.

2. He is busy and seeks to be a good steward of his time. He feels his time is better spent elsewhere than “in church.”

3. He is tasteful and discriminating. He feels that the Church is trivial and banal.

4. He feels that he can practice what religion he has without joining and participating in the activities of the Church.

5. He cares about big issues—life and death, the meaning of work and vocation, the nature of personal relationships. He does not feel that the Church provides resources for meeting or even discussing these problems.

Clearly this person is not the sport-shirted golfer who deposits wife and children at the church door each Sunday to enjoy a few free hours on the links. Nor is he a rabid atheist, though he may be more agnostic than Christian. He may be educated; indeed the rising educational level of Americans seems to suggest that Church membership in the future will need to embody greater intellectual challenge. He is concerned about “doing good things without being goody.” He is not a bored person, but Church tends to bore him.

His case against church attendance may be summed up under three headings: failure of teaching, inappropriate demands on time and talent, and offenses against taste.


Our composite nonchurchman is interested in the question of life’s meaning. But one who contributed to this composite picture sums up his impression of the Church as follows: “You walk in and out on Sunday morning. Hats are about the only thing you can talk about. There seems to be no chance for debate or the discussion of real issues. It is not the people’s fault. They’re not uninterested in these things. But in church the set-up is such that you get a negative view. Even if things weren’t dull, they would seem so.”

This image is partly due to a lamentable failure of local congregations to do more than sporadic work in the field of adult education. Only a handful of congregations have significant programs of study and discussion. The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C., requires laymen to take the equivalent of a year’s seminary training before becoming members. But this stands in stark contrast to thousands of congregations which neither require lay training nor build voluntary programs of education into their structure. Only a tiny percentage of lay persons are invited to retreats and special courses where they are exposed to the deep meaning of biblical faith and its implication for the modern world. The present structure of Protestantism effectively shields most laymen, not to mention outsiders, from the best the Church has to offer.

[Disclosure: During the late ’80s I chanced to meet my second wife at the Potter’s House on Columbia Road in DC. I was performing some folk music and original songs, mainly political in nature. When we began living together, we were just around the corner from this Church of the Savior venue on one of the worst dope-dealing corners of Washington. Black kids serving the drug needs of the areas strung-out suburbanites. The building these kids lived in was also owned by the Church of the Savior. Naivete met reality and reality won. From then on, I tended to doubt the capacity of Christian intentionality, even of the high-octane Church of the Savior brand. I gravitated toward a more radical individualism. A deeper quest. A more synical viewpoint. All leading to “Abba’s Way”.]

It would be interesting to receive the answers of Protestant congregations to the following questions, designed to reveal the extent to which they serve as a resource to their members.

a) Is there a program of adult education, beyond a few sporadic study groups? Is attendance required before one can become a member?

b) Does the church provide courses of study on the city, world peace, theology, death, professional ethics, etc.?

c) Are such courses publicized and open to the public?

d) Who in the congregation is trained to provide such courses?

e) What per cent of the congregation’s time and money is spent on adult education?

Let us assume that our hypothetical nonchurchman has perhaps ten or fifteen hours a week to devote to activities beyond job or home. If he were to take seriously the scriptural injunction that he observe one full day of rest, his time would be even further limited. Assuming he wishes to attend church at all, he has, in most cases, only one choice—the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning. For metropolitan man, this single hour is an unfortunate chronological basket into which to throw all of one’s eggs. It may be appropriate to an agrarian society, but is it appropriate, practically or theologically, to the new metropolis? In a specialized society, where night shifts are common, and nurses and bus drivers work on weekends, insistence on this time as the only fitting moment for public worship is both anachronistic and discriminatory. No individual congregation could hold enough services to meet the time problems of man in the city, but a cooperative ministry of several congregations could. There are those who argue that a move away from the “sacred” Sunday hour is a dire blow to the notion that it is then that the whole Church gathers, thereby demonstrating its unity and community. But one could argue with far more justification that, in the context of the local denominational congregation, what happens on Sunday morning contributes to disunity rather than to unity.
The unchurched person is not bothered so much by the Church’s insistence on confining worship to a single time and place. It is not a superhuman act, after all, to rise on Sunday morning. He is more alarmed by what the congregation would demand of him if he actually became involved. He contemplates the “activities” of the Church with something akin to the emotions of a skilled Cuban doctor who is told the only job available in the United States is that of janitor in the clinic. He will contribute to the maintenance of the building if something exciting is happening there, if what goes on jibes to some extent with his own sense of mission. Not finding this in the Church, he will seek out another community which offers him a chance to give of his talents. What this suggests is a different principle of congregational organization, one that frees the layman to do what he does best, which calls him to involvement on the basis of mission as well as shared faith.

When one considers the matter of taste, one finds considerable vehemence within the unchurched remnant. To many outsiders, the Church suggests bad music, hollow ritual, and sermons without content. Music is a particular stumbling block. The typical performance of many congregations strikes the outsider as a cross between rural nostalgia (lyrics) and television soap operas (melody). The majesties of Bach, Handel, and Mozart or the vitality of modern folk music and the Negro spiritual are missing in most congregations. Singing lacks spirit, and choirs tend to be mediocre. In most cases a stereophonic recording system would be a welcome alternative to the organ. Again, local churches might pool their vocal resources to produce one choir that would be available to the whole community. We are left with the maxim that the organization that tries to do everything well may end up doing nothing well.
One might forgive musical deficiencies if the typical sermon had more to commend itself. There has been much talk within the Church about the decline of preaching. The vapid topical sermons of the 1950s no longer suffice. One is almost audacious enough to suggest that the only lively preachers today are those who, in Paul’s phrase, are not ashamed of the Gospel. But biblical preaching—preaching which does not rely on the personality of the preacher but on his submission to a discipline of study and involvement with the texts—is as rare as the water of life in a dry season.
Biblical preaching is not merely the use of a passage of Scripture as a platform for ministerial convictions. Biblical preaching is based on the recognition (a hard pill to swallow in many liberal congregations) that the Bible is more insightful than we are, more true to reality than our imaginations are, more demanding than our consciences, and more redemptive than our human assurances to one another. Biblical preaching avoids the shallow humanism of many Protestant pulpits without lapsing into a rigid, spiritualized fundamentalism. Biblical preaching makes us see ourselves in the mirror of the history of Israel which culminates in the God-man Jesus Christ. It is objective preaching in the sense that it transcends the preacher: the untalented speaker (humanly speaking) who preaches biblically is ten times more relevant than the talented speaker who rambles on about life and death and even social justice apart from any confrontation with the searing and often surprising texts of the Old and New Testaments. I firmly believe that we are entering a time when truly biblical preaching is possible, when the realities of that preaching jump forward to grip the hearer of the Word. As Harvey Cox has pointed out in his book The Secular City, we shall find in the great proclamations (and denunciations) of the Bible appropriate analogies to our own apocalyptic era. What the outsider misses in most preaching is not a feeling of being up-to-date (he has his radio and TV and newspaper) but a sense that the Church has anything relevant to say about what is happening today. And I submit that the way to this relevance is through the Bible and not around it. The minister who truly takes the imperative of biblical preaching to heart will find that he cannot perform this ministry along with the countless other jobs that he is called to do. And if the proposed structure in this book does nothing else, it at least offers the possibility of freeing those called to preach to do so.

It has been observed by many that the context of the sermon, which allows virtually no chance for response by the laity, detracts from the force of contemporary preaching. In some congregations there has been an attempt to remedy this defect by organizing discussions immediately following the service or during the week so that laymen and clergymen can engage in mutual reflection. This is certainly another antidote to the off-the-cuff sermonizing that is all too common today.
Again the outsider’s criticism suggests a positive proposal. The Church ought to differentiate the tasks of the ministry so that persons responsible for preaching will have time to explore and discover appropriate means of proclamation in our time. This differentiation can occur only if there is a restructuring of the Church at the local level.

Another affront to the outsider is the apparent lack of attention that is paid to the order of worship in church services. Many services have no discernible progression.

There is little coordination of music, prayers, and hymns and virtually no congregational participation. Holy Communion is prefaced by Boy Scout recognition ceremonies and followed by an announcement that was forgotten earlier in the service. The existence of only one weekly service in most local congregations tends to produce purpose affair devoid of significant liturgy and seemingly intent on being an ecclesiastical devoid of significant liturgy and seemingly intent on being an ecclesiastical mulligan stew. There are, within the Protestant tradition, ample precedents for a variety of worship services. There is the profoundly moving Friends Meeting where silence is the rule. There is worship which permits a high degree of congregational involvement. The Episcopal liturgy, with its moving cadences, is surely appealing to many beyond the confines of the Episcopal Church. Again what is needed is a structure that will provide Protestants with a variety of worship forms, from the silent practice of prayer to the preaching service to the Lord’s Supper. Ultimately, worship must be objective. That is, it must point beyond those gathered for worship and beyond the personalities of those conducting the service. If Protestant worship were to regain this objective character, congregations would have less reason to be defensive about the complaints of the outsider.

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The arguments for positive change within Protestantism are strengthened by considering briefly the situation of four primary groups within the Church: the theological seminaries, the college chaplains, the clergy, and the laity. We shall find that each of these groups has a creative contribution to make to a total renewal movement. And we shall find, too, that each group is hampered by the current organization of the Church.

No institutions are better placed for a concerted attack on the problems of the Church than the theological seminaries. Denominational seminaries could abbreviate their glowing annual reports to make room for an appeal that the churches become sufficiently well-defined to give meaning and direction to seminary training. The great ecumenical seminaries—Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Union—could take the lead in charting the broad implications of Protestant renewal. Too often, when one suggests that such responsibilities should fall to the seminaries, one encounters extreme reluctance. As with the denominations, there is a preoccupation with self-preservation at work which blinds many seminaries to the disenchantment that already exists within their own walls.

A hypothetical example may illuminate the situation: Suppose that the Acme Training School was set up to meet a public demand for well-made oboes. For years, graduates turned out the most melodic oboes within memory. But times changed. The oboe market began to insist on little innovations—a new stop here, an extra bit of chrome there—until the specifications of the market were increasingly hard to meet. The oboe makers started to complain that they were being forced to provide a homogenized instrument that could do a bit of everything, but nothing well. “But the customer is always right,” said the President of the Acme Training School. It never entered his mind to suggest that the customers were making impossible demands.

Seminaries once trained men to teach and to preach the Gospel. Today the seminary is asked to produce Jacks-of-all-trades, men and women who can preach, teach, administer buildings, run recreational programs, be diplomats, prophesy, and keep accounts. And the seminary responds by attempting to produce homogenized oboes. It passively fills the demands of the market (the local churches), rarely willing to accept the possibility that the market is itself out of kilter. Is there nothing to be learned from the fact that fewer and fewer seminary students intend to enter the ministry?
Today’s seminary student is uncertain about the Church. He wonders whether the Peace Corps or some other direct-action vocation might not be preferable to life as a minister. The Church seems too often peripheral, interfering for the sake of its own survival. In another mood, he may ask himself what things would be like if the job description of the clergyman were rewritten to enable him to do what interests him—to explore, on a full-time basis with the church membership, the implications of the Christian faith. How many congregations, he asks, would accept that definition of the minister?

He attends seminary for three years, pondering such questions. Then, quite suddenly it seems, the time comes to decide—about ordination, about what job to take, and he compromises more often than not, secure only because he knows others are sharing the same agony. He bows halfheartedly to the prevailing forms of the Church and weakly espouses a clerical image in which he no longer believes. Hell, for him, becomes not the absence of God’s grace, but possibly the self-chastisement that takes place when the compromise is exposed. Perhaps it is the absence of a clear goal beyond seminary that leads to impatience about community, worship, and life in general that sometimes seems to pervade his life as a student.

Then, too, the seminary experience helps to create a chasm that will grow, if one is not careful, between the minister and the layman. In the process of learning theology, the student picks up what can only be described as a professional jargon, a sort of shorthand that enables him to communicate with his colleagues but not with humanity as a whole.

Until fairly recently, many seminaries have been out of touch with, or uninterested in, the practical problems facing the Church. One thinks of Reinhold Niebuhr and the late Paul Tillich. While Niebuhr may speak compellingly of sin, grace, man, and history, his concern with the Protestant Church per se has been negligible. Niebuhr has been essentially a great Christian apologist totally outside the context of the institutional concerns of the Church. Tillich, too, displayed scant attention to the problems of Protestantism as an institution, though it must be acknowledged that both he and Niebuhr were unstinting in their generosity to various church groups.
The typical curriculum within the modern seminary suggests a double standard in relation to the institutional Church. There are generally two areas of study, the academic (theology, Bible, Church history), and the so-called “practical field.” Almost all discussion of the problems facing contemporary Protestantism are dealt with only in the “practical” courses. In the intellectual aura of the seminary these courses are regarded implicitly, if not openly, as somewhat second-rate. Likewise, there is a tendency to regard teachers in the practical field as second-class academic citizens. Fortunately, this gap between practical and academic concern is beginning to narrow, to the mutual benefit of both fields. Specialists in practical areas such as missions, preaching, Christian education, and ethics seem to be gaining more stature on seminary campuses. And a number of professors in the traditionally academic areas are turning their attention to the Protestant malaise. One thinks of Johannes Hoekendijk, Martin Marty, Franklin Littell, Langdon Gilkey, Robert Lynn, and Harvey Cox, among others. Hopefully we are passing from an age of abstraction to one of practical concern within the seminaries. But the official silence generally remains. The seminaries have yet to state their case for a renewed Protestantism. They have hesitated to alter their own programs and question their own goals.

In the context of this present impasse there is at least one thing that students can do and, indeed, are doing. That is to recognize that their major preparation for the ministry may take place outside of the formal classroom setting. If substantial numbers of students rally to something like the proposals in this book, for example, there is no reason why they should not set up their own discussion groups, calling on interested faculty members to provide insight at various points. Such a strategy would create some pressure on existing administrative mores, but at the same time it would have the constructive possibility of truly aiding the development of a student strategy for renewal. Organized seminary students could begin to insist, for example, that ordination as presently practiced by the denominations be viewed in the searing light of St. Paul’s definition of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Students have begun to play a constructive role on the university campus by dramatizing certain weaknesses of secular education. There is no reason why theological students could not do the same on seminary campuses.

The continued isolation of the seminary from the Church-at-large would constitute a major stumbling block to renewal. In fact, a restructured seminary emerges as a basic ingredient of an over-all strategy for a more relevant Protestantism. The seminary of the future will have to take lay training as seriously as ministerial training; it will have to decentralize faculty to meet pressing needs beyond its own walls; it may have to support new styles of ministry as demonstration projects to the Church-at-large. In many cases, seminaries may be called on to play an integral part in the renewal of the Church in the immediate areas where they are located. Whatever the changes, the present unrest in Protestant seminaries must be directed to constructive action.

4

A second force within Protestantism is located on college and university campuses throughout the nation. College and university chaplains include within their ranks some of the most vocal and talented representatives of the ministry. They have provided responsible leadership in the civil rights movement; they have been able in many cases to interpret the restless and hopeful spirit of the new student generation; and they have played a crucial role in the important task of making the Christian faith intelligible to today’s burgeoning student population. In addition, along with professors of religion in secular schools, chaplains have been among the most able recruiters of high-caliber students for the seminaries. And yet, as with the seminaries, there exists a deep chasm between the life of campus Christian groups and the Church-at-large. The most talented chaplains often play down the Church, characterizing it as an institution that has little to do with true Christianity. Indeed, student rebellion against conventional religion is often the “in” the chaplain needs to assert that Christianity is something more than a succession of bazaars, rummage sales, superficial sermons, and irrelevant social pronouncements. For this reason the chaplains are sometimes criticized as mavericks whose appeal to students varies with their willingness to “knock” the Church.

But this is unjust. Precisely what the churches need is a maverick spirit which is, at the same time, concerned with the potential effectiveness of the Church as a total institution. Unless there is a relevant Church structure into which college and university graduates can move, the best chaplains will be involved in nurturing momentary enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. But these chaplains are in a position to tell the Church-at-large that rising educational levels call for a comparably higher level of intellectual, theological, and social awareness in the Church if it is to attract the coming generations. They could encourage students to use the corporate power they possess to demand specific changes in Church structure.
There are obvious problems involved. One would not expect the assembled college chaplains of America to inform the seminaries of their unwillingness to encourage students to enter the ministry until there is a substantial change in the way that this vocation is defined. Nor is it likely that chaplains will contribute to the debate on Church renewal unless they are asked to do so. And, to be sure, there are chaplains who scarcely fit into the mold suggested above, who are more interested in pushing parochial denominational programs on campus than in pressing for ecumenical structures of mission and service. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that if the most able chaplains do not begin to concern themselves with the renewal of the Church as a whole, they will find themselves in the frustrating position of encouraging a revolution that has no chance of realization beyond the confines of the campus.

5

Within the ordained Protestant ministry, whether in the offices of the denominations or the parsonages of local churches, there is also considerable unrest. One of the most common topics of conversation among clergymen today deals with leaving the ministry. There is great dissatisfaction with the present job definition of the clergyman. And one finds increasing frustration among ministers of all ages at the apparent unwillingness of laymen in their churches to move away from traditional patterns of activity. One Presbyterian urban executive, Richard Moore, summed up his restlessness in the following words:

The member of the church who is concerned about important issues, and there are many such members, may find more in common with practicing pagans than with the nice folks who assemble in the church basement for that pot-luck dinner followed by a magic show, a “how-to-do-it” film on bowling, and a Disney cartoon for the kiddies. The sizzling issues of a mass society confront us in the business office, on the picket line, at the planning commission. Conversation in church parlor and kitchen is often no more than gossip flavored with pious platitudes. An officer of a local women’s association told me…, “The way to involve women in the church is to get their hands in dishwater up to the elbow.” Here is an honest apostle for the kind of church busywork that is too much with us. Dishpan evangelism is only an exaggerated symbol of our disengagement.*

Edward Heininger, a minister involved in forming a new congregation, expressed a common sense of discouragement at the preoccupation of many local congregations with maintaining traditional images of ecclesiastical “success”:

Although most churches begin in temporary quarters, the expectation is that a building will be constructed as soon as possible…. The property which was purchased for our church has on it a large, three story brick house which we remodeled to provide worship and educational facilities…. But even our Church House did not fit our congregation’s expectations. “People will not come to this house because it does not look like a church,” they say, although they come themselves.**

This preoccupation with buildings is only one aspect of ministerial discouragement with the status quo. “The only reason I go to church,” writes the Rev. Donald Keating, “is because I am a minister, because only the minister, in many cases, has a ministry. He ministers to the sick, the dying, and the mourners. He ministers through preaching and counseling. When the minister becomes the only one with a ministry, it is a sick, sick church…. Unless the total congregation participates in the task of ministering, the true task of the ordained minister becomes impossible.”

Here is the clue to a major stumbling block to the renewal of the Church—the tragic failure of Protestantism to clearly define and implement a working relationship between the ministry and the laity. Traditionally the minister has been a resource to the laity, providing him with the understandings he needs to realize his Christian faith in the market place. But today’s ministers, at least many of them, seem so discouraged with the social irrelevance of the Church that they have added to their already crowded schedule the task of doing what the layman ought to do. It is the ministers, primarily, who have represented the churches in the civil rights struggle, who have fought for justice in the metropolis, who have assumed the prophetic mantle that ought to fall on the shoulders of the Church membership. There is little question that this clerical activity has helped wake the Church up. But the time has come to reevaluate this strategy in terms of the infinitely greater potential of the laity for constructive witness in the world.

If unrest among the clergy cannot be channeled into a constructive renewal movement, the chances are it will continue to grow with little hope of attaining anything but a further decline in the number of men and women who elect to enter the ministry. But consider the alternative: the organization of ministers across denominational lines to fight for a truly ecumenical Church structure; the joint action of committed clergymen to insist on certain standards that must inform the life of the Christian community; and, finally, sufficient redefinition of the ministry itself to make it an authentic vocation rather than a center of isolation and frustration.

6

The greatest potential force in the Church is the laity. It is also the most misused.
To be sure, there has been much discussion in recent years of “the role of the laity.” But it is mostly ministers who have done the talking. For a number of reasons, including many of those outlined earlier in this chapter, the layman has either refused or been shielded from the task of exercising a progressive voice within the Church. Unquestionably there exists within the laity an element of strong conservatism, whether expressed in “dishpan evangelism” or in the refusal of some Church members to support denominational stands on race. The structure of the Church probably gives this element a power beyond its actual numerical strength. For one thing, the governing boards of the Church—trustees, councils, vestries, consistories—tend to be made up of the more conservative Church members. Their competence in financial affairs and prestige in the community at large seems to be as great a factor in their selection, as is their sense of mission. In the fall of 1964 The Episcopalian magazine included a profile of lay representatives to the Church’s General Convention. With evident pride, the magazine told the deputies-to-be:
At least twenty-four of you are financial managers; twenty, industrial managers; fourteen, general managers; and three, institutional managers…. Among your numbers are more than fifty lawyers…. You include one or more of the following: dentist, designer, natural scientist, social worker, teacher, and private school dean. You also include at least ten insurance agents, seven advertising salesmen, four real estate agents, and four farmers. Young people in your midst are rare; and at least five of you are retired…. Most of you will be paying the major portion of your own expenses.

The pattern is repeated in other denominations, even though the membership of the Church embraces a far wider social and economic range. The Church might take a leaf from the War on Poverty legislation that states that all programs should be “developed, conducted, and administered with maximum feasible participation of residents of the areas and members of the groups served.”

Younger laymen—and within Protestantism this can mean persons up to, and through, the age of forty—have a limited official voice. And as The Episcopalian profile shows, when election to major Church conventions is involved, it helps to be a vice-president with cash. One might argue that this pattern exists only in the larger congregations, particularly in suburbia. But how many small congregations, especially those in the inner city, are given a voice in the major forums of the Church?
Even if Church conventions were more representative, it is questionable whether the laity could inaugurate serious reforms. The sad reality is that laymen are rarely given an opportunity to vote on substantive issues of Church policy and programming. This is because these issues are rarely raised in specific form. Questions of membership standards, major changes in financial policy, or alteration of forms of Church government are seldom brought up, much less brought to a vote. The layman’s role in denominational decision-making is most often limited to the ratification of matters that have already been predetermined by the Church bureaucracy. Even if a layman takes a progressive stand within a particular denominational board, his decisions can be offset by another countervailing wing of the denominational establishment. Perhaps it was this sense of frustration that led Thomas Ayers, President of Commonwealth Edison Company, to tell the assembled delegates to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in 1965:

“Many times the laymen have been way ahead of the clergy. We have found that constructive conflict is a good thing. And we have found that there is much less risk in change than in not changing.

“[We ought to] call upon a management consulting firm…to render a report on what forms will give our church the greatest effectiveness. [This] would be especially fruitful at our national level, where a welter of semi-autonomous instrumentalities, councils, and commissions exists. As a businessman, I must say that the top structure of our church looks cumbersome and inefficient. To me it is not sufficient that it works or that it is a comfortable compromise. The real question is whether it is the best we can devise to serve today’s world.”

One wonders, though, whether management consulting firms are more than a partial answer. A Lutheran group hired the services of one such firm and ended up evaluating its work in terms of the rather frightening notion of “Gross Synodical Output.” Obviously, there is need to settle on the functions of the Church before becoming immersed in the problems of efficiency.

Nonetheless, there are many laymen who are discontented with the business-as-usual atmosphere of much Church life. Ministers’ complaints about the laity are often a weak excuse for ministerial failure to educate their congregations to the demands of Christian discipleship. The desire of the laity to assume their proper role is indicated in part by the vigorous response of considerable numbers of Church members to experimental ministries outside the context of the local congregation. Among such ministries are:

The Chicago Business Industrial Project, which offers laymen a chance to reflect on the ethical dimensions of work in the modern metropolis.

Kirkridge and Parishfield, two retreat and study centers in Pennsylvania and Michigan respectively, which provide a wide variety of seminars on basic issues facing the Church and the metropolis.

The Blue Hill Center outside of Boston, which has stimulated lay involvement in the civil rights movement.

The Volunteer Training Program of the Chicago City Missionary Society which trains laymen in specific areas of involvement in the inner city.

The Ecumenical Institute, also in Chicago, which provides intensive study courses for laymen.

These are only a few of many possible examples, but they all suggest a common pattern. These experimental ministries are specialized in what they do; they are ecumenical; they relate to churches within a given geographical area; and they are participation-oriented. Their primary focus is on preparing the laity for a ministry in the world. A new structure for Protestantism would make such patterns the rule rather than the exception.

Perhaps one of the reasons why lay involvement has been so sporadic is that we have failed to recognize that the most creative laymen are presently (in many cases) on the fringes of today’s local congregations. They are on the periphery, and their hesitation in becoming involved with present activities is not so much an expression of apathy as of disinterest in today’s status quo. But fully as important are the numbers of lay people who are immersed in the institution and who feel, quite wrongly, that there is nothing they can do. There is! Once the laity realizes that it is within their power as trustees, officers, and voting members to work at the grass roots for constructive, ecumenical renewal, once the laity realizes that there is no other force in the Church that can truly do this job, once the laity sees the possibilities for action inherent in the cooperative-ministry approach which we shall outline—once these things occur, the tide of irrelevance may turn, and a truly exciting movement may develop.

Even if there were no unrest within the seminaries, on the campuses, among both the ministry and the laity, even if the outsider’s case against church attendance is discounted, the imperative for Protestant renewal would remain. For in the final analysis the Church must be obedient not to human desires but to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued).

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

Much of the following section was originally written in the early 1990s and prices and other figures reflect their time.

HYPOTHETICALS

1.

I want to begin thinking about empowerment of the laity — against the backdrop of a real congregation. To do this I will interpolate from the profile of an existing church that is the fair model of a successful, largish mainline church. I shall situate this church in Megaburbia, USA and deliver its basic statistics forthwith.

It serves an area where 250,000 live. It is forty years old. It has 700 members it designates active and a weekly attendance averaging half that number, save on Easter and Christmas Eve when attendance swells markedly. There is a church school of 300, one third adults, the rest children divided from lower to upper grades into classes of about 20 members. About 65 attend a summer church camp. Membership is about 98 percent Caucasian in a metropolitan area where population mirrors ethnically and racially the demographics of the United States as a whole. There are approximately 100 more women than men in the total membership.

To render the church denominationally anonymous I will denote two major governing bodies of 20 each as Council and Diakonate. Council functions include facilities maintenance, education, fellowship, mission, personnel, worship and evangelism (which includes welcoming visitors), Diakonate functions include handling communion services, meals, visitation, transportation, running a food program and other activities related to communication and service.

The building, situated on four and a half valuable acres, seats over 400 in its sanctuary and boasts a modern wing where it houses a children’s facility that operates weekdays providing child-care and pre-school education to around 200 children. People will tell you the area has everything: a happening downtown, decent suburbs, several campuses and plenty of nearby recreation.

The statistic above that is shakiest is the church school because even though 300 are involved, weekly attendance is under a third of that number.

But organizational vitality thrives elsewhere. There are no less than ten social groups organized by age and gender. Each of these has a membership of from 25 to more than 50. There is also a prayer group of 20 or so and three choirs — two of them young peoples’.

Excluding the weekday school operating budget, the Megaburbia Church budget is in excess of $400,000 and this is drawn from a membership that comes mostly from within a five mile radius — ranging from the retired to white and blue collar professionals and workers, from a few Ph.D.’s to college to high school graduates. There are two services Sunday mornings plus various special services throughout the year.

There is a good deal of pride taken in the various facilities which include a large social hall where more that 200 can be fed with ease. There is a custodian who lives on the grounds and an active maintenance effort has meant continual work to meet various facility and landscaping needs. Retrofitting based on environmental and disability concerns has proceeded apace.

Real estate values have not gone through the roof in Megaburbia. Most members occupy single family houses or condos that cost between 100 and 150 thousand dollars.

In addition to the programs mentioned above there are two 12-step recovery groups.

Giving beyond the church is a shade less that ten percent of the $400,000 annual budget, and of this the bulk goes to the church’s regional and national denomination, in about a two to one ratio. Offerings that appear to be for direct service such as One Great Hour of Sharing add up to about $5000 of the money that goes out beyond the church.

For the moment this will complete our brief description of Megaburbia. We have said enough to imply the existence of a substantial, well-cared-for institutional church. We shall discuss its staffing in some detail in a later piece but for the moment it suffices to make a single point: We have here (in what will be conceded to be a “healthy” and happening congregation) an organization which involves or seeks to involve some 750 persons, which operates as a traditional place of worship where, as expected, there is a traditional order of worship and the performance of traditional choral groups. The point is that this works. Enough funds are generated — over $500 annually from each member with considerable range between high and low figures — to make possible what most would consider a balanced and competent and socially responsible operation. And again, the point is: This works. This is the backbone of the present system.

2.

I am proposing to interweave a developing theory of grass roots local (and general) church renewal with a description of an existing church in order to provide a reference point in reality for my fantasies and musings. If this is not complicated enough, let it be said that a living mind is prey to daily insights, experiences and correctives which may change both focus and content. Nevertheless, if this effort is successful, the reward will be a fair summation of a way to proceed locally that is at least theoretically doable.

Anyone reading The Grass Roots Church today will instantly see that it is not doable because existing structures are too entrenched and seem destined to sink or flourish in general separation. Cooperative ministries exist in some areas and are a good concept, but the bulk of churches are still jack-of-all-trades, ministerially run, with nods to lay empowerment and ecumenism but nothing major in either direction. The Megaburbia Church partly described in our Newsletter of May 25 is our theoretical reference point for this study.

Today I want to sketch the elements of the holistic program of renewal that I want to operate within the established and relatively flourishing Megaburbia venue. I shall mingle theory and practical suggestion in only the most introductory manner, basing this on principles alluded to in the book The One Minute Christian.

The basic theory is that Jesus should run the church and that he can communicate directly with the laity without the benefit of a show interposed between laity and the Scripture, where Jesus is always freshly and compellingly revealed. Note that at Megaburbia it is held that Jesus does run the church and there is no reason to get uppity and say, No, he doesn’t. But some questions are in order:

Is there a specific way in which Jesus and his gospel and will and teaching and preaching and healing is made available to each member? My way would involve a sequential churchwide study of all Jesus said and did in the Synoptics, organized by one or more conveners and taught by lay people who are on a par with everyone else, with the Text operating as the focus and reaction to the Text as the way that the word of Jesus is circulated or planted in such good earth as there may be in each group. Clearly we are talking about a rebuilding or building of community. So I ask, how am I going to get this done at Megaburbia? There are already a large number of relatively autonomous organizations with their own officers and agendas and this intervention is seen immediately as fitting into the category of Christian education. Wrong! For if the goal is to make all Jesus said and did resonate with each member, then the means must include a holistic approach involving all that is done at Megaburbia!

Is there a specific way that the theory that we should lead a Christian life (or be disciples of Jesus) is carried out? At Megaburbia the general theory is that the sermon and Christian education programs are meant to motivate members in the direction of discipleship. Also a large number of activities which involve all of the truly active members represent what Megaburbia sees as the playing out of at least part of what Christian life should be. The life is, as it were, recycled within the church and its validation is a smooth-running program that touches all the bases, not disincluding a small but significant financial reaching out beyond the church. (We shall learn that Megaburbia has members involved in a program similar to Habitat and supports with a small gift the peacemaking work of its denomination.) This seems like a workable and fair theory of how to proceed. Not quite right, in my opinion! Jesus has a quite significant understanding of how discipleship should work and it does not involve the maintenance of a substantial institutional program — it involves instead the turning of individuals into disciples who can carry out functions of preaching and healing and teaching from place to place, returning to the core community basically for sustenance and for review. The whole enterprise under Jesus is turned inside out. The church is not a burden because there is little to be maintained.

We are now reaching the limits of a day’s offering in this medium. Next time, whenever that is, we shall look further at Megaburbia to examine the structure of its staffing and other aspects of its commitments and programs. And the time after that, we shall return to the introduction of some theoretical premises about what needs to be done.

3.

We are interweaving a portrait of an existing congregation with an argument about lay empowerment and other aspects of what might constitute local church renewal. Here we shall complete our formal description of the Megaburbia Church.

You will recall that about 40 members are involved in the two governing committees, fulfilling the functions of trustees and doing the work of the Diakonate. Though these committees meet monthly they have myriad subcommittees which also have meetings at various intervals. In fact, the number of meetings at Megaburbia is a matter of some concern. Between members of these committees and other volunteers in education and music and other programs, there are some who feel meeting-saturated.

It is time now to look at the staff because we can make a quite tenable assumption at this point. While lay empowerment will depend ultimately on lay members, the professional staff are key in laying the groundwork.

Megaburbia, as a church of more than 700 members with a budget of more than $400,000, does not have a mega staff, but it has what might be called a substantial professional presence. There is a senior pastor. He (and there was little doubt it would be a he) is a well-educated, personable middle-of-the-road individual in his late 40s. He is married and has two children. His wife works at a nearby medical facility. He was chosen because he was well recommended by his previous congregation — similar to Megaburbia but about half the size and two-thirds the salary. The senior pastor is a very busy man and has learned to delegate responsibility. He not only preaches much of the time and runs worship, but he is the point person for all emergencies and he has a committee load that takes up too many of his evenings: no less than seven committees and subcommittees demand his attention.

Life would be unbearable without the eight other full and part-time people who round out the staff. These include an Associate Minister with responsibility for young adults and families, a director of Christian education, associates for visitation and adult education, an organist, a nurse, a music director and the live-in custodian.

In addition to the required resourcing of their various committees, these staff members meet weekly to cover a gamut of issues and go on retreat several times a year. Needless to say, when staff needs and maintenance and improvement expenses are taken into consideration, it is little wonder that the budget is always a mite strained. The congregation operates on the assumption that salaries should be roughly equivalent to comparable worth in the community. The senior pastor is paid on a par with one of the senior deans at a local college. The associate for adult education is an entry level position which, with various add-ons, comes to a little over $30,000 per year.

The essential theory of operations at Megaburbia combines two strands of thinking. One says the church is a servant and should have a ministry to the world. Insofar as this is expressed, it is in voluntary activities generated by the Diakonate. Activities include volunteer tutoring and participation in a Habitat program. The second and by far the more dominant understanding is that the church should serve the needs of the community and its members by having a competent, focused, well-staffed program. This is the basis for all of the worship, music, educational and social events that take place within the church facility

The pastor is, as we have said, middle-of-the-road. He tends to be concerned about the changing social issues that arise, from homelessness to the end of apartheid, and often alludes to them in pastoral prayers and sermons. At the same time, the pastor believes that it is not his place to coerce a variety of viewpoints that he finds in his congregation to fit some basic mold. So he does not take extreme positions on any issue — instead he preaches the gospel as he sees it and trusts that people will act a bit better than they might otherwise do on the basis of their total church experience and involvement.

Lay persons who speak of Megaburbia generally mention at least five things that they deem important. The senior pastor’s acceptability to them — he has a good personality and is a good administrator if something of a workaholic. The way the plant has been kept up –they paid for it and their interest is almost proprietary. The fact that they are comfortable there because the preacher is good and the music is good and there is a generally good feeling among the members. The large number of activities — always something going on. And the membership — it is one of the larger churches in the community and it has been holding its own while other churches have been losing people.

The major thing people wonder is what they will do when the senior pastor leaves for a bigger job.

4.

As 1994 closes out the world of mainline American Protestantism looks a bit confused. If one had to identify churchwide issues that are polarizing people, they would include sexual abuse and harrassment by church professionals, the propriety of impropriety of the Re-Imagining Conference and the question of whether to ordain openly gay women or men. Even though there are clearly other issues like general attrition and theological angst, what is remarkable is that things are reasonably quiet. Is it the calm before a storm, fatigue after some lean and challenging decades or just the wheel of history turning imperceptibly as we live out our allotted years?

Here we are thinking about lay empowerment and using a congregation we’ve described as Megaburbia to jolt us into a sense of reality as we fantasize. Stolid and cheerful, few surprises –these terms describe Megaburbia, with its staff of nine, its stable $400K plus annual budget and a plant that sparkles on the main drag. Let’s think about this scene for a moment. In a way Megaburbia defies the image of the mainline in decay. All around the country Megaburbia’s denomination is witnessing serious attrition, but here things coast along. And the reason seems to be because the system it is based on actually works. But why? Is it because cream rises to the top, and the largish Megaburban model attracts the best leadership? Is it because people want a church just like this, with a middle-of-the-road, balanced program — something for everyone? And a plant to be proud of?

Maybe the other places the cards are just stacked against the local church — demographically, economically, positionally, plant-wise and, yes, maybe also because the pastor who tries to make do with a part time organist and a few hardy volunteers simply cannot, like Sisyphus, roll this particular stone up to a point where it will operate on its own momentum. Consider that, at Megaburbia, things do not always run smoothly. It is only by constant management that all of the wrinkles get smooth and incipient damage is controlled.

Well the questions now begin to fly fast and furious: The seminaries take a hit because perhaps they do not understand what it takes to create more going concerns like Megaburbia. Church executives at urban, regional and national levels look at the broad picture and see ten reasons at least why attrition seems to be inevitable, downsizing a probability — and, to them. Megaburbia is a reasonably happy exception, even an anomaly.

Two general theoretical points were made in FINE TUNING (2). The first is that for Megaburbia to conform with our concept of lay empowerment one would need to coordinate all of its separate programs around a holistic understanding of how to resource the membership. The second is that the focus upon church programs accomplishes the exact opposite of what is intended by a program of lay empowerment — which is to turn the church inside out, as it were, and have the laity make their impact in the wider community.

To this I will add some specifics that more or less up the ante as we consider the risks involved in trying to change Megaburbia.

1. Local churches should begin their organization with the commitment to a given program of resourcing which includes a coordination between education, worship and music that goes far beyond anything currently in practice. Since Jesus is the head of the church and its chief theoretician, the program should begin with a two year cycle which is designed to give each member a full, participatory exposure to all that Jesus says and does. And to consideration of what that means for personal and communal existence.

2. This commitment has almost draconian consequences for church programming. For example the church school is eliminated in favor of convened study groups where people on a par with one another read the texts and arrive at a conclusion among themselves as to what Jesus is saying and doing. This includes ending the Sunday School. It is eliminated because children now attend worship and because parents and other adults undertake to expose children to the very process of learning that they are undergoing.

Clearly these notions, when they are presented in an informal conversation to the staff of Megaburbia, elicit a barely polite er um.

JUST DO IT

If cyberspace does not crash because of censorship, overload and the confusion of voices in its burgeoning environment, it will probably mean a vast alteration in top-down organizational modes, opinion formation and the resourcing of the human mind. And it will certainly mean that it will be feasible to program a local church to serve Jesus Christ for much less than it now costs — although the profit motive within the computer industry appears to function exactly as it did in the music industry when new models of high fidelity equipment would continually thrust owners of perfectly good machines into paroxysms of Vebelenian envy. Gotta get me a 486 or maybe one of them new Motorolas or heck maybe move over to Apple after all. I hate computer snobbery but it is seductive.

The first step is simple organization. Divide the congregation into sevens and designate five loaves and two fish. These can rotate. The loaves are simply in community as part of the seven and the fish are the point people for as long as they are fish. Pastoral, educational and companionable things are done by these loaves and fishes. This eases the pastoral burden and frees such ministerial staff as exists to learn to tell stories and teach the Scripture with a view to lay empowerment, renewal and ecumenism. There is no reason kids cannot be integrated into this notion of organization.

Now that you have your basic gatherings, you choose for each four gatherings a Convener who is empowered to propose to the groups various activities and to supply them with resources to carry out the activities which they accept. One convener would be responsible for stimulating groups to study the Bible. One would be in charge of encouraging people to include their personal goals in the weekly offering. Another would be in charge of helping people who were having difficulty meeting their goals, etc. And another would be in charge of celebratory and musical and gustatory matters. Again we are freeing the paid minister to earn her keep by being free enough to be a bearer of Beatitudinal truth to the entire flock. And we are giving an actual function to deacons and such.

So far we have spent almost nothing on program. The only materials needed are resources for making music and for educating. I naturally believe that the optimal and cost effective way to accomplish these ends is to adapt lock, stock and barrel the ecumenical, renewal-oriented, centrist resources being generated as computer shareware and low cost printed media by the few of us who work under the umbrella of Renewal 2. We have within three months offered enough in the way of Biblical study material to keep your congregation occupied for a calendar year. We will soon have song lyrics and melodies calibrated to that study sequence. And we will naturally wish to encourage the ministers to operate on the theoretical principles enunciated in The One Minute Christian and Windows on The Bible and here in the Newsletter. The maximum that a congregation could spend on such materials would be a few hundred dollars for an entire year. And there would be ways around that for any congregation for which that was a burden –under the simple rubric Ask and you shall receive.

The hardest thing to bring off in this scenario is freeing up that workaholic, Herculean pastor. The simple device of loaves and fishes is the revolution needed. Convert pastoral ministry to lay ministry to one another and you have some downsizing that makes downsizing something to celebrate. Free up the minister to avoid whatever he or she isn’t good at and to do what he or she wants to do just so long as it relates to the fundamental objective of placing congregational life under the authority of Jesus.

What will we do when we are so inundated with $200 one year congregation program subscriptions that we are in danger of being asked to join boards and give interviews. Well, I’ll tell you. It is going to take longer than the time we have to run through the whole Bible the number of times we would need to, to think we had it, only to realize we didn’t. And it is going to take more songs than Charles Wesley wrote to get it all down for folk to sing in a key that does not leave them with strep throat. And Lord knows if there were not minor things like rent and dumb bills for this and that, this would all be free (and no not for profit eleemosynary gimmicks, either) and it will be if we succeed.

The secret of all this: Stop in your tracks and think. Then limit your annual program resource budget to $200. Easy, what?

THE CONGREGATION

We are not talking about a new church. What we will be will not be church. We will not have precise names or precise organizational parameters or polities. We will not do anything exactly. We will be both local and face to face and dispersed and not face to face — most often a combination of the two. What will unite us is, at least in part, a simple fact: We are talking something different than endowed, salaried institutions, with their boards, their buildings, their committees, their programs. We have come to speak of all this with the objective noun: the church. We may be, or become, what a church may have once been meant to be. But it is confusing, and probably mistaken, to fall into the semantic trap of calling what we are talking about — a church.

We are talking about a CyberCongregation.

Now let’s talk about what is involved. At some point, emotionally and intellectually, we simply declare the churches we know to be, potentially — part of the Cyber-Congregation. We say whether they are, or are not, is not of paramount importance. Whether churches — on the ground operating structures — are part of the CyberCongregation, is a matter of specific commitments. The CyberCongregation has certain marks which, if they are present in churches, make them — to that extent — part of the CyC. To speak of these marks is to get down to what is involved.

The CyberCongregation accepts the Bible as a Word that never wanders or strays from its centrality as the window through which passes not merely our knowledge of why we live, but our continuing basis for daily life. Thus, frequent discourse concerning, and familiarity with, this Word marks the existence of ALL within the CyberCongregation. It is not stretching the point to say that every aspect of life within the CyberCongregation is touched by this allegiance, this participation, this conviction. More than a regular time of worship, vastly more than maintenance of this or that program in a church, infinitely more than pursuit of self-goals out in the world, immersion in the universe of Biblical reality is the fundamental Baptism of those who are called to be CyberCongregants.

The CyberCongregation accepts communities of support, of discourse and of action. Community is the primary context for functioning in the world. Participation and building up of these communities takes precedence over all other activities grouped under the heading of church participation. A community of support is a community of equals, seeking to follow Jesus Christ. It is made up of from two or three to perhaps seven. This is the place where the offerings of members are received and affirmed and nurtured. (We shall come to the matter of offerings.) A community of discourse is one or more gatherings where efforts are being made to move forward on the many fronts that are necessary to making the CyberCongregation normative in and beyond the contexts we now designate with the term church. A community of action is an essentially secular expression of witness by members of the CyberCongregation, in communion with fellow members and others –aimed at realizing goals that have been formulated by means of participation in communities of support and discourse.

The soul of the person is precious to God and the action of the individual is essential to witness, but the ordained context for the witness to the soul’s preciousness and affirmation of our actions is the primary communities — the communities of support, of discourse and of action.

The CyberCongregation describes the entirety but is not etched in stone. It relates naturally to the fact that our communication here is at the edge of what we believe communication will be and become. It relates to the prospect that all three of the primary communities described here can exist in cyberspace as well as on the ground. It certainly relates to the likelihood that for a time to come we will be piecing together from fragments of the on-the-ground church and participation here realized elements of the functioning realities of the CyberCongregation.

It is simply time, I believe, to declare the reality as it is: The church as constituted cannot be restored. The future lies with the CyberCongregation — with the church by any other name.

AN ABBA MOVEMENT

The statement “hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s prayer could refer to two names. It could refer to the familiar Aramaic which immediately precedes it: Abba. Or it could refer to the unspeakable and holy name of — well, there’s the rub. It is too holy to say, it requires priests and incense and such. And Jesus doesn’t like that.

So he one-ups everyone by simply acknowledging that you cannot say the G word. My own suspicion is that it is this latter understanding we should embrace. We should recognize that Jesus was conceding that, on power days, indeed every day, the deity is holy in ways that surpass the most rarefied imaginations. Therefore to “hallow” “thy name” is about as close as a fallible disciple wannabe is going to get in the recondite nomenclature department.

Then, to affirm his complete delving into humanity and convey the Holy One’s infinite grace, nearness, availability and good will, Jesus comes up with the scandalous Abba. I am not a scholar, but it sounds like a first to me. Yet such originality is entirely consistent with the reality of Jesus. It is something we need to take with some seriousness. Since we cannot adequately approach the Holy One with the language given us for such attempts, since we can at best “hallow … thy name”, which allows the Holy One to be who the Holy One will be, Jesus offers the alternative: Use Abba folks.

I once worked for some people who would surely be called kooks and worse by orthodox sorts. I wrote for them, there being no room in the inn of ecclesiastical literary employment. It was instructive. I gained an inkling of the tremendous degree of reflection that goes on all the time about matters, ah, religious, without the benefit or non-benefit of any churchly intervention. My employers were shocked that God was not called on all the time. After all, they said, God is all around us. God’s energy is here for the asking. (You are already breathing the word Pagan, jes like ol’ St. Augustine. But bear with them …)

New Age piety and practice have horrendous aspects to them. New Age thought tends to have to hold each person karmically responsible for utterly everything that happens to them, in order to understand why so many people suffer. The New Age is, I believe, ancillary to the maintenance of privilege and wealth in the world. It exists to give the leisure class and their emulators a way of saying, We are not those dirty capitalists, though we clippeth their coupons. But after all this obfuscation is perceived and the narcissism of massage-culture is understood, the New Age does make the point that spiritual existence just may involve a smidgen of, ah, practice. In other words, the answer to New Age is not austere Puritanical orthodoxy (entirely). The answer is to look to the one who counselled that we ask, seek and knock in confidence that the Holy One would hear and provide. This is the same person who, when asked how to pray, said: Start with word Abba. (What’s mine is yours.)

It is not new to turn to this word. Evelyn Underhill made Abba the title of one of her brief mystical books. And I am sure there are movements here and there built around it and similar familiar acknowledgements. Practice of various sorts is hardly unknown in the Christian world. So what is the purpose of wondering whether we should be using it — here?

I think using the word Abba is a way of linking properly to Jesus and that such a proper link is probably the linchpin of any genuine renewal of the church. Not because he used the term and we therefore are on his team when we also use it. But because using it draws us closer to the realm of practice that Jesus used his kingdom language to describe. To use the word Abba is to say we are open to things that are too wonderful for us (cf. Job), things that require us to repent in sackcloth and ashes. And that, in Jesus, we know we have access. The name Abba is an aspect of this access. Could it be any name? Mama? Daddy? I think not. Somehow one needs to take a stand, even dealing with something as seemingly ephemeral as words.

Abba.

We are getting into touching pearls-before-swine territory here. When is something good turned into something debased because of the context in which it is used? Dostoevsky is the modern explicator of the myriad ways that inventive human beings can buffoon-ize, debase and otherwise destroy what is holy and good. Still something has to surface or incarnate before we can properly qualify in the light-on-a-hill sweepstakes. That was, after all, the purpose of Jesus’s drill, right? Maybe Abba should just be a private breath that links those who seek to be Jesus people (cf. Crosson) today.

For myself. I find the word cropping up in my writing and such practice as I can lay claim to. And I find myself more or less involuntarily wondering whether it makes sense to others. That’s all. Or rather that’s a start.

Epilogue To The Original Grass Roots Church (1966)

A Conversation With Myself

Except!

You see I had already exited a long time previously.

So forget those other exits above.

You see, I was already gone.

4.

The Consultation on Church Union probably means next to nothing to most contemporary readers but there was a time when many church leaders in the mainline denominations believed that both ecumenism and renewal would result in a Uniting Church that would combine Episcopal, Methodist, Reformed and Free Church polities. I know because last weekend I found some old papers from a 25 year old survey I did and deceased leaders’ letters tell the sad tale. Almost to a man, and I use the word advisedly, these leaders thought the Plan of Union would be perfected and that some sort of mainline union would occur by the year 1980.

Only me and Ben Herbster thought not, though most of the Black church leaders queried felt that the prospects were dimmed by issues related to race. Ben Herbster was President of the United Church of Christ at the time. I was a United Presbyterian delegate to COCU and Editor at large of Christianity and Crisis. Dr. Herbster said there was no way the denominations would give up their prerogatives because, as he put it, fear generally exceeds faith.

In this old folder I found the documentary proof of my own skepticism — remarks to the Plan of Union Commission I delivered in a motel near O’Hare Airport in the fall of 1968. It is interesting to re-read that short speech. I’ve quoted most of it below:

“Ten miles south and east of this lodge is the locus of Chicago’s Northside Cooperative Ministry, a coalition of local congregations that developed in the Lincoln Park area out of the vision of clergy and laity concerned that few in the area were ‘going to church’. The Ministry developed with faint, very faint, denominational assistance. The first project of NSCM was a coffee shop which made significant impact on the under-30 community. Enough support was forthcoming to sustain a few staff members over the years.

“But by August of 1968 the truth was clear enough. Even under the best of circumstances, the truth of church renewal seemed to be subsumed in another phrase — church polarization. In Lincoln Park most congregations, despite ecumenical visions and good ministerial leadership, remained set in their ways. When there were progressive changes membership was lost. Denominational commitment was lacking. There was no denominational support for real local ecumenism. And the social situation became so polarized that by this September (1968) the NSCM consisted of a distinct minority of clergy and laity within the nominal churches of Lincoln Park. Ecumenicity within this core group was an established fact. It was existential. It was ad hoc. It was the fruit of mission. And, alas for the Plan of Union, it had everything to do with polarization and nothing at all to do with the calm and orderly change that might make church union feasible.

“To put the matter bluntly, the NSCM core identified with the anti-Daley forces, with the forces of discontent, and risked civil disobedience in order to tell their grandchildren that a No was at least theoretically possible in the year 1968, No to the War Machine, No to the Dual Opportunity System.

“A few years ago it would have been possible to dismiss church polarization as a passing phase, the result of extra-ordinary circumstances in the nation at large. Once Vietnam was over, once progress was made in the ghetto, it was thought the discontent within the church would subside. But what has happened is that America in its essential nakedness is being revealed and nothing less than a total reconstruction of America will suffice. If the two party system in this country is an obsolete corruption, the two poles of liberalism and fundamentalism within the church are burnt out candles. There is no political basis today for renewal.

“We are entering a phase of upheaval and the only way to stop the chaos is to ally with the forces that would cherish order at the expense of justice. This the forces of true unity and renewal in the church will not do, even though the dominant membership and their bureaucracies might accept such a compromise. That is why orderly church renewal is impossible and why you must, in your planning, accept the fact the only commitment around which to base a viable unity is a commitment to such chaos as is needed to create a new America.”

A few years later I was bumped from the UPUSA COCU delegation by a man named William Thompson who had been a young lawyer at the Nuremburg Trials. In 1969 as Gene Blake’s successor as Stated Clerk, he almost single-handedly overturned a resolution of insurgents that the NCC not resort to police action in settling internal disputes. I was one of the insurgents.

New occasions may teach new duties, but the thoughts of 1968 are pertinent to today. Forces of renewal are inevitably ecumenical and vice versa — and today as in 1968 they tend to be outside the camp. And there will be more chaos, I am sure, before there is a calm that true ecumenism and renewal can embrace. Today we will be doing well if we can claim these two words as our own. And if we can hold to the support of what is right in the face of severe pressures to do otherwise.

GRASS ROOTS OPTIONS

A major point of my book The Grass Roots Church (1966, 1967) was that individual congregations were incapable of performing multiple ministries to a local community. Only a fully ecumenical operation in which different functions were handled by different, focused efforts would be able to present a face to the world that made much sense.

The radical aspect of the above argument was not that there was need for cooperative ministries and other grass roots ecumenism but that the churches fundamentally abandon the thought of operating social programs, mission programs and the like. A chaplaincy function was needed, I said. So too was a teaching function. But the word I used to describe the third function of the church was, and remains, abandonment. Abandonment best describes the self-emptying commitment to others of Jesus and it ought to quickly and definitively replace all of the works by which churches — with the best will in the world — manifest (what I called in another work) a “herculean conscience.” (See Jesus and Jim Jones, 1979)

Readers of my fantasy on congregational renewal The One Minute Christian will note that the theme of lay empowerment is key to the ideal situation I attempt to hypothesize and describe. But true lay empowerment is anathema to many liberals because they feel the laity are basically conservative. And that to justify its existence the church should take on every issue and have a program to deal with each one. Statements abound, programs get started and become targets of conservative critics. And the whole purpose of the local church becomes bogged down — the chaplaincy functions are not carried out well because each pastor must shoulder all of them and the teaching functions are generally ill-conceived and ancillary to the issue of true lay empowerment.

Let me underline, merely to argue for the relevance of my earlier argument, that if the church eliminated mission programs completely — telling lay people to figure out mission amid the plethora of voluntary efforts that already exist or by starting new ones themselves — the denominational pattern would still hobble the other functions at the grass roots.

No mission programs. No mission boards. Except those seeds fall to the ground it (the mission) shall not rise again!

NEW SONGS

LET FREEDOM RING … Little things mean a lot and to many church renewalists church music is at the bottom of the list when it comes to priorities. It should move to the top. Not only is music the great communicator, culturally and theologically, but also how it is done in a local congregation is an indication of how everything else is done. Indeed, music and how people do music is one of the quickest indicators of what is going on deep inside, collectively and individually.

It is for this reason that turf wars in a local church are as likely to emerge around musical matters as they are on seemingly bigger issues. In self-defense, the don’t rock the boat mentality of the congregation prevails and most music program looks more or less like this: There is a choir in back or up front, generally berobed, which sings traditional music and sounds more or less like comparable choirs everywhere. There is a hymnal, sometimes tattered. sometimes new, containing various versions of generally traditional hymns of which about three are generally sung in a service. The hymns tend to be pitched a tad too high so that you either have to strain to hit the notes or you lay back and mumble. People who have a problem with this status quo are generally powerless to change it. People who try are most often shunted off into the area of special programing.

Much can be done with special programing including the creation of special services of worship and song that take place on various evenings. I have always thought Fridays and Saturdays would be good times because culture is generally so bereft that a night at church these days wouldn’t look bad — even to a young person. But who will do the special work? And what will it consist of?

In my own experience as a composer and lyric writer, supplementary programs have been of two sorts. The first is an event in which an outside group comes in and performs or otherwise provides a resource and then leaves. A blip on the program horizon. Little or no lasting change. Maybe two or three significantly impacted. The second is an intentional program effort, usually fielded by a staff member in a multi-staff environment. I have written elsewhere of how Pam Moffatt took my musical version of the Gospel of Mark and taught it to her youth group and trouped around with it. This was highly significant, impacted hundreds, formed several committed lives, even healed some broken homes. If churches would just do the Mark program that would be a significant advance in both Biblical and musical activity.

In general there are always musical resources in a congregation, but to coordinate and channel them requires a person with time and dedication and, if youth are involved, the special combination of firmness and affection that can spell the difference between a nothing program and something that will be formative. I do not think that a paracongregational staff sort jumping about from group to group is the answer. Better to create models where they are most likely to succeed and make small paradigms that other congregations can emulate. Better to work in one vineyard. Then another.

The big challenge has not been addressed. To address it requires a political as well as a cultural and theological decision. Is it worth it to wage a frontal assault on the sorry shape of church music today: To challenge the lugubrious triumphalism implied in the stately organ and the now-stately tunes that we sing with varying degrees of commitment according to the words and general familiarity of the hymn in question? To suggest that the singing of a congregation would be enhanced by a freer setup with the choir a part of the congregation — musically, not just at sermon time? To insist that the music bear not merely an incidental relationship to the mission of the church is always essentially linked with teaching and preaching and healing work?

To begin to make headway on these problems I will make a self-serving suggestion. Or maybe it is not self-serving because there is a lot of pain for me in confronting immobility where it seems plainly reasonable that there be huge movement. But it does make sense to inventory community resources among congregations to see where the target programs should be set up, to determine interest in new thrusts and to establish experiments that are keyed to the actual abilities and desires that exist locally. Someone needs to be a catalyst to make that happen. I volunteer. How it gets done –a private meeting to consult, a visit, I don’t know. But we will not change church music without some outside agitation. Someone must take the heat. We will not change it by importing a one time program that merely humbles the musical talents with its versatility. Or disappoints with its cuteness. A plan must be created around people and then resourced.

To create local church renewal under the sign of music, freedom must ring. To make that happen, politics and theology need to be considered and a strategy developed. All because this non-priority in many peoples’ book is indeed a central focus and sign of real renewal when it is doing the right thing and really letting freedom ring.

EVANGEL – BEARERS

The word is very awkward, isn’t it? Evangel-bearers. This hyphenate. But I am beginning to think that we need to make new words all the time. We need to do it until some new words stick. We need to do it because language is as important as the first verse of the Gospel of John says it is. I do not know the history of the three letters “ism” but I know that we are living still in the problematic situation caused by “isms”. And so, because I want to get rid if them, the term evangel-bearers.

Bearers of good news, bearers of the evangel, bearers of the curious amalgamation of myth and witness, saying and story that creates verbs and nouns that make our day: Peace, acceptance, hug, reconciliation, speak out, pray, affirm, stand.

The church is being torn apart because evangelism has become an ism and because fundamentalism has become an ism. Evangel. Fundamental. How can we have a problem with these words? But evangelism? Fundamentalism? The persecutory rhetoric that has swirled around these terms on all sides still kills the prospects of nouns and verbs that make our day. Evangel: Jesus wet from water or sand-blown from the desert saying the time has come, a new day has begun, turn and trust the Holy One who is ever so… near. Fundamental: Born (borne) of God to a teenage prophetess. Mirrors God’s healing intent in what we call miracles but if you don’t like miracle how about transmutation of matter or syntropy or something that suggests God has a power that runs counter to the powers of death and decay?

There are two kinds of evangel-bearing that turn me off. The first is happy face evangel-bearing which suggests to me that the bearers know something I don’t know and if I will just put on my little happy face all will be well and I will be part of the group. You don’t go to an evangel-bearer to play a human game. The second is stern-faced evangel-bearing which suggests to me that the bearers have an agenda for me that has no relation to the Holy One who sent the original evangel-bearer to lay everything out in the chancy world of principalities and powers.

If your right hand offends you cut it off. If the increasingly meaningless language of the right offends you cut it off. So too the left. Evangel-bearing. What if one fallible evangel-bearer were to whisper, Make straight a highway for the One who is coming? Would that imply anything about how we are to start behaving? Would that suggest a transcendent tie that would bind all of the people who cast all of the offending words away so room would be made for some new words to take root?

If your eye offends you pluck it out. Awash in continuing isms, we SEE on the basis of those words. Images rise up to fill the formidable blanks the isms create. But praise the One who draws near! Because isn’t it true that the isms are beginning to lose some of their power? That the images are not quite so clear? You tell me. Sometimes I feel it is so. That if we got beyond the divisive categories we could accept, reconcile, make peace. But read this again. If it offends, pluck it out. Just do it. Get the image off the screen. Make room for a new one. It is your screen after all.

Evangel-bearers would be well-advised to start by asking how Jesus sees this or that. Hearers should be willing to start there. My brother who believes the fundamentals will not insist that I start by telling my hearers about textual infallibility if I start by telling my hearers to suspend their natural disbelief and listen to the good news that Jesus stated in the texts that have come down to us. And if he comes into my house and explains some of the things that have happened that have been good because some person who believed in textual infallibility preached the gospel to someone, I won’t begrudge the difference. We’ll eat.

So how would Jesus relate to our culture of complaint, the tabloidization of American life, the incredibly confusing mixed bag of our Bladerunner-tending, superstition-hawking material world? Simply, one guesses. Simply and directly and with intense practicality, believing the absurd propositions that initially animated his composition of sentences. Be evangel-bearers without much baggage and go from house to house, meeting to meeting, and heal and preach and teach, and if you are not received put the peace back in your rucksack and walk along. It is still a mustard seed world. Believe it.

And when you hear people continue to talk in isms you have a choice: Confront or walk on. Or both. Evangel-bearers of all stripes should start by agreeing on what the evangel is and by affirming that finally the evangel is all that matters.

PREVIOUS POOSTS IN THE NEW GRASS ROOTS CHURCH SERIES:

The NEW Grass Roots Church
The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)
The New Grass Roots Church (Continued)

new grass roots church
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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The NEW Grass Roots Church (Continued)

Continued from here.

51

To make my position clear would require reading and understanding “Abba’s Way” and subsequent emendations of the position articulated there. The forms of social and communal life that would rise from the radical revaluation of values I believe Jesus intends would make for a world where spirituality was vastly more recondite than what we now see. It would be a world in which the criticisms leveled at Christianity by Nietzsche — that it is a pinnacle of slavish resentment which suppresses any idea of self-realization — would not have much force. The essence of a surviving Christianity would show forth in the manifestation of values in a culture attuned to non-idolatry, tolerance, democracy and helpfulness.

52

We should know that God is Abba, the one to whom Jesus prayed. And that Abba is not a concept but a Person who is within each of us. We should therefore know that whatever salvation we lay claim to has already taken place. It is merely a matter of our accepting and recognizing what has always been the case.

The charter of this understanding is articulated in my “Abba’s Way” (iUniverse, 2006).

Life is driven in large part by the collective consciousness of individuals. To the extent that Abba is perceived and acknowledged, earth stands a modest chance of being a bit more heavenly. This existence of Abba within the conscioussness of all is to me is one of the parentheses of existence. The person — the spectrum from primal to seraphic that we all are — is already redeemed. Our vision needs tweaking to see and understand this. But that will come. That such an awareness eliminates the necessity for an elaborate religious structure is possibly one reason why it iis slow in coming within the churches.

On a cosmic level the other parenthesis of life is simply the vast penumbra of unfathomable mystery in which all of life (as we somewhat know it) is lived. Those who claim to know all about this penumbra are either making a living in the Great Superstition Industry to which even august media, who should know better, give credence, or they are bad scientists who claim for their findings a finality which is always, at best, fleeting.

Needless to say, a sense that our knowledge is indeed limited and that there are too many truths for anyone to grasp, provides a basis for what Nietzsche termed a revaluation of values. The universal stance which I believe is implicit in a proper understanding of Jesus and good news embraces non-idolatry, tolerance, democracy and helpfulness.

It would be vastly more arrogant even than the thesis I have proposed thus far to suppose that I know how to redo the world that lies between the parenthesis of the individual and the unfathomable cosmos. I do know, however, that it will not get redone unless the essentially false understandings of traditional religions — primarily those which claim Abrahamic descent — are scotched once and for all, a venture which was begun philosophically by the preacher’s son Nietzsche and is tentatively re-begun in “Abba’s Way”.

There is an element beyond such foolishness however. Insofar as Christians sit light to creeds and doctrines, but at the same time accept the movement of the Spirit as individual and internal, they become the non-idolatrous partisans of values of tolerance, democracy in the widest sense and of helpfulness — as empowerment rather than “charity”. This is a proper “worldly Christianity for this Millennium.

53

The global church needs to move out of the straitjacket of rigid authority and fundamentalism. ANd out of a soupy spirituality that stands for nothing but feeling comfortable. There are new winds of the Spirit of Abba blowing. Abba is the very One to Whom Jesus prayed.

Virtually all of the traditional liturgical and paternalistic and patriarchal texts churches have relied upon are now obsolete.

They are not used by the newer Spirit-based churches. The reason is simple enough. The strides the world has taken in the direction of global consciousness embrace the values I have noted.

We are living in the greatest age of individual empowerment that has ever been. And those who are locked into the old structures of the church are simply dead to the movement of God in the world. And, more pertinently and profoundly, in their own lives.

=========

Part Two GRASS ROOTS

The rubber meets the road when we leap to challenge the current notion of the grass roots. It is not just local stuff. It is the form of that stuff. We need a better way of living at the grass roots.

For purposes of discussion, consider any area at present that houses up to five-thousand persons. Imagine that each of these areas contains a mix of people across the spectrum of age, race and ethnicity. In essence these areas would be the cells of what C. A. Doxiadis once called ecumenopolis, the emerging global metropolis.

Everything appropriate to autonomous community existence would be found within each such 5000-person (more or less) cell. Furthermore, an effort would be made to ensure that those who serve and have a stake in the business and institutional life of a community live within its bounds. Law enforcement would be localized to the point of face-to face familiarity with most residents.

Schools would be developed with faculty drawn from the immediate population. The same principles would apply to all areas of life. The obvious benefit of this understanding is seen when we reflect that, willy nilly, the world will be substantially rebuilt in the next hundred years. It always is, and with technology growing exponentially, there is reason to suspect that the future will depend on our capacity to implement what the imagination perceives.

Campus style housing and ordering of life could be substituted as an alternative to the present-day emphasis on the separate dwelling and the high rise apartment. Automobiles could be eliminated from much of the right of way area within the community.

It is doubtful that much will happen in the realm of building new communities unless the private sector sees the profit in it. It would be ideal if private funds could be found to create community matrices for society-in-general that are alternative to todays multi-layered administrative octopi that are incapable even of making an intersection safe because of the number of departments that would be involved.

What we need is a new version of the old Homestead Act which will enable private enterprise to create radically new models for future community. Global governance at the regional and local levels should include all of the elements of programs that will be enhanced by such developments, crime control, health care, welfare reform and education, among others. I believe thoughts such as these hint at the true new frontier.

It is not winning with more of the same so that the rest of the world can experience the same agonies of impossible sprawl that we witness in the United States. It is in devising a post-automobile civilization where the car is once more a vehicle of freedom tooling about the countryside, while the present-day metropolis is transformed by imagination into more-livable small polities that actually work. It is difficult to know now whether the evolution that is needed will be built denovo somewhere or be the result of some transformation of society at the very crest of the wave, as it were, at the very edge of the megalopolis as a protest against its horrendous tendencies.

The model presented in The Grass Roots Church assumed a measure of denominational willingness to move toward local ecumenism and a more rational use of resources and talents.

When it became clear that denominationalism was not going to recede, church renewal could only be achieved within existing church structures, essentially by turning the ongoing decline of mainline churches into an opportunity.

Read in the context of The Grass Roots Church, they are a blueprint for a new form of congregation, not built around denominational cooperation so much as around voluntary redefinitions within local congregations undergoing rapid change.

We are left to explore possilities of church renewal during a time of denominational retrenchment.

Begin by creating a symbol — your own version. Draw a circle. Draw a cross within it, but extending out somewhat. Below this symbol draw the number :01.

The circle is the world, a very small circle in a circle we can’t fathom which we call the universe. The cross is the sign of God’s utter love for the whole inhabited earth and every creature above, upon and within it.

The :01 points to our own time when more and more persons realize that transformation is the essence of life and growth in knowledge and goodness is the aim of all existence.

Anyone willing to learn these simple truths can become a One Minute Christian.

1.

What on earth is a One Minute Christian?

The answer lies somewhere between institution and movement.

Once there was a highly intelligent couple who set out to find the ideal Christian congregation.

They wanted to learn to be good Christians.

They had been many places and spoken with many who bore the Christian name.

They had been to small parishes and to large cathedrals and worshipped with rich and poor, high and low.

They had talked to many Christians: to pastors and lay persons, to ministers and evangelists, to nuns and monks, to dedicated teachers and compelling preachers.

They attended retreats, listened to sermons, ate church suppers, played church games, visited church bazaars and enrolled their children in church schools.

Everything they encountered bore the name Christian.
But they were convinced that something was wrong.
There seemed to be many Christians who put “the church” first. By this they meant the institution of which they were members. These churches often prospered, but there seemed to be a missing element.

The leaders of these churches were pleased with the support of the people. They praised their loyalty and generosity and dedication.
The couple spoke with several who held this point of view.

“Today, under threat, the church needs to be a mighty fortress — we need to keep it that way.” The speaker went on: “I respect authority and the need to preserve what is precious.” Another said: “I’m a realist and realists understand the need for structure and organization.”

There were naturally some who disagreed. But the couple sensed that there were many, many persons in Christian churches whose main dedication was to preserving the institution and contributing to its success.

The couple found a number of Christians who held a quite different view…

The couple found clergy and laity, young and old, rich and poor who said, “The church is people.”

They were critical of placing too much emphasis on the institution. They felt people should express their faith out in the world. They were impatient with what they called ‘luke- warm Christianity’.

“Authority means conservatism,” said one. “I’m a Christian humanist.” Said a second: “We should be out relieving the suffering of the world.”

The couple listened, but they still felt something was wrong.

On one side were the institutional people, on the other side the people-centered. The institutional folk seemed dry and even cautious. The action-oriented talked a good game, but seemed to have little to show for it.
Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between, they thought. And they kept on searching.

Each felt there was an ideal Christian congregation somewhere. And they started to feel that this congregation would not be divided between a concern for organization and a concern for people. Somehow it would have both.

One day the couple learned of a congregation in a nearby community where, it was said, miracles were happening. There was talk of saintly behavior, triumph over adversity and marvellous events in the wider community.

Without delay they found the church’s number in the book. A voice on the other end of the line said, “Come by anytime. The only time we’re really busy is Sunday morning.” That caused the couple to wonder a bit, but they headed immediately to check out the church.

It was a weekday. Still, they stole some time from their jobs to go learn if there was any truth to the remarkable things they’d heard.

When the couple arrived, they found a woman sitting on the front steps of the church, looking out at the street. They looked at her and smiled, shuffling their feet. “I’m the pastor,” she said. “What can I do for you?”

The man spoke up. “I hear this church is undergoing a great transformation.”

The pastor didn’t say anything.

The woman said, “I want to become involved in something that makes a difference.”

“I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” the pastor smiled.

“Do you stress the church as an institution?” the man asked. “Do you care about church attendance, financial support, that sort of thing?”

“Sure,” the pastor said. She gestured toward the church building. “We’re all here once a week — Sunday mornings — without fail.”

“That’s all?”

“That’s all,” the pastor replied, “except for a monthly gathering.”

“What do you do,” the woman said, a trifle impatient.

“Worship, I suppose?”

“We set goals for the coming six days and evaluate the last six,” the pastor answered cheerfully.

“What?” the husband exclaimed.

“We try to do it with God in mind,” the pastor said.

“I don’t understand,” the husband said.

“You will,” the pastor answered, “if you want to.”

“But don’t you have programs,” the woman asked.

The pastor shook her head.

The man looked perplexed. “But you must do more than set goals. Besides what kind of goals are you setting if you don’t end up with a program?”

“The goals are set by each member,” the pastor explained. “Sometimes they’re more personal, other times more social.”

“What’s the purpose?” the man asked.

“The over-all purpose is results,” the pastor said with a smile. “Transformations. Triumphs. Little ones and big ones. Changed lives and a changed environment and a changed world.”

“Is goal-setting all you do on Sundays?” the woman asked.

“Oh no,” the pastor responded. “We have a basic understanding.” She pointed to a small button on her dress. The button read:

Well-fed Christians Produce Miracles!

The couple pondered these words and the pastor spoke again. “Consider this. When have you felt most close to being a Christian? Isn’t it when you’ve been spiritually fed? You couldn’t achieve any of your goals if you weren’t cared for at the deepest and most fundamental level. Faith requires a great deal of care.”

“Faith,” the woman said. “I don’t understand.”

“Faith,” said the pastor, “includes an ability to see something before it exists or is realized. All we do here is open this process to the love of God.”

“That’s not what I think of as faith,” the man said. “I think of faith as the totality of what you believe to be true — like the Christian faith, right?”

“Nope,” the pastor shrugged. “You’re talking about what’s already happened. Beliefs. We affirm beliefs. Faith is future. It refers to what’s coming into being.”

“She’s right,” the wife said. “I never heard it put just that way. But she’s right.”

“In addition to setting goals on Sunday morning,” the pastor said, “we try to nurture faith, so people get the very best out of their goal-setting. If truth be told, there’s lots of faith out there. The problem is to nurture it, give it a right direction. That’s what we do on Sunday morning.”

“Whoa. What’s this faith is everywhere bit?” the man said. “Are you talking about some amorphous sort of new agey energy? Sounds new agey to me.”

“I am talking about what Jesus talked about and it is a new age thing but not what you mean by that term.”
The pastor stood up. “Faith is the product of will, hope and desire. The problem is that all these can be misdirected and we all know what misdirected faith can do. Our job is to turn people on to God-directed faith.”

“What are the advantages?” the man said, drawing a mild look of caution from his wife.

“The best answer I can give is this,” the pastor said, producing a small bible from a pocket in her denim dress. “My job is to mine this for hints. I’ve been mining for some time and all I can say is that the hints prove out. Sometimes in amazing ways.”

“What do you call your approach?” the woman asked.

“Nothing really. Sometimes we say we’re one minute Christians — after those manager books. If Methodist weren’t already taken, that would be a good name.”

“That’s crazy,” the man exclaimed. “One minute Christians. Are you serious?”

“Sure. The one minute Christian knows that there’s no difference between being happy on earth and happy in whatever comes after. And that most of the things that make for happiness are one minute things.”

The couple stood there, interested but quite confused, Everything seemed so, so low profile. The pastor sensed that they were not ready to give up their quest. “Why don’t you start by talking to some of our members?”
They walked into the vestibule of the church and the pastor picked up a large loose-leaf notebook from a table by the door. “Visit some of these people,” she said.

“Who?” the man asked, as leafed through the collection of pasted-in photos and brief biographies.

“Anyone you like. Choose two or three.”

“There must be some who are more — ”

“Stop right there!” The pastor showed a trace of impatience. “I said anyone you like. I meant anyone.”

“The couple registered surprise. There was immediate tension in the air. They felt ill-at-ease under the pastor’s watchful stare.

After a moment the pastor said, in a softer voice, “I’m glad you want to learn. Go. Talk. Ask the people you choose what they have found out. How they live. When you’ve learned from them, come back and we’ll talk again.”

The pastor walked out of the church, calling a pleasant good-by over her shoulder.

Somehow the couple grasped that the pastor was being neither rude nor necessarily over-demanding. She was just telling them what they’d have to do to learn about this particular Christian congregation. Whether they did it or not was entirely up to them.

They began to look together at the reinforced pages of the loose-leaf directory of all of the members of the church.

“May as well choose,” the woman said. “Evidently everyone in here knows the secret of one-minute Christianity – – whatever that is.”

They ended choosing:

Robert Baskin.

Eleanor Treat.

Jim and Madge Alderson.

2

Mr. Baskin was in his office. The couple explained why they had come. At first they were awkward, but Mr. Baskin set them at ease.

“Don’t be put off by the one-minute business,” he smiled. “It’s just a way of understanding that at any moment God can alter the course of events if we simply stop and listen and commit.”

“The pastor said there’s no difference between true self-fulfillment and salvation,” the woman said.
“True,” Baskin replied.

“I find that difficult to comprehend.”

“Did the pastor tell you what we do every Sunday morning?” Baskin asked.

“She said there was a combination of nurture and something about setting goals,” the woman said. “She didn’t tell us much other than that.”

“Goal setting is the first truth of one-minute Christianity,” Baskin said. “We say that all things are possible in God. And every Sunday we try to be open to God together. And we each write down up to six goals for the coming week.”

The couple looked at one another as if to say, “What’s this craziness?” But Baskin continued without seeming to notice.

“We copy the goals a second time and then put them in the offering.”

“You WHAT?” the man exclaimed.

“We copy the goals and put them in the offering,” Mr. Baskin repeated matter-of-factly.

“Everyone sets their own goals?” the man said.

“Yes. But when you set them in God you tend to be a little more, ah, a little closer to the kingdom, than when you don’t.”

“Why six goals?” the woman asked.

“Partly to put a cap on perfectionism. There are some people who think they can remake the world in a week. Partly it reflects the six-day work one day of rest, cycle. There are no hard and fast rules about it. It’s a very powerful process.”

“Why?” the man asked.

“Because,” said Baskin, “by committing everything to God we remove some barriers to God’s working in us — and since the kingdom is all about getting God’s will done — well, God has some powerful notions about what should happen.”

“Fascinating,” the woman said. “It sounds as if you’re shifting responsibility directly to each member. They are responsible for setting the goals. Only they do it in church.”

“Correct,” Baskin said. “It’s a one by one process, like the old song. You’ve got to cross the lonesome valley by yourself. But you’re never really alone.”

“Redemption by goal-setting?” the man asked, with a hint of sarcasm.

“Hardly,” Mr. Baskin said. “We don’t set goals in order to be saved. The saving part — redemption — happened a while back.”

“So why bother?”

“We got saved into it,” Baskin smiled. “We are citizens in the kingdom, but the world is still a tough, tough place. And we need to set goals just to get by.”

The couple looked at one another. There was more here than they could quickly take in. Baskin didn’t seem to notice their dilemma.

“We call what we do living by faith,” Baskin continued.

“This all sounds like quite a proposition,” the man said.

“Let me give you an example,” Baskin responded.

“Fire away,” the woman said.

“Before I became part of the congregation I spent a lot of time griping about things in the neighborhood, everything from crime in the streets and dealing drugs on the corners to the noise and filth and plain lack of respect or manners.

“I learned in church that by seeing all these things as a huge problem I was blocking out any solution. What faith does is to remove the filter between what is now and the kingdom that is already in place if we would only accept it. It sees the reality is different already — before even the first step is taken.”

“Your pastor said something like that,” the man said.

“Sounds new agey to me. Visualize the future. Now you are saying this is what goal setting is?”

“Hold on.” Baskin said evenly. “I didn’t know as much as you do at the start.” He settled in his chair and continued. “One day a member of the congregation came by and made the strangest proposition. He said I was supposed to state a problem I had. If I did, he said the problem would be resolved.

“So I told him I was about fifteen pounds overweight and that no matter what I did I couldn’t lose the extra pounds. He said the solution was to translate the problem into a goal.”

The couple looked at Baskin. He was hardly overweight now.

“My friend said that to transform the problem into a goal I had to describe it as I saw it, so I told him how I hated to be so self-concerned, thought it was silly, didn’t like looking in the mirror — a whole mixed-up, embarrassed load of feelings. By the time I got into the health aspects my friend was practically asleep!

“So I called out to him — hey how can I get the problem solved if you won’t even listen? He told me I hadn’t told him a damned thing except how it affects me, and how I feel about it. He said now tell him what the problem IS. When I began to talk about my behavior — trips to the fridge for ice cream — things like that, he perked up. He said very good, things like that.

“Then he asked me how I saw myself minus this behavior. So I told him I would have this bouncy step and get some new shirts and — you know. And he said good. He asked me to close my eyes and visualize myself that way. So I did. And when I told him he said it wasn’t a problem any more.

And I said what? And he said I’d seen what I was going to be so it was not a problem. It stopped being a problem when I saw what I wanted. It became a goal instead.”

Baskin smiled at the couple. “I wasn’t out of the woods yet,” he said. “My friend asked me how I intended to get from where I was to the person I’d envisioned.” I immediately started reeling off things like using sweeteners and eating salads. And I noticed my friend shaking his head.

“You can imagine my surprise when he said that these suggestions would not, in themselves, achieve the goal. He said that the real issue now was getting the right perspective on goal setting, to learn not to make it the main thing. The main thing is to live your life in God — to be in the circle of God’s realm.

To trust God absolutely. To refer everything to God. In short, after telling me about goal- setting he told me not to see goal-setting as an end in itself. Just see it as a natural thing to do — in God. Does that make any sense?”

“I think it does,” the woman said.

“He then made me list everything I could think of that would help me reach my goal — the thing I wanted. When I asked him if it wasn’t selfish just to be concerned about my weight, he said it was a little but that was OK, I was just starting out. So I made the list.
Then we sat silently — not praying exactly, because prayer is private — between you and God — we just gave the list to God with the understanding that in God’s own good time what was best for me would come about.”

“You look pretty trim now,” the man said.

“Yes,” Baskin replied. “It didn’t take terribly long and it just sort of happened really. It didn’t take too many specifics to bring it about. I’ll tell you that was only the beginning — something I did for myself. Wait ’til the visions start coming — you start seeing things in a whole new way. I went from weight loss to — lots of things.”

“So the deal is you come to church Sunday morning and write some goals down and put them in the offering plate, is that it?” the man said.

The woman sensed the challenge in her husband’s question and when Baskin simply nodded and smiled, she said, “Could you share some of the goals you wrote down last Sunday?”

“Sure,” Baskin said. “I saw a play recently I thought would mean a great deal to kids who would usually never set foot in a theater, so I wrote down some things to do to get them to that play. I had this image of kids and actors gathered around backstage and maybe one or two kids seeing an image of themselves on that stage someday. We’re taught to see that things often happen in a huge flash of awareness.”

“So what happened?” the man asked.

“What are you doing Saturday afternoon?” Baskin said with a chuckle. “I have an extra ticket and I could use another adult.”

“That’s remarkable,” the woman said.

“It sounds almost too easy,” the man said.

“It’s not that easy to get motivated,” Baskin said.

“There were some times, even doing this, that I would have laid back if Alice hadn’t called.”

“Alice,” the woman said.

“I’m just telling you about goal setting,” Baskin said.

“We have help, always. It’s never just one of us doing anything because Jesus didn’t structure things that way. Two or three are always involved in achieving anyone’s goals. But I’m sure that’s another lesson.” He handed the couple a card:

GOAL SETTING GROUNDING:

The one minute Christian

Develops goals by visualizing desired results.

Commits the vision to God.

Takes a minute from time to time to articulate and if necessary revise the goal.

Remembers that what matters is to be in the circle of God, experiencing the nearness of God and that kid knows everything needful to us.

Monitors progress toward specific goals.

****

When they’d read the card, Baskin said, “Think you’ve got it?”

“It’s completely different than anything I’ve ever thought about. Almost something out of self-help,” the woman said.

“There’s self-help in it,” Baskin said, “but it is grounded in what we learn about Jesus and God and the Spirit in church. It’s self-help in God and that makes a small but crucial difference, we feel”

“What’s the difference?” the man asked.

“The difference is that ultimately we don’t matter, all that matters is God’s will being done.”

The couple waited for Baskin to continue but he was holding out his hand to signify the end of their meeting.

“You’ve been very generous,” the woman said.

“Who’s next on your list?” Baskin responded.

“Eleanor Treat.”

“Eleanor will give you all the help you need,” Baskin said.

“Thanks for your time,” the man said.

“Oh, I’m never that busy,” Baskin smiled. “I used to be one of those over-worked church members you hear about. Compared to that this is a piece of cake.”

3

The couple walked along the main street.

“It’s really so easy,” the man said. “Almost plain common sense.”

“Things Jesus said are coming back to me,” the woman said. “He sometimes spoke of faith in terms of peoples’ needs.”

“He certainly had full confidence that God was nearby,” the man said.

“This church makes people responsible from the start. They start where they happen to be.”

They arrived at a modest apartment building and rang the bell marked E. Treat.

Eleanor Treat was a handsome woman in her early fifties. She made her guests comfortable in the living room of her small apartment. There was a small alcove containing a computer. It looked as though, if she worked, she might do so at home.

“We’re trying to understand one-minute Christianity,” the woman said. “We’ve talked with Mr. Baskin about goal setting and faith. But we’ve been told there are some other truths that have to be learned.”

Eleanor Treat smiled, as if relishing a secret. “The second truth involves support. We call it the truth of two or three.”

“Two or three?” the man said.

“Yes, two or three,” the woman said. “Gathered together.”

“That’s correct,” Eleanor Treat responded. “We try our best to follow Jesus and to listen to what he says. This truth says that one person can rarely do what is needed all alone. It helps to have another. Or sometimes a few others. These days particularly, when trust is such a problem”

“How does it work?” the man asked.

“We support each other. We establish our goals but never in complete isolation. Someone is always there to help us, sometimes with simple praise, other times with helpful criticism.”

“Criticism?” the man said. “You criticize each other?”

“Jesus was a bit of a critic,” Eleanor Treat smiled.

“But still,” the man said, “I don’t understand.”

“Be patient,” Eleanor said. “The greatest critic and supporter we have is God. The greatest teacher and example is Jesus. Both point to goal setting, support, praise and criticism. The world out there may not see things quite that way. But that’s because we’re not very good at being two or three gathered.”

“How does it work?” the woman said. “Tell us.”

“God wants each of us to become who we were born to be — each person is unique, you know. Each person has a gift or two that nobody else can duplicate.”

The man looked at Eleanor Treat with new interest. He was absorbed in what she was saying.

“So we place the main emphasis on getting people in touch with what God means them to be and nearly equal emphasis on showing that nobody can do it on their own. Sometimes it’s a very delicate balance.”

“How can anyone know for sure what they are meant to be?” the man asked?

“There are so many choices these days,” the woman said.

Eleanor Treat leaned forward. “That’s why we start with goal setting. Setting goals, small ones and then larger ones, gets people in touch with their inner direction. Remember that Jesus had one major goal — to announce God’s rule and show what that meant.

Of course he did everything under the from carpentry to debating. Eventually we’re all just parts of that same big goal. But first we need to overcome our aloneness and our lack of confidence. That’s why we add the two or three thing.”

“So how does it actually work?” the woman asked.

“We start with a good deal of praise,” Eleanor Treat smiled, handing the man and the woman two small cards on which was printed:

We find our deepest purpose in life in community. Each step along the way is cause for praise.

“This isn’t a twelve-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, is it?” the woman said, examining the card.

“I was wondering the same thing,” said the man.

“We are dealing with some delicate truths here,” Eleanor Treat said. “The short answer to your questions is no. But we find that when people become stronger, they are the first to admit that they were in just as deep trouble as any 12-step program was ever created to help. We are talking, after all, about fallen humanity.”

The man was tempted to chide his hostess for raising almost the only “theological” point he had trouble with – – the idea that all people are mired in sin. But Eleanor Treat seemed almost to read his mind.

“Fallen is only part of it, thank goodness,” she continued. “And as I say, people know how far they’ve strayed most when they find the path they’ve always wanted to be on. Now let’s talk about two or three gathered, shall we?”

“What do you do, follow each other around, praising them when they’re good? Who can judge that sort of thing?” The woman was surprised to hear herself asking these questions, but she decided she really wanted to know. She was close to deciding this particular church might not be her cup of tea at all. She didn’t know why, but she was becoming suspicious.

“The older members stick pretty close to the newer ones, that’s true,” Eleanor Treat said, seemingly oblivious to the sharp edge of the woman’s questions. “Some of them have never thought that the one who is praising them for their smaller and larger steps is God.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” the man responded. “God may love humanity but He surely doesn’t go around clapping Mr. Baskin on the back for dropping a few pounds.”

“No, but we often do. Perhaps not in a back slapping way. More in — an affirming way. We’d be more likely to hug than to backslap someone.”

“That’s weird,” the man said.

“What is truly weird,” Eleanor Treat replied, “is that we don’t do it as a general rule throughout the world, particularly with children. That, of course, is because we are all perfectionists under the skin. We can’t bear to have our performance praised by others when we are so self- critical.

So we shut it out. My friends, we are talking about realism here. Realistic goals. Realistic accomplishments. And realistic support. Jesus made it clear that two or three was a good number when it came to living under God’s rule. He said he’d be in the midst of people who gather in his name, and so it is.

The couple looked at Eleanor Treat, not sure what to make of her.

“When I was starting out,” she said, “the praise I received showed me that the members of the church really cared for me, accepted me as I was. You see I was pretty battered when I started out. Having a few people looking out for me meant a great, great deal”

“There are millions of people out there who’d give their right arm for some good honest acceptance,” the woman said.

“A lot of them are in church,” the man said.

“I’ve learned to trust God so I’m not as dependent on it anymore,” Eleanor Treat smiled. “God is quite a praiser.”

“God?” the man said.

“Once we admit we need God and want to live in His circle we are taken in, to the extent that we believe it and are willing to change. At that point God becomes our partner, our co-worker.

“Jesus knew this and tried to share it,” Eleanor Treat added. “But people didn’t listen, just like they don’t today. I have had to learn it over the years.” She smiled. “But I have found one thing.”

“What is that?” the man said.

“One you’re in that circle, with one or two others to help you along, God is a stubborn character.”

The couple looked at Eleanor Treat, still confused but once again drawn by the notion of a church built around communities of twos and threes.

“He just won’t let us — any of us — go,” she said.

“Can you elaborate,” the man said.

“I can only speak for myself,” Eleanor Treat said, “Knowing that God is real and that God cares — for me, for you — is the starting point. God is a person and God is a power, a force, an energy. We speak to God as You, not as he or she, because God is beyond anything that we have come to see or name as divided. I have my own way of communicating with God. Are you interested?”

“Of course,” the woman said.

“I write,” Eleanor Treat said. “I usually sit for a minute or two and write whatever wells up from within. I open myself to God and ask for guidance.”

Before the man or woman could respond, they saw Eleanor Treat lean back in her chair and close her eyes. After a moment she leaned forward and picked up a pad and a ball point pen from the coffee table and began to write. When she finished, she tore the sheet off the pad and handed it to the man. “Read it aloud,” she smiled.

The man did as she asked.

“You have opened your heart to little children today. You have taken time to encourage a way of peace. And you may be sure that what you have done will have a good effect. Keep on in my love.” The man put the sheet down.

“What does this mean?” he said. “Is this God speaking?”

“Of course not, directly,” said Eleanor Treat. “But it is the God that is inside me reaching out and bringing in the God who is everywhere and allowing this affirmation to rise up. I call this writing guidance. Whenever I am perplexed, for example, I do this writing. And, believe me. what comes out is very different from my immediate feelings. It comes from a deeper place.”

“What was the children part?” the woman said.

“Today I sent off a contribution to a local child abuse center. Then I wrote to my congresswoman to get some information on her position on pending legislation. Nothing much, really, but I never cared much about these things until I got involved in church.”

“Do you get together and share these good things you’re doing?” the man asked.

“Not any more,” Mrs. Treat said. “At the start there is some of that but once people catch on it is not necessary. You asked me to tell you how I connect to God and how I know God is connected to me. This is just one of the ways. It shows God is very, very near, whenever we take the time to acknowledge it. We don’t report all of these things to each other. We’d never have any time for anything else.”

“How does this work at the start?” the woman asked. “Suppose you are a new member.”

“We ask new members to state some goals. You already know that. Then we see that one or two church members is responsible. In effect we create a small branch of a family. New members know they can call on their gathering.”

“Gathering?” the man said.

“That’s what we call it when two or three are — gathered.”

“I am in the midst of them,” the woman said.

“Yes,” said Eleanor Treat. “Jesus said he would be there when two or three gather in his name. That’s where gathering comes from. We take it to mean that when two or three get together that way, transformation can happen, above and beyond all normal expectations.”

“I am glad to hear you mention Jesus,” the man said.

“Oh, we do, a lot,” said Eleanor Treat. “Jesus said there was only one unforgiveable sin, do you know what that was?”

“I thought he said to forgive seventy times seven,” the man said.

“I am sure he did,” Eleanor Treat said, “but he was making a major point in saying one sin was unforgiveable.”

“Sinning against the Holy Spirit?” the woman said.

“Yes, exactly. When Jesus saw people rejecting the power to change for the better, when he saw them denying the power of God.”

“Two or three gathered, believing in the power of the Spirit to transform them, then what?” the man said.

“I’d better bring this down to earth,” Eleanor Treat said. “Here.” She picked up her pen and wrote down the following list and gave it to the couple.

Two or Three Gathered

1. The newcomer is immediately part of two or three gathered.

2. The gathering is responsible for confirming the newcomer along the way.

3. The one or two assist the newcomer with direct support.

4. The one or two help the newcomer see how achieving a personal goal can help the wider community.

5. The purpose of this is to show that true community is always focussed beyond itself — on the needs of those who want what the community has. It is really a formula for growth.

The couple scanned the list. “The one or two — that’s people who already are members?”

Eleanor Treat nodded.

“And you call that two or three a gathering?”

“After Jesus. Yes.”

“How do you give support concretely?” the husband asked.

“Nothing terribly exciting,” Eleanor Treat smiled. “Jesus said his followers are his true family. We do a good deal of praising and affirming, as God does, and often this will turn into a hug or a touch.”

“This isn’t one of those touchy, feely encounter groups, is it?”

Once again the woman looked at the man and wondered why he was being so aggressive. His question had a disparaging edge to it.

“Hardly,” said Eleanor Treat. “Our culture is so – – warped, really. People do the most horrible things to each other and we can’t even do little, affirming things. The church ought to be a place where affirmation moves out in widening circles. Not touchy feely, no. Not wishy washy, either.”

“So it’s like a buddy system,” the woman said, with interest. “You come in and immediately you get some buddies. Like a big brother or sister.”

“It only works because it is in Jesus’s name. When it is in Jesus’s name the goal is always turned outward. We’re not a security blanket. But yes, it is definitely a buddy system, of a sort. Jesus wants to rebuild people who can rebuild a new world. That takes a lot of support. Without a community it doesn’t happen.”

There was a pause.

The man and woman seemed unsure about what to do. They had found out that in this church newcomers were put with one or two others and that praise and affirmation were given so they could accomplish their goals.

That sounded simple enough, but they both had the same reaction: What did this have to do with church as they knew it — the hymns and holy days, the suppers and bake sales, the Sunday schools and choir rehearsals, the sermons and committees?. They were frankly confused. Eleanor Treat watched them and understood.

“You’ll understand if you do the whole nine yards,” she said cheerfully. “It won’t all come at once.”

Within the space of a minute they said goodbye to Eleanor Treat and found themselves walking out on the street.

4

The couple walked along the main street.

“I don’t get it,” the man said, as they walked toward their next destination.

“What don’t you get?” the woman asked.

“I thought if you were a church the task was to more or less grow, get bigger, find new members, be successful. But this seems to boil down to people doing their thing with a little help from their friends.”

“I know about some of those growing type churches,” the woman replied. “And so do you. If we wanted a growing congregation we both know one within three miles of our house. Complete with fifty voice choir and a preacher who paces back and forth with a mike in one hand and a Bible in the other. Do you remember what we felt when we went there?”

“Like spectators,” the husband chuckled.

“So now we find something a bit different and you are ready to criticize it into oblivion. Hey, we agreed to see this through. Remember, we are trying to learn one thing at a time.”

“So what have we learned? Lay it out for me,” the man said amiably.

“They set goals. Then gather around the goal setter and offer support. Truth one and truth two.” She smiled.

“No histrionics? No hellfire and brimstone? No starving children on the video?”

“Apparently not,” she answered.

They walked on in silence and then the man spoke.

“You know, there are times I wonder — the way the world is and all — if anything can make any difference, if it isn’t all like Shakespeare said. The world’s a stage and all we’re doing is playing our part.”

“If that were true,” the woman said. “We’d still have some say about what part we wanted to play.”

“Touche.”

Is there an alternative to church as we mainly know it?

Could a new approach make any difference?

What is this?

Such questions filled their minds as they walked silently along.

Finally the man said, “Let’s get an overview of all this. We’ll go check things out with Tom Penwieldy.”

Within minutes they were in the office of the religion editor of the local newspaper. Tom Penwieldy was more than an editor. He’d written several books on exciting church developments worldwide.

The man and woman told him about their search for an ideal congregation and explained that they were exploring the concepts of a group devoted to One Minute Christianity.

Penwieldy held a yellow pencil in the air, looked at the eraser for a second, and laughed. “Coals to Newcastle. You have the most lively church of all, right on your doorstep.”

The man and woman looked at each other, impressed but at the same time confused.

“What’s their secret?” the man asked.

“Their secret,” Penwieldy smiled, “is very simple. One day they decided Jesus was in the progress business and and that progress begins with individual self- transformation. All they’ve done is to structure a way to turn progress into an everyday experience — using some very common sense understandings.”

“Can they really make a difference?” the man pressed.

“If every church practiced what they practice,” Penwieldy replied, “it might just turn the whole world around. Which is what Jesus had in mind, isn’t it?”

“So you’re a real convert,” the woman said.

“I’ve covered almost everything you could name over the years,” Penwieldy said. “Sects, cults, fundamentalist bloodletting, gay and lesbian bashing, assemblies, statements, you name it. I have always felt that unless you could take churches as they are and do something within the context of that reality, we’re just whistling in the wind and spinning our wheels — to mix a metaphor or whatever I just did.”

“It makes sense,” the woman said.

“The people in that church are actually trying to live in the way Jesus said to live. And that is what a church should be about, in my opinion.”

“That sound’s pretty straightforward — almost like an endorsement,” the man said.

“They believe the Gospel means good news to people where they are in the everyday. Which means people are enabled to improve, to change for the better and to give a helping hand to others who have needs.”

“Of course we’ve only met the pastor and a few members,” the woman said, “so we can hardly be said to understand it.”

“There’s a lot to it,” Penwieldy said. “People don’t advertise it. It’s more a slow sort of progress. No big drives. No building campaigns. No sales. Things are very clearly left to individual members or small groups of members who decide to act together.

But what anyone does is up to them alone. It is not an official program in any sense. Sometimes somebody will set up something in the community that seems completely off the wall, but it all turns out to tie together. At least in terms of inspiration and motivation.”

Penwieldy looked at his watch and excused himself. “Deadline,” he explained.

Out on the street the woman said, “He’s not the sort to be taken in. He’s written pretty extensively on cults and kooks. He would have told us if they were that.”

“If he respects this congregation and its ways, there may be something to it,” the man said.

They walked along and thought about what they had learned so far:

The ideal congregation might well —

1) Care about positive change and make it central to its understanding.

2) Care about empowering each member, regularly and progressively.

3) By encouraging members to set goals, make the achieving these of these goals by faith the main “work of the church.”

4) Feed its members regularly, so the context of goal-setting is God’s will, energy and love.

“Let’s go home and sleep on it,” the woman said.

“Sounds like a good goal to me,” the man said.

And so they did.

5

The third name the couple had chosen was that of another couple, Jim and Madge Alderson. Their house was set back from the street in a prosperous part of town.

Jim Alderson opened the door. It was a work day which the couple had taken off to continue their investigation. Mr. Alderson looked too young to be retired and they were frankly surprised when they called and found both the Aldersons would indeed be at home.

Jim Alderson could have been in his mid-fifties. His wife Madge seemed several years younger. They made the man and woman welcome.

“We’ve learned about the truths of goal setting and of two or three gathered,” the woman said. “We’ve come to learn about truth number three.”

“You may not want to learn it when you’ve heard what it is,” Madge Alderson responded. Her tone was positive and matter-of- fact.

“Why not?”

“Because at first it seems unfamiliar and unpleasant,” Jim Alderson said. “But once you understand it, it’s as important as anything else we do.”

“Don’t keep us in suspense,” the man said.

“It’s about making mistakes,” Madge offered.

“I can tell you a lot about it,” Jim Alderson said with a sad smile.

The visitors registered surprise. “I thought you had a pretty up-beat thing going. Goal setting and some reinforcement when you achieve a goal,” the woman said.

“Bear with us,” Madge said. “If everyone had had loving and understanding parents, proper care, wonderful teachers, faithful friends, a safe environment and so forth, truths one and two might work just fine alone.

But we couldn’t survive without the third truth because almost every one of us has a hurt that’s too big to overcome without real work or a blind spot that is too wide to make for reasonable goals. The fact is that people fail all the time.”

“That’s where truth three comes in — we call it honest compassion. Honest compassion involves criticism and affirmation.”

“Sounds like the Chinese Communists to me,” the man said, trying for a David Letterman effect. “What do you do, sit in a circle and wait for someone to break down?”

The woman flashed him a warning glance, but Jim Alderson continued as though nothing negative had been said.

“Criticism is not what we generally think of using the term. For us it is simply acknowledging that someone’s goal has not been achieved. Affirmation is making certain the person in no way feels devalued by this decision.”

“Hey,” the man said. “I thought this goal setting was a good idea because it takes into account we are all unique individuals. But I get the feeling now that Big Brother and Big Sister are watching. I fought in the army to keep the Communists off my back.”

“We only do this until the person becomes his or her own best critic. Then a great power is released.” Jim Alderson again seemed to pay no attention to the negativity of the man. “Another word for it is speaking the truth in love.”

“There is nothing more powerful in all the world than the right affirmation,” Madge Alderson volunteered.

“What is the right affirmation?” the man asked.

“One that’s in tune with God’s purposes.” Madge brushed back her hair. “When an individual sets a specific goal that embodies one of the values closest to the values that are in God’s heart.”

“Let me be specific,” Jim Alderson said. “We can learn the philosophy of it as we go along.”

“Yes, that is a good idea,” the woman chimed in,

The man had become quiet.

Jim Alderson leaned forward. “Well, you’ll recall that each Sunday a member writes up to six goals and places a copy in the offering. There’s a reason why. When the offering is received we literally offer all the goals up to God and that is a very powerful happening. The other reason why we do it is so the individual has a chance to judge the week’s performance.”

“Performance?” the man questioned. “Like a critic?”

“Yes,” Jim Alderson said. “We all have a critic built into us. Every Sunday we pass back the goal sheets from the previous week and ask the members to take a look. It isn’t a scoring system or anything like that. It’s just a way of remembering what was intended and looking at it to see what happened or did not happen.”

“The importance cannot be overemphasized,” Madge Alderson chimed in. “It is highly sensitive and also very matter of fact. When a member can accept this process the possibility for growth is increased immeasurably.”

“There is a Bible term for this,” Jim Alderson said. “All we are talking about is repentance. Repentance is healthy — or rather a step toward health. One week you say you are not going to be hard on someone — maybe a child. The next week you look at that goal and see that you need to continue to work on it. You’re in the same boat with everyone else in the room.”

“Is the person is their own critic? Or does someone actually monitor performance?”

“Two or three gathered means there is some monitoring, though that’s a bit strong. Remember, nobody enters this process without accepting the ground rules. People enter because they want to change.” Jim Alderson leaned back and shook his head, wondering if he was getting through.”

You remember what Jesus said to the folks who were getting on him for his message and activities? The well have no need of a physician. The people who come to our church start by admitting that they are just as needy in their own way as the alcoholic who joins AA.”

“What about the rest of society,” the woman said.

“Look at society and tell me,” Madge Alderson said. “Of course it’s sometimes hard to tell some rich, secure corporate whiz that he needs what Jesus offers, but until he sees it himself he will not change. Our responsibility is to be very clear about what we have to offer him when he makes that decision. You’ll find we have a very different concept about a lot of things, but at least we’re clear.”

“I’m sorry,” the man said. “But could you run through this one more time. At the moment I have this image of an offering plate full of little questionaires and very little sense of how it really works.”

“I’ll be glad to tell you,” Madge Alderson said. “Several years ago I had a nervous breakdown. I got professional help and the doctor put me on Prozac which was supposed to help and it did, but I still felt very much at loose ends. I had just joined the church when this happened.

There I was, trying to get going and, Boom, I was depressed and then on everyone’s favorite drug of choice. One week I just set the goal of licking the depression and being drug free too.

“The following week I got a call from Dr. Denman, a member of the church. He came and sat on the couch you’re sitting on. I can almost hear him now. “Madge,” he said, “I know you to be a remarkable woman of great ability. And I know you want to believe that you can lick everything just by the power of faith — goal-setting, etcetera — but if you think you can throw away your medication and your depression in a day or two, you’re in for a big surprise.”

“That sounds to me like minding someone else’s business,” the man said.

“It was,” Madge Alderson said. “That’s the deepest form of friendship though. To give and receive understanding even if it hurts. Of course he told me — we always tell each other — that we are not equipped to judge and that the person must be the final determiner of what he or she will do. But of all the people I know, the people in this church have no axe to grind. He was trying to help me achieve my goal, not to criticize it out of existence.”

“So what happened?” the woman asked.

“He gave me an affirmation. He wrote it down. We wrote it together actually. It went like this: ‘In God I shall take one step at a time to get my life on an even keel. I shall not take the second step until I have taken the first. And I shall end up both drug free and depression free as God wills it.'”

“So this was a matter of getting you onto a realistic schedule,” the man said, “so you wouldn’t try to do it all at once and crash?”

“That’s right. But it was also a person telling another person, ‘I’m here for you.'”

“I think I get it. You don’t criticize if you can’t affirm.”

“Yes,” Madge Alderson said. “Or, put another way, you affirm so you are free to help if you think you can help.”

“It’s tricky,” Jim Alderson said. “I can’t offer much to someone if I haven’t been through the same kind of thing myself. It’s the old mote-log syndrome.”

“What?” the man said.

“Jesus said it,” the woman chimed in. “He means that unless you have examined yourself and removed your own prejudices you can’t help another see whatever their biases or prejudices are.”

“Judge not that you be not judged, but if you can affirm you can offer a nudge, is that it?” the man asked.

“The affirmation is based on the understanding that what happens to each of us lies between us and the Lord,” Madge said.

“What is a specific affirmation?” the woman said.

“It is a very simple and powerful statement of faith,” Madge said. “There are as many affirmations as there are statements of faith. Take you two for example. You are looking, searching. That isn’t the same thing as affirmation. An affirmation might be something like this: I affirm my intention to reach the maximum possible enlightenment in God about God’s purposes for me. Each of you could say that, and it would be a powerful thing.”

“Bring God into it, eh?” the man asked.

“Not always in a verbal way. Actually we tend to speak of God as You or Thou — it is more direct and personal. But an affirmation can also be a hand on a shoulder and a smile. Or a note sent to someone to encourage them. There are many sorts of affirmation and they go hand in hand with criticism.”

“How long did your meeting with Dr. Denman last?” the woman said.

“Just a few minutes.”

“Did he ever come back?”

“No. That’s another thing about compassionate honesty. We start the process. If we write a zero beside a goal we have not fulfilled that is our signal that we need to be jogged. But we only do that once and then only on a truly serious goal.

We have a standing rule that if we have to write zero — no progress — more than once, we will seek professional help. I know that may sound impersonal but the alternative would be a good deal of game-playing and avoidance of responsibility.”

“I thought you solved all things in God,” the woman said.

“You can,” Madge Alderson smiled. “If you put your mind to it.”

“Somehow,” the woman said, “I can’t help feeling this is a counsel of perfection. What about the parts of ourselves we simply don’t seem to be able to bring into line? What about addicts and criminals? What about deformed kids and mental defectives? Isn’t Christianity supposed to acknowledge the brokenness and lay back on utopian solutions — isn’t that what the cross is about?”

Jim Alderson reached beneath his open shirt and produced a cross at the end of a silver chain. “This is the sign of God’s absolute, committed identification with all human suffering,” he said. “This cross is also the sign of overcoming. Long ago the whole earth acknowledged God and lived in peace but rebellion and fall led to deformity and brokenness.

We can either throw up our hands and make believe this cross is the key to our escape from pain and suffering or we can assume that God has a higher destiny for us all. That we are called by Jesus to be co-workers and partners with each other and with God. We believe the second thing — that we have been loved and forgiven by God through Jesus in all aspects of our life and that this love was put on earth to remind us that God wants us back.

And that to get back we can and must all be somehow transformed. Bear in mind all anyone can do is his or her part. We each have to cross the valley by ourselves.”

“If more people understood that,” Madge said, “there might be a considerable reduction in the world’s suffering. After all, the solution of all ills is in the scope of God’s affirmation of us. That is what Jesus means when he talks about good ground. If we are good ground we can do up to a hundred times what might normally be expected of us. But you’ll recall Jesus had