Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sunset on Shabbatical

Yesterday I finished the last of the books on Sabbath (Norman Wirzba's Living the Sabbath).  Last evening I met with three church leaders to prepare for my return on September 19. In between, ol' Satan laid snares of fear and failure in my path.

I came into this summer convinced I had failed in my work, and that "this little light of mine" was very little indeed. Wonderful Husband said those feelings were groundless, unreasonable. Unreasonable? Sure, maybe, but reason is no guarantee of reality.  The Pharisees and high priests were reasonable men.

Anyway, I went into all this time really needing rest and really craving that sabbath delight that Wirzba emphasizes is more important than rest. Good thing: I can't say I've gotten a lot of rest.

The HS has been guiding me through reading and listening and meditating on all that reading and listening. Through those books I feel a bunch of stuff coming together -- theolog(ies) and practice(s) and trajectory -- along with a growing sense of the simple reality of Jesus and the possibility of becoming like him in this life. This study has been nothing less than a delight -- a joyful experience of the work and truth of the Spirit -- leading to a conviction that sabbath is critical to Christlikeness. It's not like anything I'm doing has changed, really, and I haven't put together that Plan and Rule for living I intended to do, but all that understanding has been slowly knitting together into whole cloth.  You know how sometimes you study and learn something and are just Ready for the test? It's not like that at all. Rather it's like I'm starting to see life from the perspective of my Teacher: the beginnings of the classic paradigm shift. The Holy Spirit as the catalyst for paradigm shifts: now there's a good theological definition for you!

Unfortunately, the Tempter has slithered right along behind Her. Right at Her heels, the Tempter has been luring me into the Slough of Despond: a sense of failure in my work, a lack of language to express what I'm learning, exile and isolation from my church, the sure and secure knowledge that I am not enough for God to really use me as S/He intends. These are the ancient siren voices sweetly cooing bitter and poisonous doubt and shame. They are some mighty powerful voices, I'll tell you, as Peter the Rock surely knew, and they have sent me to my knees more than once this summer.

So yesterday morning I finished the last of the Spirit's books. In the evening I met with the church leaders. In between? Let's just say that Satan's snares covered a whole lot of the path, and I have pretty big feet.

As you have probably guessed by now, the church leaders didn't confirm my fears and failures. I still have a job and am wanted back. The HS has a whole stack of books waiting, including one that is Life.

And as I have guessed and am working hard to believe, there's enough of me for God to work goodness, even miracles. My light may be just enough to help someone else walk her own feet around those ancient lures and snares and right into the Kingdom. 

As the sun of this sabbatical sets, and I prepare to rejoin His work already in progress, may Jesus' name be praised. Whatever else comes from this time, may He use my life and stumbling faith to witness to his beauty, brilliance, and unreasonable trust in me, and in every one of us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two weeks and counting

In two weeks plus days I return to my church. I suspect it is a different church and that I am a different person. Please, God, let me not be the only one terrified, and however many of us there are, help us to trust wholly in your mercy and providence.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do you hear Cole Porter?

Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life)I actually have a lot to blog about: Ray VanderLaan's incredible teaching on the Dust of the Rabbi, a new sabbath book I'm reading that may actually be useful, my first attempt at a DMin application, the sheer terror of returning to church.

Too Darn HotBut it's too darn hot, and I'm getting out of here.
(Here's a less Velvet Frog version of the song, featuring a young and generous Misha and a lithe and playful Liza. And a personal favorite (not the video), by Erasure)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dust of the Rabbi -- recorded teaching

On campus at Campbell UCC, Fireside Room, Tuesday, 7:30 pm and Friday 9:30 am.: an amazing teaching by Ray VanderLaan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Passing thought

In most moments we have just one choice to make: to make the world better or to make it worse. Every act we take, every thought we allow, every word we speak -- all affect the world; to deny this is merely cowardice or pride.

To live faithfully and wholly is to choose: will I in this moment make the world more gentle, beautiful, and hopeful; or will... I contribute to its cynicism, brutality, and bitter desperation?

Ugly but final

Notes on The Divine Conspiracy are here. They need reformatting, but the paged content is all there.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Further Notes on Divine Conspiracy

Chapters 1 - 8 and part of chapter 9 (A Curriculum for Christlikeness) are posted. I have not edited for formatting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Divine Conspiracy, Chapters 1-8

Notes from chapters 1-8 are now online. Not proofed, but online here.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled program.

From The Divine Conspiracy:

Nondiscipleship is the elephant in the church. The fundamental negative reality among Christian believers now is their failure to be constantly learning how to live their lives in The Kingdom Among Us. And it is an accepted reality. The division of professing Christians into those for whom it is a matter of whole-life devotion to God and those who maintain a consumer, or client, relationship to the church has now been an accepted reality for over 1500 years. (If, in our church, to live as a disciple, intentionally and deliberately, whole-lifely, is to be a “great” Christian or a candidate for seminary, we have lost the whole point.) (301)

Suppose [instead of smoothing over hurt feelings and anger] we devoted our [church-life] time to inspiring and enabling Christians to be people who are not offendable and not angry and who are forgiving as a matter of course? But really to intend this is no trivial matter. It means a huge change of direction. Indeed the entire Christian culture stands against any such intention.

To explicitly intend to make apprentices to Jesus could be quite upsetting to congregational life. Won’t those who are mere members or converts find themselves in an embarrassing position? Second-class citizenship? ... the implicit understanding that nondisciple Christians have with their leaders and congregations will have to be brought to light and dealt with in some appropriate way. But we say immediately that the last thing the disciple or disciple maker will do is assume superiority over anyone...we are called to form a community of prayerful love. (It is about where the focus and the effort of the church is: in attraction or conversion or fellowship or music or whatever, or in making disciples.)

We are not talking about eliminating nondisciple, consumer Christiantiy. We are talking about making it secondary, as far as our intentions are concerned. We would intend to make disciples and let converts “happen,” rather than intending to make converts and letting disciples “happen.” (Fill in any other desired outcome in the place of “converts.”)

This is why, once again, it is absolutely necessary that those who exercise leadership must be close and faithful students of Jesus himself. He must be the one who shows the way.

In short, you lead people to become disciples of Jesus by ravishing them with a vision of life in the kingdom of the heavens in the fellowship of Jesus.(302-5)

To my daughter's teachers

Dear friends, teachers, neighbors, family, family-in-Christ, clerks, child-care workers, parents and caretakers at playgrounds, bus drivers and flight attendants, children's songwriters, Pixar animators, and anyone else who comes into contact with my daughter:

You are her teachers, every one of you.  Every one of you, every one of us who is in contact with her for even the fleetingest moment teaches her what it means to be human. We show her through our example what it means to be valuable, and who and what she should value.

I know I fail at this frequently, and aim with all my heart and effort and prayer to do better. I beseech you to examine your life, the tone of your voice, the little encounters you have with all the little ones of the world, and ask yourself:
>>With my life, am I teaching that all people are valuable and precious? Or am I limiting my respect and my decency to some subset or another -- the ones who drive like I do or look like I want to; the ones who play sports for a living or can retire at 30?
>>What I am teaching the little ones around me? Am I teaching them to be fearful or trusting? Cynical or loving?
>>What will I do to live the message I want them to learn?

If, by remote chance, you intended to teach my daughter that, in fact, one race is better than another, one more trustworthy than another, one more likely to betray than another, one more really human than another: your day will come.  You won a little bit of her mind yesterday, but you will not win her heart and her soul.  You will not turn her against a part of herself, nor will you succeed at turning her against her human brethren.  Jesus has already claimed her, and his love and respect for every single one of us, even you, will win the day and the end of days.

In the meantime, don't you ever let me hear you talking that way in front of my kid.

What and why be a disciple?

From The Divine Conspiracy, chapter 8

It is now generally acknowledged that one can be a professing Christian and a church member in good standing without being a disciple. There is, apparently, no real connection between being a Christian and being a disciple of Jesus. And this is bound to be rather confusing to a person who would like to be a disciple. For what exactly would one do who didn’t intend to go into “full-time Christian service” (or, as we call it in the liberal church, “the ministry” or “ordained ministry”) but still wanted to be a disciple? (291)

What is the state of soul that would bring us to choose [the condition of being a disciple]? What would be the thinking, the convictions about reality, that would lead someone to choose discipleship to him? (291)  One would feel great admiration and love, would really believe that Jesus is the most magnificent person who has ever lived. One would be quite sure that to belong to him, to be taken into what he is doing throughout this world so that what he is doing becomes your life, is the greatest opportunity one will ever have. (292)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Divine Conspiracy, Chapters 5-7

Notes through chapter 7 are now posted. Working on 8, then I'll be "caught up". Not in my reading, of course, but in posting notes. Happily I'm ahead on Shabbatical reading!

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Sabbath World Read

Yes, I expected a different book, which made reading this book less satisfying. 

Yes, I found some things irksome ("volunteer simplicity" instead of "voluntary simplicity" twice, but correct later; the Kierkegaard thing I mentioned June 17th; blithely referring to the Asidoi as a "suicide cult", which makes light of the tragedies of both; some unfortunate misreading of Christian theology, esp regarding the immanence of God; an unexamined claim that the Trinity isn't referred to in the Bible....).

No, Shulevitz's book didn't advance my understanding of Sabbath, or help me discern practice. But, for less than the price of four hours I did get a nice historical review of the social/political adherence to sabbath and why it looked like it did when it did. 

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time might better have been called The World and Sabbath: Using Time to Order Difference.  What she has written is a secularist's view of a particularly peculiar political (in the broadest sense) institution, interspersed with memoirs of youthful longing. It seems as though Shulevitz has sought to satisfy her longings by indulging her intellect (substantial) and her heritage (Jewish). 

The problem is this: because she does not recognize the object of the longings as God, but instead interprets them as tradition/ritual/community, she winds up approaching a distinctly God-centered practice as an outsider. She knows this, comparing herself to Kierkegaard (an unfortunate if revealing comparison, given her anti-Semitic accusations), who falsely described himself as an observer of faith, and claiming his spectator's seat.

Since Sabbath, at least since Heschel, defines a cosmic world of its own, the "world" of sabbath Shulevitz describes is merely a parallel universe, more familiar than the cosmic one.  That parallel universe is the one we all see: the universe of ritual, battles, politics, exclusion, inclusion, as well as Derrida and de Mans.  That parallel universe is the world of "the flesh" -- precisely the world that the Sabbath both illuminates and escapes.  It would be as if someone described deep longlasting mature love to you by referring to heart-shaped candy boxes and Dorothy Parker throwaway lines.  You'd know what love might look like, but still have not a clue what it was or how to find it yourself. Much like her God.

All in all, a pleasant and interesting read, but I'm glad I waited for the library copy to arrive.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Sabbath World

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of TimeI rec'd Shulevitz' book from the library yesterday, so will restart Shabbatical reading with it today.  More soon!

The Disciple's Prayer

The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In GodGreat! explanation of the "Lord's Prayer" (and prayer, generally) in Divine Conspiracy, and how one can use it properly to shape and strengthen life in God by dwelling in it over and over again.  Here's the highly abbreviated version, extracted from pp. 253-69.

The basis of prayer is not conversation, but request.

Structure of this prayer: address, requests 1-5 (& added doxology).

Address:  "Our Father, the one in the heavens...this is the configuration of reality from within which we pray...to place [ourselves] within this configuration and receive it by grace."
1.  Use lectio divina on great passages, eg. Gen 1, Gen 15, Ex 19, 1Kings 8; 2 Chron 16 & 19; Neh 9, etc. and Luke 11, Romans 8, Phil 4.
2. Adopt a posture that effectively enlivens and directs us toward God.
3. Take time to fix our minds upon God and orient our world around him.

Request 1: "Hallowed be Thy name .. asks that the name of God should be held in high regard."
1. Perhaps better phrased "let your name be sanctified", since sanctification places the person(s) referred to in a "separate and very special kind of reality" and may apply to human persons too.
2. "it is also the natural request of a child who loves its "Abba" (Daddy)... we want to sense its longing that "Abba" should be recognized as [the greatest]... We want to dwell on this meditatively and perhaps weep for sadness that God is not so understood."

Request 2: "Thy kingdom come...as in the heavens" follows from the first request, for the loved child wants the "reign" of its Abba to be everywhere.
1. "on earth as in the heavens" merely clarifies the first phrase. "Come" does not mean "come into being", but that the "kingdoms" of the earth may be displaced or brought under God's rule.
2. "Kingdoms" are "the places we spend our lives"... and "our activities more than those of other people...we are therefore asking that we be assisted to act within the flow of God's actions."
3. We also pray "for our Father to break up the higher-level patterns of evil", ie the structural and institutional evils that prey and rule upon the earth.

Request 3: "Give daily bread daily" asks for whatever we really need to live in a functional manner today.
1. "The emphasis is on provision today of whatever we need for today...Today I have God, and he has the provisions. Tomorrow it will be the same."
2. "What hinders or shuts down kingdom living is not the having of such provisions, but rather the trusting in them for future security."

Request 4: "Don't punish us for things we do wrong and forgive us..." -- Forgiveness means to release our right to revenge.
1. Only pity or mercy (not "justice" in the sense of parity) makes life possible.
2. Once we step into this kingdom and trust it, pity becomes the atmosphere in which we live... We are praying for help to forgive others, for we know we cannot do it without
3. To honor our parents, we will usually have to have pity on them, forgiving them...."People who are merciless, unable to pity others and receive pity, simply have a hard life full of unsolvable problems." (Some former members of our church spring to mind.)
4. Regarding those who cannot forgive themselves: "More often that not, these are people who refuse to live on the basis of pity. Their problem is not that they are hard on themselves, but that they are proud...They do not want to accept that they can only live on the basis of pity from others, that the good that comes to them is rarely "deserved"."

Request 5: "Don't put us to the test/bring us into temptation" is not just for "evasion of pain and of things we don't like"
1. "It expresses the understanding that we can't stand up under very much pressure... it is a vote of 'no confidence' in our own abilities."
2. "As the series of requests begins with the glorification of God, it ends with acknowledgement of the feebleness of human beings."
3. "As we attentively make this prayer a part of our constant bearing in life, we will see how God indeed does keep us from trials and delivers us from evil."  God's provision is not an elimination of trials and suffering, but a gift of totally unbroken care.
4. This request "is a revelation of a God who loves to spare his children and who will always do it upon request unless he has something better in mind, which he rarely does."

"This prayer is a foundation of the praying life, an enduring framework for all praying...a powerful lens through which one constantly sees the world as God himself sees it."

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Experiencing the Conspiracy

Sunday night I was so angry with Wonderful Husband that I couldn't speak, other than to be cordial and single-syllabicly responsive.  I went to bed angry and awoke angry.

In the early darkness of Monday I went to my office (Peet's Coffee Willow Glen), only to discover the doors wide open but with neither seats nor fixtures inside.  Remodeling.  (Did I recognize this punny divine clue? No.)  So I went to the next closest Peet's (on the Alameda) and ordered iced coffee.  I never drink iced coffee but I was hot and thirsty and wanted something cool and sweet. (Again with the puns, Lord? Do you think I'm that awake at 5 am, if ever?)

Sat down, opened Willard's "The Divine Conspiracy" and resumed reading.  In chapters 4 and 5, Willard uses Matthew 5-7 (aka the sermon on the mount) to illustrate Christ's Way of right living, ie kingdom living now.  He also completely demolishes common understandings of the purpose and meaning of these chapters -- that Jesus is giving laws or nice rules to go by, etc.  This is really a stunning pair of chapters, esp. 5. If you read nothing else of DC, read this.

I finish chapter 4 and remain angry. By now my anger has turned to fear, and the fear to speculation about proper and final responses.

Chapter 5 says, and I quote: Anger and contempt are the twin scourges of the earth. Mingled with greed and sexual lust, these bitter emotions form the poisonous brew in which human existence stands suspended.(150)

Convicted again.  But over the course of my reading, through Willard's firm and loving teaching of The Teacher's greatest speech, my heart opens and my guts unwind. Slowly light suffuses the world, inside Peet's, on The Alameda, in my view.  I love again, and return to sanity, hope, humor, and home.

It is a divine conspiracy, and Dallas Willard is in on it.

My notes and quotes are updated on Google Docs, within 60 pages of how far I've actually read.


It is a very good thing that thinking about the future of my church and discovering nifty tools and resources isn't a sabbatical sin.  How in the world can anyone not do that? My church is my home and one of my great passions.  Which is, I suppose, the point.