The Self

Today as I was driving back from Fremont, Nebraska, where I delivered cleaning supplies donated by our church members for flood relief, I was listening to the TED Radio Hour and its discussion of time.  This segment on the self with Dan Gilbert was very interesting, especially as it resonates with a view of the self promulgated by philosopher David Hume which I teach in intro.  I think I'll use this excerpt from now on when explaining that idea.

The NPR website's description of the segment should spark your interest:

Psychologist Dan Gilbert shares research on what he calls the "end of history illusion," where we think the person we are right now is the person we'll be for the rest of time. Hint: that's not the case.


The Golan Heights

Yesterday one of my friends sent me a link when Donald Trump announced that the United States was recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  When I messaged back, "I probably agree with him on this point. Does that surprise you?" He responded "Yes. More than a bit...explain."

In December of 1993, I visited the Golan Heights as part of a university tour/class.  We were staying in a kibbutz on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee for a few days in order to tour sites around the lake and in the northern part of the country.  One day I drive took us along the eastern shore of the lake and up into the heights.  We stopped at what had once been Syrian artillery emplacements.  From this location you could see the Syrian border to the east and also Israeli military installations along the border, which we were cautioned not to photograph.

But it was standing in those artillery emplacements, which overlooked the entire region of the Galilee, that I realized Israel never would, nor could it, surrender the Golan Heights to an antagonistic Syria.

Of course I had hoped such a determination would be made as part of some regional peace treaty.  Both Jim Baker and Warren Christopher (gifted diplomats) spent incredible effort trying to negotiate with Hafez Assad, to no avail. And no peace treaty is within sight.

Finally, we do not recognize the current Syrian government as legitimate; they have abdicated their role, so it is the perfect time to, in essence, punish the Assad regime by providing support for the loss of their territory.


Grounds of Natural Philosophy

Grounds Of Natural PhilosophyGrounds Of Natural Philosophy by Margaret Cavendish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book almost twenty years ago when I was teaching at course at the University of Oklahoma An Exploration of the History of Women in Philosophy. Each year senior grad students could apply to teach a course of their own design, and my final year of grad teaching I was accepted to teach this course I created. One of my goals in teaching such a course was compelling my own research into female philosophers so that I might enrich my own understanding in order to develop better courses for the future that would include the voices of women, something I believe I've been better about in my subsequent teaching.

I encountered Margaret Cavendish first in an excerpt in Margaret Atherton's Women in Early Modern Philosophy (a textbook for my course) and was able to discover that this major work of hers had been republished. I read it at the time with much interest, in particular noting the ways that her materialism anticipated the physicalisms I was drawn to, as it was reductive. I felt she had some affinities with process thought.

In re-reading this time around, I didn't encounter anything really new that jumped out to me, but it was good to refresh my acquaintance with this work, as Cavendish is someone I reference in my intro course.

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Our Love

Our Love

Luke 6:27-38

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

24 February 2019

 

 

            This Epiphany Season we have explored what it means for us to be Children of God.  When we are baptized, we are marked by God in a special way, as we commit ourselves to follow Jesus.  What are the implications for our identity and our ethics? 

            One implication we have explored is that we must live an ethic of “covenantal neighborliness,” to use Walter Brueggemann’s term.  Here in today’s passage, part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, we get the most radical edge of Jesus’ message.  We are called to view even our enemies as neighbors.

            Hear now this sermon of Jesus, from the Gospel of Luke:

 

            Luke 6:27-38

 

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Heavenly Parent is merciful.

 

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

 

For the Word of God in scripture,

For the Word of God among us,

For the Word of God within us,

Thanks be to God.

 

 

            “As if the Beatitudes were not radical enough, the sermon now pushes vulnerability to fresh extremes,” writes Brendan Byrne in his commentary on this passage.  Jesus wants us to love our enemies.  What can that possibly mean, and how can we possibly do it?

            Byrne writes that Jesus wants us to respond to “injury or unreasonable demand with nothing but generosity and the abandonment of all claim to retribution or restitution.”

            This is clearly a very different way of living than our contemporary American culture teaches us.  No revenge.  No getting even.  No carrying hatred or bitterness.  But generosity, vulnerability, and love.

            Now Brendan Byrne wants to let us off the hook a little bit.  He admits that Jesus is speaking in exaggeration: “[Jesus] is not laying down maxims to be followed literally,” Byrne writes.  Rather, Jesus wants us to aim at being “as extravagantly generous as possible.”  Even to the degree that others think we are foolish.

 

            I’ve talked before about our attitudes to the vulnerability of the human condition.  One way we often respond is to try to control every situation in order to minimize our vulnerability.  The theologian Elizabeth Gandolfo writes very critically against this attitude in her book The Power and Vulnerability of Love.  There she identifies privilege as one of the ways we try to minimize our vulnerability.

            Two weeks ago we heard Lawrence Richardson preach about joy from the margins.  We heard from someone who did not grow up with privilege.  He grew up African-American in a predominately white neighborhood.  His parents were impoverished teenagers with mental illness.  As a child he experienced neglect, homelessness, physical and sexual abuse. 

            And yet he stood before us a successful minister filled with joy.  He couldn’t escape the vulnerabilities of his human condition.  Instead he has embraced them and grown stronger, more joyful.

            Those of us with more privilege have socially acceptable ways to minimize our vulnerability and try to ignore it or control it.  Elizabeth Gandolfo writes, “Privilege is the produce of human anxiety over vulnerability; it is a collective attempt to alleviate anxiety through control of vulnerability.” 

Our privileges help to buffer us from the risks of human life, but the problem is that the way privilege generally works in this society is that some have it and others do not.  The underprivileged are then harmed by denial of resources or access to power and influence, and thereby they suffer even more. Gandolfo writes that privilege, then, ends up causing more suffering and enacting greater harm.

So, instead, Jesus wants to cultivate an ethic of neighborliness, of generosity, of vulnerability.  But how do we do it?  How do we follow Jesus in ways that are healthy?

 

            Recently I read a fascinating book Light in the Dark by Gloria Anzaldua.  I wrote my column in the newsletter about it a few weeks ago.

            Anzaldua was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory.  Light in the Dark is a discussion of how we put ourselves together again after we’ve been broken apart by trauma. 

            She wrote, “We are all wounded, but we can connect through the wound that’s alienated us from others.”  I believe this wisdom helps us to understand how we follow Jesus into an ethics of vulnerability and generosity that loves even our enemies.

            Anzaldua drew upon an Aztec myth of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui.  In that myth Coyolxauhui is dismembered and then restored.  The myth resonates with the story of Jesus—wounded by the crucifixion and carrying those wounds into his resurrected and glorified body. 

 

From the Aztec myth, Anzaldua developed what she called “The Coyolxauhqui Imperative” which is “the act of calling back those pieces of the self/soul that have been dispersed or lost, the act of mourning the losses that haunt us.”  In other words, how we put ourselves back together again after we have suffered.

            She continued,

 

The Coyolxauhqui imperative is to heal and achieve integration.  When fragmentations occur, you fall apart and feel as though you’ve been expelled from paradise. . . .    Coyolxauhqui is also my symbol for reconstruction and reframing, one that allows for putting the pieces together in a new way.  The Coyolxauhqui imperative is an ongoing process of making and unmaking.  There is never any resolution, just the process of healing.

 

            For Anzaldua, after wounding we enter an in-between space.  We’ve been unmade and haven’t yet remade ourselves.  She called this in-between space nepantla from a Nahuatl word.  It is the site of imagination and the possibility of transformation, for, she wrote, “We can transform our world by imagining it differently.”

            When we are in this in-between space, we are able to get in touch with our shadow sides.  She wrote, “Our collective shadow—made up of the destructive aspects, psychic wounds, and splits in our own culture—is aroused, and we are forced to confront it.  In trying to make sense of what’s happening, some of us come into deep awareness of political and spiritual situations and the unconscious mechanisms that abet hate, intolerance, and discord.”

            In other words, after we are wounded, we are able to see the shadow sides of human nature—ours and everyone else’s.  This vision enables a new imagination, to see the world in a different way.

            I also believe this vision enables us to understand our enemies differently.  We see their vulnerability, their woundedness.  We understand better what we share in common.  Anzaldua encourages us to learn from our experiences of trauma and to turn those experiences into the creative powers necessary to lead ourselves and others into a new and better world.

 

            When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he isn’t calling for us to ignore their violation of our dignity.  No, he is calling for us to recognize even theirs.  He is calling for us to find solidarity in our vulnerability, and to then turn that realization toward imagining, that ultimately works to create a better world.  A world where violations of our dignity are less likely to happen.

            Jesus calls us to a radical love, that is inclusive, expansive, generous, neighborly, and vulnerable.  A love that treats everyone with dignity.

            Let this become our love, for we are children of God.


The Member of the Wedding

The Member of the WeddingThe Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I admired most about this novel was the way McCullers evoked a setting. You are drawn into the small world she creates for her characters in this story of adolescent angst at small town living. The characters, the scene, the atmosphere, the inner moods, all are richly developed. And while not much happens plot-wise, what does unfolds carefully and with more attention to emotion than detailed events.

I was left puzzling over how this compares and contrast to To Till a Mockingbird as story of a white girl growing up in a small town in the segregated South. This is probably the more realistic sort of story.

Another interesting sub-theme is the exploration of gender non-conformity, which I wasn't expecting in the novel.

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Rebecca

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I devoured this book, fully caught up in the characters and story and the storytelling, despite having seen the film. This is one of those books that leaves me mesmerized at the author's ability to imagine characters and then fully portray them in sentences. Du Maurier also richly describes her settings. And the storytelling is mesmerizing, as you don't fully like or trust your narrator.

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Transforming

Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender ChristiansTransforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians by Austen Hartke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good introductory text to biblical and theological issues of trans inclusion. I particularly liked the way he structured the book with each chapter exploring a topic through the lens of the personal story of a trans person of faith. Hartke is a good writer; we can look forward to his future projects.

I also liked the point made in his 11th chapter, "Life beyond Apologetics." One of the annoyances I encountered first in writing and then later in publishing my recent memoir was the pressure for the book be yet another text explaining how it is okay to be gay and be a Christian. I keep insisting that many versions of that book are available, and I wasn't writing that book. I like Hartke's way of describing this as "life beyond apologetics." I'm not trying to defend myself or explain that it's okay to be me, I'm simply telling my own story.

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Our Discipleship

Our Discipleship

Luke 5:1-11

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

10 February 2019

 

 

            In his commentary, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, the Jesuit scholar Brendan Byrne writes about this story that, “The context of the call is humanity thirsting for life.  The disciples are to become Jesus’ apprentices in the project of drawing people to the hospitality of God.”

            We are disciples of Jesus—those who follow on the Way.  And that Way is about extending God’s hospitality to all people, because all people are thirsting for abundant life.

            Byrne continues, “The call communicates the sense of ‘capturing’ people with the word and bringing them to the more abundant life of the kingdom of God.”

            So, we fulfill our call when we bring more people into God’s abundant life.

 

            This Epiphany season we are exploring the implications of our baptisms upon our identity and our ethics.  Back in 1982 an international, ecumenical gathering of the World Council of Churches meeting in Lima, Peru adopted the statement Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, which was later approved by many different denominations, including our own, as an expression of our shared understanding.

            In the section on baptism, there is a description of the “life-long growth into Christ” that should be true for all Christians.  Here’s what the document says:

 

As they grow in the Christian life of faith, baptized believers demonstrate that humanity can be regenerated and liberated. They have a common responsibility, here and now, to bear witness together to the Gospel of Christ, the Liberator of all human beings. . . . . baptism, as a baptism into Christ’s death, has ethical implications which not only call for personal sanctification, but also motivate Christians to strive for the realization of the will of God in all realms of life.

 

            As followers of Jesus, our commitment is to continue to grow in faith to become more like Jesus.  And we do that by sharing in our common responsibility to participate in the liberation of humanity.  Our spiritual growth is not simply about the improvement of our own character, but our responsibility to manifest the way of God in all areas of our lives. 

 

            So on the lakeshore that day, Jesus was boldly calling Simon Peter, James and John to a mission of high responsibility.  Maybe that’s why Simon initially asks Jesus to go away.  Simon realizes the power and authority of Jesus, but isn’t sure that he wants this call on his life.

            And in that way, Simon Peter is pretty similar to most figures in the Biblical story who receive a call from God.  They initially try to get out of it.  Usually by stating their own inferiority for the task. 

            Yet, maybe this self-realization is an essential part of the call?

            In his commentary Brendan Byrne writes that it is “just at this moment of painful self-knowledge and truth that the commission comes.”  Only when Simon has realized his own “unworthiness and weakness” does Jesus call him.

            Byrne concludes his commentary on this story by saying, “Only those who have plumbed their personal fragility in the context of God’s generosity are apt for leadership in the community that celebrates the hospitality of God.”

            Those who are called examine themselves, realize their vulnerability, embrace it openly, and then offer themselves for service on behalf of humanity.

            Yes, this special mark upon us by Jesus comes with high responsibility.

 

            Next Sunday our guest preacher and forum presenter is Lawrence T. Richardson who pastors Linden Hills United Church of Christ in Minneapolis.  Katie and I heard Lawrence speak last October in Des Moines at the annual meeting of the Iowa Conference.  We were both impressed by him and found his story to be moving.

            Lawrence has written a memoir entitled I Know What Heaven Looks Like: A Modern Day Coming of Age Story.  I finished the book this week.  Some of the passages were very difficult to read, because Lawrence had a harrowing childhood, affected by poverty, neglect, and abuse.

            But his story is one of healing and overcoming obstacles, precisely because of his faith and his experience of God.

            Early in the book he is the victim of abuse and is rescued by his paternal grandmother who brings him to church.  This is a black church with an altar call and in that moment, he feels the urge to run down the aisle and throw himself upon the altar, where he breaks down crying.  The pastor came to him and resting his hand upon Lawrence’s head said, “God sees your pain.  I speak healing over you in the name of Jesus.”

            Lawrence writes that it was this moment where he felt church as a place that could bring him peace.  He felt closer to God than ever.  And so he whispered, “I’m yours God, please take me.”  This was his call.

           

            That day, after worship, driving home with his grandmother, he asked her, “Granny, what happened to me on the altar today?  Why couldn’t I stop crying—I didn’t feel sad?”

            She responded, “You caught the Holy Spirit.”

            Lawrence then asked, “How did I catch the Holy Spirit?”

            Grandma then gave a little theology lesson, which shows some profundity on her part.  “God is everywhere.  But sometimes, if enough good energy—or what I like to call God-energy—is jumbled up in one place, you feel God so powerful that you can’t contain yourself.  Some people sing, some people cry, some people dance, some people create—we all do different things when we catch the Spirit.”

            Young Lawrence then asked, “How do we hold on to the Spirit once we catch it, so we don’t lose it?”

            He writes that his grandma began to laugh as she said, “Baby, you don’t hold the Spirit, the Spirit holds you.  You can’t control when or how the Spirit moves, but you can nurture the good that’s inside of you so that you’re always able to recognize the Spirit when it comes.”

 

            God wants to grab onto each of us, like both the fish and the fishermen in the Gospel of Luke and like Lawrence in his story. God wants us because God wants to give us a more abundant life.  The call to that abundant life begins in self-realization and leads us outward into service to others.  We receive the high responsibility of being agents of God’s hospitality, bringing even more people into abundant life.

            Let the Spirit grab hold of us today.