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January 2012

The Connected Self

Another excerpt was by Catherine Keller on the self and God.  She argues for a connective, relational-process view of the self which I found very refreshing.  Here are some excerpts:

What is the self-timing of connective selves?  They participate in spirals of becoming and perishing, of micromoments and of montly periods, of moon cycles and solar rounds, of daily and seasonal metamorpohosis.  The complex continuum--not the simple line--of a flow of events finally excludes no moment of human history nor any wriggle of worm or burst of star in its timing; through this continuum the groundswell of the past empowers the present.  The present self may adjust the tempo to its own desire, but first I meet these complex rhythms as an immanent choreography.  The cannot be evaded.  If, however, I move consciously with the wider dance of nature and history, I may find the knots of my personal compulsion, my patterns of mistiming, easing into an ampler grace.


For with every moment, the self becomes another.  It come to be a different self.  And if I can live with the light, butterfly continuity of soul, and the amassed, changing commune of body, forfeiting the rigid self-identities of the ego, I become not less but more responsible.  Rhythmically entraining with my world, I can respond to its desires.  I become ever more skillful in the space-time dance of self with other, of same with different, of here with there.  Freed realy to feel the others in their claims upon my future, I will need neither to tense up in defensive rebellion against their influence nor to comply in self-aborting imitation of their impulses.  Moving in synchronism with others, community is created and communication not only relays information but effects transformation.


As I flow into my next moment of self, I take place: I am a space-time event.


How far I have come cannot be counted in years and miles.  What counts is only the incalculable integrity of what I am becoming.

The Sin of Hiding

One of the excerpts in Creating Women's Theology was from Susan Nelson on the sin of hiding, which she says is the primary sin of women historically, not pride.  

A woman knows guilt for most of her life.  She is guilty if she is too assertive; she is guilty if she is too feminine and therefore seductive.  She is guilty if she is too brilliant, too articulate, too successful.  If she becomes pregnant, she is at falut.  If she chooses not to have children, she is guilty at best of denying her true femininity; at worst, of murder.  If her children are maladjusted, if they fail at school, get involved with drugs, or exhibit inappropriate behavior, it is her fault.  And, if her marriage fails, if her husband loses interest and chooses the attentions of another, it is because she has fallen short.

She continues:

Guilt, then, is directly related to the way in which a religion focuses on the nature of sin and to the way it then names and proclaims the forms of sin.

Reading this essay on Sunday, after having watched Winter's Bone, the two resonated together.  Rhee's offense of the cultural mores is that she will not remain silent.  She keeps asking questions.  She keeps invading spaces that she is not supposed to go.  One time another woman even asks, "Don't you have any men who can do this?"  

Rhee refuses to hide.  Rather, she actively works to create her self through decision and action.  She is an agent, a subject, and will not be made passive or an object.  

Winter's Bone

Sunday afternoon I watched Winter's Bone, and it exceeded all my already high expectations.

A powerful story, with mesmerizing characters, filled with suspense and dread, you are pulled into this world and fully captivated by it.  The writing, acting, directing, cinematography are all superb.  

It is a little old, so you've probably seen it, but if you haven't, you should.  It is the story of a 17-year-old girl in the Ozarks who is taking care of her family when the law informs her that her father had posted the house as bond and if he doesn't show for court, they will lose the house.  She then goes looking for him among the hill people to whom she is related, but who are private, violent people who don't like questions or the law.

I was struck immediately by the feeling that this was a real place and that these people were real, and that I grew up not far from people like this.  After watching the film my childhood accent emerged more strongly for the rest of the day -- something which always makes Michael laugh and mock me.

4 1/2 film reels
4 1/2 popcorn kernels 

Creating Women's Theology: A Movement Engaging Process Thought

Creating Women's Theology: A Movement Engaging Process ThoughtCreating Women's Theology: A Movement Engaging Process Thought by Monica A. Coleman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed this selection of writings ahead of a conference I am attending this week on the emergent church and process theology. Though this is a textbook, it was a nice introduction to some works which I have not read, some canonical, and which I might get and read in their entirety.

View all my reviews


Saturday evening Michael and I watched Bridesmaids finally.  He had wanted to see it in the movie theatre, but I didn't; I'm not a Kristen Wiig fan.

Bridesmaids Poster

Okay, I enjoyed the film far more than I expected I would.  It is filled with really funny lines and sequences that had me pausing and almost falling off the sofa.

However, just like her skits on SNL, I think many sequences went on too long and the entire film dragged out and became too cliche.  Some moments were pretty uncomfortable and awkward.

The cop was cute.

3 popcorn kernels
2 film reels 

Digital ministry made for the Mainline

I've felt this in my gut, and good to see writers confirming it.  Here is a good article/interview on the reformation of the church occuring through social networking.

Here's a great excerpt on the effect on ecclesiology:

I really do see that the digital culture is contributing to a new distributed ecclesiology.

Reformations correct excesses of a previous movement and help evolve the church in a direction truer to Christian roots. I’m a Protestant, so for me, the 16th-century Reformations made all kinds of improvements. But they also tended to participate in the modern movement toward separating and segregating people from each other, communities from each other and the church from the world.

The medieval cathedral was engaged in the world around it. After the Reformation, it became a component of a largely secularized society. The church was the box down the street where you did religion.

What social media has done is go back to that pre-modern ecclesiology of church and faith being embedded in everything we do. But it’s not driven from the top down. It’s driven from the bottom up. It’s not coincidental that the emergent church movement developed just as social media developed.

These aren’t accidents. We’re moving to a widely distributed ecclesiology where ordinary believers are sharing their faith and claiming religious authority in new ways, and that’s impacting the institutional church profoundly.

We’re realizing the priesthood of all believers in a powerful way that says, “Yes, there are people who do sacramental ministry, and that’s important. But there are other believers whose priesthood takes other forms, and they’re equally important.”


The Home of the Reuben Sandwich

The Reuben sandwich was not invented in New York, but at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, across the street from our church. The World Herald went on a search for the best Reuben in town, and settled on that at the Crescent Moon, down the street from us, a place we 1st Central folk eat all the time (though I generally don't get their Reuben, I don't like it as well as those I've had in other cities/restaurants, sorry).

At 1st Central we make Reuben sandwiches for the annual meeting every year, not only because the sandwich was created across the street, but to honour our founding pastor, Reuben Gaylord (the sandwich was not named for him).

Kauffman refutes the empiricist tradition

Or at least attempts to.  He writes, 

Without being and doingno knowing could have emerged in evolution. The empiricist tradition misses this central issue, thus is deeply inadequate.

You'll want to read the rest.  I think a process perspective already understands much of his criticism and can avoid it, and process is deeply empirical.

I did agree with his argument that there is no gap between is and ought, contra Hume:

A bacterium swimming up a glucose gradient for food is an agent, reproduces and the rotating flagella is just one of the work cycles the bacterium does. All living cells fulfill the above definition.

But once there is agencyought enters the universe. If the bacterium is to successfully get food, it "ought" to e.g., swim up the sugar gradient. Without attributing consciousness, one cannot have "actings" without "doing them wisely or poorly," hence ought.

In short, the empiricist tradition, in ignoring agency, wishes to block us from "ought," when we cannot have doing without "ought."


We’ve Never Seen Anything Like This

We've Never Seen Anything Like This

Mark 1:21 – 2:12

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

29 January 2012




"We've never seen anything like this." And, yet, stories like this recur. Such as in fifth century Ireland.

The early Celtic Christians fought slavery and intertribal warfare. They practiced virtues of hospitality, generosity, and peace and developed a distinct Christian tradition. There are many stories handed down about St. Patrick and the other early Celtic saints -- legends full of miracles and amazing signs and wonders. We are most familiar with the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, but all the early Celtic saints were known as healers and miracle workers. One of those was Saint Brigid. I am particularly fond of one story where she turns water into beer for thirsty priests and bishops.

In one of the stories told about St. Brigid, we read:


A certain woman brought some apples to the Saint, at which time there came some lepers to beg alms of her: the Saint dealt these apples among them. The Woman hearing it, [took] her apples away saying; I brought those apples for your self, and your virgins and not to be given to lepers; whereat the Saint being not a little offended, she answered: You have done very ill in hindering us to give alms, therefore your trees will never more produce any fruit. The woman going forth into her orchard, which she left full of apples, found none at all, and so it remained fruitless always after.


These sorts of legends are not limited to ancient Christianity. In the early 1700's in Africa a young woman, Kimpa Vita, received visions from the saints that led her to speak out against the colonial churches and governments. Much like Joan of Arc, when her movement against the colonial powers began to grow, Kimpa Vita was burned as a witch and a heretic. But she began a tradition of independent African Christian churches.

Twentieth century Africa saw many such movements arise, calling for independence and freedom from the colonial powers. In the teens of the last century, William Wade Harris, a Liberian, had a vision while in prison. In this vision, he was instructed by the archangel Gabriel to be a prophet. The angel told him to quit wearing Western clothes and to dress, instead, in traditional African clothing. Harris wore a white robe and turban, carried a bamboo cross, a Bible, and a gourd rattle. Barefoot, he traveled extensively in West Africa preaching Christianity. Unlike the missionary churches who viewed the traditional witchcraft with skepticism, he attacked it. Stories tell of "pagan shrines burst[ing] into flames as he approached." In just a few years, Harris had converted over 100,000 people. He taught that black and white should be equal, and his churches survive today, especially appealing to the poor. Harris should be known as one of the most important Christian leaders of the twentieth century.

On April 9, 1906 in Los Angeles, during a prayer meeting of the Azusa Street Mission, pastored by the Rev. William Seymour, one Edward Lee, a janitor, began to speak ecstatically during a time of prayer. He was experiencing glossolalia, or what is more commonly referred to as "speaking in tongues." The ecstatic experiences Lee had spread among the members of thesmall prayer group of "cooks, janitors, laborers, railroad porters, and washwomen." One historian has written,


At times they shouted their acclaim for all to hear, at other times an awesome hush descended. Some fell into trances for three, four, or even five hours. Unusual healings were reported. Clusters of people outside whispered reverently that God's power was falling again as in the book of Acts.


In just a few days, this group swelled to hundreds. It was the birth of the Pentecostal Movement. Richard Foster, the Quaker minister, records this story in his book Streams of Living Water. He writes,


A surge of interest brought huge crowds from virtually every race, nationality, and social class to Seymour's congregation. . . . The inside of the building overflowed with perhaps eight hundred persons, while four to five hundred more stood on the board sidewalk outside, squeezing together at the windows and doors in an attempt to see inside. These meetings continued unabated for three years. The miracle Seymour had been seeking happened: by the power of the Spirit, a revolutionary new type of Christian community was born . . . "The 'color line' was washed away in the blood."


As Forster tells it, the miracle of Azusa Street was not the signs and wonders that occurred, but the new kind of Christian community that was born. The Rev. William Seymour preached the power of speaking in unknown tongues because Seymour understood that this spiritual practice would break down racial barriers. His reading of Acts 2 is that on the historical day of Pentecost, in ancient Jerusalem, once the gift of tongues had appeared, reconciliation occurred among the races.

Seymour taught that this spiritual gift could not be held exclusively for one group of persons. God's Spirit could come upon anyone in a moment of ecstasy. The movement began among the poor, but soon included the educated and well-to-do. All the races mixed together. And women had prominent leadership roles, long before they did in most progressive or liberal denominations. Seymour stressed that the purpose of this new outpouring of the spirit was the creation of "one common family" united in love.


When Jesus exorcises the demon the Gospel of Mark tells us, "They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, 'What is this? A new teaching – with authority!" When the paralytic is healed, the Gospel tells us "they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!'" The crowds around Jesus, early in his ministry, were just as shocked by healings and exorcisms as you and I might be if we were to witness them.

The stories of signs and wonders are incredible – they always have been so. And they also recur in Christian history, far more examples could be cited than those stories I've shared today. Rather than debating historical and scientific accuracy of these accounts, let's surrender ourselves to the stories themselves and ask the question "What truth do these signs and wonders point toward?"

Richard Foster writes that the signs and wonders show us that God is at work someplace where we don't expect God to be. The signs and wonders are themselves not the point of any of these stories. Instead, the signs and wonder point to something greater, an important message. Which is exactly what "signs and wonders" are supposed to do -- they get our attention and direct us to the message.

So, what is the more important message behind stories like these? In every instance I've cited, the signs and wonders point toward God's reign and its message of liberation, compassion, and inclusion. They challenge the oppressive and exclusive systems of the powers-that-be and open us space for a new community. The story of St. Brigid is one of breaking down barriers of uncleanliness and inviting the outcasts into society. The stories of Kimpa Vita and William Wade Harris are about a great revival that included messages of freedom and liberation to oppressed peoples that challenged empires. The initial significance of the Pentecostal movement was the creation of an inclusive community that broke down barriers of race, gender, and class and claimed that anyone could be gifted to speak by the Holy Spirit. It is one reason that the United Church of Christ has gained a significant number of progressive Pentecostal churches in the last decade or so – they share our vision of an inclusive, welcoming community.


Something similar is also happening in the stories of Jesus. The primary plot of the Gospel of Mark is that that heavens have ripped open and God's spirit has been set loose upon the earth and that something radically new and wonderful is happening. In these acts of healing, Jesus, filled with the spirit, is doing that radically new thing.

Jesus isn't healing people and casting out demons just to heal people and cast out demons. Jesus, filled with the Spirit of God, is assaulting the oppressive powers of his day. He is breaking down barriers and including people who had previously been excluded. The mentally ill, the disabled, the diseased, the unclean -- they are people of worth; they are sacred and holy; they have access to God's free spirit. Through these miracles, Jesus is forming a new kind of human community that will include all people.

Remember that in first century Palestine, those who suffered from illness were considered unclean and were cast off from the rest of society. Lepers were ostracized from the towns. The mentally ill wandered alone on the fringes of civilization. The disabled didn't have full access to life. Even temporary illnesses could make one unclean and therefore unworthy to engage in sacred rituals or even unable to go out in public. In some instances, it was considered sinful for a healthy person even to touch a sick person. The culture and religion of the day claimed that you become holy by separating yourself from unclean things.

But Jesus aggressively broke down those barriers and invaded the spaces that separated people. Holiness, according to Jesus, wasn't a matter of separating yourself from the unclean. For Jesus, holiness involves living in solidarity with the excluded and actively working to spread wholeness and well-being.


We still ostracize people because of illness and disability. We continue to deny people full access to civilization, and we even consider some people too unclean or unnatural to associate with.

Jesus has put us on notice in the same way that he put his culture on notice. When we exclude people or treat them as unclean, we are acting contrary to the will of God.

Watch out! God's wild, free spirit, is at loose upon the earth, and things, they are a-changin'. Sometimes way too slowly, but they are changing. A story like this one in Mark will work its power, and one day, we will participate in the beloved community that God created us for.


When Jesus performs these signs and wonders, the people are astonished because they've never seen anything like this. Their eyes are opened, and they see who Jesus is, and what he is doing.

May we have our eyes opened, to see God's new work in the world. May our prejudices be revealed. Our barriers broken down. So that God's inclusive community might be created in our midst. And that will be the greatest wonder of them all.