They sought to soar into the skies
hose classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
?But you came down.
You dropped down from the mountains sheer
forsook the eagle for the dove
The other Gods demanded fear
But you gave love
Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze
their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought you to your knees
Your blood was warm
They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead
They towered above our mortal plain,
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain,
?But you were born.
Born to these burdens, borne by all
born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
?And strong to save.
A friend of mine has begun to attend a small new church plant, led by a young man who has been ordained through an independent and charismatic revivalist network. This young man, and a few other speakers that have visited the church plant, have talked about God’s divine judgment upon individuals who are not in submission to the Lord’s word or plan. They have shared that they believe the Lord is bringing back divine judgment as a means to discipline the church, as in the NT story of Ananias and Sapphira.
As part of this attempt to establish very clear (and rigid) authority – in the face of, let’s admit – a deep and destructive individualism – they are sharing testimonies of how individuals in the flock have been bitter or angry with the ‘sent one’ or ‘set man.’ And then illness, trouble, even death have fallen upon the individual not in submission. However, when the “apostle” prayed for restoration after repentance, the illness was healed. One example offered was a pastor whose estranged daughter was led into rebellion to his church. The couple began speaking against the father (pastor) and the church. After attempts at discipline (not sure what these were or how it was handled) the Pastor had to ‘turn them over’. Within several weeks his daughter was dead of a mysterious illness.
As you read this I’m sure the alarm bells are ringing!
But what about the Ananias and Saphira story?
How do we establish biblical authority in our day, when the center seems not to hold? And where or in whom does it reside?
Is divine judgment like this to be expected or sought in our day? If so, who administers it and under what conditions?
Interesting, my friend, who has a teaching gift, remarks that he did not like the presentation by the two speakers. Neither were teachers. Both used anecdotal experiences and only shared a few passages from scripture. It was as though the speakers were relying upon the ‘prophetic’ gift, and they did not spend quality time in opening up the scriptures.
Linda Cannell’s article closes Part IV of Life in the Spirit (IVP, 2010) with, “Theology, Spiritual Formation and Theological Education.” Her essay has some interesting connections to the arguments James Smith makes in Desiring the Kingdom, esp his closing chapter, “A Christian University is for Lovers.” (Or more recently his boiled down version “We Are What We Love”)
In the second part of her article Linda notes four factors that constitute a threat matrix to holistic theological schooling. Taken together they have profound implications for the future of the seminary and the church. There are four, and she spends one or two pages on each. I’ll list them here then provided an extended quote from the fourth.
* The Rise of institutions
* The Rise of academic theology and academic rationalism
* The Rise of professionalism in higher education
* How the church and academy have understood and fostered the desire to know God Read the rest of this entry »
In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us! Malcolm writes,
“Of all the mystic titles of Christ, this is the one that connects most closely with our ‘secular’ psychology. We speak of the need on the one hand for ‘closure’ and on the other for ‘unlocking’, for ‘opening’, for ’liberation’. The same ideas are also there in the lines from O Come O Come Emmanuel that are drawn from this antiphon, which could easily be part of anybody’s work in good therapy:
“Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.”
“I see this antiphon, and the sonnet I wrote in response to it, as the ‘before’ picture that precedes the beautiful fifth antiphon O Oriens about Christ as the Dayspring. When l wrote this sonnet I found that I had at last written something clear about my own experience of depression. I hope that others who have been in that darkness will find it helpful.”
Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.
Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons (London: Canterbury Press, 2012)
When everything that can be shaken is being shaken, we look to traditional authority structures and authority figures to pull us through. Unfortunately, traditional authority is not up to the task. Frequently they are isolated in mini-worlds that have insulated and protected them from change. They have stopped “listening.” In other cases, they defend the status quo in order to protect their own interests.
Yet we need leadership. Where do we find it? In two places.
1. Among the ordinary, yet gifted and called people, who are following Christ. But these are not normally episcopal figures. Bonhoeffer writes that, “The desire we so often hear today for ‘episcopal figures’ .. springs from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men.. because the genuine authority of service appears so unimpressive.” (109) And later he writes, “The question of trust.. is determined by faithfulness to the service of Jesus Christ.. never by the extraordinary talents [one] possesses. Pastoral authority is attained only.. by the brother among brothers.” (Life Together) A friend of mine put it like this: “Never give anyone authority over you who has not washed your feet.”
2. In a communitas of leaders: an order of people dedicated to the kingdom and to God’s mission.
Having spent a week among two faculty and a group of students from Tyndale Seminary, I believe the key to the growth and vitality of this organization is that a communitas of leaders has been created. Tyndale has found a way to actualize a proposal made by Alan Roxburgh some years ago.
At the end of The Sky is Falling, Alan Roxburgh proposes a communitas of missional leaders. A communitas is a creative commons, but with shared purpose and discipline. Roxburgh outlines the reasons why we need a communitas of leaders.
“The potential of communitas is for something innovative to emerge across the differences that have characterized the last several decades. Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for leaders on both sides of the polarity to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other.” (111) Read the rest of this entry »
In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us!
The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.
These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.
Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Malcolm writes,
“The third Advent antiphon, O Radix, calls on Christ as the root, an image I find particularly compelling and helpful. The collect is referring to the image of he ‘tree of Jesse the family tree which leads to David, and ultimately to Christ as the ‘son of David, but for me the title radix, goes deeper, as a good root should. It goes deep down into the ground of our being, the good soil of creation. God in Christ, is I believe, the root of all goodness, wherever it is found and in whatsoever culture, or with whatever names it fruits and flowers, a sound tree cannot bear bad fruit said Christ, who also said, I am the vine, you are the branches.”
All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.
This sonnet based on the third O Antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.
Always pain before a child is born
Why the dark before the dawn? – U2
Few of us are very good at waiting..
We wait in a thousand ways… We wait in an airport for a plane that is delayed. We wait in a dentist’s office for our turn in the chair.. We wait in the line up at The Bay or Circuit City for that gift for a friend. We wait ..
And we wait for those transitions that are too slow in coming: the end of a job that is outworn, and the beginning of a new one that lies nearer to our passion. Perhaps we wait for something even more basic: we wait for health, the end of a prolonged illness. Or we wait for the good news that the child of a son, daughter or friend is born healthy.
We wait in a thousand ways, like we wait for the birth of a new world. Or perhaps we wait for the fulfillment of a promise made many years ago; we wait for a world of justice, peace, and light that seems so slow in coming.
It isn’t easy, because in our “now” culture of instant gratification, waiting is a lost art. Waiting as sacred space has been lost as we have lost our sense of rhythm, and found a way to cheat seasons, cheat aging, and streamline nearly everything into rational patterns of efficiency. The only ones in touch with rhythm are those who have learned to pray, or those who live by the sea, or perhaps women, who still know rhythm in their bodies and in the waiting for birth.
But if we have lost the ability to wait, what do we do with hope? For nearly four hundred years the Jews waited for the Messiah, but when he arrived, all but a few missed him. They had learned to occupy their time so well, that they had lost the ability to perceive difference. They had their system rationalized down to the smallest detail; nothing escaped their notice. Nothing.. yet everything.
While we wait we live in between the times. That is a sacred space when we wait in hope. And when we wait in hope we are formed and transformed by waiting. Hope shapes us into a faithful people, looking to a future we have not yet seen but we trust will arrive in good time. As Dame Julian put it,
“All will be well —
and all manner of thing shall be well..”
See also Hope and Memory in a Place of Exile
O Come O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel..
This prayer is still ours as we wait for the return of Jesus. We are God’s people in exile, a broken people, at some times worshipping the true God, at other times worshipping an image of godness, self-created, a dead idol that will not confront our compromise. Walter Brueggemann writes,
“As I reflect on ministry, and especially on my ministry, I know in the hidden places that the real restraints are not in my understanding or in the receptivity of other people. Rather, the restraints come from my own unsureness about this perception… I, like most of the others, am unsure that the alternative community inclusive of the poor, hungry and grieving is really the wave of God’s future. We are indeed “like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9). That is likely the situation of many of us in ministry, and there is no way out of it. It does make clear to us that our ministry will always be practiced through our own conflicted selves…
“We ourselves shall move in and out [of certainty, of our convictions about the nature of the kingdom of God and His body, our awareness of what God is doing] precisely because of our poor capacity to grieve the death in our own lives and so be amazed at the new futures. We are not more skilled in that than all the other children of the compromised community, and therefore we must engage in the same painful practices of becoming who we are called to be. I have come to think that there is no more succinct summary of prophetic ministry than the statement of Jesus: “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21), or “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4).
It strikes me that the grief that we avoid, as we face the realities of a dying world and a powerless church, is truly paralyzing. It is part of the experience of lostness, our inability to generate adequate answers or solutions for the need, and thus part of the liminality the Lord invites us into. Accept the invitation — but don’t go there alone! Grief is one of the preconditions to the newness the Lord will one day bring.