Remember?

Jeff Munroe considers the ways of memory and forgetfulness at The Twelve. Over against our forgetfulness, is God’s remembering. As he concludes:

Our value in this hyper-cognitive world doesn’t come because we remember, but because we are remembered. Certainly we hope in a material way our families remember us as we age. More than that, Christian hope is in God’s memory. The scripture says “God remembered Noah,” “God remembered Abraham,” “God remembered Rachel,” and “God remembered Hannah.” He remembers you and me, too. We are remembered. Therefore, we are.

This leaves me wondering. To nudge Jeff, is this really Christian hope?  After all, when Scripture speaks of God remembering it often comes in response to the fear that somehow God has forgotten, that we are left alone, stuck in our exile, our oppression, or in the prison of of our own bodily weakness. Remembrance comes with an act, God delivers. Christian hope does not lie in the idea that God remembers, but that God has remembered and come to us as Savior (cf. Luke 1.54). In the wake of that, we are called to remember, to make memorial; the sign that God has remembered us is the Feast. And there, no one is forgotten.

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Holy Saturday

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Deb Rienstra points to the physical practice of getting ready, for this time of dormancy, a non-time if you will. Along with many good liturgical ideas she suggests

If you are a gardener, today is a good day to perform an early spring task that prepares for new life.

Ah gardening

It’s certainly something of a odd paradox, that while Christ is in the tomb, buried in death, we are in the garden stripping dead leaves out, cleaning. And for what? The red knob of the rhubarb knows; the practical first tulip pokes through with a hooded glance as if to say, “soon there will be more;” overhead the robin also sings of days to come. We work through the yard, front to back, raking, scraping, removing, filling bags with the debris and old leaves. All this will be taken away, but for now we can only take off, waiting to see what will be.

Flat Earth?

Over at The Twelve, Joshua Vis keeps exploring the theme of Lent but not Easter. That is, we all have a tendency to read Easter back into the story, to think of Easter as a miracle that does not really touch our lives. (Put another way, even the resurrected Lazarus still dies — miracles are not forever). Here is how addresses the issue:

The message of the triumphal entry is that we should reject the idea of a fantastical and mercurial God who occasionally breaks into our world to save someone from pain and suffering. Likewise, the cross says “no” to that version of God. Instead it asks us to find the courage to hope in each other, in our acts of love, mercy, and kindness toward one another—not because God has abandoned us, but because God has empowered us.

God urges us to choose to love one another. God will not be experienced through miraculous interventions. Rather, God will be experienced through acts of justice, graciousness, kindness, mercy, and love.

On level, he’s right, God is not experienced through miraculous interventions, but seen another way, the experience of knowing God does leave open the possibility of the miraculous. While the narratives of rationalism (per Hume) or of apophatic theology want to rule out divine intervention, the people of God have also held other narratives where God in-breaks, and where that in-breaking is known. Vis only gets to his position by starting with an assumption about what narratives are to be listened to.

The embodied life of faith knows that the universe has a surplus of meaning, that there is more to our lives than our own particular frame. “Miracle” is one of the ways that this reality gets proclaimed, that “justice,” “mercy” and “love” are in fact possibilities for people generally and not simply for our kindred. Indeed, justice requires an open universe, one larger than the imagination of the status quo, for only in that universe can forgiveness be shared and the wrongs be restored.

So today, on Palm Sunday, the Triumphant Entry is not so much a hope of cheap grace, but a prophetic act, a pointing away from the Palace and the Temple to the purposes of God. There is another story being written, a good story: God’s purpose for us and for our communities is not played out.

 

Abortion and the Rise of the Religious Right

Allison Vander Broek picks at one of the puzzles of the Christian Right, viz. it’s relation to the anti-abortion movement. Did the Christian Right really arise as a reaction to Roe v. Wade, as the common internal narrative would have it? Or should we follow along after Randall Balmer, and think of the Christian Right as emerging out of the reaction to the civil rights movement, and particularly the emergence of the white Christian schools? Vander Broek notes the absence of evangelical engagement on the question of abortion (something Balmer does as well) and proceeds to ask a couple of questions,

Why did evangelical leaders create and perpetuate the narrative that abortion is what spurred them to political activism? … Why might American evangelicals craft an origin story that’s so off base from reality?… Could it be that it’s a much more heroic tale that evangelicals got into politics to defend babies rather than to oppose desegregation?

Vander Broek decides that the racism narrative is the dominant one, the secret sin of evangelicals. This may be a case of reading our history through lens of the present: the Christian Right drew from several streams.

What Balmer omits is the role of Orange County, where the children of the Okies took on Northern California elites, waging war over several cultural issues, while holding to a virulent anti-communist ethos. This was a movement grounded in the sociology of the sunbelt suburbia, whose issues were not schools but the cultivation of American values. In their emergent mega churches they shaped a politicized faith that elected Ronald Reagan to the governors mansion. Their rise and impact is nicely document in Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to the Sun Belt (Norton: 2010); the flavor of the movement can be caught in None Dare Call It Treason.

A second stream that plays an important role in the evangelical church and in national politics are those immigrant churches of the Upper Midwest. These were organically Republican communities that also incorporated a high degree of religious motivation to their politics. Social issues were important, but often with a slightly more communitarian shape; and while there was a caution about racial issues particularly in urban areas, nonetheless the community maintained an openness to civil rights. These were the churches that self-defined as evangelical and not fundamentalist, a community that maintained numerous academic institutions: Bethel, Calvin, Trinity Evangelical, Wheaton, and others.

And then there are is the southern revivalist stream that Vander Broek and Balmer identify, whose life was shaped by the reaction to the civil rights movement. Even this has a deep root. The southern revivalistic church was a populist phenomena, with the weight of that racial narrative; it shared the rejection of the post Civil War centralized state. This is the seedbed of Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and the nascent Moral Majority.

The genius of the Paul Weyrich was to find the issue that took these three regional movements and organized them to a common political purpose. As Balmer relates

“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

This new movement would indeed become powerful, but not all at once. It’s politics grew not only from political strategy but for a host of cultural reasons. It was the long march of a generation, a topic for the next time.

 

Lenten Gaps

Jeff Munroe explores the gap between leadership and followers:

What fascinates me instead is the gap that I believe the administration initially stumbled over – the gap between what the church teaches on the one hand and the actual belief and behavior of most Catholics on the other. I’ve been wondering if there are similar situations in the RCA and CRC, wondering what gulfs exist between official church policy and the actual beliefs and behavior of the majority.

And asks,

What gaps do you see between what we officially say and what we actually do?  How do you account for these gaps?

 Jason Lief  brings an interesting response

I love the gap. I think we should embrace the gap. I prefer to call it the “wink.” As we announce the ideals upon which we stand we give a little wink and a smile. The beauty of lived reality is that the gap exists in every area of life. What we’re “supposed” to do and what we actually do is a beautiful dance of generosity and grace. This is not hypocricy – it’s the recognition that life cannot be lived in the realm of lofty ideals. This is the gospel – maybe we should interpet the incarnation as the divine “wink and a smile”?

Call it a gap or a wink, but there is also something Lenten about this. Lent’s focus on recovery through discipline speaks to the lack of integrity in our lives, corporately and individually. We’re always saying two things. Or three. In this, the mix-up on contraception shadows our own mixed-up lives, the desire to do right mixed with the desire to establish ourselves a little better; likewise, there’s leadership on one side, the pew wandering in its own way. Or perhaps it’s like the sweets we put away Tuesday, the gooey music that’s so much fun and can fill a mouth with joy, but we know it really isn’t that good for us. Yet.

Maybe.

So here comes Lent with its challenge to die, and in so doing to catch a glimpse of what it can mean to be a little more whole, be a little more integrated. I open the hymnbook, scan the latest addition to political outrage only to hear my heart’s tug and know the gap opens wide in me, as well. What else can I say, but give me an open ear, soften my heart, help me to open this still-clenched hand.

Heal this wounded soul.

The Work We Do

The post by Deb Reinstra (and others) on vocation have had me thinking (and muttering to myself) this past week. While I share in Deb’s distrust of the word, I think we need to sharpen vocation’s  outline  before we can search for another model of being in the world.  I would point to three worthwhile aspects of the concept.

First, behind vocation is  the call itself, a kind of compulsion, how can I do anything other than this? So Jeremiah; so the Psalms on occasion: I hear and I must speak lest I burn up. The difficulty here is that while such calls may be for a lifetime, our own experience may be that they are of limited duration.  The secular sense of “gift” flows from this deeper charismatic and prophetic reality. Vocation may also  hide a desire to preserve that first love. Like Moses veiling his face because the glory has left him, the memory of being called to a task lingers like the fondest, most fragrant thing in our life. We want that all the time. So vocation is not only response, but also hope that Presence continue with us.

Second, with vocation there is a freedom. Continue reading “The Work We Do”

Bachman Kuyper Overdrive?

James Bratt notes

Now that Michelle Bachman has dropped her campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, perhaps we can put to rest—again—a genealogy used to explain her political faith. Bachman, it is said (for instance, in Ryan Lizza’s profile of her in the August 15, 2011 New Yorker), came to Christian political consciousness after watching Francis Schaffer’s film series, “How Should We Then Live?” Schaffer, in turn, (not Lizza here, but others more interested in such things ) was transformed from being just another theological fundamentalist into a holistic Christian thinker with particular interests in culture and politics after coming into contact with Hans Rookmaker, professor of art at the Free University in Amsterdam. Rookmaker was a student of Herman Dooyeweerd, the philosopher-in-chief at the Free, and Dooyeweerd was a follower of Abraham Kuyper, founder of the Netherlands’ Antirevolutionary Party, expounder of its political program, and eventually prime minister of the country. Bachman shows, therefore, what Kuyper can come to.

Is such a dismissal really that easy?

It would seem that the social philosophies of Bachman and Kuyper both spring from roughly the same Calvinistic root, and particularly the rejection of the a sort of pietism (in American terms, that of the individualist Fundamentalism of mid-century). In fact, this is a common path, the evangelical or charismatic wants something more, a fuller way of living one’s life in the world.

Whether we call it “reformed” or “kuyperian” that social vision is strongly appealing. People want to have a way to make their faith real in the world, especially in a world that seems to be rejecting the Gospel.

The failure in Sister Michelle is not in her coming to political consciousness, but rather — dare I say it? — in her heart. There is little apparent awareness of the Gospel critique of her own life. But then again, in fairness, the act of politics often precludes this self-awareness, rewarding as it does those who put on the brave face and forthright focus.