The Many and the Gone

Paul VanderKlay writes
“Pluralism, both contemporary and historical pushes us into skepticism.

Really? Isn’t this just a longing for Christendom by another name? It seems that the early church lived in pretty much of a pluralistic culture. The problem today is that while we live with our separate worldviews, we now have a different  emperor, a different encompassing narrative. It’s the emperor that you want to pay attention to.

Greeks and barbarians live cheek by jowl. The first deacons were Hellenist. The post-NT culture is rife with separate cultural frameworks, some like the Palestinian Ebonites got called out and expelled. But really, Alexandria thinks one way, Athens another, Damascus a third etc.
Our challenge is how to live across those gaps between different worldviews, different religions. The road is filled with their shrines.
Spiritually, the question of skepticism ties into narratives of the self, and especially of the self’! s knowledge, our tacit epistemology. There are two Christian responses: the self must die (that’s Benedict) and the smoldering wick is not snuffed.

And that’s the truth

How do we know if something is true?

One of the sources for Truth has been “the plain teaching of Scripture”  — a common term in the circle I run in. The other day, John Suk penned some thoughts on that notion (actually a rather lengthy post). the topic is actually rather slippery, since it moves from the rhetoric used in controversies, to the theological stance of the  Reformation (aka perspicuity), and from there to theology of revelation.

Oh my.

In contemporary terms, perhaps the best term is that of clarity. Couldn’t God have been more clear, wonders Suk

God, for example, could have (as Buechner once imagined in a nice sermon) rearranged the stars to say that “I exist,” or “Jesus saves.” Or used a writing style more akin to Berkof or Plantinga than Isaiah or Paul. But if scripture is the best God can do when it comes to being clear, or perspicuous, I’m disappointed.

Perhaps this clarity business is a misreading, a going off track. After all, there’s a long-standing tradition (back to Benedict) of reading/listening to Scripture to meet God. At its basic theological sense, clarity needs to be connected to kerygma : the text is validated by the encounter, by the message. That seems to be a continuing process, time-tested, if you will.

From this perspective, the plain teaching of Scripture is closely associated with the dis-intermediation of Bible reading: it does an end-run on authority. In doing so, it creates a space for a counter reading of the Tradition; from the individual side, the plain meaning of the Scriptures is subversive — one reason why the Belgic Confession speaks of  “the detestable Anabaptists.”

This aspect of the notion poses an ironic counterpoint to the theological rhetoric of the “plain meaning of Scripture”. In present-day North America the term is used generally to privilege some position, silencing debate, or otherwise asserting the authority of the speaker (who can be a bigger source than God, right?). This claim to “plain meaning” has a further traction within the Anglo-American traditions of plain speech v Latinate speech; and especially the popular icons of the plain spoken western hero as a truth teller. We give a lot of credence to those plain speakers — look at the imagery for George W Bush.

Meanwhile, the plain meaning, spoken by the Spirit to the faithful believer’s heart continues to do its subversive work, educating that reader to such goods as love, hospitality, mercy and justice.

Desiring community off the grid

Jim Heynen had a very distinguished, even illustrious career in guiding institutional change. Now he’s living off the grid in the depths of Manistee National Forest  and wondering about community

I wanted isolation and, just beyond my isolation, I wanted community. The Bitely Tavern, with its world-class olive burger and falling-down back wall, is a start. But I came for more: the bonding of neighbors who have differences, but share a common need for one another.
The forest has made good on its promise. We have serenity. But this “community” thing has proven elusive. I’ve wondered if there’s any such thing; it feels like snipe hunting.

His conclusion is that community is something he must create. This leaves a sort of an urbanist question: how do we live together if we insist on our privately living apart?

There are all sorts of analogs here, perhaps the best being that of the old monastics: do they leave separate as hermits (per Desert Fathers) or in a monastery, in community?  Here, Benedict is as good a help as any: community takes enclosure, stability. It’s sticking to it where you are. To the extent I create community at all it is through the door of service.

 

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”