This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I am copying this from Michael Granzen's site and sending it out because it is so important.


The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.
Paul Krugman

Saturday, April 18, 2009

900 Pound Gorillas in the Room

There are two 900 lb. gorillas sitting on every page of Scripture and we ignore them at our peril. They are rarely mentioned explicitly, but they are there like black holes, shaping the gravity field and even bending the light.  

1.  One is Empire.  For the New Testament this is obviously Rome, but the whole Bible is influenced by the critique of imperialism, beginning with Pharaoh, if not earlier.  It may be said of the New Testament in particular, but also of the Bible as a whole, that it is an anti-imperialist tract.  The Bible becomes incomprehensible --- and badly interpreted --- unless this backdrop is articulated.  

2.  The other is the mythology, symbolism, and ritual of the Temple.  For over a millennia, the Temple shaped and reflected the spiritual/religious life of the Israelite/Jewish people.   The people worked out their relationship to God in its light (or shadow).  Prophets, priests, sages, and kings all had to know intimately what it was about.  Temple imagery and vocabulary permeate the whole Bible.

There are probably others, but two 900 lb. gorillas is enough for one day.

Reading Forward Not Backward

I have to admit that for years my approach to biblical and theological questions has been to look backward.  That is, I would examine the "history of interpretation."  Find out what Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and the Fathers said about a passage or an issue.  Notice the hermeneutical trajectory relative to the specific time and place of the interpreter.  Discover how a passage has bee used by the church from era to era.  That sort of thing.

One of the things that Rohr said at that conference a few weeks ago -- and one of the reasons I have been so interested in Margaret Barker --- is that I am learning that this backward-looking approach is less fruitful now.  Whether it was ever so is a question... looking back through centuries of interpretation is interesting... but it probably tells us more about the interpreters and their times than shedding much light on Jesus or the Scriptures.

Rohr suggested that we need a hermeneutical approach that is more conscious about looking ahead...  This to see a theological issue or text from the perspective of the history that produced it.  That means viewing the New Testament from the perspective of what was going on in Second Temple Judaism and all that preceded it.

As an example, I started thinking about the Atonement.  One approach would be to examine the theology and theories of the Atonement throughout Christian history.  But I found it more fruitful to ask what people in Jesus' day would have understood by it.  How is it presented in the Hebrew Scriptures?  

I am convinced that Jesus and the early church did not invent Christianity out of nothing. Neither was it a product of Greek categories applied later.  It is not important for me to hold that Jesus was so utterly unique that his actions and teachings, and the theology based on him, were unprecedented.  To the contrary, Jesus' authenticity is shown in his continuity with what was already fermenting in the Judaism(s) of his time.

My Holy Week sermons for the past two years have been trying to apply this approach.  One sermon tries to get to the bottom of the Greek word 'uper, which is often translated "for," as in "Christ died for us."  But "for" is kind of ambiguous in English and has allowed for substitutionary thinking to insert itself.  'Uper could also be understood to mean "over."  How would that reading change our understanding?  Thinking this way gets more poetic: to say Christ died "over" us means he died "because of" us... but also could it mean he died in some way "above" us in the sense of a mediator between us and heaven?

I also talked about blood, which in our usage often means violence, death, pain, and horror. But for the Hebrew Scriptures blood was life.  It was holy.  It was something divine that was offered back to God and not for our consumption.  When the priest sprinkled and spread the blood of a sacrificed animal it was for purification and a kind of reconnection to God.

The Hebrew word that often gets used for atonement is kpr.   Kpr means "cover" or perhaps "mend" (by patching or resewing).  (See Mary Douglas.)   

My point is that in none of this do we find the idea of redemptive violence that often gets associated with atonement in Christianity.  Ideas of divine punishment and substitution are not necessary either.  (Some of this was probably added later by Gentile Christians who may not have fully understood the Hebrew/Jewish context of the New Testament.  Not that I do....)

So, when 1 John 2:2 says, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world," do we really know what that means without putting ourselves into the mindset, as far as possible, of Second Temple Judaism?  Is it not quite possible that all of Christian theology, flavored so strongly by its Greek condiments, didn't get it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving for Maundy Thursday

This is my Great Prayer of Thanksgiving for Maundy Thursday.  It is a dialogue between the minister and the people.

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving     

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts!
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Our greatest joy is in giving you thanks and praise, 
O Lord our God.
In the beginning you created the universe
and this holy Earth to be our home,
a paradise overflowing with life,
a place of communion and grace.
Into this garden you placed us,
to dwell with you and each other in love.
Yet we fell into temptation,
seeking to grasp too much,
and grew separate from you, the Creator,
and fell into self-centered disobedience,
manufacturing for ourselves a world of violence and death,
power and poverty.
Redeeming and renewing your holy creation
you cleansed the world in the waters of the flood,
giving righteousness and justice a new beginning.
You called the family of Abraham and Sarah
to be a blessing to the whole Earth.
Yet we in our blindness instituted systems and policies
that infected the world with oppression and exploitation,
and your people, who fled to Egypt as refugees,
came to languish there in slavery.
A new king arose over Egypt.  
He set task masters over the people with forced labor.  
The Egyptians embittered our lives with harsh labor 
at mortar and brick and in all sorts of work in the fields.
This night is different from all other nights,
for we mix our bread with the bitter herb  
in remembrance of our time of bondage and suffering.
We cried to you, O Lord, 
the God of our ancestors, 
and you heeded our plight, 
our misery, and our oppression.
You heard our moaning, 
and you remembered your covenant 
with Abraham’s family, 
and you sent your servants 
Moses, Miriam, and Aaron,
by whom you challenged Pharaoh’s power.
Ten plagues were the result of Pharaoh’s injustice,
the Earth itself rebelled against his cruelty.
At Passover you delivered your people,
bringing them through the waters of the Red Sea,
delivering them to life 
and the freedom to serve you.
And you gave us your holy Law
to shape our life together
in the way of justice and peace,
to limit the accumulation of wealth and power,
and to exhibit your Kingdom.
Forever we witness to your saving, unconquerable love.  
Therefore we praise you, 
joining our voices with all of nature, 
with the heavenly choirs, 
and with all the faithful of every time and place, 
singing to the glory of your name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might!
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he,
O blessed is he,
who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest,
hosanna in the highest!

You fed us manna in the wilderness,
and delivered us to the Promised Land. 
You showed us how to worship you,
preserving and sanctifying creation.
You sent prophets to remind us of your love and goodness,
and to warn us of the consequences 
of falling into idolatry and injustice.
And in the fullness of time
you sent the long-promised Savior,
Jesus Christ the Lord,
who proclaimed your Kingdom.
He healed the sick, 
cast out evil spirits,
welcomed the outcast, 
and taught us how to live in the light of your love.

The Lord Jesus 
on the night when he was betrayed 
took a loaf of bread, 
and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 
“This is my body that is for you.  
Do this in remembrance of me.” 
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, 
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 
you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now he is with us as we gather in his name,
and in this bread and this cup,
an offering representing the life of our Lord,
given for us and for all the world.
He suffered death because of human sin
at the hands of the principalities and powers.
And he rose on the third day
defeating death forever
and exhausting its power over us.
In Jesus Christ you restored paradise
and adopted us into Abraham’s family.
He calls on us to be a blessing to all nations,
and sends us out to proclaim the good news of your infinite love
for all creation in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, O God, 
we ask that you send your Holy Spirit upon us, your people, 
and upon this our thanksgiving offering: 
that this bread may be for us the Body of Christ, 
and this cup the Blood of Christ;
that your transforming Spirit 
may change us, heal us, renew us, save us,
and fill us with your resurrection life.
Through Christ, 
with Christ, 
in Christ, 
in the unity of your Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor are yours, almighty God,
now and forever.

O God, 
like a mother hen you are always gathering your children.
And so we are bold to pray as Jesus taught us:

The Lord’s Prayer

The Breaking of Bread

just as this bread was once many grains of wheat, 
which were gathered, 
ground into flour, 
and kneaded into a single loaf of bread, 
so we, who were once isolated individuals, 
fending for ourselves in a harsh world,
have been gathered and worked into one body.

Baruch ata Adonai Eloneinu 
melech ha-olam, 
ha-motzi lehem min ha-aretz.

The minister takes the loaf and breaks it in full view of the people, as the people say:

When we break the bread, 
and share it together,
do we not participate with each other
as one body of Christ?

Agnus Dei

Behold the Lamb of God,
Behold the Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sin,
The sin of the world.

The people pass the unleavened bread. Please hold the tray for the person from whom you received it.  When you take a piece of the bread, dip it into the bitter herb before partaking of it. 

We are blessed by God in the fruits of the Earth.
Soil and sunlight, water and air, 
nourish the fruitful vine.
As the sweet life flows from the crushed grapes,
so life and joy flow from this cup,
representing the new covenant of peace 
between God and humanity.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloneinu 
melech ha olam, 
borei p’re ha-gafen.

The minister fills the cup and lifts it in the view of the people, as the people say:

This is the cup of blessing.
Is it not a sharing in the life of God,
given in the life-blood of Jesus Christ?

We sing the hymn during the passing of the cup.  We keep the cup so we may all commune together after the hymn.

Communion Hymn, “Come, Risen Lord”                              503

Prayer After Communion

God of grace, 
your Son Jesus Christ gave us this holy meal,
the bread and the cup 
by which we share his Body and Blood,
as a way to remember him
and participate in his life.  
We celebrate it 
as a sign of your redemption of the world in him,
our liberation from the powers of death,
our healing from brokenness and despair,
and our empowerment to live in peace and justice,
witnessing to your saving love.
Send us out into the world,
even as we follow Jesus in these three days,
that we may show in our lives the fruits of redemption,
calling all people to live together in peace; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.