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Saturday, November 26, 2005

California: Anomie, Anchors and Attachments

Saturday, November 26, 2005

On Saturday, October 9, 2004, I posted this observation from the late theologian Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) on one of my currently inactive (inert?) blogs, sun country living:

California!!!!!

This is from The Road to Daybreak by Henri J. M. Nouwen:
[California] is a land to which people go to be free from tradition, constraints, and an oppressive history. But the price for this freedom is high: individualism, competition, rootlessness, and frequently loneliness and a sense of being lost. -page 198
Freedom from tradition and constraints, but at a price... rootlessness:again I'll cite myself—I've posted this or something comparable several places, so I won't link to it:
Feeling rootless is part of the nature and reality of living the gospel; exactly like the Israelites of the Exodus, in Jesus Christ we live in the precariousness of nomadic, unsettled existence, daily undergoing baptism's departure from that old life and entrance into the new, each day recalling and reliving the perilous and risk-filled underwater moment in that watery font of death that at the same time is sustaining womb of new life, the fragile instant in which we need totally to trust the baptizer, who represents God, the One Who really baptizes.

The early church baptized in the flowing water of a river: just as every life moment is different, you can't step into the same river more than once! Living baptized means balanced on the threshold between our old lives of slavery to sin and self and our new lives of Eastered freedom for others, and living baptized means some times we also fleetingly experience the fullness of gospeled community. Many times I've pointed out for Israel the River Jordan had been the barrier separating them from the Promised Land and then became the boundary and border of their Promise Landed lives. Likewise, for us, baptism keeps defining us as different from those outside the community of the church at the same time baptism is an event that counts us into the covenanted people of God of all generations. Paul addresses his letter to the Corinthian Church "...together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours! Wherever we go we can find an assembly of Christians who call Jesus Lord, so we always can continue journeying together.
As I assess my history once more, I realize what little support it takes for me to feel alive again; I spent Thanksgiving afternoon and dinner with friends and felt whole while I was there at their house and I still felt very whole and very healed afterwards! However, by Friday, the day after, the doubts, lonesomeness and devastation were back ultra-big-time. Nouwen mentions loneliness and lostness, which still is exactly where I remain. My desire to find something, anything, to wipe out most of the memories is back, too. But now returning to this blog's title: California: Anomie, Anchors and Attachments.

I've said just a tad about California, Land o'Gold, so on to anomie. You probably remember studying Sociology with its trilogy of morose-looking practitioners: Émile Durkheim; Max Weber, and Karl Marx? Besides what I learned about him in sociology, not surprisingly my economics curriculum included a semester-long course on Marx! But regarding anomie and anomic, currently I'm living Clairemont, the section of San Diego that at one time (maybe through the 1950's? Not really quite sure on that one) was a leading New Town, and the near-anonymity this part of the city bestows on its residents is one of Clairemont's interesting aspects. As an example, some of the 9/11 terrorists lived in an apartment building not far from here and carried on their planning under their immediate neighbors' non-watchful eyes—now that's very "Clairemont." When I lived and served in Dorchester, Massachusetts, I was riding the subway from downtown after a layout and paste-up session for the local radical rag, when a stranger looked intently at me and commented on the Dorchester 3-decker houses t-shirt I was wearing: "I wouldn't advertise it!" Just maybe Living in Clairemont isn't much more something to broadcast than Living in Dorchester was!

Too often I think of but rarely speak about my sense of desolation in unaccountably losing the work and the relationships that literally defined me and absolutely helped anchor my life. The usual theological jargon insists Jesus Christ, our solid rock that never sinks, anchors us, whatever the storm. But better theology – particularly New Testament theology – insists the Church is the body of the Risen Christ and the local assembly of saints is a huge part of the evidence Jesus lives! My way-too-infrequent experiences of belonging have been too fragile and far too fleeting for comfort. Okay, so it's not about comfort, but how can a person function at all without a minimal level of being comfortably at home? In other words, no longer lost!

The God of Christianity—God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God of the Hebrew prophets, God and Father of Jesus Christ, reveals Himself as a God of passionate attachments—to creation, and particularly to the people of His creation. God creates us in the Image of the Divine, and calls us to live up to that amazing image, living as people who jump into life with all four feet!

That's this evening's blog: A Most Blessed Advent to Everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving, 2005, San Diego, California.

These years have given me bitter deprivation and some sweet recompense...a few years back, as I was preparing to leave Salt Lake City, the participants in the Tuesday morning Bible study I sometimes facilitated gave me a gift from one of the local Christian stores; I keep it on the windowsill in my bedroom so I can regularly remember that group, admire the design and make note of the text! It's a 6" x 5" plaque decorated with flowery flourishes and features a version of Philippians 4:6, with bold text as I've formatted:
Don't worry about anything – instead, pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don't forget to thank Him for His answers.
Philippians' legendary author frequently is called the Theologian of Grace, and I'm recalling the times Paul wrote about again, again and once more again finally getting the "aha" of grace and the obligatory response in thankful living and sacrificial giving. From centuries later, Martin Luther also has been called a Theologian of Grace--no one remotely matches the way Paul and Martin present and juxtapose the infinite demands and the infinite freedom of both law and grace! For this eve of the American Thanksgiving for Harvest Festival, here's Luther, from his 1529 Small Catechism:
Give us today our daily bread.

To be sure, God provides daily bread, even to the wicked, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that God may make us aware of his gifts and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
Luther then asks,
What is meant by daily bread?

Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
And another, far more recent explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer--from the Study Catechism 1998 of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
Question 130. What is meant by the fourth petition, "Give us today our daily bread"?

We ask God to provide for all our needs, for we know that God, who cares for us in every area of our life, has promised us temporal as well as spiritual blessings. God commands us to pray each day for all that we need and no more, so that we will learn to rely completely on God. We pray that we will use what we are given wisely, remembering especially the poor and the needy. Along with every living creature we look to God, the source of all generosity, to bless us and nourish us, according to the divine good pleasure.
Dag Hammarskjöld, from Markings:

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.

Amen and Amen!!!

Monday, November 14, 2005

God's Politics by Jim Wallis

This coming Wednesday at our Faith, Order and Witness meeting, it will be my turn to moderate our discussion—parts III and IV of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It [HarperSanFrancisco, January 1, 2005 | ISBN: 0060558288] by activist evangelical preacher and Sojourners sage Jim Wallis. To keep our discussion on track, I've made chapter-by-chapter notes to take with me, but for now I want to say a little about my perception of the book thus far. Maybe later I'll share my chapter notes with you (especially if I'm lacking other fodder for this blog), but I thought some of this might interest some of my readers. Here's a beginning, then.

General Observations

Although Jim Wallis is a pastor, technically this is not an actual theology book. However, throughout what I've read so far, over and over again Wallis underscores the central biblical themes of justice, equality and human worth. He's well aware of the biblical texts (of course!) and of the incessant, insidious temptations of imperial religion, which at one and the same time seeks to turn God into a flunky at humanity's beck and call while ultimately seeking to transform humans into gods. Whether initiated and sustained in ecclesiastical quarters or by governmental action and decree, imperial religion is imperial religion, needs to be prophetically exposed and revealed for the agent of death it is and at the same time, the people - "the nations" - need life-affirming and life-generating alternatives shown to them. As Jim Wallis reminds us on page 145: The confrontation with evil is a role reserved for God, using imperfect people, churches and nations as God wills. ...to confuse the roles of God and the church with those of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do repeatedly, is a serious theological error that some might say borders of idolatry or blasphemy.

Since I've only been keeping up with the assigned reading, admittedly I haven't finished reading the book, but so far Wallis is outstanding at analysis and at reframing in broader terms the details he lays out, but he's done little about putting the pieces back together again and showing us the foretaste of the apocalyptic vision of a restored humanity - and creation - so necessary to keep us going and for us to know exactly where we're going! At times I'm almost too acutely aware of my background in the theological traditions of the Reformation and their more contemporary updated expressions, but still I miss a consistent and persistent call to live as persons in the shadow of the cross and the light of the empty tomb, which is another way of saying I miss the eschatological vision of a redeemed creation. Nevertheless, on page 153 he finally gets to our lives under the cross...after his assurance on page 151: "...Jesus is Lord. We live in the promise that empires do not last, that the Word of God will ultimately survive the Pax Americana as it did the Pax Romana." On page 167, he quotes Stanley Hauerwas: the world didn't change on September 11, but in 33 A.D. My point exactly! And, the world also changed 33 years earlier, when the tiny defenseless baby in Bethlehem's manger began showing us what divine strength really was like!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Collect for Purity

from The Holy Eucharist: Rite I and Rite II

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thomas Cranmer, 1489-1556

The Book of Common Prayer