Monthly Archives: May 2013

The God Who Meets Us-A Sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday

Rublev's Icon of the Holy Trinity

Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity

If you had to describe what God is like to someone, how would you do it? Now I know that there is always a sense in which our words fail us and God is beyond description, but that doesn’t alleviate the need for us to talk about God and to try to say who God is and what God is about in the world. We need to understand who God is and how God acts as we try to make sense of the disasters, whether they are something huge like the tornado that devastated the city of Moore and parts of New Castle, Shawnee and Oklahoma City last week or whether they are the more personal disasters we may encounter in our lives. How do I talk about God in the midst of the ending of a marriage or the loss of employment, in having to move-where is God in the midst of these things and who is God in the midst of all of these things. We may argue with God, question God’s character, weep with God and yet I am becoming more and more convinced that we do our best to describe in some way the God we come to know in the midst of our lives-or the God we want to come to know in the midst of our crises and cries.

Today is Trinity Sunday, now every Sunday is a Sunday in which we attempt to talk about God and the way God interacts in the world, but on Trinity Sunday we come to talk about the God who meets us in the Father, the Son and in the Spirit and we celebrate a concept about God-a way of talking about God that the early church leaders felt was their best answer to give words to the experience of God they had experienced and the world had experienced. It is the picture of a God who is always coming down to be a part of the world and a part of the lives of God’s people. It is a mystery, we cannot adequately describe everything about God, but we try to use the language of the scriptures, tradition and our experience to give a frame of reference to talk about the God who creates, who renews, who enters into relationships and restores peace and the God who loves. Unlike most other stories of the ancient world, the Bible’s story of creation is not a story of a god who subdues and conquers an evil world but rather a God who speaks into being a good world that God loves, that God wants to be a part of. From the earliest stories of Adam and Eve we see God’s desire to come down and to be a part of the lives of Adam and Eve, of Abraham and Sarah, of Jacob and Leah and Rachael, of Moses and Aaron and Miriam, of Samuel and Solomon and of many others. God was not content to be separate and distant from their lives, no instead God chose to come down and interact with them. We see a God who loves the world for all its warts and worries. The entire purpose of the people of God building first a tabernacle and then under Solomon a temple was so that God could dwell in the midst of God’s people. God would continue to send God’s Spirit upon the prophets and priests and sometimes even kings to speak to the people. In the Book of Proverbs we hear about the wisdom of God which was there at the beginning of creation and the prophets can often talk about the Spirit of the Lord coming upon them, but at the same time somehow the LORD their God was one, and there was only one God. And yet they Jewish people used the language they had to try to talk about who their God was.

Yet God was not content to dwell in houses made of stone, to remain locked behind the walls of a temple or a tabernacle. God is many things, but never tame, never safe, God is good and loving but never safe. In the prophets we began to hear the hope for a new relationship God was creating with God’s people and who God’s people were was about to move beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people as God continued to love the world. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt– a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31: 31-34


Or in the prophet Joel which we heard last week at Pentecost:

28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

 29 Even on the male and female slaves,

 in those days, I will pour out my spirit. Joel 2: 28-29


At Christmas we celebrate this Word of God that was there in the midst of creation, that was with God and was God coming down, sharing our life, putting on flesh and living among us. This Jesus of Nazareth came and proclaimed the kingdom of God and in his healings, his words, his actions, his forgiveness of sins and his life people encountered something they hadn’t before. Somehow in the midst of this man people were encountering God. Somehow he was more than just a righteous and holy person and it was really after the resurrection at Easter that those who had been with him began to understand in a new way that this really was God dwelling and walking among us. And yet there was Jesus and there was the Father who Jesus had prayed to and somehow they were both God. The early church would wrestle with how exactly they were going to talk about this, but ultimately in both Jesus and the Father they had encountered God and they needed some way to give honor and praise to the God who had continued to come down and dwell among them.

At Pentecost we celebrate the Spirit coming down and the disciples and the people encountered a presence that was somehow undeniably of God. And yet this was the Spirit that was there throughout the ministry, it was the Spirit that also had moved over the waters of creation, the Spirit that had spoken through the prophets. And as the early church tried to make sense of this God they had encountered in Jesus, in the Father and in the Spirit they talked about God as Trinity. It was a way of giving language, words to the experience of the God who comes down, who loves the world and us so much that God cannot seem to help but want to be a part of our lives.

Yet wherever God the Father is active, when we look we find the Son and the Spirit, and when Jesus is active the Father and the Spirit are there, as Jesus can say to his followers :

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16: 12-15


The Spirit speaks what the Spirit hears, the Father and the Son share in this ministry. The Spirit bears witness to the Son and the Father. Sometimes people will talk about the Father being about creation, the Son about redemption, and the Spirit about the new life-but each are involved in all three, for example when Paul talks about redemption:


Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.


That somehow this action involves all of God but we encounter God and Jesus and the Spirit all working at the same time to give us peace and pour love into our hearts. We are made a part of what God is doing in the world and as God suffers we also encounter the suffering that is a part of love. At some point it is probably simpler to say 1+1+1=3 and stick with pictures and diagrams of how God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit interact and are related. This picture from the Church Center is just that, one of the traditional representations of three in one, yet ultimately this is not about a concept of God, it is about the God who loves the world and who we encounter throughout the story, throughout times and in the experience of our own lives, a God who loves and comes down to dwell with us. A God who we encounter in Jesus and the Spirit and in the God who is the creator of all things, and somehow they are all somehow God and yet we experience them in different times and different manners.

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Creativity, Spirituality and Shame


As I embark on the thought experiment I call the creativity project which will not be in any way systematic, but a set of explorations from various perspectives around topics of creativity, spirituality, and imagination I am going to start in what many will initially think is an unusual place: shame. Brené Brown’s work on shame has been one of the most revealing perspectives in what limits or destroys our capacity for creativity. Shame as Brené defines it is:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging. (Brown, 2007, p. 4)(emphasis author’s)

Shame is that emotion that tells us that we are unworthy, unloved or unloveable, it can allow an action or another’s perspective to define who we are in our own eyes. It shouldn’t be surprising that this incredibly powerful fear can dampen if not kill creativity for an individual or an organization and that it can also by extension powerfully effect spirituality.  In Brené Brown’s book I Thought It Was Just Me she makes this insightful comment which is well worth the two paragraphs it spans:

I did see important patterns and themes in terms of how women experienced their faith and spirituality. For example, the women who talked about feeling shame used the words church and religion more. The women who talked about resilience used the terms faith, spirituality and beliefs more. At first I wondered if there was a connection between “organized religion” and shame. I didn’t find one. At least half of the women who used the terms faith, spirituality, and beliefs attended church and were members of an organized religion.

What did become clear to me is this: It is the relationship that women have with God, their higher power or their spiritual world that often serves as the source of resilience. The essence of resilience, in a spiritual sense, is about relationship, spirit and faith. For many women, spiritual connection is essential to shame reliance. In fact, over half of the women, who, as children, experienced deep shame around religion developed shame resilience by forging new spiritual paths. They may have changed churches or their beliefs, but spirituality and faith remain an important part of their lives. Another pattern that emerged is the belief that faith is about nurturing our best selves and shame moves us away from that purpose. The sources of shame seem much more connected to earthly, man-made and interpreted rules and regulations and social-community expectations around religion (Do you go to church regularly? Are you loyal to your family religion? Are you raising your kids a certain way? Are you breaking rules that might shame the family or the community? Do you know your place as a woman?). (Brown, 2007, p. 259f)

Brené’s later two works, The Gift of Imperfection (Brown, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Brown, 2012) (which I blogged about in the posts Daring Greatly, Cultures of Scarcity, and Shame on You) she moves to the concept of vulnerability as the characteristic that people who feel loveable (and are able to move beyond their shame) share. This vulnerability allows people to be courageous, compassionate and connected with others. In contrast fear, disengagement and yearning for more courage may come out of an environment’s or an individual’s shame. For example when shame is a management style “engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.” (Brown, 2012, p. 14)

As we think about the type of community’s that will nurture creativity and spirituality for the coming generations we need to pay close attention to the ways shame, fear, manipulation and coercion are used. Do we have communities where people are valued for their conformity or for their individuality? Do we have communities where people feel they need to fit in (shame is the fear of being disconnected)? Can we be a place where not only failure but forgiveness is an option? Do churches begin to reflect the culture of scarcity we experience in the world around us or can we dare greatly and trust greatly in the abundance that is found in our own faith?

The reality is that many if not all communities and individuals have a long way to go in nurturing a climate of acceptance, connection, resilience and support, faith and spirituality. It is a journey that we must undertake if we are really going to be about helping people in their relationship with God and with one another. The likelihood is that on the journey there will be many failures, many times where we will need to be forgiven for returning to shame for motivation, and hopefully on the way we may all grow both more courageous and more vulnerable and more resilient to the shame which dampens our creativity and spirituality.

I’ve included another of Brené Brown’s talks and I love the comment she makes that “Faith-vulnerability=extremism, that faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty…spirituality is inherently vulnerable.”

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Tears in the Red, Red Clay

Severe Weather

They had heard the sirens moan before
Within the sleepy town of Moore
They had felt the pain and loss of a storm
And May of ninety nine they still mourn
But nobody was prepared for this day
When tears would fall upon red, red clay

In Oklahoma the wind is part of life
Normally passing without much strife
Even tornadoes are part of the spring
With their rumbling groaning songs they sing
But rare is the monster that ruled this day
When tears would fall upon red, red clay

In the aftermath of the evil wind
Laid homes and schools and those within
Many still living, too many lost
And all of us observing the cost
Of nature’s fury put on display
On a tear-filled day on the red, red clay

No words of mine can soothe the pain
Of those whose lives were torn in twain
But my thoughts and prayers go out the same
To the people of Moore who struck their claim
And weep and morn for children not at play
On the tear soaked ground of red, red clay

Neil White, May 21, 2013

for those who endured the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma May 20, 2013 and those who will help with the recovery

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The Prophet Who Hears and The People Who Don’t: Jeremiah 7: 16-26


Jeremiah 7: 16-26

16 As for you, do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 19 Is it I whom they provoke? says the LORD. Is it not themselves, to their own hurt? 20 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: My anger and my wrath shall be poured out on this place, on human beings and animals, on the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.

 21 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22 For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. 25 From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; 26 yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did.


Now the audience shifts from Jeremiah speaking to those who listen at the temple gate to God speaking to Jeremiah. Jeremiah seems to have become the one who God can speak to when everyone else has stopped listening and now God tells Jeremiah not to intercede for the people anymore. God is tired of listening, God is at the point of giving up. God is tired of being patient, of waiting for the people to return. On the one hand we see a religious practice within the families that are putting a lot of effort into worshiping other gods as a household, on the other hand the cultic practice of the temple is lifted up as something that replaced obedience. Sacrifices and religious practice have replaced the central command to hear and listen.

The prophetic and the priestly voice are in direct contest to determine who will speak for God. Often this is the case, the priestly voice is the voice of the settled people where the prophetic is calling people back to obedience. The priestly voice is focused on maintaining an institution, while the prophetic is concerned with faithfulness to their calling. There is always the temptation within a priestly role to tell people what they want to hear, while prophets tend to say the things nobody wants to hear. Ideally an individual would be able to fulfill both callings, but the reality is that both find themselves in tension with one another.

Prophets are rarely appreciated in their own time and in their own lifetime, and sometimes even when they are recognized they are also de-fanged. For example, with Martin Luther King, Jr. we have all become familiar with his ‘I have a dream speech’ but much of his criticism of the war in Vietnam or economic injustices have been muted under the remembrance of him purely as a person who advocated for greater inclusivity of people of all races. I think something similar has happened with Jeremiah, select portions of Jeremiah have made it into the various lectionary systems and Jeremiah doesn’t have the memorable stories of Daniel or Jonah and so his protest is included, he is honored and his protest is forgotten.

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The Spirit of Creativity-A Poem


At play in the depths of chaos before time began
Dancing in the dangerous depths of the waters of creation
Playfully forming light and darkness, earth and sky
Throughout the ages bringing form to the formless
Giving substance to the wisdom and words of God
Delighting in bringing new and unusual forms of life
Shaping and creating with the molecules and elements of dust and the air
Over the eons you listened and danced and played
Giving birth to the world you delighted in
And it was good

From the smallest creature to the wisest person
Your breath fills our lungs and animates our bodies
You knit us together in our mother’s womb
Forming us each as unique masterworks enduring for a moment
Some of us have recognized the brushstrokes of your work
Others endure unaware of your wind blowing through the world
A few have breathed in deeply allowing you to possess them
While others have been brushed by your fingertips in a moment of inspiration
In the midst of it all you dance and play throughout time
Renewing life in the world you delighted in
And it was good

Never there to be controlled by any priest or king
Instead sometimes you would possess and prophesy
And young men would dream dreams and old men would see visions
The great and the small could all be caught up in the ecstacy of your movement
Never tamed for you are the breath of creation
The Spirit who can play with Leviathan and dance with the Behemoth
Yet sometimes you were content to rest in this dust and clay
Opening eyes, revealing truth and love and beauty
Giving gifts for service and building up the community
Dancing on the edges of dreams and playing with the prophets
Dreaming of the vision of a world renewed
Pointing to the life you dream for the world you delighted in
That it would be good

You came down to the world you created like a descending dove
Like a rushing wind, like tongues of fire, in visions and dreams
Always present yet never grasped and defying words to describe
Yet you move the mountains and shatter the power of fear
You are there pulling the wary disciples of all ages beyond their comfort
Beyond their homes to the ends of the earth and beyond
Interceding in words to deep for sighs and moaning in the brokenness
The wounded creation and a fearful people
Revealing the children of God, opening eyes and dreaming dreams
Moaning in the birth pangs of the new creation
Giving birth to that which is good

Breathe in us breath of God and renew our lives
As you playfully created throughout the eons
Now continue to mold and shape us to be the children of God
The world is longing for as it waits for redemption
In the midst of our own sighing may we hear your voice
And in the midst of brokenness may we hear the music you are dancing to
As you dream and sing a new creation in the midst of the old
Renewing and revitalizing, refreshing and recreating
Dancing and playing and singing and dreaming
For your delight is what enervates the dawning of the new age
And it is good

Neil White, 2013

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Catching Fire- A Poem for Pentecost


We stayed locked behind closed doors
Safe from the rest of the world
Wondering what the future held
Would things ever be the way they were?
Should we just give up? Return home
And pretend like our worlds had not changed
Get on the with the business of our normal lives
Or do we dare to dream of God’s kingdom?

Our Lord came down to the water
And fished us out, calling us from our lives
To journeys we hadn’t imagined
The kingdom was near, the blind saw, the deaf heard
The demons were cast out and the religious were afraid
We had no wealth, no security, but we had him
This man who pulsated with the presence of the living God
Who dared to dream, speak and enact God’s kingdom

Our Lord took us outside the world we knew
To the other side of the lake, to Samaria, and into the city
He touched the unclean, welcomed the sinners
Ate with the tax collectors, and called us all to follow
Building this kingdom of outcasts and unholy into something divine
He opened our eyes, our ears and our hearts
Sometimes we heard, sometimes we were still deaf
Sometimes we trusted, sometimes we failed
But we relied on his faithfulness, his trust
His vision of the kingdom of God drawn near

His vision of the kingdom of love met the hatred
Of men who had lost their dreams, of rulers trapped by fear
So they hung him on a tree, cursed before the world
And laid him in a tomb, killing the dream
Scattering his followers to the four winds
As we ran away in our fear and disillusionment
Hiding away behind locked doors
Fasting where once we feasted
Mourning the loss of the kingdom of God incarnate

But the dream didn’t die
Love overcame hatred; the bars of death were shattered
And with this one, this Jesus, resurrection became reality
We saw him, touched him, ate with him, were taught by him
Yet still we didn’t understand how dead could be not dead
How to overcome the scandal of the crucifixion
How to move beyond our fears and beyond the walls
Our fear keeps the insiders in and the outsiders as strangers
As we argue, debate and question the future of God’s kingdom

We stayed locked behind closed doors
Safe from the rest of the world
Wondering what the future held
Would things ever be the way they were?
Should we just give up? Return home
And pretend like our worlds had not changed
Get on the with the business of our normal lives
Or do we dare to dream of God’s kingdom?

Light and life, wind and fire, tongues and messages
The same Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness
The same Spirit that went forth from him to heal the sick
Cast out the demons, open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf
Comes down and casts us outside
No longer behind closed doors, no longer trapped in fear
No longer caught in the illusion of our own control
No longer fearing death or persecution
But caught up in the moment, catching fire
Not knowing what the future holds
But captured by the pulsating power of God’s presence
That we are not alone, that we go forth in love
Witnesses to the kingdom of God

Our problems are not gone, they are new
As we are cast out by the Spirit into God’s world
We meet the outsiders, the gentiles, the strangers
The sinners, the broken, the hurt and the healing
We see the way God’s kingdom is at work in them
And it changes us, it rekindles our own flames
Stoking the fire of the Spirit that breaks down the walls of our fear
Proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God

In an age of fear we are captured by the creating Spirit
In the face of hatred and prejudice we are called to love
In insecurity we bring a dream of a world renewed
Yet at times our own fires grow dim
We find ourselves locked behind our own doors
Trapped within our cathedrals
Fearing the outsiders, the strangers and even our neighbors
Then may that same Spirit that moved the frightened few
Into the marketplace, the workplace and to the ends of the earth
Open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to the work of God in our midst
Pushing us towards the kingdom of God

Neil White, 2013

In part this was sparked by David Lose’s video “it’s Pentecost” 

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Railing Against the Temple: Jeremiah 7:1-15

Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple by El Greco (1600)

Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple by El Greco (1600)

Jeremiah 7:1-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the LORD. 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”

                5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

                8 Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known,

 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are safe!”– only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

Jeremiah 7:1-8:3 is generally thought of by scholars as Jeremiah’s temple sermon, it breaks from the form of poetry in 4-6 and places Jeremiah at the gate of the temple proclaiming against the temple authority. Long before Karl Marx and other modern philosophers talked about religion serving to legitimate the dominant class the prophets railed against the priestly and monarchical authorities propping up their own positions with claims of divine right. To use the language of Liberation theologians God is exercising a preferential option for the poor and oppressed (if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan and the widow-these are those without a method of support in the society) and God is not willing to be in competition with other gods-idolatry and injustice are the two rallying cries of the prophet. Specifically appealing to the ten commandments as a central part of the covenant that the people are to live out of and contrasting that to the appearance of trusting in the temple and land rather than the Lord.

Jesus also had significant issues with the temple establishment in his own day, and it is not by chance that Jesus quotes Jeremiah 7:11 when he comes into the temple and throws out the moneychangers. Often there is a focus on the moneychangers, but if you read the context of this within Matthew, Mark and to a lesser extent Luke you can see that the issue is with the temple establishment in general. There is always the danger of any religion becoming a way of authorizing the status quo and it is the prophets who come and upset and challenge this. God has strong words for the temple authority in Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ time and in both cases that temple would be in ruins in the generation that followed.

The position taken by Jeremiah would be viewed as treason by the state, it would be challenging the ideological underpinnings of the religious and the monarchical authorities, it calls people not to trust in the temple.  It attempts to show the people that the temple and the sacrifices they offer cannot cover up a destructive way of life that is out of alignment with God’s covenant with them.  In the gate of the temple Jeremiah is called to challenge the foundations of the way of life of the people and God once again cries out for the people to return to the covenant so once again God may dwell in their midst.

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Upcoming Projects and an Offer

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I know people have come to my blog from various places and with various interests and I think that is a wonderful thing, and I know that most people won’t read everything I write but sometimes it is nice to know what is coming (at least as close as I can guess at this point):

  1. I will continue to work my way through the book of Jeremiah, currently I am working on chapter 11 (even though only through 6 is published on the blog) and I have a couple later chapters done but this is my own practice of learning and working through a book. I know for many people this is not what they are most interested in and that is OK. Jeremiah is a tough book and it can get a little repetitive but I am also becoming more and more convinced as I work through it that with the exceptions of Isaiah and perhaps the Psalms no other book is as critical for understanding both Jesus and Paul.
  2. One of the projects that I am just starting on that hopefully the first work will start coming out next week is the Creativity Project which was prompted by a light bulb moment when I was writing my autism posts. I’m going to spend some time exploring creativity, spirituality, imagination and inspiration and I’ve got some both psychological and philosophical works I am reading to explore these thoughts. I’m excited to see what I learn and to share.
  3. One of the projects that comes out of my congregation is a Basics of Faith series. One of my experiences is that many people in my congregation don’t have a way of thinking about God and issues of faith, even though they may have encountered many of these ideas in confirmation or other types of instruction.  Using Luther’s Small Catechism as a template I’m planning to work through things like Baptism, the Ten Commandments, The Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer and Communion from a Lutheran perspective.
  4. I still plan to get back to the Place of Authority historical posts and I have the reading on hand to continue that work, so it will come as well.
  5. Poetry comes and goes with its inspiration and time, and my life has been a little crazy lately , but when ideas come I try to capture them and write them down so that hopefully I can return to them when there is time, and I’ve got several written down on pieces of paper and notebooks at home and at work that need a little attention (or in some cases they are just vague ideas at this point) but as I get time they will get attention as well.
  6.  Finally I’m going to make an offer to you as readers. If you have a question or topic you would like me to respond to or answer I’m going to take the risk and make that option available. Some of you I know and some I don’t, but one of the things I like to do with the communities I’ve served is to have intentional times where people can bring whatever question they like and I answer on the spot (and sometimes the most honest answer is I don’t know). But I do have the privilege of spending more time thinking about spiritual, philosophical and, to a point, psychological issues than the average person. You don’t have to agree with me, and I typically don’t give short answers but my post on Templars, Gnostic Gospels and Conspiracy Theories came out of one of those questions. So the offer is there, and just post as a comment either here or on the About page or email a question to me at (just let me know it is a signoftherose question). I enjoy the challenge of this in person and I don’t know if anyone will take me up on the offer here, but it is available. You can either just comment or use the comment form on this post and the About page, and I will respond as soon as I can.

Perhaps I’m overly ambitious and more than a bit geeky when it comes to a lot of this stuff, but I enjoy the writing and the learning that goes along with it.




Not Precious Metal, Fools Gold: Jeremiah 6: 22-30

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt van Rijn 1630

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt van Rijn 1630

22 Thus says the LORD: See, a people is coming from the land of the north,
a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
23 They grasp the bow and the javelin, they are cruel and have no mercy,
their sound is like the roaring sea; they ride on horses,
equipped like a warrior for battle, against you, O daughter Zion!
24 “We have heard news of them, our hands fall helpless;
anguish has taken hold of us, pain as of a woman in labor.
25 Do not go out into the field, or walk on the road;
for the enemy has a sword, terror is on every side.”
26 O my poor people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes;
make mourning as for an only child, most bitter lamentation:
for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.
27 I have made you a tester and a refiner among my people
so that you may know and test their ways.
28 They are all stubbornly rebellious, going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron, all of them act corruptly.
29 The bellows blow fiercely, the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on, for the wicked are not removed.
30 They are called “rejected silver,” for the LORD has rejected them.
We finally come to the end of a long poem that has run from chapter 4-6, and it is the language of pain, or worlds ending, of rejection and yet throughout all of it is the desire for things to be different. Imagine if you would a scenario where a couple has been married for several years, and one spouse has not only been having an affair but has decided that they no longer wants to be married, yet they want to remain in the house. How would the partner react? The partner may want to keep the marriage intact, but would probably not be willing to keep things the way they are, to have invested so much in a relationship and to desire it’s reconciliation only to see their efforts flaunted and then to live with a constant reminder of the brokenness under their roof. Even the most gracious person is going to seek a necessary change to the way things are. Throughout this poem God has desired the people to turn, to change, and yet they do not hear (and perhaps cannot hear). There are too many people proclaiming peace in a time when war is at the gates, prosperity in a time of famine is on the doorstep. The enemy is near, and here at the end of the poem the rumor of their approach has set the people into panic and God or the prophet still desires for them to repent, to put on sackcloth, to roll in ashes, to mourn as for the loss of an only child, yet we hear only the silence about any repentance. They are so corrupted that even switching to the image of metal working, they are all dross and no longer have precious metal left. They are rejected silver or something more familiar to many of us iron pyrite, fool’s gold. The people may look great, but when you find out what they really are the appearance betrays their real nature, and so they are unable to be refined and in the language of the poem they are rejected.
This may be the end of the poem, but this is not the end of the story. There is a long way to go as we walk through the desolation, and I know at times this is a difficult journey for me, but I know that in the distance hope is on the horizon. I cannot imagine remaining in the desolation without the knowledge of the hope that will come.

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On Templars, Gnostic Gospels and Conspiracy Theories


I was asked to read Steve Berry’s The Templar Legacy because the person who read it really enjoyed it but it provoked a lot of questions for them. Steve Berry’s book took me a while to get through because I never felt engaged in the storyline, partially because I probably do have enough historical background to laugh at some of the claims the story makes and because he wasn’t as good of a story teller as Dan Brown who writes in the same genre (Devils and Angels and The DaVinci Code among others). We love that which is secretive, we enjoy a good conspiracy theory and too often we have encountered our lives in a sense that either one point of view is true or another is so a discrepancy in a source, for example, is enough to discredit everything about a view (which is simply not true) but let’s get into the heart of the controversies of the book:

The Knights Templar: occasionally the heroes, but more frequently the nemesis in these stories a secret shadowy organization with roots back to the crusades and at least The Templar Legacy gets the time period of their dissolution right with the conflict with Philip IV and Clement V. This is a complicated part of history where that is commonly referred to as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church or the Avignon Papacy where the French King basically controlled the Clement V who never visited Rome during his 9 years as pope. The templars, a military order of the church, did go through what many consider a shameful set trials which were indeed motivated by power and wealth and their pope never interceded for them but rather allowed them to be tortured and then dissolved. Many people want the story to pick up again, to reincarnate the Templars in the Free Masons or many other modern organization or to make them a shadowy society still existing in practice and wealth 700 years later. It makes for a good story and plot, but it stretches the limits of credibility to the breaking point to think of a medieval organization suited for the crusades continuing to exist and flourish in modern society.

Contradictions in the Gospel Stories: Are there contradictions in the accounts in the four gospels that are a part of the Christian cannon? Absolutely! That is one of the many reasons that biblical fundamentalism doesn’t work, but was not a significant source of conflict for the church. The Christian church never felt compelled to create a harmonized gospel, but rather to let the gospels we label Matthew, Mark, Luke and John stand as authorized windows to seeing what Jesus is like. They are different-Mark is probably the oldest and reflects the characteristics of oral storytelling by its structure. It is designed to be memorized by its structure and so events are probably not in strictly the order they happened but arranged in a way that help memory (remember that at the time of its composition most people couldn’t read-but their ability to listen and remember was probably far superior to today). Mark probably recorded the stories in the time around 70 CE, a time when some of the original witnesses to the stories were beginning to die or be executed so there would be a written memory that the community could go back to. Mark has no birth or resurrection stories, it simply tries to narrate predominantly the actions of what Jesus did. Matthew and Luke both follow Mark’s pattern and then add some material (predominantly teachings) that they both shared in common as well as individual stories which are specific to each gospel. Mark, Matthew and Luke are often called the synoptic gospels because they share a similar pattern and although each has its own points of emphases, they share a lot in common. John was probably the last of the gospels written which is less concerned with what Jesus does and much more with who Jesus is and what Jesus means. John tends to go into long dialogues where Jesus will say things like, “I am the bread of life, I am the gate, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the truth and the life” and many more almost philosophical sounding monologues. One minor note that I got a kick out of in the story was that it got it backwards saying that John has no time period and the synoptic narrate a three year pattern of ministry which is exactly the opposite. John with its patterns of Jesus appearing a different festivals is where we get the standard three year time period of Jesus ministry.  One of the great gifts was that the early church never felt the need to iron out all the differences but was willing to live with the tensions that are present as a part of the mystery of the faith.

The Gnostic Gospels: As Christianity spread throughout the ancient world and encountered more and more cultures and people and it got farther away from its Jewish roots people began to understand Jesus in light of their own expectations and previous experiences creating an identity crisis (I write about this in the Place of Authority 2-3: The Early Church’s Identity Problem). The Gnostic gospels are frequently brought up as another great conspiracy theory of the church pushing out the authentic view of who Jesus was in favor of a Jesus that favored the formation of the church the way it became-honestly I wish the people who write things like this would actually bother to read the Gnostic gospels which are readily available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. But let me spend a little time with the Gnostic gospels and maybe demystify them a little bit. Many ‘Gnostic gospels’ were discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 and they are not all part of some unified group. The Gospel of Thomas gets a lot of attention and has been made out in movies (like Stigmata) and books (like The DaVinci Code) to reflect the true words of Jesus. Now where this comes from is actually some scholarly work that is not near as controversial as it sounds: I mentioned above that Matthew and Luke share a lot of material in common, a lot of Jesus’ sayings and there has been a long running hypothesis that there was some common written source for these materials that both Matthew and Luke had access to, and the predominantly German scholars working on this called this common source Quelle which is the German word for common. And because we are often lazy Quelle became shortened to Q and so this is the mysterious Gospel of Q you will sometimes see referred to in culture (I remember an X Files episode where they walk into this church and they are flipping through these additional gospels and one of the ones is Q-not so controversial when you know what it is).


Some scholars think The Gospel of Thomas is old because it is more of a wise sayings of Jesus without any stories and it does share a lot of material in common with Matthew and Luke, other scholars think Thomas takes the material from Matthew and Luke. Regardless when you read Thomas there just isn’t a lot there that is new to get excited about and frequently little snippets are quoted out of contexts to make Jesus sound like he is anti-institutional to which I respond read Mark, Matthew and Luke and see how many problems Jesus had with the organized religion of his own day and his own protest against it which is far more radical than anything in Thomas. Sometimes authors will try to bring in some of the other Gnostic Gospels, for example Dan Brown makes use of a particular snippets from the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary which help his story, but like prooftexting often does, do not coincide with the general portrayal of even these gospels. When you read some of these gospels you quickly realize that this sounds little like the Jesus in the earlier gospels and sounds a lot like something that comes out of the Greek Culture. I know I’m a geek that I actually have read these sources and can retain a lot of this, but it also keeps me from getting too uptight about a lot of these things.

Is Christianity dependent upon the resurrection?: Yes it is and I think we need to be OK with that. We may never be able to prove historically the resurrection, but if Jesus was just a wise person who could tell a good story and utter wise sayings then we place him up with people like Plato, Aristotle and many other great orators and philosophers-but at the heart of the Christian story is that in Jesus we say, “this is what God is like” as controversial and strange as that is. Now I’m not saying that if a person cannot accept the resurrection that there is nothing to be learned from Christianity, I am convinced that as a way of life it does have a lot to offer, but Paul in 1 Corinthians says it well in his extended argument about the resurrection (the early church struggled with this too) when he argues if Christ wasn’t raised then our hope in resurrection is false and:

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Corinthians 15: 19

Granted many people do not make a lot of sacrifices for their faith, but for those who do it is living in light of a hope for something greater-that God is indeed active in the midst of the world and they are a part of what God is doing in the midst of that.

Conspiracy Theories: They can be fun and make for a good story, and It is OK to question the broadly received story, but conspiracy theories often have little relation to anything recognizable as reality and the thrive in ignorance. I enjoy the stories as much as anyone else, but I also hope that more churches would be places where we can ask difficult questions and pastors would feel adequate to engage them or to ask others who may be able to help them engage these questions. Ultimately questions like this should be fun and not threatening because they give us an opportunity to ask some of the challenging questions of what we believe.

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