Nicene Creed, first line

quote for Dan

This is a quote by Victor Hugo that my daughter Em lettered for her Uncle Dan.

“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” 

The above is the first line of the Nicene creed. What is below is a response on the above that I am writing for a course I am taking at Northern Seminary.

Not long ago I read a short devotional by Richard Rohr in which he was lamenting the fact that the Nicene Creed can be read as doctrinal truth without any directive as to our behavior and attitudes. I don’t want to misrepresent what Rohr was writing about, but I felt that at least part of what he was saying was this: the creeds include statements that can be held mentally as beliefs while having no impact on the ways we treat other people. Therefore, though we recite them as the main beliefs we hold to in orthodox Christianity, we can recite them in such a way as to make Christianity a belief system rather than a way of life that looks like Jesus.

I think there is a great deal of validity in what he was saying. As a member of a denomination that recites the Nicene or Apostles creed at our weekly service, I wonder if perhaps we shouldn’t also recite the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and Love you neighbor as yourself. This would remind us not only of what we believe but of the actions that those beliefs should lead to—the actions they require.

For instance the first line of the Nicene Creed has implications for our lives. If we believe that the ONE God we believe in is the Father of ALL people, then that greatly affects how we see and interact with other people. It means we are all related, and no matter how different one particular relative (or a group of them) may seem/be from me, they’re still kin! And they’re KIN through a VERY significant relationship!

The creeds are not truly creedal if we don’t plumb the deep depths of them so that they affect our living.

I’ll close with a quote from Gordon Fee. Referring to Paul’s writing about the Triune God, he reminds us that Paul’s “concern is primarily …with the way God’s people live in the world, so that even when he addresses their thinking it is to change the way they are living. May our own Trinitarian discussions never lose sight of this end as well.” (from “Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God” p. 71)

(This is a post written for a course on the Trinity that I am taking at Northern Seminary. It was originally posted on Instagram. If you search the hashtag #trinityclassNS, you can read posts by other students in the class–they’re REALLY good and it’s fun to read the various perspectives on the same topics!)

Advertisements

Similes made in the image

screen shot 2019-01-28 at 11.25.11 am

NOTE: I am taking a course on the Trinity at Northern Seminary right now, & our assignments are Instagram posts with a picture and reflections/questions on our readings. I’m putting some of them here on the blog. If you would like to read posts from other members of this class, just search the hashtag #trinityclassNS on Instagram.

POST 1

“Made in the image of God but marred through sin, man is renewed in Jesus Christ who is the image of God in which man was first formed!” from Our Triune God by Peter Toon, p. 168

Christ IS the image of God. We are made IN the image of God. Using the language of literature, I am tempted to say Christ is the metaphor of God, but I cannot, for a metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things, and Christ is not comparison but IS God, one with the Father and Spirit in indescribable ways, yet also a person distinct from the Father and the Spirit. Yet Christ, like the very best metaphors, illuminates and makes clear an image that is hidden or unknown. Christ IS the image of God—revealed to us.

Can I say, though, that we humans are similes? I think so. Similes, like metaphors, compare two unlike things, but they are one step further removed, using the words “like” or “as” to make the comparison. A simile, like a metaphor, can illuminate an idea, but a bad simile can actually interfere with understanding an idea. As similes of God, we are capable of great good because of our being made in the image of our Creator. But since we are inept similes, the great capabilities for good have been damaged so that we are also capable of and prone to incredibly great harm. It is only in Jesus that the image can be renewed/made new.

How is this renewal worked out in our lives?

The Spirit, “from within the Christians’ own lives makes response to Jesus and the Father” (126, quote from Michael Ramsey). We come to know, through the Spirit’s work within us, the Father as “our Father”/“Abba” and Jesus as Lord and King. We become renewed in our identity as beloved children of God the Father and empowered citizens of the great, good Lord of the universe. And as this renewed identity works deeper into our souls, we are changed/healed/repaired, bit by bit, and we, as similes, become clear and helpful to those who “read” us so that we contribute to rather than hinder our readers’ understanding of God.

*the photo above is of a webpage with 56 bad and good similes found in high school student papers. Here’s the link (https://dysonology.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/56-bestworst-similes-used-in-high-school-exams/) so you can read all 56 of them if you want!

Post 2

The essay “God Crucified” by Richard Bauckham has SO much richness in it! In this post I’ll simply be pasting in some favorite quotes from the book and then closing with a question of my own.

“Jesus, the New Testament (NT) writers are saying, belongs inherently to who God is” (32). The Servant, seen in the Old Testament book of Isaiah “…belongs to the identity of the unique God. This God is not only the high and lofty one who reigns from his throne in the high and holy place; he also abases himself to the condition of the crushed and the lowly (Isa. 57:15)” (36). “(Christ’s) humiliation belongs to the identity of God as truly as his exaltation does. The identity of God—who God is—is revealed as much in self-abasement and service as it is in exaltation and rule. The God who is high can also be low, because God is God not in seeking his own advantage but in self-giving. His self-giving in abasement and service ensures that his sovereignty over all things is also a form of his self-giving. Only the Servant can also be the Lord. Only the Servant who is also the Lord receives the recognition of his lordship—the acknowledgement of his unique deity—from the whole creation” (45). “These (the exaltation and humiliation revealing God—being his identity) are not contradictions because God is self-giving love.. This is the meaning of the Johannine paradox that Jesus is exalted and glorified on the cross.” “In this act of self-giving God is most truly himself and defines himself for the world” (51).

My question: How do the implications of God being a Servant work out in the nitty-gritty of my life? What is one relationship or situation in my life in which I need to choose humility, choose to listen rather than speak, choose to not prove myself, choose to serve? #trinityclassNS

 

Go–and live a new life

 *This audio is a reading/telling of John 8:1-11. 

“Go and sin no more.”

Jesus says this to the woman who has been condemned of adultery, whom he has just rescued from stoning.

It’s always felt like a bit of a strange statement to me.

I can imagine that statement rolling very naturally off the lips of one of the fundamental preachers of my youth.

I can hear it being said with scorn and a stern look.

It feels very… simplistic … glib … easy …

Maybe even judgmental, like if I were to tell a woman at the homeless shelter to “just stop getting high, ok. Just decide not to, and don’t do it anymore. Simple as that.” To say something like that would be to ignore the past and present hurt and trauma, the complicated web of addiction, the very real realities of her life that cause her to seek some times of forgetfulness.

But this is Jesus talking.

Oh, how we need to remember Jesus. How we need to get back to Jesus.

This world stinks. It’s awful. If you are one of the privileged few (I am) who sleeps in a warm bed each night in a peaceful home with your belly well filled, it can be easy to forget that life is truly difficult for so, so many people.

I think this woman was one of those people. I think her life was probably very difficult.

Adultery in her context was not a simple choice to have sex simply because she felt like it. We can only guess at her circumstances or troubles or past traumas.

But this is Jesus talking.

He doesn’t guess. He knows. He knows her life. He knows all the reasons. He knows her.

He’s not being simplistic or glib—or even judgmental, though he’s the only one with the real right to do so!

He has just revealed his heart to her. He’s stood up for her by bending down to the dirt. He’s faced her accusers—every person in that angry, superior crowd—and challenged them to touch her. They were using her to make a point, to set a trap. She was an object to them, not a person—but he put her on their level. He challenged them to throw a stone, a stone that could only be thrown in the belief that the thrower was of greater value than the object, in the belief that the one being stoned was worthy of stoning and that the thrower of the stone was worthy to throw it. Jesus revealed the lie behind that belief. He made them see her. He made them see themselves. He rescued her.

And he tells her there is no condemnation with him.

She’s been seen, known, cared for, stood up for! Rescued!

I would like to think she realized he was God—that this meant that the God of the universe—who seems too far off, too removed from all our muck and mess and trouble—is NOT far removed. He’s a near God, one who longs to walk with us through the mess—who DOES walk with us through the mess. He is a God who sees and is deeply saddened by our sin and ugliness toward each other, our lack of caring, our use of others as objects.

This God would go with her. This God would help her walk back into a life that was hard. He would care for her, so she could grasp at dignity and hold her head high.

Jesus SAID very little verbally in his exchange with this woman, but I imagine his eyes, his face, and his posture conveyed a great deal. I imagine the woman heard something like this: “Go. There is a way ahead of you that doesn’t involve the shame you’ve been living with. There IS. It is only possible because now you know you are seen and cared for, now you know that God is not the God only of the Pharisees and the well-respected. He is the God of all people, of the downtrodden, the unseen, the ‘sinful,’ and the broken. He is YOUR God. He sees you and knows you. What is ahead of you will be hard. It will require grit and determination and struggle, but it will be far, far better than what you have been through. The way ahead may seem dim, but it is possible—it is possible because of who I am—your God. You can go and live a new, different life because you have seen what a different God I am. I am for you in this. I will see you. I will be with you. I am the God who sees you, knows you, loves you, and is always with you.”

I want to meet this woman in the Kingdom. I want to hear her tell her story, not just the awful difficulties and the dramatic, climactic moment of rescue but the AFTER: the walking in newness of life, the finding of community, the discovery of herself as a beloved child of God.

What a story that will be!

Trinity Class, posts 1 and 2

Hello everyone, I’m in a class on the Trinity right now, and one of our assignments is to post our reading reflections on Instagram. Since they’re already being written for public viewing, I’m going to also post them here. I’m super new to Instagram, so bear with me as I adjust to the 2,200 character limit! Blessings, Jen.

0

The following quote is from Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W. Johnson

“The God who is ‘us’ draws near to us so that ‘us’ can draw us into the circle of his ‘us-ness.’ The God who is Trinity draws near to you and me and draws you and me near to himself, so that you and I can participate in the life within the circle of the Trinity. …

What are the dynamics of this Relationship at the center of the universe?

The good news is the answer is not a total mystery. … For the Second Person of the Trinity has come to earth and taken on our earthliness, clothing himself in our flesh and blood. And, as one of us, he lives out, in human form, the dynamics of life within the circle of God’s knowing of himself. When we read the New Testament gospels we are reading the revelation of what goes on within the Trinity!” (from Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell W. Johnson, copyright 2002 by Regent College Publishing, page 77)

It is midway through January, and the Christmas tree, the garland, the lights are back in the storage closet.

But Nativity sets are still scattered throughout my house—a couple of them on my kitchen counter, one on a shelf in my living room, another on the piano. They will stay up all year long as reminders of the God who is Emmanuel, who is God with us, who so longed for us know him that the Son took on flesh and entered our broken, human story to reveal the true, full story of Life with God. He quickened a longing in our hearts for this full story, made a way for us to enter it, and is ever and always holding out an invitation to be drawn into the circle of the Trinity and know what life abundant truly is.

In the pages following the above quote, Johnson writes about seven words that, for him, “express the essential dynamics of the Life within the circle of the ‘Us.’” He chose these words: Intimacy, Joy, Servanthood, Purity, Power, Creativity, Peace. These are all revealed in the stories of the Nativity, in the life of the Son who in his living, loving, dying, and living again and always communicates to us—in ways we can grasp—the intimacy, joy, servanthood, purity, power, creativity, and peace of the Trinity. And through the grace of the Son, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit, you and I—we—us—are being brought into that Life.

And so, to remind me to enter into and to celebrate this Life, the Nativity sets stay up.

A Nativity Telling

christmas poster 1 cropped

The Cornerstone children and I sharing the Christmas poster during yesterday’s service

Merry Christmas, everyone! I made a script for this telling a few weeks ago (from Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1) and shared it first at the 2nd Annual Walk Across the Street Christmas Celebration, held at Christ Tabernacle Church, right here in my own neighborhood of Austin in Chicago!!

I’ve told it a couple times since, and I thought I would share it with you. It’s a long one–about 10 minutes–but oh, what a wonderful story. After so many years of silence, God broke in, with one angelic appearance after another, with each one beginning with those very needed words, “DON’T BE AFRAID!!!”

It’s an amazing story. I hope this telling makes it fresh and new for you.

Blessings, everyone.

Jen

I have an article up at Plough magazine

Hi Everyone,

I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted, but I just had a piece published at Plough, a magazine (both print and online) that I highly respect. Plough provides lots of thoughtful/reflective and change-prompting reading that I’ve appreciated over the past year. The piece I have there is “Belonging.” Just follow the link to read, and while you’re there, check out the magazine and website.

Blessings,

Jen

Kneeling on Needy Knees

download

Neither this picture nor the one below is the one I remember from my childhood, but I found these interesting!

The work set before me

—Before all of us, I imagine—

Is that of kneeling down.

The picture in the old copy of Pilgrim’s Progress I read as a child comes to my mind

(an illustrated, much-shorter-than-the original copy!):

Christian, stumbling all the way, has finally gotten to the cross

And dropped to his knees.

And that big old lumpy pack he’d been carrying on his back

Is rolling off.

Seems to me this is not a one-time occurrence in the Christian life.

imagesI used to think it was.

One bow, real low,

And then I had to be off,

Standing tall,

Pulling on my own bootstraps and

Figuring out how to be a “little Christ” all on my own.

I think all this because I was reading Second Peter,

and I got to this verse:

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness,

through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

I’ve spent a lot of time pursuing godliness in my own power

And all it’s reaped me is a bitter, narrow spirit focused on myself.

But when I bend myself to the work of humility,

To the acknowledgment of my own inexhaustible bent toward self

And my inability to do a darned thing about it.

When I embrace my constant need for pardon, for help,

Oh, this confession is so wonderfully good for my soul!

Still danger lurks,

In the very act of kneeling I begin to compare my sins with another’s—

Particularly those sins I see as being against ME!—

and in doing this I unconsciously pick up the pack and stand up,

laden with its weight, knees locked against the strain.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

I’m learning it’s not a conditional statement so much as a necessity.

If I don’t forgive, I cannot humble myself,

And the burden cannot roll off my back.

My Lord will not wrestle me to the ground;

I must do this part myself,

Bend my stubborn legs,

Bow my head,

Sink low.

And let Him lift the load, lift me.

Life and godliness gifted to me

Through and by the Glory and Goodness,

The One I know best from my needy, dependent knees.

 

The Church’s First Cry

pentecost drawing

The children at church did this graphic picture of the Pentecost story as a way of remembering it

Pentecost is regarded as the church’s birthday. Stephen Gauthier, a canon theologian in the Anglican Church of North America, beautifully tweaks this idea. He says the church was birthed in water and blood from the side of Christ on the cross; the church took its first inhale of Spirit-wind as Christ breathed on it Easter night; and then its first cry was at Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit exhaled that initial breath in a declaration of God’s mighty deeds to the nations.

As I’ve read and re-read the story of Pentecost this past week so I could share it as a Bible Telling with our congregation, I’ve been awed by God’s heart for all peoples expressed in this first cry of the Church. The main characters of the story are the God-fearing Jews who come from “every nation under heaven” but who are gathered to seek God in the nexus of Jerusalem. The long list of their native homes encompasses different cultures as well as languages, but the two—language and culture—are closely connected, so that the Church’s first cry reached not only the minds but the hearts of these representatives of the nations. “I am coming to you,” God was saying, “in your cultures, in your home countries. I will do all it takes, beginning with using the language of your culture, letting you know I am the God of all peoples.” In the very first cry of his Church, God was reaching out to the nations. “For the promise is for you,” Peter told them, “for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

And their hearts responded, so that the Good News of Jesus, who himself translated God into humanity for us, underwent secondary translation, into multiple languages, with every cry of the diversifying, world-spanning Church.

The Bible Gateway verse of the day for today, Pentecost Sunday, is this: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).

I am struck with this call to harmony, this call for the church universal—and local—to join together to glorify God with ONE voice. This emphasis on harmony also seemed to impact Eugene Peterson, for it figures large in his interpretation: “May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along well with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!”

We’re clearly not there yet! Harmony is not often a word used to describe the Church. Too often our loudest cries are ones of dissent and accusation, complaint and superiority. Our praise in comparison often sounds like mumbling, a mere whisper.

But this will change, for one day, from every tribe and people and language, a great multitude will cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This Pentecost, draw the Spirit deep into your lungs, devote yourself to Jesus as Lord, declare God’s mighty deeds through word and action and love, and seek to sing in harmony with his Choir.

God loves. Period.

Most of literature throughout history tells the stories of privileged people, the ones with money and power and titles. Yet God tells his story differently. Oh, yes, in Scripture we read the stories of kings and leaders, and men feature predominately—as is normal in stories from patriarchal societies (is there such a thing as a non-patriarchal society?)—yet again and again we read the stories and perspectives of the poor, of women, of the disenfranchised. For example, though 90% of the named people written about in the Hebrew Scriptures are male, nearly 10% are women, and this is actually a really good figure for Ancient Near East literature. Clues abound that tell us God is not in step with our human culture, which always privileges those with power and prestige and ignores or oppresses those who have neither.

We have much to learn from this aspect of God’s story. Just recently I practiced with the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

Early in the Old Testament, the plot is developed around Abraham. Though he is not royalty, he is wealthy and grows wealthier as the plot progresses. Abraham has enough servants to amass a small but powerful army, and he is lauded by kings. If this story were told in a way normal to Ancient Near East form, there would be an episode in it told something like this: Abraham and his wife were unable to have children, so he slept with one of his slaves. When she conceived, it proved his wife was barren. He would have cast her aside, but he was told by his God not to. Abraham raised the child borne by the slave to be his heir. This child, named Ishmael, was strong in spirit, but eventually Abraham’s wife, too, bore him a son, and tradition was clear: the child of marriage superseded. So Ishmael was sent away but became the father of a great people, as did his half-brother, Isaac.

But Scripture does not tell us the story like this. We readers learn not only the names of Abraham’s wife and slave but also some of their feelings. Sarah is desperate about her barrenness; Hagar is emboldened by her motherhood.

This is not the only surprise. The second is the depth of insight revealed in the telling of their story. God clearly knows how they feel, and we, the readers, learn enough about them to feel conflicted by the intricacies of their relationship. A straight reading—through modern eyes—reveals a lopsided situation. A slave mistress, Sarah, frustrated with her own inability to bear a child, orders her slave woman, Hagar, to have sex with her husband in the hopes a pregnancy will result. When it does, though, Sarah is jealous of Hagar. Though she cannot send Hagar and the baby away—the boy is, after all, her husband’s heir—she abuses Hagar verbally and makes her life miserable. When, though, Sarah is able to have her own child, she uses her position of power to have Hagar and the boy Ishmael driven away, into the wilderness, where it can be assumed they will die of starvation or attack by wild animals.

This kind of a reading does not make me feel at all sympathetic toward Sarah, and my compassion toward Hagar is really aroused when she is seen, helpless in the wilderness, knowing she and her child will die. And God shows up, with so much concern and care that Hagar calls him “the God who sees her.” The tenderness for Hagar is breathtaking, especially when you understand and remember that societies, by and large, have never valued women like Hagar. We still don’t. Hagar is the street prostitute who dies of an overdose in a rent-by-the-hour hotel room. The troubles of her childhood and adolescence are unknown; she is merely one of the huddled, unnamed masses who never became anyone worth knowing. Yet God sees her, knows her name, speaks tenderly, personally, and directly to her.

So with this reading, and with our tendency to dualize all things, Hagar becomes the heroine of the piece. And Sarah becomes the straight-up villain.

But, in another surprise, she isn’t.

God, clearly sympathetic to Hagar, is also sympathetic to Sarah, and he reveals the troubles of her situation. We learn of Abraham’s failings toward her. Twice, to protect his own skin, he basically prostituted her. It was true that she was beautiful and desirable (hence his fear for his own skin), but we can infer that she worried about her inability to provide Abraham with an heir. Surely her beauty would protect her for only so long. Eventually he would set her aside because of her barrenness. What would she do then? And beneath this, she so longed for a child. This fear and desire grew to desperation, and it was in desperation that she pitched the idea to her husband of Abraham sleeping with Hagar in order to have a child.

And though Hagar is obviously a pawn in this situation and is mistreated, we learn she was emboldened when she had Ishmael and she taunted Sarah. Sarah’s emotions are presented as conflicted at this point. Her plan has backfired. She is not happy. She still wants a child. Her status in the household is precarious. She seems lonely.

God seems to know all this. Neither Hagar nor Sarah is presented as stock characters. They are real women. Both have struggles. Both have endured much. Both have been used. And though one is in a position of power in this story, God sympathizes with her struggles, while he also sees the deep wrong she has done to Hagar. He cares for Sarah; he cares for Hagar. His loves—for each women—are somehow not in conflict with each other.

This kind of depth and breadth of love is also seen in God’s relationship with Abraham. He sees Abraham’s love for Ishmael. He sees Abraham’s confusion over the right thing to do in this strange situation.

I am amazed by the complexity acknowledged in the presentation of this story. I am not allowed to simplify it and make one person a villain and another the sympathetic character. I am not allowed to cheer for one person against another.

This is incredible. God loves the princess; God loves the pauper; God loves the goody-two-shoes older son; God loves the wasteful, lascivious younger son; God loves the cheating tax collector; God loves the woman with the issue of blood; God loves Judas; God loves John. God loves the busy Martha and the more reflective Mary.

I could go on and on and on.

God sees into the hearts of every single one of us. He knows our pasts. He knows the ways we’ve been damaged and hurt. And he doesn’t take sides, choosing one of us against another. He loves all of us all at the same time and forever, somehow working through and past the hurt we’ve dealt each other and the snubs we’ve dealt him.

God loves. Period.

I want to extend God’s love. Period. Without determining who is more worthy of it than another, privileging neither the rich nor the poor, neither the more guilty nor the less.

Sometimes when I teach Bible stories to children, I point to each one of them and say, in turn, “God loves you!”

God is pointing, miraculously and mysteriously, at every human on earth and saying the same thing.

Friday Winter to Sunday Spring

it is finished

Older daughter Em’s work hanging in the foyer of the church, ready for our Good Friday service

This day I’m thankful for

springtime rain,

birdsong from feathered friends

(persisting in choir practice

despite the drizzle),

trees budding in grey light,

greening grass,

and scents of something fresh and raw

rising from dark, soft soil.

I’m thankful for promise!

Yes, promise:

That the dark, the cold, the separation—

Each of us holed up, weathering out the weather—

These will not last forever.

Warmth will come.

Life will burst forth from the earth

Spring will shake a fist, defiant against

The dark and the cold,

And winter will be swept aside.

I am thankful—

Yet I am reminded, in this Holy Week,

That the promise is only for a time,

The jubilee of spring is temporary,

And indeed is not complete.

Temporary, for the dirge of winter will return;

the seasons will cycle: summer scorch, autumn shrivel, winter burial,

Newness fading to death again and again.

It is, as well, an incomplete jubilee, for even in the best of springs, there is

Blight and sickness, death of young and old,

Fresh emergence of old grudges, old divisions.

On the most beautiful of days, all is still not well.

But this holiest of weeks holds forth greater promise

Than a passing, unfulfilled season.

I am reminded that beyond Friday’s death,

Beyond the now,

There is an eternal Then.

Oh, blessed Sunday,

Day of Celebration

Day of Declaration

Day that assures us

That the eternal Then already has

Crucified death,

Vanquished darkness

Swallowed despair, and

Erased all divisions.

And someday, the eternal Then Himself will transform our hoped-for Then into Now!

When all will be right; all will be fully well.

Sunday life—all the time!

So at present we hold onto hope, we hold onto promise

That though we endure the wintry mix of Friday now,

Clinging to promise in the decay of the tomb,

Yet an eternal Sunday will spring,

Fully finished.

The stone will be rolled away

And we will emerge into a new, abundant Now

That has no end.