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How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275

traces of hope

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As a progressive Christian I …

1.  Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;

2.  Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;

3.  Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:

  • Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
  • Believers and agnostics,
  • Women and men,
  • Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
  • Those of all classes and abilities;

4.  Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

5.  Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

6.  Strive for peace and justice among all people;

7.  Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

8.  Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

http://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/

Today’s Gospel was from John chapter 12. One verse caught my attention.

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“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

 

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In the homily we were reminded of the process whereby a seed grows. It has to be in the right temperature and level of moisture. Then its protective shell has to soften and crack open. Only then can the seed send out a root and a shoot and make food and grow. The hard shell has to be broken.

Two things came to mind as I listened. The first is the obvious prophecy of Jesus’ death and the beginning of the church. Without Jesus’ death would his words have taken root? Without his death would others have been willing to die for their faith? Secondly, I reflected on what happened to bring about his death? He became vulnerable, he let down his defenses, he opened up and spoke the truth that was within his heart.

I recently re-watched a TED talk by Sociologist Brene Brown. She spoke about her discovery that vulnerability is the basis for living a whole life, for being what she calls a whole-hearted person.

“And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

According to Brown in order to be whole-hearted people we have to live with authenticity, “we have to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee, to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love this much? Can I believe in this this passionately?”

Let us hope that as we learn to become more vulnerable, more open, more whole-hearted, we will not be asked to die for the truth the way that Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero and so many other martyrs did. But in this season of Lent let us at least stretch enough, and soften our shells enough, to allow growth to happen.

Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on many questions about Catholicism – my faith home. Along the way I have left my career as a Catholic religious educator and more recently I have left my home in the Catholic Church for a new faith community in the United Church of Christ. It would be inappropriate to continue to comment on the Catholic Church as if I were a member, and so I will be changing the blog’s name to Christianity in the 21st Century.

I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my faith journey and my journey through grief and loss, if you are interested in my full story.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426982211&sr=1-1&keywords=Mona+villarrubia

“…biblical authors often used humor and the absurd to alert their readers that something very important is about to happen. The births of Isaac and Jesus were my two examples. The idea that either a woman in her nineties or a virgin can give birth is, I said, absurd, and the authors knew this to be so. They never expected their readers to take them literally. Rather they were saying, look these births herald the coming [of] something new into the world and hence break with the normative ways of producing offspring.” Rabbi Rami Shapiro, http://rabbirami.blogspot.com/2012/11/stand-up-theology.html

We all love Thanksgiving dinner and all its trimmings – a beautiful family tradition that brings our families together and mends and heals and nurtures. Now, just a few weeks later we are immersed in the Christmas story and all its trimmings. And, once again, we prepare for family gatherings and for opportunities to renew and reclaim, to nest and remember. But what is it as Christians that we are called to remember? What is the Christian heart of our Christmas story?

Obviously, it’s not Christmas lights and fir trees; it’s not snow men or reindeer. It’s not Santa Claus or even Saint Nicholas – he came much later.

Is it the angels singing in the fields, and the shepherds? Is it wise men from the East and their gifts? Is it Herod’s slaughter of the innocents – that’s hardly festive? Okay, what about the stable and the ox and ass and manger? There has to be a manger because of the song, right? And everybody loves the scene of the angels and shepherd and the baby!

Everybody loves a story of a baby, especially one in which there is danger and pathos and heroism and compassion and beauty and a happy ending with angels singing and a star from heaven guiding a family to safety so a baby can be born under a starry sky….ahhhh! Cue the heavenly chorus. Then add the mysteries and treasures of the Orient and a baby lamb and some portentous dreams. What is not to like about this story? But we still haven’t gotten to the Christian heart of the story. We are still in the Christmas Story. And that is where Christmas stays for so many people it seems, and not just children.

In my experience, adult Christians who have become disenchanted with Christmas have become disenchanted with the Christmas Story not with the Christian Story. In fact they may not really know the Christian story. And here we get to Rabbi Rami’s point.  The Gospel writers, writing decades after Jesus’ death, were not historians of his life; they were not biographers. They were tellers of his Teaching, Death, and Resurrection – and only as an afterthought his birth, and only because, after all, he had to have had one.  In telling about his birth their main concern was to say that God was involved, and that from the very beginning the Jesus Event was a God Event. Not just from the moment of his baptism (Mark), not just from the moment of his announced conception (Matthew and Luke) but even from before the moment of creation (John).

The Gospel writers, when addressing the issue of Jesus’ birth, were giving us theology not biology.  They weren’t interested in eggs, sperm, uteruses – they didn’t know about such things. They weren’t interested in the human person as evil matter versus a good spirit, that idea was a Greek idea that didn’t have any influence on the Gospel writing, obviously, because Jesus clearly had a body in all the Gospel narratives.  The Gospel writers weren’t concerned about Original Sin either; Augustine would create that idea a few hundred years later.

The Gospel writers were telling us, using hyperbole and using Old Testament allusions, that the Jesus Event was a God Event, and that it had always been a God Event, since the beginning of Jesus’ life, or even since the beginning of all time. Moreover, the Jesus Event had been prefigured by many different stories in the Old Testament, showing that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah of Jewish expectation. For example, Micah prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew especially took great pains to connect his version of the Infancy Narrative, as it is called, to prophecies in the Old Testament. For example he connects the family’s trip to Egypt, and the ensuing slaughter of the innocents – two stories no other Gospel includes – to prophecies in Hosea and Jeremiah respectively. It is generally agreed that Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish-Christian and in his use of Old Testament quotes and allusions he may simply be using a literary device to make his theological points: the Jesus Event was a God Event; Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah.  The early Christians hadn’t gone any further than this in trying to figure out Jesus’ relationship to God yet, other than the basic language of Father, Son, and Spirit. The debate about the Trinity took nearly four hundred more years to settle (Council of Nicea 325, Chalcedon 451).

So what then is my point? If we are suffering from Christmas ennui, maybe it’s because we simply have lost sight of the Christian Story.  My solution? Let’s give ourselves the gift of a LITERARY GOSPEL CHRISTMAS. Let’s do some reading of the Gospel narratives with a footnoted Bible translation and/or scholarly commentary at hand and really attempt to understand the Christian Story beneath the Christmas story before we call Bah Humbug to it all!

I learned something today in our Synagogue staff meeting that really blew me away. As a Catholic Religious Educator I was used to the simple (now I understand simplistic) correlation between the Last Supper and a Passover seder.  (Seder means order or sequence, as in order of service – the sequence of prayers in the ritual meal.  The Passover Seder is a particular order of service for Passover.) But the Last Supper was not a Passover Seder, could not have been a Passover Seder. So the struggle within Christian theology to figure out the day of the week of the Last Supper and whether it coincided with Passover is pointless. Why? For the simple reason that the Passover Seder is a Rabbinic tradition developed AFTER the destruction of the Temple in 70AD and codified in Rabbinic texts around 200A.D.

So any paralleling between the Passover and the Last Supper is anachronistic. Perhaps in fact the Last Supper ritual of bread and wine was a Sabbath ritual or Sabbath-like. Certainly the tradition of the four blessings with wine did not exist at the time of Jesus death.  Was the Last Supper ritual written as a theological midrash (interpretation) by the Gospel writers, comparing Jesus with the Passover lamb? This would have made sense after his death when they were struggling to find some redemptive value in it and not see it simply as a failure.  Did Jesus compare himself to the lamb which was sacrificed in the Temple on the feast of Passover for the expiation of sins ? Again, that is possible if he knew he was going to die and saw his upcoming death as that of an innocent victim whose death brought salvation to his followers.  But what if Paul developed the midrash of the Last Supper?  Paul who was a rabbinic scholar. Paul who came to believe in Jesus after his death.  Paul who was the first to write the account of the Last Supper.

There is a lot to consider here. 

John Paley

Philosophy, nursing, research

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