Thursday, May 31, 2012

From our son to us to you:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

As quoted in The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991) by Agnes de Mille, p. 264, ISBN 0-394-55643-7. Martha Graham, American dancer, teacher and choreographer of modern dance, 1894-1991.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

From Trevor Wax's blog, giving tribute to my teacher, George Eldon Ladd (I was his TA for two years at Fuller, '66-'68). Sitting each week under the teaching of George Eldon Ladd was life-changing. He was a mentor to many and the epitome of a passionate teacher.

"Here are two ways Ladd defined “the gospel,” one personal and the other in light of God’s kingdom:

'I can only bear witness at this point to what Heilsgeschichte means to me. My sense of God’s love and acceptance is grounded not only in the resurrected Christ but also in the Jesus of history. He taught something about God that was utterly novel to his Jewish auditors: that God is not only gracious and forgiving to the repentant sinner but is also a seeking God who, in Jesus’ person and mission, has come to seek and to save the lost.

God has shown me that he loves me in that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me (Rom. 5:8). This is not faith in history; it is not faith in the kerygma; it is not faith in the Bible. It is faith in God who has revealed himself to me in the historical event of the person, works and words of Jesus of Nazareth who continues to speak to me though the prophetic word of the Bible.' - George Eldon Ladd, “The Search for Perspective,” Interpretation 25 (Jan. 1971), 56 and 57.

'This is the good news about the kingdom of God. How men need this gospel! Everywhere one goes he finds the gaping graves swallowing up the dying. Tears of loss, of separation, of final departure stain every face. Every table sooner or later has an empty chair, every fireside its vacant place. Death is the great leveller. Wealth or poverty, fame or oblivion, power or futility, success or failure, race, creed or culture — all our human distinctions mean nothing before the ultimate irresistible sweep of the scythe of death which cuts us all down. And whether the mausoleum is a fabulous Taj Mahal, a massive pyramid, an unmarked spot of ragged grass or the unplotted depths of the sea one fact stands: death reigns.

'Apart from the gospel of the kingdom, death is the mighty conqueror before whom we are all helpless. We can only beat our fists in utter futility against this unyielding and unresponding tomb. But the good news is this: death has been defeated; our conqueror has been conquered. In the face of the power of the kingdom of God in Christ, death was helpless. It could not hold him, death has been defeated; life and immortality have been brought to life. An empty tomb in Jerusalem is proof of it. This is the gospel of the kingdom.'- from G.E. Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some of the More Important Lessons I've Learned

It is good to stretch yourself and to take on challenges that put you beyond your comfort zone, that cause you to have to learn new content or skills, though when you take on such challenges, things won't always work out the way you had thought they would.

When you screw up your work or your life or both, and you will, you can be forgiven, and you will still be loved, though you may find it hardest to forgive and love yourself.

When you love someone and make a commitment to them in marriage or friendship, it is important to be as honest as you can. "As you can" because not all honesty or truth-telling is loving. But beware that it is easy to deceive oneself and justify one's decision to be less than completely truthful.

You can base your whole life on being thankful. Gratitude for what is, is a good life philosophy.

*****

The Bible does not contain an internally consistent and coherent portrayal of God, and, therefore, Christians have to choose among the possible contruals. Finding valid criteria for such sense-making is not easy. It does not work to prioritize the New Testament over the Old Testament, since both contain the same inconsistent and incoherent presentation of the character of God. It doesn't work to prioritize Jesus' life and teaching over the rest because the sayings of Jesus as reported in the New Testament have been edited and shaped by the interests of the earliest Christians, and these portrayals of Jesus are not consistent or free from contradictions or paradoxes.

One option would be to remain agnostic about the nature of God as portrayed in Scripture, not, though about the existence of God. The latter is a different question. One could simply and legitimately say, the problem of God in the Bible is too difficult. But inevitably one has some "image of God" in mind, whether one reads the Bible and takes it seriously or not.

So I choose to be self-conscious about my understanding of God and to take responsibility for it. It seems inescapable to me, for reasons not altogether clear to me (is that the same thing as it being intuitive?), that I choose for the love and justice of God, as the chief, defining, and inalienable characteristics of God. When one makes this choice, one makes a wager on the nature of ultimate reality. I bet my life on the goodness and justice of God. I used to think one could get to this point by reason and good hermenutical principles. But I have now given up that quest after nearly five decades. My "theology", therefore, feels much more like a wager, a bet, on the nature of God.

Another consequence is that this choice then becomes heuristic for reading and appropriating the various stories and teachings in the Bible. Wherever God is portrayed as less than good, less than just, less than loving, less than merciful, and less than fiercely determined to put all things right (i.e., righteous), then those portrayals are to be seen as carrying a heavier load of limited, culturally and historically conditioned, understandably human and anthropomorphic understandings of God's character.

I do not believe that the inspiration of Scripture makes such discernment on our, the reader's, part unnecessary. The Bible is, in a sense, God's Word, but it is mediated though fully human words. The Bible mediates truth, but not apart from such discernment. The Spirit of God speaks through the Bible, but it is dangerous and even nonsensical to equate the words of the Bible with the Word of God. It is dangerous because of the peril of taking literally that which reflects the primarily human limited and skewed understanding of God, and it makes no sense because of the internal inconsistencies and contrary portrayals of who God is. This is a problem I have been wrestling with for about fifty years.