Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dorothy Day - Review of Her Biography: "All Is Grace"

My friend, the Rev. Robert Orr, offers the following review of a biography on Dorothy Day:


I've just finished All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forrest.  

He does a remarkable job of telling the Catholic Worker story and introducing us to the beautiful woman Dorothy Day was.  

Again and again while I was reading it, I remembered you helping me get to work at the "Hippy Kitchen"/ Catholic Worker soup kitchen in LA.  In fact I used a flyer from that organization as a bookmark.  

I was struck by Day's "wild" life prior to her conversion, her empathy for men and women "on the street" during the depths of the depression, her need for solitude and community and how she balanced the two, her deep love of Russian literature,(especially Dostoyevsky) and the Orthodox Church, the birth of her daughter and her deep hurt when the father refused to marry her.  

Again and again she struggled to accomplish the "works of mercy" as she called them, and, of course, standing against war and the propaganda of war.  

Always she was a writer reflecting in her regular columns in the paper what was happening in her life, what she was thinking and praying about, and developments in the Catholic Worker movement.  

She remained a conservative Catholic who worked at seeing Christ in every human being.  She was a radical who challenged American society again and again - truly a person who taught us all what it means to follow Christ.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Confession of Belhar September 1986 1
  1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.
  2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.
    We believe
    • that Christ's work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another;
    • that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God's Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain;
    • that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted;
    • that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another's burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity;
    • that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God;
    • that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church;
Therefore, we reject any doctrine
  • which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;
  • which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
  • which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;
  • which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

    3. We believe
  • that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ; that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
  • that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world;
  • that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;
  • that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

    Therefore, we reject any doctrine
which, in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe
that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
  • that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged
  • that God calls the church to follow him in this; for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
  • that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
  • that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans
    and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
  • that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the
    widows in their suffering;
  • that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the
  • that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
  • that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

    Therefore, we reject any ideology
which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence.

Jesus is Lord.
To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

1. This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (USA).
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Thursday, May 8, 2014

That All Might be One - 2 Corinthians 5.21

In one of the classic statements of the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul says:

God causes the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we might
become the righteousness of God [2 Corinthians 5.21].

And what is that “sin” that Jesus didn’t know and becomes for our sake?! 
Generations of theologians have packed the word “sin” with all the sins they could find, and in
many cases, when treated “piously,” these sins became the personal failings of life: usually
around alcohol and sexual misbehavior.

And by putting all of this onto Christ, we’re forgiven and can breath a collective sigh of relief.

This may, in fact, be a part of the story, but if it is (and it may not be), it’s a very small part. For
the larger part of the story is Paul’s story - strange, how, many readers of Paul quickly step
away from him and begin piling on their own stuff, assuming that this is what Paul meant, or
even if he didn’t mean it, he should have.

The sin that Jesus didn’t know, and the sin that he became for our sake, is the sin of exclusion,
and all that goes along with that in human history. The sin of exclusion that welcomes some and
sends others packing, and deems them dangerous, labels them a threat and may kill them for
the sake of peace and security.

Paul lived much of his former life in the power of exclusion which explains his initial response to
the Christian movement - get rid of it, and get rid of those who espouse it. No matter the cost,
get rid of it.

But on the Damascus Road, the walls of exclusion came tumbling down, and the full light of
God’s covenant faithfulness dawned upon Paul.

At first, the bright light of God’s faithfulness was too much, and Paul (Saul) was blinded by it,
and only when one of the people to whom Saul was prepared to level the death sentence came
to Saul to pray with him did the scales of blindness fall from his eyes. Only when someone he
originally hated, despised and deemed worthy of death, touched him in prayer and love did Saul
realize what, in fact, God had done in Christ.

The one whom we we labeled as dangerous, whom we deemed heretical, and killed with all our
might, comes to us in prayer and love, in the resurrection, to reveal the light of God’s
faithfulness in the face of human pride and power that builds the walls of exclusion. 

And it might just blind us as well. Until we realize the glory of God’s reconciling the world
through Christ - the whole of creation - not one piece left behind, not one creature excluded, no
one sent packing, but all welcomed by the Creator whose covenant faithfulness survives the
worst and proceeds to yet work the miracle of One God and One People, without the walls of
separation that drive the human story. And when those walls tumble, it’s God’s faithfulness
tearing them down, God’s righteousness holding all of creation together, that in Christ, all might
be one.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Calvinist Retelling of the Prodigal Son Story

The younger brother wantonly asks for his share of the inheritance, and that means, of course, he wants his daddy dead and nothing more to do with his elder brother.

The father must have been outta his mind and converted half of the estate into cash and gave it to the younger son.

So, off the boy went, cash in the pocket, to find his dreams.

But such things rarely if ever pan out, and what he found, rather than his dreams, was poverty - his money ran out and so did his "friends." His only recourse, hire himself out to a pig farmer, of all things, munching on their food, making a pig out of himself, so to speak.

Well, he comes to his senses - yeah sure - and realizes that he'd be in the gravy again if he could go back home, but, first, he has to construct a worthy repentance sorry, the classic sob-story, to win his father's forgiveness.

When he finally has his thoughts put together, he heads home ...

He's welcomed with joy, or so it seems.

Good food and fine clothing.

All seems good ... but no elder brother to be found.

"Where's my brother?" asks the boy.

"He's dead," says the father.

"What happened?" exclaims the younger son!

"A sacrifice was needed to pay the price for you, m'boy. You offended heaven and earth, you transgressed your family's honor, my honor, and only death, only blood, could set it right. And it had to be someone I loved, loved very much. Only that kind of blood could fill the bill, pay the price, put it right."

"Upon your elder brother, I took out my wrath, my anger, my disgust with your sin. All that you deserved, but I gave it to my eldest son, instead. I had your brother beaten within an inch of his life. My servants here beat him with whips and sticks, spat upon him, humiliated him, and then dragged to that tree on the hill over there, you see it? And there they tied him. And after a few hours, a servant slit his throat."

"His hot blood cascading upon the earth paid the price for your sin. Plunged beneath that crimson flood, so to speak, your sin was washed away by your brother's death. All was set right, which is why I was able to welcome you home, and restore you to your proper place of sonship with me. It's all yours now. Don't you just love me all the more for what I've done. I killed my first-born son for you."

"Oh, but don't ya' know, it was a sad day for me. I wept bitterly at it, but it was necessary. Blood was required. Death was needed. So you could live. Only with the death of your brother for your sake could my wrath be appeased. Only with his death, could my anger be lifted and my mercy flow again. Only with his blood shed on that terrible tree could I love you again."

The younger brother cried out, "But father, was it necessary to kill him?"

"Of course it was. Justice required it. I required it. To put things right again."

"Your elder brother died for you, m'boy. He died for your sins."

The younger boy went away that night and wept.

"Have I done this?" he anguished. Did I cause the death of my brother?

And the next day, he left home again, because such a father could not be loved.

But only feared.

Who might be next?

In a such a world.

Of violence.

And blood.