Marked by Ashes: Poetry for Lent by Walter Brueggeman

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day …
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Sabbath as Rest, Liberation, and Resistance: A Sermon for Proper 4, Year B

When I was a child, Sunday was a day of rest or play. I don’t remember my parents ever doing any activity that could have been construed as work, and they didn’t allow us children to do anything of the sort, either. Meals were prepared and the kitchen was cleaned up but no other household chores were done—no laundry or cleaning. And certainly, there was no outdoor activity permitted that could be seen as manual labor, no gardening or lawn mowing, for example. Continue reading

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have Mercy on Us

Some prayers in the midst of horrific tragedy.

Grieving Our Lost Children by Walter Brueggeman

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents … Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Collect for Holy Innocents, December 28 BCP

From Rev. Emily Heath (West Dover, VT)

Trinity Institute: Day II

Today begin with Mary Gordon’s talk and a lively discussion, both on the panel at Trinity and among us in Madison. Gordon sad that there are three elements that pervade the stories of Jesus. First, that he has an intimate relationship with his Father; second that the gospels show Jesus was actively involved in people’s lives; and third that he suffered grotesquely and died, but that resurrection demonstrates that his suffering had meaning. On this third point, she quoted Simone Weil to the effect that the genius of Christianity is not that it offers a “supernatural cure for suffering, but that it offers a supernatural use for suffering.” Later, she said also that one cannot uncouple the readings or interpretations of the gospels from the actions those readings produce.

Gerald West led the group on-site and world-wide through the method of “contextual bible study” that he and his colleagues developed in South Africa and in conversation with people in Brazil and the Philippines.

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for the conference. I expected Brueggeman to entertain and provoke. He did so. I expected Gordon’s eloquence. Not knowing anything about the other two scholars and with a passing familiarity with liberation and post-colonial interpretations, I thought the conference would probably disappoint. But it didn’t. It was exciting.

There were two things that struck me. One was the level of discourse on the panel. It was clear that there were deep differences among the panelists. Perhaps the deepest were between the two Catholics. Sister Teresa Okure, who repeatedly appealed to the magisterium in positive ways, citing Vatican II documents as well as documents produced at the African Synod. Gordon spoke often and eloquently about the pain she and others suffer at the hands of the institutional church. But the conversation, in spite of those differences, was though-provoking and civil. The second thing was the stress by several of the speakers on the importance of the community coming together to read scripture.

Episcopalians aren’t very good at reading scripture together. In my experience, bible studies are poorly attended and often degenerate into individualistic reading into the text of one’s own issues and concerns, rather than allowing the text to speak to one’s situation. But time and again, the speakers urged us to find ways of reading and interpreting in community and in conversation between the trained and the less well trained or educated. But I wonder. Reading has become such a solitary activity and relatively uncommon at that. Is it possible to come together as a community to read and interpret together?

Trinity Institute: Reading Scripture through other eyes

I just got home from the first day of the Trinity Institute’s conference “Reading Scripture through other eyes.” Thanks to Brad Pohlman and Franklin Wilson of Luther Memorial who provided the downlink and invited my participation again this year.

The conference speakers today were Walter Brueggeman, emeritus professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA and Sister Teresa Okure of the West African Catholic Institute. I enjoy the conference because it is one of the few opportunities I  have to engage theological scholarship in community, even if a large part of that community is virtual. Brueggeman and Okure both asked hard questions in their talks. Brueggeman gave an overview of the development of biblical interpretation in the last five hundred years, making use of Paul Ricoeur’s concepts of “pre-critical,” “critical,” and “post-critical” interpretations, the latter involving what Ricoeur called a “second naivete.”

He also stressed the important developments in biblical interpretation in the past thirty years, mentioning the rise of rhetorical criticism, ideology critique (including liberation theology, feminism, and post-colonialism), and the growing appreciation of Jewish approaches. He challenged us to ask questions of the text that let the text come close to people’s experience, and said in the panel discussion that truth claims have to be tested in the presence of pain. He pointed out Freud’s discovery that the self is “thick, layered, and conflicted,” making the connection between Freud’s use of image and story to help people understand themselves, with the traditional methods of Jewish interpreters who explained a story by telling another story. He extended Freud’s insight to the text and to God. The text of scripture is “thick, layered, and conflicted” and reveals a God who is “thick, layered, and conflicted.” Human beings, he observed, are created in the image of that God.

Okure sought to distinguish between the cultural contexts in which scripture was written and in which it is interpreted and the transcendent truth of the gospel. She spoke passionately both about her particular cultural context in Nigeria, and about her institutional context in the Roman Catholic Church.

Much of the discussion following the presentations, both in the panel conversation, and in our group at Luther Memorial, focused on questions of truth, including the truth of Jesus Christ. There’s an account of today’s proceedings here. More on the Trinity Institute here.

Although we were a relatively small group today, our conversation was lively and deep. To hear scholars struggling with important issues like the cultural contexts of reading scripture, and trying to articulate the relationship between the truths in scripture and the limitations of the human cultures in which scripture was written is exhilarating. There was also a provocative discussion about the role of the preacher/pastor and the community as a hermeneutical community, a community that interprets scripture.

We also heard Steed Davidson’s wonderful sermon on “Reading out loud.” He was working with Acts 8, the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. He pointed the importance of Philip as guide, not as teacher, and asked who was more transformed by the experience, who was baptized, since the Greek isn’t clear.

One of the things I want to do at Grace in the coming months and years is some serious bible study and this conference gave me more impetus to do that.