Moltmann Monday: On Torture

Friends, torture and brutality surround us these days. Our inclination is to turn away, but our faith requires us to stay put, to listen, to speak out. So today, here are some words of wisdom from our German friend who does not speak of torture from a distance, but as a former POW who had to hear stories of his own country doing terrible things to people that he could not single-handedly stop but nonetheless felt implicit in allowing. The selection is from a chapter in Jesus Christ for Today’s World. If you missed Moltmanniac’s post on this chapter last week, do yourself a favor and go read it right now.  He’s covered much of the material in the chapter so I won’t restate what he says so well. I posted a bit of this chapter recently as well in a post discussing Jesus as the brother of the tortured.   So, the section below is geared toward where I think most of us are: we are not the tortured, or the torturers. We are the onlookers. But we still have an important role to play in how we respond. Here’s Moltmann:

Victims, we said, have a long memory, for they still carry the unforgettable scars of their suffering. Those who caused that suffering have short memories. They don’t know what they have done and don’t want to know. So the perpetrators are dependent on the victims if they want to turn away from death and enter into life. No expiation can be offered to the victims; the wrongdoers can at most participate in initiatives which are a symbol of expiation, as a way of regaining their self-respect.

If the judge of the torturers is called Christ, then these torturers are confronted by someone who has been tortured. That is the moment of truth. The mask falls. The torturer recognizes himself for what he is. That is judgment. If the judge of the torturers is called Christ, then they are confronted by the one ‘who bears the sins of the world.’  That is the moment of justice, the justice which creates new life…

I always became painfully aware of the barbed wire round the prisoner-of-war camp when a transport left to go home. Then we smelled a whiff of liberty, and it made us totally ill. When freedom is near the chains begin to chafe. When our interest in life is awakened we begin to protest against the powers of death. When once we feel the hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice we are no longer prepared to accept injustice; we fight against it.

So let us strengthen the will for life, our own life and the lives of other people and other created beings. Then the forces that resist torture will awaken too. Let us spread the hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice. Then the injustice will be felt as injustice, and will be manifest as such, and will be ended.

Three things I want to point out. First, for all the discussion about white privilege, I think the first two sentences of this section do much to clarify what it means. White privilege- or any privilege, for that matter- has the ability to forget. We can have short memories, because we don’t know what we’ve done and don’t want to know. This is something victims can never do. They can never be forgetful about their suffering. It lies heavy upon them, like a weight. They bear the scars. They do not forget. They must endure. That is the first thing to know as we watch these scenes unfold on the streets in Ferguson and around the country, and in response to the CIA torture report released last week. God forbid we would ever be flippant about these matters, but I think it’s important that we remember that walking away from these stories and forgetting about them is a luxury and a sign of our privilege. Victims don’t share that. They aren’t nursing grudges. As Moltmann says, they are carrying “the unforgettable scars of their suffering.”

Second, as Christians we declare that Jesus is the Judge of everyone, and this includes the torturers. So imagine this picture in your mind:  a CIA agent stands before Jesus, who is bloodied and beaten. Jesus is not only the judge, but also the victim. Yes, I am equating Jesus with a potential Al Qaeda operative. If you don’t understand that, then you should never quote the “Roman Road” or claim that you believe Jesus died for sinners. Because that’s exactly what that means. Jesus stood in the place of all sinners- even those at Abu Ghraib. He stood in the place of the very people who beat, abused, mocked and killed him. He prayed, “Father forgive them.” He is the judge, but do not ever forget that he is also the victim.

What does one do when faced with the truth of his own brutality? Moltmann says “the torturer recognizes himself for what he is.” That’s our hope, right? That when confronted with Jesus, our mask falls away and we can accept the moment of truth, hard as it may be.

Imagine an armed police officer standing before Jesus. Under what circumstances does the police officer feel justified in taking the life of this innocent, unarmed man?

Before Jesus the judge, we encounter Jesus the victim, and we are found guilty. We see ourselves for who we are. We cannot excuse our violence.

Thank God, judgment is not the end of the story. It is the new beginning, for in our admission of guilt, we are given a path to new life. This is what Moltmann means when he speaks of a “justice which creates new life.” It is not punitive judgment. It is reconciling judgment. Yes, you are guilty for torturing, for pulling the trigger. Now that you see, now that the mask has fallen, you are on your way back to life. You can turn away, make amends, reconcile. But even when you do so, your victims will always bear their scars. That’s the reality this side of new creation.

Third, Moltmann gives those of us who are onlookers a way to understand our role. Our role is to be people who are deeply interested in life being awakened. When we do that, we begin to protest all the powers of death- police brutality, murder, torture, abuse. We become resistant to the forces that attempt to obscure the good and full life God desires for every person, for every created being. We cannot stand for it. We must fight against it- but not with the tools of death. We fight with a hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice which does not shy from judging those who need to be judged, but does not rest until those same perpetrators have come all the way around to redemption. 

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The Word: Votive

Yes, I chose a well-known word this time around. Why? Because even normal words are awesome, and because many of them have great stories attached. So, in light of Advent (see what I did there), this week’s Word is votive.

We know votives as the word we use for small candles, whether they are the ones we put on our dining tables for a special meal, ones that pepper the nooks and crannies of our homes, or the ones we see lining the sides of churches as in the picture above. So yes, the simple way we use votive is to describe a small candle. BUT, did you ALSO know…

Votive is derived from the Latin verb voveo which means vow or promise. The past participle of voveo is votum which means a vow or promise made to a god. (And of course, votum is also the root of the word “vote.”) So votive means something offered/dedicated/consecrated in accordance with a vow. When you light a candle in a church, the candle itself is called a votive, but the act of lighting the candle is the act of offering something in accordance with a vow or a promise. In Christian terms, what happens is that you offer up a prayer to God on behalf of someone or something, and you light the candle as a tangible sign of that prayer. You literally put your prayer to light.

Now, I know you may think grammar is boring, but can I just tell you something cool about past participles for a second? It will make the word votive even more meaningful, I swear. Past participles describe something that happened in the past but is still continuing into the present. Past participles are like little quantum descriptors because they remind us that time is not strictly linear. For example, the present tense of the verb “to write” is “write.” I write this blog. The past tense is “wrote.” I wrote that blog. The past participle is written. The blog was written. Because the blog I wrote is not only in the past, it’s also still present today, because it exists where people can still read it in the present time. It didn’t go away, even though I wrote it in the past. See?

Okay, so with that in mind, let’s return to votive. If you go into a church and you take a moment to light a candle in prayer, you stay there for a minute. You light the candle (present). You then leave the church where you lit the candle and you go about your day (past). But the candle itself, the votive, is still lit (past participle). The promise, the prayer, the vow you offered up to God, is still going, even after you leave.

This is the symbolism of lighting a candle in prayer. It is one small way we try to convey the reality we believe to be true, which is that we offer up prayers to God, and those prayers continue to be heard even after we have uttered them. They do not fade away. They are not forgotten. They remain, like a small flicker of light, like a sign of our vow and our promise and our hope, even after they’ve left our lips and our hearts.

This is why so many people decide to light the unity candle during weddings. It is a vow, a promise, of unity, made tangible for all to see. If speaking vows is the auditory tangible sign, and the ring is the physical sign, the candle is the visual sign. We will come together, says the candle. We will be one. And in our unity, we will seek to reflect the light of God who is One with us.

During Advent, we light candles. We light a candle for hope, for peace, for joy, for love. And then, finally, we light the Christ candle. We remember that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” And we keep that candle lit through Epiphany to remind us that Jesus is a kind of living past participle; he is the One who has come, and is coming still. He is One who lived in the past, but whose life continues into the present.

How can we wrap our minds around something like that? We can’t really, so we turn to the beauty of a flickering candle, which symbolizes the reality that cannot be simply named, but must also be experienced, entered into, welcomed, adored.

When we light a candle in prayer, we align ourselves and our intentions with the work of God. We offer ourselves up to the work of God in the world. We consecrate a moment by asking for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the flicker of light, we pray for the Light of the World to come, and we vow to be people who will wait until he does.

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Moltmann Monday: Is the Kingdom Present or Future?

Happy Moltmann Monday! Since Advent is a time when we stand in the overlap of the Kingdom among us and the Kingdom to come, today’s selection comes from Jesus Christ for Today’s World* when Moltmann’s discussing that very topic:

Is the kingdom of God present or future? Is it something we already experience or something we expect and wait for?..

God’s kingdom is experienced in the present in companionship with Jesus. Where the sick are healed and the lost are found, where people who are despised are accepted and the poor discover their own dignity, where people who have become rigid and fossilized come alive again, and old, tired life becomes young and fruitful once more– there the kingdom of God begins. It begins as a seed… Being a seed, it is also the object of hope, but a hope firmly founded on experience and remembrance: the seed wants to grow, the one who has been found wants to return home, those who have been healed want to rise from the dead, and people liberated from some compulsion want to live in the country of freedom. Just because in the companionship of Jesus the kingdom of God is experienced in the present, its completion is hoped for in the future. Experience and hope strengthen one another mutually.

Experience and hope strengthen each other. That’s a good way to describe the relationship between present and future kin-dom. We have experienced, even if just in small doses, even if just in glimpses, the presence of God’s kin-dom among us. We have seen the sick healed, the lost found, the poor given dignity, the dead come alive, the trapped become freed. We have experienced many of these things ourselves. We know they are the work of God, made real to us by the companionship of Jesus who, with the Holy Spirit, makes these kinds of things possible among us. But that experience isn’t, of course, the fullness of the kin-dom. It is merely a seed. It is an object of hope, a token, something we can remember and hold onto while we wait for the kin-dom that has not yet fully come among us. When conditions in this world quickly return to sickness, to violence, to brokenness, we do not despair. We wait, and we hope, and we have trust in that hope because we have already experienced and seen and heard of glimpses of this kin-dom breaking in around us, even through the darkest shrouds. Even through death itself.

We know what the kingdom of God looks like because Jesus has revealed it to us. Moltmann actually begins this book with this assertion. He says (bold mine):

Anyone who gets involved with Jesus gets involved with the kingdom of God. This is an inescapable fact, for Jesus’ own concern was, and is, God’s kingdom…Who is Jesus? Simply the kingdom of God in person.

That makes it concrete for us. This is not just stuff we talk about. If we want to be about the kingdom, we do what Jesus did. That means that yes, we wait; and also, we act. We serve. We feed. We share. We listen. We comfort. In our doing, we declare our hope in the realm to come. We say, Yes, it’s so real, I’m going to live into it right now with my actions. We put our trust in it. We are involved in this. It matters.

As we wait upon the light of Christmas, as we hover in this Advent quiet, let’s allow experience and hope to strengthen each other, to encourage us to stay on the path, walking toward that which we trust God will make known among the earth when it’s all said and done. And let’s do what we can to be people who show forth this in-breaking world of redemption in all the ways we love and live. We experienced hope because someone else made room for it to happen. (“Let every heart prepare him room!”) Of all the things we do during Advent, let’s be people who make room for that same kind of hope to shine through.

 

*This is a great book for Moltmann beginners. It’s short and written in a more conversational style. :)

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Let’s Define Orthodox and Evangelical.

The recurring argument I seem to be hearing in relation to recent conversations about Rob Bell is about whether Bell is “orthodox” and whether he’s “evangelical.” I think a lot of our conversation on both points is based on how we define those terms. So for this week’s The Word (a day late, because…December) let’s define those terms in hopes of clearing up some things. More than that, I hope it’s generally helpful as we engage any conversation that includes these words, because their misuse seems rather rampant, and communicating about faith is hard enough without this kind of confusion, amiright?

First, capitals matter. Orthodox is different than orthodox, and Evangelical is different than evangelical.

Orthodox: the branch of the Christian family that dates back to the very beginning of our story, and became distinct from the Roman Catholic Church in 1054 after the Great Schism. Also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Orthodox Christian Church.

orthodox: holding beliefs (usually religious or political) that have been determined to be generally true by the whole group.

This is much like the difference between Catholic (belonging or relating to the Roman Catholic Church) and catholic (meaning universal or all-encompassing or the whole shebang, as in “we believe in the one holy catholic church” not meaning Catholics but the whole thing including everybody who ever followed and ever will follow Jesus).

So, if you say, for example, Rob Bell is not Orthodox, nobody will disagree with you. He does not belong to the Orthodox Church. But if you say Rob Bell is not orthodox, then I don’t know if/how you can prove it. The original definition of Christian orthodoxy is the Nicene Creed. It does not espouse doctrine but a story, and it doesn’t mention hell, certainly not same-sex marriage, and, most surprising for many, the only reference to the Bible simply says it told us Jesus would be raised from the dead. That isn’t to say these aren’t important for us to discuss, but it does mean that our great-grandparents of the faith, without whom we would not be here, did not find them essential.

I know orthodoxy is a big topic, and I’m skimming the surface of it to make a point. But the point is this: orthodoxy as defined by the Nicene Creed is both more generous and open than much of Evangelicalism tends to want to claim, and it’s also more simple and concise than many would like. You know, like Jesus.

Now, let’s turn to our next word:

Evangelical: a branch of the Christian family that began in the 18th century and which David Bebbington has adeptly described as focusing on conversion, action, a particular view of the Bible, and a particular view of the cross called substitutionary atonement.

evangelical: derived from the Greek word meaning “good news” or “gospel” (meaning the story of Jesus as told to us in the gospels), the term describes someone who shares this good news/gospel with others. And remember, this does not mean only words, or even primarily words. It’s about actions, and the way someone lives life, and how we treat people that also communicates good news to others.

So if you say Rob Bell is not Evangelical, there’s an argument to be had. Maybe some Evangelicals claim him, but in strict definition terms, maybe he’s not in that camp (and maybe he never was). Of course, if he’s not Evangelical (and I can’t stress enough how I have no dog in this fight), he’s not alone in that. Of the world’s 2 billion Christians, only 13% are Evangelicals. Only thirteen percent. And if we counted up across two thousand years how many Evangelicals there have been, it would be far, far less than that, since for 1800 years Christianity didn’t even have such a thing. Please consider this fact when determining whether Evangelicals have the right to decide who is and is not orthodox.

Is Rob Bell evangelical? Well, has he been spending his life sharing and living the good news that derive from his faith in the story and person of Jesus? Then, yeah, he is. And if he’s still doing that work, even if it’s outside of Evangelicalism, even if it’s outside of the church walls altogether, but he’s still sharing and living good news of hope and reconciliation and justice and grace and love and kin-dom come? I don’t know what else you call that but being an evangel. He’s bearing witness in his life and words and writings and yes, his Oprah show, to the life of Jesus as he knows it. Maybe he’s not as “on the nose” about it as some would like. But think about what it means if you discount that as good news. You’re throwing out much of what each of us does every day in service to God- kindness to neighbors, generosity to those in need, integrity in relationships, love of enemies and friends, respect for God’s creation. In doing these things we proclaim the life to come, the everlasting life Jesus made and the Spirit is making possible in us and through us and despite us.

I’d hate to see us so limit the word evangelical that we don’t make room for the simple practice of living a life of faith that reflects our Maker. Accountants bear witness to God by not cooking the books and keeping things ethical. Married people bear witness through fidelity and steadfast love and forgiveness. Teachers bear witness by encouraging and honoring young people with great amounts of grace and patience. (Parents, too.) And in a TV world filled with reality shows that feed on materialism, unhealthy rivalry and competition, shaming, and general meanness, a talk show host who wants to hold space for meaningful, purposeful, life-giving conversations to happen sure sounds like good news to me.

 

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Why Rob Bell is A Better Evangelical Than Evangelicals

 

 

Can I rant for a minute about the once-again-fashionable dog-piling on Rob Bell? He’s been circulating Twitter and FB feeds recently, first because of his new show on the Oprah channel, and second, because he has a new book coming out about marriage called The Zimzum of Love.* Most recently, I read this RNS story bewailing how these two things are further signs of  how far he’s fallen from evangelicalism.

I am truly baffled at how evangelicals, of all people, can’t see the positive possibilities that Rob Bell creates by engaging lots of people– lots of non-Christian, agnostic, atheistic, skeptical people– in discussions about God. Consider: The OWN channel is in 85 million homes worldwide. Oprah reaches millions of people every year, and sometimes in a single episode. What kind of confused evangelical would look at those numbers and say, “You know what would be terrible? If a Christian had his own talk show on that network. That would be really awful news”? What’s more, Bell is known for being someone people enjoy listening to. He’s engaging, he talks in normal English, he illustrates and weaves stories together masterfully. Of all people, evangelicals should know this, because they almost single-handedly are responsible for the 2.5 million Nooma videos that were sold, not to mention his sold out speaking tours and multiple best-selling books. Apparently, that was all okay, but now that he’s planning to bring that same energy and message to people outside of the walls of mega-churches, to the millions of people who haven’t yet heard him talk about God or the Bible or Jesus or pursuing this beautiful, justice-and-mercy-filled way of life, it’s not OK?

That makes absolutely no sense. Not for anyone, but certainly not for evangelicals.

If Oprah calls you up and invites you to share your thoughts on your faith, what kind of a moron would you have to be to say no? Would evangelicals really rather someone NOT be talking about God? Is it really that dire? Is Rob Bell so bad, so different from you, that silence is the better option? Because that’s what evangelicals currently have with broader culture: silence. Crickets. The vast majority of America has tuned them out. What kind of special prize do evangelicals think they are getting by not connecting with the very people they say they want to reach?

I know evangelicals are upset in part because they say they don’t believe the same gospel as Rob Bell, now that they consider him a heretic. I’m just going to go ahead and call BS on that idea right now. Let’s put this into perspective: We disagree on many things, we Christians, but if someone were to put together a collective sampling of people from across the world and asked us to tell our faith stories, and then asked people to classify groups by story, everyone would lump all the Christians together, regardless of who we voted for in the last election cycle, or even what continent we hail from. We share the same story. We do. We are the people who tell the story of Jesus and new life and a coming Kingdom. All of us tell that story. We differ on the details, but the idea that Rob Bell is somehow outside of his own Jesus-tinged faith skin is preposterous. It’s also really small-minded, because if you think Rob Bell is too different from you, go hang out with a group of Armenian Orthodox for a couple of hours and see if you feel differently. (Also, consider that the Armenian Orthodox practiced and thought it their way first, so we’re the ones who “evolved” past their faith expression, not the other way around.) Our story is really big, and we all live out this story different ways. So enough of the “he’s not sharing the real gospel” malarkey.

Sure, Rob Bell goes for the big picture. He sets a mood, he captivates people’s imaginations and attentions. He’s not holding lectures on minor points of doctrine. Of course, that’s why people are listening to him. Can I tell you something? Can I be really honest? The only people who care about the conversations about God that evangelicals are having are evangelicals. And honestly, a number of young evangelicals are leaving because they don’t care about those conversations, either.

Rob Bell understands how people who are outside of organized religion feel about things. He gets how they see the world. And he gets how to connect how they see the world with how he sees the story of Jesus, the narrative of Scripture, the work of the kingdom. That is fantastic news. We should all send him a holy high-five and tell him to keep talking. Because let’s be honest: American people have about had it with listening to religious anything. They are fed up with the meanness and the judging and the battles with science and the fundamentalism and it’s enough for them to tune out the whole conversation before it even gets underway. If Rob Bell knows how to talk to people about their souls, how to help people examine their lives and think about meaning and purpose and seek to love and care for others, and he can do so while reaching millions upon millions of people, he is not just an evangelical. He is a better evangelical than all the rest of us. 

There are potentially 85 million homes filled with people who might just hear Rob Bell talking about God, and faith, and justice, and peace, and redemption, and reconciliation on his new show. If you think that’s a bad thing, you shouldn’t call yourself an evangelical. But Rob Bell definitely deserves the title.

 

 

*As a side note, I consider this further proof that Bell is a Moltmanniac, because zimsum, as you know from my inaugural Word post, is a term and idea Moltmann made popular by connecting it to the Trinity and God’s love. I think connecting that to the space we make for each other in marriage sounds beautiful. Well done, Bells.

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Moltmann Monday: The Hope of the Poor as Advent Hope

Happy Moltmann Monday, and happy first week of Advent! I snagged a passage from The Way of Jesus Christ where he’s dialoguing a bit with the work of Martin Buber, but you don’t need to be familiar with that to get what he’s saying. (I’m just saying it for you nerds who like that sort of thing.) Buber is asking whether God brings the Messiah, or whether God waits for the Messiah, and ponders that it is both. (That’s interesting to think about, right?) Here’s Moltmann’s response:

If we wished to interpret this more actively, we should have to say: thorough his waiting, God lets the messiah come. He allows him his time. Yet the messiah comes in order to prepare the way for God himself, the way to his rest in creation. So the coming of the messiah also expresses ‘the zeal of the Lord’ (Isa. 9:7), not merely his waiting patience…

Who is the subject of the messianic hope? The dialogistic principle is a good one for free people. But free people do not really need a messiah to save them. They can help themselves. But how can ‘the people who dwell in darkness’ create the ‘great light’ all by themselves? How can alienated people beget the messianic human being? The messianic hope was never the hope of the victors and the rulers. It was always the hope of the defeated and the ground down. The hope of the poor is nothing other than the messianic hope.

Okay, first, don’t get thrown by the “dialogistic principle.” He just means Buber’s idea of God both being the one who brings the messiah, and being the one who waits for the messiah to come. Buber doesn’t pick sides, which is intellectually cool and actually right in a lot of ways, but it’s also something only free people really spend their time debating. It’s a little bit navel-gazey, is what he’s saying. Because there are people- people who are NOT free to sit around and ponder things dialogically- who really NEED this messiah to come, ASAP. They need this hope now. They are waiting, and it matters to them what this promise means.

Good news, though: the promise IS for them. It has always been for those who stand not in positions of power but in the shadows of power, those who are forgotten or overlooked. Those for whom justice seemingly does not come, while systems of power and people of luxury can find justice even for their unjust acts. It is for these people that the Messiah comes. And, maybe now that we have that straight, we can see how beautiful it is that even God is waiting for this Messiah to usher in this new reign.

And so, there we go again with our German friend sending us through something so we can return to it again, but in a better way. For Buber is right, but we can’t be navel-gazing when we say it. God brings the messiah to us. But also, and maybe more importantly for those who long for justice and peace in all the broken places in this world, God is waiting, just like you and me, for the messiah to come, and to bring us all into new creation, into redemption, into our lost wholeness.

That’s the promise of Advent. That’s the hope of Christmas. That’s the patience of Jesus followers. God’s waiting with us. Let every heart prepare him room, that one day, heaven and nature may harmoniously sing.

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The Word: Hakarat Hatov

 

 

With a nod to Thanksgiving tomorrow, this week’s Word (which is a phrase, because I cheat like that) comes from our Jewish brothers and sisters. Hakarat Hatov literally means “recognizing the good.” It’s a practice of giving thanks for the good things all around us. Hakarat hatov is about acknowledging all that is already yours, and being content with it. It’s an attitude of humility that says, even in trial, even in difficulty, even in strenuous circumstances, I can recognize the good in my situation.

I love that in Jewish tradition the reason Moses does not strike the Nile with a plague (Aaron does it) is because Moses is indebted to the river for saving his life when he was a baby. Out of hakarat hatov, he cannot bring harm to the river. This act of seeing the good, of recognizing it and acknowledging it, extends to everything, including rivers and animals and inanimate objects. It is a practice of seeing how we are reliant upon God and upon others and upon creation itself for all that we have. We are not self-reliant. When we recognize the good, we recognize our connection and need. We recognize our inter-dependence. And we return to our Source, who is God.

Another example of hakarat hatov in Jewish tradition is that on Shabbat, when the kiddush (blessing) is said over the wine, the bread is covered with a cloth. Since the bread is considered more important than the wine, the bread is covered as an act of hakarat hatov to the wine. Those gathered around the table can see the full goodness of the wine when it is not being compared to the bread, which might overshadow it. I love that hakarat hatov honors the idea of upholding things/people rather than embarrassing them. We could stand to practice more of that in our culture, and especially on social media. When we belittle or embarrass anyone or anything, we are not practicing hakarat hatov. We are ungrateful, and that is a slap in the face of God.

Tomorrow offers us an opportunity to practice hakarat hatov. No matter our circumstances, no matter our lot, no matter whether the gravy turns out lumpy or not, we can have eyes to find the good, to see the good, and to honor the good in what is all around us. And we can seek to lift up rather than belittle or humiliate those around us, including our most prickly family members, remembering that God’s image shines even in them, even in us.

Happy Thanksgiving! May God give us eyes to see the good, today and always.

 

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Moltmann Monday: Feasting in God

Anna Garforth

Happy Moltmann Monday, all! On this Thanksgiving week I thought I’d share this excerpt from Ethics of Hope, where Moltmann summarizes much of what he lays out in God in Creation about the Sabbath as the feast of creation, which I’ve talked about before (Bold words mine):

On the seventh day of creation, God encounters us in a very different way: he is at leisure, so to speak. God comes to rest. God detaches himself from his works. God puts aside his being as creator…God comes to rest in the face of all those he has created, and with his being, resting within itself, is wholly present among them…God is not just active, he is passive too; not only creative but also at rest; not just speaking but also listening; not merely giving but also receiving. In the beginning God created, and at the end God rests: that is the marvelous divine dialectic.

Perhaps artists can understand best how one can ‘complete’ a creation by coming to rest. A painter puts his whole soul into his painting. When it is finished, he stands back in order to come to himself again and to let his work of art make its own way. Without this withdrawal, no work of art is ever ‘completed.’..

Consequently, this celebration is full of gratitude for the works of creation and for safe-keeping in the history of the world and is an echo of the creator’s judgment: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ And yet, or just because of that, hidden in the Sabbath lies a hope that embraces the world. All the days of creation have an evening, when night falls, but the seventh day knows no night. It is like a day without end, and because of that it points beyond itself to the day of God’s coming, the day when he will come to dwell eternally in his creation.

Of course, Moltmann is talking about the practice of Sabbath-keeping, and for those of us who are Christians, Sunday worshipping. In both cases, we rest from work so that we may remember this one, beautiful thing: we are God’s, and God delights in all God has created. God is like an artist who steps back from her work and says, “Ah, yes, that is good.” God takes time to enjoy creation, for its own sake, and with joy at his handiwork. This space is timeless: we enter into a promise, a foretaste of God being one with all of creation. We practice oneness in the here and now.

This is an act of joy, of delight, and of gratitude. And so, even though Thanksgiving, which is an American holiday that happens on a Thursday, is not technically part of this holy space, it remains an opportunity for us to pause and to practice feasting in the very same way God does: by resting, by delighting, by joyfully looking at all the good things surrounding us and enjoying them for their own sake. In so doing, we have an opportunity to draw near to God, to become one with God, so that for a few brief moments we may glimpse the promise of God dwelling with us fully.

Resting is such a holy thing. And we do so little of it nowadays. Even when we rest, we find ways to stare into our phones, gobbling up news and information and gossip, peeking in our inboxes and shooting off quick work emails before we forget, and this time of year, surfing sites to grab a few holiday deals to mark a few to-do’s off our list. I don’t want to guilt us about that. But I wonder if we could find a few holy moments this Thanksgiving week to set it all aside, to look up from our phones and TVs and laptops and books to see the beauty of the creation around us- the faces, the food, the roof over our heads, the sky above, the bursting autumn leaves- and delight in them. Truly drink them in like a joyful cocktail of thanks. Like the feast of goodness it is, straight from the hands of God.

This life is so precious. These moments are so fleeting. Take time to look up and be grateful. Delight in the Creator this week, even if just for a moment. The presence of God is the best feast that awaits us.

 

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