Category Archives: Doctrine & Practice

The night we betray Jesus

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

The Easter Holy Week is almost here and it’s often forgotten that one of the central themes of the Gospel story is our betrayal of Jesus.

Many Christians memorialize the last days of Jesus by practicing foot washing, celebrating the Eucharist and spending time singing hymns and praying together as a church community. Woven into all those moments of Jesus’s passion were narratives of human abandonment.
Jesus washed the feet of disciples who would betray, deny and desert him.
Jesus shared the bread and wine with the disciples who were about to betray, deny and desert him.
Yet, he washed and fed.

Photo from biblical-art.com

Many churches begin communion times by reciting 1 Corinthians 11:23, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.”

This passage offers us a deep and sacred place of human experience with the divine — the dark night.
Every person’s spiritual journey is made up of dark and light. It’s in the night time where Jesus dines and serves us, with the full knowledge of the blackness of our kisses and curses.
We can resist and reject this revelation like Peter did in his self-righteous moment at the last supper. We often offer up our grandiose narratives of personal fidelity. We are too dishonest about the brief span of our saintliness that is quickly drowned out with the mornings rooster cries.
We sing the songs of Sunday’s worship with the same mouths that kiss him amidst Monday’s mob of unbelievers.
We eat and drink at the table of our heart with angels and devils and yet are quick to recount the falleness of others — who doubt, desert and deny.
The holy night of betrayal is a path of confession for us all, a washing in the water of our own waywardness. A dip of bread in the wine of our own devilish possessions. A dark moment when we recognize our own adultery as we pass the holy kiss.
This Easter week, let’s take time reflecting in the mirror of the Passion and don’t forget what we have seen when the celebrations are all over.

Fearing the Lord

By Contributor Ernesto Tinajero

Ernesto Tinajero

The townspeople came to joke that they could set their clocks by the professor’s afternoon walk. Immanuel Kant was so regular with his walks he became as predictable as the spring flowers in Königsberg. His philosophical work, on the  hand, dropped onto Western thought with a mushroom cloud of destruction, blowing the older strains of scholastic thought in its wake. He dismantled the earlier rational proofs of God, replacing them with another, the moral one. God exists because the universe needs a moral structure. Western thought and theology would never stroll with the same predictability after Kant.

The fictional character, Ivan Karamazov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” makes the Kantian case that if there is no God, then there is no immorality and no virtue. Ever since Kant, that has been the argument that we need God to make us behave. God becomes our cop. God as cop presents problems. That it is not an image used in Christianity before Kant. After Kant, it has become standard for faiths to argue God was a cop.

The preferred image in the Bible, both in the Tanak (The Old Testament) and the New Testament was that of a loving parent. It is important in any discussion of fear and love of keeping in mind these two metaphors of God, God as cop and God as loving parent.

If you view God as a loving parent, then fear does not diminish love. When we do something that know is wrong like hurting another, then we fear God for what God will think of us. We understand we failed God, but we keep believing God still cares and wants the best for us. Like Jesus’ abba, papa, we somehow feel we let God and ourself down. The fear is as much about facing our own shame and ourselves as it is facing God. We fear God because we fear the truth of ourselves. Jesus then offers a way for reconciliation with God — the way of love and grace. We fear God, but it does not diminish our love of God. In a very real way it is rooted in God’s love and our own fear in facing the coldness of own actions.

The impersonal God as cop is different. Fear is very much not wanting to face the cold punishment of a God that only cares about the rules and you breaking them. God will leave you alone if you follow the rules. The fear of God is now about being caught, and who can love an impersonal God?

The question  of fear and love of God reveals our image of God. Yet fear and love are themselves a large universe onto themselves. Humans are programmed to fear. In reality we can not love God without fear being involved as well as love. Encountering the living God means facing the a mirror. Love reflects as well as fear. Such an encounter cannot take place with a God that is nothing more that a cop. God is the loving parent, the one Jesus called papa.

This week SpokaneFAVS panelists wrestled with this question. Read “Viewpoints: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?”

 

Is it enough to confront evil with prayer?

By Blogger Dr. Karin Heller

Bonjour Dr. Heller,

I’ve been reflecting on our last lecture about overcoming evil in the world. This has prompted a new question I’m hoping you will answer for me. 

I realize there was evil back in biblical times, but I truly believe it is far worse today and so much more destructive — morally, spiritually, as well as literally with all the military advances. In your lecture you said Trinitarian life is the answer to whatever evil is generated by the world and prayer is an important part. I know perseverance through prayer is possible for me, but I am unsure what the expectations are beyond that, for me, and the congregation of Christians as a whole. If we persevere through prayer as Jesus did, is that enough; is there more we should be doing now? You said to confront evil and not to run away, but some of the evil in this world is very overwhelming and frightening. I am worried that prayer is not enough. In addition, and to be perfectly honest, I fear what will happen when I am confronted by evil. Please share your thoughts. Is prayer really enough, or am I missing something? 

Thank you so much,I truly value your insights and wisdom! 

Kind Regards,

Kirsten

Dear Kirsten,

Dr. Karin Heller

Thank you for your insightful question. If you look up your class notes your should see o I gave at least three ways to confront evil. You only retained prayer. It’s funny you don’t remember the other two. One can’t just confront evil with prayer. One has to add service and the ‘right meal’ taken within a fellowship. When evil is at work we also have to continue the service to which God called us. This reminds me of a Catholic priest who, on Sept. 11 entered one of the twin towers to assist the dying there. He did not simply pray outside of the tower for the dying. He continued to act as a priest just as the fire fighters continued to act as firefighters. Yes, evil was around them, but they went ahead with their missions. The mission preserves us from focusing all the time on evil and fear of that evil which has paralyzing effects. This, of course, means we have to figure out first what our mission is!

Then, in the face of evil, we desperately need to share in the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, in communion with all of the Lord’s faithful. That’s why I spent so much time in class on the Lord’s Supper. When you get into a deeper understanding of the Lord’s Supper you’ll be better equipped to resist evil and to endure. Every meal allows us to endure, to overcome loss of energy, psychological weakness, depression and so forth. There are meals and the memories of certain meals that stimulate us and allow us to endure. This can be a special meal with a particular friend, or with your kids, or after graduation, or on your birthday or on a vacation. Certain meals (or the memories of these meals) I took with friends in France during summer always help me to keep on going during my fall or spring semester! The Eucharist is doing this also in a special way because it’s during this meal that the Lord himself is the host and makes us share in his body and blood, the only thing capable of defeating whatever evil power!

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.

Recounting The Life of the Buddha

By Tracy Simmons
SpokaneFAVS.com

Statue of Siddhartha Buddha/Fotopedia Photo

More than 2,500 years ago an Indian prince, Siddhartha, abandoned his privileged life in order to understand how to overcome suffering. Eventually, he became the Buddha, “the Fully Awakened One,” attaining peace through transforming his own mind. He spent the next 45 years teaching others how to do it too.

Next month, on Sharing the Dharma Day, the Sravasti Abbey community will examine the lessons Americans can glean from the Buddha’s life story.

According to a press release, the Buddha’s teachings (the Dharma) explain how to live ethically and avoid harming others, how to develop love and compassion and how to cultivate wisdom that understands the nature of reality. Learning and living these teachings — and sharing them with others — is the purpose of Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastery near Newport.

One Sunday a month the abbey opens its doors to people of all faiths and backgrounds who would like to know more about the Buddha’s teachings and to share in community fellowship.

Topics for each month’s Sharing the Dharma Day are drawn from the books of its founder and abbess, Ven. Thubten Chodron. Topics for 2012 are based on “Buddhism for Beginners.”

According to the abbey, Sharing the Dharma Day includes a guided meditation and Dharma talk, vegetarian potluck lunch and facilitated discussion.

Sharing the Dharma Day is from 9:45 a.m to 3 p.m. on April 15.

The full Sharing the Dharma Day program is available here.

The Bible is a love story, not a rule book

By Contributor Pastor Steve Hart

Pastor Steve Hart

In starting and leading a new church, one of the bigger challenges has been helping people to understand the Bible.

Most people have the misconception that the Bible is a kind of “rulebook” full of moral commands and fables with a moral point, all about telling Christians how to live. Christians seem to get this idea from their preachers, sermon after sermon hearing, “Here is what the Bible says. Do this and God will bless you!”

Outsiders to the Christian faith seem to have gotten this idea from Christians themselves, who see Christians trying to be the “morality police,” making sure everyone knows all God’s rules (and making sure that everyone knows that Christians always keep those rules).

The tragic result of this way of reading the Bible is that Christians are joyless and judgmental, while those outside the faith — those who, incidentally, were most attracted to Jesus in his day — want nothing to do with Christians and their rulebook!

I’ve had to clarify, over and over, that the Bible is neither a rulebook nor a collection of moral fables. The Bible is primarily a story, a beautiful, heartbreaking and redemptive story. The Bible is a love story, telling the story of the creator and his epic pursuit of his prized but wayward creation: humanity. Fully three-fourths of the Bible is narrative and dialogue, and when there are “rules” they only make sense in the context of the story itself.

Flickr Photo

Before we can dismiss the Bible, we’ve got to actually listen to the story and engage it, as it is. One doesn’t watch “Lord of the Rings” and dismiss it because elves don’t exist. Rather, we read (or watch) the story, stepping into the world the story describes, engaging with the characters and joyfully allowing ourselves to get caught up in the winding narrative. We find ourselves cheering for Bilbo and crew, even though we know it is just a story. All great stories do this to us, and we don’t for a minute dismiss the story simply because it isn’t true. In fact, we often find by the end of a great story that we actually wish it were true, wishing that our lives carried such significance, that we were the kind of pure, noble and courageous people we found in the story, and that somehow, in the end, everything really might be made right again.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to lay out this love story, trying to retell the Bible’s story in just a few posts. As we’ve done this in our church, we’ve seen a new (or renewed) desire to engage with the story of the Bible.  Suddenly there is reason to tune in and find out what will happen. And whether or not you believe the story or not – that it is the true story of the world — you might just find yourself wishing it were.


Empathy betters society

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Value, or mutual respect, of each member of an organization is necessary because it is through our social construct that we learn. By valuing each element of a society, the ability to learn, adapt and bear significance is increased. Such value is communicated through sincerity and authenticity, through allowing for time to increase understanding, through deep listening that honors another’s perspective and encourages permission to speak freely, and a destruction of a system where certain members are deemed more necessary, more valuable than others.

In the Christian tradition, the theme of disparity appears frequently. Compassion and empathy drive Jesus’ view. Jesus upholds the principle that care for human beings is more valuable than attaining material wealth and comfort. Jesus asked, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Luke 9:25). One researcher suggests Jesus finally closed the gap between the haves and have-nots: In opposition to ownership, humanity is responsible for stewardship of the earth (Lev. 25:23-24). Humanity is given responsibility to do what is best for the planet. But currently, our world community plays favorites. Anchorwoman Susan Moeller is quoted as saying, “In the news business, one dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth fifty Arabs, who are worth five hundred Africans.”

Jesus condemned “the rich fool” not because he was rich but because he was so naive as to believe that great wealth involved no social and economic responsibilities (Luke 12:21). Clearly there exists a culpability of leaders within a Christian context to live into and present the servant leadership modeled by Jesus for others to consider. We are not called to lead in a dogmatic manner, but in the humility that comes from understanding the true value of people and the world’s environment. Jesus encouraged his followers to be the change they hoped for, to enact an economy that was a fuller expression of God’s will.

Jesus himself is portrayed to be a master storyteller, many times bringing his listeners face to face with the issue of disparity through the use of narrative and analogy.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story, “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here. Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

This is the second in a three-part series.

Is the Bible open to the perspective of the person reading it?

By Blogger Dr. Karin Heller

Dear Karin,

This class has prompted me to question many things about my faith and the things I have been taught to believe about God and the Bible (all good things), so I would appreciate hearing your perspective on a certain topic.  

Is there a right or wrong way to understand God’s teachings in the Bible, or is it open to the perspective of the person reading it — not as a means to manipulate the word, but to help provide the answers we seek?

– Carla

Dear Carla,

Dr. Karin Heller

There are two major ways to read the Bible. The first is a prayerful reading alone, seeking for guidance, consolation, awe, and so forth — exactly what you describe. The second is a reading of the Bible in community, a church community, a family, a Bible study group or other association. The reading in community confronts us with different interpretations than ours. This kind of reading enriches our perspectives and corrects our interpretations. Reading in community makes us dive deeper into the various aspects of God’s word.

Both readings are excellent and should be fostered. We should never do one without the other. We can also read comments on certain biblical texts stemming from the great tradition of the church or contemporary people writing commentaries. The Word of God is never expressed by a single voice, but the single voice is still. God’s revelation occurs through an interaction between three factors — the text, the author of the text and the reader or the readers. The book alone is not enough for God’s revelation to occur! The text has to be read and a dialogue with the author of the text has to be engaged. When this is done correctly there is no manipulation of God’s word, only seeing God’s truth reveal itself in an increasing way throughout Church history. That’s what we call in the Catholic Church the “tradition of the church.” It’s an interpretation of Scripture throughout the centuries.

The biblical text is always open to new interpretations. There is not only one authoritative interpretation of the text. Through  Scripture God speaks anew to every generation!

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.

Worshipping the Celtic way

By Tracy Simmons
SpokaneFAVS.com

An estimated 122 million Americans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day this year, according to The National Retail Federation — mostly be wearing green and going to parties.

St. David’s Episcopal Church in Spokane celebrated too, but not with Irish food and booze. Parishioners honored him by forming a circle and singing to the tone of djembe and bodhran drums, by discussing Patrick’s life and receiving communion.

They venerated him with their weekly Celtic worship service.

“He had 28 years of active ministry (in Ireland), founded 700 churches. In Ireland there were 150 tribes, at least 40 of those tribes became Christian … and if you look at the landscape of Ireland you’ll see that Celtic cross dotting the landscape of all the places where the mission of Patrick went,” the Rev. Elaine Breckenridge said.

During Celtic worship parishioners sit in a circle at the front of the church/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

A quilt with a Celtic cross hangs at the front of St. David’s worship hall. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. the church hosts a Celtic Eucharist service — a practice the church formally adopted in 2010. About 40 people regularly attend.

Breckenridge said she became interested in Celtic spirituality about eight years ago when she learned more about it from her then spiritual director. She became so interested she traveled to Ireland (twice) and Scotland (once) to experience the worship style and bring it back to St. David’s.

“I think people are hungry for an experience of God,” she said, noting an interest in the Celtic program has grown throughout the years.

She said people are tired of hearing doctrine, and want a worship style they can carry with them in their daily lives.

Celtic worship is ecumenical and celebrates creation, the Gospel of Jesus and the spirit, “being above, below, among and within us.”

Rev. Elaine Breckenridge leads a Celtic dance at St. David's/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

According to St. David’s, “We honor our own experience and the insights and struggles of seekers, so the breaking-open of the Word is a task we share with the preacher. We honor beauty, the arts and imagination and storytelling in our liturgy. We believe worship should engage all the senses including our bodies, and so movement is an element of the worship…”

“What’s important for me is worshipping with the whole body,” Breckendridge said.

On the fourth Thursday of the month the church hosts another Celtic Eucharist at 7 p.m. Breckenridge said people of various faiths attend and more dance is included than in the Sunday service.

Jim Grady, who has been going to St. David’s for 13 years, said the “creation theology” of Celtic spirituality is one of the main things that attracted him to Celtic spirituality, but not the only thing.

St. David's hosts a Celtic Eucharist each Sunday/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

“It’s the music, the physical setup, the circle. It’s the whole package,” he said.

St. David’s will celebrate a Celtic Easter at 7 p.m. on April 7. More information can be found on the church website.


Additional photos can be found in our Flickr album.

There’s more than one atonement theory?

By Contributor Dr. Karin Heller

Karin,

During your talk in class last night I was very shocked to hear there were four major atonement theories: Ransom Theory, Perfect Satisfaction Theory, atonement as a manifestation of love which covers a multitude of sins, and atonement as a manifestation of God’s wisdom.

As a Christian growing up I was only aware of one, at least in the church I attended, the perfect satisfaction and sacrifice offered to the Father to repair human offense. I always remember hearing Jesus died on the cross to heal our sins because people sinned against God and Jesus died to save us from all of those sins so our relationship with God would be restored. Why is it that certain religions only teach their own theory of the atonement instead of all of the views so the members of the church can decide on their own which theory they believed?

During many sermons I have heard Hebrews 10, “He has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his place forever at the right hand of God…through the blood of Jesus we have the right to enter the sanctuary.” I also heard the other verses quoted from your lecture but never as a presentation of a different perspective to the atonement theory. As said in class, the true answer could be a mixture of a multitude of theories, it doesn’t just have to be one. I truly feel in society today we have been misguided and taught we have to believe what everyone else believes and we don’t allow, or give, ourselves enough credit to make a decision on our own. We have to look to someone else to make the decision.

Do you think as the religious barriers grow the teaching of the different theories will be more widespread or do you think the churches will continue to only teach their opinion on which atonement theory is correct and not allow the members of the church to make their own decision?

Thank you, 

Amy

Dear Amy,

Dr. Karin Heller

One has to study theology in order to dive into the various atonement theories.

Church leaders very often keep it “simple” for the congregation. They don’t want people to get confused. Leadership can also fear disagreements and disputes that may arise in the congregation. Which one is right, which one is wrong?

Protestants also strongly emphasize the perfect satisfaction theory, because they use it in opposition to what they perceive as a Catholic heresy, i.e. the doctrine of Catholic Mass as a “sacrifice.” This stand led Protestants to falsely believe that at each Catholic Mass Jesus is re-crucified and so to say “sacrificed” every day for our sins. The controversy about the understanding of the Eucharist led Protestants to become kind of prisoners of the perfect satisfaction theory. It was their weapon against Catholic teaching.

Given the polemical context, Protestants narrowed down their understanding of scripture. No other atonement theory was valid, because the perfect satisfaction theory seemed to them evident in the letter to the Hebrews. They neglected other biblical texts, which allow a different approach to atonement. If Protestants open up to Catholic teachings they would probably discover that Catholics read the biblical texts in a way that allows God to express himself through various understandings of his world, not just one understanding.

The Catholic Church allows its members to integrate all of these understandings in their spiritual life. The Catholic Church never condemned any of these theories.

– Karin

Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years.  Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.

Episcopalians release same-sex marriage rites

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Shutterstock PhotoAfter several years of study, the Episcopal Church has released a draft of what same-sex marriage rites would look like. An important caveat: these are just drafts, and it will likely be years before any final liturgy is approved for official use across the church.

Episcopalians in states that allow same-sex civil marriage (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and others) already have the option to bless same-sex marriages but there is no formal churchwide liturgy. Same-sex commitment ceremonies are permitted elsewhere in the church at the discretion of the local bishop.

From the church’s Office of Public Affairs:

The report’s theological reflection notes that the SCLM [Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music] has reviewed more than 30 years of General Convention’s deliberation on same-gender couples, especially [a] resolution approved in 2000, that identified characteristics the Church expects of couples living in marriage and other lifelong committed relationships: “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.”

“Such covenantal relationships can reflect God‘s own gracious covenant with us in Christ, manifest the fruits of the Spirit in holiness of life, and model for the whole community the love of neighbor in the practice of forgiveness and reconciliation,”  the report states.

The drafts will now be studied by bishops and lay/clergy delegates ahead of the church’s General Convention this summer. The General Convention in Indianapolis won’t be asked to formally approve them, and it looks like formal approval wouldn’t come until 2015, 2018 or even 2012, depending on whatever timeline the General Convention approves. Either way, the formal liturgies are not likely to be included in the Book of Common Prayer unless and until Episcopalians opt to formally revise it.

The draft rites are here, and the part that everyone’s curious about (from the traditional “I know pronounce you man and wife”) looks like this:

“Inasmuch as N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity in the presence of God and the Church, I now pronounce that they are bound to one another in a holy covenant, as long as they both shall live. Amen.”

And the vows:

In the name of God, I, N., give myself to you, N. I will support and care for you: enduring all things, bearing all things. I will hold and cherish you: in times of plenty, in times of want. I will honor and keep you: forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow.