Archive for August 2013
An Exegetical Note: “How beautiful are the feet!”
Rom 10: 15: As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
In Martin Luther’s words: Even though one can interpret “feet” literally in the sense that the coming of the preachers of good things is eagerly awaited by those who are in anguish of sin and an evil conscience, they signify more correctly their very words or the sound and the syllables or the pronunciation of their words and preachings.” From his Lectures on Romans.
Luther moves from literal feet to “feet” as the “very words or the sound and the syllables or the pronunciation of their words.” It is but a small step to understand “feet” as actual feet or meters of poetry. Perhaps because the regular beat of the syllables of language can be derived from regular steps, or the regular strokes of an oar, or the galloping hooves of a horse, for example, the feet that poetic lines are divided into may also be derived from feet taking steps in time. So it would be possible to interpret Romans “How beautiful is the cadence of the language, how beautiful is the poetry of those who preach the good news.” I thought that Luther’s interpretation went into that direction. But then I thought – what about the Greek and the Hebrew? Could they also refer to the cadence in language rather than the physical feet of the herald? For that matter, I don’t know what the word in German for a foot in a poetic line would be. But in Greek, Rom 10:15 has horaioi hoi podes ωραιοι οι πόδες (an aspirant should be above the omega and omicron, so that it begins with “h.”) Now there may be a word for the “feet” of poetry in Aristotle’s Poetics.
In the Hebrew, St. Paul is quoting Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” There the Hebrew words reads ragele mevash-sher “beautiful feet.” (In the Hebrew the noun comes first and the adjective thereafter.) Again I would not be able to know what the words for “poetic feet” in Hebrew might be. But in both cases the feet are those that could step in time to the rhythm and cadence of beautiful poetic language. So when we preach, the Holy Spirit lifts the cadence of our words into beautiful language, indeed, into poetry.
 Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, edited by William Pauck, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1961), p. 300.
 Online I saw how pentameter can be called Fűnffűssler. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ger341/poetics.htm That means the word for “foot” can also be used in German Poetik.
A Critique of Science (continued). 22. August, 2013
I’ve been reading Polanyi on religion and science this morning and that is giving me more thoughts about the piece I just wrote yesterday about the MD’s setting up that health outpost in the jungle under a shaman. The question becomes how could the shaman have understood things that the medical doctor only learned in medical school?
I think it has to do with his living in and understanding his world as densely populated by spirits, to use Dr. Herndon’s description of their cultural thought world. Thinking in terms of spirits is a way of thinking in terms of faith and thus thinking in terms of God, because “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
It is problematic when faith is replaced by one way of understanding, because, as a base, a genuine faith is open to many paths on the way to understanding. As St. Anselm said, “I believe in order to understand.” If we substitute one way of understanding for faith then a reductionism becomes involved that disregards the totality of the picture that a faith cognizant of the whole can provide. Faith, an open faith, that is, should not be marginalized for the sake of one way of understanding. It is rather foolish for some scientists of today to argue for the non-existence of God, as if science could replace faith. And it is as foolish for representatives of a faith to reduce their faith to one way of understanding.
Polanyi argues that the reductionism of science is problematic for human beings.
Modern science and scientific philosophy cannot analyze the human person without reducing it to a machine. This flows from assuming that all mental processes are to be explained in terms of neurology, which in their turn must be represented as a chart of physical and chemical processes. The damage wrought by the modern scientific outlook is actually even more extensive. It tends toward replacing everywhere the personal I-Thou by the impersonal I-It.
To continue quoting Polanyi:
We can go farther. Evidently any attempt to identify the particulars of an entity would involve a shift of attention from the entity to the particulars. We would have to relax the intention given to the whole for the sake of the discovering its particulars which we had noticed until now only by being aware of them as part of the whole. So that once we have succeeded in fully identifying these particulars, and are in fact attending to them now directly in themselves, we clearly shall not be relying any more on our awareness of them as particulars of the whole and therefore will inevitably have lost sight of the whole altogether.
The emphasis on ecology in science is now trying to correct this historical defect. Polanyi continues:
This fact is abundantly borne out by half a century of Gestalt psychology. We may put it as follows. It is not possible to be aware of a particular in terms of its contribution to a whole and at the same time to focus our attention on it in itself. Or again, since it is not possible to be aware of anything at the same time subsidiarily and focally, we necessarily tend to lose sight of an entity by attending focally to its particulars.
That “entity” Polanyi is referring to is a person or spirit that even understands nature in an I-Thou relationship, let alone in relation to human beings. On the other hand, science has the tendency to make even human beings into objects in an I-It relationship.
The long citation from Polanyi above explains what Dr. Herndon described as “the narrow lens of science looking through a tunnel, becoming limited by what the scientist chooses to see.” Suddenly, the story about looking for a lost ring, that could have been lost anywhere, only under the street lamp of science, is the metaphor that came to my mind.
Dr. Herndon claimed that the missionary and the government officials destroyed the “shell of spirit” in marginalizing the shaman and the tribal world of knowledge, their treasury of wisdom, making the tribe completely dependent upon them.  (Teilhard de Chardin would speak of the particular self-generated envelope of thought as their “noosphere.”) Evidently tribal members think not in terms of concepts, or with an experimental scientific method, but through experiencing and thinking in terms of spirits, which is their path to understanding.
In his world of thought, the shaman claimed that an evil spirit was in a forest, because that was his way of thinking and understanding in terms of spirits. He did not know the scientific particulars, in terms of rodents in the forest spreading a microbial disease, but he was grappling with the fact that tribal members who went into that forest died and he could not cure them, thus an evil spirit was at work.
In conclusion, science is of course a very important and crucial pathway to understanding and impacting our lives and environment, but it is not the only pathway, and it still has to make way for faith, for an open faith, not one that distorts it or tries to replace it, but a faith that checks our totalitarian attitude about its being the only way to reliable knowledge. Did our false, dominating spirit of monotheism somehow get into scientists? Christ showed us the way and it’s a humble, suffering helpfulness, even in epistemology.
 Compare St. Anselm with Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” This philosophical conviction is certainly a reductionism of living, acting, and experience to thought. These can all be thought but not be reduced to thought, for example, a relationship is more than the analysis of it.
 Michael Polanyi, “The Scientific Revolution,” in Hugh C. White, ed., Christians in a Technological Era, (New York: Seabury Press, 1964), p. 28.
Ibid., Page 30.
 From notes that I took at Dr. Christopher Herndon’s power point presentation. See my previous blog.
Hearing about a Health Outpost set up in the Jungle
Blogging my thoughts by Peter Krey
My friend Ron Moore and I attended a presentation by Dr. Christopher Herndon M.D. on August 15, 2013 at 7:00pm in the Bone Room on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. His lecture or PowerPoint presentation was called, “Learning from Tribal Healers.” Over the last ten years or so, he has been working with remote Amazon tribes in South America, more precisely, southern Suriname. The card advertising his presentation read: “He will discuss his experiences learning from Amazon healers, that is, shamans and the relevance of traditional medicine to conservation and the importance of shamanism to their medical systems – and to our own.”
Dr. Herndon’s purpose was to persuade us about the value of the world of knowledge of the traditional shaman of these remote tribes, many of which were becoming extinct. This wisdom became lost after contact with the West, when government officials and Christian missionaries considered the shamans to be witch doctors, caught up only in negative superstition and evil spirits. But the shaman like glue held the whole tribe together. Usually from childhood he was brought up to become one and had long, even ten-year apprenticeships on his way to become the accepted shaman of the tribe.
Dr. Herndon told that when a botanist learned the language of a tribe one shaman could designate 2000 different species of trees by merely looking at the leaf from that tree. Usually a western PhD in botany needed another component besides the leaf and could not even name 25 trees in the area in which he lived. A zoologist with a PhD studying bees, asked a tribal member about them, who named 52 different varieties of bees, dumbfounding him by his knowledge of the flora and fauna. A shaman also knew the healing properties of many leaves and vines, insects and the secretion of frogs, and medicines from under the bark of trees. They had diagnostic capabilities that were dumbfounding to a Western medical doctor knowing what he had learned in medical school. But it took the love to take the time to learn their language and the humility to listen to the shaman and learn what he knew. What opened up for the western MD was his universe of knowledge, his treasury of wisdom, which is ordinarily lost thirty years after a shaman was driven from the tribe. In this way cutting the whole tribe off from the source of its knowledge and culture, it was then placed on its way to extinction. Before that point it was made completely dependent on the West in unsustainable ways. In a medical health clinic set for western medicine, he was discussing a diagnosis with the indigenous staff. He looked through their microscope and discovered that it was broken. They were merely pretending to use it for their take on the diagnosis.
Dr. Herndon set up a traditional health outpost in Suriname in an Amazonian tribe known as the Trio and reinstated the shaman to be the tribal healer. This traditional health outpost is designed to complement a western medical clinic nearby. After he set it up and invited the shaman who had been shunned to return and do his work, Dr. Herndon did the best thing he could do. He left them alone. He flew to Washington, D.C. returning by plane after a few months. These remote jungle locations are only accessible by air. While landing, from the plane he could see a long line waiting to see the shaman at the health outpost.
Dr. Herndon presented many examples of the diagnostic capabilities and the treasury of wisdom possessed by the shaman lost to us because of our feelings of superiority and complete disregard of their knowledge and culture. Meanwhile contact with the West was destroying one tribe after another and many more are nearing extinction after becoming completely dependent on the West. (Not the pharmaceutical were threatening the tribes quite so much as oil, mineral, and lumber extraction.)
For example, some tribes use 12 to 13 foot long blow pipes with poison darts to hunt the monkeys they consume for food. The poison they use is a muscle relaxant that makes the monkey fall silently through the trees and vines to the ground. (Their “poison” is used in every operating room today, but of course, there is no way to give them intellectual property rights.) After contact with the West, tribal hunters use shotguns, disturbing the whole environment and making all the animals flee, with the wounded animal as well. Because the monkey’s muscles do not relax, they remain inaccessible because they cling and stay way up in the trees. Then the hunters run out of ammunition and can’t afford to buy more, and to add insult to injury, they no longer know how to make the medicine.
Dr. Herndon’s talk provided me with many theological insights. To preach Christ and do missionary work that decimates the culture of the people contradicts Christ. “Who is as blind as my servant?” asked the prophet Isaiah. To be a missionary means to continue the incarnation of Christ. That requires becoming one of the people, to become a tribal member by learning the language, learning their culture, learning the treasury of their wisdom. Tribal members are still very much in touch with nature and “know the leaves of the trees that heal the nations” as written in Revelation. “Who is as blind as my servant?” The missionaries who preach Christ without continuing his incarnation in their lives impose an alien and unsustainable culture upon the tribal members that contradicts the incarnation of Christ. Why are we so inflexible and why have we lost the sensitivity and capability to become one of the people we are trying to win? St. Paul said, “To a Jew I became a Jew in order to win the Jews…to the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” In a sense in our culture blindness we crucify not only the witch doctors but the whole tribe as well, because the extinction of the whole tribe with its language, culture, and treasury of wisdom is certainly comparable to their crucifixion.
Plus we have to thank God for a secularism permeated with wonderful values that freed an M.D. from the blinders of Christian missionaries and government officials to see the value in shamans, whom the missionaries swept aside as demonic witch doctors. They certainly are sinners caught up in some deception and self-deception but so are we and in the self-righteousness and presumption of our faith we act as if we are not.
Dr. Herndon was not anti-religious or using this critique against missionaries, the way for the sake of self-criticism, I am doing here. But his talk made me realize our vast shortcomings, which we need ourselves as missionaries to become aware of, at this point. What a waste of lives, culture, and wisdom has followed our witness when we do not continue the incarnation ourselves when we preach Christ.
(I want to also include his critique of science and scientific, technological medicine below), but first more about what I mean by continuing the incarnation. He spoke about the field coordinator of his organization, a David Fleck, PhD, who has lived with an Amazonian tribe full-time since 2008, became fluent in their language, wrote a grammar for it as his doctoral dissertation, and married a member of the tribe. This kind of loving embodiment and of their culture and world, this total cultural immersion by baptism is the continuation of the incarnation and provides the possibility for the grace that brings abundant life to these tribal members and whole tribes rather than their destruction and extinction.
“Dear God, forgive us Christians! We are such cultural barbarians! Forgive us for the things we have done. Intercede for us again from the cross, saying: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do!”
Dr. Herndon’s critique of science was similar to the critique I have mounted to our religion. Western science relies on reductionism to more and more simple elements. In that culture complexities and potency were also understood in a way that is outside the purview of our science. Without the unsustainable technology of our scientific medicine, the shaman could make diagnoses like the ones the doctor had learned in medical school. Dr. Herndon argued that because of its methodology of reductionism, science looked through a narrow lens through a tunnel, limiting us by what we chose to see and making us disregard the value of the knowledge of the tribal shaman and the treasury of their tribal wisdom.
While he was speaking, a telling analogy came to my mind: a person lost a ring at night knowing not where but looking for it under a streetlamp. Another coming upon him asked, “Why are you looking for it here?” “Because here is where I have light.” he answered. But the ring could lie anywhere in the darkness outside of the perimeter of the light thrown by the streetlamp. Scientific medicine in its knowledge does not grasp the complexities and intensities from a perspective of an ever greater wholeness, which lets the tribal members have sunlight in the places where our scientific streetlight does not shine.
Dr. Herndon said that the shamans lived in a world densely populated with spirits. Houston Smith claims that Jesus, who was filled with the Spirit, was completely acquainted with the spirit world and used his Spirit attendant powers for exorcism, healing, challenging people, and pronouncing a whole new social order. I guess our missionaries would have shunned and deposed Jesus Christ as a witch doctor!
When I asked Dr. Herndon about their spirit world, he said, “What is an evil spirit? They said a certain forest had an evil spirit. Don’t go in it if you value your life. We discovered a certain kind of rodent there that could give you a disease (He named the fever.) from which you died, because the shaman had no cure. That is what they referred to as the evil spirit.” They may not know about germs and other microbes, like bacteria and viruses, or about radio waves and their frequencies, but they grasp and think through some of these phenomena in terms of personalized spirits in a way that helps them understand some aspects of reality in ways modern science cannot.
The question was asked about how effective the cures of the shaman in the health outpost were. This question could not yet be answered because there was no way to evaluate the practice, but when the missionaries were translating the Bible into the tribal language they had given some members of the tribe the literary skills to read and write and these members of the tribe were writing down the basic medical information about each case that the shaman was treating. [Note how missionaries did make a contribution, too.] These medical notes will provide the basic information to be used for later evaluation. How effective is our modern scientific technological medicine? He asked. Our technology is unsustainable and we really don’t know how effective our practice of medicine is either for cancer, for example.
Somehow, I think that secularism is a complementary place that Christianity provides, or has been compelled to provide, in order to make its faith one that can be accepted freely by persuasion without governmental or even social coercion and if it is not a stepchild of Christianity, it certainly belongs to Christianity in some way. Thank God for it, because it gives some the freedom to explore the world without the blinders that often accompany the faithful. These blinders make us stumble into the self-contradictory place where Christian missionaries would have shunned and driven away Christ as a witch doctor. The fact is that missionaries, especially scientifically trained medical doctors cannot be self-critical enough of their science as well as of their religion.
Now perhaps in a contradictory way, I ask myself, the way science has overtaken the “science” of antiquity and even the “science” of the deep past, i.e. the millennia before Christ; some human understandings in anthropology, linguistics, sociology, and psychology have also overtaken the state of knowledge of humanity represented in our theology. In other words, the science of scripture does not only need to be updated, but our understanding of the human being as well. We are stumbling around in the dark in our own culture, the way our missionaries have been among those Amazonian tribes. Today we have to continue aligning the incarnation of Christ with the preaching of Christ more and more deeply, like the example given by Dr. David Fleck. That means listening and learning the Gospel of Christ for today. Thus the spirit world will have to be better interpreted to gain the holistic, complex, personal, social, and anthropological dimensions that tribal treasuries of wisdom contained – complementing the understandings of modern science. The spirit world interpreted as personal, internal, subjective wisdom needs to complement our external, methodological scientific knowledge as we seek to listen, learn, and incarnate Christ today.
 See his article http://news.mongabay.com/2009/1110-herndon_amazon_shaman.html
 Cf. Isaiah 42:19.
 Rev 22:2, cf. Ezekiel 47:12.
 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
 Dr. Herndon discovered that they knew a great deal about human anatomy and shuddered to think how they learned so much about human internal organs. Some of their superstitions are quite repugnant.
 Studying Houston Smith is well worthwhile: The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991, 1958) pages 318ff.
The Cross is the Direction of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2013
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 18, 2013
Jeremiah 23:23-29 Psalm 82 Hebrews 11: 29-12:2 Luke 12:49-56
The Cross is the Direction of Christ’s Holy Resurrection
One time in a church conference, I was telling people about all the suffering we were going through. It was down in Coney Island and we were having it really rough. There were over 500 hundred fires a summer, owners burning the roofs out from over their four story tenements in order to collect the insurance money just ahead of the inner city blight that would make them lose it all. Our church was broken into 46 times (counting the number of times they hit our buses). Twice somebody broke all the glass reflectors and many windows of our church bus. In one burglary, someone broke a hole through the wall of the church office, crawled over the desk, changed the whole office into a foot of rubble, even stole the seal of the church that dated all the way back to 1900, and more. (You know, with the seal coming out of a lion’s mouth) Someone stole my festival make, silver bell trumpet from the sanctuary, while I was bus-driving the Spanish congregation to the church. Running frantically to the board-walk, it made no sense, because two million people were in Coney Island that Sunday and where could one begin to look for the thief?!
In that conference one of the missionaries asked me, “What happened to rejoicing in your suffering?” My spirit was so low, that it was scraping the ground, so first his remark did not affect me the way it should have, because I’m a complainer by nature anyway. But then I thought about Paul and Silas locked into stocks while sitting in jail after having been beaten, and beginning to sing hymns and praise the Lord. I thought of other disciples who thanked God that they had the grace to suffer the way their Lord Jesus did. And I tried it and what I discovered is that rejoicing in your suffering is very best way of coping with the suffering and for getting through it!
It was our first day of Vacation Church School and Day Camp and I was driving our 60 passenger church bus loaded with children and staff to the church. When we got there someone had broken in, broke every lock on every door, used a crowbar to break open the organ, and we found all kinds of loot outside that he hurriedly left there in order himself to get away when we came. But I had allowed a huge bus to park in our parking lot, while the singing group that was touring with it went down to enjoy the rides in Coney Island. When they came back and noticed what happened, they had our whole school sit down in the sanctuary, they set up their amplifiers, audio equipment, like you might see in Carnegie Hall, and played and sang a concert for us that lifted us up, so that we realized, we had never had
a first day of VCS like it in all our 14 years! One crook had sought to bring us down, but God sent six members, six angels of that singing group, and I don’t even know who they were, to lift our spirits and set us all rejoicing. When they left it was no trouble sweeping up all the glass and door handles and assessing all the damage and repair we needed, because God overcame all our suffering, by letting this band start our hearts rejoicing!
Our little St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, your namesake, tried to start another fire in Coney Island, the fire of God’s reign, the fire of the Holy Spirit, turning hearts bent on evil to those filled with love and hope, and as you see, the fire that Jesus came to bring to the earth, had not found much kindling wood in Coney Island. But we had fourteen Vacation Church School and Day Camp programs and when the children returned from their outing singing in the bus, the whole neighborhood could hear the children singing their wonderful songs: “His Banner over Me Is Love,” “I’ve Got Peace like a River”…Do you want to learn one?
[We sang “His Banner over Me is Love” with all the signing.]
Yes, and there was the wonderful song: “Shout it from the Mountain-Tops, I want the world to know, the Lord of Love has come to me, I want to pass it on!” I guess I think of Vacation Church School, because this is the time we always ate, drank, and slept VCS because it was so much work, from 6:00am when we had to get the buses to late at night when we finally got all the kids, our precious cargo, back home to their Marlborough and Coney Island projects. We would say, “If the program was going right, you could feel yourself grow!”
Sometimes when my wife Nora and I told stories to people about what we went through, we would laugh so hard the tears would stream down our faces. I realized that I needed a rest and relaxation vacation before the program, because if I did not take one, invariably my back would go out after the program and I would have a week of sheering pain.
You would be surprised by how much help and strength the Holy Spirit would give when we were doing that mission as the church. A White faction in our congregation left the church. The treasurer slammed her keys down on the table and resigned as of immediately. The pastor was supposed to evangelize in the White side of the church, in Brighton and not in the projects. But a faithful third of our membership was Caucasian, a third Black, now we say, Lutherans of African Descent, and a third Hispanic. Our second service was all in Spanish and because they were Puerto Rican, our Colombians and Guatemalans would not attend, even though they could not speak English!
The White people stayed with us. In Oakland I served St. John’s in East Oakland and Bethlehem in West Oakland, and here in progressive Oakland the churches are all Black except for one or two White members. What’s wrong with this picture?
When in the seminary, being very ashamed of being German and the antisemitism and our history with the Holocaust, I determined I would minister against prejudice, bigotry and racism. I started with Les Schulz in Cincinnati, in an area called Over the Rhine where there were race riots in the late sixties. I came home after harrowing experiences, because I had to deal with my own prejudice. I had grown a beard and when I got home, my father, also a minister, was furious that I was working among the Blacks, said I was a pastor and not a deacon and I experienced a rather sound rejection and that from my whole family.
When you try to bring reconciliation, somehow you get rejected. Like a commentary said, “if you want some conflict, work for peace.” Now we are like this, society is like this: compare the case of a little child. It will have a cut and you will want to treat it and the child will fight with you so you can’t get at it and if you don’t treat it, it will only get worse. So often we have to hold the arms and legs of a little child, so the doctor can have it hold still enough to touch and treat the deep cut. Sure it will hurt, but if you don’t allow the hurt that will bring healing, then it will only get worse.
My little son Mark was hit by a bicycle passing on the sidewalk as he got out of our car. He needed to have it treated. Did we have to hold him down! And instead of stitches, they stapled the long and deep cut. “Pop, they used a staple on my head!” He was outraged. Of course, it is now funny and we laugh. And we are like that to, things go wrong in our society and even in ourselves and we don’t want to go through the pain that is involved with healing. No pain no gain. Like doing the little exercise that we can manage so that we become more healthy. The pain and the division is just what we go through to avoid the greater suffering that takes place if we do not take care of the problem.
So you see the sword that Jesus brings is for the sake of healing, for reconciliation, for peace. But it is often like going through fire to do that ministry. It is like receiving the baptism of suffering. And that means that we can
“Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.”
because we can also place our cross squarely on our shoulder blades and carry it following after Jesus. And Jesus becomes a Simon Cyrene for us, carrying the cross for us, saying, “It’s not heavy, he’s/ she’s my follower!”
A funny thing I read in the online commentary: “How can so many pastors be burnt out, if they’ve never been on fire?” We don’t live out of our own strength, but out of the strength of God’s grace, God’s inexhaustible strength, and pray for the Holy Spirit to use us for God’s purposes. And we pray that God will use us as torch-bearers for the wonderful new order that Jesus pronounced to be near at hand and that it come not in spite of and against us, but with us and for us. So if your life is going in the wrong direction, go through the fiery ordeal of getting it right. The division you cause will bring unity, the conflict you cause will bring peace, the pain you cause and also go through will go a long way in overcoming untold future suffering for many. When we visited the Holy Land with a group of our church, an Israeli soldier was our bus-driver. He said, “The only good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian!” I remember back in elementary school how our teacher said pioneers used to say that about the Native Americans. Let’s pray for John Kerry trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians together!
Now about predicting the weather versus telling the signs of our times, sometimes they have all these polls that are hard to take much stock in. Is our government going in the right direction? And so and so many, such a percentage will say: “It is not” and others will say, “It is.” Is your life going in the right direction? Is our society, is this congregation, our church? Jesus says that we have little trouble predicting the weather, but we don’t seem to be able to interpret the signs of our times. It is easy to see that in Russia they chose prosperity over democracy and now they are regretting it, because things are going badly with Putin. Over here are we choosing security over democracy and will we have hell to pay later? In our church are we choosing comfort over the real challenge that it means to follow Christ? Will we pray to Christ to give us the strength to go through the suffering to direct our lives on the right course?
Like in our family we were very anti-Semitic and I was determined to not be that way. Well, there is one conversion to Jesus, but there is another to overcoming our bigotry, another to become a listener, when we’ve always been a talker, and another to activate ourselves to do the real mission of Christ in this time and in this place. Our society is in a very dangerous place and we have to make our witness or the night could come where we can no longer work. 10 million people have experienced foreclosures since the Great Recession, how many millions are unemployed with little prospect of employment? We have what over two million incarcerated and what is going to happen to us? Our church has to make a witness!
In the assembly of our church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the body just elected a new presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and that is exciting, but we can’t depend on presiding bishops, bishops, pastors, deans, or even ourselves as committed Christians. We have to rely on God’s grace, depend upon it completely, and see the wonders that God will accomplish through us and then sing, “I long for you my friend, the happiness that I’ve found!” And you’ll be saying this while wiping away the tears from your eyes. “I’ll shout it from the mountain-tops! Hey, world, I want the world to know that the Lord of Love has come to me and I want to pass it on!” Amen.
Existential Rapture (continued) August 18, 2013
My lecture of March 6th reviews Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” but here I want to think about what I call the existential rapture once more. The reason that I associate it with Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” and with the ascending and descending angels, is because Luther finishes his most popular pamphlet associating them:
Christians do not live in themselves, but in Christ and in their neighbor — in Christ through faith one ascends above oneself into God. From God one descends through love again below oneself and yet always remains in God and God’s love. As Christ says, in John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
As you see Luther somehow associates the ascending and descending angels from the opened heavens with the ascent of believers in faith and their descent in love. Somehow I associate increasing angel power in a person through a higher ascent with the angels for their lower descent increasing our love and service.
Why do I use the word “rapture”? It is a uncomfortable word for Lutherans, but it is firstly, because I think we should think more in terms of the Holy Spirit; but secondly, the Latin word Luther uses for the ascent is raptus, from which we get the word “rapture.”
Figure 1: The Existential Rapture diagrammed in a Chart;
And if you read his “Freedom of a Christian” you will see how the contents of the chart are all there, and even more, because I left out the bottom circle, “becoming the first born,” and note, as a daughter no less as high a status as a firstborn son).
The growth, development, maturing, or promotions from one stage to the next come from the tension of opposites: completely sovereign by faith versus completely enslaved by love and other tensions, like simultaneously being sinners and saints, the rapture and the groaning, those sighs too deep for words in the Spirit, and many more tensions.
If you look at the chart, the bottom line is significant, we are not just talking about a concepts, although thinking can follow the same development, but the growth and maturity of a person. While in Jacob’s ladder Luther relates the ascending and descending angels to the person of Christ and the tension of the opposite natures, human and divine, in the one person of Christ. The two poles are not allowed to separate, nor can a unity without these tensions work.
So often I have been speaking about growing and maturing into the full stature of Christ. I thought I would go back to the scriptural source for this aspiration. Surprisingly, ascension and descent and another hierarchy are right in that passage!
Look at Ephesians 4:7-13:
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift, therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself captive; he gave gifts to his people.” When it says “He ascended” what does it mean but that he had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens so that he might fill all things. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
What an interesting passage. (I wonder if the whole of Ephesians would throw more light on our subject.) The same person is ascending and descending and each holy office, apostle, prophet, etc., is higher or lower. In “Christian Freedom” Luther did not use apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but first born, nobility of the spirit, priests, Christs and up into God. I believe he did so, because his focus was to declare the priesthood of all believers, so that laypeople have holy vocations very much like apostles, prophets, etc.
Listen to the sociologist, Talcott Parsons, who writes in The Evolution of Societies:
…the form of stratification within the medieval church, the differentiation between the laity and members of the religious orders, lost it legitimation in Protestantism. On the level of a way of life, all callings had the same religious status, the highest religious merit could be attained in secular callings. [He is citing Max Weber.] This attitude included marriage – Luther himself left the monastery and married a former nun, symbolizing the change. This change in relations between the church and secular society has often been interpreted as a loss of religious rigor in favor of worldly indulgence. I consider this view a misinterpretation, for the Reformation was a movement to upgrade secular society to the highest religious level. Every man was obliged to behave like a monk [I add every woman as a nun] in religious devotion, although not in his [or her] daily life, that is, he/she was to be guided by religious considerations. A turn in the process which dated from early phases of Christianity, was to permeate all things of this world with religious values and to create a [human] city in the image of God.
The stages in Ephesians are holy ones that are not yet completely “churchified.” The ecclesiastical ones of the Catholic Church go through a real change, for Luther does not only say that all believers are priests, but he maintained that coming out of baptism, every believer became more than a priest, bishop, and even a pope and that in your secular calling when you permeated it with Christian values of grace, faith, hope, and love.
Interestingly enough secularism is a child of the Christian religion and in Talcott Parson’s description, it can be more: the social expression of Christianity in our time. In Medieval and Early Modern history, the church distinguished between secular and regular clergy. A regular clergy person like a monk never had to do with the laity, while those who dealt with the laity in congregations were called secular priests. So our congregation and the expression of its ministry as it shaped the community would be considered the secular. Perhaps the term “secularism” could be used for those in society, who do not want Christian values nor that their society express and become shaped by them. And because only spiritual persuasion as opposed to coercion was the ideal that Luther’s Reformation strove for, a secular neutral area for Christianity was necessary to accept or reject the faith. We need the freedom to make a choice, but also the freedom of the context in which to make it in. That context is provided by the Christian secular.
The following is an example of the secular expressed at a very high level of religious values. I know a pastor’s son who will not go to church, who is a musician, and who has opened up two vegan restaurants with a partner and only hires musicians, giving them a livelihood and allowing them to use the restaurants as the base from which to go on tours and do their gigs. They make sure their music is non-commercial, they still make phonograph records instead of using computer CD’s and all his help call him Dad. In many ways I could show how he illustrates taking these restaurants to the highest religious level. Let me just include one: the tip jar is not only for the waiters to the neglect of those in the kitchen in back and those who buss the tables. The jar is equally shared by all. And they all have to work at converting carnivorous Southerners not only into vegetarians, but even vegans!
From the Ephesians passage, seeing that our becoming Christs continues the incarnation, in which the angels, according to Luther are descending and ascending from God in heaven to the humble birth of a baby here below, we too grow into the measure of the full stature of Christ that God gives us the grace to attain. It says,
“He ascended” what does it mean but that he had descended into the lower parts of the earth? [Christ] who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens so that he might fill all things.
So in the growth of ourselves as persons, in continuing the incarnation by the grace of God, we have a deep self and an extended social self. In terms of the deep self, how low can you go? Or in the words of the BeeGees song, “How deep is your love?” In thinking of our deep self just let me remind you of the iceberg metaphor. Like a grapefruit, there is so much more to us, than meets the eye. We have to delve far below the surface of life and become the deep selves that help our whole community rise, like those two vegan restaurants.
In the extended social self, we really can have a boat-load of people in us when Christ’s descending and ascending becomes all in all. The church is not a house, but all the members who live in your hearts inside you, when you say, come into my heart Lord Jesus there’s room in my heart for you. And that goes for your community and your neighbors on your street as well.
We become far more aware of ourselves under the surface when we become deep listeners, active listeners. We have to listen the Gospel and not only preach it. When we listen and hear what people are saying, really hearing who they are, with all their cries for help, and all jubilation in having this gift of life, then we can also descend and ascend with the angels in the existential rapture that Luther describes, becoming promoted from only taking care of ourselves, to supporting a family, to becoming a pillar of our community or even the mayor, or like our wonderful Governor Jerry Brown, or like President Obama, or our wonderful First Lady, Michelle, and even John Kerry, who is trying to make peace between the nations. We need to pray for them and we need to ask God for the gifts of grace to follow after becoming Christs for our neighbors.
 Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, page 90.
 Also see the metaphor of the magnitude of stars and the brightness of the shining saints in the previous lecture.
 Hegel’s dialectics, for example place the thesis into tension with its antithesis bringing about a synthesis. This is the logic of life and thought of growth and development. Paul Recoeur makes the Hegelian dialectic more comprehensive by using the terms “orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.” Sometimes he uses “displacement” for “disorientation.” I first learned of Recoeur’s terms from Walter Brueggemann’s classification of the Psalms: in “Psalms and the Life of Faith,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 17(1980), 3-32.
Another interesting association in the development of thought can be found in Gerard Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) pp. 109-24. Caspary worked with non-lineal, internal, symbolic, monastic thought that preceded Scholasticism. The tension between polar symbols brought out deep meanings. For a Biblical example: “Your eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, then your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is unhealthy, then your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Mat 6:22-23.) See an interesting diagram illustrating the symbols of light and darkness, good and evil that Prof. Caspary presented in class:
 Heinz Cohut in his Self-Psychology places two poles in the mystery of the self, one for mirroring and one for merging with the “tension arc” for action emerging from them. See Ernest Wolf, Treating the Self: Elements of Clinical Self Psychology, (New York: The Guilford Prss, 1988), p. 50.
 Parsons is not well informed here, because he never left the Black Cloister, but just stopped getting the tonsure of a monk and being a monk. All the other monks left the cloister, while he and Katie married in it and boarded students and religious and other refugees. The table talks came from the students taking notes for every word he said.
 Talcott Parsons, The Evolution of Societies, Jackson Toby, ed., (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977),pp. 132-33.
“The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther’s best-Selling Pamphlet and the Existential Rapture March 6 and August 18, 2013
“The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther’s best-Selling Pamphlet
and the Existential Rapture March 6 and August 18, 2013
Luther wrote one pamphlet after another in the movement that became the Reformation. He was the first author whose writing publications numbered in the millions especially when his New Testament came out in 1522 and when his translation of the whole Bible came out in 1534. Illiterate peasants learned how to read by reading it, while discovering that the old believing priests had never read it and did not know what was in it.
Luther never received any income from his many writings, while he kept printing presses humming in many cities and it seemed that the printers did not let his ink dry before they already took his work to their presses. They were making real money with Luther’s work. (My lecture, “Notes on a Rereading of the Freedom of a Christian” online in my website has gotten over 10,000 hits, but I have also not made any money with it.)
Other than the New Testament and the whole Bible, “The Freedom of a Christian” was Luther’s best-selling pamphlet. It came out in 38 editions in his life time. He noted that it contained the “whole sum of a Christian life.” Of the 38 editions, ten were in Latin and 22 were in German. It turns out that we only know the Latin version in the English translation, while the popular German one is shorter, more simple, spiritual, and direct, much like his Small Catechism. For example, you will find such gems such as
One who hears the word becomes like the word, pure, good, and just,
What is the word that gives such abundant grace and how shall I use it? The answer: it is nothing but the preaching of Christ in accordance with the Gospel, spoken in such a way that you hear your God speaking to you!
Right now this version is only available in Philip and my book, Luther’s Spirituality.
Luther organizes his pamphlet into three parts:
Part One: Points 1-19: the inner person or the soul
Part Two: Points 19-24: the outer person or the body
Part Three: Points 25-30: the relation of outward persons.
Part Three undertakes describing the vision
and shape that Christianity would give to a society.
Luther begins right at the beginning with the tension of opposites. And these opposites bring about growth, development, and even movements in society. What was the Reformation itself but a religious, historical movement? Some opposites we can think about are men and women, church and state, – which are supposed to be opposites, but sometimes the church doesn’t challenge the state and the society the way it is supposed to.
Luther’s tension of opposites begins right at the start in his two contradictory statements presenting the tension between freedom and responsibility:
A Christian person is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one – [let me add by faith].
A Christian person is a dutiful servant in all things and subject to everyone – [let me add by love].
It is important to understand this tension of opposites and the growth, development, and movement it brings about, to later understand what I call the existential rapture.
Let me just highlight three themes that stand out in this Luther pamphlet: the one called the marvelous exchange; the second, more than just being Christians, Luther challenges us to become Christs to one another; and the third, the joyful economy.
In the marvelous exchange, Luther says that the gracious and righteous, bridegroom, Christ, and the bride, our dreadfully sinful soul, get married and become one body. In the exchange, we receive the sinless, virgin birth of Christ from his Mother Mary and he receives our sinful, human birth. We receive his immortality, while he takes on our mortality. So in exchange for our birth, we get the new birth of Christ, in exchange for our poverty, we get his riches, for our sin, we get his righteousness, in exchange for our hatred, we get his love, for our death, we get his eternal life. (Think of the way nuns wear a ring saying they are married to Christ. Luther has every believer’s soul as the bride married to Christ, the bridegroom.)
The tension of opposites again stands out, because Luther calls our soul a whore, whom the sinless and pure Christ takes as his wife, so that she becomes a wonderful woman, happy house-mother, and wife. Now not to be sexist, we could also say the whore-monger of our soul, through this exchange, becomes a wonderful man, happy house-father, and husband. You can see how Luther places extreme opposites into tension. Prof. Timothy Wengert from our Philadelphia seminary had a funny way of presenting the marvelous exchange. When as a student he married his wife, she had a beautiful new BMW and he was driving an old wreck. After their marriage, he drove the BMW and she drove the old wreck: a truly marvelous exchange.
Secondly, Luther does not only promote us into the priesthood of all believers, but into a Christhood of all believers. (I just read in this month’s Lutheran how Stephen P. Bouman up in ELCA Chicago offices now speaks of all believers being missionaries and our churches becoming centers of mission: He writes, “Every ELCA baptized missionary (each of us is one).” So more than just being Christians and wondering haphazardly what that could mean for today, we are challenged to grow and mature into the full stature of Christ.
As Christs we lay down our lives for our friends. We love our enemies. We don’t project our sins on others, but take their sins upon ourselves and act as if they were really our own. That is the genuine love, which is full of forgiveness, because in our divine vicarious suffering, evil and sin are overcome by the divine power of Christ. Like in the marvelous exchange, Luther is providing another description of how our sins become forgiven.
Thirdly, Luther declares the Freedom of a Christian from the Babylonian Captivity of our Church. The third part of his pamphlet is his sociological section and in it Luther describes the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance. (That’s a mouthful! It comes from my dissertation.) We have an economy of scarcity, while the giving and sharing taught us by Christ lead to a joyful economy of abundance. That is why we gather around the Table of the Lord for Holy Communion. The circulation of grace means that whatever Christ has done for us, we do for our neighbor. Christ of course suffered and died for us. Even the new selves that we become in Christ are not for ourselves but for those in need. Our righteousness is not our own but belongs to our sinful neighbor, whose sins we try to cover in order to forgive. Having died to ourselves in our baptisms, all we have, all our possessions, even our own lives now belong to God and we are now free in the Holy Spirit to share them where needed, because we have so much more and all our needs are provided for by God. So Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” actually declares the Good News that Christ leads us out of our Babylonians Captivity into the heavenly Kingdom of freedom; except, don’t forget the tension of our earthly state with all its duties and responsibilities.
Finally, the existential rapture is about our inner persons or souls, which Luther places in tension with our bodies, our external selves. This rapture is what we mean when we say in the Great Thanksgiving: “Lift up your hearts!” So what I am describing from Luther’s pamphlet is not at all like the rapture where you are lifted up and out of here, like in Hal Lindsey’s Late and Great Planet Earth. But one where we are promoted right here in our responsibilities and the contributions we make in our lives. We are being lifted up in our internal selves, spiritually, for a strengthening to undergo suffering for the sake of the love, ministry, and service that we provide for others. The saints are like the stars, who grow from being invisible to the naked eye, to sixth, fifth, fourth, and ever greater magnitudes of brightness, from glory to glory, as St. Paul would word “the magnitude of stars” in the Bible (2 Cor 12:18).
So in the tension of opposites we grow and mature from one level of maturity to another. Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychologist, talks about the tension of opposites bringing a transcendent function that overcomes our psychological problems and brings about our health. Now the ascent comes about through faith and the descent comes about through love and that’s why we speak of falling in love. Faith makes us into a king, while love makes us into a slave to the one we love. Remember the song? “If they made me a king, I’d still be a slave to you!”
According to Luther in our ascent we first receive the first-born status. That is good for me since I’m the eleventh child and you will receive it too, even if you are the baby in your family. Next in our ascent, we receive the nobility of the spirit. In our spiritual royalty we become kings and queens; today we would say mayors, governors, and presidents. At one point we could not even take care of ourselves, but we grow and provide for a family, then a congregation, perhaps, then watch over and shepherd a whole city, guide a nation, become a leader of countries in the world, just like John Kerry now that he has become the Secretary of State. Next we ascend into the priesthood. Luther saw priests as higher than nobility, because they interceded for others in prayer and God listened to them. From priesthood one ascends up into being a Christ for others and then one goes up into God. Talk about having self-esteem. If you ever feel low and down and out, just remember that! Luther maintained that coming out of baptism, every believer became more than a priest, bishop, and even a pope.
But then we descend falling in love through all these levels until we arrive below the least of these, finding ourselves emptying the bed pan of an elderly person in a hospital, bending down to tie the shoe laces of a child. The ascent takes place to give us the strength to love and suffer and serve. Paul and Silas are in prison, beaten and bruised, chained with their feet in stocks. Ascending above themselves in faith, they started praying and singing hymns while the prisoners listened to them. Then, when the earthquake shook open all the doors, the jailer, the prison warden was about to commit suicide, Paul shouted to him not to harm himself because they were all still there and no one had tried to escape. The warden knelt trembling before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” and became a believer in God. He then washed their wounds, gave them food, and ate together with them. This is the strength that we receive from on high.
Luther begins his pamphlet by saying that we are completely sovereign and full of freedom and completely enslaved and subject to everyone at one and the same time. He ends his pamphlet with the famous words:
Christians do not live in themselves, but in Christ and in their neighbor—in Christ through faith one ascends above oneself into God. From God one descends through love again below oneself and yet always remains in God and God’s love. As Christ says, in John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Now that paragraph concludes the popular version of “The Freedom of a Christian” while it is buried two thirds of the way into the more intellectual Latin version of this Luther writing. A long discussion about ceremonies follows this paragraph in the more scholarly Latin versions that we know.
 This edition of “The Freedom of a Christian” is available in Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 268n.
Ibid., p. 72.
 Stephen P. Bouman, “Blinded by the Light: We Must Be like Paul,” The Lutheran, March 2013, Vol. 26 No. 3, p. 17.
 Acts 16:16-34.
 Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, page 90.