Monday, November 7, 2011

2011.11.09 God Talk and the Akedah

I don’t know why theology has always fascinated me. I suppose it’s a mystery I can’t grasp and can’t stop trying to, anyway.

Some Christians I imagine think that the idea of grace/free will cooperation for the good started with them, or at least the New Testament Jesus. But it’s more ancient than that.

I’ve been reading Bruce Feiler’s book Abraham, a fascinating and beautiful read. He writes about what I call the story of the gasp heard round the world, the story in Genesis 22 (called the Akedah in Hebrew) about the near-sacrifice or the binding of Isaac, as most Christians call it—and use it to condemn the God of the Old Testament as if there were two Gods.

Abraham heard God ask him to give his son Isaac as a burnt offering apparently to TEST the solidity of Abe’s faith.

There have been many interpretations of this theological horror story. Who would do such a thing? What kind of God is this? Where was the mother? This is Holy Scripture?

My own favorite is that Sarah arranged with God to provide a ram for the burnt offering so Isaac, at the last-gasp minute, would escape unharmed but with a lifelong case of serious post-traumatic stress disorder. Abraham I thought had obviously made an incorrect discernment of God’s will.(My rational was obviously me trying to save God!)It happens all the time, and to the most prayerful of u, I'd say. Poor Abe.

But Feiler points out that in the story God does NOT ask Abe to kill his son but to OFFER him. Early Jews referred to the event as the OFFERING,not sacrifice or binding.

Think of the Offering in Church. Good season to think of what you can offer to help God create peace and justice.

“A potter doesn’t test defective jars, they would break. He only tests sound ones.” Such is the basis for a Talmudic interpretation that suggests that Abraham was testing God,not the reverse, see if "His" promise of continuing and multiplying Abe's line were the real deal.

Now that’s a role reversal.

The consequence of such a flip is that God is brought down to earth rather than Abe being elevated to heaven. Abe is the actor and God the reactor.

The theological boundaries are confused— or are they?

Feiler suggests that ABRAHAM BECOMES GOD’S PARTNER. They belong to each other.

“Their mutual trials completed, their love consummated, Abraham and God have now been irreparably fused.”

This is chilling and thrilling theology, a scandal to some: through trauma, God and Abraham became partners forever—humanity and divinity conjoined and blessed to work together to mend the world.

The New Testament will take that union into the flesh of Jesus.

All of this is POWER WITH, NOT POWER OVER theology—from way back. Talk it up

2011.11.06 God Talk and Demons

The bishop was delivering a terrific sermon on healing presence and demons, until he suddenly veered off on a theological path I couldn’t follow—not that I didn’t understand what he said, but I just didn’t think it sounded like the God I’d met many many years ago who listened me into life.

The biblical story was highly symbolic and desperately real.A man gone crazy, socially ignored and relegated to the tombs where he cried and flung himself and rocks about. He was out of his mind. Jesus appeared and was not afraid as all the man’s neighbors were. Jesus listened the man into his right mind. That’s a short summation of the potential of healing listening to restore mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

The bishop spoke about research that indicated mental illness as one outcome of absolute social and economic powerlessness—no control over one’s life and choices. No dignity whatsoever. Such poverty can literally drive one crazy.

The call of course was for disciples to offer compassionate listening presence to help mend the world with individuals, but also to challenge large systems whose policies and practices create severe polarities between haves and have nots.

Think Occupy Movement. Think the one and the 99 percent in America.

Disciples of healing help with their bodies and minds, and they help by opening their wallets to build programs to narrow the chasm and assist the human rights revolution.

Instead of AMEN the bishop veered. He told the large congregation gathered in the cathedral for our annual convention that no one was there because they chose to be there. They were there, each one, because God had chosen them to be there—to worship God, to catch inspiration, and to join the mission for the mending of our broken system.

Suddenly I veered too. I wondered if God chose the people who sat outside on the cathedral to catch the patches of sunlight and warmth to be there? I wondered who God chose to do the work of justice, peace and love, and why God didn’t choose more people to be here in church with their compassionate hearts—and their wallets.

Why didn’t God choose all the other people roaming the fair city on this lovely Saturday especially if there were a shortage of disciples? And what if the crazy man had rejected Jesus’ approach, had not chosen Jesus?

In short I felt a little manipulated by this dangerous theology of forced choice that set God up as the decider and the chooser as if human freedom were not part of the process. It made God sound manipulative. It seemed to compromise the partnership between grace and freedom.

I met God when I was three and I didn’t feel chosen at all, just loved, accompanied, heartened, and listened to, like Jesus listened to the demoniac. I didn’t feel unique or special.

As I grew up I thought my meeting God was intimately connected to my choice to seek refuge from the parental cocktail hour.

I love my husband and I can’t, for the love of us, tell you who chose whom first or when. Or who initiated the movement. As I grew into my first love affair with God, the issue of who chose whom first was moot.

It seems to me that the demoniac and Jesus chose each other, or were magnetically drawn together almost simultaneously. Lo! Dispelling demons became a joint venture.

This is why I prefer the theological vocabulary of love and connection over the vocabulary of choice/chosen because love is about mutuality and choice is about power.

To be honest, I trust, with humans and with God, the mutuality of love over the power of choice.