Tuesday, July 20, 2010


ER's Occasional VBS 2

When I was a wee ER, we also pledged allegiance to the Bible:

I pledge allegiance to the Bible,
God's Holy Word.
I will make it a light unto my path
and a lamp unto my feet
and will hide its Word's in my heart
that I might not sin against God.

That was before we learned to use the Bible as a blunt instrument with which to strike down others in the name of Christ.

"The Bible is God's gift to the church," the United Church of Christ notes, "to be read for our instruction and comfort, but we often use it as a hammer to strike down the arguments of our opponents, or even to exclude each other from the Body of Christ. Right interpretation of Scripture necessarily includes right living, that is, we cannot hear God's word in the Bible if our minds and hearts are closed to each other."

Today, I salute the Holy Bible with affection, reverence and devotion to the Good News of the Gospel, the Word of God and Savior to whom it attests.


As you might expect, I balk now at the notion of saying a "pledge to the Bible," or either of the flags. For some reason, a "pledge to the Bible" seems especially yucky to me.

When my daughter was in grade school, she sometimes said this pledge (in the morning pledge time when kids were expected to stand and say a pledge to the US flag)...

"I pledge allegiance to my God
And NOT some blood-stained flag
And to the humanity for which God stands
One people, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL..."

Or something like that.
Suggested song for today: "This Little Gospel Light of Mine."

While I believe that there are many wrong interpretations of scripture, I am not sure if there is a right one. That being said, attempting to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as so nicely laid out in the gospels does seem to be a good start. The Good Book as a weapon seems about as pure a paradox as I can think of. Thump that Bible all you want, just not on someone else's skull.
I'd rather not follow Jesus' footsteps in the Gospel. Aside from the sheer discomfort of doing so, and abandoning my family to do so, it seems to me that the Gospels show us Jesus as he walks precisely in order to point out that he alone can walk such a path toward Jerusalem and self-sacrificial love.

I do try to walk as some of his followers must have. Particularly those whom Paul addresses in the various cities and towns, gathered as a believing community, with their families, organizing their worship life in immediate discovery of new faith and, thereby, new worship liturgies.

Oddly, the Bible does not really cover contemporary Christian walking, as it turns out. It does not seem that that was even its primal purpose, nor its usefulness through time. It does, however, provide prayerful, meditative, liturgically reflective material that nourishes me in my walk.
Who put that in our heads, anyway, the idea that we can be little Christ's redeeming our little worlds by living dramatic little gospel stories?

Where did that originate?
I thought Christ himself put that idea of following in his footsteps, eh?
I don't recall any mention in the gospels of our action leading to redemption, nor was sugggesting any.

I think following that path is not meant to be easy, in whatever manifestation it takes in contemporary interpretation.

I believe we speak of the same thing, Feodor--is not Christ's call to "follow me" what you are doing when you are trying to walk the walk?
The Christ of the Gospels does ask some of his "followers" to follow him. Usually it was the rebellious, the outcast, or the rich. Unfortunately for me, I'm not that interesting.

To hundreds/thousands he preached and honored their faith in the midst of their lives. He did not ask them to follow him but to believe in him. I am more than willing to believe in the Christ of the Gospels. I am ready to die for him should it ever inconceivably come to that, but resting in the comfort that is the US, that doesn't seem likely.

The Christ I do follow is the living Christ whom I meet at the altar in the midst of my eucharistic community and in prayer and in my wife, daughter, life and the surrounding lives of those whom I meet every day. I follow him in these people in this place. When I travel, I assume I've followed him there, too, for the living Christ is to found in all places where God's love is working and I don't where there is a place where it isn't working.

None of this is easy day to day to day ad infinitum. I have helped material and financially in Haiti, but I suffer with Haiti spiritually and with Haitian colleagues and students corporately. It tries my faith along with a thousand other committed injustices or omitted kindnesses. But none of this is the path Jesus Christ and his apostles walked from Galilee to Jerusalem and crucifixion. He died once... for all, thank God. And he lives. And the twelve and Mary and Mary Magdalene lead the way into Christian life. And I find, not joy, but some measure of peacefulness when my Haitian brothers and sisters sing about it.
You know, one could preach for a year on those in the Gospels and the entire NT who meet Jesus or the message of Jesus and his ever present question of faith but remain un-named.

Maybe we should talk a little bit about what surely were some interesting men standing around when Jesus wrote in the sand. They were uninvolved in the initial drama, but now their faced with thinking things through because they overheard enough.

I relate to those guys.
(Doc, I'm guarding against a kind of narcisissim that may seep into the unconscious when the church reads the Bible as a pattern for their lives. It seems to me that we can trace such a historical reality as a not insignificant influence of the history of a triumphalist American faith and American military and political might conjoining to wreck havoc, confidently operating on an unconscious conviction that, in Manifest Destiny, we are marching along in the very footsteps of God.)

Which is not to hide the fact that I also think it's a bad and unexamined phenomenon of much Biblical reading.
Feodor, you are brushing up against the imagery I have in mind for a sermon, with those unnamed. ... I envision the stereotypical dusty scene where Jesus is talking and people are -- around. Some are listening; some are trying to hear but can't; some are trying to understand but can't; some are in conversation with someone else; some are trading; some are passing by or through; Jesus is walking, so the whole crowd is kind of milling with him; at the edges are people who can't hear what he's saying and aren't evening trying to ("what? blessed are the cheese makers?"), but the spectacle has their attention; in the crowd also are mockers, hangers-on, free riders and so on.

But everybody is deliberately aware of Jesus, and they are not walking away from the crowd -- although at the far edges are some people who have gotten distracted, or busy in conversation with someone, or just stopped to rest or to mend a sandal or whatever -- and they realize they've almost let the crowd pass them by but in the nick of time they see some dust on the distant horizon and hurry back to it.

Where am I in that scene? Where all have I been in it since first hearing Jesus? Where you? Etc.

I think that'll preach.

I agree regarding against such narcissism, and that pattern exists from the Inquisition and the crusades all the way down to Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame.

I think though, that Jesus' call to us is the opposite of that. I feel that Jesus' call to follow him is, for me, one of the most important aspects of the gospel. It is the call answered by Peter, who was crucified upside-down. Yet, even Peter did not have the right to feel narcissistic, that he had done enough, as we see in his earlier failures ("Get behind me, satan" and His denial at the crucifiction). If Peter can't truly (or perhaps fully) walk the walk, then neither can we. It is a choice to TRY to walk the walk, to try to follow in those footsteps, to try to walk the harder path, and in the end to understand that we are imperfect, we are sinners, and the best we can do is to stand up and try again.

Perhaps I have an oversimplified view of Christ's message, but I have always felt that Jesus asks us to follow him, not to worship him. That is, we should do as he would do. That, in my opinion, leaves no room for narcissism, as his message of humility is very, very clear.
Yeah, it's that being crucified upside down thing I'm trying to avoid. Which shouldn't be too hard since the last time it happened because of Christian faith in this country was... I don't know.

My point is that I am not at all clear on how I am to incorporate the Christian (but non-biblical) tradition of Saint Peter’s death into my life. What’s for certain is that I am certain I cannot incorporate it without condensing it down through an awful lot of metaphor and extremely distant analogy. His experiential reality is just too irrecoverable. This is true with his biblical life as much as his death. The tradition story is hardly different from biblical stories. What’s true of Peter so, too, is the case with any of the apostles, disciples, and anyone else. And if that’s true, how much more true of then of the biblical Jesus?

It seems to me that non-biblical language like “walk the walk”, “following in Jesus’ footsteps,” “what would Jesus do,” “my master is a carpenter,” etc., are indeed acts of condensing down the Gospel stories and Biblical dramas in order to incorporate them as nourishing for a life of faith. My concern, though, is that the communities who use such twentieth-century language wants to remain unconscious of the condensation because of a theology that cannot bear uncertainty of being irrecoverably separated from Jesus’ reality. What I want to point out are habits in Western protestant practices of reading that telescope scripture from then to now by a process that is not conscious of the distance to be acknowledged. And so biblical reality is imposed more rigidly under the false pretense that it is much nearer in time and place that it is and, deceptively, surer. To me, it is this phenomenon that allows for so much of contemporary American evangelical populism. From the Ralph Reed congregations, the Jerry Falwell congregations, the Ted Haggard congregations, to the millions of evangelical Americans and the evangelized of other countries. In fact, the most recent icon of American evangelicalism will soon be built in Sao Paulo, apparently. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is going to build an 18 story replica of Solomon’s Temple. "Replica" - really? As if we knew how it really looked?

I say the phenomenon of evangelicalism, but it is fundamentally protestant. Reading the Bible as if we can be in it is the protestant/Enlightenment phenomenon that seeks to bring Christ close via text. Since the Crusades are far earlier than this, and the Inquisition was in opposition to Protestant theology, I’m not sure I get the connection you infer as a commonality. It seems to me those acts of violence are epi-phenomenon of very different dynamics.
Oh, and as for Notre Dame football, well, that's just a matter of faith. I, for one, pray for a return to power of the most glorious team in college football. Which is either Notre Dame or Yale, depending on how miraculous God wants to be in the next few years.
Re: A matter of faith: LOL. Nice!

I was using admittedly disparate examples of what happens in the narcissistic interpretation of the gospel--believing that one is following the will of (and blessed by) God. An admitted over-generaliztion, for sure.

I think it is that giant gap between the people we are and the people that Jesus calls us to be that is impressed in the biblical and traditional allegory. This is my ideological interpretation, and I wholehardedly agree that this message is often replaced by the false pretense of your descriptiopn.

Re: Tower building: Sometimes I think the only tower today's church could successfully replicate is Babel.

Aside, I often feel that I'm bringing a knife to a gun fight when discussing theology here. I have truly enjoyed the dialogue. Thanks.
I'll stop trying to impress with my gun skills and just let you use your knife to unpack for me the phrase, "the people that Jesus calls us to be." I honestly don't know what that means, or, rather, what the process is that one goes through to find out

How do you know what kind of people Jesus wants us to be? Where... and who... and what... do you go to to find out?

I may have questions, but I promise not to criticize. And I'll use only myself as an example - and not any overt specialized education. The holster strap is getting too tight.
I'll try. Simply put, I believe that in saying "follow me," Jesus is asking us to do as he does; i.e. to be like him. (An aside note, and perhaps useful in understanding my belief: I believe that this point is core to the message of Jesus; that when he says "Follow me," he is not saying "worship me.") Humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, love, selflessness, are a few traits (I believe) we should strive for which are taught in his lessons. I think if one studies his life and his words as recorded in the Bible, one can extrapolate these traits without significant confusion.

You have an opinion on who Jesus was. Do you strive to be like him? That's it.

Can you use this to rationalize your behaviors? Absolutely.
"That was before we learned to use the Bible as a blunt instrument with which to strike down others in the name of Christ."

Powerful, scribe. Thanks

1. where does Jesus say, "follow me" to us?
2. how do you know "follow me" means to do what he does? is he explicit in indicating what it is that he does that we are to do? and where do find that in the Gospels?
3. is "be like him" the same as "do what he does" or is it a different thing and where do you find this in the Gospels?
4. the core point being to "follow" and not [the more passive, I presume you mean] "worship" him, where do you find this core point made in the Gospels?

I am feeling you a little bit. There are passages that come to mind but I don't find them directly conveying what you are saying, so I'm interested in what passages specifically you are referring to.

As for, "a few traits (I believe) we should strive for which are taught in his lessons," I wholeheartedly agree. The teachings very often convey just such moral lessons. But I cannot extrapolate so obviously the intention by the Jesus of the Gospels that these are the places he is explicitly telling us that we should absolutely follow him and just him and that this call is the core point of the Gospels.

Help me out, brother.
It's not obvious. And not sure one for whom sola scriptura does not adhere shoild demand such scriptural specificity.
Cool! I CAN comment w my iPhone! Justnfigured out how.
Let me preface by agreeing first with ER that this is not obvious. If I may share my simple practice, I would liken the reading of religious scripture to looking at a work of art. I believe that there are many aesthetic interpretations, and the message (if you will) that one receives is unique to the individual. However, there does seem to be general patterns of interpretation which emerge, similarly as occurs in interpretation of art. These interpretations are internalized for our own usage. I think that discussion of them also allows for re-interpretation and growth. Is there a natural, a priori law (vs. say a religious positivism) that speaks to truth regarding such discussion? Certainly, if I was looking at Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” and said “look at the happy flowers,” it would not seem “right” in the sense of not befitting a logical pattern of interpretation. Conversely, if I said “wow, what pain and fear,” there would seem to be some logical construct of that aesthetic interpretation. But does that make either interpretation true or false? Similarly, in reading the gospels, utilizing the words to explain the interpretation might follow some logical construct, but I do not “know” if my interpretation is valid.

That being said, I think your request, Feodor, is good, and forced me to open up a Bible and actually give some further thought to my interpretation.

1. I would put “us” in the category of those who would “come after” Jesus and enter the kingdom of heaven, as noted in at least one place in Matthew 16. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

2. As noted above, I do not know if any of this is true. It is a choice of belief and interpretation. That being said, follow further in Matthew 16 about losing one’s life in order to gain it. Can this not be considered a beautiful paradox about selflessness, especially considering the speaker?

3. I’m not sure that the gospel would specifically delineate “being like” from “doing as one does.” That seems to be fairly synonymous.

4. Probably the hardest one to answer, as I think the question of Jesus as a man, vs. as a teacher, an “agent” of God, or God himself, etc. has not been satisfactorily answered from any of my readings of the Bible. I have to chalk this one up to belief/personal interpretation, and perhaps only add that I have seen nowhere in the Bible where he does overtly say “worship me,” as opposed to his frequent statements that God should be worshipped. I would agree that there are many instances where disciples and others worship him (in John, after the resurrection to name one), so my belief/interpretation is probably quite contrary to most who read the NT.

"liken the reading of religious scripture to looking at a work of art."

I respond with a great deal of agreement to this analogy up to a certain screeching, halting point. In terms of Biblical interpretation post-Enlightenment, literary criticism has added so much to our approach to the Gospels, especially, but also to many kinds of understanding of the whole of scripture. But it is that word, "scripture" that must make us finally distinguish biblical texts as interpreted sources differently from aesthetic "texts" whether literary, visual, performative, etc. Surely a "sacred scripture" is one that is defined as existing within a interpretive network of authority that boundaries a community. "Sacred scripture" provides a major unitary source of how the community defines itself, what the community understands to be the reality of life, and continually and - to a great but not absolute degree- continuously recreates and nourishes the community over many tens and tens of successive generations. No work of art comes close to that kind of power.

And it is incumbent upon us when we read scripture to understand this ultimately decisive way in which it functions.
As for Matthew 16, one does feel a gripping claim on one's faith exerting by the tension and drama of the situation. Mark heightens it by having Jesus call the whole crowd up to him "along with his disciples" almost as if the disciples were not getting the secret so in frustration he decided to let everyone in on the secret that demands on their faith would be forthcoming. Matthew presents similar language, along with Luke, - "pick up his cross and follow me" - for the sending out of the 12 apostles.

So, among the things going on seem to be the special agency of the 12 in carrying out Jesus' message to the world and the special demands and risks and threats to life that they will face, even to death. Mark lowers the boom on everyone. And, presumably at the time the Gospels were written Christians were indeed facing the reality that their faith could separate them from family and from life itself as the government carried out waves of exterminations of Christians.

What makes Matthew 16 or, more universally, Mark 8 more central, though, for my allegiance and understanding of the Bible's presence in my life remains unclear to me. The prescriptions on the life of Christian faith in the epistles is frequently void of such apocalyptic tenor, except for Paul's expectations of his own life and then the book that is entirely living an apocalyptically defined time.

For me to be able to make such texts central to my experience and my call to faith takes a great deal of metaphorizing the life and death risk out of the text, which seems to me a diservice. "Take up your cross and follow me," Jesus is saying in these texts and really means it doesn't he? The cross is factually what lies ahead for him - as Matthew already knows - and for the early Christians - as Matthew already knows, too. To find an aesthetically moving, faith inspiring, communally centralizing call in such a passage has to be a metaphorical act for Americans, right? In which case, doing so is, to me at bottom, sentimentalizing what was existentially real in the life of the early Church.

This [again, for me] is a kind of reading that can make a Christian and a Christian community puffed up with a self-importance that is artificially won e and destructive. How does my faith put me at risk in the context of life here and now?

In this country, as so many others, following in Jesus' footsteps could make me a very rich man, indeed. And certainly honored in every community, even Jewish and Muslim ones here.

Unless, one wants to go looking to put oneself into a life risking situation where one's faith may actually put life and blood in jeopardy. But I am sure you are not saying that we all should do that.

Does this make sense? Do you think there is a possibility the passage is actually emptied of its power by applying it to our lives rather than understood as differentiating the call to faith for those early Christians and whatever my call and your call to Christian faith may be?
This is GKS (as you call me):

Feodor: "How does my faith put me at risk in the context of life here and now?

In this country, as so many others, following in Jesus' footsteps could make me a very rich man, indeed. And certainly honored in every community, even Jewish and Muslim ones here.

Unless, one wants to go looking to put oneself into a life risking situation where one's faith may actually put life and blood in jeopardy. But I am sure you are not saying that we all should do that.

Does this make sense? Do you think there is a possibility the passage is actually emptied of its power by applying it to our lives rather than understood as differentiating the call to faith for those early Christians and whatever my call and your call to Christian faith may be?"

The general response of theologians has been to "live expectantly" - a kind of continuation of the early church's alleged eager expectation of Christ's imminent return. Whether or not that was actually the case is still up for grabs (in my view), but the point these thinkers seem to be making begs the question you are pushing.

My own thought, for whatever it may or may not be worth, is this: I'm not sure whether or not a life of faith imperils the life and blood of all believers. Perhaps, however, if and when it does, and we are forced to choose, then we are faced with the question, and all we have to cling to is the promise of God incarnate in the crucified and risen Christ.

Now, I would ask you a question, Feodor -- are you suggesting that we are, in fact if not in law, a Christian enough society whereby we can safely live out our faith without fear? Is there enough room in our society for the church to actually be the body of Christ, or is that a vain conceit? Is it possible to live comfortably between not just the times, but the world of equivocation and the promised Kingdom of God, never resting satisfied with the incompleteness around us?
GKS, I am saying:

1. In the U.S. Christians can live out bold lives and not face execution. Any other kind of trouble encountered is not due to the fact of Christian behavior specifically but high moral and engaged action.

2. In the first 150 years of the Christian faith, Christian faith faced government sponsored execution in repeated waves of attention and willy nilly anytime.

3. The Gospel passages about "following in the footsteps of Christ" have to do with encouraging the faithful or the fearful to press on with faith in the face of #2,

or with specific instructions to Apostles who are seen throughout the NT and extra-biblical documents as essential roles in particular and not role models for Christian faith.

4. For me to metaphorize from #3 means doing a disservice to #2 and does nothing to transfer the core of the Gospel to its central meaning for #1.

Doc and I are trying to understand together what is the central Gospel - or NT - message for the 21st century Western Christian. Or, at least, I am prodding what he first offered as his take in order to see if we both may find something clearer, crisply conscious, community worthy and retardant to socio-political collusion.
"No work of art.." Certainly agreed. I do not know how to easily euphemize the sacred,
; words often seem insufficient. (Perhaps it is partially why some religions would not even speak the name of God.) I wonder about "sacred" art, though; if the same difficulty applies?

I think one can empty the passage of its power, but only if they ignore the selflessness that is demanded. Perhaps one can attain fame and fortune by their interpretation of this passage, but I don't think they'd be honest. Or at least they'd be in a different form of "denial" than what Jesus is demanding. I would also maintain that this pattern of using the gospel's message for socio-political purpose has probably existed since the existence of the gospels. I imagine that even persecuted christians got "holier than thou" for personal gain.

Likewise if we strip the passage by interpretation for using it in modern context, do we not do the same with the rest of the NT. If the message to "follow in the footsteps" was only a cheerleading tonic for the early church, what purpose otherwise is there at all in the New Testement, except as a historical document?

We've hardly begun to interpret the passage. All we've done is to 1) signify the historical moment for which the passage spoke in reality and 2) remind ourselves that we cannot enter our own lives into the drama of scripture instantaneously - because when we do so, we unconsciously downgrade its time until it's plastic and unreal and we unintentionally hyperinflate ours to a new authoritative role, but, though unintentional, it sets off momentum that puffs up. In other words, we are so confident in the spiritual pursuit of "following in the footsteps of Jesus" that we tread on his feet. We take his place.

As for interpretation, all sacred scripture needs to be interpreted and has always needed interpretation. In the Christian tradition, Paul was the earliest of workers at interpretation. Peter works at interpretation. So, too, do the Gospel writers. The NT itself is a variety of interpretations of the OT (the subject of how NT writers interpret OT scripture is a year long study in itself); it is also a variety of interpretations - with strong kinship - of the experience of Jesus Christ himself, and, still further, a variety of interpretations, again of a family-like closeness, of the shape of the Christian life and the future.

The early Church Fathers and Mothers continued to interpret Holy Scripture, and the whole history of the Christian church and all its movements have been interpreting for the time down to the present day.

Interpretation is the climate in which sacred scripture sits, in which it is read, in which it lives. Interpretation is inescapable. To read it is to interpret it moment to moment. In fact, interpretation is what Holy Scripture itself is: a profound interpretation of the experience of the holy and of being holy and of talking about holiness.

And neither you nor I have downgraded Matthew 16 into "cheerleading." We both, I think, respect that it is a call to faith in the face of death. Nothing less profound than that. But is Matthew 16 the place to start? [Doc: “there are many wrong interpretations of scripture, I am not sure if there is a right one. That being said, attempting to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as so nicely laid out in the gospels does seem to be a good start.”] This is what I question. It seems to me that following in Jesus’ footsteps are marching orders. But I want to know where we are marching to. My daughter likes to follwing in my footsteps, sometimes in my shoes right behind me. But she invariably turns my shoulders so we go where she wants to go. In order to make sure that following in Jesus’ footsteps, I want to know the goal. Maybe by doing this I can make sure I don’t change the path from that goal. So much of American Christianity – to me – seems headed confidently in the footsteps of Jesus in the wrong direction.
But I guess that comes back to interpretation. I admit that I read your recent question as really asking this: is all we really have of Christian scripture dependent upon interpretation? Is there nothing surer about it? Which seems to be what ER’s post is about. Perhaps these are the bottom line questions? They seem so to me. And to the first I would say, yes, for the reasons given above. To the second, the gravity of the question weighs differently depending on the doctrinal context in which one holds one's faith. What is surer than Holy Scripture that is interpretation already and must be interpreted to be read and, in its turn, interprets us with some mysterious authority? I answer only for myself and it is an answer that covers the ground of my movement from a protestant, Western styled faith to a much more historically catholic and eastern one: the Christ who is living, the Christ who is met in the Eucharist, met in the common-union of the community, who is met in prayer, on the street, at the meal… this Christ is surer than the one in Matthew 16. After all, the Jesus of Matthew 16 is not yet crucified, narratively speaking, even though Matthew has him speaking to followers who come decades later. The lens by which I read scripture and scripture interprets me has to be the living Christ.

The Bible, for the Christian, ends up by making no sense otherwise, for this reason: it is only the experience of the living Christ which can drive one on to continue to believe the impossible to interpret good news that God became human and made us more like him all in order to help the creation know how wondrously lovely and lovable and loved it all is. It is the living Christ, and, for me, only the experience of the living Christ which can bear thinking that everything is lovely and lovable and loved. Not the text. If I follow the text, I’ll eventually destroy it, metaphorize it out of all sense making. The great spinning wonder of the world – and just that part of it that is my church community or my neighborhood block – it is in flesh and blood where love is known. Not text. The place I start, in other words, is a reversal of your formula that Christ calls for action and not worship. I can say nothing else except that worship – putting myself in the light of love – is my best hope and my best thinking about what steers the footsteps of right practice, especially the right practice of reading the Bible. How do we interpret the Bible in a way that does not eventually lead to war? Pray to a living Christ and eat with your neighbor. Constantly.
Sorry, Doc, I was writing late at night and got a little too florid.
Maybe florid, but that last graf is golden. I'm with you. Which is why you occasionally infuriate me by assuming, based on habits of phrasing, and thinking, that I am still a walking, talking, Okie version of the North Texas Protestantism you've left behind. :-)
You noted: "In other words, we are so confident in the spiritual pursuit of "following in the footsteps of Jesus" that we tread on his feet. We take his place."

Again, only if we disregard that entire aspect of selflessness. I think the American Christian Church, Inc. is at times far removed from that selflessness. I think that I am, at times, far removed from that selflessness.

You can hope that your daughter will follow in your footsteps to do the healthy things that you do, but you are not perfect, and she will eventually have to understand your flaws. Likewise, she will one day understand that turning you in a preferred direction selfishly is just that.

I understand your preference (bad word choice, but lacking another) for the love of the "Living Christ" opposed to the text of the Bible. I see the them as complementary, not diamtetric. If you are saying that the text is brought to it's greatest potential by first accepting the gift of God's love, I would agree. However, I do not see the "Living Christ" as you have described it, as being any way different from the one in Matthew 16.

Perhaps my interpretation is born purely out of my own ethics, in which case, you can count me in with the other destroyers. I truly do not know.

I would argue that the selfless path that Jesus' walks is a beautiful guide, and that any interpretation of the NT that leads to war is done so only with the denial of that selflessness. A Christian War is an oxymoron, for me. Throwing out the text, though, because it can be used to rationalize bad actions seems like throwing out the alphabet becuase you can spell bad words.

I do love the message of your last paragraph. "...eat with your neighbor. Constantly." That is, to me, walking in the path of Jesus.

I did not find you to be particularly florid, at any point in our discussion--it's been enlightening and enjoyable.

My intention was not to put Christ and the NT in "diametric" opposition. My intention is to indicate that an approach toward "right" (with a wide allowance) interpretation of Biblical texts has come to make more sense to me when the lens through which the texts are read is relationship with the living Christ. The text is far from thrown out. In fact, where I come from theologically speaking, the text is one of three principal sources of authority as the Christian community continues to reason itself toward loving more today and tomorrow. Tradition (being the whole realm of Councils, Sacramental life, and Church history) and human reason (defined as practiced in community and more than mere rationality) are the other two.

By practice "that does not eventually lead to war," I have in mind habits of sustained aggression, prejudice, refusals to think and to communicate with any "Other." War is the end point or apotheosis of habits of feeling that, individually, may never act in overt violence at all, but societally gathers as support for alienated aggression - aggression by representatives - as in Arizona, Afghanistan, Radio talking heads, and manifest in every poor neighborhood and hamlet.

I'd further admit to wanting a far more holistic and effective milieu of biblical devotion than a kind that can get so easily off track if I happen to be inattentive to selflessness. Since I am apt to be inattentive to selflessness 9 out of 10 days, my investment in finding such a milieu may be lazy as it would take me off the hook on those other nine and keep me on a right path. It seems to me that the Christian system of being in the world has thought of just such a stress reliever: the parish. Or Jesus did. Either way, I would say that being part of parish that holds a theology - devotes itself to the reality - of being in communion with the living Christ as the raison d'être of Church, a raison d'être which then guides by the shoulders a more right, more better way of reading Holy Scripture as containing all that is necessary to focus on one's salvation and the salvation of the whole world... well, then, I don't have to worry about my turning the back of my own biblical Jesus to the true goal of faith.

However, the human group can be coercive even against its own intentions. So, how to root the group in a practice that keeps it in touch with the living Christ in such a way that we are humbled by our lack of absolutely clear sight and tight hold on truth? Well, for me, sacramental devotion and discipline grounds such corporate down sizing of our smarty pants. Reason as kept in the critical eye of devotion.

Now... we can read the Bible. And talk an awful lot about it. How does it help me to love? How does it help us to love? And I go home filled with alternative voices not only from the text but from the discussion and shoulder my homework in the world. 2 Peter 1:3,4 is where I would start. Just as filled with the dangers of hubris as Matthew 16, in some ways more so. But hedged in by identity within community, rejecting the protestant interpretation of of sola scriptura that assumes, unstated, sola mens.

But first! Coffee. It is the eighth sacrament of the Church. Christ is alive in coffee. And - ER keeps positing that Christ still speaks - but he only really speaks in espresso.
ER: "assuming, based on habits of phrasing, and thinking, that I am still a walking, talking, Okie version of the North Texas Protestantism you've left behind.."

My "behind" is much larger than that. And so are you. Americans, whether born here or arrived here, all become protestant over time. It is our cultural methodology and controlling conceptional base. We would not have the Constitution as it is and the final legal boundary of Constitutional interpretation if we were not a protestant nation. Nor the tension with using money as a marker for salvation and being inconspicuous with it as a moral style. Among a host of other things.

What I try to beat you toward is a readiness to dive into the wings of Christian thought left behind and despised by the pilgrims, and which remain unfamiliar, unrecognized, very much anti-American in a cultural habit sense, and thought to be all things dark and glitzy and foreign - like an Italian. From a library that was written long before our home culture, which finds humankind to be thoroughly formed as a social being and not an individual, and God can only be found sacramentalized in the same way, one, in the midst of divinity studies, can begin to put together so large of picture of nature of faith, that multitudes begin to fuck with each other and produce beautifully cosmic children.

The down side is that North Texas and Edmund and Brooklyn get smaller and more tragic at the same time. In this way they begin to take on their reality. But then a cosmic faith builds it all up with a hope and love that, while living in a trailer or a brownstone, is at peace and in sight of the presence of the house of heaven within them.

I'm not even from the North Texas you picture. I'm from the Restoration Movement, which is a child of the Scottish Enlightenment and protestant primitivism. You're currently in the branch that bravely renovated by putting a Modernist framework on it.

I am arguing that we should know where we are from for what it was, and where we are for it is. But we can only really know after going traveling. A lot. Which one can do in confines of a man room... given a little church exploration.

I hate to leave this conversation, but I'm off on a trip. I'll be thinking about Matthew 16, though, and what I should and should not be doing with it as I sojourn in a foreign land.

Thank you so much for the engagement. I enjoyed it.
Enjoy your trip. Vaya con dios.
Yes, and eat good food!
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