Saturday, April 07, 2007

Wrestling with the Big Questions, Part 1 of Whatever.

So, I've been forced by my knee ailment to bed for two days. Timing couldn't be worse, as these particular two days were Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. More of these days are coming. Easter morning, I will be there, but I will be in a wheelchair.

I've decided to spend this forced down time asking myself the question: "What kind of pastor do I want to be?" when I move to a new church in 3 months. I have some opinions regarding the future of the United Methodist Church, my ministry, the role of clergy, but I also know that I have very few answers to a lot of questions. To address these, I have to dig even deeper, and begin to ask, "What is my Hermeneutic?" Or, in other words, "what set of lenses do I use to begin to answer these questions?"

Part of plumbing the boundaries of my theology so far is to read some books that I have been meaning to for a while. One that I had read but not really "inwardly digested" was the book "The Phoenix Affirmations", by Eric Elnes.

I have found this book, and the 12 Affirmations that it contains, to have largely put into words the feelings of my heart, the type of Christian faith I affirm. And, it does so in a positive way. It doesn't fall into the trap that so much progressive theological thought falls into, that of "this is what we DON"T believe." I have bought some 30 copies of this book and handed them to certain colleagues and parishioners, and the response has ranged from "OH, My God, I wish I could have heard these years ago" to "WOW, I have to really wrestle with this one".

Below are the basic Affirmations, which apparently have changed slightly, though not substantively, from the ones published in the book. They are cut and pasted directly from the website

I have also supplied the Scripture readings that are used to base the text in Christian thought. They come from I am still working on reflections based on what I have read, so I'll just post the basic starting material for now.

The Phoenix Affirmations
The public face of Christianity in America today bears little connection to the historic faith of our ancestors. It represents even less our own faith as Christians who continue to celebrate the gifts of our Creator, revealed and embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Heartened by our experience of the transforming presence of Christ's Holy Spirit in our world, we find ourselves in a time and place where we will be no longer silent. We hereby mark an end to our silence by making the following affirmations:
As people who are joyfully and unapologetically Christian, we pledge ourselves completely to the way of Love. We work to express our love, as Jesus teaches us, in three ways: by loving God, neighbor, and self.
Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Mark 12:28-31
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
Luke 10:25-28
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Leviticus 19:18
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Christian love of God includes:
1. Walking fully in the path of Jesus, without denying the legitimacy of other paths God may provide humanity;
2. Listening for God's Word which comes through daily prayer and meditation, studying the ancient testimonies which we call Scripture, and attending to God's present activity in the world;
3. Celebrating the God whose Spirit pervades and whose glory is reflected in all of God's Creation, including the earth and its ecosystems, the sacred and secular, the Christian and non-Christian, the human and non-human;
4. Expressing our love in worship that is as sincere, vibrant, and artful as it is scriptural.
Christian love of neighbor includes:
5. Engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God's very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class;
6. Standing, as Jesus does, with the outcast and oppressed, the denigrated and afflicted, seeking peace and justice with or without the support of others;
7. Preserving religious freedom and the Church's ability to speak prophetically to government by resisting the commingling of Church and State;
8. Walking humbly with God, acknowledging our own shortcomings while honestly seeking to understand and call forth the best in others, including those who consider us their enemies;
Christian love of self includes:
9. Basing our lives on the faith that, in Christ, all things are made new, and that we, and all people, are loved beyond our wildest imagination – for eternity;
10. Claiming the sacredness of both our minds and our hearts, recognizing that faith and science, doubt and belief serve the pursuit of truth;
11. Caring for our bodies, and insisting on taking time to enjoy the benefits of prayer, reflection, worship and recreation in addition to work;
12. Acting on the faith that we are born with a meaning and purpose; a vocation and ministry that serves to strengthen and extend God's realm of love.

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