Grace Emerges

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What's So Great About Christmas?, #3

by Brad Duncan

#3, The Lights!: Do you ever wonder why Christmas lights are so meaningful, even magical?  Electric lights on the trees, houses, Christmas tree and everywhere else?  What about when candles are lit in the dark?  It just seems to resonate with celebrating, joy, singing, sharing time with each other, and enjoying special meals.  Lights also seems to resonate with a peaceful stillness, indicating that the celebrations have a deep meaning for all of us.  Do you ever wonder why all the lights?

The reason hit home for me this year when reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 with our kids last night by candlelight.  My nine-year-old acted the part of the angel, and as he held the candle and said in a mock-booming voice "Don't be afraid.  I have good news for you...", I realized that the light was my favorite symbol of the good news.  Sometimes the world is a dark place.  But light fills it.  The light is a gift to the darkness.  It brings something good that wasn't there before.  Then with my family we talked about gifts, lights, and how God brought the light of the world as a gift for all people.  We wrapped up with the words of Simeon from Luke 2:32:

Your mighty power is a light
    for all nations,
and it will bring honor
    to your people Israel.

What good news!  All of these traditions, decorations, parties, and Christmas songs, all of these candlelight services, Christmas tree lightings, Christmas movies, children's stories -- they are all *magical* because of the power of light to transform the dark.  Every light is a symbol of Christ's birth.

And there's something more.  We are celebrating the light of Christ that still shines in this world.  The spirit of Christ still shines.  It lights up my life, it brings comfort, truth and help in time of need.  It shows us God's continuing eternal love for us.  When songs and stories celebrate "Christmas spirit", and when we find ourselves filled with "Christmas spirit" meaning love and kindness toward others, we are once again opening the gift that Christ brought to the world, the gift of his spirit to fill us and transform us.  The light of the world that shines through us all.  The Holy Spirit is the lasting gift, who is present with us, the continuing presence of  Emanuel, God With Us.

Merry Christmas to All ! May the light of Christ fill you with celebration!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What the Angels Didn't Say

What the angels said (Luke 2):
  • “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 
  • “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

What the angels DIDN'T say:
  • "And your savior will start a new world religion, that will in time take over the earth. One religion to RULE THEM ALL!"
  • "And he will raise up the Church as the seat of his power over the Earth and over other religions!"

Wouldn't that have put a damper on celebration a bit?

What are we celebrating? PEACE for the world, or domination of it?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stripped by God [View from a Room]

I wanted to re-post this article from Bob on "View from a Room".   It's really well written and described Progressive Christianity - Brad Duncan

Stripped by God

Some years ago a group of Christians including such notables as Marcus Borg, Bishop J Shelby Spong, Walter Brueggemann and John Dominic Crossen became part of a movement called Progressive Christianity.
They had observed over a long period of time that many have not only left the Church but also the faith. They concluded that a great deal of what passes for Christianity is largely outdated and irrelevant.
The gospel must be presented in contemporary language otherwise it will be seen as an ancient relic of the past. The present belief system, that represents so much of Christianity, has remained unchanged since the reformation of 1517 yet, we live in a world that is so different its hard to catalogue the differences, yet the model remains unchanged.A significant part of the challenge is the way scripture is read. For many the stories are still understood at the same conceptual level as Sunday school children. Not only do we continue to present Christianity at this level but we also insist that others see it in the same light.
The focus of Progressive Christianity is about embracing a more mature view of Christianity or what Brian Mclaren calls Adult Christianity. To do this we need to strip away the old and make way a new more vibrant way of seeing. “If it’s not broken don’t fix it” however, for many the model was always flawed to begin with. As Richard Rohr observed when we begin to see the gospel within a broader Adult context when the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:
  • They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.
  • They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).
  • They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.
No matter what our theological position, this poem is a poignant reminder that the work of the Spirit is often Iconoclastic in nature; we need deconstruction before reconstruction can take place and herein is the greatest challenge facing Christianity in the West;
What would happen if I pursued God if I filled my pockets with openness.Grabbed a thermos half filled with fortitude and crawled into the cave of the Almighty. Nose first eyes peeled heart hesitantly following until I was face to face with the raw pulsating beat of Mystery.
What if I entered and it looked different than anyone had ever described? What if the cave was to big to be fully known far to extensive to be comprehended by one person or group. To vast for one doctrine or dogma?.Would I shatter at such a thought? Perish from paradox or puzzle? Shrink and shrivel before the power?.
Would God be diminished if I lived a question rather than a statement? Would I lose my faith?As I discovered the magnitude of grace?
O, for the willingness to explore to leave my tiny vocabulary at the entrance and stand before you naked stripped of pretenses and rigidity disrobed of self-righteousness and tiny packages stripped of all that holds me at a distance from you and your world.Strip me O’ God then clothe me in curiosity and courage.         (Cynthia Langston Kirk)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Forward Progress 6: The King and Kingdom

Forward Progress: 
Lessons and Trends in Progressive Christian Faith
by Brad Duncan

A 6-part series on the church, faith and theology,
and how they can move forward into the next generation. 

The King and Kingdom

There's something wrong with our view of the future when it causes us to abandon the present.
In this final article in the "Forward Progress" series, I want to paint a picture of the future, of a better tomorrow.  What are the consequences of the Good News, Grace and Freedom for the world?  What is the mission of the Church, or alternately, how does the Church bring about the consequences of the Good News?

Did Jesus come to proclaim misery to the world but joy in heaven?  Did he teach us to abandon Earthly responsibility in order to achieve spiritual success?  No.  One way for people to see the good side of bad things is to simply hope for another day, even to the extreme of giving up on today.  If you live your whole life that way, you may look at life as a long walk of suffering, and the only hope is the end of it.  If the only point of life is heaven, then as the saying goes "Just kill me now!".

Now, if your life is truly a life of pain, and you are oppressed, needy, sick, etc., as so many people in the world are, then this approach to life might make sense.  But even people in the most dismal circumstances seem to relish the joys in life, in love and relationships with others, in briefly passing beauty, and in contentment in humble circumstances.  But there is pain and hardship out there, and we should look it straight in the eyes.  What does the gospel provide to those in pain?  It provides hope.  It provides comfort.  It shows that God understands and cares.

But what about those of us that just like to complain, but are living in relative comfort?  First, the gospel  provokes a compassionate response in us with means to do something about the pain of others.  Instead of just living for a better future in heaven, we can live to make today better for someone else.  Second, for ourselves we can focus on the spiritual qualities that Jesus taught, and actually live better.  As Jesus illustrated, those that follow the concepts that he taught in their own lives, can stand strong when the storms of life come.  Jesus taught us how to live, not just how to earn a future prize.  In the language of the gospel message: Jesus taught about "kingdom" as being some that has arrived immediately as the collision between God and man - the answer and hope for humanity.  Something that will remain when Jesus is gone physically from the Earth.  Something that will grow, spread, develop.  Something that will overpower evil.

What is our hope for humanity?  How do we participate in that hope?  How does the Holy Spirit contribute to that hope?  What about the church, how does it represent and bring about the hope of the gospel?  How are we using our resources and our knowledge of God to improve the future?

Rather than  answering these questions here...  I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader, and as a goal of this blog and my new blogbook "A Moderate Wall", to explore what is the true kingdom that Jesus came to bring on this Earth.  See also the article More on )open( Future.

Forward Progress: "I am the way, the truth and the life.  Come to the Father through me!  Find the good life at home in my kingdom, where God's will is done, where your needs matter, and where forgiveness reigns." -- Jesus
Other Articles in This Series:

Figure 1.  The gospel should be based on the authority of Christ rather than a mix of grace and judgment.

Figure 2.  The gospel is about change.  The Messiah came to change everything, establishing a peaceful kingdom on Earth where the Holy Spirit has growing influence.  We can't neglect the Earth without neglecting the Kingdom!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Chap. 2, "A Moderate Wall" Blogbook

A Moderate Wall

a blogbook by Brad Duncan

Chapter 2

The Tower of Control

I hope you liked the parable. Like a children's story it leads us to follow the progression in thinking of the characters, through their failures and toward redemption.  The first failure is a common one for all of us. When we are given challenges, stresses, and resources to handle them, one way we can react is to grab hold tightly of anything that can give us control. When we respond to need and pain with control and structure, we are trying to apply our own power to overcome the obstacles we face. I can think of many situations in relationships where good intentions to help another person lead to trying to force control on that person.  "Here, let me help you.  Here, you should do it this way..."

In groups, human tendencies are even more dangerous! The need to control and overcome leads to a need to institutionalize, as a way to set up power over enemies, to fight hardship, and to organize and distribute resources. When we institutionalize worship of God, we replace genuine seeking and spirituality with something that looks like worship, but is a replacement for true relationship. When we institutionalize emulating God's character, we create rules and expectations, that are erroneously connected with being spiritual. We think we need to be correct, pleasing, conforming, even popular, in the expectations of our social, religious system, in order to be right with God.

In the story of Kog, the attempt to control fails.  It fails, I suppose, because control creates revolt within and war without.  Those that resist the control will most likely topple the tower and declare victory.

The Isolating Wall

The second failure comes from a more reasonable, moderate, attempt to gain control.  Instead of forcing everyone to submit to centralized leadership, instead, let's try isolating ourselves from outside influences, shutting out bad things, and basking in the glory of our own view of ourselves.  This failure is also a common human reaction.  We can retreat, observe, and shore up our defenses, making sure that we protect our own kind.  In relationships, we avoid risks, maybe staying to ourselves in order to protect ourselves from harm.  In groups, we look for comfort among those that are similar to us, so that we fit it, they fit in, we all fit in.  The hope is that this low risk approach will avoid conflicts and protect from harmful influences from outside.  We all do it -- in our families, within the walls of our own houses, don't we defend against outside intrusion while protecting those of us within?  In our schedules, jobs and associations, don't we group together with like-minded folk where we feel safe and accepted?  In this way, we gain control of the chaotic world around us and fill our lives with safe havens.  We can relax, we can enjoy, we can relate, and hopefully we can prosper, within these safe confines.  But as we all know, minimizing risk can also minimize reward.  Our most brilliant moments in life are not these safe ones, but the ones where we found courage, embraced change, and took risks.  Isolationism leads to loneliness in the end.  It doesn't end well.  Risks, courage and change are required for healthy life and relationships.

In groups, isolationism is prone to its own risks.  Corruption within can easily take over.  A wrong idea, and leader with bad intentions, or a lack of resources can easily drive a group to desparation and possible collapse.  Even when things are going well, the limited perspective that we have due to isolation from outsiders can drive us into miserable, selfish complacency.  We can come to see tiny problems as giant mountains, while missing the true problems and challenges of the world outside.  It looks like bickering, complaining, infighting, power struggles, and basically just driving one another crazy!  Meanwhile, inside the walls of isolation, we become less useful, less concerned, less able, and less relevant.  The world outside doesn't care about us, in our walls, because we don't care about them.  The world is divided into "Us" and "Them".

Eventually, if we are lucky, the wall cannot stand the pressures from inside and out.  The isolationism doesn't hold together, and the outside world comes crashing in.  The wall crumbles.  The safety and comfort is lost.  The community collapses.  And we are alone once more, in a crowd of people that don't understand us.

The Hope of Peace

Is there another solution?  Can we find a secure place to live, with comfort for ourselves, stable social structures, secure cultural idenity, without building a tower of control or a a wall of isolation?  The solution must be a way of peace.  We must find our identity in a place where we can embrace others with a peaceful posture.  What can be built that brings both security and peace?  The people of Kog found that this was possible.  Peace was the solution. It brought side-effects of security and wealth. It was risky, but it avoided the problems that come from controlling the world around us.

Can we find a peaceful solution to the chaos around us?  Can we seek peace in relationships, peace in social settings, and peace in our spirituality?  The parable offers hope that peace can be found.  Join me as I continue to explore how this can occur.

Previous Chapter

Chapter 1

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

God Works for Good - and So Should We

[reposting this for the Christmas season - Celebrating all the good things...]

by Brad Duncan

Here's a favorite verse of many of us, Romans 8:28

Common English Bible:
28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Common English Bible)

and Contemporary English Version (with footnote):
28 We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him.[a] They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose,
Romans 8:28 God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him: Or “All things work for the good of everyone who loves God” or “God’s Spirit always works for the good of everyone who loves God.”
While we often use this passage to understand the role of prayer ("God please turn this bad situation around"), and God's disposition about bad vs. good things that happen in our lives ("There must be a good reason for this bad thing - God has a plan"), I find a subtly different, but stronger and more fundamental meaning to this passage, both for the nature of God and nature of God's children.

God's character is to actively create good things.  Period.  Out of any asset available.  Out of space dust.  Out of ground dust.  Out of water vapor evaporated from the oceans.  Any asset.  While we have limited understanding of our own existence, why God created us, why this Earth is here, we do know from the experience that man has had with God, recorded in the Bible, that God is resourcefully and diligently building good things.  Doesn't that explain our existence to some degree?  We are here because God makes good things out of the tiniest opportunity.  Do you believe in random chance?  Well any small random chance is enough for God to create something amazing!  What's the limit to God's creativity?

When bad things happen, as they tend to do, what is God up to?  God is mending, healing, re-fashioning, bringing things around for another go at it.  Looking for every opportunity, any asset, that can be used to create a more peaceful, a more gracious, a more healthy kingdom for his/her children to inhabit.

Whatever negative energy is wrapped up in anger, hate, discrimination, persecution, and exploitation -- if there is any asset available there, God can work to bring something good - peace, freedom, grace, forgiveness.  Isn't the Bible filled with this concept and examples of it playing out?  Sometimes the good thing comes from some kind of battle to release the enslaved.  Sometimes it comes from oppressors repenting and experiencing God in their spirits.  God is creative.  And powerful.  What a combination!  If you doubt anything about the Bible - do not doubt this fact -- God is a force of good stronger than any force imaginable.  Would you like to be the one resisting this force?  I wouldn't.

That brings me to the next point.  Us.  What is our disposition about bad vs. good things that happen?  We usually react.  Disappointment, prayer for help, elevated adrenaline level, attempt to control (through stress and worry usually!) and taking action to avert the crisis.  These are all normal reactions and can of course be healthy and legitimate, so that we correct our mistakes, avoid pain, and are alerted to danger.  God does indeed help us -- the Holy Spirit is our guide and comforter.  I've never found the Holy Spirit to steer me wrong, but rather to be active in my life helping me especially where I am clueless or powerless to help myself.

But besides reacting, there is a deeper truth.  As Christians we can seize God's character for ourselves.  We can embark on a journey to create good things out of bad, out of every asset available.  Choose the best possible way to use that negative thing to make something good:

  • Use it as a wake up call to resist evil and temptation or to fight against injustice.  Build awareness.  Create consensus.  Generate action.   E.g., we see new initiatives and organizations started by people who have experienced a disease or some injustice, to rally others to the cause.
  • Help the hurting!  What easier path could there be to the kingdom of God than to help someone that is  hurting.  Bring some measure of comfort to them in their pain. Maybe some measure of physical rescue.  Maybe be an answer to their prayers for help!  We all need help.  We all need to help each other.  Aren't you grateful for that time when someone rescued you?  Use the gratitude to help someone else.
  • Learn from it!  When the bad things are our own fault, well, the best reaction is to learn.  Pain causes memory and learning (as we well know).  Use it for that purpose!
  • Create something good out of conflict.  Good conflict resolution skills are built around the idea that relational conflict is needed and important, because of a need for the parties involved to work out their relationship.  Talk some, listen more.  Be willing to change.  Use the energy in the conflict as an opportunity to address the issue.  Make it an example of reconciliation and grace.  One for the record books of your relationship.  Avoid repeating the same story the next time.
  • Spiritually, create grace out of injury.  When we forgive someone instead of being offended by them, we create something positive out of something negative.  As Jesus taught us to love our enemies, he taught us to be creative in relationships to use even enmity as an asset for change, an opportunity for grace, a softening of our own heart, and in the end an entry point into God's kingdom.  That grace may or may not change our enemy, but it certainly changes us!
If you find yourself creating barriers, pride, or more comfort for yourself, instead of reconciliation, peace, and more comfort for others, as we are all prone to do, then you are missing an opportunity.  Create something good instead!  Seize God's character as your own.  What would Jesus do?  What would God do?  Create something positive.
The Birth of Stars -- The spectacular new camera installed on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope during Servicing Mission 4 in May has delivered the most detailed view of star birth in the graceful, curving arms of the nearby spiral galaxy M83.

Nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel, M83 is undergoing more rapid star formation than our own Milky Way galaxy, especially in its nucleus. The sharp 'eye' of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) has captured hundreds of young star clusters, ancient swarms of globular star clusters, and hundreds of thousands of individual stars, mostly blue supergiants and red supergiants.

WFC3's broad wavelength range, from ultraviolet to near-infrared, reveals stars at different stages of evolution, allowing astronomers to dissect the galaxy's star-formation history.

The image reveals in unprecedented detail the current rapid rate of star birth in this famous "grand design" spiral galaxy. The newest generations of stars are forming largely in clusters on the edges of the dark dust lanes, the backbone of the spiral arms. These fledgling stars, only a few million years old, are bursting out of their dusty cocoons and producing bubbles of reddish glowing hydrogen gas.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What's So Great About Christmas?, #2

by Brad Duncan

What's so great about Christmas?  

#2. The Gifts!  No, not (just) those kind of gifts!  Though I do love giving and getting gifts as part of our family traditions, much more I love the spiritual significance of gifts.  Presumably the tradition of gift-giving goes back to the story of the three Magi that brought gifts to the baby Messiah, and helped to fund his family's flight from Herod into Egypt.

But, even more significantly, the good news of the Messiah was closely intertwined with the concept of gifts:

  • Grace - means unmerited favor, unconditional love, and great kindness, especially given by God to people.  Grace is a word that means the gifts of God given to mankind.  It is the Good News declared by Jesus as the Messiah, the chosen messenger of God, the heavenly gift-bearer! When you celebrate Christmas with gifts, you are celebrating the gift of God to us all.
  • The Holy Spirit - Jesus launched the kingdom of God on Earth.  He left the Holy Spirit with us to continue the Incarnation for generations to come.  The presence of God is with us, guiding us, bringing about good things, showing us our God-given nature and comforting us with help and guidance.  The Holy Spirit is the gift that we experience day by day through knowing God.
  • Compassion - More generally, gifts represent gracious, compassionate love.  We give because we humans are the hands and feet of God on Earth, ready to bring about the good things that God desires.  Who will bring the daily bread, the healing medicine, and the warm clothes to the needy of the world?  Certainly God - but only through his human assistants - Us !  When we celebrate with gifts, let us celebrate the compassion that liberated us, and bring that same compassion to others.
Operation Christmas Child in action
The concepts of these gifts in the message of Jesus was in contrast to the Old Testament system of laws and sacrifices.  Today, these concepts are also in direct contrast to the budget-breaking circus we call Christmas Shopping.  Giving is a spiritual quality, and leads to Grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and Compassion!       Lets all consider how to celebrate these qualities through our gift-giving this year.

What's So Great About Christmas?, #1

by Brad Duncan

What's so great about Christmas?  

#1.  By far my favorite part of Christmas, and the thing I love the most about being a Christian, is that we are celebrating the Incarnation.  The Incarnation is the arrival of God on Earth as a person, to bring about all of the amazing plans that were brewing in the imagination of the mighty Creator, since the time creation began.  A kingdom made, not of tyranny or power, but of Peace and Kindness.  Not of fear and faithful service, but of Freedom and Passion.  A kingdom where those that wish to do so can worship God in true knowledge of the One we are made in the beautiful image of - in Spirit and in Truth.  The One who showed us the true nature of God in the form of a person.  We call him Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Wonderful, Counselor.  The Incarnation.  The collision of God and mankind.  The plan of God from the time when time began.  The Hope, Joy, Peace, Love, Freedom and Good News for the entire world.