Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cliff Notes: A New Image and a New Faith in Christ

Sobrino's second chapter of Jesus the Liberator begins with the assertion that the Church in Latin America has emphasized the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity. This is in direct oppostion to the image that the poor of Jesus have long held: Jesus suffering on the cross for their sake and along with them.

This image is of Christ conquered and annihilated. In this Christ the poor recognized themselves, and from him took patience and resignation.

But this Christ did not stay on the cross. This Christ has become in recent years 'Jesus the Liberator.' This has happened as a self-adjustment of the mass of believers in Latin America, for whom Christ must be both relevant and identifiable. Christ on the cross must remaining the suffereing Jesus of history, but must also have the power to liberate them from the systems of oppression on the continent, and to inspire them to be agents of liberation themselves.

This new image of Christ has led to a new way of living faith in Him. It has led them to martyrdom and an explicit conflict with the systems of oppression. This new faith means first and foremost following Jesus in a historical and existential sense.

The conflict the new believers face results from being specifically for the poor and specifically against their oppressors. That this has occurred after five hundred years of a transcendent, abstract and removed image of Christ as a reconciler without conflict and a savior without condemnation might explain to some degree the violence incurred by and through the shift.

But it does not explain why the image of Christ has not previously raised any questions about centuries of systematic repression and abuse until now. We can only say that this has failed to happen because the Church has severed Christ from Jesus, abstracted God from man, the Messiah from history, and individual sin from collective persecution.

In other words, Christ has been love, without loving anyone specifically, and Christ has been a reconciler who condemned none of the parties, who loved the poor but did not condemn the rich and the self-righteous.

Part of the undoing of this failed image of Christ has been to place him back within trinitarian relationship as a reference point in the Kingdom of God and the God of the Kingdom. To removed Christ from absolute abstraction and place him in relation and in historic specificity.

This image of Jesus, it should be noted, is not precisely new but present in the Church's own authoritative documents which equate salvation with liberation and posit a Christ with partiality for the poor. This image of Christ is also consonant with Christian principles of hope and practice and the presence of Christ in the oppressed, "simply because they are poor."

Most powerfully, then, the poor become a sort of sacrament of the presence of Christ. The poor call us to conversion and to solidarity with lives of service, simplicity and openness to the gifts of God.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Daily Prayer: Monday Dawn

The forms and individual characters of living
and growing things,
of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature,
consitute their holiness in the sight of God.

Their inscape is their sanctity.
It is the imprint of His wisdom and His reality in them.
The special clumsy beauty of this particular
colt on this day in this field under these clouds
is a holines consecrated to God by His own
creative wisdom
and it declares the glory of God.

The pale flowers of the dogwood ourside this window
are saints.
The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of
that road are saints
looking up into the face of God.

This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins
and its own holy shape,
and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river
are canonized by their beauty and their strength.

The lakes hidden among the hills are saints,
and the sea too is a saint who praises God
without interruption
in her majestic dance.

The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another
of God's saints.
There is no other like him.
He is alone in his own character;
nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God
in quite the same way.
That is his sanctity.

But what about you? What about me?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cliff Notes: Jesus the Liberator

Jon Sobrino, a Spanish-born Jesuit theologian in El Salvador, has written numerous books about Jesus Christ and Latin American spirituality and theology over the last thirty years.

His 'Jesus the Liberator' takes the suffering poor of El Salvador as a starting point for understanding Christ. The resulting picture is of Jesus Christ as historically liberating and as carrying a liberating message of the Kingdom of God as a kingdom through, and on behalf of, the poor.

Sobrino begins the volume with a confessional introduction. Why write a christology? More specifically, why write yet another christology? Generally, Because liberation and crucifixion, hope and persecution, remain a central tension within Christianity, and one that can only be reconciled by understanding Jesus Christ.

Because the re-emergence of a historical understanding of Christ means a new understanding of Christ, and one that has already been fruitful for believers. Because the mystery of Christ is not an abundance of darkness, but an over-abundance of luminosity. Because Christ ill-considered can be Christ abused as an instrument of oppression. And because it is the necessary means of giving reasons for the hope that Christians have, and, simultaneously, the vital articulation of a Christ glimpsed by the silenced people of the world.

Why Sobrino's Christology, in particular? Because in Latin America Christ is still actively present to the masses, and this is not the case in much of the rest of the world. In Africa, he is not present to most. In Eurpose, he is not active. Because in spite of this reality (or perhaps because of it) Christ is mis-used to defend the status quo of oppression in Latin America.

Because Christ asked "Who do you say that I am?" and it is by our answers to this questions that personal and ecclesial change occurs. Because suffering forces thinking, and so suffering for Christ forces thinking about Christ. Because of gratitude for the evangelion, the good news of Christ, which is both Christ's message and the person of Christ himself.

The purpose of Sobrino's christology, then, is to "set forth the truth of Christ from the standpoint of liberation." The resulting Christ will not be entirely original, but will depend heavily on the perspectives from extant and increasing oppression. This Christ will have three aspects: his service to the Kingdom of God, his relationship to God the Father, and his death on the cross.

Such specificity is not distortive or arbitrary, because a liberating approach to Christ is precisely the one more apt to be inclusive than others, and because the study of Christ must result in spiritual goods for believers- something that, again, a liberating Christ is well-poised to accomplish.

Indeed, Sobrino closes by writing, a liberating Christ has already done so. He wrote the book in the middle of a war, of threats, of persecution, of the martyrdom of his colleagues and associates. It is a book for the crucified people of a nation, his country of El Salvadore.

This atomosphere, I would add, gives Sobrino's book about Christ a viscerality absent from nearly any other theological work I have read. It might as well be a book written in blood, and it is with some urgency that I ask my readers to follow me along its thorny path.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Who are the Christian Reformed?

The Christian Reformed Churches (CRC) are a close family of churches descended from the teachings of Protestant Reformers John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli. As such, they emphasize:

the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life
the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture in all matters that it addresses
the primacy of the family as a vehicle of God's love
the centrality of the the Word in worship
the importance of education
the neccesary role of faith in daily life

Ultimately, however, they seceded from other Calvinist churches as those churches increasingly embraced or compromised with the teachings of the Enlightenment, and as class differences between the congregations grew. When persecuted, the grass-roots, poor churches that became the CRC fled the Netherlands for America.

The CRC eventually also split from the Dutch Reformed Church in America for the following reasons: doctrinally unsound preaching, accommodation to American culture, the use of hymns in worship, and the practice of open communion.

This led to the formation of the Christian Reformed Church in 1857. Since, social changes have transformed the church, beginning with the adoption of women to ecclesiastical ministries in the 1960's and the emergence of a debate on race relations. They currently embrace a wide variety of ministries, and have adopted an ecumenical stance:

"We should always, always be looking for opportunities to join with other Christians. We should work with them even if our differences will not allow us, yet, to routinely worship with them. We need to keep reaching out to each other as we continue to reach for our Bibles. We may not always agree on doctrine or on how to worship. But there’s plenty we can agree on that God wants us to do in this impoverished, sin-wracked world. So let’s join efforts and do what needs doing together."

Because their history has seen so much division, church unity remains a central concern for the CRC today. They retain their historical ties to Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, the Institute for Christian Studies and continue their emphasis on education, having produced notable philosophers Alvin Plantigna and Nicholas Walterstorff.

Also, I think, my favorite professor Henry Venema, but that is neither here nor there.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daily Prayer: Wednesday Dusk

Closing Prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

-Thomas Merton

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cliff Notes: Conclusions

James begins his ultimate major lecture of the series by reducing religious experience to what he sees as its base and primal elements. These take the form of three core beliefs and their two primary effects:

1. The material world is part of a spiritual universe from which it draws significance.
2. Union or harmony with spiritual reality is our true end.
3. Prayer or communion with the spiritual does real work through spiritual energies in this world.

A. A new energy resides in life as a gift and allows us enchantment or heroism.
B. Assurance in the form of safety, peace, and a abundance of loving affection toward others.

That he has garnered these, James reminds us, from religion's extreme examples does not threaten their value but increases it as an appeal to spiritual experts thoroughly acquainted with religion's core experiential elements.

Moreover, we should not be discouraged by the variety of religious experiences, as their diversity points not to their futility, but to the varying needs of humankind. This does not make all religions equal, but does make them responsive to diverse human need. We are reminded of his comparison with horses and their courses.

Nor does the diversity of religion make them immune to scientific inquiry. Rather, the world's great number of faiths only make scientific study of them more rewarding, and more difficult, as detachment cannot be the best way to understand a realm so dependent on incommunicable experience.

Rather, the scientific study of religions can sort out the errors of fact prevalent in many of the religions that came before and to make stronger claims to truth in the present. Being primarily about the personal, religion can never be anachronistic, but it may be occasionally corrected.

This correction does not destroy religion because religion is always primarily about feeling and only secondarily about thought. More crucially, religion is about a sense of unease, of wrongness, and its concomitant ineluctable salve; it is not about anything to do with unspooling the proper adjectives for God.

That individuals can perceive this cure is scientific support for the value of religious experience: "Let me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its farther side, the "more" with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life."

That is to say that James sees the religious correlation with the unconscious as one of its central claims to truth. Whatever else it does, religion correctly perceives our relation to a most elusive form of alterity, of otherness. Whether that is the Ultimate alterity, from a practical and scientific point of view, is quite beside the point.

The supernatural, posits James, is quite real enough for anyone. Its effects make it so.

This concludes this Cliff Notes series. The next discussion will concern, in some form, Thomas Merton's Book of Hours. Many thanks to Emory University for their helpful links, information, and analyses.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Editorial: Our Policy of Love

Lest anyone, especially myself, forget: the only thing so far I've been willing to actually preach about.

Our Policy of Love

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.

“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”

Sir Winston Churchill, of course, spoke those immortal words, and brought Britain to war just when Europe expected him to announce the beginning of negotiations with Nazi Germany. But he had a different policy in mind. He knew where he stood. And he knew which way he faced.

So when I read that sermons shouldn’t have an introduction too much better than the rest of it, I knew I had to start with one of the finest speeches in all of human history.

But we need a policy. Christians need a policy, and this church needs a policy. We think we don’t. We think policies are for governments, for institutions. And we believe we are neither one of those. We are the body of Christ. We have different rules.

We have right belief, orthodoxy, and we have right practice, orthopraxy. And we just hope that somewhere the ‘twain shall meet.

So I don’t think we should be surprised when we find ourselves lamenting with Saint Paul that we do not do what we should, and do what we shouldn’t. We are human, after all. And being like God, we can all agree, is difficult.

But so is war, right or wrong. Fighting the German Empire was difficult, but Britain did not say, “Oh, sure, it’s all fine and well fighting the Fuhrer in theory, but in the end it’s so inconvenient.”
No, Churchill gave them a policy. And policy is not teaching. Policy is not practice. Policy is something in between.

Policy is attitude, orientation. It does not depend on perfect execution, and it does not rely on logic. But it does ask of us all of our resources at every available opportunity. Because policy is the choice by which we meet the world. Policy is the stand life forces us to take. And policy moves all of the people that adopt it.

So you ask, what is our policy?

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Those are the Greatest Commandments, the sum of all the law and the prophets in the mouth of Jesus Christ himself. And we should not be surprised. But what more can we do about love? After all, we sing about it every Sunday.

But we also miss it every Sunday.

When I was a Methodist, I heard a lot of sermons about integrity. I heard about righteousness and responsibility and the importance of character and holy living and perfection in the Spirit. And those are wonderful, profound, right things without which I would not be who I am today, and I’m very glad for all of it.

But I did not hear about love. I could probably count on two hands the number of sermons I heard then that talked directly about love. And now that I’ve put away all those Methodist things, I hear a lot in our Garden about inclusion and hospitality and mission and dialogue and social justice. And those are all great, profound, right things, and they directly address who I want to be.

But I do not hear about love. How many sermons have I heard in two years exactly about love? One hand? That enough?

Though I understand we’re getting better about all of that.

One would think, giving the weight of the above, the sum of all the law and the prophets, the first and second greatest commandments that you’d hear a great deal about love. You’d think we’d never shut up about it, or better, we’d love each other without even thinking about it because we’d just run the script to many times, which is the way we learn so many things.

But we don’t, and the mistake is not Episcopalian. I mean, we have the Social Justice tradition, and the Charismatic tradition, and the Holiness and the Evangelical traditions, but we don’t have a love tradition. We all assume we have love without doing anything exactly about it. Love is the elephant that’s not in the room.

And it didn’t make it into the Creeds. Really, not the Apostles Creed, not the Nicene. You’d think, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God...” but no. Apparently, love isn’t good enough for us. Instead, we had to make sure we nailed the trinity.

What should be our policy?

I’ve been going to this church for two and a half years. And I still don’t know people. By that, I don’t mean secrets, I mean basic facts, like jobs, and how you met your spouse, and what your hobbies are. And I want to blame myself for this, because I could ask.

But few of you know me, either: how do I make money? How do I spend my time? Why don’t I have a girlfriend? Not secrets. Basic facts. Should a person as shy as I am be able to attend the same church for almost three years and never be uncomfortable?

Wouldn’t love intrude? The writer Frederick Buechner quipped that a brief summary of Christianity would be that there is no such thing as your own business. Love makes everyone responsible. How can we love one another if we don’t know one another?

What should be our policy?

I saw it once, though I didn’t know it at the time. The National Cathedral in Washington is a truly terrible place. If you walk around the main portion of it, and look at the stained glass windows, half of them are about national events, which is not surprising. But the rest of the windows, all the rest of them, are about the trustees and the artisans and all the people who gave money to the building.

It’s the only church I’ve ever been in that didn’t mention God. For an institution that believes it cannot serve two masters, God and money, I would say that that church has made an interesting architectural choice.

In short, I didn’t see much of a cathedral there.

But beneath the national cathedral, in the crypt level, is the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea. Away from all the tour guides and the gift shops and all the city noise, it’s like a tomb. It’s silent, solemn stone. It’s shockingly different from everyplace else. I’d never seen a stone altar before.
And my friend and I found it on the way to the bathroom.

That chapel’s silent. And it’s hidden. It could easily be overlooked. But its small stillness in the middle of that American whirlwind meant a time of peace for me and my friend, and a moment of connection we still talk about today.

That’s the church. Church isn’t in the cathedral anymore. Church is in the church basement. Church is wherever people talk to each other, where AA meets. Church is the gymnasium, where I went for centering prayer. Church is wherever people engage themselves and one another in love.

We should not be surprised that all of this takes place beneath our notice. A prominent Jewish thinker wrote that the best possible gift is secret, one that neither the giver nor the receiver knows about, because that way, no one walks away in debt.

What better description could there be for love?

Love is hidden. It has no stained glass, no pipe organs. But like other quiet, hidden things, like a mustard seed, like the kernel of wheat that dies, like the living water in the well, love bursts forth.

What should be our policy?

Isn’t love too difficult after all? All our lives are full. No one has the time. There are so many obstacles, personal and otherwise.

I know. I understand. We all start somewhere. Me, I’m an introvert. I need a lot of time alone. Think that doesn’t hinder my ability to love?

But policy doesn’t care where you sit. Policy only cares what you stand up for.

I’d like each of you to try something. Imagine however many years you believe you have remaining. Now imagine, in that time, loving someone more. Someone new, or someone you’ve known forever. Either a transformed relationship, or just one real gesture.

Now, did that seem impossible? Or did that seem something more like likely? If it’s the latter, then the question becomes not, is love too difficult, but: Why not this person? And why not today?

I don’t know if we ever need to ask anything else.

A Christian is anyone who accepts and follows the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Both of these are clear. They are love, and there is no better time to try. For the first time in two thousand years, we don’t have to wait for what the Pope says or what the Bishop or the Diocese says. We don’t even have to wait for what the Vicar says. We can just go love.

We are free, radically and historically free, from all the constraints of Christendom to give the world the heart of Christ and eyes of love, to see God behind the eyes of others.

And the world needs love. The dissolution of the American family, the breaking asunder of the greater urban, suburban, and rural communities mean horrible and tragic things for our society.

We might well live in the loneliest time in American history. There are more televisions than people in the average American household, and there are more rooms per person than at any time in history. Two ideas opposed to traditional Christianity, individualism and consumerism, pervade the very fabric of our lives.

But if these things are as devastating as they seem, then we must also live in a time breaking open and ready for love. Go ahead, try and convince the child of a divorce that simple, incarnate love is not important. The world is ready for love. We are primed for love.

The medieval thinkers were right. All the things that matter really are made of just four elements. Because what are we but fire, and earth, and water, and wind? And what is love but flame, and dust, and spirit, and living, ever-flowing water?

We already are everything we must become. We know the way, and we already have everything we need.

What should be our policy?

Christianity is no longer the only game in town. But we don’t have to be, because love is not just the good policy. It is the best possible policy.

Take a moment. Imagine that you can carry one moment, one memory, just one, with you to eternity. And that moment will be all that you remember, but you’ll have it forever. What did you choose?

If you’re like most people, you chose something from your childhood. And if you’re like very nearly everyone, you chose a time when you felt loved. In the words of Mister Rogers,” we are all of us loved into being.” Feeling beloved is the central religious experience, the refrain of all those who love God back.

The universe is relational, and love is the best kind of human relationship, and the best example of love is Christ. That’s the Christian wager. If we believe that, if we actually live our lives as though thesethings were true, if we make them our policy, love is not empty or trite or weak or impossible or hopelessly romantic.

Love is present and real and something like inevitable.

In this secular age, people have been getting married and raising children and being friends all completely without us, and in appalling ignorance of what’s really going on. So we either take a stand and choose to acknowledge and participate in and emphasize love with them, or we don’t.

If we do, then the kingdom of heaven isn’t a matter of wishful thinking. It is simply a matter of time.

So I ask you, what is our policy? What shall we pursue with all our strength and with all the might that God can give us, against the monstrous tyrannies of our time? Say it with me, everyone: love.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Cliff Notes: Other Considerations

James uses this lecture as a bridge between mysticism/philosophy and his eventual conclusions. That is, ever the pragmatist, James's "Other Considerations," spin out a few practical examples of not just mystical experience, but thoughtful analysis of some of the basic elements of the lives of religious people. For just a moment, James talks about the ritual as an extension of the instantaneous.

And James notes a number of the most common religious experiences: sacrifice, confession, aesthetics, prayer, and subconscious manifestation. His treatment of the first two is limited, being mostly to note the ubiquity of sacrifice in all religions, and to call for the value of confession in spite of Catholic excesses and abuse, which do no ameliorate the psychological need that individuals might have to make a confession and seek atonement.

But it is the very notion of reclaiming beneficial religious truth from the (to James) inferior Catholicism that James carries into his next point: many people need, and may find satisfaction in, the elaborate aesthetics the Catholic church has built over the centuries. And James does not deny the real value of this kind of traditional influence or the power of the need that people might feel for it.

Need becomes a theme for James throughout the lecture, as need dwells in the conscious and unconscious alike. Prayer, for example, remains valuable for James not because it necessarily affects events (as in praying for the weather), but because it works as a transmission of energy from the spiritual to the physical. Or, in James's terms, from the unconscious to the explicit. Prayer itself as an act and phenomenon demonstrably reassures and comforts.

This idea of religion as a bridge between the seen and unseen becomes clear as James notes his final religious experience: automatic writing. This has been one of the longest enduring religious experiences, if not always the most well known. But due to the powerful energies involved in many of the feats of automatic writing (entirely new Bibles, for example), James marvels at the capacity of the phenomenon to do precisely this: to bring large amounts of unconscious information to the forefront.

Religion, then, is for James linked entirely and powerfully to the power and influence, often positive, of the unconscious. And this is the idea he takes into his final conclusion.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cliff Notes: Philosophy

Rejoining the inimitable William James as he lectures his way through the Varieties of Religious Experience (now in written form), we pick up where he left off: with the limitations of mysticism. Because mysticism relies so much on individual sentiment, its authority cannot surpass that of the individual.

At the apparent opposite end of the authoritative spectrum, then, would be philosophy, which through its appeals to universal and transcendental reason, would seem the source for a more broad-based argument for the value of religious experience. Yet immediately philosophy encounters problems.

For even the most strident of its supporters, the dogmatic theology which brilliant thinkers like Cardinal Newman (and he quotes liberally from him) espouse fails actually to benefit religious experience at all; there is a sharp disconnect. And James also cites here the traditional four proofs of God from Thomas Aquinas, and notes, while these arguments endure through centuries of opposition and reformulation, they only ever seem able to reinforce pre-existing belief. They can never remove serious doubts.

Because all this pre-existing belief comes not from logical argument but from mystical experience, philosophy must assume a sub-ordinate role for the religious individual. Not only can abstract arguments not prove the existence of God to any overwhelming degree, they cannot even describe God adequately.

James cunningly notes the ever-flowering scholastic adjectives for the noun of God, and rightly states that knowing that God is omniscient, say, does not help us, say, to be more omniscient. The more prescient analogy for this is James' contemporary biologist who suffer disdain for the closet-naturalists who only collect dead specimens and never study the living thing.

Scholastic theologians, James wryly asserts, must surely be the closet-naturalists of religion.

Thus, of philosophy James famously pronounces, "we must conclude that the attempt to demonstrate by purely intellectual processes the truth of the deliverances of direct religious experience is absolutely hopeless."

What use, then, can philosophy be, if we are not to be condemned to the individualist excesses and errors of mystical religious experience?

From the then-contemporary theologian Principal Caird James takes Kant's recognition that self and consciousness are necessary for the perception of truth and transforms this into God being present in all truth through our consciousness. In other words, just because religion describes a this-ness, an extra, and over-abundance present in experience does not mean it is divorced from intellectually expressible experience entirely.

Rather, by confronting religion directly philosophy can "also eliminate doctrines that are now known to be scientifically absurd or incongruous...Sifting out in this way unworthy formulations, she can leave a residuum of conceptions that at least are possible....She can perhaps become the champion of one which she picks out as being the most closely verified or verifiable. ... She can offer mediation between different believers, and help bring about consensus of opinion."

In other words, James is ultimately saying, though religious experience lays ultimately beyond the bounds of intellectual reason, there is a large difference between passion and irrationality, between conviction and insanity. And intellectual distinctions can help us negotiate this otherwise difficult terrain.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why Did God Give YHWH as God's Name?

Both Jehovah and Yahweh come from the Torah's account of God declaring to Moses that "I Am Who I Am" would send him to free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. That God did so in a language lacking vowels is both puzzling and crucial.

Puzzling, of course, because no one knows how to pronounce God's proper name. If anyone ever did, God's sober injunctions to not take God's name in vain soon led to pious disuse of YHWH as an overt reference to God. This is the crucial part: the name God gives Moses is elusive, evasive, sly. It is also powerfully declarative.

God is sending Moses into a land where naming a god gives one power over a god. The God of Torah will have no part of this. So God gives Moses something rather tautological: God is indeed who God is, but this seems to offer us no new content. God gives us nothing new about God. The omission is not coincidental.

The same principle underlies the biblical prohibitions against making images. We have essential control over something we see that cannot speak- the subservient principle of being seen and not heard. Images fix gods in particular places. All of the pagan local religions had regional gods, but the God of Torah is going to go with Moses until he returns the people to that particular mountain.

So, being everywhere, God remains the biblical voice from nowhere- yes, in the case of this narrative from a burning bush- but he makes it clear that this instance is only temporary. God will not have Moses thinking the burning bush is God, however astonishing it would have been.

So God refuses to be pinned down. This God is a different kind of God.

Yet this evasion is not only intended to prevent misunderstanding. The original Hebrew might also contain a wonderful promise; the name might also be translated as "I Will Be Who I Will Be" or "I Will Do What I Will Do."

This is indeed not only the God who will not be pinned down. This God is going to do as God says, and by this God will be known. This reverses the pagan sense of having gods that increase human fecundity (sacrifice in exchange for greater crops) to God having humans increase divine fertility, as in the Biblical images that present humans as workers in the harvest.

This marks the unique characterization of the Judeo-Christian God; in this speech God becomes the God of history as a whole, not particular segments of human experience.

Moses is going as God's agent, God assures him, not the other way around.

And God's elusive and promising name helps Moses see that this is so.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Notice: Or, Alternatively

Or, alernatively, I could continue to have the same unreliable connection at home, and likely extraordinary waits at the library for anything but the half-hour terminals, which does not leave me quite enough time to do the research and editing this blog requires.

So, until different strategies or different circumstances permit, this blog is on hiatus. I'll e-mail any further updates.