Andrew Jones has announced a new blog season for himself, following the Celtic and church calendars. The Lectionary calendar starts “Year A” on December 2nd with the Advent season, and I’m considering options as I seek to add some new spiritual habits (disciplines) into the pattern of my own life, and wondering how I might weave some of them into the blog happenings here. I’m thinking about:
- Dwelling in Luke 10;
- The “Shalom Lectionary” in an appendix to Walter Brueggemann’s Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom;
- The Revised Common Lectionary;
- The Daily Office;
- The Divine Hours;
- St. Benedict’s Rule; and
- A Missional Order / Rule of Life.
Of course, I’ve got a theme going with all of these… all represent a submission to ancient practices and a joining with others in the church around the world in pattern of obedience. I’ve been considering such things lately, of course. Of the list here, there is a good degree of overlap, but much in common.
Despite being under the weather, I’ve got a lot on the brain and a lot I want to write about these days. And then Makeesha issues a personal challenge to me (and other guys) a couple of days ago to give a listen to Sr. Joan Chittister on Speaking of Faith (an interview on a public radio program). Now, I’m not big on podcasts, as I never have time to listen… I don’t ride the bus or have a long commute alone, so the few that I listen to are generally in the background while I’m doing something else (I’d rather read it). That said, I wanted to give Makeesha’s challenge a fair shot and make a point of listening… which I did yesterday. In context, my mind wasn’t 100% focused on the entire interview, but I liked what I heard. Sister Joan Chittister has clocked more than 50 years as a Benedictine nun, and has accumulated a thing or two to say, which she does with insight. In the interview, she talks a little about feminism (maybe prompting Makeesha’s challenge?). She leaves freedom in the conclusions but simply begs the conversation: excellent perspective. The things I took even greater note of were from her experience in the Benedictine tradition (without regard to gender) which were very insightful about the rule of life. As I did, she began her response to the question by noting the linguistic misfortune of the word “rule” which had different connotations in the 6th century than it does now. She too prefers the term “guide” or “guideline.” (Makeesha also challenged me/us to recommend this woman’s voice, so fortunately, I don’t have a problem commending the interview!)
I’m presently giving a bit more consideration to traditions and practices of the church, and today of course is All Saints Day, which is a kind of a spot in the calendar for saints who don’t get their own day. In the tradition of protestants, we’re all saints, so in a way, this is our day. Not being from a Roman Catholic background, I’m not so much for the veneration of saints and so forth, and in exploring the perspective on saints in the Anglican tradition, in which Jamie Howison has told me a couple of times that the saints are a pretty earthy bunch, folks who get their hands dirty and are fraught with foibles of their own. I like that… it is at once honouring to those to whom we issue the title of “St.” (or “Ste.”) and yet leaves room for the rest of us. On this note, I’m remembering Scot McKnight’s wise exhortation to speak of these saints not in the past, but in the present tense. St. Brendan still encourages me, and St. Columba still teaches me… not past tense, but enduring (and notice I chose some Celtic saints!).
And so, with this idea of stepping in with saints of old and staying in step with them then and now and into the future, I can call you all saints and pray a blessing upon us… It’s one of my personal favorites, from Ephesians 3 — join me in it?
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Thanks for the reminder that, in the protestant tradition, all those following Christ are saints. I’m sure it will be good motivation this day and the days to follow. Also, thanks for pointing out that the word “rule” could be substituted with “guide.” Some might see that as semantics, but I sense it is much more than that. A rule seems to lack any type of relational component. A guide seems more relational to me (Is. 30:21). – Peace. Dave.
WOOHOO!!! Way to take the challenge. Actually, the fact that she’s an older woman religious with good things to say prompted the challenge…but of course I liked what she said about feminism ;)
One of the things I have come to appreciate about the words “rule” and “ruler” is the underlying concept of measurement…like in being able to measure one’s actions/life against an authoritative standard…like a ruler. With which, by the way, one can also chart a straighter course than simply drawing freehand.
And, of course, the measure with which we are to measure ourselves is Christ.
The Greek word translated “rule” is another of those terms found in the NT that can be seen pointing to the Hebrew concept of “hesed”–where God’s faithful hesed is the standard with which we can authoritatively chart our own covenant-keeping.
This is also consistent with the whole realm of archery terms/concepts used for sin, where to “sin” was to miss the mark/target. How many of you have ever seen arrows of excellent archers be anything other than straight? Try hitting the target with curved arrows….it is more than having one’s eye on the proper target…it is more than having excellent aim…the arrow must be true and straight as well. And the “straighter” we allow the Holy Spirit to make us–transforming us into the likeness of Christ’s “straightness”, the better tool we will be in the hand of God.
And I will get back to the post on Covenant…really.
Actually it sounds a bit like you’re extolling the thing I’m sharply moving away from in my comments. I’m advocating a guide that says you’re moving closer day by day and you’re advocating a rule that tells you how far you have to go and an upbraid you if you step slightly off-course. The ruler and the the demand for the bulls-eye every time is the stuff of the legalism I’ve come to abhor. Of course we aim not to sin and we aim for a straight path… but when I’m off the mark I want to be encouraged that I’ve done better than yesterday and will do better again tomorrow. A ruler cannot do this; as an absolute measuring-stick, it only measures how far off I’ve gone and how far back I need to go… this is in fact the essence of Old Testament “Law” in it’s ability to show us how far short we fall. Nothing in this gives us the ability to get back on course. On the other hand, grace is the guide which comes alongside and helps us walk. I’m all for the straight course, but when the straight course is insurmountable I would much prefer a freehand one that I can actually traverse.
The post on covenant is much the same… the upshot is that it’s relational and not legal. As a result, we don’t measure shortcomings so much as we receive grace and encouragement to do better tomorrow than we’ve done today. This draws us to relationship rather than chases us with law.
I’m not sure I track with you on hesed as a standard for us — it is unthinkable that we could attain the standard of God in the extension of hesed, we could only fall short. otoh, when hesed is seen as the grace and power extended to us to move back toward the path as we stray, and as the assurance that he welcomes us today as we try to do better tomorrow, then the word is filled with the relational concepts that I’m talking about… hesed is the welcome call and the sustaining ability to walk with the guide even as we continue to stumble — not the standard of the ruler that we must live up to so that we can assure ourselves we are on a straight path.
Unless I’ve got all of your comment exactly backwards, I don’t think we’re on the same page.
Well, I’m actually (unfortunately) very used to people missing hesed and covenant, as found in the New Covenant, because of the lack of intentionality toward differentiating the New Covenant from the Old.
Hesed is the quintessential relational word. And the helpfulness of the way rule and ruler in “redefined” in the NT is in the context of Jesus and Paul contrasting the way people are too often stuck in wrong patterns of “ruling” each other…putting themselves first and their power and control as the thing to be desired, rather than using Jesus as the “rule/r”…and his path/method is one of sacrificial servant leadership…interaction ebbing and flowing as he adjusts his leading according to the readiness of his followers….meandering, as it were.
The path flows relationally…the call to be Christlikeness is straight. That we cannot be fully like Christ is part of the already/not yet tension of the paradox that is salvation. The price, as it were, for our inability to fully keep covenant has been paid in advance on the cross…and yet the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that power and ability to grow closer and closer to the image of Christ is something that cannot be taken away. If can be refused or ignored…but that is a different story.
Can you see that these are two different things?
Sin, on the other hand, has been dealt with on the cross and the bondage that came with the Law has been set aside. We have been set free in Christ. Sin no longer, for the Christian, is about failure and penalty. It is about getting closer and closer to the target. And NT hesed bring the focus more to the provision for acting properly than the judgment for acting poorly.
In the “allelon”/one another passages of the NT we find the practical manifestations of the command for hesed…we are to be faithful covenant-keepers toward each other, not just toward God. We, who are not of the original Tribes of Israel, are formed into a single Kingdom Tribe, as Bride/Church, and are bound to each other with an awesome oath taken with Christ’s blood. We are the poorer for not understanding this aspect very well. Many of our brothers and sisters in Africa and other tribal cultures have a better grasp of this reality.
All for now…gotta run…does this make any sense?
Well… not to be argumentative, but…
I had quite a pause over “lack of intentionality toward intentionality toward differentiating the New Covenant from the Old.” You’ve got some interplay after that between the Testaments, wherein the New replaces or redefines the Old… and that’s not a hermeneutic that I’m comfortable with. I see great continuity between the Testaments, the same God, the same people, the same covenant, the same plan. Nothing changed or redefined, only the fullness of God’s heart expressed in deeper ways in the New Testament that we may not have understood well enough from the Old. When the NT replaces the OT or “betters” it, I’m extremely leery of the interpretation that follows based on that assumption.
“Paying the price” for “inability to keep covenant” is legal terminology (ransom theory), which is on the heels of the servant leadership concept. In that you could find an example of the replacement of the ruler with the servant… not sure if that’s where you’re going, but it argues against “rule(s)”, not for them, as your first comment.
So I’m not sure what I’m supposed to see as “two different things” …if it’s servant leadership vs. covenant or Christ’s death as ransom…(?)
In your comments about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and Jesus as a meandering leader through relational hesed, I think you’re close to what I’m saying… but then on sin, you’ve got the yardstick imagery which is where I have the problem. Or perhaps it’s the archery image… yes, I think Vine’s will tell you that sin is related to the archery target, but the point isn’t that we spend our time measuring the distance so that we can improve… that’s the yardstick, and it’s the Pharisees who thought that they could improve enough. They didn’t think it theologically, they just lived that way… and that’s the issue here. The response to sin isn’t to measure the distance and be glad Jesus paid for it… the response is to return to the covenant-keeping God and be welcomed relationally by his perfect hesed.
The relationship we have with other believers is a slightly different affair, becoming one family as we do… it’s less a matter of covenant to which we swear as it is a simple fact that we’re born into the same family and need to act like it. It seems a good parallel concept might be ubuntu… so yeah, that part makes sense! ;^)
It’s a complex discussion, and apart from moving slowly through defining terms and some then working up to a common framework we are stuck with metaphors.. which are notoriously wide in breadth and subject to interpretation via personal history .. not helpful when you are trying to get to the core of things.
One comment tho. It’s true that ONE of the words for sin means “to miss the mark.” Interesting there are more words for sin in the OT than new, just as there are many words in the OT which we translate “law” (usually not rightly). So I think of Scot McKnights recent work A Community of Atonement…
instead of choosing one metaphor for the atonement, say ‘penal substitution,’ and reducing or re-reading all other metaphors down to aspects of ‘penal substitution’, McKnight suggests that we allow all of the atonement metaphors to live together. His favorite example is golf: why play a hole using the same club off the tee, on the fairway, and on the green, when there are many clubs from which to choose. Just as we play golf with a variety of clubs, so too should we speak of the atonement using the various metaphors supplied by the Scriptures..
Augustine’s view of sin…”sin is seeking so many good things but never choosing the one thing you are called to” ;)
Thanks, Len, for jumping in here. It is good to call to mind Scot’s excellent book. Not playing golf myself, I have tended to use the “tool belt” (from wearing the MacGyver Mom hat) or “medicine kit” (from wearing the Dr. Mom hat) metaphors–realizing that it is important to have the variety of tools necessary for the variety of tasks at hand. I tend not to like using my kitchen knives as screwdrivers not only because they are cumbersome and weak, but because they tend to ruin them for their intended purpose. How many words to we struggle over because they have been used to screw thing in or pry things open rather than spreading smoothly or cutting precisely….
It is also good to acknowledge that this is not a simple discussion but rather one that is complicated by having begun in a language of concepts that has been challenged (and sometimes compromised?) when translated into languages of grammatical constructs. Many of the wonderful Hebrew concepts just don’t translate well…but they do make for grand word studies–my favorite thing! And so this is a good reminder of why I want to take the time to go through covenant and hesed methodically over at the virtual abbey ;^)
Bro. M., forgive me for trying to cram too much into one comment. I should have known better than to try to get something off without the proper time to process it all first…one of the many differences between the Extroverted Abbess and the Introverted Brother! Yet, sometimes it is good to start the conversation and see where it goes, eh? For me, this one goes over to the abbey for careful processing rather than random responding! ;^)
And so, I feel that I need to step back a moment and regroup and lay out the story at “home”, as it were. In the meantime, I suggest that Len is also correct about the terms we are wrestling with being “notoriously wide in breadth and subject to interpretation via personal history”–not to mention doctrinal history…of which a huge one is the struggle over the paradox of Old and New Covenants being one and the same or an early version completed and replaced by the new and final version. The book of Hebrews spends a lot of words there….
And while I find many things about Augustine a little too “Greek” for my liking, I confess to liking his definition of sin precisely because he takes it out of the realm of “aweful, terrible, shameful deeds” and makes it more a matter of lack of restraint and focus (which takes me back to the whole archery image).
Phew … I just saw this great conversation here and I’m sad I missed it.
Bro. M. I think that Peggy is probably closer to you than you think, unless I miss my guess.
Hesed is perhaps my favorite idea of all time. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t have any word for it in English; we run around trying to find words that fit and none of ours do. So when we try to talk about it we often end up missing each other.
Although, Peggy, I am the tiniest bit confused about why you would use it in the context that you did? I’ve never heard it used in a context where it’s a standard that cannot be met. I’ve heard it more as a measure of how great and wide and wonderful the love of God is for us. I am looking forward to reading more about it from you!
This is a test to see if my comment makes it through the new construction zone!
Woo, hoo…I’m in!
Sonja, coming late is better than never, in my book (and on my blog, for that matter)… ;^)
At the risk of being further misunderstood, I’ll say this: You have brought up one of what I consider to the reason why hesed and covenant are so poorly understood anymore (I’m basically talking 1700 years of “anymore”).
Hesed is a term that is nowadays almost always applied to only God as faithful covenant-keeper. But those who enter covenant with God are also to be faithful covenant-keepers. There is responsibility for hesed among all parties to a covenant…and this understanding suffered during the wars over faith versus works.
Hesed came to be viewed (wrongly) as works that resulted in salvation rather than works that were a result of salvation. Salvation comes by faith in the work of God through Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection as God’s invitation of adoption in the New Covenant. Once one accepts this new covenant, one must keep covenant…hesed…works. Faith without works is dead, says James.
The term Hasidim refers to those who practice hesed (are faithful convenant keepers)–the righteous saints of God. If I could get away with it, I would call the saints (since that term has also been used too narrowly, IMO) who make up the Church her “hasidim” rather than “members”…maybe I can do it with CovenantClusters…hmmm…
Anyway, it is from the point of view of the hasidim that the standard cannot be met without God’s help…and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence and power is the primary manifestation of God’s present, on-going hesed toward us.
Does that make any sense?