Book Review: “Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots” (Amos Smith)

Healing the Divide

Several months ago, in one of those occasions of serendipity, I made Amos Smith’s acquaintance via social media (first LinkedIn, then Facebook). We discovered, almost by accident, that we shared a common interest in power of the Paradox of Jesus, as articulated by Christ followers in the early Church, to heal the divide between various versions of conservative and liberal Christianity. While I plumbed the depths of the early Pauline and Nazarene Jesus movements, Amos mined the riches of the Alexandrian mystics.

Smith has the heart of a pastor, the mind of a mystic, and the passion of an evangelist and it shows in his writing. He writes in a jargon-less style that is at the same time understandable to average lay person and satisfying for the deepest diving theologian. He exposes both the dualistic thinking of modern day fundamentalism and the wishy-washy, all-religions-are-the-same thinking of New Age spirituality and shows how it may be possible to find a common place to stand by understanding and appreciating the paradox inherent in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Healing the Divide is not a “quick read.” You need to need to allow time to contemplate the questions and issues Smith raises. It would be quite a productive study for books study and discussion group, with reflection question built into the text. Either way, it’s one of those books that the more time you spend with it, the more depths it will reveal..

I strongly recommend it!

click here to order a copy of Healing the Divide

Ken Howard is the author of another book about paradox: “Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them.”

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Book Review – Theology from Exile: Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary for an Emerging Christianity (Author: Sea Raven, D.Min.)

Theology from Exile Sea Raven 2

Tech CEO David Jones once famously pleaded (albeit tongue-in-cheek) for all that would send anyone who misused the term “paradigm” to jail. I’d like to begin this review of Sea Raven’s Theology from Exile: Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary for an Emerging Christianity with a similar plea:

It should be the law.
If you use the terms “emerging” or “emergent” or “emergence”
without knowing what the dictionary says they mean,
 you go to jail. No exceptions.

Like many of my friends on the “progressive” side of the Church, Raven repeated misinterprets the meaning of Emerging Christianity, co-opting it to cover a wide variety of progressive theological principles (why, oh why can’t they just call themselves “liberal” and be done with it?).

Let me be clear, I don’t object to the positions, per se. Some of them – like non-violence, caring for creation, and radical inclusivity – are convictions I happen to share.  What I object to is the assumption that one has to be, in effect, a card-carrying member of the Jesus Seminar to share them. It is a false distinction – a straw man argument – to suggest that the choice between conservative and liberal theological positions is a choice between believing in a personally present God who is violent, judgmental, and exclusive, and a non-theistic God who is non-violent, just, and inclusive. (BTW, I’m just as frustrated with my conservative Christian friends who insist on painting Emergence Christianity as a straw man for the latest liberal heresy.)

Let me lay my cards on the table here.  I believe that the present conservative/liberal dichotomy is inherently false.  And I believe it is possible to transcend it and the conflict it has engendered, but only if both “sides” commit to honest dialogue, with a willingness to clearly understand what is truly at stake for both the each other. Mischaracterizing the other’s intentions and point of view is not a good start. And Raven’s attempt to pass off her solidly liberal theological positions as representative of the Emerging Church is not helpful either. Emergent Christianity is neither liberal nor conservative, but an example of the principle of Emergent Complexity at work in the Church, in which the dominant paradigm of Church is falling and a new paradigm is starting to rise from the ashes of the old: an emerging  paradigm that may well transcend our seemingly insurmountable divisions.

This is not to say you shouldn’t buy or read the book.  If what you are looking for a commentary that approaches the Gospel of Luke from decidedly liberal theological lens, Theology from Exile may well be what you are looking for. It is very readable and Raven’s storytelling voice is distinctive. But if you buy it expecting an Emerging Church commentary, you will be disappointed

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Jesus Facepalm

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Easter 7A

“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?”

“Are we there yet?”

“I’m hungry.”

“I have to pee.”

Do you think Jesus slapped his forehead as he ascended into the clouds? He has spent so much time with his disciples talking about the kingdom of God this and the kingdom of God that, yet they still think Jesus was interested in the kingdom of Israel. “No guys (and perhaps “certain” gals), it’s not time to restore the kingdom of Israel because I’m not going to restore the kingdom of Israel. I was never going to restore the kingdom of Israel; I’ve always been proclaiming the kingdom of God.

3480468593_d4ed2b2df4“Completely different ideas of “kingdom,” and for the latter I’m sending you to Jerusalem and beyond—to Judea and Samaria (the northern and southern kingdoms) and to all people in the rest of the world. So please don’t misrepresent my message. I’m not restoring the kingdom of Israel; I’m pointing out the reality that God restores all people and to Godself.”

It’s hard for the disciples to wrap their heads around how the coming of God’s kingdom wouldn’t coincide with the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. After all—how will we know if God wins if those whom we believe represent God don’t have a gross amount of power and wealth and control and prestige and awesomeness?

I’ve heard a number of friends, family, and public figures (specifically political pundits on certain networks with coordinated agendas) speak about some of the statements that Pope Francis has made regarding the poor. A frequently used statement sounds like, “He seems like a nice guy, and he’s doing a lot of charitable things, but he doesn’t understand economics.” The implication being that if nations were to act the way Pope Francis indicates they should, they would not become more prosperous.

I’m not economist, and I won’t enter a debate in which I pretend to be one, but can I just say…

…no…freaking…duh!

What makes anyone think that Pope Francis is out to help the prosperous become even more so? Pope Francis, in his simple but profound gestures and his commentary of our global attitudes toward wealth and those without wealth, seeks to point us toward Jesus who came not to restore a singular prosperous kingdom, but to proclaim the restorative relationship we find in God.

Is God’s kingdom something we achieve by getting enough _________ to globally assert our influence? Or is God’s kingdom something that already exists just in the periphery, especially as we follow the Way of Jesus and spread God’s love to the familiar kingdoms and beyond?

The good news here is that even when we stumble into the familiar obsession with restoring and preserving our kingdoms, God meets us with grace.

Photo: Jesus-Facepalm is licensed by CC BY 2.0

Good Night, Woman.

Sad to see this one go…

Attenti al Lupo

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Ciao, Maya.

(Maya Angelou, 1928-2014)

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Water Sources

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Easter 6A

1305308_10100995477636903_1622403065_nWhen I visited Las Vegas for the first time last October, I stood on the strip and marveled at the awesomeness of Caesar’s Palace, the magnificence of the Venetian, and the size of everything in this bizarre metropolis of extravagance. I thought to myself, “This place is the embodiment of everything I am against—the excessive worship of wealth, sex, and reckless behavior. And yet, wow…there’s something wonderful about it all—ooo look! Fountains!

I imagine that the Apostle Paul feels this way as he wanders around Athens, gazing at the impressive architecture and at the abundance of golden statues of the posse of gods. Paul is distressed at the site of it, but a small part of him gets it and maybe even appreciates the grandiosity. Still, he’s on a mission to speak about the richness of life that God offers to all mortals—not just ones who live in spectacular settings or possess tremendous wealth or build statues to the gods of wind and rain and the kitchen sink. He’s on a mission to remind everyone that the things of our world are not the makings of abundant life; God is one in whom we “live and move and have our being.”

Where I think this conversation can go wrong is when Paul’s type of mission turns into inspiration for moralizing. Yes, a golden statue can be the object of one’s idolatry, and yes, the pursuit of ridiculous wealth can become one’s god, but so can the attempt to be obnoxiously moral or painfully superior.

It is a delicate balance to try and seek authentic relationship with God without turning our means of pursuit into the object of that relationship; as soon as we think we have found the way to God, we lose our way and forget that God is a parent to all of us.

To put it another way, I’ll borrow an analogy a mentor of mine uses; he uses it for evangelism, but I’m going to do a remix.

If we are fish, God is the water in which we live. God is not the water in one pond, one lake, or one ocean; God is the water. We find water where we find it—from the garden hose, the shower, or the creek near our house. But it is from a place of naiveté that anyone would imagine that God is only the water from the garden hose, only the water from the shower, or only the water from the creek by our house.

As we come across these new “sources of water” in churches or other communities, in liturgies, in the Bible, in knowledge or scientific discover, in solidarity movements, in politics, in personal relationships, in art, in nature, or in any number of things, it is helpful to remember that we can deepen our relationship with God in those things, but we can also tread into the shallow waters of idolatry quite quickly.

Authentic relationship with God is a lifelong process that probably extends beyond what we know life to be. Through all of the places and things with which we encounter and engage, God is present, and through those things God may be glorified, even in—ooo look! Fountains!

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is www.FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is www.BowingToMystery.com.

Don’t You Get It?

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 4.24.56 PMEaster 4A

“I don’t get it.”

The child sits there quite sullenly, math homework strewn across the kitchen table.

“Yes you do,” Mom says encouragingly. Remember when we laid out thirty straws, and how you put them in groups of ten, and when there were three groups of ten there were thirty straws? Which means that three times ten equals what?”

“Thirty?”

We’ve all been here, right? Either as the parent or the child, we’re all familiar with times when we realize what we’ve been learning, even when we didn’t understand it all. Then you have a teacher come along who puts it all in perspective for you.

Sometimes the teacher gets ahead of him/herself and tries to explain more than is called for…I think that’s what Jesus does for Thomas and Philip and the others in John 14, and I imagine that readers of John centuries later still have those learning moments followed by even more confusion.

Jesus lets the disciples in on what is going to go down in the not too distant future; to say the least, they’re disappointed. So he begins to comfort them—with a heavy helping of him-ology…or would that be him-nody?

Not what I would’ve chosen to say, but then again, I’m not Jesus.

“Believe in God and in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare one for you, and I will take you to myself so that you may be with me. You know the way” (my own paraphrase).

“But if we don’t know where you’re going,” Thomas says, “how could we know the way.”

“Don’t you get it Thomas? I am the way…and the truth…and the LIFE. I’m the living example of both God and the way to God. I’m both the gate and the shepherd. By knowing me, you know God. You know God and see God.”

Makes sense, right? Thomas has seen the thirty straws, he’s sorted them into three groups of ten, and he understands multiplication…but is everyone on board?

“Jesus, just show us God and we’ll be satisfied,” Philip says, probably causing Jesus to pop a neck vein and break out in hives.

“What, you don’t know me, Philip? I tell you that you know God because you know me, and you ask me to see God? One of these days you either need to be good with my words or with my actions…or both…I don’t know what else I can do for you…well, except what I’m going to do soon for all of humanity.”

Based on the chapters that follow, the immense confusion of the disciples, and the tragedies surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples still have a lot of learning to do.

So do we.

We are all on a path of maturing spirituality—a developing relationship with God. Not one of us remains in one place for long. Sometimes we walk on this path with others; sometimes we walk alone. Sometimes we feel quite distant; sometimes we feel we’ve already reached the “end.” But really all of us are that child, sitting at the kitchen table trying to compile what we’ve experienced into concepts that help us to deepen our learning.

Perhaps one thing we can pull from this scene in John is a little bit of Jesus’ patience—patience with ourselves and patience with others. Much of the dialogue regarding religious/spiritual matters is fraught with so much condescension—the sense that your spirituality is a failed attempt at reaching my spirituality (or vice versa).

None of us know the ultimate truth of anything, but we can demonstrate how deepening our search and desire for Truth is a rewarding and important search. We can demonstrate how that search is best pursued when it is done with a sense of solidarity with our fellow brothers and sisters in creation.

Jesus tells Thomas, Philip, and the others that he is the Truth, and the Way, and the Light. If you’re reading this, you probably are at least willing to flirt with the possibility that he was right. Whether or not that is the case, consider what it would mean for that to be true. What could it mean for your spiritual life? What could it mean for our world?

We’re all learning together.

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is www.FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is www.BowingToMystery.com.

Photo: Many Colored Straws Thrown On Top of Each Other by Horia Varlan is licensed by CC BY 2.0

Check Out Our New Order Page

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Check Out Our New Order Page

We’ve teamed with GumRoad.com to develop a new in-house order system.

Click on the above image to check it out!

A Good Origin Story

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Easter 4A

6107539559_c79a8e84eeRemember the good old days when Christians were all completely devoted to the apostles’ teachings? When they committed their time to eating with each other all the time and worshipped together and sold their possessions whenever someone in their midst needed some assistance. Remember when Christians shared everything in common and had glad and generous hearts? Remember that?

Me either, but whoever wrote Acts seems to recall this idyllic time, and “day by day,” it says, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

The “Acts 2 Church” as it is called (Google it) is to Christianity what the Garden of Eden is to all of creation. And like the Garden in Genesis, what follows the Acts 2 Church is a smack down of harsh reality on hopeful idealism.

Then again, the Acts 2 Church does seem to make sudden reappearances on occasion. Most movements, communities, and even churches experience it—there is often a time in the beginning of the life of any of these institutions that feels grassroots, organic, and refreshing and exciting. After a while, creeds sound stale, rituals become repetitive, and the places where we once found meaning suddenly leave us wanting another Acts 2 moment.

That’s why Batman and other superhero franchises only last for a few installments. Origin stories are more captivating than sequels; so every now and then someone comes along to reimagine what these characters and genres are all about (often after someone else has mucked it up). And thank God for that, because for every Schumacher there better be an equal and opposite Nolan.

The good news here then is that no matter how much we muck up the way we practice community and spirituality, we can always rediscover the One who calls us together, by name, into a beloved community. Additionally, we can learn from everything that happens after the Acts 2 moment, and instead of seeking spiritual highs for their own sake, we can seek to share with others, spend time together in worship, fellowship, and feasting, and we can do so with glad and generous hearts because we know that God’s Kingdom trumps any image of the good old days that we might be imagining.

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is www.FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is www.BowingToMystery.com.

Photo:  © 2011  Do-Hyun Kim, Flickr

Six Truths about Organic and Traditional Churches

the-truth-will-set-you-free-but-first-it-will-piss-you-off-22

Marty Schoenleber, Jr. (a.k.a. ChosenRebel), prophetically suggests that six things are likely to be true about any church that exists in North America:

  1. We are not as mature as we think we are.
  1. We are not as bold as we ought to be.
  1. We are not as prayerful as we ought to be.
  1. We are not as generous as we could be.
  1. We are not as focused as the needs of our time demand.
  1. We are not as deep as we need to be.

According to Marty, these six things are true whether your church is new or old, organic or traditional, large or small, meets in a building or a house, in a community center or under a tree.

Click here for the complete article on ChosenRebel’s Blog

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Making Invisible Visible

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Easter 3A

500679943_05eb33a55aIt’s amazing how we can walk right by and even look directly at someone we know and not recognize them.

A video caught my eye this week—one in which friends and family members of unsuspected people were dressed up and posed as homeless people on a city street in an attempt to see if their loved ones would recognize them. Of the five test subjects recorded, not one of them recognized their loved ones as they sat or stood right in front of them. As they saw the footage of the experiment, the subjects sat in silence—perhaps a mixture of surprise, confusion, and a little bit of guilt.


The experiment is part of New York City Rescue Mission’s campaign Make them Visible with the hope that it will change the way many see homeless people. Apparently how many see those who are homeless is not at all.

When two of his followers were walking away from Jerusalem toward a place called Emmaus, Jesus (three days after his death) joined them on the walk. He talked with them, asking about the prophet who had been killed whom he seemed to know nothing about. They expressed their grief—they had hoped Jesus would redeem Israel; instead, he died a gruesome death.

Sure, some of the women in their group saw a vision of angels who said Jesus was alive, and sure, some of the men checked on the tomb and found it as the women had said, but they didn’t see Jesus…so…all is lost.

And then as they sat down for supper, Jesus broke bread; in that act of taking, blessing, and breaking bread, they recognized Jesus.

And then he vanished.

Poof!

What the heaven, Jesus?

What does it mean that Jesus would vanish from his friends and followers the moment they recognize him?

Historically what it has meant is that his followers continued to break bread in a similar fashion, perhaps hoping to summon the Risen Christ back into their midst. Don’t worry, I’m certainly not out to attack the Eucharist; I simply mean to point out that in this post-resurrection account, Cleopas and company aren’t trying to summon Jesus when he appears to them—nor are they trying to do so when they actually recognize him.

Jesus is with them long enough for them to realize only in hindsight that the entire day they experienced their “hearts burning within [them].” It’s a bit like how those in the NYC Recue Mission’s experiment responded to seeing themselves walk past their loved ones dressed as homeless people.

When our hearts and minds are focused on who and what we expect to see, we often fail to recognize the unexpected.

About a year ago, my friend Oscar planned to fly into Virginia from Minnesota to propose to my friend Liz. A bunch of us tried ardently to keep Liz at our table at the restaurant where Liz and Oscar had first kindled their relationship. Oscar called Liz from just outside the front door to initiate the surprise, but unexpectedly, Liz jumped out of her seat and walked out the restaurant—out the front door. Oscar held the door for her and sidled into the restaurant as she exited.

Liz did not recognize Oscar.

We have the capacity for deeds done with great love (to paraphrase Mother Teresa), but quite often those deeds and those relationships are unrecognizable. We have to go looking for them. We have to take charge of making the invisible visible. Our lives don’t depend on ceasing every possible opportunity to engage other people, but it is in companionship and sharing moments and breaking bread that we know and recognize those in front of us.

Maybe one way we can make the invisible visible is by setting a daily goal for ourselves to do just that…just once a day. One small intention for the day could change the way we engage each other and the world. So whether you are walking to Emmaus or down a city street or to your table in a restaurant, take a moment to consider the invisible opportunities that surround you.

Before you know it, “they” will be “us.”

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is www.FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is www.BowingToMystery.com.

Photo: Badjonni, Flickr 2007