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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, January 24, 2011


I am absolutely elbow-deep in reading about Jesus.

Jesus as He is seen through the eyes of the Black, Asian and Latino/a Churchs.

Jesus as He is seen through the eyes of Queer Christians.

Jesus as He is seen through the eyes of Women.

Jesus as He is seen through the eyes of those who are 'differently abled'.

Jesus as He is seen in the global context of diversity, pluralism and interfaith realities of a world filled with pluraform truths.

I keep reading a chapter here in one book, then flipping over to a chapter there in another, and all well before the progression of reading I'm supposed to follow in the syllabus.

I simply can't wait for this class to begin on Wednesday so the class discussions can begin. I'm really looking forward to engaging with other students who are seeking Christ so we may better serve God's people.

Last night, I read an assigned "additional" chapter from Dorothee Solle's "Thinking About God" which was entitled, "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?"

Solle, of course, is a post-Reformation theologian who was deeply influenced by Martin Buber's "I and Thou". She was also writing contextually, as a feminist, and a post-Holocaust Christian and thus is seen as a major contributing influence to the development of liberation theology.

Her theological work on suffering as touched me for many, many years.

Solle's critique is against the assumption that God is all-powerful and the cause of suffering; humans thus suffer for some greater purpose. Instead, God suffers and is powerless alongside us. In Solle's theological approach, humans are to struggle together against oppression, sexism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of authoritarianism.

She made this one point which I'm still ruminating about this morning, and invite you to share some of your thoughts.

She writes that
"Liberalism produced a self-confident union of Christianity and culture, the "Christ of culture" of which Richard Niebuhr speaks. History appeared as a gradual progress. . . . that the human race is slowly being 'educated' by God to a greater humanity . . . is at the heart of liberal Cultural Protestantism. This optimistic perspective collapsed with the outbreak of the first World War. .... Behind the facade of industrial and scientific culture there suddenly appeared the barbarism of imperialism, of militarism, of contempt of the foreigner."
Solle then writes about Karl Barth, who, in August, 1914 was shaken by the fact that all of the pastors and theologians he admired were jubilantly supportive of the First World War. Solle continues:
"Barth had been a young pastor when he experienced between the workers and cultural-liberal Christianity in Safenwil. He had come to experience the class struggle and in this helpless situation, he had to ask himself, 'What shall I preach? Where do I belong? What side am I on?' He understood that this culture was not a harmonious progress but stood under a judgment, a crisis. Judgment and crisis are important terms for this new theology: we are subject to God's judgment not to an increasingly refined divine education. History is not a history of progress, but a history of catastrophes and judgment."
I don't know about that.

I mean, I don't think I agree. But, that may be because my image of God is very different from Solle - because, well, for one, I am a woman in a different culture and of a different time. Certainly, the Holocaust continues to challenge my understandings of God and humanity, but not as I imagine it would as a German Christian woman who had lived through two world wars and the Holocaust.

I think I have a decidedly post-modern perspective that is probably more influenced by immoral wars like Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as the threat of Nuclear Arms. My theology has also been shaped and formed in the crucible of the AIDS pandemic, which has opened my thinking to the interconnection of global trade routes, imperialism, militarism and disease.

This just may be me being Anglican, but I'm not sure it's a "either / or" as Barth or Solle want me to believe. I suspect that catastrophes are part of the ways God teaches us about the mystery of the Divine nature as well as the enterprise of being human.

I suppose I have the luxury of taking a longer view. Sometimes, that "progress" is harmonious. Sometimes, it's catastrophic. Either way, I think it comes down to this: The awe-full gift of Free Will.

What do you think?

What do you know of God through your knowledge and experience of Jesus from your own 'social location' of things like your gender, race, ethnicity, and social/class status?

I'd love to hear from you and promise to take some of your perspectives into class with me, which I trust will make important contributions to the discussion.

I promise not to do this every day, but I might be a little heavy handed at first. You'll understand and forgive me, I trust.

So, what do you think: Is history a history of progress or catastrophe and evidence of God's judgment? Is it either/or or both/and?

And, as you consider this question, also consider the following two:

If you were in the midst of Mark's Gospel (8:27), and Jesus asked you, "Who do men say that I am?", how would you answer?

If Jesus then pushed you a bit further and said, "But who do YOU say that I am?" how would you answer?

I'm so looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


it's margaret said...

Hmmmm.... who do people (men) say that he is? --I would say today that many, if not the majority, would say he is a moralist, a judge, a leader.

But, I find myself a Christian --a follower of Jesus, because of his mother. She is the one that led me to the great well of Love. She is the one who knew the source of great wine. And bread. She is the one who stood steadfast at the cross and watched her greatest work and gift undone. She is the one who didn't die, but persisted through death, through the questions, through the doubt, through the knowledge of family re-worked and re-imagined....

...she is the one who first uttered with lips that moved like butterfly wings soft on his cheek the name God with Us.

Cuz that's who Jesus is.

Muthah+ said...

Ohh, Elizabeth! This requires coffee!

Muthah+ said...

I have never quite agreed with Soelle either. But I believe that no matter whether it is progress towards the better or the response to catastophe, the message of Christ calls us to know the best of what it means to be human.

When I was young, I had no way of knowing what it meant to be a lesbian. To be out was just unheard of and it was just plain dangerous. The only response I could see to being same-sex oriented was to be a nun. That was safe and I really didn't have to deal with my own sexuality. Consequently I was late in coming to know the reality of what it means to be lesbian and who I am. And while I came to know Christ, I did not learn until much later in life the call of Christ to be me--to be what God had created me to be.

We learn to be better from seeing "better" lived out by others. I didn't know how to be a "good" person as a lesbian because I could not find a model.

Christ's life calls us to the better part of ourselves. It is to participate in the holiness of life. I am not really Athanasian either because I do not believe that humanity's goal is to be come God. I believe that it is through Christ that we are called to the greatest that humanity can be. And while this call is to me individually, it is also to preach a message that we who have faith are called to live in a way in which others can live in shalom.

Remember that Soelle was deeply influenced by the Lutheranism of her time which believed in the total depravity of humanity, rather than the dignity of humanity of Pelagius (good Anglican that he was) means that we are more likely to put the emphasis on Christ's Incarnation.
And in doing so, I find in Christ less a god to worship than a brother who invites me to be all I am. To me, that is an invitation into the holy--that special point where God and humanity come in contact.

Frair John said...

Anglicanism has allways been very "Wiggish" in its approach to culture and history. I suppose it comes from being a State Church almost everyplace it went, at least at first. As Keble pointed out it is hard to criticize that which pays your bills.
One of the keys to understanding Barth's idea of culture is that it is always mutable and shifting. He was one of the first Europeans to attack the idea of a national "Soul" that somehow was inherent to the people of that Nation/Ethnic Group/Social Class/Bridge Club and that transcends Christian identity. In other words, there is no inherently different "Christianity" for Germans that is different, in other than cosmetic ways, from say Irish or Portuguese national expression. A person is a Christian first, and what ever else second. The Church, for Barth, has no "language" of it's own (he detested the American Evangelical tendency to jargon even back in the 40s and 50s - he'd have a cow now), but expresses itself in the time and the place it is. There is nothing "holy" in and of it's self about, say, English Village life in the 19th century that we must continue to emulate it all the way down to the flowers on the Altar.
God judges all human endeavors, and the "correct" question becomes, to which are you more faithful your culture, or your fundamental allegiance to God. Any time we are engaged in any form of activity, we should ask "Am I being faithful to God, or to what is expected of me as an (American/White Person/Feminist/Gay Male/Insert Label here)?" One can be both, for sure, but the test comes, for Barth, when we say to our fellow travelers in any movement, "No."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Margaret - I love a good Marian Christology. She also instilled in him his sense of justice every time he heard her sing 'The Magnificat'. It was her flesh that nurtured him and nourished him and taught him to love his - and our - flesh.

What a lovely perspective. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - glad you got some coffee and came back. You obviously had some important things to say.

I think Solle's voice is important because she begins to shift the conversation to a more contextual one, laying the foundation for liberation theology.

And yes, the Incarnation is the key doctrine for me as a Christian. I love what Ed Bacon said about being glad Mary said 'Yes' to the incarnation before the church could formulate a doctrine about it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar John - You know, I'd like to think that a person is a Christian first and whatever else after that, but while I think that's St. Paul's ideal, it's also very hard to live out - sort of like 'unconditional love'. I think I'm a 'Christian first' because of the all of the elements of my social location. I don't know how to separate the two anymore.

I'm remembering a certain faculty member whose actions revealed a certain racism and homophobia. We students went to the dean and demanded an apology. The dean told us that we should not expect an apology because, in this faculty person's culture, apology was associated with shame. One of us questioned that if the faculty person was not only Christian, but an ordained Christian, shouldn't we expect that we were 'Christian first'. The Dean looked down and shook her head sadly.

I'll never forget that moment. Ever.

Lucye said...

Amen, Margaret.

Hi! Elizabeth. I'm de-lurking after a long time, and just saying we miss you in the Diocese of Newark.

I'm working right now on coming to terms with living in hope, but not optimism.

Times are getting hard in this country, and those of us who grew up in the years of fat cows need to come to terms with fear, scarcity, and even poverty in ways that..... well, most of the rest of the world has known all along.

So the triumphalism of American Christianity ... which I bet we learned from the Brits, who learned it from Rome... is not going to work in places where it used to work. New peole are going to have to get used to praying from a place of helplessness.

Praise God, I think it can bring us closer to the truth. OTOH, it can turn us into bug-eyed crazies from Fox .....

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Lucye - lovely to hear from you. And, Pshaw! about being missed. The DON is 'stepping out in audacious faith' - which it will need in the months and years ahead - just fine without me.

I hear what you are saying which just reaffirms my sense of Solle's great contribution of contextualizing theology and her thoughts on suffering. Gives me permission to 'step out in audacious faith' of my own - not something prescripted for me as an "ought" or a "should" but because of how I understand Jesus in community and the world.

Bex said...

I think catastrophe is the judgment on progress. Progress is always subject to judgment if only because progress often involves unintended consequences; it carries with it seeds of good and evil. So I agree with you that progress is not either/or. It's both. Talk about being an Anglican! As for your other two questions, all I can say is I hope I would have recognized Who was asking them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Bex. I'm still wrestling with the idea of God's judgment in the form of a natural disaster or war. The cosmos feels too random for that.

Much to consider, eh?

Anonymous said...

I have not read Soelle, but I promise myself to. It was a sermon two weeks after 9/11, in a church in Philadelphia, a parishthat had suffered losses in the Towers, that was the catalist (sp?) that drew me into TEC. Fr. Stephan recounted a lecture he attended by Elie Weisel, who was challenged "Where was God in the holocaust?" His answer was searingly simple: "God was in the ovens with us." My heart cried "amen." Is not the incarnation that very thing? THAT is my faith; not that God will fix what we broke, but that he is broken-ness so that we might be whole.

Progress or catastrophe? There is both beyond measure. Some days it feels like progress, then the morning paper reminds that we remain broken. Both, in the messy stew of humanity.

I am excited for you, and will follow your adventures with very great interest.

Lou, in Sunnyvale CA

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Lou, for your contribution to this discussion. 9/11 was an horrific event. It's one I'll never forget. I think of that great yawning hole at Ground Zero as an image of the spiritual hunger which was also opened up. Solle has much to say to us, post 9/11 - but voices like yours need to be heard as well.

Bex said...

Amen, Lou. John Shelby Spong once said that the Gospel was encapsulated in the centurion's comment while looking at Jesus dying on the cross saying, in so many words, "this is what God is."

Paul said...

As far as natural catastrophes are concerned, I believe in physics. I cannot believe that God fiddles with the levers of plate tectonics for His own amusement, or to punish the people of Haiti. I guess I believe in the goodness of God as a fundamental axiom. (My math teachers would be upset with me for not requiring proof of the axiom, but . . . tough.)

I have always loved Wiesel's comment. That goes in my pile of fundamental truths as well.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Even if you had the courage to leave your name, that still wouldn't give you the right to tell anyone what or in whom to believe or not believe.

Mariology and reverence for the Theotokos have been around for a long, long time. Your appeals to a high(er) Christology will never change that. Nor, should it. With God, it's not either/or.