Life 103

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Free of Charge

In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Striped of Grace, Miroslav Volf argues that God’s gifts come into us as though through a conduit in order to flow out to others. He argues that as we scatter around the earth, we take God’s gifts to the community and the world. He suggests giving more than you expect to receive. This is Christ's way, it’s God’s economy. It doesn’t make rational sense but it’s God’s way of doing things. He is flowing an ever-lasting supply through his people from a source that can never run dry. To keep the gifts God gives me for myself would be the ultimate in selfishness.

At the conversation, Volf said, “If you don’t have a sense that you should give more than you receive then how on earth can you forgive? Forgiveness is a particularly difficult gift to give.” He also said that, “even when I rightly consider the other person an enemy but think of them in God, I can negotiate a healing relationship.” We live in a graceless society that is “obsessively punitive.” In E&E Volf points out that to embrace another is to forgive. There, he borrows from Lewis Smeades when he says, “Embrace is grace, and “grace is gamble, always” (147).

I love that Volf recognizes the hard work and risky business of love and grace. These are hard to give, and give well as he pointed out in his books and during the conversation but I also love how he ties them to the cross in a way that even I can embrace.

The Big Chief

The Big Chief
Originally uploaded by kjwatson103.
Because taking off and landing in an airplane 4 times this week wasn't exciting enough! Jeff & Deana VandenHoek offered a rare opportunity to try out the newest Tilikum attraction. This is how our office spent lunch hour on Friday. WHAT A RUSH - free falling from 30 feet up in a tree then swinging out over the creek on a tiny cable. You haven't lived until you've done this!

Checking out the Yale Daily News

Miroslav Volf and Tony Jones check out a news story about the Theological Conversation in AJ's morning paper.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Marquad Chapel

Yale Divinity School
Originally uploaded by kjwatson103.
Stunning don't you think? This is Marquad Chapel where we gathered Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Photo taken with a 400 megapixel camera small enough to fit in a girl's pocket yet of sufficient quality to make enlarged reprints, if one should wish to.

theological conversation 2 - i am both

While reading Miroslav Volf’s thoughts on justice, oppression, truth and deceit, I was pointedly reminded that in this world there is oppressor and victim, deception and truth, violence and peace, the powerful and powerless – and I am both. I am both oppressor and victim, I am honest and deceitful, peaceful and violent, and I am both powerful and powerless. As a Quaker woman in America, I have every advantage to live and breathe Christ’s ministry on earth in my time and I have not always realized my full potential. I give more than many, less that most. I am committed to truth while hiding the ugly watermarks on my own spirit from even close friends. I am both stingy and generous. I have the power to give others voice (their own power) and I have failed. I am both helpful and selfish. Ambitious and lazy. And I have no excuse.

I am entrenched in a culture that cannot answer this basic question: How does Christ call Christians to be different from the world?

I asked that question in Sunday school about 8 years ago and no one could speak to it. Someone said something lame about pornography. Not my struggle, sorry. Someone said we should protest full-time working mothers and, being one at the time, was pretty deeply offended. No one could tell me how to evaluate the cultural pool I was standing waist deep in because they were standing waist deep in it too. How does a fish know it’s wet, in other words?

Volf wrote, quoting Marjorie Suchocki in The Fall to Violence, “To break the world cleanly into victims and violators ignores the depths of each person’s participation in cultural sin. There simply are no innocents.”

Volf brings into sharp focus the need to recognize that my images of God are shaped by the culture I live in and, as such, my actions and reactions will be based more on my images of God than on God himself. Volf calls us to have “double vision” that seeks to view things from the another’s perspective and enlarge both our world and view of God.

In the conversation this week, he said, “we can’t ignore the way we’ve been socialized.” Western, colonial, white, Pacific Northwest rural, middleclass, college educated with good marketable job skills in case my husband dies and we find ourselves on our own, married with two kids, cars, cats, and dogs – these are the mental models I use to view the world. They are my lenses for interpreting God and interpreting you. You can suddenly see that my world is too small. Even though there is no way to be completely removed from the culture we’re living in, we can be aware of what we’re doing when we think about the world.

On Tuesday Volf said, “I don’t want individuals to feel excluded but I want them to understand they are part of a social system that is a problem in some way.” I am coming face to face with my own corruption based simply on the fact that I have been raised in a corrupted world.

kathy goes to Yale

kathy goes to Yale
Originally uploaded by kjwatson103.
Here is picture proof I've been to Yale.

theological conversation 1

As I write this I am headed West somewhere over America on a Continental flight with three of my ten favorite people in the world; AJ, Gregg and Steve. We’re headed home from New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University, and the Emergent Village Theological Conversation featuring keynote speaker Miroslav Volf. The first time I heard Volf’s name was in a Church Theology class last term where we studied several significant theologians from various church traditions. Volf is one of Gregg’s favorite professors from Fuller who now teaches at Yale and when he asked if I wanted to go to the conference with them I said a resounding yes but I can’t afford it. One thing led to another and now I’ve been there and back again.

Here I would like to say thanks to my husband for the significant sacrifices he made to our household budget so I could go and to my kids who gave me birthday money to buy a Yale sweatshirt – I got a sweet one! I had a great birthday. My only wish is that my family could have joined us to share it. They missed a sweet piece of chocolate cake at Denny’s.

Volf’s books have opened doors in my head that I thought were closed forever. We read them, “Exclusion and Embrace” and “Free of Charge,” prior to the conference then discussed them while there. Their pages are filled with so many deeply thought out aspects of the church and of God that it’s hard to know how to begin telling about what I learned. Some of what I took away was clinical church stuff (which I find that I enjoy much more than I would have ever expected) while some of it was very deeply personal and spiritually formative. I’m still processing it on several levels so I’ll be making multiple posts as I sift my way through my notes, my head and my heart.

First “Exclusion & Embrace”…

Volf talks largely about our propensity to exclude others based on culture, religion, ethnic background, gender, situated self, etc.. The human self, he writes, is formed “through a complex process of “taking in” and “keeping out.” We are who we are not because we are separate from others who are next to us, but because we are both separate and connected, both distinct and related; the boundaries that mark our identities are both barriers and bridges.” (68) He names exclusion of others a sin and goes on to describe how the cross, God’s arms-open-wide- embrace of humanity on the cross, is our means for being able to do the same. I find myself needing to better understand the deeper theology of the cross.

In the chapter on gender identity, Volf wrote that he starts from the position that men and women are equally saved, equally spirit filled and equally called. I read his chapter about the same time a call came out for Emerging women to arise which was about the same time I was struggling with feelings of being the ugly step-sister at the local clergy club. I’ve rarely felt discriminated against as a woman but Volf’s bold, black and white statement caught my attention because I know this isn’t the position most people, male or female, would profess with their mouths let alone with their lives. And I have had to sort that through, not for myself but for my sisters in Christ outside the Quaker tradition who have been so deeply, deeply wounded by people’s crappy attitudes toward their call to ministry. They are quite often called by God yet too rarely called by mankind. The injustice done these women is an injustice done to humanity on a grand scale and very few people even know about it. They come from all corners of the country with the watermark of discrimination on their spirits, limping along as best they can, given the hedges that men and women alike have put around them in their (our) ignorance.

While Volf didn't touch on gender issues at the conference, it does appear that many of the women who gathered have been deeply wounded by the barriers set round them, keeping them from fulfilling their call.