Tuesday, August 15, 2017

God's Reign = Action

I have been focusing on forgiveness these last few installments.  This is not only because I have learned about forgiveness within the larger framing of the approaching nearness of God's reign -- thank you Martin Smith -- but also because I have also learned how we need to continually practice forgiveness on lots of levels within the web of relationships of our day-to-day lives.  

The biggest piece of my learning has been to understand the limitations of a transactional approach to forgiving.  When Jesus talks about loving our enemies he criticizes an easy tit-for-tat balancing within safe circles.  He says "Even the gentiles do that." (Matthew 5:47) and by that clearly intends for us to do more.  

Loving one's enemies is "kingdom work."  It relies on an authority larger than our enclosed circles and requires much more than a "settled accounts" stasis.  

Just as important as the scope in this reading is our recognizing that forgiveness -- principle among those actions that could be construed as loving one's enemies -- must be something done.  It requires action.  

Because it is an action involving another it will have all the appearance of being only transactional.  It will have the initiating approach of the petitioner necessarily coupled with the returning and confirming response of the one being petitioned.  Like any transaction "I'm sorry/I forgive you" it risks being understood as finished too soon and portrayed as discrete and specific to the shared interests of the two parties.  Done!

Action is required and because we are creatures of time and space action it is required again, and again, and again.

This reminds me of a conversation I had at seminary about the word torah/תּוֹרָה.  Our contemporary use is to understand the word as a noun depicting the collection of texts in the first five books of the Bible and to summarize them as largely of or about a set of rules or laws.  

This is understandable because a centerpiece story in that collection is the handing of the ten commandments to Moses.  What was interesting to learn then was that the word Torah/תּוֹרָה is built on a verb ירה which means to teach. 

The characteristics I am applying to forgiveness are at work here.  Faithful living whether determined by ancient Hebrew standards or a more contemporary Christian practice calls us to continual action.

Whether it is one discrete transaction after another, cascading or expanding into an ever widening circle or it is an aroused response of love for others begun and made near to us in God's ever approaching love of us "kingdom work" requires action!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Forgiven-ness begets forgiving-ness

There is a way to talk about the reign of God that helps to name forgiveness as of God from the beginning but even now continuously begging our practice.  The phrase is "already and not yet."

First let's not get stymied by a typical “both/and” of “Anglican comprehensiveness" in allowing two seemingly contradictory categories to coexist.  It is not a cop-out.

The possibility of human forgiveness is grounded in God and we must admit that priority. Knowing human tendencies, we are wise to be cautious about this truth to avoid presumption or taking this gift for granted.

This priority is not like an abstract argument waiting to be articulated but more like a reality entirely caught up in who God is as the "ground of our being."

You can say that we are born into forgiven-ness.  Still cautious but infinitely graced.

That's the already-ness of forgiveness as a priority from the reign of God.

But there is also a "not yet" to the reign of God because God honors our world of time and space and ". . . the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

So we revel and celebrate the life of Jesus with all the questions that come in making sense of the fullness of his divinity and his humanity; what did he know and when did he know it?

Another marvel is in imagining the timing and activity of his forgiving.  No matter what you say about it's already-ness Jesus dispensed forgiveness early and often like advertising for what was to come. 

He never withheld it but his forgiving also did not presume or rush ahead.  It waited on the moments it was given to be beckoned by creatures like us and with his pronouncements then he made the world a better place.

Forgiving-ness does not presume but waits on us as well, not only for our confessions but just as much on our pronouncements.

As much as we must stay cautious so as not to take God's on-the-ground gift for granted we must also not avoid our own part in incarnating God's gift.  Jesus showed us how. He remembered from where the gift came and he gave it away.  "As the Father has loved me so I have loved you, abide in my love." John 15:9

When we forget or presume we slip into that "transactional" version of forgiveness I wrote about last week.  We become imposters who misunderstand from where all this grace comes and measure out deals, keep accounts, punish and seldom if ever forget, "only forgiv[ing] as much as our broken human frames can hold and release.

Now instead of ledgers and grudges, shame and offenses we can do even more out of gratitude for what God has already done and there's one less "not-yet" moment in God's reign.

God's reign is "already" and we are forgiven.  God's reign is "not yet" and so we can do the forgiving.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Voluntary Forgiveness

I'm still in that reverie and marvel at what it means that the "reign of God is upon us." Thanks to so many good sources: Martin Smith, Paul Tillich, Diana Butler Bass and their lively coupling with our lectionary's guidance through Matthew's middle chapters the reverie is deep and electric.

There is another source for my musings that I must acknowledge. 

My life with you this past year. 

This starts a smidge confessional so read with me -- all the way through but -- gently. 

Last summer was not easy.  My relationships with people I love were a mess.  I was still stuck in the quagmire of being until August 12, not-yet-divorced.  I was dragging along a mortgage on a house I wasn't living in.  I had to change therapists. 

For the most part I got through those challenges, just not without lots of help. The help came in two forms mostly: volunteerism and forgiveness.  Lots of you stepped up and added yourselves to the labors.  Just as many of you forgave me on the front end of my sabbatical and made it available to me in exactly the way I needed. 

When I got back to Athens after my trip to Yellowstone my accident pushed on us all.  By being both a distraction and an inhibitor it made much of what should have happened in September and later hard and in some cases impossible to do.  More volunteerism and more forgiveness needed. 

My immobility quieted my life.  There was still an air of forgiveness and still people stepping up.  We walked through what was left of the year.  I didn't run.  We didn't run.

There's another reason my world shrank.  I was miscalculating forgiveness and volunteerism.  I was measuring them transactionally.  Afraid to ask for help, afraid to take risks, afraid to move forward because I couldn't afford to pay it back.  I took on a few things but still didn't look ahead with any confidence or courage.

That brought a fresh round of setbacks.  Mostly private and personal but still restrictive.  Still inhibiting. 

Something happened.  Maybe it was related to my house finally selling.  I really can't say but it feels like a seed was planted. 

Now our attention is much more forward focused.  We can plan, we can even imagine running.  Guess who gets to come along from those old days?  Forgiveness and volunteerism.

I understand them both now as dynamic realities begun in the presence of God.  Forgiveness means trusting God's love enough to pursue healing instead of presuming to do God's work by punishing others. It is no longer a transactional housekeeping of rights and wrongs, of debts and favors.  It is a faithful and constant response to the "reign of God [being] upon us."

Otherwise we can only forgive as much as our broken human frames can hold and release. Otherwise we "keep" track of scores and never really let go of the past. 

That happens when our worlds shrink and we forget that God is with us.  It happens when we hurt and are fatigued in our disappointment.  We just want to quit and start new accounts where there is not yet a demand for our accommodations.  Some people leave church.

Volunteerism is similarly affected.  We just don't show up and we look for benefits for ourselves before others. 

Both expand when placed into the hands of God.  Both become tools for saying thank you to God for being present with us.

Like many of the truths in my life these apply both corporately and personally.  It only hurts when I am or others are stuck in "transaction mode."  Still keeping score the old fashioned way.

But God is with us and forgiveness is our admitting to the effect of that nearness of God's kingdom.  Without it our accounts are always in danger of being overdrawn and we cannot truly move forward. 

With it?  We can forgive beyond our hoping, we can step up for each other and help each move into that future where God awaits us.  
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