by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
If Eichmann was a perverted monster, then the trial would have been no big deal.” Instead, Eichmann was “terribly and terrifyingly normal.”
I finishing up reading philosopher Hannah Arendt’s 1961 Jerusalem trial coverage and analysis of Adolph Eichmann’s Nazi crimes against Jews. At the time Jews were outraged at Arendt, a German Jew, because she said Eichmann was a career-climbing clown. Jews wanted Eichmann to be a vile monster, on whom they could pin as much genocide guilt as possible. Arendt thought that if Eichmann was an actual monster then everyone would have thought, “Well, that’s what we all thought. Hang ’em and let’s get on with it.”
Arendt said, “The problem with Eichmann was that so many were like him, that they were neither perverted or sadistic… that they were and still are terribly and terrifyingly normal. This normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”
I am sure Holocaust survivors did not like Arendt casually discounting the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. We have the advantage (or disadvantage) of being removed not 15 years from the Holocaust – like Arendt and her fellow Jews, but nearly 75 years from it. To me, I fear the same thing Arendt feared: “all of us, any of us, you or me – we normal people are capable of tremendously terrifying evil.” Anyone who says different is quite naive about human beings, especially when we gather together into a collective consciousness.
The Jews have experienced anti-Semitism forever. Arendt says hatred and marginalizing was exacerbated because the Jews id not have nation or government ever since 70AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem (more historically accurate would be 135AD, the second sacking of Jerusalem and the entire people). Jews could be “deported” to Auschwitz because they were not true citizens of any nation, nor had their own nation (now they do of course).
Ironic isn’t it that today’s Syrian refugees and Sudanese refugees, and immigrants to America experience the same marginalization and hatred? To be homeless is to be a cast out, or worse hated.
A Word about persecuted Christians…
Though cultured elitists do not like this fact, but the same is true of Christians around the world. According to statistics quoted by Miroslav Volf, at any given moment worldwide 250 million Christians are being persecuted. This is the largest persecuted group in human history. In cultured circles in America, there is distain for Christians in part because of their own fault, or more accurately because a few have notoriously scandalized the overwhelming vast majority of loving Christians. We Christians can deal with that – I hope. But if Christians eventually lose their hegemony (power/influence) in America, will they be persecuted? You can count on it. And this will be even more so for the most Christ-like followers because they understand martyrdom.
And if Arendt has anything to say about it, normal everyday good Americans will do horrible things to Christians, Jews, gays, mentally challenged, people of color, gun owners, etc – and believe they are doing the best thing – just like Eichmann did… a normal everyday husband and father who just happened to orchestrate the genocide of six million people.
“What’s for dinner?”
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Adolph Eichmann was supposed to be this vile evil Nazi monster who personally sent 4.5-6 million European Jews to the death camps. Instead, Hannah Arendt described him as a normal man, unimportant, stupid, uninteresting person, an imbecile. Arendt covered Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Israel. Her observations were published in the New Yorker. From the moment she wrote she was vilified as anti-Semitic. Rabbis denounced her from the pulpit. Hannah Arendt was a former Zionist German Jew (d 1975). She was a philosopher. Arendt was attacked (and still is I hear) by Jews for “normalizing Eichmann” while flippantly attacking the Jewish leadership during World War II. She asked why didn’t the Jews fight back? She suggested the Jewish leadership (the Judenrate) were unwittingly complicit with the Nazis, providing names and locations of Jews, handing over keys to Aryans to move into abandoned apartments, and propagating the story that the Jews were simply being relocated to eastern cities – instead of being sent off to death camps.
But to the point of “banality of evil” here is what she meant
…only good has any depth. Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet and this is its horror! – it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world. Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, (Kindle location 203).
Arendt’s thoughts on the subjects of totalitarianism and evil are relevant today. I have noticed a type of “banality of good” or rather a banality of idealism. Progressives – both secular and Christian – are intolerant of any thought that is not their own. This idealism is actually a strong positioned moralism, if not an intolerant liberal fundamentalism. I believe it comes across “banal” because it cannot “engage itself” with goodness. This is true of all idealistic moral fundamentalism. Think for a moment of the deceased Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas. While it is easy to disagree with Phelps’ anti- gay position, his position was a moral position – an intolerant, judgmental, and righteous stance. Phelps did not call it hateful. We do. He called it “good.”
Modern Progressive political worldview (secular humanism and transcendent/faith/traditional – Charles Taylor’s categories) shows the shift from a) personal sin but a pervasive social moral ambivalence to b) cultural sin and a sinless but “unhealthy” therapeutic self. In other words, everyone agrees that global warming is evil. But each of us keeps driving our cars guilt-free. “It’s not MY sin, global warming is the world’s sin.” Progressivism globalizes evil as anything deemed hegemony (white, male, affluent, Wall Street, European, military, Christian, etc). But Progressivism cannot engage itself – it cannot critique itself because it is a pervasive collective moral consciousness. It sounds like this: “If you are hip, up-to-date, and pluralistic and (wait for it) loving, then you accept all peoples.” Individuals feel empowered by the collective to attack any position or attitude that is not Progressive like them. This is mindless, banal good.
Back to Eichmann. (You’re not going to like my next thought.) Arendt pointed out that Eichmann was a simple idiot. He was not a monster (however, she still wanted him hanged for his crimes – she did not exonerate him). So if Eichmann did not mastermind the Holocaust, then what allowed it to happen? I believe average well-heeled, nice Germans allowed it to happen. A popular collective moral consciousness took over. This means that good normal people can do the most radical harm. I believe Gandhi first said this – “good men do the worst evil.” Arendt believes evil is impersonal, thoughtless, and mindless. Eichmann stated in his defense that he couldn’t be a doctor because he couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Arendt believed him. Eichmann said all he did was calculate how many people could fit into rail boxcars. That’s all he did. He was a mindless bureaucrat crunching numbers. On the first day of the trial, Arendt was flabbergasted that Eichmann has a cold and keep blowing his nose and coughing. He was just a man like anyone else. Banal.
Where am I going with this? Be very very careful Progressives. Would you take a job calculating just how many neo-Nazi skinheads can be shoved in a boxcar? Would you approve to have all sexual abusers castrated? Good can do great evil, yes? I will say this as way of solution: follow Jesus, with exactitude. The “love” of Progressivism is not the same as Jesus’ love. Progressivism’s love is not a better higher, evolved post-Christian love. Once Progressivism detaches from the cross and die-to-self it seeks power (which bureaucratizes) and calls this power a force for good. (Actually, I level this same power-seeking accusation at the Christian right these days, who in my opinion have stepped away from the cross and kenotic God, Phil 2:5-11.)
“Banality of good” might not fit within Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on good and evil. But she is not living in our day. I wish she did. I wonder what she would make of it all. I will continue to dig through her Eichmann In Jerusalem book. My apologies for writing so philosophically. This is where I live these days.
PS: if you want to understand Hannah Arendt more, then watch the 2013 drama, Hannah Arendt.There is also a 2016 documentary, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
If 2017 were a statue we’d tear it down.The past months saw the protest and demolition of Confederate monuments across the nation. They are symbols of oppression. Indeed they are – and yet more. They are symbols of us. America doesn’t understand or value history. We live in “the myth of progress,” and “the age of Authenticity,” to quote current philosophers. Of course only the few draconian violent anti-humanists believe statues of Confederate soldiers and Gen. Robert E. Lee are rally symbols for an ideal “correct past” and the need for a new race war. The rest of us would rather purge history (or at least redact history). I think, however, we fail to learn from history. I am afraid we will repeat history. Old Scrooge did not want to see his past, present, or future. Yet, Charles Dickens used Scrooge’s past-present-future to change how London treated orphans, prisoners, widows, alcoholics, and criminals. British author Os Guinness proposes American educators need a reinvigorated emphasis on history so Americans can reframe their understanding of Freedom, which Guinness thinks has become very very very irresponsible (A Free People’s Suicide, 2012).
Progressive Christians are embarrassed by Christianity’s history – the Crusades and the Inquisition, some disenfranchisement of women and other races. My few progressive Jewish relationships ignore the Bible because of the Jews’ treatment of the Canaanites and the other indigenous peoples who occupied the Promised Land. Understandably, we don’t like it when we are evil. Theologically, we replaced clergy with doctors and therapists, sin with shame and a little bit of “healthy guilt,” and demons with chemical imbalances. But we haven’t solved neurosis and violence. And our prisons are disproportionately filled with black men. The social evolutionary myth of progress responses with “some day in the near future…” all our woes will be overcome with technology and education, while ignoring that the social evolutionary mindset led to Nietzschean ” will to power” and Nazism. We need our history – the good, bad, ugly – and the Bible – good, bad, ugly – so we can learn what not to do. I don’t trust the myth of progress. I’ve seen it lead to despotism and totalitarianism (Communism was based on this myth.)
If 2017 were a statue we’d tear it down. “Let’s forget about cancer, surgeries, statues, racism, sexual assault, tweets, health insurance, KC homocide rates…”
As a pastor, I propose that we need confession – personal but even more so, communal. The village needs confession. Confession recognizes failure. Confession owns up. Confession points the finger at me, you, us. Confession looks down to the ground where we stand and it sees the blood we’ve spilt – Confederate/Union and also down at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue. Confession consolidates the communities guilt, just as Thanksgiving consolidates our blessings. But in the church Confession also Absolves. The myth of progress as no answer for past evil, just an atrocious “Well, we will get better in the future…” which isn’t fully convinced or satisfying.
What did 2017 teach you? Cancer – life is precious and not an entitlement. Debt – simplicity. The political malaise – violence cannot heal. Forgiveness and contrition heals.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you and thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We haven’t loved… the way Jesus loves. We failed to take up our cross. We failed to forgive while hanging on the cross.” The past year goes in the book of life, your life. It adds a page that makes you, the you you are. This cannot be torn down. But it can be prayed. If we do not we will be right back here 365 days from now, hurrying past 2018, trying to tear the statue of 2018.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
If you want to lean into Christmas then sing a song! If you want to lean into tradition, then sing an Antiphon! Sing scripture! Antiphons are short praises that surround a Psalm or another selection of scripture. They are like bookends for the text. Everyone says or sings the antiphon before and repeats it after the Psalm. Antiphons help everyone “sync up” with the singing key, the timing, and sometimes balance a Psalm, a prayer, that is angry, violent, or obscure to us because it’s about the Hebrew Temple rites; or an Antiphon “corrects” a passage of scripture by bringing it in line with our lives and times, and the season – in this case, Christmas. Antiphons make sure the people praise God while they sing scripture. And – antiphons can be very beautiful.
Several Lakelanders were at Conception Abbey last weekend for Gen 5 retreat, and most of us pray with the monks during their Divine Hours (the daily office of chanting the Psalms five times a day). Before dinner the monks pray Vespers (comes from the old or middle English, “Venus,” the appearance of the Evening Star), and after several Psalms are prayed, the monks sing Mary’s Song, the Magnificat (Latin for the first words of the Song, “O Magnify…”):
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever. (Lk 1:46-55)
We asked the question, “Why do the prayers change on December 17th?” Beginning December 17, the Catholic church gets serious about Christ’s coming. The have seven Antiphons. Each one begins with “O”:
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
—From Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers
Look at the Christmas themes for each day: 17th Wisdom of God in the Old Testament (Proverbs), 18th the Law of Moses, 19th Jesus’ ancestors – Jesse, King David’s father… Jesus!, 20th Key – unlocks the gates of Hell (so to speak), 21st the Dawn, the light has come!, 22nd Christ, King of human meaning, 23rd “Emmanuel” which means “God save us.” We Protestants can be serious about preparing for Christmas too.
This would make a nice table decoration, or mantle decoration: have the kids think up icons or symbols for each theme: Wisdom, Ten Commandments (Law), Promise (lineage), Key, Dawn, King, and Salvation. Can you think of symbols to decorate a centerpiece? How about a paper chain, one link for each? Or here’s an idea: play the Magnificat during dinner or in the evening. Here’s some songs…
Chris Lea & Micah Burdick, The Magnificat (Mary’s Song) Lakeland Community Church
The Magnificat (Mary’s Song)
The Brilliance, Mary’s Lullaby – off the Advent vol. 2 album
Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings, The Magnificat – Songs from Jacob’s Well, Vol. 1 album
BTW, the feature image is Matisse. I took this photo in the Vatican last month. Matisse always erased and erased and erased – look for his erasure lines in this huge cartoon of Mary and infant Jesus.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
What are you reading these days? Christians should be the smartest most educated people on the planet. We must because we are missional – we are called to change the planet, to bring peace, generosity, sacrifice, reconciliation, understanding, and love. We are called to prepare all people’s of the earth for the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. If prepared properly each person on the planet will exclaim, “This is what I dreamed about my entire life… peace, wholeness, success, fulfillment, and flourishing.” Books help transform the mind. Reading broadens our vision. Books give us knowledge, and reflection makes us wise.
The book I have begun to write is about the biblical exodus journey as metaphor of the human journey. (1st) Everyone begins in a comfortable slavery in Egypt. (2nd) We escape through a Red Sea, a baptism of sorts, and find ourselves not at home or in the Promised Land but in a desert wilderness, lost, angry, complaining, confused, and stuck. (3rd) If we persevere and rediscover God, then we arrive at the East bank of the Jordan river waiting to crossover into a land where we must “wait for rain from heaven” (Deuteronomy 11:11).
Not only is this three stage journey the journey of everyone’s life, but this is how we mature in prayer. Everyone prays. Atheists pray. Regardless of whether or not a person believes in God or not has nothing to do with the (ontological) reality of God and their relationship or belief that a relationship with God is impossible or a moot point. In Egypt the Hebrews had only a distant myth of YHWH (the Lord). In the desert they complained about God and attempted to renounce God. They didn’t really talk directly with God – they argued with Moses, the blamed God through Moses. The Hebrews found themselves in a strange place, a wilderness where they desired God and yet rejected God, and where God desired the Hebrews, but rejected them. Read Numbers chapter 11, aptly named, because the Hebrew people were bankrupt! Finally, through crisis they learn to wait for rain from heaven. All of us must eventually grow silent and wait. Silence is the first language of heaven. And we have to learn this language if we want to be citizens of heaven now and in the future.
My book is for Lakelanders. It is for those who are willing to reflect on this Egypt- Desert-Promised Land journey. The book is a description of the traditional spirituality of the early Christians as prescriptive for us today. Categorically the book is located in the “Christian Spirituality” section at the bookstore – if there are any bookstores left. It will take me a year or more to accomplish this book, and I will have to see if any publisher will pick it up. Doesn’t matter really. We will use it as the basis for our contemplative retreating at Lakeland. Lakeland has a discipleship pathway called Milestones, and this book is the curriculum for the “Inward Journey” Milestone.
All the sirs or madams can read my book, it took me years to write, won’t you have a look?
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I wasn’t expecting this tour while on sabbatical. I arrived Sunday evening in Pasadena for a Doctorate of Ministry audit course. I like to take weeklong intensive graduate courses in theology, ministry, leadership, spirituality – just about anything. It forces me to hear God differently, helps me get out of my own head. I think this is what conferences, workshops, and courses are supposed to do for us. I love to go to Pasadena, Fuller Theological Seminary, where I earned my Masters and studied to become an ordained minister. It was there I was called to start a church. It was at Fuller that the rest of my life was set, unbeknownst to me 27 years ago.
Like I said, I wasn’t expecting what happened to me. I checked in to the Fuller Guest Center and then jumped in the rental car and made a beeline to In-N-Out Burger. As I sat outside with my #1 Double Double, the sun was setting over the Pacific and the California sun was glowing through the palm trees, I thought, “Hey I gotta drive up to Midlothian Street and see where Laurie and I used to live. In 1990 we rented a two-room pool shack behind a mansion up the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains. It is a very upper crust neighborhood.
As I drove up San Gabriel Avenue, which I had done hundreds of times back in the early 90s I was overwhelmed with a single feeling. It was the feeling of innocence. I was thirty years old. I quit my job in marketing, and became a student again. I am not a great student, so the whole grad school thing was very scary. But I felt called by God to full-time ministry. I was advised by my Overland Park pastor to go earn my Master of Divinity for in-depth Bible study, Hebrew, Greek, theology, history, and pastoral ministry. So I went to Fuller. At the time life was at its full potential. Everything was open to me. I wasn’t a pastor. No church. Let it be said, I was outright cocky. I thought I knew better than all those other church leaders. It showed too. In the middle of class the professor pointed to my friend John and I said, “…and especially you two young turks!”
But now, I don’t feel so “young turk.” Maybe your average church-goers don’t know it but ministry can suck the life out of pastors. I thought I’d get better and better at dealing with people, managing my anger, becoming more patient… and perhaps many pastors do get better at managing human nature. All the books I’ve read on ministry however say otherwise. Burnout happens with great predictability in ministry. That evening driving though my old neighborhood I could viscerally sense innocence. In that moment I could have “essenced” innocence, like some essential therapeutic oil. Man, the money I could make selling “essence of innocence” to pastors, doctors, nurses, EMTs, therapists, teachers – any professional Helpers.
I’ve never said it before, but over the years I have felt like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Frodo Baggins at the end of the tale: Frodo saved the Shire, but not for him. Like fictional Frodo, I’ve been to hell and back… I know too much. I have seen too many crises, too much pain, heartbreak, and grief. I’ve seen joy and celebration and life defining moments in people’s lives, weddings, birthdays, births, baptisms, confessions, and funerals – yes, funerals, which are often times greater than all the other life moments. As Dostoevsky’s innocent Prince Mishkin phrased it, “Beauty will save the world” but beauty comes in all shades of joy and sadness like music, some of our most meaningful songs are melancholic ballads, like Don Mclean’s American Pie, or even Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt – or even Jesus’ very real nine inch nails. The cross of Jesus was the real tragic beauty that saved the world, Alleluia.
For a brief moment I returned to innocence. But I knew I could not hold on to innocence forever. Too much dwelling on the past is a dangerous pitfall. The desert fathers of the 4th century Egyptian Christian monastic spirituality warned against monks spending too much time with “memories.” From the Greek it’s called “logismoi,” the mind ruminating too long on the past, and becoming stuck in woulda, shoulda, coulda. All “shoulds” are the voice of someone else. “Wants” are our own voice of real desires. Less “shoulds” and more “wants.” I don’t want to get stuck longing for a past age of innocence. We’ve all seen a person or a family attempt to hang on to a deceased loved one too long. They get stuck.
Life brings unbidden scars. Our scars are how we define our life. Scars of cumulative. We gather them to together and they tell the tale of our lives. But we have to live in “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade said. Every moment is gathered up to make a life. And if we are spiritually healthy enough we can make sense of it all. We are like Jacob’s young son Joseph, who told his brothers who didn’t like him and sold him into slavery as a boy, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).
Still, I believe it is necessary to make a journey, return like a pilgrim into your own past, to attempt to make sense of it all. Locations really help. So, go visit your hometown, visit your grandparents gravestones, drive to your childhood home, look through a family photo album with your kids. Gather and release. Beauty will save the world. My life it beautiful. Your life is beautiful. All of it.
SABBATICAL JOURNEY #3: MY RETURN TO LAKELAND THROUGH FIVE TOURS #3: LUTHER, CALVIN REFORMATION REVISITED
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
…a gigantic blood sucking worm… insatiable corn weevil… devours piles of fruit surrounded by many fellow gluttons, who first suck out our blood and then consume our flesh, and now seek to grind our bones and devour all that is left of us,
the Germany reformer Ulrich von Hutten wrote in 1520, attacking the papacy, the Roman Catholic Church (187). Those Reformers were not kind in any shape or form toward the Roman church. I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’ latest biography called Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. I think the title is a bit much, but then again Metaxas is a bit much. Metaxas biographed William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace of the film fame, and Metaxas authored a popular biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas is the celebrity biographer right now (just Google YouTube him – you’ll see Oprah written all over him). Metaxas appears to be a darling of the conservative Christian – so I like him. But since I look at such things as a scholar and a Reformed pastor, Metaxas is a bit much for me. I mean, I wouldn’t say Martin Luther singlehandedly changed the world. There were plenty of other Reformers before, during, and after Luther who did a lot to bring about the Protestant Reformation. Heck, the advent of the printing press alone made Luther a celebrity! Okay, enough – here’s how I took this Reformed theology tour during sabbatical.
I knew Laurie and I would be traveling to the epicenter of Catholicism, the Vatican. I knew I’d be inundated with all things Catholic. So I must have subconsciously sought out something to counterbalance this trip to the Vatican with some of my own roots, Calvinism. I bought and read (and listened to) Metaxas’ Luther. Sure enough, we arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica and it – is – spectacular. It’s bucket list phenom – an item for everyone in the world to visit. Why even attempt to describe it? Just go. But I tell you now: you will ask the most immediate glaring question: “Who the heck paid for all this?” The answer comes back ‘all of Europe in the early 1500s.’ Pope Leo X had Dominican friar Johannes Tetzel out pounding the pavement all over Germany (Luther’s home state) selling indulgences, who famously preached
As soon as a coin in the coffer rings / the soul from purgatory springs!
Yep, the Catholic church financed all that splendid art, church, and living by selling indulgences to German peasants who thought they could get their dead relatives out of limbo with money. But because of Luther Germany wasn’t buying it. People could see through it.
Here’s a fun indulgences tale… A nobleman goes to Tetzel and asks if it is feasible to buy an indulgence for a future sin. Focused only on the nobleman’s money, Tetzel says sure. So the nobleman buys the indulgence for a future sin. That night Tetzel makes his way to the next town but he’s waylaid and robbed. The robber is the nobleman. He explains, “This is the future sin I bought the indulgence for.”
Still, at that time Europe believed in the supreme power of the church to say who goes to hell and who doesn’t. The church and government were one. We just don’t get this today. Also, we don’t understand the late Medieval worldview. At that time people lived in a thoroughly enchanted world. All spirits, good and bad, were very real to them. The physical world was not so real to them. I know that sounds impossible, so you will just have to pull this mental trick on yourself to get it: just imagine that the material world is the spiritual world, and the spiritual world is the material world.Can you do this? It’s difficult. For them it was easy – spiritual was far more secure than the material world. Why? Life was hard. Life expectancy was short. The Plague showed up regularly every couple of years. And remember, nobody believed in germs until about 1885!!! The spirit world seemed more real than this flimsy thin brief material world.
Anyway, indulgences worked well until Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door. The Theses condemned indulgences and said they were not scriptural. But, nobody had a Bible. Nobody read the Bible. Pope Leo X didn’t read the Bible (he just bought the papacy). Luther did because he was doctor of the church, a professor, a good Augustinian monk. And he was super bright. Luther’s Theses opened up criticism of the Catholic church. The Reformation asked questions: (a) what has ultimate authority? Pope or Bible? (b) how does someone get to heaven? Indulgences/works or grace from God? (c) do people need intermediaries between God and them or not? (priests) (d) What’s a sacrament? Magic or symbol?
As I mentioned yesterday, you can see the beginning here of the autonomous private individual.Salvation now could be “personal.” An individual can vote! A commoner can be elected to office. Anyone can preach. Common folk can handle the sacraments – bread and wine. People can now read for themselves. Everyone gets an education. People are judged by their peers. Science, technology, and education are the new means to a glorious future (“material” heaven).
I hang out with Benedictine monks. They are Catholic too. Lakeland has (ex??)Catholics. I like Catholics. I don’t see any of the abuses of Luther’s time with the Catholics I know. Still, I won’t become Catholic. I just don’t own the culture. While I like the “sacramental imagination” that the Americans crave so much (…and why do you like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter books/films?), it is actually that whiff of rigidity I am suspect of. Of course Protestantism has legalism too, and I don’t like that either.
Legalism doesn’t care what the Creed or the doctrinal statement says. Every Catholic I’ve met believes in salvation by grace alone. God saves us, we don’t work our way to heaven. And the Protestant legalists say the same exact thing. But then they have their “boundary markers.” You have to use the King James version of the Bible; cussing bad, PG-13 film is wrong, political parties are either good or bad, you’re either pro-military or pacifist… tattoos, kind of car you drive, homeschool, private or public school… you get the picture. No wonder legalists have to reduce salvation down to an isolated, hypothetical, theological, biblical belief statement. If salvation is only a mental construct, then that allows you have all kinds of legalistic, moralistic boundary markers, which are the REAL “who’s in and who’s out” signs of salvation. And just to throw secularists under a bus too, these days the politically correct ethos has a moral code you have to subscribe to or – you’re just not “loving.” Intolerance of intolerance is still stiff moralism.
The Reformation freed the church from crushing abuses, legalism, and a works-righteousness that was so dominate in the 16th century. Why does human nature like to return to this black and white legalism? It feels safe and it’s easy to understand. It tells adherents who’s a friend and who’s an enemy (tribalism). Also, rule-based faith allows the Christian to stay in control. Moralists don’t need a relationship with God. They have rules! As Dallas Willard phrased it, “We’ve become vampire Christians. We just want Jesus’ blood.” Because then we can create whatever other hoops to jump through that we want. Rules or cheap grace – they are both void of a divine relationship. This kills the Christian faith. And I think that is a lot of where American evangelicalism is at these days. I return to Lakeland keen on challenging this.
What if the way forward for evangelical Christians was to set aside all the stuff the Reformation worked so hard for?
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I return to Lakeland the first week of December. During Sabbatical I went through five “tours.” Here they are in short chronological order: 1 Politics 2 Fallen Empires 3 Calvinism 4 Pasadena 5 Writer. I will just handle one per blog entry. Here’s the first one.
First (1), I took a political journey in my soul. I remodeled my home office after 22 years, and while I did the carpentry work I thought about politics. It is so easy to be washed over and rolled in the political surf these days. Everyone’s tired of it, and yet can’t stop thinking about it. The liberal/conservative divide has widened as measured by a recent Pew Research article. This is nothing new to anyone. But here’s a sabbatical journey thought of mine: I am not convinced both sides want to FORCE the other side to believe like them as much as both sides want to be one united nation. Deep within the American idea is that we want to be ONE. And we are upset with each other and ourselves because we can’t seem to be ONE. We may say we value the right to free speech and that we may “fight for your right to say it” (Thomas Paine), but human nature wants the tribe to be unified. And we are upset because our divide is greater these days.
Here is what you may not know about me: Jesus ruined my conservative core values. (“You’re conservative?”) Lakelanders, if you want to discuss it with me then let’s get together. I’ve preached it and taught this over the years. I’ve gotten in trouble from both of you, conservative and liberal political adherents. Blame Jesus, here’s my primary change in my conservative core (and by conservative I really do not mean politics; I mean worldview). I no longer believer in the primacy of the autonomous private individual. Sounds fancy, huh? This means I don’t think salvation, church, heaven, politics, family, marriage, money, property, and morals are private matters. Help me out with a bit of ad hoc research if you can: Tweet me a bumpersticker that includes CHURCH in its list of values. I see plenty of “God-Family-Fishing,” “God-Family-Guns,” “Faith-Family-Friends,” “Jesus-Family-My Dog…” bumperstickers. But I have yet to find one that includes Church.
I have heard it over the decades, and I do not know who first stated it, but the conservative mind considers the individual primary; and the liberal mind considers the group primary. Both MINDS shaped the founders of America. Jefferson and Adams were well-versed in the opposing philosophical views of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which BOTH heavily influenced the shaping of America. Google them.
Anyway, my political tour did not change my mind, but just amplified what Jesus taught me: Matthew 4:4 “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” As a conservative I thought it was all about the individual – me and my bread, my salvation, my money, my kids, my house, my car… We even read the words of Jesus as though it was written to private single individuals. Everything I see in scripture is about the community, the church, the communion of saints. Here’s the ONENESS deal-sealer from Paul:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4
One everybody. Not you. Not me. Us. You ain’t no autonomous private individual Christian!Thomas Merton said, “No man goes to heaven all by himself.” Can you buy into that? The Lord’s Table is a single loaf and single cup shared by an entire community of believers, gathered under the Faith Creed of the church. I used to think church was optional. Then decades ago I read about the man who won his US Supreme Court case, deciding that he was a church all until himself (he didn’t want to work on Sundays, so he sued his employer on the grounds that he is a church of one – he didn’t go to church however). Maybe I began to change my mind way back then.
But I really began to change my opinion after I started Lakeland and people just left the church, like they had decided it wasn’t right for them. Either I ticked them off, or I didn’t grab their attention, or I didn’t care enough – any of a dozen perceived failures on my part or someone else at Lakeland. I began to ask, “Well if anyone can just leave whenever they feel like it, then what’s the point of Church?” Bumperstickers tell all. Church doesn’t make the short list – and it sure won’t make it on a liberal automobile’s bumper as well. But this “private faith/private church” thing goes all the way back 500 years to the Reformation and the Renaissance. And I will explain that on “tour #2, Fallen Empires.”
To wrap this up, take this quiz. The quiz question is this: “What parts of life does Jesus have say-so over?”
Money? Family? Gun ownership? How I vote? Faith? Prayer? Sex? Food? Tattoos? Household possessions (sofas, style of car/truck, shoes, lawnmower, haircare…)? eating out? charitable giving? cell phone conversation? Comments-I-choose-to-respond-to-blogs?
Now, same quiz but simply change the Question to “What parts of life does Church have say-so over?” That’s your bumpersticker.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I have been on sabbatical since August 1, and it ends December 1. Sabbatical is not a fancy name for a big vacation. Whether a sabbatical is academic, executive, or ministry it is a journey in three movements. First, one must Rest – wipe the slate clean of work. I recommend an immediate change of venue – get out of town. Go do something fun and refreshing. Forget about work. Second, one must Re-Create. Not “recreation,” that’s the first movement. No, Re-Create means one must seek new and challenging voices. One might begin going to a counselor, spiritual director, enroll in a course, or go on a pilgrimage to NorthUmbria UK and make retreat for example. Third, a sabbatical journey points toward Rassle – or “wrestling” with one’s demons, baggage, misperception of God, the world, and mostly self. This is the hard work of a spiritual sabbatical. This wrestling is Jesus entering the wilderness for forty days. Wrestling is Jacob wrestling with the Lord all night, and in the end receiving a new name and a displaced hip.
Wrestling with God always involves receiving an “unbidden new identity.” It has to be unbidden because one cannot control or manipulate the Holy Spirit. One cannot demand something from God. One must wait for God like Elijah waiting for the still small voice of the unknown G-d. No one ever receives a new identity without some kind of crisis. And any diligent pursuit of God will eventually bring the pilgrim to crisis.
My sabbatical is showing features of this three-movement journey (Rest, Re-Create, Rassle). Laurie and I went to London and Italy this month. I have many thoughts about this trip – mostly pastor/scholar nerd thoughts. First, it was a journey of exploring failed empires. In London you can see many buildings and statutes of the British Empire’s glory days – Trafalgar Square, Lord Nelson, Buckingham Palace and on. The British Empire began to fall apart around 1897 after the Second Boer War. Britain was then bankrupted by WWI. I ponder if America is beginning it’s decline as an empire.
Then we traveled to Florence, Italy. Here in Tuscany one can see the remains of the great city-states like Sienna and Florence (1500s)… castles, palaces, basilicas, and gold – lots of gold. The Medici family invented banking and grew fabulously wealthy. They bought Popes and armies. They must have eaten gold for breakfast. But they eventually were overrun. Wealth and affluence suffocates a people.
Then we traveled to Rome and saw the ruins of the Roman Empire. We stood in the foundations of once huge palaces of the Roman Senators and Caesars. We toured the Colosseum, the arches, the Forum, the temples, the Pantheon… “all glory is fleeting.” We spent a lot of time in great churches, including the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. We toured the Vatican Museum and sat in the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s frescos surrounding us.
All three empires crisscrossed Christianity and wove the faith into their destinies. From Constantine’s edict to allow Christianity in the Roman Empire to Oxford and the spot where the English Reformer Bishops Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake in a fire so large it burned down the surrounding buildings – there was Christianity.
The Europe trip accomplished (in part) sabbatical movements one and two for me: Rest and Re-Create. I can sum up much of my thoughts about Europe and my faith by stating “I do not wish to become Catholic.” And I will just leave it at that. Since coming home I have been poring over 1) the Medici family 2) reading a new biography of Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas. going wiki-link crazy chasing down everything Luther meant by “conscience” when he said at the Diet at Worms
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
When Luther used the word conscience he did not conceive of it as “personal opinion” or something private and original like we use the word today. He meant that God and the Scriptures are stating something that is true that he has no choice but to obey. Luther and his times had no concept of an individual forming their own opinion about God and the universe. No one would have ever said about the church, “We’re leaving.” And if you think this is perhaps irrelevant today then just toss the Gay/Lesbian morality debate into the ring and see where it takes you.
Then next (3), I have been revisiting and reviewing the debate between John Piper and N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. This is probably the biggest theological issue for the 21st century so far (within Protestantism). This is still a big deal and it has everything to do with how one understands sin, justification, “imputed righteousness,” atonement, and Paul’s understanding of “what is the purpose of Christ’s cross?” I wish every Lakelander would read about this debate. Probably only a handful of Lakelanders understand how influential this debate is around our church. But it is woven into our church’s DNA.
Finally, in November I have a doctoral class I am auditing. It’s at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. The instructor is Chuck DeGroat and I am thoroughly enjoying his book. I have about eight books to read I think. So that’s breathing down my neck. The class is about spirituality in the church. So that’s in my wheelhouse and should be engaging.
Also, I have been working on my book but mostly with reading and organizing. Writing will come soon.
Last thought… I am beginning to picture what it looks like to return to Lakeland. I am formulating some goals and objectives. I have some ideas. More on that when I have more on that.
by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us. – Abba Anthony, B. Ward, Sayings… 1984, 6.
Last month I entered sabbatical in a good place – not burned out, not frustrated, or angry. I decided it was time to clean out my hoarder-office at home after 23 years of just piling more junk upon crapola. Doctoral studies added about 150 more books, which laid in jumbled rows on the carpet because the bookshelves were full. So I moved everything out, tore out the original builder’s carpet, and tiled the floor; drywalled, electrical, repainted and embarked on making additional bookcases – yep, real live cabinetry-craftsmanship-cussing-Jesus-was-a-carpenter-there-goes-my-finger endeavor.
Then the madness set in. The few news feeds I pay attention to rolled through my head as I spread thin-set mortar, while the drops of sweat dripped and my flesh was eaten off my knees and hands. I thought about Anthony’s words above, that each political faction calls their fellow human “fool” (“raca” according to Jesus, and liable to the fires of hell, Mt 5;22). I thought about how many recent times I’ve heard a sentence begin with “I can’t believe you’d…” and I pondered exactly what that literally means. I still cannot figure out how those words make for an effective argument. (At least it’s an “I-statement!”) But it sounds shrill, and “shrill” is what the Liberal voices sound like to me – like a flock of starlings. The Conservative voices just sound bombastic and arrogant – like croaking frogs around a swamp. I pondered what my long-gone WWII mother and father would have to say today about the country. I finally guessed they’d say we are a bunch of whiner-babies. My old Baptist-salesman-sailor-filterless-Camels Dad would probably say, “Shut the hell up, and get off your butt and get to work!” Makes sense to me… set the tiles. Grout.
While tiling, drywalling, painting, and sawing I found myself arguing with people who are not there. As Henri Nouwen stated, “I give long, hostile speeches to my enemies…” and I always win in which I finally say to them ‘I can’t believe you don’t see the obvious! Raca!’ (Nouwen, The Way…1991, 18). I indulged my anger and took my arguments to bed and lost sleep. Meanwhile, my hands and arms have become numb and on fire, especially at night. I have something wrong with me. It’s called ‘getting old.’
Jesus was a carpenter’s son, and scholars assume Jesus was a carpenter. If so, then he sure had a lot of time to ponder his soul and the condition of the world around him. Carpentry forms the soul as long as you do it in pure silence without Lynyrd Skynrd’s Freebird playing ad nauseam in the background. Also, cabinetmaking is full of mistakes. It requires grace for one’s self. And it requires one to say to one’s self, “That’ll have to do” and “That doesn’t show, no one will see it.” If we don’t have grace for ourselves then we fall into self-loathing, and that comes out as judgmentalism. I took my son to get him started on contacts. He has had a difficult time getting the contacts on his eyeballs. I said something like, “Huh, I never thought it was hard to do. I did it the first time.” To which he snarked back, “Yeah right Dad, you’re perfect.” My son and cabinet-making tell me I am not perfect. Just judgmental. Cabinetmaking is full of self-evaluation, self-judgment, and a fair amount of nice satisfaction. But mostly cabinetmaking is a time of recognizing and challenging the voices of the false-self.
Our world offers hardly any time and space for self-reflection. There is no place for sabbath, sabbatical, or silence. The results are all around us. Now we all stare at small glowing glass screens of blue, and it causes our brains to ache and be irritated and frustrated. Current technology habit is poison for the soul. (See Feb 17, 2017 blog post for research refs).
Sabbatical is a time of self-reflection. My paradigm for sabbatical is the same for all my teaching on contemplative spirituality: first you REST, then you RE-CREATE, then you “RASSLE.” First, check out and get away from church and work – I failed. I should have got out of town and and done something fun and distracting so I could wash my brain clean of ministry. Instead I did exactly what I tell others NOT to do: paint the house. This “wax-on, wax-off” rhythm of home repairs and improvements provides too much soul-rummaging too soon. Doing home repairs during sabbatical is an “ought-to” and a “should,” and those are voices from outside of ourselves – those are others’ voices. Expectations usually make us feel trapped. Trapped makes us feel anger.
Next, RE-CREATE does not mean recreation. like ‘go have fun.’ RE-CREATE means something more intentional, like learn how to make pottery, or go for a mountain hike. I haven’t gotten there yet. But Laurie and I are going to Italy and I think I may drive out to Phoenix. And I have signed up for a doctoral course at my old alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, which I love so much.
Lastly, RASSLE means wrestle with God or rather “g-d,” the unknown, un-namable GOD. Jacob wrestles with the LORD all night. Jacob asks the LORD for his name and gets no answer. Instead, Jacob gets a new name: Israel, which means ‘one who wrestles with g-d’ (Gen 32 and 35). The third movement of the spiritual life is wrestling with God and receiving a new identity, a new name like Jesus renaming Simon as Peter the Rock, who was once just plain ol’ Simon the fisherman. Oh, and don’t forget that in addition to receiving a new name, you also get your hip permanently put out of socket. (Begin your Yiddish accent here) “So thank you so much! While you’re at it why don’t you squirt some lemon juice in my paper cut!) (End Yiddish). New name AND you limp for the rest of your life. That’s the sabbatical journey, that’s what it looks like to encounter g-d throughout our lives. Anybody who tells you different is selling something.
The goal of the Christian life is not prophesy, people, productivity, or profit, it is God. But first we have to go through years of anger, arguing, chaos, competition, compulsions until there is no longer any fight left in us. My doctoral thesis states that the what happened to the desert fathers in the 4th century is that they fled from the sinful world out into the Egyptian desert, only to find their own demons within themselves. In other words, they thought “sin” was out there in the world. They thought they would just “put on Christ” like Paul says we should do (Col 3:9-11; and also Gal 3:27; Eph 4:24). Okay, then stop being angry – got it? Okay, now stop being judgmental – got it? Okay, now start being generous, loving, kind, compassionate, and perfect. We cannot only think our way into Christian living. We have to take the inward journey, and rassle with the unknown g-d. Few are willing to take this journey. And we all pay for it. Starlings and frogs, Simon’s and Jacob’s.
Tile’s done. Drywall, electricity, painting – done. The bookcases turned out good enough. My new office shelves are 80% full and I still have 16 boxes of junk sitting around the house that came out of my office. I’m angry because I don’t feel like sorting through junk. All this junk is “my precious,” or my identity, my Self. Throwing it away is an act of downward decent. I resist and that’s why I am cranky (in part).
Maybe I will make another sabbatical journey entry – maybe not. It may be a sign of health instead of madness if I keep my mouth shut! It will mean I am at rest and feel no need to justify or validate my false self. We will see.