AP photo/ Jeffrey Phelps
Here is a link to an article I wrote for the Theopolis Institute about the 2016 Milwaukee riots. The link to that article can be found here.
Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation, justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.
I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. (I John 2:26)
I am the true vine, and my Father is the winegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. ...Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:1-6)
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. They are from the world...and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, "The Lord will surely separate me from his people."And do not let the eunuch say, "I am just a dry tree."
For thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."
Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel: "I will gather others to them besides those already gathered." (Isa. 56:3-5, 8)
Some philosophers, like Jacques Derrida, say that hospitality must be absolute. We are to welcome all, and welcome them as they are. That is not the sort of ethic I propose here. Rather, it is an ethic of hospitality that welcomes in order to change. We don’t welcome the naked so they can be naked in our presence; we don’t show hospitality to the hungry so they can watch us eat. We welcome the naked and hungry to change their circumstances. We make room for them so we can clothe and feed them.So too with moral hunger and personal shame. We don’t welcome addicts so they can continue in their addiction. We make room for them, and take up residence in their lives, in order to be agents of ethical transformation. We don’t receive the prostitute to help her get more tricks. We open our lives to the prostitute so we can deliver her from her slavery— to the pimp, perhaps to drugs, to poverty, to a destructive life. Hospitality is not universal approval. It is universal welcome for the sake of renewal. We make room not to tolerate but to transform. We’ve made some advances in our turn from ontology to ethics, more than we might have noticed. From this point in our climb, we can begin to see the peak and begin to have something more than suspicions about what’s up there.The nature of the universe as I’ve described it encourages an ethic of self-giving love; if we are going to live in accord with the shape of things, we need to adopt a stance of availability, of openness to others and willingness to enter when others open to us. And that suggests a way to reason back from ethics to ontology. If the ethics of mutual penetration is an ethics of love, then the ontology of mutual indwelling is an ontology of love. The world is open to me and I to the world. Persons are capable of being open to other persons, and times to other times. Words make room for other words, and chords have room for all the clustered notes that contribute to their sound. At every terrace, it seems, even when we were only looking through a glass darkly or hoping for some insight into the way things are, we were glimpsing traces of love, love wired into the world, love as the operating system of creation. And as we look up to the peak, we might begin to see the outlines of a love that moves the sun and all the other stars.1
...[T]he service of God and the service of man are the meaning, horizon, and goal of theological work. This goal is no gnosis floating in mid-air and actually serving only the intellectual and aesthetic impulse of the theologian. It is neither a gnosis of a speculative and mythological kind like that of the major and minor heretics of the first centuries, nor a gnosis of a historical-critical kind like that which began to flourish in the eighteenth century as the sole true theological science and which today is preparing to celebrate, if appearances do not deceive, new triumphs. If the proclamation or adoration of strange gods lurks behind the first kind of gnosis, skepticism or atheism lurks behind the second. After his fashion, Franz Overbook no doubt was right when he pursued the way of this modern gnosis to its end and became wholly disinterested in theology as service. Although a member of the faculty of theology, he wanted to be and to be called, no longer a theologian at all, but--as may be read on his tombstone--only a "professor of Church history."If theological work is not to become sterile in all its disciplines, regardless of how splendidly it may develop at one point or another, it must always keep sight of the fact that its object, the Word of God, demands more than simply being perceived, contemplated, and meditated in this or that particular aspect. What is demanded of theological work is the service of this word and attendance upon it. This may not always be its primary goal, and often it is the most remote one, but it remains its ultimate and real goal.As a further delimitation of our theme, a second remark must be made here. Since theology is called to serve, it must not rule. It must serve both God in his Word as the Lord of the world and of the community, and the man loved by God and addressed by God's Word. It may rule neither in relation to God nor in relation to men. ...If theology is not ashamed of the Gospel, it does not need to excuse itself to anyone for its own existence. It does not need to justify its actions before the community or the world, either by constructing philosophical foundations or by other apologetic or didactic devices. Precisely because of its character as service, theological work should be done with uplifted head or not at all!
-- Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction [Chicago, IL: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; 1963] pp. 187-88
[A Psalm] Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek,1 who drove him away, and he left.1. I will bless Yahweh at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2. My soul makes its boast in Yahweh; let the humble hear it and be glad.
3. O magnify Yahweh with me, and let us exalt his name together.4. I sought Yahweh, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.5. Look to Him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.6. This poor soul cried, and was heard by Yahweh, and was saved from every trouble.7. The Angel of Yahweh encamps around those who fear him, and delivered them.
Behold, I Myself am sending an angel before your face in order to guard you on the way, that He may lead you into the land that I have prepared.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned. We continued in sin for a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like a person who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, carry us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of You, for You have hidden Your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear; no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (v.4)
O Yahweh, you are our Father.We are the clay, and You are our potter.We are all the work of your hand.Be not so terribly angry, O Yahweh, and don't remember our iniquity forever.Behold--please look!--We are all Your people (vv. 8-9)
|Photo by Nicholas Nichols|
The sharp pen of Lucian… is one of the first glimpses that we have from an outsider into the inner workings of a Christian community. ...
A century before the conversion of Constantine, the Christian communities were characterized by a sharply "bifurcated" notion of the duties of the rich and the poor. Not one group, but two groups, claimed the support of the "cheerful givers" in every congregation.First, of course, there were impoverished fellow believers--orphans, widows, the sick, the imprisoned, refugees, and the destitute. As far as we can see, Christian almsgiving at this time was a fiercely inward-looking activity. It did not include unbelievers. Rather, it strengthened the boundaries of the community, like solid rings of bark around a tree, by not allowing any fellow Christian to be forced by poverty to restore to help from nonbelievers.Nor was it a random matter. The bishop and the clergy were supported by a share of the offerings of the faithful. But they received these offerings, in part, in the name of the poor: they were to redistribute what remained from their own upkeep to the widows, orphans, and destitute. The bishop was presented, above all, as the oikonomos, as the "steward," of the wealth of the church. This wealth was to be used by the clergy for the benefit of the poor. In some circles, even private almsgiving was discouraged: ideally, all gifts to the poor were to pass through the bishop and his clergy, for only they knew who needed support.This last was an extreme opinion. But the centralization of wealth in the hands of an energetic bishop could be decisive. The letters of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage from 248 to 258, are impressive testimony to his use of wealth for the care of the poor in order to reinforce his notion of the Catholic church as a closed, embattled community grouped around its bishop. Only those "poor" who were known to have stood firm in times of persecution and to have remained loyal to the bishop in the crisis that followed were to receive support. Local heroes who had endured imprisonment in times of persecution received allowances. Cyprian provided refugees out of his own private funds, thereby saving well-to-do Christians the shame of accepting alms as if they were members of the indigent poor. The boundaries of the Christian community were protected. Christian traders were given bridging loans. A convert who had made his living by teaching acting (a profession tainted by idolatry) was maintained by the poor fund of his local church. Cyprian advised the bishop to send him to Carthage, where the church, being wealthier, was better able to support him until he learned a new trade. A considerable sum--one hundred thousand sesterces, the equivalent of half the yearly salary of an Imperial secretary or of a month's wages for three thousand workmen--was hurriedly collected in Carthage to ransom Christians captured in a raid by Berber tribesmen. Unfortunately, the list of donors that was appended to this letter has not survived. Would that it had. With it we might have had evidence of a Carthaginian Christian community of unexpected wealth and social complexity. Altogether, in the words of Graeme Clarke, the translator of the Letters and the author of by far the best commentary upon them, Cyprian's letters provide "practical evidence of the Church constituting a society within a society, a regular tertium genus."Thus, a solid middle core of "cheerful givers" was called upon to support two sharply different groups of dependent persons, each of which was liable to considerable expansion--both the clergy and the poor, with the clergy claiming to act as distributors of the wealth of the church in the interests of the poor. Writing in 251, to the bishop of Antioch, Cornelius, bishop of Rome, emphasized the extent of this double responsibility. …In 303, we learn that a police raid on the premises of the church of Cirta, a provincial capital, found a storeroom with sixteen shirts for men, thirty-eight veils, eighty-two dresses and forty-seven slippers for women, along with eleven containers of oil and wine. Furthermore, we know that the church of Cirta had, besides its bishop, at least three priests, two deacons, two subdeacons, one grave-digger, and five readers. None of these were paupers. One reader was a schoolmaster and the other a tailor, a sartor--or, perhaps, even a skilled craftsmen in mosaic work, a sarsor: that is, he was exactly the same sort of skilled artisan as Lucian's uncle, the sculptor, had been and from whose trade Lucian had escaped to higher things. But all the clergy--that is, the priests and deacons--and possibly lesser personnel as well, would have received from their bishop regular sportulae. These were gifts derived from a weekly division of the offerings of the faithful. The offering itself was a major ceremony, performed each Sunday. It involved a procession toward the altar and the solemn dividing up of the contributions of the faithful at a table loaded with offerings in cash and in garden produce.Thus, when Constantine deeded to patronize the Christian church in 312 he found a body committed to a double charge: a duty to give to the poor and a duty to support the clergy. He also found among the Christian laity many well-to-do persons who had long been alerted to the need to scrutinize the clergy whom they themselves supported, to ensure that their money was spent to good effect. An ideology that linked the wealth of the church to the "care for the poor" and that made the clergy responsible for that care was firmly established in Christian circles before the conversion of Constantine. It would have been what a lay person (such as Lucian) would have known about the new sect.1