Church and World


From Doug Ottati’s Reforming Protestantism: At the same time that we are in the world, because the world is God’s good creation, we are also called to acknowledge that we are with the world, confessing our common faults and sins. The church is simultaneously against the world – which is to say that we are called to a prophetic witness, to stand with the disenfranchised. Ottati puts it this way: “Genuinely reforming churches will not shrink from the prophetic task. . . . [T]hey will denounce the persistent scourges of racism, sexism, and homophobia. They will point to severe economic disparities among communities linked in a single garment of global interdependence…[The] world may respond with benign neglect and refuse to take the church seriously. . . . In that case, prophetic churches have all the more reason to remain in the world, refusing to leave it alone. [The church] has every reason to be pests and persistent nuisances, calling into question business as usual. . . . The prophetic task may have its cost and burdens. . . . The task of faithfully objecting to the forfeiture of the good and abundant life for which we are fitted may place the church into direct opposition to the principalities, powers, and climates of opinion. . . . It may lead others to question the church’s good sense or prudence. . . . By the faithful logic of theocentric devotion, none of these possibilities constitutes a reason to relinquish or attenuate the critical and prophetic attitude. . . . God alone is God, and we should serve no others. Reforming churches have to remain true to the first commandment.”




From Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching: “Our store consciousness contains the seeds of all of these energies. When joy or anger is not present in our mind consciousness, we may say, “I don’t have that,” but we do. It’s below, in our store consciousness. Under the right conditions, that seed will manifest. We may say, “I’m not angry. I don’t have anger in me,” but anger is still there in our unconscious mind. Everyone has a seed of anger lying dormant, below, in our store consciousness. When we practice, our effort is to water positive seeds and let the negative seeds remain dormant. We don’t say, “Until I’ve gotten rid of all my bad seeds, I can’t practice.” If you get rid of all your unwholesome seeds, you won’t have anything to practice. We need to practice now with all the unwholesome seeds in us. If we don’t, the negative seeds will grow and cause a great deal of suffering…

Practice… is a matter of cultivating the earth of our store consciousness and sowing and watering good seeds. Then, when they arise into our mind consciousness and become flowers and fruits, they will scatter more good seeds throughout our store consciousness. If you want wholesome seeds to be in your mind consciousness, you need the condition of continuity. ‘Fruits of the same nature’ will resow wholesome seeds in you.”

This is helpful commentary for reflecting on Paul’s Works of the Flesh and Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-26.



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From Wendy Farley’s Wounding and Healing of Desire: “Contemplation is an analogous awakening of desire. With this awakening, awareness dawns of how little we are able to love, how bound we are to our fears. This is why the great saints describe themselves as such terrible “sinners.” They become more and more aware of the awesome infinity of love open to them. Contemplative desire sparks our awareness of this infinity of love within us and available to us, just as the knowledge of that single word “water” made Helen Keller know that a universe of connection was available to her. From one word, an infinity of meaning opened. From the tiniest taste of Eros, the infinity of love manifest in every soul and spiraling through the endlessness of our own soul is apprehended. The thirst of contemplation lives in the gap between that single taste and the infinity of the cosmos.”


Denial of Death

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From Douglas John Hall’s The Cross in Our Context: “Our society, perhaps more than any other in history, is engaged in a massive denial of death. (And remember that for the biblical faith death does not just refer to the termination of life, a biological death, but stands symbolically for a whole Pandora’s box of fears and negations that become particularly virulent when they are repressed or denied.) This was the point of one of the most insightful books written in our era, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. The more fixated the human spirit is upon its mortality, it vulnerability, its nothingness or apparent insignificance, the less capable it is of participating freely and joyfully in the life that it has been given….Individuals whose sense of well-being depends upon a rigorous silencing of every thought of their own mortality are very difficult and sometimes dangerous people to be around. But what of a whole society whose well-being – whose way of life – depends upon the constant reassurance that the happiness it seeks is in no way threatened by the limitations that creaturely life places on us? …When an entire culture is held in the grip of a worldview in which death is allowed no voice, death’s power over life is immensely increased. Such a society is greatly in need of liberation…”


Divine Compassion



From Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God: “Seeing the living God as Creator not just of human beings but of the whole world in which we humans are embedded, ecological theology finds warrant to cross the species line and extend this divine solidarity to all creatures. It proposes that the Creator Spirit dwells in compassionate solidarity with every living being that suffers, from the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroid to the baby impala eaten by a lioness. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without eliciting a knowing suffering in the heart of God. Such an idea is not meant to glorify suffering, a trap that must be carefully avoided. But it works out an implication of the Creator Spirit’s relation to an evolutionary, suffering world with an eye to divine compassion. Nature’s crying out is met by the Spirit, who groans with the labor pains of all creation to bring the new to birth (Rom 8:22). Thus is the pattern of cross and resurrection rediscovered on a cosmic scale.”




From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: “Contemplative desire awakens us to the unity of the love of God and neighbor, but it does not accomplish the perfection of this love; it rather incites our thirst for it. When Helen Keller crouched by the water pump while Annie Sullivan poured water over her hand and spelled the word for water over and over, in her blindness she experienced nothing but water and the strange movement of fingers on her palm. We are “commanded” to love. Love pours over us like water, and the meaning of love is spelled into our hand over and over. But, like Helen, we are blind and enraged by our blindness, and we cannot understand its meaning. But suddenly Helen grasped the connection between the fingers in her palm and the water pouring over her hand. Grasping this connection did not itself open all of the world of language and meaning and human relationship to her, but it fired her desire for these things. Over many years, her desire continued to burn. It took her from the solitary confinement of darkness and silence to friendship, social activism, and intimacy with God.”


Floating Above


From the conclusion to Willie Jennings’ The Christian Imagination: Theology and The Origins of Race: “I want my readers to capture the sight of a loss, almost imperceptible, yet articulated powerfully in the remaining slender testimonies of Native American peoples and other aboriginal peoples…This loss is nothing less than the loss of a sense of our own creatureliness. I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalist calculations and commodity chains of private property. Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence.”