Monday, 14 November 2016
texting romans nine
Rm9v1-2 'Christianity is Jewish' (E. Schaeffer), and we're called to be 'true Jews' (Piper on Rm2), but, when I'm borrowing these claims in their reductive form, I tend to have in mind an approximate and metaphorical Hebrew culture because claims about literal Judaism and the actual people of Israel tend to tread too impossibly fine a line between Zionism and anti-Semitism. So I prefer to keep this vague.
Christianity believes the world is sick. In God's hospital, the venous catheter breaks skin in one place, the seed of humanity's rebirth is planted in specific soil, out of that singular historic root an unbroken chain of inherited salvation spreads its branches into all countries and places until it reaches me. But I prefer to keep this vague.
~ In keeping this vague, I make my account of the God of the Old Testament obscure, and so I dull the radical saving story of God's peculiar love, which, being personal, must be particular.
~ In keeping this vague, I satisfy my own deep desire to make God more generic, a more modern remedy to a mere statistical program error. I want salvation as but a software update, downloaded in the background onto a billion devices.
~ In keeping this vague, I resist a doctrine of depravity. Ecologists make a more frank assessment than Christians do: the picture is not of broad sustainability with occasional mistakes:~ human ethical behaviour in realm of biosphere is a story of relentless and unmitigated exploitation, with occasion flashes of self-interested repair.
~ In keeping this vague, I resist election. God choosing Israel, is the prototype for God choosing me, it is not a visit to Tiffany's to choose a ring, it is a visit to the toxic dump for the laborious recycling of a waste product at great cost.
~ In keeping this vague, I subtly protest the idea of undeserved election. I deserve election. But beneath that front I fear my privelege implies responsibility. Responsibility Rm1v14.
Paul experiences 'great sorrow and unceasing anguish' for the literal Jewish people. Do I? Not really at all.
Rm9v3-4 Thinking about my people. There are people who are my people, my kith & kin, in different ways, as a result of shared histories & identities. A few spring to mind this morning and it serves to read v4 over them as a prayer, a declaration of what has and is true, as the basis upon which to pray for more of what they need going forward, asking for the spirit to move anew.
Rm9v5-6 Dems your peeps blud:
Litch sons of bitches [Mt15v27], snitches [Jn8v44]
Quids' kitsch is for the muddled, blud.
Fam a Lamb, we're a mongrel mafia:
Not who you're born with, not to die for,
The true Jew, bruv, has been died-for.
Rm8v7-8 Promise. R spoke yesterday about Peter demonstrating the desire to force God's hand in the Garden of Gethsemane. Abraham too, in begetting Ishmael, tried to force God's hand. But a promise isn't like this. A promise can only be fulfilled by the one who makes it. Anything you gain through your own force or manipulation is not born of the promise. And what you gain thus you never really have. A promise is a gift, you have to trust it. So quickly I want to construct a narrative for how I think God will work in this season. This is to fail to trust the promise of God. Heb13v20-21
Rm9v9-10 It is not enough for Phil to simply know the goodness of God, nor to self-understand as an elected agent of his goodness, nor to enjoy the boundless adventure of being on mission with a crowd of witnesses to his tangible goodness, nor to have my world upside-downed by the startling and inexplicable revelation of his undeserved and unbidden goodness. I have to know how. _"I must get out of here. I must get free and in this mind is the key, my key. ... I need the codes. I have to get inside Zion, and you have to tell me how.."_ I must reverse engineer the system of salvation, dissect the golden goose, break open the blackbox and derive a formula for eternity. Like many Jews before me, reducing God to a formula is convenient: If God choose Abraham's line, he chooses all of Abraham's lines ~ a sort of localised universalism, which Paul indicates is transparently fallacious.
Universalist by omission, I problematise predestination, I construe a capricious God in an entirely arbitrary game of Duck-Duck-Damned, I pick this fight for a number of reasons: ~ because I am unwilling to let go of those individualistic presuppositions in which I cling to a savage epistemological pride which brooks no mystery and pretends no finitude to my own capacity to know and so engages in bizarre agnostic superstition, the have-cake-and-eat-it of salvation without a saviour, grace with no gratitude, a personal universe with no central personality. By resisting election, I resist my election, and I put off the responsibility to be an active agent of goodness. Ultimately I am far more afraid of what I understand than what I don't understand, and problematising predestination, and arguing from its misuse, this is the front I put up to put off the terrifying liberty God has chosen me to enjoy.
Rm9v11-12 All this for you, before you even knew it. Today praying for insight into some thought or intention God from before I was born
Rm9v13-14 Haters gonna hate? Love food, hate waste? Love the sinner, hate the sin? Love us to hate us, but don't slate us? Hate leads to the dark side? From pet hates to hate speech. Strange marmite idioms ~ there is a complexity to hate in translation, and commentaries are keen to note that the word in view here μισέω is used also in Lk14v26 hating one's parents..
Caveating that the soundbite is not helpful to be broadcast without context, and that there is a question of proportion but, how does God hate me?
My basic behateability, my fundamental not-fit-for-purpose-ness, my obnoxiously contemptably destructive default setting. I am bad, I do bad things, my total being is invested in the rampant spoliation of planet earth, I am abusive, coercive and self-related, prone to bouts of exploitation, escapism, indulgence and self-deceit. Fate and the universe ought to hate me, my karma comeuppance bears down on me.
Against this, and despite my self. God actively loves me, out of his superabundance, in a currency of grace not desert.
Rm9v15-16 Mercy. 'Merciful' has been the word on my mind these last few days, & here God speaks it again. In view if God's mercy 12v1; mercy prayers this morning. I tend to think of mercy as another word for forgiveness i.e. the holding back of that-which-is-deserved, that-which-justice-requires, and so only think of mercy as a term that applies to matters of sin or transgression. But I am prompted in these last few days to think that mercy is much broader and richer than this. All withholding of power is a kind of mercy, not just the power to enact justice. So all of God's initiation and communication is a mercy, a constraining and a holding back of that which would otherwise dazzle us to decimation, in order than we might understand a glimpse. So we live inside mercy even before we can think about a need for forgiveness. This is perhaps why the Hebrew 'hesed' means both 'mercy' and 'covenant love'. Somehow this word 'merciful' seems important for the season we're about to embark on, though I can't really say why. V16 to declare over 41 again & again & again.
Rm9v17-18 Hardened like hammered steel, like a tin of old paint, like bread left out.. like I. Am. Titanium.. We are hard people, Londoners. And there is something entrenching about kettling hard things together, iron hardening iron, a bag of nails jostling in the tube carriage, your supple hope pummelled on the anvil of a cruel market economy, the callused over wound in your back, the mascara suit of armour. Nothing. Touches. Me. So, God hardens? Like the sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay. He cannot but, he is blazing brilliance, he is pure warmth, he is radiance itself. Take my lump of clay, splosh me back in the stream of living water, knead me back to maleable compassion and sensitive responsibility, oh God, my potter.
Rm19-20 A lot going on in these verses to çhew over, but in the end I'm struck by the thought that Paul is speaking in the second-person to 'the teacher' & through him to the Jewish people he loves, to provoke them to put *themselves* in question, rather than to put others in question. Rm9 has to be read alongside Rm11, esp Rm11v29. Levinas talks of an asymmetry to suffering, that one can offer theodicies pertaining to one's own suffering, but that it's not our job to do so for others, we are instead called to respond to the suffering of others. Something comparable is true for salvation: we can put ourselves in question before God in a way asymmetrical to others: our job is not to create a systematic of salvation but to demonstrate God's saving grace.
Rm9v21-22 Pondering every Londoner as such a saucepan, bought and sold, caught and moulded, hot and colded, hammered out, fraught and folded. Knackered consumables, some ENPS, some camping aluminium, tarnished detritus from every florid decade, we're all bound for the knacker's yard, we all know wrath, and it's imminence is surely enough.
The offer is the joy of a redemptive trajectory which breaks into the present, the creeping future glory of ceramic mosaiced, the Stomping panhandling holy foolishness of chorded heterogency in an eschatological steel drum band whose melody reverberates back through the structural junctions in eternity's concrete frame ~ as Zumba into the Monty flat echo chamber.
Rm9v23-24 For those of us prone to anxiety the notion of a capricious God is thd ultimate fear, it is, alongside the fear that there is no God, ultimately the fear that we are not safe in the world. Paul dismantles the Euthypro Dilemma deftly, and speaķs to the fear. Yes, of course God enjoys utter freedom, but no, this doesn't make God capricious, for true freedom is not caprice, we just tend to think it is. In God's freedom God is always steadfastly working to (i) reveal glory & (ii) show mercy. These are bedrocks of divine reality and ways that divine freedom is expressed. The story of the Jews & the Gentiles is a story in which God consistently reveals glory & shows mercy. So fear not, dear heart, Rm2v4.
Rm9v25-26 In the very place. Christianity is platial, but not as we know it. Wendall Berry says goo.gl/rHpNVK "there are no unsacred places, only sacred places and desecrated places." True. And. It is in that very desecrated place, the shattered and shat upon, the exquisitely unclean, the utterly desolated, the polluted tarnished no-go area of 'desecration'. At that point, just in time, in that very place, despite all you've done, despite the journey and your history, despite coming, as the film Shame's character Sissy, "from a bad place".. God adopts you. He calls you his own.
Rm9v27-28 As Paul makes clear in Rm11, this statement taken & used from Isaiah is not literally true, but is being used to try to stir up Jewish listeners to repentence and faith in God's grace. This causes me to reflect on styles of speaking, preaching, prophesying. I strongly favour clarity, taking pains to make clear what is literal & what is metaphorical, at pains to avoid being misinterpreted. There is, I don't doubt, a great value to this, including a helpful corrective to those in the body who emphasise differently (as per 1Cor12-27), but I do want to note for myself how God's great prophets often speak with wild passion things of great urgency in a way that is easily misinterpreted or unclear...and the holy spirit is right in this. I am tasked with both listening to the spirit's prophetic promptings and being unafraid to speak in when my bones are on fire, even when the word is confusing, and I am tasked with interpreting the prophesies of others to co-labour with the whole church in making them clear, so that we might all know God more fully.
Rm9v29-30 Offspring. Today the spectre of extinction seems closer than ever, the lineage of the good and the godly of yesteryear is ebbed away by attrition and infertility and the remnant eating itself. Cuarón's Children of Men was reviewed as portraying _'warzones of extraordinary plausibility'_ ~ plausible and visceral to an audience that daily inacts a zombie culture, willing Melancholia's waltz of auto-destruction in slow motion. This pervasive sense of imminent annihilation permeates a church culture built for the cold war, the siloed mono-generational model, the single-use consumer goods, the ungainly behemoth moribund institutional faith. And I am complicit. I am Sodom, I am Gommorah, I am the cynic, I am the nostalgic, I had hoped.
But Isaiah is concerned with birth and perpetuation and hope, as he is in the Nativity reading (Is9v6..). And in some sense every birth is poetically Christmas, every rebirth a bolt from the blue, an immaculate conception. Hope surprises, hope wins, and hope endures.
Rm9v31-32 One of the chief dangers of this time is that I'll think I'm doing OK because we're trying to do a 'ministry' and so God must be around somewhere, & that I think I'm 'praying' because I'm in lots of contexts of organised 'prayer'. I am still leaning on a law to save me, rather than cultivating the inner life of true faith as a response to grace, out of which flows true worship and service. This point is as old as the hills but I'd value your prayers for me on this at this moment, struggling to make time in true prayer in the blur of things.
Rm9v33 When is a stone a stumbling stone? What is stumbliness as a quality? Christ is a stumbling block, but by contrast with what? By contrast with the smooth space of a well-oiled platonic universe, a parametric paraboloid in CGI, a total environment of lickably slick seamless surfaces. We desperately want God to be impersonal, codifiable, predictable, generic. But. We stumble into the quiddity of Christ, the very this-ness, the strange haecceity that says, Christ is this and not that, here and not there, a person not a program. Christ is the monstrous carbuncle on the face of the law's abstraction, an obnoxious protrusion of artefactual specificity. So, the gospel is a tear in the veil, it disrupts, it is a trip switch, a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.