Wednesday, June 15, 2022

 

 The 'Three Mile an Hour God’

"Jesus is a walking God; God is a 'three mile an hour God.'"[1]

A sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds

 

For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?

This statement of Jesus is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Mark: (Mt 9:5, Lk 5.23, Mk 2.9).  This is, as I shall pick up later, not a rhetorical question. But first I want to discuss the restoration of mobility to the paralytic which in part restored his ability to practice his culture.

The prophets and disciples were people who walked. Prodigiously. Jesus instructs his disciples to walk out into the surrounding villages to testify and preach. He commands the paralytic to walk forth from his bed.  Walking is a central feature in the spread Jesus’s announcement of the Kingdom of God.  Abraham is commanded by God repeatedly to  ק֥וּם לֵךְ֙ (qûm lek,“arise and go forward” [Gen. 28:2, cf. 12:1 et al.]), get up and walk, get up and go as a nomad toward the promised land.

The activity of sustained walking, and the centrality of it as transportation, may be one of the most distinguishing differences between the Biblical age and ours. A culture that devoted 4 hours a day or more to walking developed virtues seemingly foreign to us: virtues of contemplation, recollection, stillness of mind, disinterestedness, and asceticism.  Virtues tie body and soul together. The virtues of walking tie our ruminations of mind with the rhythms of our somatic, bodily exertions.

 "Knowledge is a rumor until it lives in muscle," an African proverb states. The soul’s religious insights are developed in harmony with the body.  The Resurrection confirms that our soul’s destiny is not to evacuate the body, but to be reconciled and integrated with it.  The soul’s work and insights during long walks become integrated with memory of the body’s movements in the Biblical anthropological portrait of Homo ambulans.  

Henry David Thoreau proposed walking as a spiritual discipline.  It was for him a reflective activity that took place necessarily away from society where he could discern and discover his true identity. Thoreau proposed a contemplative narrative to guide his walks and structure what he found both inside and outside himself during the walks. In his essay, “Walking”[2] (based on Lectures he began in the 1850s), Thoreau employed the “metaphor of the walker as a crusader to the Holy Land and places the devil himself in opposition to the freedom and wildness that the walker craves… The ‘Prince of Darkness’ is the surveyor who places the stakes that keep the walker away from the landscape.” [3]

During these reverie-structured “saunters,” Thoreau would encounter the "Whoa!" of the Evil one to the wildness [and freedom] he sought.” It was the devil, he concluded, who fenced off the private ownership of what was communally-owned nature –its springs of Enlightenment it provided him.

In his daydreams during walks, Thoreau placed obstacles and encounters into a framework of good and evil. In this, Thoreau displayed a Judaic consciousness. The singer Leonard Cohen endorsed the same narrative plot: "It's good to be between a ruined house of bondage and a holy promised land." And Wendell Berry: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” Distinguishing these states of ruin and holiness during our own pastoral wandering may illuminate what we personally find necessary for social life versus what is cordoned off for our private and personal use.  Employing Thoreau’s narrative of walking in a Holy Land is a way of not only living more closely—resonating--with nature. It is also a way of living more closely with our own spirit.  We need only take care not to make this walk among community solely about our right to solitude lest we assert ownership over it in conflict with others’ –God’s--rightful claims. It’s a crowded world, and we must conclude that God wills it so.

As an injunction for sauntering in wilderness, Earth-Firster Dave Forman proposed that all surveyor stakes and ribbons encountered be obliterated as a protest of economic development. However, an appropriate solitude of walking inside an appreciation of creation’s goodness--and wildness’s fall from grace--is implicitly a spiritual discipline of generosity and covenant-keeping worthy of the Sabbath.  The walker in this state seeks spiritual knowledge of self and creation that may be rare or fleeting in apprehension, but with repetition may add up to a revelation about God and self.

Through walking in God’s Kingdom, we can remain alert to evidence of possibly unfathomable knowledge. Thoreau writes: "Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure…My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant. The highest that we can attain is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with [Cosmic Nature’s] Intelligence."[4]  This distinction between a personal knowledge and God’s grant of Cosmic Intelligence demonstrates the necessity of the virtue of humility to the walk and the work, lest one be misled into thinking that the spiritual insights one develops is self-merited.  Rather, our walk ideally aligns us with the giver of all good gifts, what I would call the Divine logos which Thoreau defines as Nature. 

Thoreau uses the image of the rooster as the bragging "expression of the health and soundness of Nature," rousing humanity to alert perception--to "a pure morning joy" in our journeying.

A spiritualized narrative of walking excludes, of course, the immobilized who may suffer a profound physical disability.  We must look for alternative visions for our journey through the world that can encompass these folks.  As an alternative to walking in the promised land, descrying its ruins and obstacles, Melville in Moby Dick offers the vision of sailing: "What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth's foremost part…and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first [encountered]. Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow." 

One immobilized advances as if situated and perched on the prow of a bouncing ship. The wheelchair- or bed-bound might note the rhythms of the breezes and the direction of the birds signaling land. We might contemplate the narrative of Nature from the perspective of their discovery--that their narrative encounters society as the Sea.  And from that perspective, it might be as if the world turns past us on the sea as we sit on an unmoving boat. The weather changes, the breezes shift, the birds fly by, the dolphins circle underneath and beside. The movements are all relative, it is our perspective that shifts from an immobile body to a moving cosmos.

The Bible is full of these metaphorical alternatives regarding God’s activity:  these metaphors empower devotion and understanding.  But some aspects of society and the natural condition that surround and overshadow it are not of God.  I think of the anti-Christic sin of warfare, specifically of Drone warfare. Zubair Rehman, a 13-year-old Pakistani, uttered this evaluation of his environmental condition: “I no longer love blue skies. I prefer grey skies. The drones don’t fly when the skies are grey." How tragic, how foreign to God’s intended creation and humanity where drones have taken away the freedom of mobility and its potential to bond with Nature and neighbors. Drone warfare inhibits the walking cultures of the East, inhibiting it as much as a wall or barrier. Perhaps worse than impeding relationship with others, drones impede a relationship with nature--with the full creation. Drone warfare leads to fear and huddling in shadow and structure. Drones disable civilians in their flight path, creating invalids, the type that Jesus healed and which we are instructed also to heal.  90% of casualties by weaponized drones are civilians.[5] Drones dehumanize by maiming and inhibiting the human capability of mobility. They also depersonalize individuals by substituting their identity with a geographical coordinate. The latter is precise, the first is neglected. Drones also depersonalize through its technology’s racial bias that cannot recognize facial features in dark skin as effectively as it can lighter skin.[6]  Drone “signature strikes,” especially when automatized inside Artificial Intelligence, lead to the injustice of a sloppy slaughter of black and brown innocents.

Resisting the advent and spread of drone warfare is a way of healing the immobilized and depersonalized—restoring the presence of nature and community in their lives. Code Pink pickets at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, for its drone warfare operations.  Another picketing and resistance operation against drone warfare is happening by employees and community members at Google’s headquarters. Google’s Project Maven participates in the application of the military-industrial complex to weaponize and automate big data inside drone warfare./

Jurgen Moltmann writes of the walk of faith that “seek[s] community with the human Christ in every situation in life, and in every situation experiencing his own history."  To find Christ, and to sustain the human Christ in his struggle, God sends us into “a real world, a world of starving children and murderous competition, of lonely rooms and smug clubs, of shattered dreams and burned out hopes,”[7] of corrupt politics and closed minds, of resentful bigots and phony pieties. It is up to us to counter and resist the misreadings of the Gospel. The authentic announcement of God’s Kingdom forgives sins, announces release to captives, and justice for the oppressed.  The good news humanizes and identifies. It does not kill persons and personalities, it does not kill the capabilities of free thought and free mobility. It does not link riches with God’s favor and poverty with God’s hatred.

Albert Einstein said, “A human being…experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion, to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and foundation for inner security.”  We can expand our human circle and our experience of it by walking the neighborhoods that God has placed us amidst.

Our journeying may be better visualized as a shared dance in embrace with the Holy. If, as Kurt Vonnegut writes, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God," our guided saunters and joyous waltzes through creation honor God and embraces the wisdom God graces to impart to us. We dance that we become movements in joy.   Our joyous journeying obeys the “summons to think about how the world can be practiced differently.”[8] The walk that dances meets God and neighbors “in the middle,” establishing new centers for eternity, transforming dead space into living place. The ramifying circumincessions of creatures, Logos, and Spirit divinize. They are process by which the living Christ is becoming all-in-all, the onset of new hypostatic union(s) of Spirit and incarnated beings, bringing forth a new Creation with creatures becoming increasingly intimate and familiar with, and accomplished toward, the divine will. At the eschaton, the process will come complete.

Moving through nature either by walking or sailing or dancing within a contemplative Christian narrative presupposes the virtue of disinterestedness—a determined lack of greed in grasping what is natural and shared to privatize it for personal gain. Our journeying with a grasping gaze—a greed of spirit--is not the kind of walk Jesus engaged. Our mobility leads us astray if it is done without a generous spiritual outlook. 

Pay heed to your journeys; pay heed to your capability of mobility, for the freedom of movement to discover the wonder of the world. Listen to your body—when walking and when praying--and do not think of it as your enemy. What do you do with the miraculous gift of the body? You have the capacity to see, to feel and to hear and to understand. To move about. What do you do with it? Do you bless, do you curse, do you forgive, do you begrudge?

To return to Jesus’ question that began this sermon, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?”  It’s not rhetorical. Ancient Israel thought only God could forgive sins, so they would never dare to pardon their neighbor.  The Jews of Jesus’s time would have expected healing to be an easier vocation for the religion.   Healing requires presence, but the restoration of mobility to one immobilized by the weaponized drones flying overhead requires a political and cultural commitment out of reach for most.  Yet Jesus shows us that we can bring about neighborhoods of shalom through forgiveness. By Jesus’s question, we are to understand, I think, that we are to forgive the trespasses of others against our prerogatives to ownership, to privacy, to self-respect.  We CAN forgive because He forgave us. The injunction to heal and the injunction to forgive in our Scriptural passage this morning is the defining character of God’s love, as is the Abrahamic injunction to get up and walk. Get up and dance. The love from God intended for us, and the intention for us to love God back, and oh, our neighbor as well: these I considered on walks. 

May this spiritual journeying that walks and dances by faith be for you and me. Amen.



[1] http://justiceunbound.org/carousel/the-three-mile-an-hour-god-and-the-imago-dei-within-us/

[4] Ibid

 

[5] Marjorie Cohn, Bay Area Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, Pacific School of Religion Chapel. April 28, 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[8] Attributed to Walter Brueggemann.

Monday, April 25, 2022

 

Spiritual Exercises for Atmospheric Alignment

Rev. Dr. Douglas Olds

Spring 2022

Christians cannot avoid the ramparts of resistance to climate-driven social and ecological change, either as survivors or as agents of transformation. To not just survive but to transform our lives and others requires spiritual resources to develop resilience—to raise awareness of our dependence on and commitment to atmospheric balances and cycles.

This Appendix offers a set of spiritual exercises and practices to build resilient conscientiousness of, and alignment with, the Atmosphere as the abode of the Holy Spirit and her intimate communion with all of life. Three sets of examples of leading exercises and praxis of atmospheric awareness and alignment follow: processing in perpendicular, atmospheric space, connecting atmosphere and neighborhood, and sacramental liturgies.[1] These exercises are designed to situate people in the encompassing bosom of the atmosphere, for them to circle back on their material inconsequence so to neither wield nor hire big, sky-busting combustion, thereby growing in, by aligning and giving due honor to, Spirit.

Warmup: Poetic Wordplay, Explore the parallels

Read the following verse aloud, then silently focus on single words to locate them in space and time. Rearrange the parallels. Imagine and recast the verbs as nouns and the nouns as verbs.

“Unfurl over us a shelter of your peace.”[2]

What does this wordplay suggest about the dynamics, procession, and interaction of Creation and Spirit?

Now read Genesis 1.1-8. Is your imagination and spiritual understanding of the atmosphere changed by this reading? Of Creation or Creator? Journal your insights or share them with any group in which you are participating in this exercise.

Now consider the desire for the Spirit in our gasps. Focus on the heart’s restlessness. After focusing on this desire of lungs and hearts, the pulse of prayer begins. 

    Exercise: Recollecting communion with history

Take time to identify an ancestor in faith or blood who guides you in your activism and commitment to the cause of earth and atmospheric balance and health. Introduce the group to this figure by giving thanks for him/her, then share a brief description of how and why this person enables or inspires you in earth care ministry.

I.                    Recollection and Despair: catharsis and accountability

Despair is an intimacy with fear generated by closing in on truth (Chödrön 1997, 1), our meeting our match in the challenges of reality. It may manifest in rage, bitterness, and isolation. Practicing the virtue of recollection of our past enchantment with nature structures lament at our displacement and disenchantment inside a degraded present. What follows may be an individual or group exercise:

Read aloud the opening to the Book of Lamentations and note how grief is paired with recollection. Consider how emotion is paired with experience to pierce the heart of its audience. Name those emotions. How might this structure be useful for liturgy or pastoral care and counseling? How might this energy be allowed to be, unrepressed and not silenced among congregants reporting climate despair? Might the experience, out of nowhere, of emotional catharsis from despair cause our struggles to cease and train our hearts and minds to relax? (Ibid., 17). How can we identify with these emotions of pain and isolation?

            Socially, we often avoid grief and deem despair as an enemy. However, consider David as a personality revealed in the Psalms. He routinely reveals his own struggle with persecution and trial as he finds refuge in the landforms of wild nature—physical structures with agency that he attributes to God’s foresight and planning for him, that allows him to call God his “Rock.” Psalm 7 involves David’s lament of structural evil. How may your lament animate expectation of God’s intervention? Is that intervention coming soon, in the near-term? A result of individual prayer? Or of a necessary massed action of prayer and resistance right now? Or does God’s resolution of our lament await a new world or new heaven?

After considering personal materialism and consumerism pray the psalms of lament (e.g. Pss. 7.1; 10. 1; 13; 17, 77, 86, 88.14; 89.42; 102). Outline their flow, their subjects, their requests, and their resolutions. Consider playing with the words, syntax, and subjective structure (as above) to generate new ideas. Adapt lament over global heating and climate disruption into your own prayer life, considering intercessory requests for victims of its injustices. Any expression of violence echoes. A word of grace sings in the soul, touching the motive cords of renewal.

Guided Imagery, Practice 1: Breathing the virtues of recollection and gratitude.

Like respiration, spiritual rhythms both take in and let go. In this, the breathing spirit dances with us through space, where meaning is found in the ever-changing middle.

a.   Focus on your breathing--on the air filling your lungs. Recall a time in your life when you found yourself carried in the bosom of God in nature. Continuing to focus on your breathing, link that breathing with your recollected memory.  Breathe in recollection, breathe out gratitude.

b.   Say to yourself, “this place and memory are holy.”

c.   Now move your focus to the place in your throat that gives rise to voice and anticipate giving voice to your memory. From deep within your lungs, anticipate how you will offer up your memory to this group. Continue breathing out gratitude.

d.   Feel the spirit filling your lungs in anticipation of activating your speech. When you feel ready, tell us the place you are recalling and the feelings you have about that place.

e.    Does your memory include elegance (parsimony and beauty) and/or enchantment? How would you define these? How does God’s role in your life impact your appreciation of beauty and enchantment in your life under the sky?

Guided Imagery, Practice 2: Via Negativa (contemplating the invisible God).

a.   Ground yourself in this place, noting its solidity and your stillness. Imagine lifting your arms as branches of a tree to take in the atmosphere [carbon dioxide and water vapor]. Feel the air on your face, hair, and skin. Feel yourself living inside a compartment of skin, in close contact with the air.

b.   Enter your inner heart and try to sense the bosom of God in an invisible atmosphere. How do these inner sensations affect your communion with the invisible, with Spirit?

c.   Now open yourselves to the wonder of a planet racing around the sun, and the solar system racing through space at unimaginable speeds inside an expanding universe.   Feel the giddiness and lightheadedness of such imaginable speed as the stars race away from each other like dots on an expanding balloon.

d.   Take flight in your imaginings through this cosmos, discerning lights amidst the darkness.

e.    Now return to the earth slowly. As you approach the earth from afar, experience its shimmer, a blue globe against a black background of space. Sense the thin haze of atmosphere surrounding it.

f.   Return to the solid earth. Now open your eyes and focus on the empty space between objects. What do you see? Feel? Can you imagine the atmosphere filling that space? Can you sense the invisible?

g.  How might you see and hear God’s Holy Spirit in the breath and voice of other people? In the soothing whispers and murmurs of wind; of leaves; of water?

B. Circular Movement of embodied desire and prayer

Come to the place, where every breath is praise,

And God is breathing through each passing breeze.

Be planted by the waterside and raise

 

Your arms with Christ beneath these rooted trees,

Who lift their breathing leaves up to the skies.

Be rooted too, as still and strong as these,

 

Open alike to sun and rain. Arise

From meditation by these waters. Bear

The fruits of that deep rootedness. Be wise

 

In the trees’ long wisdom. Learn to share

The secret of their patience. Pass the day

In their green fastness and their quiet air.

 

Slowly discern a life, a truth, a way,

Where simple being flowers in delight.

Then let the chaff of life just blow away.[4]

Sit comfortably with feet planted on ground. Close your eyes. Place your palms flat down on your lap or knees. Calm yourself, then think of your deepest longing for the Earth that can be expressed to the Holy Spirit. Slowly imagine how you would embody a petition—a cry upward. How would you move your palms and arms? Now embody that movement.  Freeze that movement in some moment as you petition and pray to the Holy Spirit to answer your longing. After your prayer is finished, slowly return your arms to your lap. Concentrate on your expectations: how is your posture affected by waiting on the Spirit? Maintain this posture of waiting and/or expectation. Where are your palms? What is their orientation?

After a time, imagine receiving an answer to your prayer in your deepest heart. How do you embody that receipt? What do you do with your arms, your palms? How do you cradle your receipt of God’s answer, of the Spirit’s intercession? What circuit have your arms and palms traveled in the process of contemplation of desire, expression of longing, waiting, and then reception? How does the awareness of air influence the pattern and circuit of your arms? How does the starting place and ending place of this circuit seem different? What have you learned of what is encompassed--of the middle of being?

C. Linearity in Space: Inhabiting the Genius of Place

Scripture: Ps. 84.1-4, Gen. 1:1-6; Any psalm attributed to David with nature themes.

Preparatory Poetic Meditation:

I find you in all Things and in all

My fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;

As a tiny seed you sleep in what is small

And in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

 

The wondrous game that power plays with Things

Is to move in such submission through the world:

Groping in roots and growing thick in trunks

And in treetops like a rising from the dead.[5]

Exercise: Walk in nature; let an object in it find you. How can you consider it as a subject: feather, piece of bark, shell, rock? Being conscious of the air that separates you, slowly move to touch it, reducing your distance. Spend time trying to experience it for what it is—a subject. Smell it, focusing on the aroma’s connection with the air that builds intimacy with the natural subject. Slowly consider: How is object converted into subject by touch, sight, and smell? Are there sounds in its environment? How might they link with the experience of this natural subject? How has the air mediated appreciation of subject? What does this subject reveal about its agency in the world of the Creator?[6]

Summary Prayer:

When I open my eyes, my God, on all that you have created

I have heaven already in my hands.

Serenely I gather in my lap

Roses and lilies and all green things

While I praise your works.

 

My own works I ascribe entirely to you.

Gladness springs forth from sorrow

And joy brings happiness.[7]

 

Spiral Practice: Feeling Connected to the global awakening and resistance

Spiral movement: circular, but never returning to the same place, but cognizant of the start’s centripetal and centrifugal forces in the travel (Ps. 107.4-5). Global Heating and Climate Crisis cannot be faced alone. Its huge challenge requires collective commitment and solidarity of support and action.

Walk in a circle and honor or thank these, our human companions on this extraordinary journey of resisting combustion-fueled consumerism and Climate Injustice.

Prayer to deliberate and initiate civil resistance:

What can I do for justice, peace and creation?

To learn new love for life, my life, part of creation,

Related to everything that lives and moves.

To let myself be challenged

When I see around me human destruction of the world.

To break through the veil of deception

That hides from my eyes brutal facts.

And to resist, wherever I can, with subversive power.[8]

 Perpendicularity as Worship: Reverence toward the Spirit

 (Guiding breathing and voice inward and upward).

            Sit in a circle if in a group. Close your eyes: Slowly focus on your skin: how the air may tickle, how the hair on your arms and legs pick up the breeze. Become aware of your breathing, locating the entry of air into your nose and mouth, its travel into your lungs. Visualize the air in your lungs connecting via blood to your heart. Focus on your heartbeat. Practice calming. Now anticipate praying with the Holy Spirit. Feel the breath welling up within as a prelude to speech, your breath in your lungs ascending into your throat. Feel the life pulse in your throat’s jugular.

Make some simple vocal sounds, concentrating on the throat’s voicebox (where Israelites located the nephesh, the soul). Follow these vocal sounds further upward into the sky, following in your mind’s eye these words as they seek their ascendant subject. After this practice, now follow the same awareness as you gently vocalize a petition or expression of gratitude for the air to the Spirit in the Sky. Allow yourself to experience intimacy with that Spirit in the involvement of air with breathing and vocal expression. How does that awareness of your soul/nephesh’s intimacy of vocal communication, pulse, and breath affect your words? Open your eyes and look upward. Focus on varying layers of the atmosphere: the nearness of nature above you, then to the clouds, and then beyond into the blue. What lies beyond? Keep extending your awareness and opening your senses to the variety of heights. After a time, close your eyes and again return to prayer. Give thanks for any new awareness, surrender, or conscientiousness of the intimacy of Spirit, air, breath, heartbeat, and your soul’s voice and longing. Focus again on the Spirit inside you breathing out the vocal, blood pulsing expression of your nephesh’s gratitude.[9] Extend this process to all living creatures. Experience the communion of the Holy Spirit with material breath in the voiced word of compassion, the highest refinement of the human soul’s reverence and hospitality of others (Guardini 1998,175).[10]

Questions for group or individual reflection: How has the Spirit’s hiddenness and operations inside you become more revealed to your awareness by this exercise? How has your respect for all creatures—and all peoples—as equals in intimate connection by these energies of the Spirit? How do you connect the messages of the Spirit from Genesis 1 to a reverence of God’s presence? Of God’s process in your life and world?

Closing prayer:

To you, Comforter, we cry;

To you, the gift of Spirit most high, true fount of life, the coolness of our soul’s anointing by your breaths of love, let your light impart to all of our senses your eternal and unfailing might—to strengthen our weakness and give power to your will. Amen.[11]

II.                 Liturgical and Sacramental Praxis

The awareness of atmospheric trusteeship may be promoted by ritual or in a prayerful attitude of the sacred. Dahill (2015) proposes moving church rituals and sacraments outdoors from the confines of the built sanctuary into the cathedral of the sky.

  1. Prayer of Confession

O God, hear our lament over nature’s “un-creation.” Allow our lament to be rooted in infinite hope so that our purpose does not whither when its champions are bent low or lopped off. We confess our participation in what we now lament: an extractive material economy out of ecological balance. We repent of climate catastrophe and injustice. We ask, dear God, for the Holy Spirit’s re-vitalizing forgiveness and guidance. All for the sake of restoring your trust in us to tend and flourish inside your bright and beautiful creation.

  1. Baptism in the Wild[12]

Human alienation from nature may be countered by a Christian spirituality of biocentric re-immersion into reality, cultivating loyalty to the genius of place and planet. “Rewilding” is a Christian spiritual practice for the Anthropocene. Perceiving the disconnection of contemporary human life from its ecological foundation reveals the link between spiritless consumerism and hasty, combustion-fueled materialism on the horizontal plane. Human obsession with the horizontal plane of the ephemeral obstructs the awareness of eternity which integrates verticality and horizontality in the living rhythms and harmonious alignments of the animated world inside well-ordered nature. Perpendicularity recognizes the Sky’s punctuated sustenance of nature in rain, air, storm, the intimacy of plant and animal respiration—and our own--inside landscaped moieties of human artifice and wild naturalness.  The danger is the former has irretrievably swallowed up the latter. As a corrective of human alienation from nature, Dahill (2005) proposes the liturgical renewal of and venue shift for baptism:

Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth—our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence…Out in contact and conviviality [with open-aired nature is] an astonishing fullness of the baptismal life, a much wilder immersion.

It is after immersion in water that Jesus re-emerges into air to meet the Spirit “coming as a dove” (Mt. 3.16). These processive images through water and air recapitulate the sequence of Gen. 1.1-4, with the immersion of God’s incarnate Son at the historical point of border entry by the people into the promised Land, a people sent within the covenantal dispensation of obedience as agents of conquest in the land suffering the cosmic effects of the fall. The spiritual conquerer Jesus emerges by biological necessity to meet with the sent Spirit in the Sky, for the restoration of the ontology of shalom, beauty, and freedom.

Baptism liturgically incarnates the wild death-in-birth and birth-in-death experience of a liminal, refugee mother in labor suffocating under social eviction and the threat of extinction (cf. Rom. 8) then released by joy. Rather than inert backdrops of a solely spiritualized drama, the water (cf. Hab. 2.14) and atmosphere have agency in the transmission of the energies of the Trinity manifested by the voice from heaven, the airborne kinematics of the dove, and the baptismal washing and anointing that returns forth (in an extension of divine missio) a new family into the wider cosmos of land and nature. Just as social outsiders and animals were participants in the messiah’s birthing into the land that was promised, all of intended Creation becomes incorporated into the promised renewal dramatized in baptism, intimate agents in the salvific renewal of Eden on this earth. The cosmos is reaffirmed in both its materiality and infused spiritual essence flowing from both the Godhead (in union) and now the presence of the new family of anointed trustees (in communion). God’s new superintendence of gracious love manifests as maternal and not dominating, ever steadfast in loyalty and care (hesed). The wails of the newly delivered give way at (and process in) the mother’s joy—her shouting and singing at the astounding punctuation of being and history—to become the beneficiary of a new earth. Christ becomes all-in-all, the Spirit diffuses forth through Creation as the Creator intended, bringing what is elected in the cosmos home in adoption and purification, the glorious summation of physical quickening revealed in ringing eternal praise and shining and blissful theophoric heartbeats.

For you shall go out in joy,

  and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

  shall burst into song,

  and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands

(--Isa. 55:12; cf. Pss. 65:13; 98:7-8; Zech. 2:14).



[1] "With the body, man stands in fellowship with the earth; with the spirit, which is from above, man is related to heaven” (Bavinck 2012 [1908], 1).

[2]I am indebted for the idea of sacred wordplay and for this translation by Cantor Sharon Bernstein of וּפְרוֹשׂ עָלֵינוּ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ (Ufros aleinu sukat sh'lomecha). From the Hashkiveinu, the second liturgical blessing following the Shema during Maariv recited on the Sabbath. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashkiveinu.

An alternative text for this exercise is the song “Breathe,” a recording released by the performer Michael W. Smith on 9/11/2001. The musical performance of this song is available on the web by Smith as well as by Rebecca St. James and would be a suitable preface or complement for a practice, “Finding your Breath.” (These lyrics could also be introduced to include Spiritual reflection on the anniversary of that Black Flag day):

This is the air I breathe--

Your holy presence living in me;

This is my daily bread--

Your very word spoken to me;

And I --I'm desperate for you

And I-- I'm lost without you (Howe, Barnett, and Zolleyn 2001).

[3] A New Zealand Prayer Book (Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia), 163.

[4] https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/beatus-vir-a-reflection-on-psalm-1/

[5] Rilke (2005). “Only where there is praise may lamentation / go.” --Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, I.8.

[6] This exercise adapts Hamilton-Poore (2007).

[7] Hildegaard of Bingen [1098-1179), Windows of Faith: Prayers of Holy Hildegaard, ed. By Walburga Storch, OSB (Liturgical Press, 1997, 65), from Hamilton-Poore (2007)

[8] Marga Buhrig (1915-2002). From Hamilton-Poore (2007)

[9] Connect this exercise to singing, which may be the most exalted form of these connections.

[10]A contemplation from Bonaventure (The Soul's Journey into God, VI) emphasizes the relational [atmospheric mediating] foci embodied in this exercise:

The highest good must be most self-diffusive. But the greatest self-diffusion cannot exist unless it is actual and intrinsic, substantial and hypostatic, natural and voluntary, free and necessary, lacking nothing and perfect…as in the case in a producing by way of generation and spiration, so that it is from an eternal principle eternally coproducing so that there would be a beloved and a cobeloved, the one generated and the other spirated, and this is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—unless these were present, it would by no means be the highest good because it would not diffuse itself in the highest degree…Hence another diffusion can be conceived greater than this, namely, one in which the one diffusing communicates to the other his entire substance and nature…If, therefore, you can behold with your mind’s eye the purity of goodness, which is the pure act of a principle loving in charity with a love that is both free and due and a mixture of both, which is the fullest diffusion by way of nature and will, which is a diffusion by way of the Word, in which all things are said, and by way of the Gift, in which other gifts are given, then you can see that through the highest communicability of the good, there must be a Trinity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

[11] Adapted from Creator Spiritus by Rabanus Maurus (776-856) presented in Hamilton-Poore (2007).

[12] Preparatory reading: Ps. 65. 5-13 on the processive presence and character of the sustaining Godhead.

Friday, February 11, 2022

 Fred Rogers or John Wayne: Models of Masculinity

Mr. Rogers Day https://bit.ly/3BfOpE9 

Rev. Dr. Douglas Olds

20 March 2022 


Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” — Luke 5:10


John Wayne and Fred (“Mister”) Rogers offer a contrast in twentieth century cultural masculinity. Virtus culturally embodies the Latin word for “man” (vir) so that classical virtues prioritized pagan ideals of masculinity: physical “strength, vigor, aptness, power, obstinacy, military talents, courage, valor, fortitude.”

            As demonstrated by Piper (below), some Christians import secularism’s ideas of virtus revealed through masculine agon. Later, in Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and beyond, the taming of the supposed “ontology of chaos” by masculine force continued to be its ideal of gender character.

             A trope is a common device to escape nuance and shoehorn cultural expression into a defined pattern. Piper relates the tropes of masculinity to the surrounding culture in a way that many Christians have idealized in John Wayne (Du Mez 2020). Yet as a representative fantasy of Hollywood, Wayne does not have anything approaching a primary claim to Biblical masculinity.

          The masculine ideal can be encompassed within the character of chivalry, an outdated term that allows for its beneficial recapture and reapplication of meaning without the degeneration toward vulgarity to which more contemporary tropes are susceptible. “Chivalry” derives from the “religious, moral, and social code—the medieval knightly system of courage, honour, courtesy (especially that of a man towards women [and the striken]), justice, and a readiness to help the weak.”[1] None of this is meant to suggest that women are not also called to chivalry. This presentation proposes that men are more in immediate cultural need of its redirecting virtues and hermeneutics.

         Chivalry’s etymology comes from the French word “chevalier” which itself involves working with horses. Gen. 1:26-28 puts a set of crucial questions before us: what is the relationship of a horseman—a chevalier--and his animal (Prov. 12:10)? How do dominion and subduing function in domesticating nature represented in a horse, and do the choices of techniques involved extend socially into the masculine virtues of chivalry? How do we envision or image the act of subduing, as in the taming, of a wild or recalcitrant horse? Does the image of breaking the horse come to mind, or the act of its gentling (Kurutz 2017)? If the latter, what is the implication for dominion and imaging masculinity? Would a chevalier exert his will over an animal by the direct application of violent force? And if not, would his experience of taming his service animal influence his social behavior—his chivalry

            This aspect of God’s activity coheres with non-violent method heuristically recovered in the Genesis 1:1-4 Creation account. Should the surface of the “deep” in Gen. 1.2 rear up like a horse, God’s רוּחַ rûa responds with a “gentling,” such as detailed by the patiency nuance of the “hovering” Spirit.[3] The images of ontology in Genesis 1 support any ideas of dominion over and subduing of nature in non-violent terms. As always, divine activity is a mirror of ontology that includes a karma-like justice where intentions in acts are returned in kind upon the agent (Gen. 9:6; Luke 6: 38c; Ps. 62:12). Living by violence (agon) involves dying by same (Matt. 26:52). And working toward shalom rewarded with the same.

            A chevalier would be most effective handling his horse and in society working within such a shalom. “Gentling” a horse rather than “breaking” it would be the masculine pattern and virtue of chivalry.  Like all redirection of agon, personal acts designed to break are themselves indicators of the cultural cycle of brokenness. The aging warrior David’s final prayer (Ps. 72: 20) reveals that he too comes to understand that dominion (Ps. 72:8) is directed toward wholeness in chivalrously meeting the needs of the weak (72: 12-14).

The chivalrous person like Fred Rogers notices the presence of another where that other could be missed, which is an act of insight and kindness. Chivalry humanizes the social desert by hospitality, welcome, introductions, and modest courtesy. Kingly and impartial priestly chivalry reveals masculinity’s stature in spiritual knighthood accoutered in virtue and rooted in the unalloyed, gentling, non-violent armor of God.

From these considerations, it is clear that Fred Rogers rather than John Wayne embodies the moral stature of chivalry. Rogers is gentle, patient, playful, and courteous with the most vulnerable among us, enacting for their instruction narratives of communal shalom. His mien is calm, his features symmetric and ethics even-handed, his gaze respectful, and his words authentic and guileless. Rogers recognizes in children their potential for greatness and nobility. His chivalry is empowering, reticent, and dignifying.

By contrast, Wayne performs the crude and beefy audacity (Ps. 19: 13; Matt. 23:12a) of an acquisitive, grasping, broken so breaking, militarized and hierarchical society. His façade is dominated by a languorous and skewed smirk that is undissolved by the acidic wake of the raging sword that dies by the sword. Wayne simulates riskless courage from his perch on Hollywood film stages to convey to a gullible audience that courage derives from his non-pareil martial kit and character. The cherry on top of his confected persona is that smirk hammered into a sneer by his squint.  His smirk contorts, like gnawing on a large bone, whenever his mouth attempts articulation. Only ventured to crunch out the bone’s marrow in intimidation and threats, speech is indeed odd and irksome inside the staged peril and big-topped burlesques of counterfeit chaos. A quickly drawn and employed firearm would instead claim the shooting gallery prize of a distressed damsel. For many Christians, Wayne embodies the third-way pagan mythology of domesticated stability wrought by agon. This syncretic mythology sells big time in blockbusters of death-dealing showdowns structured as dramatic comedy—where all’s well is the destined end for the bullet-broadcasting orgiast and colonizing dragon (not lamb) within.

Culture is what is cultivated. We emulate what we admire. If distressed by the surroundings of selfish strife, we may model the virtues of selflessness: courtesy, recollection, reverence, gratitude, patience, moral courage and meekness, hospitality, and accountability to justice that lifts up the weak and oppressed. Culture is changed by individuals. Chivalry seeks the processive and motile dignity of alignment with the divine in its virtues and practices—to pacify the self and to instill in those to whom it reaches out. Men heal through Christ by cultivating chivalry’s virtues, attaining thereby the stature of resolute Christian gallantry, without artifice, that diffuses conflict with the conveyance of non-anxious, non-striving, and dignifying respect and generosity. Such men may then travel outward to heal our culture and world. We need not go along with the mania of crowds with its thirst for, and its prestige accorded to, violence and strife. The gospel communicates through the lives of all who align with Christ to bear the fruit of shalom in their households and neighborhoods.




[1] Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A., eds. (2004). In Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed.). Oxford University Press.

“Courtesy” involves social tact and empathy that appreciates another’s tendency to shame and embarrassment, especially those derived from feelings of weakness or inadequacy. Courtesy forgoes eliciting such indignities in the neighbor. Courtesy takes care to avoid unmannered audacity and conveying any judgmental attitude of or remark upon the neighbor’s social and personal weaknesses or lack of such (contingent) things that society valorizes as merited. Courtesy is thus a necessary and foundational norm and mirror for neighborliness (including evangelism) in which positive virtues of generosity operate to build and solidify. Courtesy is a primary virtue in chivalry not natural to the child or to a vulgar man and hence, like all virtues, must be cultivated in habits.

[2] The Fabian strategy turns the other cheek in military engagements, though these appear tactical rather than a strategic posture of non-violence where the enemy’s violence redounds upon itself. Fabian tactics call for antagonism’s harassment short of full-on violent aggression. God’s Aikido seems certain to involve no primary agency of antagonism.

[3] NRSV confusingly translates Gen. 1:2’s Piel participle of רחף as "swept" when lexicons translate the Piel of רחף as “quivering, meaning to hover with fluttering wings, characteristic flying behavior” (Koehler, Baumgartner, et al. 2000, 1220). While Piel Hebrew verbs were traditionally thought to intensify the Aktionsart of the Qal verbal stem, more modern linguistics find that the “Piel tends to signify causation with a patiency nuance” (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 355).

[“Aktionsart. n. The feature of … language whereby the quasi-objective quality of the verbal action is indicated (duration, repetition, momentary occurrence, etc.), both morphologically by tense forms and lexico-syntactically according to contextual features. Some older grammars used the term synonymously with aspect. pl. Aktionsarten” (DeMoss 2001, 16).]

 The Piel stem of רחף applied in Gen. 1.2 “represents God as the agent and the [wind] as having been caused to be put into the state of” trembling or fluttering” (Waltke and O’Connor 1990., 363). The English translation of “swept” neither adequately conveys the aspect of causative agency (medio-passivity of the divine verbal voice) nor the “patiency nuance” of the verbal aktionsart.