life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

the blessing way....

I like the novels of former AP bureau chief Tony Hillerman. He writes mysteries -- a modern fiction genre, actually -- but with the added twist of setting them in the very pre/post-modern setting of southwestern native American spiritual beliefs. He has written his works in settings that include the Hopi (a favorite of mine, since one of my unpublished novels is set in that same environment) and the Pueblo Indians. But most of all, Hillerman focuses on the Navajo. The Navajo Nation has named him "friend of the Dineh" ('the People'), and so I would assume that Hillerman does a fairly respectable job of reflecting their beliefs in his work.

I say all that to call attention to the value in the Navajo world (learned from my reading of Hillerman) of harmony with all of life. All of life is looked at from this perspective. If someone commits a crime, such as murder, there is more to the offense than just the legal ruling. There is the restoration of harmony that is needed for the perpetrator, because if it is not re-established, the discord of the original act rolls out in further waves of discord (alcoholism, family strife, even physical sickness). They even have ceremonies that their sacred men learn to sing to restore harmony. One of those ceremonies is called the Blessing Way.

As I was considering my last post and the various responses to it, I thought of Hillerman and his novel of that title. It made me think how like the kingdom of God as referenced in the Christian Bible this blessing way is. McClaren has suggested that the term kingdom has lost much of its meaning for us today. He has suggested a new metaphor: the dream of God. I like that. I like that very much. God's dream is for the restoration of harmony for all peoples, both with himself and among all peoples. When we live into the dream of God from that perspective, we are really living out of the heart of God as expressed in the life of Jesus.

The best part of Jesus' good news of the dream of God is not so much what I have focused on for so many years. In other words, the substitutionary atonement theory -- Jesus' blood to satisfy some legal hangup God has with us so we can go to "heaven" when we die -- is not, in my opinion, the best expression of the good news he came to preach. Atonement (not just substitutionary) is part of it, certainly. But his message, rather, was more simple than that: "God has come near and is very close and available. You might want to rethink your outlook on this and accept that God is indeed near." (Mark 1:15; my paraphrase, of course) This message has all kinds of implications, but its main focus is not do's and don'ts or laws about how we should live or theories about how it all works or even the historical facts of the matter (though I am not discounting them). Rather it is joining and owning the story of God's living, dynamic, two-way relationship with humanity (and, I would add, the rest of his creation).

I find it very sobering that this message failed to resonate with most of the religious people Jesus came into contact with. Instead it was the losers of society who seem to have understood and accepted it much more readily than their pious neighbors. Prostitutes, tax collectors, rebels, dock workers and fishermen, marginalized women, those under the power of demonic addictions and the poor, among others, seemed to be the ones who "got it" and ended up living it. They were his greatest success stories and ended up having a profound impact on their world (not that the echoes of that impact have always been "good").

A little over a week ago, I ate Wednesday evening dinner with my friend, Wade, and another young man, whom I assume was about to attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He had questions about the Revelation (who doesn't?) and the end times. I briefly explained the genre of apocalyptic literature, and how it is very dangerous to take those things literally, that the Revelation was written to people for whom hope had evaporated in the face of severe persecution, etc. Then I suggested that focusing on end times really misses the point of Jesus' main message: that God is present, that he wants to enter into dynamic relationship with us, and us with each other; that he is calling us to rethink how far or near God really is, and start living into the reality of God's nearness. I could tell this was something completely new to him. That disturbs me in a way. But I am also hopeful.

Call me a deluded dreamer, but I'm praying that this "seed" germinates. If it does, we may see more of the blessing way, the way of Jesus.

Grace and peace,



Blogger Joel said...

Owen, I just got "Uncle Ken"'s furlough itinerary, and it says they're spending time in Bakersfield. Are you guys connected to the Sinclairs at all?

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the successful losers who follow gets dark..God it gets dark.

2:41 PM  

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