Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Psalm 1

Psalm 1
1 Congratulations to all who do not entertain the priorities of those who do not belong to YHWH,
or dabble in their practices,
or have their passions corrupted by those who disdain YHWH.

2 They, however, have hearts captured by the Instruction of YHWH;
and saturate themselves in it.

3 Well-cared for, thoroughly nourished with gifts and graces, these folk are both effective and constant in their service for YHWH.

4 Those who oppose YHWH are not so, but are like dust the breeze blows off to nowhere.

5 They will not stand YHWH’s scrutiny, nor will they be allowed a foothold among YHWH’s people;

6 for YHWH keeps watch care over his people, but the lives of all who oppose him will come to a bad end.
Psalm 1, along with Psalm 2, introduces the book of Psalms as a whole. Psalm 1 presents the "Way" YHWH's people are to live in he world. It is an ideal type. No one fully lives up to this nor experiences it in exactly this fashion in this life. It is a template for how things are when god fully rules which comes only with Christ's return.

The integrity which God requires and we long for can be described as a rope made out of three strands wound tightly together. These three strands are our

1. PRIORITIES - the deepest convictions we hold and hope to live out in life
2. PASSIONS - the drives and energies that move us to live out our priorities
3. PRACTICES - attitudes and actions that reflect and exhibit our priorities and passions

Psalm 1 reflects the life God intends for his people. I've reflected that in my paraphrase of v.1. What integrates our priorities, passions, and practices according to the psalmist is God's "Law," the Torah, or as I put it, "Instruction." Since Jesus is himself the figure to whom God's Instruction pointed and who fulfills it, that is, shows us what it is really all about, this psalm ultimately points to him as the final arbiter of our priorities, passions, and practices. Jesus aligns the 3 P's around his message of the dawning of God's kingdom. To experience such integration and alignment, the psalmist invites us to "delight" and "meditate" on this divine "Instruction." Taking joy in this gracious gift of God and committing to intentionally focus on it at the core of our lives is the response God expects from us.

This response, however, is premised on grace. In the imagery of v.3, the healthy tree (the person who is to be "congratulated," the person who responds appropriately) is one "planted" or even "transplanted" by irrigating waters planned for and provided by a wise and loving planter (God). This imagery of grace is particularly poignant to those Middle Easterners who livved in a dry, arid region.

Those who respond to such grace are promised here that their life lived for YHWH's sake and service will be both fruitful and constant (v.3). They will fulfill the purposes for which YHWH created and redeemed them.

By living one's life apart from and/or in opposition to YHWH's will and way results in an insubstantial life, one thata a mere breeze can dispel! This is their destiny both in final judgment and in life. In both cases they have no place among God's people. But those who seek to align and integrate themselves with his will and way may be assured of their place amng God's people, now and forever.

This simple portrait of the "Two Ways" so characteristic of both Old and New Testament writers needs to be kept in the back of our minds to sustain us in the dark and difficult times we all must endure. This psalm functions like a GPS for us. We can always discover how we need to go, no matter where we find ourselves. Or. to put it another way, YHWH can be trusted to find and deliver us even in the most seemingly "god-forsaken" situations of our lives.

Lee Wyatt

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Hysteria

I came across these lines today reading David Bentley Hart's ATHEIST DELUSIONS:

"We are first and foremost , heroic and insatiable consumers and we must not allow the specters of transcendent law or personal guilt to render us indecisive. For us, it is choice itself, and not what we choose, that is the first good, and this applies not only to such matters as what we shall purchase or how we shall live. In even our gravest political and ethical debates - regarding economic policy, abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, censorship, genetic engineering, and so on - 'choice' is a principle not only frequently invoked, by one side or both, but often seeming to exeercise an almost mystical supremacy over all other conceerns." (22)

It is hard for me to avoid the conclusion after yesterdays town hall meetings on health care that some such dynamic is a least part (perhaps a major part) of the anger and ritualistic invocation of the specter of socialism and totalitarianism heard so much in these meetings.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Some Reflections on Our Troubles

(This is a first rough draft of my ideas)

Recently I heard a talk by Walter Brueggemann from a conference a few years ago. He talked a bit about the struggle for Jewish identity going on in Israel. Various groups were competing with one another for the claim to be the norm for what it means to be Jewish. This struggle was both passionate and strident with the various claimants unwilling to yield or compromise. Brueggemann cites a prominent rabbi to the effect that a “win” for any of the contesting parties would in the end result in a “loss” for the whole community.
I began to reflect on our own struggles in the PC (U.S.A.) over sexuality and ordination. Might it not be the case that a “win” for either side in our struggle would eventuate in a “loss” for our whole communion? Our struggle is over justice and hermeneutics, claims the one side, and exegesis and biblical fidelity, claims the other. There is no question that these are indeed crucial issues and strike at the heart of the identity of the PC (U.S.A.). It would be nice to think we cold resolve these kinds of struggles without the internecine warfare and inward (and likely eventually outward) splintering that accompanies such strife. But we have not in the past and likely will not on our present issues, unless something changes in the foreseeable future.
We are clearly at an impasse. Further study and discussion are simply delaying actions. There are few undecided people out there for whom such actions would be helpful. We have no wisdom about how to get beyond this impasse to significant and potentially fruitful conversation with each other. The question for us, it seems to me, is what to do with a church significantly and implacably divided over an important set of issues.
Given that a resolution of our issues leading to a consensus and united ministry seems out of the question at present, and that each side feels significant, even non-negotiable issues of justice, faithfulness, and witness are at stake, and that faithful, truthful witness and unity as a denomination seem in irreconcilable tension, where do we go from here?
Two strategies in which both sides are implicated have been tried. The first, victory through polity has failed. Both sides have held the upper hand at points over the last thirty years but neither has been able to consistently enforce a polity settlement. Second, the threat of separation, a regrettable but tragic last resort, looms over us as the ultimate end game settlement of our disagreements.
Is there any other way, then, for us to maintain our unity amidst serious disagreement, a way that honors both the truth we seek and community we long for? Or more powerfully, the Truth that Jesus Christ is and the unity that alone testifies to the love of God for the world (Jn.17:21)? In terms of the rabbi’s statement noted above, is there any way to avoid the “win” for some of us that will ultimately be a “loss” for all of us?
Might 1 Corinthians 6 offer such a way? There Paul confronts quarrels in that fractious community that have or will soon go public in the law courts. Paul chides them for failing to know who they truly are (vv.2-3), for failing to trust that God will provide them with enough wisdom or wise folk to settle their grievances internally and redemptively (vv.6-7), and for resorting to secular judicial proceedings, even with the inevitable negative consequences for the church’s public witness (vv.6-7).
Instead Paul offers this counsel: “In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud – and believers at that” (vv.7-8).
Is Paul discounting the importance of truth here; of issues of justice? Doubtless it can only seem so to the claimants on either side of our issues – if they are focused on “winning.” Paul however, seems to think “winning” such disputes is not necessarily the most desirable outcome, and not because he’s slighting the importance of either truth or justice. He appears to have a different question whose answer governs his response.
That question is the question of identity: who are we as God’s new people in Jesus Christ? Apparently not the kind who press claims against each other at all (v.7) and clearly not those who take their disputes and adjudicate them in terms of secular judicial norms and processes (vv.3-5)! Such practice apparently makes us guilty of wrong and defrauding behaviors ourselves (v.8)! Such a situation seems (scandalously) to entail a threefold critique from Paul’s point of view. First, we are not acting as the people of God we are in Christ, so “bound together as a people in a way that requires (us) to modify (our) former ways of life” (Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation Series, 93). This further entails an awareness that as this community we have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16) and presumably wisdom enough to settle our disputes in accord with this new identity. After all, according to Paul, we have wisdom enough to judge the angels!
Secondly, since integrity follows from identity, such practices distort the church’s witness to the world. Again, Hays writes, “The Corinthians are shamefully taking family disputes out into the streets, as it were, thereby bringing the whole family into disrepute” (Hays, 95).
Thirdly, such actions betray the cross-shaped life to which we are called as God’s people. “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” (v.7). Paul claimed to intend to know nothing among the Corinthians except “Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor.2:2). His counsel to the disputants in the church seems a pastoral translation of this very cruciform theology into concrete terms.
What might our disputes over sexuality and ordination look like if we adapted Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians over legal disputes as our way for struggling henceforth together over these matters? Stephen Fowl, in an insightful article “Scripture in a Divided Church” ( offers some guidelines for reading scripture in a situation of dispute. I offer them for their own worth but also as provocations for each of us to consider how we might incarnate such practices and their implications in our own situations.
We cannot read Scripture, according to Fowl, apart from being formed by it in the Church. Our division is a failure of ecclesial love. There are three practices to avoid letting interpretation of Scripture divide us:

1. Seeking the truth in Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5). Bring all thoughts captive to Christ. Truth is the first casualty of sin and the first component of forgiveness and reconciliation.

2. We must recognize and name sin, especially our own.

3. We must cultivate patience. (Philippians 3:15.)

Or, in Paul’s classic formulation from the letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
What do you think?
-is it possible that we might continue to live together peaceably in midst of disagreement as a sign and model to a polarized and fractious world that such a thing is possible?
-while it is unlikely that further study will change many minds at this point, is it possible that we might hang together with each other in worship, prayer, accountable friendships, and a humility to wait for any further light to break forth from God’s Word or wisdom on how to keep talking to each other in our disagreement?
-is it possible that we might truly name our sins to ourselves and others, including those we oppose on these issues? What difference to our conversation do you think this might make?
-is it possible that we (on whatever side of the issue we are) might find the courage to commit to this communion even if does not adopt the “right” position at present in the conviction that our unity as a people in serious disagreement bears its own important witness to the world and in hope that we will discover wisdom enough to keep moving toward greater insight in dealing with our issues?
What do you think?

-Rev. Lee Wyatt, Interim Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Corsicana, TX

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How About This!

Way Back in 1884

"Republicans, entrenched in power, cynically abused it; they subverted the integrity of the vote, and of the press; they mocked the spirit of the Constitution through partisan legislation, and copying the tactics of tyrants, used overseas wars to deflect attention from their actions" -- Jose Marti, Cuban nationalist hero, in New York, observing the US Presidential election of 1884


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

HANCOCK - Jesus and the American Hero

I saw Will Smith's lastest movie, HANCOCK, this afternoon. It seems a very conventional movie. It has the makings of a provocative exploration of love and power, duty and self-denial, saving and serving, along the linbes of Smith's recent efforts in PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and I AM LEGEND. I won't spoil it by describing the plot, but it forfeited that promise by devolving into a stock and quintessentially American version of heroism, salvation, and saviors. HANCOCK plays off love/vulnerability/relationships/powerlessness against duty to others/invulnerability/strength/solitariness. Drawing close in love meant forfeiture of super powers and thus of the call to be a savior of others. Saving and serving, which belong together in Christian theology are played off against one another here. Love and power are split apart and never the twain shall meet, so it seems. It is almost as if Jesus and John Wayne face off in this film, and John Wayne emerges the real hero.

There are some useful insights in identity formation and self-denial in service to duty, but they ultimately serve, from a theological perspective, a distorted identity and finally unhelpful duty. I mourn for what might have been! LEt me know what you think!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Shack

I read THE SHACK by WIlliam P. ("Paul") Young last Saturday. What an experience! It's a must read for everyone. It will lift you to the heights, drive you to your knees, thrill you, chill you, make you cry and burst out in praise (sometimes at the same time!) as it ushers you into the presence of a genuinely "gospel" view (and experience) of God.

Responses to THE SHACK have ranged from glowing (as mine) to its being a "trojan horse" through which heresy is being smuggled into the faith (a vast number of responses are posted at the book's website, I believe). The more negative responses tend to lift up the theology in the book (of which there is plenty) and subject it to the usual process of theological review and critique. Yet I suspect this is not the most helpful (of fair) way to treat a piece of fiction. You can be being "right" but miss the whole point of the story!

Any piece of literature ought to be first held to the standard it sets for itself. And in the case of THE SHACK, the repeated leitmotiv of the author is that we do not trust GOd because we do not really know who God (the biblical God) is. Young's intent is to tell in fictional form how he discovered and has been transformed by coming to know the biblical God. As a paastor I frequently (far too frequently) watch and hear people describe God in unbiblical ways and suffer tremendously for so doing. Young frames his story in such compelling and winsome ways that the reader receives the gift of experiencing a fresh vision of God, the triune God, as the deity the scripture proclaims him to be - "God is love" (I John 4:8) - unconditional love, no qualifiers, exceptions or small print loopholes.

Now, in a world like ours and people like us, it is hard enough to believe in and follow such a God of love. Imagine then the impossibility of believing in and following a deity whom we are NOT sure loves us that way. And that's precisely the God much traditional Christianity has given to disciples and to the world at large. A God who is power-hungry, obsessed with our obedience/performance, enjoys meting out punishment, is responsible for the tragedy and turmoil in life because "all things unfold according to his will" (so we are told), and is divided within himself - the demanding Father who compels our fear and the loving Son to whom we cling hoping against hope that he has and will continue to placate his "mad Dad." If you think I exagerrate, you should sit in any pastor's study or counselor's office and you will be astonished at how pervasive and debilitating this view of God is! THis is the "god" Philip Pullman "kills off" in his DARK MATERIALS trilogy - a god to whom we should say "good ridddance," but. alas and unfortunately, one to whose defense too many Christians rallied in opposing Pullmann's work.

As a disciple and a pastor I cannot live or do my work without the kind of God found in the Bible and reflected in Young's story. That's why I am so exceedingly grateful for his work. And it saddens me to see it picked at by theologians who seem to forget what Yound's stated aim in the story was in the first place - you can't trust a God whom you don't kow truly and fully loves you, is delighted in you, seeks your compant, and has done everything possible to let you know that!

By the criteria of this, his own stated aim, Young is a rip-roaring success!! You cannot with any sympathy at all read his story without finishing it with a new or renewed sense of God's love for you, God's understanding of who you are, what you have gone through, and where you are now spiritually, God's delight in you, God's deep passion for relationship with you, and . . . Some however have apparently read with so little sympathy for the subject matter or the genre of the book that they have launched theological critiques that, in my judgment, ending up reflecting more on them than on THE SHACK itslef.

A few examples I am aware of:

-some complain that Young failed to adequately balance the one and the three of the trinity, highliting the three at the expense of God's unity. Come on - who doesn't fail on this score in talking about the trinity. Heck, the church itself is divided east and west on where the emphasis should lie - and they're both right! All this critique says is that Young's view of God is more in the eastern tradition of Christianity than the western (to which presumably his critics belong)!

-others have complained that Young's showing of "Papa" (God the Father) bearing the same scars on his wrists that Jesus bears is inappropriate - smacks of patripassianism. After all, only Jesus the Son suffered and died (so they say). While this might be theologically correct (if Young had written a theological treatise), there is no more powerful way I can think of that Young could show the shared love of the Father and the Son for humankind and creation than by this literary device. And such assurance is what many/most of us need to hear and such assurance was what Young set himself to deliver. The theologians are right, perhaps, if you lift the incident out of the story-line but terribly wrong about its appropriateness and power within the story.

-another complaint is that Young is dismissive of the value of institutions - church, government, economics, etc. and fails to reflect a balanced theological assessment of the possibilities and pitfalls of such. Right, again, theologians; and wrong! As an issue for theological discussion, they may be right (though I'm not sure about this myself). But the reality to which Young writes is that churches by and large alienate not only the world but even many within its number from a real relationship with God, and few experience other corporate entities as supportive, trustworthy, believeable, or nurturing places. As a pastor of one of those churches, I have little or no problem affirming Young's portrayl within the context in which he writes.

Well, enough! I've gone too long already. I simply want to encourage peole to read this book for what it is - a wonderful testimony to the gracious, transforming love of God that resonates with the realism of the lead character's struggle, the depth of his pain, the psychological and emotional knots into which he is tied along with an equally realistic (theological and otherwise) portrayal or the relational and tranformative reality of the kind of relationship to which the biblical God calls each and all of us. Such gifts come along all to rarely. I hate to us squander this one by burying it in theological (mis)analysis like the above. Any such reflection, I would suggest, follows only after a deep, prayerful, and appreciative pondering of what Young (and God!) are doing in and through THE SHACK.