OWAAT May 20: Jeremiah, Pentecost and Open Access Theology

In our liturgical year we move from Easter and resurrection to Pentecost – the birthday of the church. Eric Barreto reflects on the Acts 21:1-21 account: “At Pentecost, God makes a clear choice. God joins us in the midst of the messiness and the difficulties of speaking different languages, eating different foods, and living in different cultures. That is good news indeed. So what happened at Pentecost? God met us exactly where we are.” So if the church was birthed in God meeting us where we are, what does this mean for the church today?

The other change is that in our daily Bible readings we move from Isaiah to Jeremiah. Jeremiah considers how God could let Judah and the Temple in Judaism be destroyed. Terence Fretheim notes that Jeremiah depicts God as a “relational God, present and active in the world, who enters into a relationship with the prophet, the people, and an interrelated world.”

Daily Bible readings:

May 20 – Jeremiah 1
May 21 – Jeremiah 2
May 22 – Jeremiah 3
May 23 – Jeremiah 4
May 24 – Jeremiah 5
May 25 – Jeremiah 6
May 26 – Jeremiah 7

Think:

One of the reasons why I started BiblioMinistry and Think! Pray! Act! is because ever since I went to seminary I felt very troubled that it took going to seminary to learn what would have helped me to be a truly committed Christian while in a congregation. The learning I encountered in seminary did not seem to be present in congregational life as I experienced it, and I was afraid to bring my real faith questions to church. I have discovered between 2001 or so and now that I really am a Christian – because I love Jesus and find his life and teaching transformative in how I try to live my own life – and in that can indeed call him my Lord and Savior. Too often, though, Christianity as we know it tries to add unhelpful baggage (like unbiblical and restrictive doctrines and rules that Jesus probably wouldn’t have thought of) or subtract helpful tools (say, like science and history) as “tests of faith” to determine who’s a “real believer” and who isn’t.  In my study of Christian theology I discovered I rejected those things, rather than actual tenets of faith – I wasn’t rejecting Jesus as much as I was rejecting his cultural captivity in the US.

What I learned about in seminary and beyond that seem to have a really hard time making it into congregations, for whatever reason are liberation theologies (like feminist, Black, and womanist theologies) and faith-based community organizing (the structures, philosophy, and theology of organizing people to build and reveal God’s realm, especially as it applies to God’s justice in our world). One of the vows I made to myself from my first semester in seminary on was to bring as much of this life-giving learning as I could back into congregational settings and life at large, particularly for people who, like my pre-seminary self, wondered if they could be “real Christians” while also having have real questions and some occasional doubts about their faith. Christianity excludes people when it doesn’t treat people’s questions as sacred parts of their lives and spiritual journeys.

One barrier to the type of large-scale lay theological education I envision is that there is a dearth of well-organized (and user-friendly) Bible study sources that are open access (freely available to all people), reliable (based on the very best theological, historical, and other relevant disciplines one expects when engaging in serious Bible study), readable / accessible to a general population who hasn’t undertaken graduate theological study, and widely known to those outside the world of the seminary. Those who look for biblical information online will find plenty of it – but often lacking in one of the above areas.

This is why I was so excited that when I found an issue of Word & World that was focused on Jeremiah, I found another treasure. Luther Seminary has created what looks like a very promising resource for serious open access Bible study: “Enter the Bible.” Sure, one open access Bible study site with solid historical, cultural, and biblical information on it doesn’t get rid of the theological illiteracy that leads to rejecting Christianity on false understandings of it, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. The church is the perfect place for open access resources! If more of us Christians were more willing to share all that we know with the rest of the world, not only would we have more educated congregations / disciples, but we would be more consistent with the New Testament ethic of sharing all that we have – including our scholarly resources – with the body of Christ.

While we’re on a roll, another great open access Bible study site is Bible Odyssey by the Society of Biblical Literature, as they put it, “the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible based on the Humanities’ core disciplines.”

You should definitely check both of these sites out if you have curiosity about the Bible that you’d like to explore with people who take theology, science, and history seriously! Do you have a favorite Bible commentary, resource, or website? If so, what is it?

Pray: 

What has come out of our prayer practice of journaling your prayers? Have you tried creating any visual images in your journal? How might that act of creation change your prayers? I found a really interesting book on this subject called Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words. One type of visual journaling I’d like to do more of is collage – have you ever tried that, and if so, what have you gotten out of it?

Act:

At the most recent MCU meeting we celebrated victories in the form of getting a Raise the Age law passed in the Missouri legislature, and collecting enough signatures to get Clean Missouri, a comprehensive Missouri legislature ethics reform initiative, on the November 2018 ballot. In both of these things MCU was one of many partners working together to make them happen. This is a good lesson in community organizing – what happens when not just people, but also organizations, work together toward a common goal is that we reach greater justice together. It wasn’t just a lone person testifying to the Missouri legislature about Raise the Age, nor was it just me out there by myself collecting petition signatures – broad networks of people and organizations worked together to make these things happen! Also, as the Rev. Dr. Dietra Wise Baker noted, “Nothing is impossible for God,” even when outward circumstances look less-than-promising.

Conder and Rhodes also remind us in Organizing Church: “As a community […] and particularly as leaders within a community, if we are going to be attentive to the life of the Spirit, we will have to become comfortable with being out of control. This is not to say that Spirit can’t work through top-down leadership, or that there’s no place for church management or administration. However it is also not too much to say that the Spirit’s role of leading is characteristically grassroots. For to be the church is to be a peculiar kind of institution that thrives in its vulnerability and openness to the leading of the Spirit, where we wait with open ears for what God is doing.” (p. 60) God works through different channels than most of us expect.

With which groups and people are you working toward God’s justice? In what unusual ways have you seen God working in your life and work lately?

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.

Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world!

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

Resources:
“Congratulations to Missouri on Raising the Age.” Raise the Age Missouri, 10 May 2018. https://www.raisetheage.com/blog/2018/5/10/congratulations-to-missouri-on-raising-the-age.

Barreto, Eric. “What Happened at Pentecost?” Enter the Bible, 1 May 2013. http://www.enterthebible.org/blog.aspx?m=3783&post=2547.

Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Conder, Tim, and Daniel Rhodes. Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017.

Driskill, Joseph. Protestant Spiritual Exercises: Theology, History, and Practice. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1999.

Fretheim, Terence E. “Old Testament: Jeremiah.” Enter the Bible, n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=44.

Ganim, Barbara, and Susan Fox. Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words. Wheaton, Ill: Quest Books, 1999.

Luther Seminary. “Enter the Bible,” n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/.

Luther Seminary. Word and World: Jeremiah. Vol. 22 of Word & World. Saint Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 2002. https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/issues.aspx?issue_id=88.

Singer, Benjamin. “We. Did. It. Clean Missouri Just Submitted 346,956 Signatures!” Clean Missouri, 4 May 2018. http://cleanmissouri.org/2018/05/04/we-did-it-clean-missouri-volunteers-just-submitted-346956-signatures-to-qualify-for-the-ballot-and-take-back-power-from-special-interests/.

Society of Biblical Literature. “Bible Odyssey,” n.d. http://www.bibleodyssey.com/.

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